November 2008

Social networking and The Web28 Nov 2008 at 22:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Google Trend reports that the country where Google searches for the word “friendfeed” most frequently originate is Iran. Is FriendFeed very popular in Iran ? Can anyone explain that surprising piece of data ? I stumbled upon it today and it puzzled me enough to warrant some more research.

Google Trend results for “Friendfeed” today :

1. Iran
2. United States
3. India
4. Italy
5. Canada
1. English
2. Italian
3. Japanese
4. Chinese
5. French

Givent that the queries originate mostly in Iran – by a wide margin, it is strange that the most used languages for those searches is English, because Google does have its user interface translater in Persian. A similar phenomenon does not appear for Facebook : there is apparently quite a craze about Facebook in Turkey, and the most used languages in those searches is therefore Turkish.

Google Trend results for “Facebook” today :

1. Turkey
2. Colombia
3. Croatia
4. South Africa
5. United Kingdom
1. Turkish
2. Croatian
3. French
4. English
5. Finnish

As a counterpoint, searches for “Myspace” originate mostly in the USA with English as a language. That is more like what I expected before writing this article.

Google Trend results for “Myspace” today :

1. United States
2. Australia
3. United Kingdom
4. Mexico
5. Canada
1. English
2. Italian
3. French
4. Spanish
5. German

Alexa data for Myspace matches the Google Trend results pretty well.

Alexa data shows that FriendFeed traffic originating from Iran is one fourth of what originates from the USA :

United States 33.6 %
China 10.6 %
Turkey 9.1 %
Iran 7.2 %

Proportionally to population and Internet usage penetration, that is quite a large proportion of FriendFeed users in Iran.

But the Alexa data for Facebook does not match the Google Trends result : it does not even mention Turkey in the top countries of origin – the USA are first, followed by a bunch of western countries.

We could have the following conclusions :

  • Myspace is a mostly American site
  • Turkish are curious about Facebook but actually use Friendfeed
  • Iran are not only curious about Friendfeed but also use it like crazy

Is Robert Scoble secretly dealing with the Pasdaran ? Is there a character set issue that screws up the whole statistics because we are ISO-8859-1 biased ? I have no idea, but I have a feeling that I have barely scratched the surface of the issue and there are certainly plenty of unexpected findings to be discovered about who is using which social site.

Email and Knowledge management and RSS and Social networking and Systems administration and The Web and Unix27 Nov 2008 at 13:17 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Have you tried one more time to convince you parents to switch to web feeds to get updates from the family ? Do you cringe when you see your colleague clumsily wade through a collections of sites main pages instead of having them aggregated in a single feed ? Or did your technophobe girlfriend miss the latest photo album you posted ? With a wide variety of source acknowledging that web feeds ans web feeds readers being perceived as too technical, many of us have scaled back this particular evangelization effort to focus it on users ripe for transitionning from basic to advanced  tools.

Breaking through that resistance outright is beyond our power, but we can get around it. Electronic mail is a mature tool with well understood use cases with which even the least competent users feels comfortable thanks to how easily it maps with the deeply assimilated physical mail model. This is why Louis Gray has started mailing Google Reader items to promote the use of that web feed reader. But we can do better than that by building a fully automated bridge from web feed to email.

Our hope for plugging the late adopters into the information feeds is named rss2email. As its name suggests, Aaron Swartz’s GPL-licensed rss2email utility converts RSS subscriptions into email messages and sends them to whatever address you specify. Despite the name, it handles Atom feeds as well, so you should be able to use it with just about any feed you like. And of course rss2email is available from Debian.

The nice introduction to rss2email by Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier is all the documentation you need – and rss2email is so simple that you probably don’t even need that. I now have some of my favorite late adopters each plugged into his custom subset of my regular information distribution feeds. The relevant news stories get mailed to them without me having to even think about it. And the best part is that they now read them !

Knowledge management and Meta26 Nov 2008 at 15:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I had explained the etymology of the title and where the seagazing ostriches come from, but that still left the mistery of how I chose the title. So here is an explanation.

In their 1997 article “Browsing is a collaborative process” Twidale, Nicols and Paice coined the term “serendipitous altruism” to describe a willingness among online database searchers to assist one another whether or not they were directly responsible for the search outcome or had a direct interest in each other’s performance. In each case, the users acted as information conduits and filters on behalf of their respective audiences.

This paper had a significant influence on me at that time when I was employed at France Telecom to research cooperation issues in collaborative systems. The meme did not spread very widely, so I appropriated it as a slightly obscure yet meaningful blog title !

Books and Military and Politics05 Nov 2008 at 2:26 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading “The Strongest Tribe – War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq” by Bing West. Once the author’s own ideas about the relationship between the nation, the media and the armed forces are set aside, what remains is an account of reference on the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.

Bing West’s military experience gave the author an excellent relationship with the troops, and that granted him access to a variety of sources in theater throughout the whole period. He provides a comprehensive view from the bottom to top about what the US forces experienced in Iraq and how they adapted to overcome the challenges of counter-insurgency in a very muddy political environment.

Communicating the complexity of this conflict is incompatible with the mass-media formats. This book offers the volume necessary to describe how the invaders went through the messy process of stumbling upon new problems, trying solutions, gaining understanding and then building doctrine from the ground up. Bing West’s work is the first one to my knowledge that exposes the whole process and articulates it into a coherent narrative.

We follow the troops as they are dealing with duplicitous Iraqi politicians, struggling to build trust in a lawless society, sustaining morale while working with thankless partners, sticking to western due process standards in a country with no reliable judiciary, overcoming the impulse to stick to search and destroy, living among the locals to stop commuting to work from large bases, learning how to seize and hold sectors in a sustainable way, turning a population terrorized by campaigns of murder and intimidation, and finally getting it all together to find how to get the local potentates to stand for themselves. With the authors eyes, these problems are seen through the prism of the Vietnam war, and we discover what connects to the historical lessons learned in Vietnam and elsewhere, and how the Iraqi mix created original challenges.

The Strongest Tribe stops almost entirely short of the political territory of why the United States went to war in Iraq – and that is a good thing. Bing West does an outstanding job of explaining how the military in Iraq and its chain of command dealt with the fighting, and I extend my praise to him for sticking within that perimeter, apart from a handful of gratuitous mentions of Senator John McCain.

All in all, a recommended read for making sense of Iraq from the local point of view – provided you understand the bias of an author strongly connected to the culture of the US armed forces. Hats off to Bing West for his in-depth work, and hats off to the ingenuity, flexibility and sheer dedication of the troops who navigate in the dangerous unknown.