Thursday, May 31, 2007

day 14 : ... and now for all the things I'm not going to do

I'm not going over to Second Life, even though Teen Second Life looks like it's right in my (audience's) age group and interest area. Nor am I hitting World of Warcraft, despite its undeniable popularity with teenaged boys. Apart from any other considerations, I don't think the machines can take it, and oh I do not fancy grumpily twiddling my thumbs over an antique laptop, waiting for my new trousers to download.

But before we go, a couple more places to shove in, last-minute:

Upcoming.org, which enjoyed popularity with a few of my friends a while ago, has now become Upcoming.yahoo.com, although I couldn't find it from the rest of My Yahoo. Maybe that's yet to come. I easily found out a whole bunch of neat things I'm doing or might want to do and it's easily nicer than Facebook's event organiser. It's not very social, though, (although that may be me feeling less social after a solid fortnight of this) and I'd hesitate to promote it to young people because it's a locator -- primarily for the events, but it also works on the individuals.

Threadless, currently crashing my browser, is a design networking place where I'm a long-term lurker, first time purchaser. Or would be, if the t-shirts had actually turned up, which they haven't ... and Deviant Art is a big online art community which I know that some of my friends use. But I'm out of time and it's not really my scene (images sorted by popular should explain).

And then there are the communities for people into toys, comics, David Bowie, and oh it just goes on and on, stretching out forever. There's no sense I could ever sign up to everything I'm interested in, though I have no doubt I'd find interesting people in all these places.

Last but not least -- let's mention blogger. I've had this blog for a few years now, and subscribe to a few friends blogs via a feed aggregator, but I've never once used it to find people, ever. Blogger isn't about other people. It's about you.

Signing off and socially overcommitted,

Jeremy Dennis.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Day 13 : the focus group hack the nanny-ware

Something different today. 9/10 young people turned up to the A.N. Web Workshop (I have a couple a year) and I asked them, where do you live on the internet?

Only two laughed and said they didn't live anywhere on the Internet, and, on further questioning, one of them turned out to be trying to hide his blog. A couple were on one-note joke sites like sloganizer -- which they had great fun typing my name into. Workshop leader, please leave your dignity at the door. The blogspot I mentioned, a couple of myspacers who didn't want to show off their profiles and a couple of bebo babies who did, a home-made homepage, a favourite shopping site and Tagged, the mere mention of which made the rest of the room groan.

My idea was that we'd look at the sites and assess what made them appeal to the young people, but my borrowed office environment had blocked all non-work-related sites and done their damnedest to disable the browser on the sawn-off laptop they grudgingly provided (to a background mumble which augered ill for whoever had told us having an internet connection in a meeting room would be "no problem"). While the adults are sharing site-blocking funnies (did you hear the one about the legal department having all emails about sexual harassment blocked?) the young people are on the laptop, finding a proxy site that isn't blocked. It takes them less than 30s.

Of course, the proxy site is teeming with nasty adverts and toxic pop-ups but the young people don't give it a second glance. They're here to check their messages, see if anyone has left them "love" (a Bebo thing) and count their myspace friends. Then they remember that they're not supposed to be showing us their myspace pages and we end up on mine instead. "Only 19 friends in two years? That's rubbish, that is."

As the borrowed laptop disappears under a torrent of spyware (I try to fix it, but discover I don't even have enough privileges to bookmark pages) and I haul the last young person off its twitching corpse, I feel weirdly gratified. They really are all online, just like the future promised. They're keeping in touch with friends in different towns, swapping music recommendations and providing each other with emotional support. This is madness!

.. and this is Tagged, the only unfamiliar name to come up all day. It's another video posting site, and I suspect its popularity with the group may be to do with none of the blocking programs knowing about it. Another I'm not going to join, I fear -- but then, I don't spend my life in a world where Youtube is eternally locked behind a wall of nannyware.

Californians may wish to know that Tagged is currently looking for a Director of Advertising Sales, an Online Sales Ad Executive, a Senior Software Developer and a Software Developer - Release Manager, and that if you join their team, you can expect a competitive salary, performance bonuses, generous pre-IPO stock options, full health benefits, 401(K) plan, and perks like a well-stocked kitchen, gym membership, monthly massages and various offsite activities.

I get a cheese and pickle sandwich and some terrifying jelly sweets, shuffle together my research and the new design notes, and hop the bus home. They want the site to look tasteful.

Truly, times have changed.

Verdict: I'm going to post a cat video because I can.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

day 12 : the music scene

I'm already a member of a music community site, although I didn't join it to meet people. Emusic is a subscriber downloads site which takes advantage of the enormous enthusiasm people have for recommending music to each other. New, old, obscure, you name it, they have a (certain subsection of) it, although being both DRM free and 100% legal leaves their product prone to winking on and off like solar lights in the rain. Another friend on the service finds this intensely aggravating, but I'm more amused; with the amount of music available I'm never going to run out of new, interesting things to download, so the only loss is to the labels. And to emusic, of course -- who should really rename their "save for later" function to "you can save it for later but it may not be available then, are you sure?".

Two, if you count myspace. I suppose that I should. But actually, I'm hitting LastFM today. A site so oldschool, you have to download software for full functionality. No hitches with that, though, so all's good. I figure out scrobbling, build a profile, and set up a suitable soundtrack to go looking for people I already know by. Here, though, is where I hit a snag. It defaults to stealing my address book and spamming all my friends with an "invite". Nah, I don't think so. So I mince through my own address book and pick out the LastFM users by hand, and it's tricky enough that they clearly just want me to give up and just do the spam thing. I also skip over the people who I've drifted out of touch with, those whose email addresses don't instantly recall their name and those who are just a bit too famous. Nah, I'm not going to meet anyone here.

That said, though, it does the music stuff really sweetly. Right now it's pissing down with rain, I'm feeling kind of grim and playing artists similar to Radiohead. I've already had to express my love for tracks twice.

Verdict : It's about the music, not the socialising. Which is fine.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Friday, May 25, 2007

day 11 : In which I discover something I had all along

I've had a yahoo address for a long time. Ever since I got aggravated with hotmail over something and snapped straight over to their nearest competitor, like you do. At the time, Yahoo came with Geocities, and I built a site in odd half-hours, skill-building, like you do. And, good grief, it's still there! Nothing is ever forgotten online, is it?

At the time there was crude interactivity via guest books (remember those?) but I turned all that shit off. Even though a trickle of people have come to me from that site over the years (including being BoingBoinged over some mildly rude toy photos --proof that you never can tell what other people will find interesting) it wasn't a place for interaction or social aggregation. It was about display.

But given as how I've been blasted with various messages about how Yahoo is "embracing the web 2.0 concept" every time I've tried to log in to my email during the last quarter (and no, I still haven't managed to upgrade to the new mail -- the advert reload click is just too annoying) it's no surprise to discover that there's a blog buried in there. Quite deep, and no crowing about it yet; meet Yahoo 360, Beta.

It looks very smooth and modern, the feed aggregator is handy and it integrates smoothly with Yahoo's most shiny toy, Flickr. [Edit: Comments suggest that I may be wrong about that -- I didn't try to do much with it.] Although it'd be kind of embarassing if it didn't. Oh, and from the look of it Yahoo messenger is intended to run in the sidebar, although I don't really message, not since that time I got overexcited and started breaking things. So I don't know if that works.

I have a contact before I've finished building my profile, and it is actually someone I vaguely know. Although whether that was some sort of automatic thing or involved personal volition is open to debate, as no social interaction follows.

Apart from that aggravating ad banner at the top, it is quite pleasant and seamless to use. It loads quickly, which for someone used to Livejournal's endless lagging is refreshing, but probably only points to scale of use rather than effectiveness of programming. If Yahoo 360 was struggling under DDOS attacks and 185, 493 posts a day, it might well have similar problems.

Still, not really doing anything anywhere else isn't doing. I go look for people and the discovery that the search is based on geographical area, sex and age, following which you get to browse a lot of photos, tips me off as to what this place is actually for. Oh. Oh my. Thank goodness the photo I reached for first had me looking rough, nasty and several years out of date.

Verdict: I like the frog, but will probably flee as the IM hook-up scene isn't for me.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

day 10 : linked out and washed up

Today I hit the first knot. The first snag. The first site I look at and think "I can't do this". The site in question is Linkedin and it's an online CV repository. Or Business Community, as it likes to style itself. The ads are for cars, the news is in American, and two (or possibly three) years ago it was being hailed as MySpace for grownups. It look like Friends Reunited and one glance at the sign-up has me starting to sing the "lie lie lie about my identity" song.

Sod this. I need something reassuring. Something cosy. Something fluffy. I hit the Wikipedia list of notable social networking websites in search of Web 2.0 Nirvana and find Dandelife.

After I've recovered from the shock of having my eyeballs massaged by dreamy green fields and nodding Dandelion clocks, and stopped boggling at how beautiful the web can look if you don't let people chose their own skins, I start poking around the rather bizarre set of functions, and rapidly discover the coolest thing ever. My personal timeline. Ah, sweet, sweet ego porn.

It has its own slang ("you have a new fan!"), a tidy feed aggregator, happy relationships with your twitters and flickrs, but none of this is as pretty or impressive as the timeline. That just rocks. And here! This is something the web can do for the world.

Think of a future with no bookshop units stuffed with thick shiny books covered with words like "uplifting" and "inspiring", jacketed with faces of ordinary people with awkward smiles whose stories you may wish to dip into, but don't want to buy and keep. Think of the trees. Think of the Oxfam Bookshop, bursting at the seams with unwanted publishers' makeweight.

And if you're thinking of writing the story of your life, do it somewhere searchable, rateable and easy on the eye. Don't do vanity press, do Dandelife.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

43 things + del.icio.us and tumblr up a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G

I get in and my gmail is howling under a medium-sized burden of Facebook messages. Invites to gigs, a virtual gin and tonic and ... blimey. An announcement that my cousin has gotten married. On their 10th anniversary! Awwww. I've not heard from her in years.

Still, it's all more stuff for the bloody to-do list. In my case: 43 things, which of course comes bundled with allconsuming and oh a few other things probably but to be honest I initially started using it to track consumption over a christmas, and I wasn't exactly expecting to use the to-do list but actually I have and I get a little warm feeling every time someone cheers me on. Or whenever I give a cheer. I have to say, though, that I have not met a single person through it, nor do I use it religiously, nor do I use it for everything. I have a sneaking suspicion that I see it as a sort of well-meaning but somewhat naggy aunt, who always wants to know how I'm getting on with things and is full of woolly and rather random advice. It's also a place for full-blown whininess and things that are just too boring for words, which I try to avoid cluttering up any actual blogs with.

The end of the day comes. I harvest the best of my del.icio.us links and toss them into the Tumblr. Ooh, that was slick. Ooh mama. But will I still be doing it next week, Friday, tomorrow?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day 8: everything's bebolicious

My next "work contact" site is a place called Bebo. Mostly I hear about it from parents: my kid's on Bebo, is this good? Frankly, I have no idea, but heck, it's the work of the moment to discover that they request (optionally, but I'm kind of appalled that even the boxes are there) far too much personal information, claim to be aimed at the 13+ market but have a cloyingly tween feel -- stickers, treats and trainerish "skins" abound, there are lots of funky web badges and skins, and the bands that hang out there remind me of dim memories of Smash Hits and Just Seventeen. Also the advertising. Intrusive. Unpleasant. Ever-present. It feels ... like a magazine.

All this is instantly forgotten though, as I discover that Bebo has an integral Whiteboard. Instantly my fascination with crude drawing tools takes over. It's nothing special but damn it's cool to be able to doodle on your home page. Too bad that those friends of mine who are on Bebo already aren't using it any more -- especially as they're cartoonists.

From the schoolyard to the geekfile I go to sort out having a del.icio.us account already. Astounded I don't have one already? Consider the following statements:
  • I'm in no danger of running out of cool things
  • I can use a combination of google and site searches to find things again if I need to
  • I don't know in the present what I will value in the future

It's smooth slick, easy and tidy, slithers through my work firewall with cheerful disdain and intalls itself into my life 2.0 with nary a flicker ... but there's no social aspect at all.

I do a few half-hearted seaches, but it's frankly no more fun than using google, and I'm not going to play guess the user name to look to see what my friends think are cool as I've posted four awesome things to the Tumblr already today.

Also I find myself reaching for it over a site I've found for work reasons and stop, wondering. Will I use it for work? Should I? It feels like a work tool, in the same way as some of google's online tools do; not part of the social web, but part of nomadic OS. Portable favourites.

And about that fun.

Verdict: I'm off to watch a gig instead.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day 7 : in which I finally hit the hotel

Hello Habbo. Monday morning first thing I blearily stumble into the hotel, having downloaded Shockwave and balanced a suitable laptop on top of a pile of pants.

I go into the Lobby first. After a moment of confusion, I realise the way communication works means you have to sidle up to a stranger's sprite and then talk to them. I watch somone trying it for a bit and gather (through the crude body langauage of basic emoticon) that it didn't go well. She disappears -- teleporting into a different room -- and suddenly ALL CAPS EXHORTATIONS TO VISIT HOTGIRLZ1101 interrupt us. Ah, you can "shout" and all the room will hear. I decide to try the cafe.

In the cafe, Billy stands out through his ability to speak in full words. I go over for a chat. Speak up, he says. I try again. Speak English, he says. This continues for a bit, until I realise that the counter between us must be borking my communication somehow. I sulk at a table for a bit, with Billy's pitiful requests for conversation pooling around me. Staff, probably. I decide to try a publicly-available, privately-built room.

It's pretty bare inside. Furniture costs, decor costs -- even interesting clothes cost, little micro-payments that are dribbled out through your mobile phone (if you opt for the premium service, which I haven't). There are a bunch of people talking, one of whom impatiently greets me and tells me to come in. The conversation is about whethr blondz are skankz or hos, or f wr all bein totly nfair to blond chix who rnt tht bd srly xcpt Linda hahahah soz no lol

I make it through a few lines of this before my coffee starts curdling and I'm compelled to find the Habbo cityport and see if I can throw myself off a cliff (I can't). Then I check out the FRANK drugs bus (closed), the Childline Zen Garden (empty except for a staff-member on a walk cycle and a single Habbo stood silent and abandoned by the doorway) and am considering looking for the Adviceberg (where I can find the people from Sexwise) when I find myself absentmindedly wandering around at the top of a towerblock, trying to get into an abandoned lift shaft. Fortunately, right at that moment, I get a crash.

You left the hotel! admonishes a small, mustachioed concierge, How could you!

I decide the Adviceberg can wait for another day, and (lacking the time to Flickr), opt for Facebook. My brief visit reveals that there are at least four separate Facebook communities dedicated to bringing back the Budweiser frogs ... but also one called Communist Frogs Will One Day Conquer The World, for those who acknowledge and accept the existence of our commie-frog overlords. So it's not as All Gone Wrong as I feared.

Verdict: For the gameboy generation, which is not me.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

And on Sunday, I rested


Fate of the Hutch 2
Originally uploaded by Damian Cugley.
Actually, that's a lie. I spent an active day in the garden, putting up a fences, turning compost into a new bin adapted from an old rabbit hutch, clearing an old dead bed out from behind the shed, attaching trellises, planting a rose (golden showers) weeding and mulching and all the things you kind of need to do after three solid weeks rain and a bit of a back fence SNAFU.

Don't just take my word for it, though; you can follow the whole thing on Flickr, as recorded by my housemate Damian, who often makes me feel like the subject of a documentary.

My Flickr Stream is a visual diary, and a place where I can find lovely eye-candy. And, of course there are people I only know through it and several friends who I keep up with exclusively through there -- the visual types, who like to chat while looking at pretty pictures.

Verdict: The place where you are subject, critic and author.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Day 5 : Did you notice the Livejournal?

Day five; the end of the first working week of the Dia Del Maestro Network Sites fortnight. It's only fair to introduce the yardstick. The measuring post. The big weird uncle of social networking sites whose unlikely bosom I have been nestling in for the last ummumble years.

Livejournal
. The very name makes grown programmers cry and parents of teenage goths everywhere sigh theatrically and then admit that they have one, too -- and one for the cat. When I first joined it, it was by invitation. It took me a day to see the obvious application, pass all of my friends invites and tell them that we had a new socialisation tool, and that they would need it for organising parties.

So, today I am going to party, which I found out about through Livejournal (although there was a back-up email), organised by someone I met through Livejournal, where I'll see some people who I know will be there because they said so, on their livejournals. We arranged lifts by mobile -- slack, but we did leave it a bit late.

This is only possible because of Livejournal's excellent privacy tools, which allow you to finely grade friends according to physical location, emotional closeness, in fact any damn reason you please (I have a friends filter called KillBoingBoing which removes everything (and everyone) I read 'for interest").

Of course, I use it for far more than that. I use their friends page as my primary feed aggregator, the scrapbook for sharing photos with friends, and keep up with distant friends and collaborators through their livejournak. It can do all these things, and even better than that ...

If you use Livejournal, you never run out of things to complain about -- and it's never your job to fix them*.

Verdict: Central to my Life 2.0.

*Yes, you can make it your problem if you want. The LJ volunteer community is waiting with open arms!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Day 4: there's another Jeremy Dennis, on Jaiku

I'm having a busy day, so obviously I stop and do an ego search. Particularly now ex.plode.us has reanimated that concept in my Brain 2.0 ...and I pick up the scent of another one. He's on Jaiku.

Jaiku???

A quick search finds me a lot of ding-dongs in techie blogger which roughly read like this:


I heard your blog-gang are junking their Twitters and getting Jaikus. Flame and
Fume! Some blather about Ruby on Rails. How dare you? I'm still using
Twitter! I'm not! Jaiku is loadz better! I heard your blog-gang are junking
their Jaikus and going back to their Twitters! LOL!
OK, I'm being harsh. But I swear, some commenters really read like they miss the way flame wars used to be, you know? So I join Jaiku and run a quick people search to check out the competition. He is:

  • Playing Starcraft 2
  • Watching The Office Season 3
  • Watching DL.TV from [his] ipod onto a digital projector


... and his mates are all feeds from Twitter. Some of them are web celebrities -- look, there's Scott Kurtz. Ah (penny drops). You can use the people search on Jaiku to find people's Twitters, blogs, etc.

Other than that, if you're like Jeremy, Jaiku may well be for you. It has "channels" covering a bunch of standard interests, and nothing about the name suggests that you might be a wittering twit (which is sort of implicit in Twitter's nomenclature). On the whole, it seems like an altogether more serious place. Which is kind of its downfall ...

The first time I decided to try the posting by sms thing (October 2004, using an LJ utility) I knew it was a fairly bonkers idea, that was likely to confuse and mystify. Twitter embraces the absurdity; Jaiku is SRS website for SRS people.

And, given that I'm pretty secure in my identity as a wittering twit, and my excessive social connectivity leaves little time for stalking, I'll probably be sticking with Twitter.

Verdict: OK BYE!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Day three: I [fail to] enter the Hotel and Explode

You might be thinking to yourself, what is this person doing with her life?

You might be thinking to yourself, clearly this is a no-job, no-hope, no-life wastrel!

Wrong, my friend, wrong. Meet the news:

Over the next three months, in Habbo Hotel, trained advisors from [x] will be hosting regular [x] advice sessions to provide you with confidential information on [x]. Habbo is an interactive online community aimed at children between the ages of 14 - 18.

Not that I work for [x], oh dear me, no. In fact the [x] is merely representative. There are lots of organisations offering Information, Advice and Guidance within Habbo. Just ask Mr BBC. But is this the future of information provision to (young) people or is it just handing more wealth to the information haves while missing the information have-nots?

And, most importantly, do people trust information told by them by a shock-haired sprite with a 2 1/2 dimensional friendly smile?

These, unfortunately, are questions that'll have to wait for later, as I can register, but not access the Shockwave-powered hotel through my company firewall. I'll give it another go this evening.

But in the meantime, I spot a thing called Explode which looks like it'll be almost as fast and easy as Tumblr was -- and I'm not just saying that because it's a friend's latest start-up. That's "Friend" in the Livejournal sense, although I think I have on one occasion been in the same pub as the person in question. Wouldn't really be able to pick him out of a crowd of young entrepreneurs, mind.

So: ex.plode.us. A social search that whiffles through a bunch of social sites pulling out interests and people. Doesn't need a new sign-up, it'll use one of several other sites (and yes, that's where the information's coming from, too).

I get annoyed by a monkey and find a lot of people I know already. And go home and forget all about logging onto Habbo hotel after getting excited by planting mixed alyssum and cooking a tasty fish stew. Sometimes Life 2.0 just can't compete.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Day 2 : I has a tumblr

Initially I was tempted to write this entire post in LOLspeak. But while buying an exciting new book today, I found "evil cat stickers" for sale in Borders, so that fad is over. I suppose I joined lol_bees and created evol_wasps just too late, hm?

So yes, today I create a Tumblr, presumably meant to be the companion piece to your Twitter and your Flickr. It's essentially a hacked-off blogspot with almost no options. None of this hassling you to upgrade templates (yes, alright, I'll get round to it), in fact, nothing of anything much except a slickity-slick design and a super-fast interface.

You also (and forgive me for being picky here, but) can't find other Tmblrs without logging out and going looking for them from the Tumblr home page. At which point you can't add them as friends because you're not logged in! Guess that makes it -- like a blog -- something more orientated towards production than consumption. Ah! No, I seem to have cracked that. Probably something to do with not running the latest version of windows explorertm or a glitch of a similar value.

Well, I've added one random stranger, but it's still not the easiest place to find people. Apart from the anything else, just as in real life, the ability to add friends seems to come and go at random. I'm sure there's a lesson there for us all.

Ooops. Just Tumbled again. With a LOL_owl, no less. (This one). Have to admit, it is kind of addictive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dia del Maestro Network sites fortnight

Tuesday this week was Dia del Maestro, the day of the year when a bunch of countries that care (not the UK then) celebrate their teachers and give them gifts. It also happened to be the day that Facebook started bothering me about a Barbecue I may or may not be going to in July. No, June. I'm pretty sure it's June.

Anyway, after the fourth email, I thought right, I'll look at your damn events page then.

At this point, anyone who uses Facebook will be pointing at me and laughing. Seeing events on Facebook without being a member? Oooh, Grandma, can I help you to your virtual zimmer frame?

Given that I've not had a college email address since 1993 (yes, Virginia, there was an internet in 1993, it was just mostly full of muck, mud and furries) no, I'm not on Facebook, the online community where less nimble students and employees discover to their astonishment that their tutors and bosses are in fact quite likely to be in the same "networks" as them.

We-ell, I wasn't. I am now. Isn't it nifty? I can now spot out teenagers going to the same gigs as me. Join a Flashmob. Upload photos nobody else can see. Tell the world about my "status".

Hold your breath, world: Jeremy Dennis wearing a new dinosaur t-shirt.

Not that any of this matters, as actually the only reason to have a Facebook is if people you know have one and use it. To which the answer is probably yes (it certainly was for me). Other than that, the features work, the ads are unobtrusive and the design won't actually make your eyeballs run away bleeding.

So Facebook = a win. Best feature -- its killer feature, in fact -- is unquestionably the way it takes a quick anonymised shuffle through your webmail address books to see if your mates are already at the party. Will use in future? Possibly.

I'm probably not going to be organising my Barbecues on it any time soon, though...