Asymmetric Disclosure in Social Networks

A thought in process…

In a social network, under what conditions should relationships between individuals be publicly discoverable?

So for example, if I am a member of a social network that supports private groups and I put You in one of My private groups, and You put Me in one of
Your public groups, should Our relationship be publicly disclosd on Your profile?

A ‘real world’ version of this (?maybe): suppose You have a problem. You ask Me for a chat about it over coffee in a public coffee shop. Under what circumstances should I be able to disclose in public that You and I had that coffee together?

I haven’t got a proper definition of what I think I mean by asymmetric disclosure yet, but what I (think I) want is to find a way of representing (or at least, talking about) public and private relationships between individuals that allow us to reason about whether friend of a friend connections that are private might end up being disclosed in public just because it’s too complicated to work out whether something is, should, or might ‘reasonably’ expected to be, public or private…

So here’s where I’m at: an asymmetry can be thought of arising if one party in a relationship can reveal information about the other that the other believed they had disclosed to the one in a “private” way, or at least, not in a public way.

This all becomes relevant when we start thinking about ‘friend of a friend’ based friend recommendations or social search and potentially unwelcome disclosures that might result. It might also provide a way of helping us reason about situations where information flow can route around “privacy blocks” via network connections we might not be aware of?

PS here’s another example of possible asymmetric disclosure, this time taken from Twitter. Suppose @A, who has 50 or so followers, tweets “It’s my birthday”. If B, who is one of A’s followers, responds with “@A Happy Birthday”, that response will only appear in the feed of people who follow both A and B, although it can also be seen on B’s public page. If C, who has 1,000 ‘unmoderated’ followers (that is, C never blocks anyone) tweets “Hey, Happy Birthday @A”, all of C’s followers (which let’s assume are mainly spambots and social phishbots(?)) see the message. C has amplified A’s birthdate details. (Admittedly, A had already made that information public, but their intention may only have been to declare that fact to their 30 or so followers. So what we have here is potentially a case of unintended amplification…?)

See also: Brand Association and Your Twitter Followers

Experimenting with the Form…

One of the challenges I’ve set myself this year is to write some sort of book about Yahoo Pipes. Reading Presentation Zen three or four weeks ago, I started to imagine the form such a book might take. What I aspired to was something uncluttered, something that would contrast with the typical confusion of words and ideas that tend to end up being dumped into; something like an artistic recipe book, perhaps, or an art gallery catalogue; the form should be decomposable, allowing sections to be removed or updated without too many side effects on the rest of the work; and the authoring environment should complement the the publication environment, enforcing constraints of the medium the book would be published into.

In short, something like Powerpoint done well, but for print rather than screen.

It seems (of course!) that Tim O’Reilly had already executed a similar idea in the form of the Twitter Book, as John Naughton pointed out to me a couple of days later.

You can read more about O’Reilly’s take on the philosophy behind this sort of representation in Reinventing the Book in the Age of the Web.

Anyway, I spent a weekend doodling ideas, and then left it a couple of weeks. Now I’m looking at it again, and I’d appreciate your comments on whether this sort of presentation works for you, (and if not, why not?), how it might be improved, how it might be simplified (but remain accessible to a novice) and so on. The numbering scheme used is not related to pages – instead, each “point” I make has a number, and these are referred to from the index (I drew inspiration for this sort of numbering from The Pengin Cookery Book). Comments on the level at which the technical content is presented, and the way in which I have started trying to develop a narrative, will also be appreciated.

I originally thought that the “book” should be printed in an A4 landscape form, but then I started to wonder whether two landscape A4 pages could be combined into a portrait A4 page. The font size is problematic, and the I don’t think the same layout works for the landscape vs. portrait view, at least, not as it currently stands.

Anyway, here are the landscape and portrait versions. I don’t think they work as embedded content, which is a shame, but they weren’t written for that sort of medium, so it’s to be expected.

(If you are reading this in a feed reader, you will probably need to click through to the original post in order to see the embedded documents.)

Please bear in mind, too, that I’m not a designer (this much will be be obvious), but that I do think design could play a large part in making this approach usable.

Please feel free to add your comments below:-)

Browse Links in Delicious – Another OUseful Prototype Unprediction Comes True:-)

Although I subscribe to a lot of online app blogs, I don’t subscribe to them all, instead relying on twitter and subscriptions to other commentator blogs to do some of the filtering for me. This isn’t always reliable, of course, and sometimes I rely on “new” flags to alert me to new features in some of the apps I use regularly.

Like this one:

A ‘browse these bookmarks” feature in delicious (original announcement).

Pick a user, one or more tags, or any combination thereof, and you can click through a preview of the bookmarked websites using something they’re calling the browsebar:

If you look at the top of the screenshot you should see the browsebar – it lets you click through the links one at a time, in the order they were bookmarked. So if you’re giving a presentation based around demoing a series of websites, this is a handy way of doing it.

And this is where my unprediction comes from, either from April 2006, or maybe somewhen in 2005, depending on whether you trust me or not…;-) deliShow, aka the Feedshow Link presenter

At it’s simplest, Feedshow would take and RSS feed and present the links in a window in much the same way that the delicious browsebar works:


I also added tools to splash a shortcode for the presentation (and maybe in a later tweak, the currently displayed bookmark?), so that viewers could also click through the slideshow in their own browser, and started working on feedshow synching facility so that remote viewers could synch the current state of the presentation to that of the person leading the presentation.

Unfortunately, the code behind feedshow appears to have rotted (maybe I should redo it at Dev8D?)

Of course, if we give delicious a year or two, they might implement something similar themselves? ;-)

PS I wonder if they’ll release a DeliTV app too, to allow users to use delicious to programme their Boxee TV viewing?;-) (More on that in the next couple of weeks….)

Two Variants of Google Blogsearch?

Yet more signs that Google is losing the plot… Whilst putting together a quick Yahoo Pipes demo, I called up the Blogs search option from the More menu item in Google websearch in order to pull an RSS feed of blog search results from it… But there was no feed option?

Strange, because does offer a feed option for blogsearch results?

So what we have here is a case of similar branding but different sidebar options. That is:

does not give the same sidebar options – or the autodiscoverable feed option – that this does:

But the top left corner branding of each site is the same?

Just six words…

Don’t you think Google looks tired?

How Did People Reach This Blog in 2009?

Brian Kelly closed his post on “How Did People Find This Blog in 2009?“, a review of traffic drivers to his UK Web Focus blog, with the question: “Are other blog authors spotting similar trends?”

So here’s what I found using the WordPress stats numbers (which I presume is what Brian used?) for this blog.

Summary table – visitor numbers [views] for 2009: 155,627. Content on the site dates back to July 2008 – it’s not easy to see how much of the traffic was to posts published in 2008, though I know some of it was…
[I think this means folk who visited the site. In addition, there are folk who read content via a feed and did not click through to the original post on the blog site. As a Google Reader user, I often open a post in a new tab to save it to read later, or to resolve the URL (many blog post links in Google Reader appear as feedburner proxy URL, rather than original, URLs) for bookmarking to delicious, rather than favourite it. Looking at syndicated views stats, each posts gets me approximately 300 syndicated views (on 1800 subscribers) within a couple of days, then another 100-200 views over the next week to 10 days.]

As far as referrers went, my top 5 were:
– 1,492
– 1,463 [scraping wikipedia post]: 1,047 (as a steady trickle) 891 (I think in a burst of activity?)
– 849 (so I presumably have a fair number of clicks from folk who don’t use a twitter client?)

[I don’t know if these numbers relates to visitors, or views? Eg if someone is referred from Twitter and then views 5 posts on the site, does that count as 1 or 5 referrer points?] (archived posts from prior to it being hosted on WordPress*) brought in 716, then (689), (667), (655) and (584).

*The archived content at attracted about 67,000 page views from 50,000 or so visits on that domain (according to Google Analytics).

The Guardian and Google Maps Mania referrals show how getting a mention to a particular post on a well visited site can work wonders for traffic, as can traffic from your own legacy content.

The top incoming search terms from the search engines were private browsing (2,404; in private browsing also brought in 629), cbbc iplayer (1,334) and google database (693), all of which are phrases or near phrases that appear in the title of particular blog posts.

PS Here, for comparison, is what Brian found for his blog:

There were 90,088 visits to the Web site in 2009 according to the WordPress statistics (up from 75,101 in 2008 and 52,648 in 2007). But how did these visitors arrive at the blog?

The answer is quite simple – via Twitter and Google. The top referrer was (which delivered 1,047 views) with another variant of the Twitter home page ( delivering 540 views and delivering a further 384 views.

The Google Reader Web site ( was in second place with 774 views with two other variants ( and providing 171 and 131 views. Another popular RSS reader ( was in fourth place, delivering 453 views.

My OUseful Resolutions for 2010

So, as one year passes and another arrives, it’s time for me to try to use a ‘public’ statement, (insofar as can be read by anyone with web access) to declare some of the things I’d like to do in 2010 in the hope (fear?!) that my imagined readership may try to hold me to account on one or two of the items;-)

Around about this time last year, I resolved to try to get involved with ‘policy’ in some way; aided and abetted by Joss Winn, who picked up on a tweet early in the relating to the lack of commentable versions of the Digital Britain Interim Report, we’ve since set up a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee – Public Platforms Limited – to look after the interests of WriteToReply, a document commenting platform based on a WordPress theme we’d seen used on a couple of government consultation sites and that we used to republish the Digital Britain Interim Report. WriteToReply also spawned a JISCRI project (JISCPress), brilliantly managed by Joss, which started to develop a platform to support project calls. So here’s my first resolution:

Continue to work on the development of the WriteToReply and JISCPress platforms, including: technical development; use case development; business development.

With an election due, I’m quite keen to see what we might be able to do with the various party manifestos… So if the digital engagement’n’social media folk of any of the main parties want to give us an electronic copy of their respective manifestos, and a free license to republish them in commentable form, that would be handy;-)

Last year’s resolution to engage with the policy thing was in part a response to a call from my Head of Department to get involved with such matters; this year, the call is out to generate billable hours in the form of consultancy work, so here’s resolution number two:

Generate in excess of 15K UKP invoiced by the OU for my “services” doing whatever. I’ve always been resistant to this sort of thing (“why would anyone want to pay me? And what would they want in return….?! I am not worthy etc etc”) so if you do have any budget that needs consuming by a “public agitant” (cf. a critical friend;-), I may be able to help… but no guarantees!;-) Also considered: mashup workshops for non-programmers (alongside Mike Ellis if he’s up for it..?!), tinkering with your toys (see the Arcadia Project blogs for what I managed to do in the Cambridge Library context).

The third item on the list is a continuation of another of last year’s forays:

To further explore the notion of data journalism, as well as the use of live data in an (open) educational context. The main short term focus for me in this direction will be around the initiative, and in particular the crafting of: a) shareable parameterised queries, that are: b) expressed in representations that can be directly consumed by third party applications and visualisation widgets (i.e. no programming required;-) But I also hope to get into the Linked Data thang in the context of HEIs (or at least, try to keep up with whatever Stuart Brown manages to pull off!)

A guiding principle for all the above will be to continue to work in an open fashion, ideally in the context of one of more “uncourses”. One thing I’d love to be able to do is run an open course under an OU assessment-only model. So if you think you’d like to do an introductory uncourse on plug’n’play visualisation, or doodling with data and then bung the OU 150 quid for a bit of for-credit assessment, let our Sub-Dean (Teaching) know ;-)

On a personal front, Martin Weller has been leading a charge on developing a promotions framework that acknowledges “digital scholarship” activities, so I need to decide whether or not it’s worth taking two whole weeks (or so I’ve been told!) to put together a largely meaningless promotion case document together in a form that the promotions panel will deign to look at, or whether I just keep blogging things I find OUseful and interesting and fail to further my career for yet another year.

PS And finally: last year I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks on a Fellowship in Cambridge, as well as deliver an invited talk at EdMedia in Hawaii. Although I’d love to be able to do either of those things again, I’d also quite fancy spending a week or two shadowing someone in the Houses of Parliament Library, or a ‘data engineer’ in an F1 team;-), as well as a chance to pop over to North America/Canada and just see what might happen if I got to spend a bit of time with the likes of Scott Leslie, Brian Lamb, Jim Groom, and others ;-) (I also owe George Siemens an article and need to chase Downes about digging in to the link structur of edu-blogs.)

PPS there are a couple of other things’n’people I really should include in this post, but it’s time for tea:-)

Meanwhile, Over on the Arcadia Blog(s)… Redux

A month or so ago, I posted a round-up of items I’d published on the various Arcadia Project blogs ( Meanwhile, Over on the Arcadia Blog(s)…). Here’s a follow up to that one, providing a quick review of the various Arcadia posts I’ve produced since then, posts that might in other circumstances have normally appeared on this blog.

PS For completeness in this summary of posts I’ve recently blogged elsewhere, there’s a smattering of stuff on the WriteToReply/Actually blog:

Phew… next week, back to normal – ish – though I intend to carry on posting library related stuff on the Arcadia blogs.

People Powered Supervised Training Algorithms: Google Does it Again?

If you ever do a course on artificial intelligence or machine learning, you are likely to presented with the idea of supervised learning. In a supervised learning algorithm, training examples are presented to a system being trained to perform some sort of classification task, along with information about the class that the training example falls into. The learning algorithm uses this desired output to reward the classifier if it produces the correct output classification for a given input, or punish it otherwise. (The strength of the reward/punishment may also depend on how close the actual output is to the desired output for a given input.)

Machine learning algorithms like these have been used for a long time in the context of machine learning, but what do you do you training set does not contain examples of the the correct answers? How then can you supervise the training of the system?

In the GWAP – Games With a Purpose [PDF] – approach pioneered by Luis von Ahn, people are used to provide the training signal (von Ahn also calls this approach Human Computation…)

Whenever you use the Google search engine, you potentially contribute to the training of the Google search algorithm. Each click on a result can be used to train the search algorithm that result (or that advert) is potentially a good match for the current search term.

Recently, Google bought ReCaptcha, publishers of a popular system for checking that there’s a human on the end of a browser by presenting them with two hard to read words and getting the user to type them in. The clever thing about ReCaptcha is that the machine itself doesn’t necessarily know what one of the words says – it’s using the human to teach it. But you knew that already right? After all, Charlie (aged 14) does…

So when I saw Google’s new toy – Google Building Maker – announced today, watched through the promo video:

and even had a play, I saw it not as “a very smart way for Google to enhance the 3D experience in Google Earth” (ReadWriteWeb) or as “crowdsourcing building making to their users” (TechCrunch), I saw it as a way of helping train Google image processing edge detection algorithms so that they can automate the creation of 3D models from multiple satellite images…

If you try out Google Building Maker, you’ll soon see how it could even start to use the information gathered from your own models in the first few images presented to you to start suggesting where to place the lines in the later images…

Open Training Resources

Some disconnected thoughts about who gives a whatever about OERs, brought on in part by @liamgh’s Why remix an Open Educational Resource? (see also this 2 year old post: So What Exactly Is An OpenLearn Content Remix?). A couple of other bits of context too, to to situate HE in a wider context of educational broadcasting:

Trust partially upholds fair trading complaints against the BBC: “BESA appealed to the Trust regarding three of the BBC’s formal learning offerings on between 1997 and 2009. … the Trust considers it is necessary for the Trust to conduct an assessment of the potential competitive impacts of Bitesize, Learning Zone Broadband and the Learning Portal, covering developments to these offerings since June 2007, and the way in which they deliver against the BBC’s Public Purposes. This will enable the Trust to determine whether the BBC Executive’s failure to conduct its own competitive impact assessment since 2007 had any substantive effect. … No further increases in investment levels for Bitesize, Learning Zone Broadband and the Learning Portal will be considered until the Trust has completed its competitive impact assessment on developments since 2007

Getting nearer day by day: “We launched a BBC College of Journalism intranet site back in January 2007 … aimed at the 7,500 journalists in the BBC … A handful of us put together about 1200 pages of learning – guides, tips, advice – and about 250 bits of video; a blog, podcasts, interactive tests and quizzes and built the tools to deliver them. A lot of late nights and a lot of really satisfying work. Satisfying, too, because we put into effect some really cool ideas about informal learning and were able to find out how early and mid career journalists learn best. … The plan always was to share this content with the people who’d paid for it – UK licence fee payers. And to make it available for BBC journalists to work on at home or in parts of the world where a www connection was more reliable than an intranet link. Which is where we more or less are now.” [my emphasis; see also BBC Training and Development]

And this: Towards Vendor Certification on the Open Web? Google Training Resources

So why my jaded attitude? Because I wonder (again) what it is we actually expect to happen to these OERs (how many OER projects re-use other peoples’ bids to get funding? How many reuse each others ‘what are OERs stuff’? How many OER projects ever demonstrate a remix of their content, or a compelling reuse of it? How many publish their sites as a wiki so other people can correct errors? How many are open to public comments, ffs? How many give a worked example of any of the twenty items on Liam’s list with their content, and how many of them mix in other people’s OER content if they ever do so? How many attempt to publish running stats on how their content is being reused, and how many demonstrate showcase examples of content remix and reuse.

That said, there are signs of some sort of use: ‘Self-learners’ creating university of online; maybe the open courseware is providing a discovery context for learners looking for specific learning aids (or educators looking for specific teaching aids)? That is, while use might be most likely at the disaggregated level, discovery will be mediated through course level aggregations (the wider course context providing the SEO, or discovery metadata, that leads to particular items being discovered? Maybe Google turns up the course, and local navigation helps (expert) users browse to the resource they were hoping to discover?)

Early days yet, I know, but how much of the #ukoer content currently being produced will be remixed with, or reused alongside, content from other parts of that project as part of end-of-project demos? (Of course, if reuse/remix isn’t really what you expect, then fine… and, err, what are you claiming, exactly? Simple consumption? That’s fine, but say it; limit yourself to that…)

Ok, rant part over. Deep breath. Here comes another… as academics, we like to think we do the education thing, not the training thing. But for those of you who do learn new stuff, maybe every day, what do you find most useful to support that presumably self-motivated learning? For my own part, I tend to search for tutorials, and maybe even use How Do I?. That is, I look for training materials. A need or a question frames the search, and then being able to do something, make something, get my head round something enough to be able to make use of it, or teach it on, frames the admittedly utilitarian goal. Maybe that ability to look for those materials is a graduate level information skill, so it’s something we teach, right…? (Err… but that would be training…?!)

So here’s where I’m at – OERs are probably [possibly?] not that useful. But open training materials potentially are. (Or maybe not..?;-) Here are some more: UNESCO Training Platform

And so is open documentation.

They probably all could come under the banner of open information resources, but thy are differently useful, and differently likely to be reused/reusable, remixed/remixable, maintained/maintainable or repurposed/repurposeable. Of them all, I suspect that the opencourseware subset of OERs is the least re* of them all.

That is all…