Living in the long tail and the emergence of tagging

I have been meaning to blog about Stephen Downes' community blogging presentation for quite some time now. I've already touched on the Long tail stuf through the blog and recently in the Why I still listen to Dave Slusher's podcast entry. And Stephen's presentation was the spark for me adding more metadata to my RDF RSS feed. Anyhow here's some great quotes which should spur you to listen or read the presentation.

in Canada we have socialists and socialists always say, “We represent the working class” and that's kind of like the socio-economic way of saying “We represent the long tail.” And they come out with these platforms and these policies that identify with the working people. Ask any of the working people, they don't want to be working people. And so, they're more likely to choose policies that support the rich people, because they all want to be rich, and when they're rich, they don't want to be pushed back into that long tail again. So I don't see a virtue in the long tail.

Because the meaning of a post is not simply contained in the post. And this is where we have lots of trouble with meaning, because we all speak a language and we all understand words and sentences and paragraphs, and we think we've got a pretty good handle on how to say something about something else, and we have a pretty good handle on how to determine the meaning of a word. What does the word 'Paris' mean? Oh, no problem, right? 'Capital of France.' Right? But, you know, it might also be, 'Where I went last summer.' Or it might also be, 'Where they speak French.'

When we push what we think of as the meaning of a word, the concepts, the understanding that we have, falls apart pretty quickly. And the meaning of the word, or the meaning of a post, is not inherent in the word, or in the post, but is distributed.

We can't just blast four million blogs, eight quadrillion blog posts, out there, and hope Technorati will do the job, because Technorati won't do the job, because Technorati represents the whole four million things and I'm not interested in three million nine hundred and ninety-nine of those. What has to happen is this mass of posts has to self-organize in some way. Which means there has to be a process of filtering. But filtering that is not just random. And filtering that isn't like spam blocking. Filtering has to be a mechanism of determining what it is we want, because it's a lot easier to determine what we want than what we don't want.

So how do we do this? We create a representation of the connections between people and the connections between resources. The first pass at this I described in a paper a couple of years ago called “The Semantic Social Network” and the idea, very simply, is we actually attach author information to RSS about blog posts. It kills me that this hasn't happened. Because this is a huge source of information. And all you need to do is, in the 'item', in, say, the 'dc:creator' tag, put a link to a FOAF file. And all of a sudden we've connected people with resources, people with each other and therefore, resources with each other. And that gives me a mechanism for finding resources that is not based on taxonomies, is not based on existing knowledge and existing patterns, but is based on my placement within a community of like-minded individuals.

Great stuff, well worth reading and theres tons of links to learn more from in the page. Very cool presentation, even though I dont totally agree with everything said. The emergence of tagging is something well worth considering into the future. Even Miles has talked at great length about community driven tagging with aggregation playing a role in bring sense or even meaning to resources. Honestly we're not that far off the semantic web in my eyes.

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Shared ownership house buying

As a lot of people know, I'm renting my 1 bedroom appartment with my beautiful wife sarah. Its been over 2 years since we moved into Beckenham which is great but I dont think renting is a good choice for living in London. My friend Lisa just bought a appartment in East London for less money per month as were paying in rent. How is this possible? Well this is where shared ownership and keyworking schemes come in. The main reason why I mention this is because few people seem to know about them. Its the perfect step between owning your place and renting. So how does it all work?

The scheme allows you to purchase a share of a property from a social landlord, usually a housing association. The share you purchase is funded by a mortgage which you will need to arrange with a bank or building society. The remaining share you do not own is rented from the social landlord.

The size of the share to be purchased will depend on your income and savings. Normally applicants buy a 50% share but you may purchase a smaller or larger share (to start with, you can buy as little as 25% or as much as 75%). The higher the share you purchase the less rent you will have to pay. You will also have to pay a service charge when you buy a flat. Later on, if you wish and can afford to do so, you can buy a further share.

Makes a lot of sense when you consider the fact that London is 2nd or 3rd most expensive place to live and buy in the world still? So I've done my bit promoting them, I'm sure you will hear more about them as I take my steps deeper into the shared ownership world.

I wish like Estate agents and lots of other public sector websites that there was a RSS feeds for the latest property. I'm really considering ways to do this myself then exposing the work to the rest of the net for others in the same position to do. I dont believe some new sites dont have RSS still in 2005, for example Scopetech. Advertises its self as a copy of digg but its simply not without the complete RSS digg setup. But I digress…

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Why I still listen to Dave Slusher’s podcast

I stopped listening to Adam Curry's Daily Source code quite a while ago. Tell a lie, I do still download the podcasts, but Blogmatrix's Sparks usually does delete the files before I get around to listening to them. At first it was interesting, well produced and a great chance to get a feel for what was going in the podcast world. However podcasting has moved on, theres a lot more choice and there is no need to know whats going on as such. (Its a bit like a blog about the blogosphere, however I do listen to blogosphere radio now and then). Anyhow around the same time as listening to the Daily Source code, I was listening to Dave Slusher's Evil Genius Chronicles.

But why am I still listening? Well simply, Dave Slusher's podcasts have a much higher level of quality and narrowing that Adam's. I mean he knows whos listening and does not do this general radio style which I and others tend to hate. The Daily source code is a radio show as a podcast, its so general and does not take advantage of the nature of podcasts. Someone once said recently, Its NOT everybody (mimicing adam's voice). And in that statement, says it all. Dave Slusher plays music he loves and talks about subjects which interests him. Adam servers more like a radio dj reporting things which he has heard and been given. Yes he has a huge audience. Yes I do not like the music Dave plays, but screw it. Dave has a quality audience and the narrow band idea tied up.
Dave actually explorers this futher in this post and this podcast. And honestly I've been thinking about this whole area myself…

Its all about metric's, and Dave took the words out of my mouth.

The Podcast Alley fracas is mostly culture clash between the old methods and the new context. The more I think about this, the more I think the focus on the sheer size of listenership is taking the worst of the old situation and applying it to the new world. We don't need to think in channel-limited scarcity mode any more. It made sense when you could only have so many FM or AM channels max in any market, but it doesn't make sense when you have a nearly infinite variety of channels.

I dont really care whos number one on podcast alley, it makes no difference to who I listen to. But I do understand that old/dead media still does metrics by quantity not quality. This is echoed by Doug Kaye who is the owner and creator of IT Conversations. Who has a couple of times asked for listeners to vote on podcast alley, saying IT Conversations should be in the top 50 at least. While he and others (like myself) who listen may not care about what position its at, advertisers will be more interested if its closer to #1 at podcast alley. Its just the way they do metrics at this moment. The question is what can be done about it? Well there's hope from Doug Kaye. But in his answer, lies the actual issue…

I pitched the idea of a ratings system like Amazon, Netflix or IT Conversations, but as he pointed out, that doesn't work for his site. Chris can't just publish an 'average' rating for each podcast, even with some minimum number of votes required. Why? Because a podcast with five votes of “five stars” each, would then be rated higher than one with one thousand five-star votes and just one four-star vote. It's not a problem for IT Conversations and these other sites because 'ranking' isn't as important as the how-good-is-it rating for each item.

Why is the ranking system on IT Conversations, Amazon, IMDB, Netflix, etc not as important as the one on podcast alley? Is it because people realise that you can not compare one thing against another? That views are subjective and relative? What if the Daily source code is number one? Does that actually mean its better than IT Conversations? or vice-a-versa? What does being number one actually mean?

I blame the old/dead mediums for not growing up and moving on. THERE IS NO SCARCITY, anyone can podcast or write a blog, and the abundance of the internet through networking keeps the statement true. Its time to reconsider your metrics, because once again THERE IS NO SCARCITY and its no good trying to create a artifical scarcity. And the other point worth making…

The podcast infrastructure is very open to narrowcasting (I'd go as far as to say it is optimized for it). The popular podcasts in sheer volume of “units shifted” will always be the more general ones. However, a podcast that serves a small niche audience and serves it superbly well will always be lower in total downloads but could be very high in the axis of serving the needs of the listeners.

This was made very clear the other day when Doug Kaye asked listeners to send emails to people who could/would be interested in Underwriting with IT Conversations. With IT conversations narrowcasting to its target audience the Underwriting Campaign was a good success because of a quality audience. What more could a advertiser in the IT world want? Dave agrees…

People keep talking about how advertisers and sponsors want to see “big numbers.” I'm not so sure that is the best way. It is certainly not the only way. If a company has a product or service that is related to that niche interest, they might be getting a much better deal in sponsoring that podcast. The high affinity the listeners have for the show coupled with the focus of the interest may make it a great deal and a more efficient use of sponsor dollars that a general purpose show with a huge listenership.

There are no simple metrics to measure the relative affinity your audience has, or to determine the aggregate influence your listeners wield. In contrast, it is fairly easy to count concurent streams or determine download numbers so that will be what things are based on. This focus on volume, on popularity, on being the top in some ordered list – it all reflects vestigial thinking from the old way of doing things.

And in that lies the problem, its hard work. Its not something you can just count and be done with. I would go as far as say this is exactly what the long tail is all about. Of course large easy to count figures work well in the start of tail but as its spreads into the long tail you need to start thinking differently. Start thinking quality conversations with a your audience, not the old style everybody style broadcasts of yesterday. I know theres been some reaction to the long tail idea. One I heard recently was from Stephen Downes talk at northern voice where he asked, who really wants to live in the long tail?

So people talk, and people have talked a lot, about the long tail and they've said “Worship the long tail, mine the long tail, the long tail is where the action is.” And all of these people who are talking about the value and the virtue of the long tail have the unique pquality of not being part of it. I live in the long tail. And I can say from my own personal perspective that people who are in the long tail would probably rather not be part of it. They simply want to be read.

Stephen certainly has a point, but I don't believe its as simple as wanting to be read. For example, if I simply wanted to be read I could host on a dedicated server and spam all friends, family and there friends about it. Yes I would be read, but honestly knowing I'm read by people who are my peers and also my worst enemy's as such is much more interesting and also much more manageable. Imagine getting 100's of comments per entry? Is that better than recieving that one which points you in a direction you never considered before?I certainly think so and its the reason why I listen to Dave's podcast (with even the music i dont really like) over and beyond Adam's.

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I am not getting a mac!

I reinstalled my tabletPC and have installed the usual software. And finally come back to reality, I dont need a mac at all. That plus the fact I can only get 400 pounds maximum for my tabletPC while a brand new Mac is 1000 pounds. And yes I could get a discount but even 800 pounds isnt enough to make me buy. And i'm not going to sell my tabletpc for a bloody mini mac. I got 3 desktop machines already thank you. So all you mad mac heads drop it.

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Dj software and itunes

My current choice of DJ software falls between VirtualDJ and AtomixMp3 which are produced by the same company and cost quite a bit of money. Now when (if… as its looking less likely I will get the money for the tabletPC.) I switch to the OSX platform, I need something which does a good job in the remixing tunes area. See this is the thing, I get so much wicked tunes now from TranceTraffic and I keep thinking and dreaming about how these tunes fit together, rather than just listening to them. Anyhow, Tima's post titled Garage Band for Dj's, made me think why isnt there a Dj application based on iTunes? (Yeah and would you believe I only started liking iTunes recently?)

I want more then a fix though. In my dreams what I wish for is the ability to program crossfading cues and levels into my playlists. I think of it as making iTunes the GarageBand for DJs. That would be pretty innovative and cool. The real trick comes in making the interface easy and intuitive for the average user.

Well I agree with Tina somewhat, but honesly Winamp has had this feature for a long time. It was even possible to dj with winamp because you could add pitch control, which at the time was very slow and poor quality. But I bet now it could easily be done with the hardware of a sound card. Anyway, I take her point about the interface. Its one the things which still drives me nuts today. DJ applications still copy the Vinyl or CD market! I mean come on, do something different for someones sake. Dare I utter the words? Think different? – oh no its happening, I'm turning into a mac head, someone help me! Back to a reality where i'm not talking apple. I mean take for example, Tim's suggestion of DJ 1800. Yeah nice idea but come on, why copy a CD mixer setup on a Laptop screen? I thought Mac people were meant to be innovative and care about the user experience? Yeah really looks like it. Come on Apple, this has to be ideal move for you guys. You can see it now, buy your tunes from the itunes store, play them and remix them with iDj and share them with your friends? Ok maybe not the last part…

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