Archive for January, 2007

Links for 2007-01-31

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Links for 2007-01-30

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Tech Talk at Google tomorrow

Monday, January 29th, 2007

I will be presenting in the TechTalk series at Google tomorrow.

     Google TechTalks are designed to disseminate a wide spectrum of views on topics including Current Affairs, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Business, Humanities, Law, Entertainment, and the Arts.

Interesting list, where do I fit in?

The title of my talk is “Beyond Gigs of Log Data: The Social Aspects of Internet Use”. I will be talking about the importance of social science research in gaining a better understanding of how and why people use digital media. That is, while companies like Google may have unbelievable amounts of information about users based on their online actions, I argue that there are other factors difficult to capture in logs that are also important to understanding how and why people use various online services the way that they do.

From Google’s perspective, I think one puzzle concerns the following. Despite being a media darling and getting a ton of positive press coverage over the years, other than search and ads, the company hasn’t gained significant market share in any realm. Even in search, how is it that they are only used by about half of all searchers with the kind of attention they get? (I actually have answers to this, my point here is that some people don’t seem to take a sufficiently nuanced approach to how the company’s products are doing.) And of course, search and ads are very important areas, but if they thought that was enough, they wouldn’t be expanding to other realms. They are, however, but not very successfully.

Google Maps* and GMail** may be great products – I’ll be the first to admit it -, but again, the company’s market share is small compared to some of their big competitors. Sure, they are relatively recent entrants, but is there any evidence of significant diffusion to new users? Of course, if we really want to hit the bottom of the barrel, we can look at Google Checkout or the now defunct Google Answers.

My point is that simply having automated data about your own users’ actions isn’t going to tell you that much about why others are not your users, and why users of some of your services aren’t embracing others of your products. Hopefully Google understands this and works with people in this realm. I know for sure that they do some interesting work in user experience. But a bit more attention in this area than is apparent may be valuable.

* Based on some data I collected last year about a diverse group of college students’ Internet uses (N=1,336): Mapquest: 85% use it sometimes or often; Google Maps: 39% use it sometimes or often (an additional 33% have tried it, but don’t use it); Yahoo! Maps: 34% use it sometimes or often. This population is much more wired (more time online to explore things) than the general user population so figures here are likely to be higher than what one would find with a more representative sample.

** Based on some data I collected last year about a diverse group of college students’ Internet uses (N=1,336): Yahoo! Mail: 54%; Hotmail: 31%; AOL Mail: 19%; GMail: 12%. This population is much more wired (more time online to explore things) than the general user population so figures here are likely to be higher than what one would find with a more representative sample.

Links for 2007-01-29

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Links for 2007-01-28

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Links for 2007-01-27

Saturday, January 27th, 2007
  • Middlebury History Dept profs ban students from citing Wikipedia in their papers (they can, however, use it as a source to find relevant references)
  • search for music with your voice – interesting idea, but I cannot get it to work for me
    (tags: music search)

Random thought: never send email to “all your contacts”

Friday, January 26th, 2007

I just received an announcement of an event from someone whose name I didn’t recognize. I use special email addresses for special occasions so I can often tell where someone got my address. In this case, the person was emailing me using the address I had used to hire someone last Fall. I then did a search on her name and confirmed that the only time we’d been in touch was regarding the job application process.

It is never a good idea to send an email to everybody in your contact list no matter the email. This would be one example why. There are people on that list whom you don’t actually know. Just because you exchanged one email with someone months (if not years) ago does not mean that you are now buddies and should be exchanging messages.

Needless to say, the incredibly poor judgement to use cc instead of bcc in such a case is just the icing on the cake (or would that be the.. well, I’ll refrain from offering alternatives, you can use your imagination…).

Links for 2007-01-26

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Links for 2007-01-24

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

EBlog polls anyone?

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Although the Web site stats (and occasional emails) make it clear that some people do actually read this blog, most attempts to get you all engaged in anything have failed so I’m not holding my breath. After all, even my most loyal reader (that would be my brother) has only commented two, maybe three times over the almost five years that I’ve been blogging and that he’s been reading. Regardless, I’m inspired by Blue Monster’s use of these little polls to try out this possible feature. So here ya go:

Or for something completely different:

Note that your answer to the first poll should only be influenced by your evaluation of the second poll if you are sufficiently talented to recognize the high quality and importance of the latter question.

Words from the State of the Union Address

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Recall the pointer to the site showing tag clouds of presidential speeches since 1796 (now updated for 2007). The New York Times has done something similar with Bush’s State of the Union Addresses. It’s a neat tool, in addition to the terms shown by default on the right, you can select others or search for any term you choose above the diagram of the speeches. You also get to see the word’s context.

Links for 2007-01-23

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Links for 2007-01-22

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Links for 2007-01-21

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

Links for 2007-01-20

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

Random thought: I’m so not a green dot right now

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

I’m working away like crazy to meet some deadlines and am logged in to GChat, because for some purposes, it’s the most efficient way to contact my Project Coordinator across the country. But GChat has been misbehaving today and occasionally I see myself as a green dot on the system.

In this state, I can only be a red dot or a gray crossed out dot. Being a green dot is simply not an option right now.

Links for 2007-01-18

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Links for 2007-01-17

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Links for 2007-01-16

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Link carefully in case people don’t read carefully

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Today’s Google doodle is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S.. These doodles always link to something relevant regarding the focus of the drawing. I was especially curious to see what the target link would be in this case, given some peculiarities with the results to a search on martin luther king jr. Not surprisingly (to me), the doodle links to the search results of a somewhat different query: martin luther king jr. day, which yields a sufficiently different set of links.

Why was I not surprised and why do I take such interest in this particular case? It dates back to exactly two years ago when I was teaching my Internet and Society class to undergraduate students. At that time, Northwestern didn’t excuse students from classes for the entire day (it does now), but my class conflicted with several campus events so I decided to cancel class. However, I did want them to do some course-related work so I had them blog about something related to the holiday that they found online. It was a very open assignment, but focused enough to get some of the spirit of the holiday on their minds.

One of the students wrote an entry pointing to the Web site and discussed how she had found the site’s critical approach to the holiday and the man behind it intriguing. She cited the sources featured on the site, prominent media outlets such as Newsweek and The New York Times. I found her discussion interesting, but was a bit skeptical and so I went to look at the site. I quickly realized that it was hosted by an organization called Stormfront, which prominently describes itself as White Pride World Wide on its logo.

At this point, I was confronted with the following dilemma: Did the student choose this site while realizing its origins or did she overlook that information? If she did choose it in full knowledge about that detail, was I in any position to challenge her choice of topic for that blog post?

I decided that it was up to her to blog about that site if she wanted (so no, I would not ask her to remove the entry), but it was up to me to make sure she was fully aware of what she had done. I crafted a careful email explaining that I was not challenging her choice for the assignment, rather, I just wanted to make sure she was fully aware of the details. She wrote back and said that she had not realized the host of the site and was embarrassed about the situation. She noted that after careful consideration, she decided to leave up that entry and follow it up with another post about the interesting learning experience that this case had offered.

We ended up discussing all this in class. Note that the student remained anonymous to the rest of the class since my students blog pseudonymously so only I know their identities. They are, however, required to read each other’s posts so I knew there would be other students exposed to what she had written.

Two years ago, the Web site was the first or second result when you did a search for martin luther king jr on Google (I don’t remember its position on the other search sites). Today, it’s #7 on Google, #1 on MSN (among the organic, non-sponsored results), and not in any prominent position (not in the top 20) on either Yahoo! or Ask. The site’s position on Google’s result list is still sufficiently prominent that it would explain Google’s choice to use martin luther king jr day as the query showcased with its holiday logo. I have no idea if this was a conscious decision on anyone’s part, I am just suggesting that it might’ve been.