A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Live-Streaming API Will Transform Your Twitter Experience

Let the onslaught begin.

Today Twitter unleashed their new “live-streaming” API, which enables users a totally new way to enjoy the micro-blogging service sweeping the world. For users who access twitter through the multi-account capable, user-friendly app Tweetdeck, there is a new API option called “User Streams” that is now in “a limited testing period”. Keep in mind: there are an estimated 3,000 tweets sent per second.

All the features of Twitter you know and love will now be streamed in real-time, including the user timeline (your main account), direct messages, retweets, new followers, favorites and even additions to lists. By taking these updates into real-time, Twitter is continuing to reach it’s full potential as an information delivery service. Now without refreshing, reloading or any action at all on the part of the user, you can watch Twitter flow like the beautiful river of information that it truly is.

Users hungry for the action can either pay $20 for a registered version of Echofon for Mac, or sign up for one of Tweetdeck’s preview releases. Until you get your hands on this to see it for yourself, there’s this blistering fast preview video  that will give you an impression of how exactly Twitter will be the newest and truest incarnation of the “real-time web”.

PdF 2010: Notes from the Opening Events

Can the Internet Fix Politics?

That question is the theme of the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum, a two-day conference that merges technology with politics. Another theme that continued to be mentioned during the opening event of PdF was the ongoing disaster in the Gulf Coast, and the inability of the government and private industry to solve the crisis.

Micah Sifry noted during his welcome remarks that the real time viewing and public reaction of the oil spill is a metaphor for our times, where people can stare at the images and video, but are slow to take action. Sifry also posed the question: Will the websites, networks and tools being built facilitate long-term growth and solutions?

The event began with an impressive list of speakers, including Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, who spoke of his websites’ ability to offer not only access to data, but also facilitate dialog. He mentioned 9/11 and the Haiti earthquakes as examples of being able to provide people an outlet in a time when broadcast news offers wide coverage but little in the way of real information or details.Interestingly, while Wales sees the value in his own website and its transparency, he expressed concern in the value of having the home value of a neighbors’ home or the myriad of details found on sex offender websites. He remarked that in government, there are some things that need to be private simply so that business can be completed.

Next, the legendary Daniel Ellsberg spoke of how he would have released the Pentagon papers of 1971 in today’s times, mentioning the immediate value in scanning the documents and simply posting them online. The conversation then questioned whether that action would have had the same effect as it did during that time, when more attention was paid on the fact that the government learned that they could not stop the exchange of information.

Ellsberg was joined on Skype by Julian Assange from WikiLeaks , whose website publishes and comments on leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct. Ellsberg spoke of the fact that his website “makes whistleblowers the heroes” and that courage it takes to expose wrongdoings encourages others to do the same, creating more transparency in government.

Video from PDF is streaming live at http://personaldemocracy.com/live .

You can also keep up with the latest Tweets. Check out the PdF Twitterslurp at http://personaldemocracy.com/twitter , powered by The Bivings Group.

Event hashtag is #pdf10.

Do you really digg your town?

Some people really dig their town, and Manor, TX is trying to tap into this passion through its crowdscouring site Manor Labs.  The site has many social media features from sites like Digg.  It seems fitting that its CIO Dustin Haisler, who is 23, spearheads this effort; perhaps this is what you get when you give a millennial authority.  He is doing something bold.  Check out the May 2010 Government Technology profile of his efforts titled "City 2.0."

Like Digg, Manor Labs enables people to vote up or down each idea, and the more popular an idea is, the more likely that the town will take action on it if it is reasonable and feasible to do so.  Participants are also given "Innobucks" that they earn by contributing to the site.  They can cash them in at the site’s store for privileges like the opportunity to serve as a honorary mayor for the day (complete with lunch and dinner with the mayor and city manager), a ride with the police chief in his car for an entire shift, and — my favorite — the opportunity for the town to officially name a week after the person through proclamation. It is important to give participants incentives — even if it is an ego boost like getting a week named after you, which comes at very little cost to the town.  Further, I wonder how many boys between between the ages of 3 and 10 years old who are begging their parents for a ride in a police car…  Very clever.

There’s little need to touch upon peddling and purchasing influence since the spirit of the effort is to encourage improving the town for everyone. ;)  Another advantage to this type of crowdsourcing is that it is done in a venue that promotes transparency.

As I have noted before, there are participation inequality issues.  Not everyone has the ability (whether access or competency) nor the desire to participate in such an effort. What happens when the digitally savvy and excited over represent themselves?  That was the case when the Utah State Legislature passed a school voucher bill back in 2007; many pundits attributed some of the success to a discussion about the bill on the Politicopia wiki set up specifically discuss political issues in Utah.  After the bill’s passage, the bill was killed by a voter referendum.  Thus, even though people get excited about an idea online, it does not mean that most of the other affected people agree with the direction of the discussion.

However, it is important not to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Organizations that use social media to gather opinions and feedback from their constituents must acknowledge that their entire constituency likely does not use one channel of communication and participation.  Thus, they must take such feedback and participation in context and solicit feedback through other means to involve a more diverse group of stakeholders.  If Manor, TX does this, it likely will avoid what happened to the Utah State Legislature. 

Reclaim your Facebook Privacy

Matt Pizzimenti is concerned about how Facebook’s privacy policies and settings have evolved over the last little bit; that is why he started the ReclaimPrivacy project.  He has created an application that people can easily use after they login into their Facebook account. 

The application scans their privacy settings and provides alerts about several settings that one can use to hide various aspects of their account from anyone’s view.  One of the things that I particularly like about this application is that it provides instant links to the place where a person can adjust their settings to ensure that their information is only shared with those with whom they desire. 

Pizzimenti links to several recent articles that explain that Facebook’s recent actions have aggravated privacy advocates.  One thing that has irked them is that in some cases new settings have default values that allow the site to share account holders’ information with the public. Pizzimenti’s application will help individuals better understand all of the privacy vulnerabilities that they face.  It appears that it will flag any setting that is set to share information with Everyone (versus "Only Me" or only friends).  However, the application does not change anyone’s settings; it simply alerts them to vulnerabilities.  I think that this is an excellent idea since some people may want to have some information publicly available as this facilitates people finding them.

Regardless of how one feels about Facebook’s actions towards privacy, it is a good idea to continually examine one’s account settings on a social networking site.

The Magic Is In the Makeup

In the world of website and graphic design, image is everything, and with it, the art accompanying the project just as significant. While businesses frequently face the challenge of finding images that appropriately represent their organizations and/or services, it is not to say that success will be found 100% of the time. Surprisingly, the most important aspect of their presentation can often times appear rushed, or other times under cooked.

The entire concept of image retouching is similar to that of a magician: The viewer should never be in on the trick.

Image manipulation is truly an art, and nowadays when a 15 year-old can remove a lingering pimple before posting party pics to Facebook, everyone is in on the act, albeit with mixed results.

I am always on the search for examples of what I’d like to call "photostopping,” where both the photo and reality end, leaving you wondering why an effort was made at all.

I find myself endlessly entertained by the website Photoshop Disasters, featuring examples of poorly implemented designs that actually make it past the cutting room floor. Viewing the site, you would be surprised at the epidemic of models missing limbs in advertisements.

microsoft-capture-FINAL

This example comes from the Polish edition of the Microsoft website. While it is not uncommon to come across websites using the same stock images, it would seem that there are only so many of the standard “diversity” business shots available.

In the image, one businessman is clumsily swapped for another, going as far as neglecting the color of the replaced man’s hand. While you could potentially excuse other companies for shoddy design, please remember— this is MICROSOFT!

And I haven’t even touched the subject of the obvious white MacBook prominently featured in the center of the shot.

Source: Photoshop Disasters

Further reading: Joe Wertz: The Politics of Photoshop — 10 Historic Doctored Photos