Confused About the Consequences
In the previous couple of posts, I’ve rambled about web apps that will find a book from its cover and a song just by playing it and your online contacts across a myriad of services from your username on a single service.
But today I saw something that brought home to me the consequences of aggregating millions of tiny individual actions, in this case photo uploads to the flickr social photo site.
Form my reading of the post, the purple overlays in the images above – not the blue bounding boxes – are generated automatically by clustering geotagged and placename tagged images and extrapolating a well contoured shape around them.
That is, from the photos tagged “London” [that is, photos that are tagged with London in Yahoo's WOE service], the algorithm creates the purple “London city” overlay in the above diagram.
For each an every photo upload, there is maybe a tiny personal consequence. For millions of photo uploads, there are consequences like this… (From millions of personal votes cast, there’s the possible consequence of change…) [Update: apparently, flickr received its 3 billionth upload at the start of November...]
And it struck me that even the relatively unsophisticated form of signals intelligence that is traffic analysis was capable of changing the face of war. So what are the consequences of traffic analysis at this scale?
What are the possible consequences? What are we walking into?
(Of course, following a brief moment of “I want to stop contributing to this; I’m gonna kill my computer and go and grow onions somewhere”, I then started wondering: “hmm, maybe if we also mine the info about what camera took each photo, and looked up the price of that camera, we might be able to generate socio-economic overlays over different neighbourhoods, and then… arrghh… stop, no, evil, evil…;-)
So to add to the mix, here’s a couple more things that the web made easy this week. Firstly, the Google Visualisation API was extended so that it could consume data in a simple format from your own data sources. That is, if you allow your own database to output data in a simple tabular structure, the Google visualisation API makes it trivial to generate charts and graphs from that data. Secondly, Google added RSS feed support to their Google alerts service. This makes it easy to subscribe to an RSS feed that will alert you to new results on Google for a particular search. What really surprised me was how, after setting up a couple of alerts, they appeared without me doing anything (or maybe that should be – without me changing something to say “no”?) in my Google Reader account.
Small components is one thing.
Small components loosely coupled is another – and one where many of us see value.
Small components automatically wired together is yet another thing – and one that is increasingly going to happen. A consequence I hadn’t anticipated of setting up a Google RSS alert was that the feed appeared automatically in my feed reader.
Yesterday, an unanticipated consequence of me adding my blog URL to my Google Profile page was that several other URLs I control were automatically suggested to me as things I might want to add to my profile.
Whenever I go into Facebook, the platform suggests a list of people I might know to me, whom I might want to “friend”.
Now this recommendation may be because we share a large number of friends, or it might be that I’ve appeared in the same photograph as some of these people… How would Facebook know? Maybe Mircosoft, their search provider, told them: Why “People” Tags? describes how the beta version of Microsoft Live Photo gallery automatically identifies faces in photos and then prompts you to tag them with people’s names… Google already does this, of course, in Picasa, with its “name tags“.
And finally…a chance clickthru from someone on the Copac developments blog, which lists OUseful.info in the blogroll, alerted me through my blog stats to this post on Spooky Personalisation (should we be afraid?) which discusses the extent to which “adaptive personalisation” may appear “spooky” to the user.
(A serendipitous link discovery for me? Surely… Spooky? Maybe!;-)
And that maybe is going to be an ever more apparent unanticipated consequence of the way in which it’s getting so much easier to glue apps together? Spookiness…
PS see also Does Google Know Too Much? (h/t Ray@B2FXXX)