A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Demystifying the Social Medianess – Forget About Technology

1174900_circuits When last we left, we talked about how the social web thrives on unselfish communication. I touched a bit on the role of technology, and today I’d like to expand upon some thoughts.

When you hear the words social media what’s the 1st thing that comes to your mind? Twitter or Facebook? How about Blogs? These are tools. They are not social media.

But to many the social web means technology.

I don’t blame anyone for thinking this way. The Internet is a technological advancement that has provided this playground we are now part of. And being constantly bombarded with news about the latest tool, widget, etc., it’s not surprising that people tag technology with social media.

Perhaps this is why many fear the social web. Technology is a scary word. It means new and expensive. These words can spell death for a business or organization who is thinking of trying new things .

Social Media is not new and it doesn’t need to be expensive (though, it can take time when done right). The point is, forget about technology.

Don’t immediately focus your social media efforts on how Twitter can do X

First, take some time to understand the ethics and methodologies behind the social web. Learn how and why people are communicating the way they are online. Listen.

Build this solid foundation and you will begin to see how the social medianess and technology compliment each other. Then you’ll be in a stronger position to fully leverage the available tools that are available.

Tech Meets Cycling

I ride my bicycle to work whenever possible through the scenic District of Columbia, which offers me numerous benefits. It forces me to exercise regularly, cuts down on commuting costs, is a zero emissions method of navigating the city streets (aside from manufacturing processes), and it’s much quicker door-to-door than driving through rush hour traffic.

Naturally, I’ve dabbled with websites, apps, and mobile tools to enhance my riding experience, most of which have been of little or no use to me. That said, there are a few gems available to cycling enthusiasts, and I thought I’d highlight the best of the best from my experiences. Keep reading after the jump for my findings.


Announcing Twitterslurp for Personal Democracy Forum (#pdf09)

twitterslurp Anyone that has been to a tech conference the last few years knows that there is a huge amount of back channel communication that occurs on Twitter.   People provide live coverage of the talks they go to.  People organize dinner plans.  People stage revolts against panelists.  The conversation is constant, unfiltered and takes place in real time.

The preeminent poli-tech conference, Personal Democracy Forum, takes place next Monday and Tuesday in New York City.  Since we are a sponsor and partner of the Personal Democracy Forum, we decided to launch a tool that will aggregate conversation around the conference.  Check out Twitterslurp for #pdf2009.

We are finishing up details, but here is a list of Twitterslurp’s key features:

  • The site will ingest any posts tagged as “#pdf09”, “#pdf2009” or “Personal Democracy Forum” onto our main page in real time.  We can expand the words we track if other phrases/tags are used.  This will allow us to ingest the entire conversation, and not limit us to only pulling in mentions of a single hashtag.
  • Twitterslurp features a leaderboard listing the top Twitter users at the conference based on volume.  Later today, we are going to expand this to feature a fuller leaderboard.  Our hope is that this directory of people tweeting about the conference will make it easy for people to make connections with others at the conference.
  • Twitterslurp features a stats page that analyzes the volume of tweets that are coming in.
  • We’ll be able to use our backend system to filter out spammers.  At the end of the conference, we’ll also have a database of all the relevant tweets which will allow us to do a full analysis of the conversation post-conference.

Most importantly, we’ll be releasing the code behind Twitterslurp to the open source community next week so that other conferences/organizations can use the tool.

Check out Twitterslurp, and follow @bivings for the latest about the release of the tool.

Fixoutlook.org is Great

I’ve been doing web work for over ten years, so I’m sort of jaded about new websites and online initiatives.  I’m not easily impressed.  It gives me great joy when I run into something truly new and novel, as I did last night.

I happened on the website www.fixoutlook.org, which is an effort to lobby Microsoft into supporting CSS and other design standards in Outlook 2010.  The site essentially functions as a Twitter petition.  Twitter users can sign on to the effort simply by sending out a tweet that includes the words fixoutlook.org.  The site then displays all the tweets in a constantly updated wall of Twitter avatars.


The difference between good and great is always in the details, and www.fixoutlook.org gets the details right:

  • Having the wall update in real time and including the avatar is a powerful incentive to send the tweet.  Maybe I’m simple, but I wanted to send out a tweet about it just so I could watch my picture show up on the screen.  And once I sent that tweet, all my followers know about the effort, causing the message to spread via word of mouth.
  • The site has a counter showing how many people have sent tweets so far.  This will lead to people coming back to the site to check on progress.  Over 13,000 people have sent tweets so far.
  • It is smart to have people tweet the URL of the site instead of a hashtag.  This ensures the URL of the site is in every tweet, driving people back to the mother ship.

This is a really well done initiative.  Check it out.

Bing vs. Google — One Anecdote

My daughter's math class needed to find examples of periodic behavior and estimate a sine curve to fit the data, both manually and by using a TI-83 calculator.  Obvious examples of periodic behavior are average city monthly temperatures and low/high tides.  My daughter wanted something a bit more unusual; her teacher suggested looking at data for live births by month in the U.S. prior to the introduction of contraceptives.

 So off to Google we went.  She typed in "live births by month in the U.S., 1954" and got this search result page.  We clicked on several of the links, ending up at this page about the US census.  Data is yearly, we needed monthly.  But there is a URL at the bottom of the page that we followed to the Center for Disease Control.  And with a few more clicks, we found what we were looking for, Yearly Vital Statistics Reports.

We downloaded various PDFs, found the monthly numbers, and my daughter used Excel to plot the graphs, fiddled with the constants to come up with a good approximation, and used her calculator to get the best sine curve fit possible.  About an hour and a half in work.

While she was finishing up, an advertisement for Bing was running on the TV.  So I gave it a try, and typed in exactly the same thing:"live births by month in the U.S., 1954."  I didn't know what to expect, but here's the page, and look at the fourth result.  Bing-o! Not only the data, but various graphs and explanations for the seasonal variation in live births.  All in two clicks.

This is only one anecdote.  I don't know yet if Bing is a decision engine, but in this case it was a powerful discovery engine that beat Google hands-down.