Boston Marathon

De bommen die ontploft zijn op de Boston Marathon zijn pas van een week geleden. Binnen die week hebben de autoriteiten de daders kunnen identificeren, opsporen en aanhouden. Dat laatste is nog het minst succesvol verlopen met het doodschieten van één dader en het levensgevaarlijk verwonden van de ander. Een onvoorstelbaar snel resultaat.
Wat me iedere keer weer verbaasd is het aantal beelden die van ons genomen worden, overal waar we zijn. Dat de daders haast van minuut tot minuut terug te volgen zijn op de beelden van diverse camera’s. Nieuw is dat, door het massaal delen van foto’s en video’s, dat niet meer alleen maar beelden zijn van vaste camera’s maar ook de beelden van duizenden camera telefoons van mensen die de beelden delen via Twitter en Facebook. Zeker tijdens een evenement als de Boston Marathon is die stroom haast onbeperkt. Continue reading “Boston Marathon”

Transparancy in politics

I recently came across this website that is dedicated to fact checking on political statements in the USA. If you listen to the candidates for US president it is often very hard to know if they are talking the truth, bending the truth in their direction or lying outright. Interesting to see that this website (and there are several other ones like this one) are increasing the transparancy a lot. It is shocking to see how much “distorted truths” are being told by these politicians.
The power of sites like these is that it will be getting harder and harder to stretch the truth once very white lie is monitored..

Context is King

IYOUITOne of the area’s of research from Telematica Instituut is using technology to determine the context of people. For example where you are, who you are with, what is your mood, what are you doing. This context is very usefull input for a lot of other things like recommendation (when you search for a restaurant to dine with you new girlfriend and value my opinion you do not want to use my recommendation of a restaurant I liked because it is so nice for the kids). So context is king for lots of new “social” applications.
For this we have created a new application called IYOUIT (meaning I, You and It). This is an application for mobile phones (Symbian S60) and constantly monitors your context and shares this with your friends. Recently this tool is made available to all. Have a look at it. It uses only the standard phone sensors (GSM signal, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS if available) to determine things like location, who is close and such.
One of the things this also shows is the power of “mashup programming”. The application uses all kinds of readily available applications. Google Maps of course but also weathersites. Why measure local temperature (and be dependent on extra hardware sensors) if you can find the local temperature based on your location data on a existing weather site?


MeIt is amazing how fast social networking is growing. Every time I am giving a presentation I always ask my audience how many people use one or more social networking sites like Facebook, MySPace, Hyves, LindedIn or another. Since a year this percentage is growing from 20% to more than 70% nowadays. I think especially business oriented sites like LinkedIn made social networking more “salonfähig” than before.
Social networking is I think an area where the idea of “the rich get richer” is especially true. After all, once you have many customers you tend to have more people sending invitation and there is more chance that people send invitations to you. One would expect that only some big sites remain and that newcomers have a hard time growing.
Therefore it is surprising that a new one, Plaxo, is really flooding my e-mail box. Many contacts have send me an invitation. After 10 invitations I decided to take a look, make an account and start using it too. I was a bit weary for this since using lot’s of sites is awkward, I thought.
But I must say this is a sticky one. Firstly they are very easy to link to your existing social networking site like LinkedIn. Secondly they use something they call “pulse”. On plaxo you can fill in the blogs you write, the photo sites you use and all other exhibitionist’s methods and they are shown in a log to all your contacts. This resulted in several comments on the photo you see above, I did not realize that it would be shown to all (welcome to the world of total transparency). Before I wrote about small world networks. One of the effects I see by using Plaxo is that you can see that lots or your contacts make contact with people you also know (and since you see this in the “pulse” you immediately connect to them too …).
One of the interesting developments in social networking is OpenSocial from Google, used by Plaxo too. Google failed miserable with Orkut and other social tools they developed. So they decided to create an API that makes it possible to integrate all social sites in an easy way. And thereby minimizing the advantage you have by having lots of members since everything integrates easily. And thereby minimizing your disadvantage when you have failed miserably in creatign you own social site. You have to admire them…

Google, formerly known as the NSA

I am member of a guidance committee for Rathenau instituut in the Netherlands for a project about privacy. In this project we deal with the changing concept of privacy in our society. I talked about it some time ago in this post. It still amazes me how much people put on the net (including what I put on the Net, look at the sidebar of this Blog).
In this project a special website has been developed that invites people to comment on privacy, discuss and share all kind of ideas in a creative way around this subject (the website is The information on the side ranges from exhibitionists to people putting an image of their passport on the web to people completely hiding how they look in real life. In the end a television documentary will be made out of it.
There is one item on the site that is I think very interesting. A colleague of mine, Rogier Brussee, has a conspiracy their for some time that Google is in fact a front for the NSA. Funny thing is if you look in the history of Google that they got quite large initial funding in order to pay for all the servers they needed to store all their data. Without it Google would not be able to show how good they are. But at this moment there really was not even a beginning of a business model. So his theory is that the NSA is the one that funded it (this is the organization with one of the largest budgets in the USA so funding 30 million dollar is mere noise to them). Their strong emphasis on “Don’t be Evil” of course fits nicely into this idea…
Just look at what Google knows of you:

  • It knows what you are interested in based on your searches as well as what link in the search results you clicked (the link you click on is not the real link but links to Google and than transfers you to the site you wish to go. Also you can save bookmarks, the kind of information on your iGoogle page, Google reader to show what blogs you are interested in (subscribed as well as the one you click on to read). The list goes on: adds you click on, the spell checker I use to check this blog so they already know I am writing about this before I post it …)
  • It knows what you are going to do based on your calendar info. The one thing that really surprises me is that Google does not yet have a tool to store your to-do items since this is a much better way (finer grained) for predicting what people are doing than your calendar).
  • It knows with whom you communicate and about what, based on your Gmail.

An of course, items like google apps enhance the knowledge about you by knowing what you are writing (though you would have sent it out with Gmail so they would have known anyhow.
Looking at this amount of data they have about a lot of people must the the ultimate dream of the NSA. Looking at the video below it is clear that more people are beginning to be suspicious.

Though I must say that I am totally addicted to Googe: Gmail, Calendar, Apps, Psearch, Scholar, and probably lots of others I use but do not know they are Googles (I use a very nice ToDo app that for all I know may be a front for Google (who is a front for …). I use them all because I like how they work (Hey Google, when are you going to develop this ToDo application, and when you are at it, why can’t I synchronize with my phone through SyncML…. If you do that you also know who I am calling).
I just hope they are not Evil…..

Who do you call

When I start to work on something new the first thing you do is find a lot of information about the subject you are going to deal with. However, information only gets you started. In order to really understand a subject it is essential to talk to people that have dealt with it before. You can read a wall of books on how to cure diseases but there is no substitute for a talk with the real expert. In every field the amount of knowledge to make the right decisions is so vast, you simply can not write everything down.

In the past I did a project for bakery’s and my task was to write down how they make the bread. One of the issues was how we could describe the moment the dough is ready to be laid down to rest. Terms like stickiness, feel, elasticity and many others where mentioned but there was no way to get a good description to tell someone knew when it was OK. The only way to learn this was to work together with an expert and be shown how it was to be done.

(this reminds me of a story from Winnie the Pooh. Someone asks Winnie what he likes most in the world. And he thinks in his mind that honey of course is very nice. But the moment just before eating the honey, that was the best….. but he did not know the word for this moment.

For me this leads to the conclusion that we can not rely on written information to understand the complexities of real life. We need the knowledge and interpretation of experienced people to understand what it means.
There I think there are quite some risks in a project like “kindbeeld”, a government project in the Netherlands where all information regarding a child is stored in a system so it is easier to see when something goes wrong, even though the child has moved quite often (the idea is a nationwide implementation). When we all lived our lives in the same villages there was no need for such a system since people knew each other. But the risk with a system like this is that people using this information will give a totally different interpretation of what is meant.
In a project we did some time ago we did not provide people with the information itself but gave back the contact information of the people that wrote down this information. The idea is that it is better to call these people and really get their opinion than to misinterpret the written words.
People (and children …) are a lot more complex than making bread. We should be careful not to overestimate the power of information without context.

Are you linkedIn?

new improved semantic webI think we all know the sorry feeling that we lost track of people we knew and worked with in the past but lost sight of. In the past it a was always very hard to find them again. Since some time now there is a new social network called LinkedIn. The idea is that you can find people by name and that they themselves keep their profiles up date. Meaning you can find them on their current e-mail address.
By using it I already found some old friends from the places I worked, colleagues, customers and partners. It even integrates into outlook and recognizes people you may know from all the old e-mails you have sent (I have an archive of all my mails from 1997 and on)
This linking to each other creates an interesting web. You can normally see the acquaintances of other people and and have a look at their network. Potentially you can get an introduction for people you wish to contact. One of the other interesting features is that you can pose a question that others can try to answer.
It seems to be growing explosively, especially in the Netherlands…
I think one of the reasons it works is that the identity of the people involved is (on average) accurate. People are who they say they are. After all, the network is also meant for finding real people and real jobs. So there is no use in providing false identities. I am really curious in how this network is evolving. Another interesting aspect is that the network that people build based on their role is becoming more their own instead of their employers. This may create a feeling of independence (which is a good thing in my book). Potentially the added value for the users is much bigger than it is in networks like facebook since it keeps track of how your career evolves after graduation.
I sent them an e-mail to find out if it is possible to get (anonymously) their data on the linkages between people. This of course is a small world network but it is interesting to find out what kind of people are the connectors, what is the average separation, and so on. I have not yet received an answer…
You can find me on linkedIn .Laughing

Cookie jar

I remember as a small child that, when you had taken some cookies from the cookie jar you were not supposed to take, your mother somehow always knew. I suppose this must feel the same for the people that got caught by the Wikiscanner.
This is an application that relates the IP adresses from the people who did edits on the Wiki pages. Surpringly (or maybe not so surprising really) a lot of edits come from organisations that are involved in the wiki-article and their intentions are not always without self interest. The page of George W. Bush was edited from the home security office (removal of the fact that he had a drinking problem) and the best of all about the edit from the queen’s home address where information from her daughter-in-law Mabel was edited to make her look a little better.
This all is of course not surprising. When information can be edited there is no reason to think companies and people will not do so in order to make them look better. The interesting part is that it turns out that many of the un-truthful edits had been discovered very quickly and have been repaired withing hours and sometimes even minutes.
Also, the wikiscanner is a new step that “the crowd” can and will use to make the information more trustworthy. More transparency will lead to better information. Not perfect but still a little bit better and better to judge.
These are for example the edits from the Telematica Instituut (looks like we have a lot of mathematicians in the company or are these the edits of one person?). Interesting…

Citizen Journalism 2

They made it! The group of people from AssignmentZero I blogged about some time ago have their articles published on Wired. Though it is easy to see that it has been a mixed blessing in results it is also easy to see the enthusiasm people have in doing this. One of the conclusion they have reached is that a good balance or professionals and amateurs is crucial. The professionals know how to present news, the amateurs are everywhere where news may be found. Read more about it here.
Also, we have an example of this trend in the Netherlands. They recently published an ad in the newspaper “DAG” for citizen journalist to cover news from the “Tour de France”. I think that is an excellent combination of enthusiastic amateurs covering many locations with phone camera’s in combination with a professional editorial team. All sides win: the amateur have a great time while watching the tour with a missions and the newspaper gets wider coverage of the news.
Lot’s of people love producing instead of just consuming.

A thousand lies

This is such an interesting example of how our new production of information can go wrong:This is an interview with Christine Boutin, the French minister of housing, about the conspiracy that George W Bush is behind the attack on the WTC towers on 9/11. A small translation of the first part goes like this:

I think that it’s possible. I think that it’s possible… I think it is possible. I think it more especially as I know that the sites that speak of is problem are the sites that have the greatest numbers of visits….And so, I tell myself, I who am extremely sensitive…to the new techniques of information and communication, that this expression of the mass of the people cannot be without any truth. I’m not telling you that I adhere to that position, but let’s say that, nevertheless, I’m questioning myself a bit on this question

Some time ago I talked about the fact that due to ease of copying information of the Internet it is possible for an item of information to multiply rapidly. And a thousand lies remain a thousand lies.
This I think is an excellent example why we have to rewire the way we interpret information due to change that Internet brings us.