Accessibility Featured Notes Social Classification The Social Web Usability

About Long Tails, Distributing Gadgets and Statistics

The Long Tail

The Long Tail

Beyond links
Our information culture is changing into a networked culture. Distributing is changing how we publish from the traditional one-to-many into many-to-many.

For example. If I make a picture of people ice skating and publish it on Flickr. Than Flickr is a traditional one-to-many distribution system. Everyone can be a publisher.

I’m also re-publishing this same picture on my blog, because this is what we can do with data, a duplicate is the original. And beacuse Friendfeed checks my Flickr account, the picture will also appear on my friendfeed page.

Out of control
This makes three places to view this photograph. My blog, friendfeed and my Flickr page. Those platforms have some similar visitors, but most are different. These platforms, Flickr and friendfeed have also full article RSS feeds or API’s that are being aggregated and republished. There is no control about what happens after we publish something.

We like things to have one place. We are used to physical objects that can only be in one place at the same time. This is how we order and structure information. This is how we control the amount of information. This is structure, instead of chaos.

The emerging web with API’s, feeds and social networks is chaos, its networked. The more instances or copies are distributed the more people you reach.

To be a successful publisher on todays web you need to work distributed. Work with websites and integrate with communities instead of creating them. A gadget is one way of doing this.

Voting gadget
The Eclectro election for the best dance record of 2008 is finished. This election took place in a gadget. Over the past weeks we had 68.049 votes and 184 placed gadgets on blogs and social profiles.

The gadgets versus the amount of votes show a power law / long tail. Only a few websites collect the majority of the votes. The web is a networked environment, but not all nodes are equal. In this case the tail of the graph should have been four times as long to make up the amount of votes generated by the hoster of the gadget, the Eclectro website.

It’s difficult to spread gadgets. We had a continues flow of spreading, but there was no self-reinforcing effect. The tail did generate part of the votes, and reached a new audience.

In an ideal situation you want the nodes in a network to be more equal, a better distribution.

The actual amount of votes versus websites
Full tail
See the full graph:

Pageviews and votes
In the image you see stats of every time the gadget was loaded or a vote was made versus all the websites that published the gadget.
Full tail
See the full graph:

Votes a day
votes a day

The winner: Ane Brun – Headphone Silence (Henrik Schwarz remix)

Dutch press release

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The Notification Homepage

My Facebook Homepage

This blog post was written for, and published on the Online Journalism Blog.

The last year has seen social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn updating the design of the homepage to turn it more into a notification page: the homepage as a place where you can see what your friends are doing. Your virtual center of the network.

These updates let you know what your friends are up to, but they also let you know what your friends like or share. The social networks often work as recommendation networks as well.

New technology, new business
Google added relevancy and order to hyperlinks and is very useful for the active searcher: someone who’s looking for something. Social networks add relevancy to hyperlinks you’re not searching for. The networks provide you with new information and new articles recommended by virtual friends.

Both are in a business that was traditionally the business of a news provider. Google gives you insight and background information. Social Networks keep you up-to-date and recommend information.

Does this design shift also affect the future design of news websites?
The average news website probably publishes around a hundred articles every 24 hours. We can’t and don’t want to read all the articles a news website publishes. We need filtering mechanisms.

News websites add hierarchy to the news by presenting the most important things first. But this is a mass hierarchy. It’s not personal. The sorting is based on what the news website thinks will interest most people. And this works very well for the most important news.

The news website is a large pile of stories. Is this still in the best interest for a reader? His or her most valuable asset is time. Sure there is some news you need to know about, but you get to know about the important facts through your social networks as well.

And if you know the facts you can learn more by hitting the search button. The news website is still a database with a single entry, the frontpage. This makes it vulnerable in a distributed environment.

Distributed environment
The future of information presentation (at least for the long tail of information) will probably be user-centered. Mobile devices are extremely user-centered. Successful access points like interfaces and devices provide readers with the most relevant information.

Time is our most valuable asset and the reduction of noise is a serious proposition for any new service. News itself is relevant, there is no question about this, but how do you deliver your content in a distributed environment?

Type of environments
There are different environments.

1. Get your content on other platforms through syndication or API’s. The problem is monetization, although you could distribute the news and link back to your website with hyperlinks in the text that link to more in-depth coverage.

2. Your content on your platform with a personalized presentation based on your own network or an external (social) network.

3. The current form of presentation where your content is on your platform presented in your hierarchy.

What can you do as a news website to be more relevant? Should news websites learn from the design of social networks and move to a more user centered approach? The New York Times is already doing this with Times People and with (the project I work on) we created a personal selection based on your reading habbits.

Your Thoughts
What design elements that originated in social networks do you think could very well be applied to the basics or every major news homepage? Or what are the arguments not to implement this kind of functionality?

– Share articles with your friends
– See on what articles your friends commented
– See what your friends are reading
– See what news is happening close to your friends
– See news topics your friends subscribed to
– Discuss an article only with your friends

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Automatically generated profiles?

Tracking tags
This image shows the most popular tags connected to the articles I have read today

The coming weeks we will be further updating the news website. The last weeks we have added interesting things on the database level and back-end of the system. Now it is time to bring some of those ideas to the front-end.

One of the things we have done is making tags more important. After using and testing with it we noticed the combined tagging methods we use give a very interesting and relevant database with tags. The tags have more value and semantic relations than I thought they would have. has over 35.000 articles in its database with over a 100.000 tags, 10.000 of those tags are unique.

What we have added is a system that tracks the tags of the articles you read. With this information a metadata profile is created. New articles that enter the site will be matched to your ‘profile’ and if there is a match this will be a recommended article. There is also a tag relation mechanism to create a more semantic relation.

We will do the same for your friends, since news is part of a social experience. We are adding groups as well. If you have online friends using the website, you and your group of friends creates a semantic profile as well. New articles will be recommended that fit to your group of friends.

Your profile
What about this tag based profile based on what your read? The profile could be private or hidden. It could also be open or even exportable. For example could connect to web services and get the highest rated and most recent blog posts about subjects you like and recommend these to you. Or you could connect the information to other profiles to create a more rich or enhanced experience on other platforms as well.

Would you like to take this profile? And can you think of a service that could serve you better when it has a collection of news themes and subjects you like?

Concept design personalized frontapage
The concept design for the frontpage. The page automatically orders the information based on what is most relevant in general and for you.

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Thoughts about a news algorithm

Amazon Recommendation system based on your personal profile
Last week I was reading a Wired article (March edition) about how the video rental service Netflix is awarding $1.000.000 to the person or group who can improve its recommendation algorithm by 10%.

Todays popular websites use smart algorithms to determine what we want or might like. Google is famous for its mix and so is the Amazon recommendation system. Your actions tell these systems about your behavior. And your actions make these services better in recommending you information. For example Google tracks what results people click. If most users click the second search result they make this the first result.

I love news selection
I really like how news websites, blogs and other person driven websites make a selection. Most often this works best if there is a sharp focus. A popular blog can’t be about everything. It has to be about a person or a subject to keep the blog interesting.

In the future this fragmentation might be happening to news websites as well. The traditional newspaper told you everything. It was your primary source of information. With websites we see a different pattern. People don’t just read one news website, they read many. They might have a favorite, but it is no such thing as exclusive readership. Will we see focus in newspaper websites as well? Although media operates independent it is almost always marked as ‘left’ or ‘right’ by the type of stories they focus on.

The news algorithm
Why wouldn’t news sorting be captured in algorithms? There is nothing that makes this impossible. Stories are written as closed interchangeable containers. News websites might make a selection on the frontpage, they also provide lists and rss-feeds where they sort the same information on time or popularity.

Journalists have multiple tasks, they create stories and they sort them on relevance. Maybe with this sorting we can experiment and create a more personal version as well?

Sorting news by machines
Sorting news is not just making a selection on popularity. Sorting news by systems is difficult. The presentation of what you like consists out a complex set of variables.

  • What do you like (personal interest)
  • What you might like (if you like a subject you might like to read about)
  • What do you need to know (because it is important to you, and it will dominate the media landscape for a while)
  • What everyone needs to know (breaking news)
  • What do you officially don’t like, but occasionally read (the stories everyone says they don’t read but always seem to get the highest click-through rates)
  • What do your friends (colleagues) read (news creates conversation and small-talk)
  • What do your friends recommend (you trust your network)
  • What you don’t want to know (things that really bore you and are irrelevant in any way)
  • Where do you like to know more about (if you are an expert in something you don’t want another article that explains it all again. You would prefer analysis and background articles)
  • What is your (current) location (for large groups of people location based information has extra value)
  • Surprises (they change your interests and habbits)

* If I forgot something please ad your thoughts in the comments

These are the variables that construct personal relevance of a news website. It’s a complex set, but if you can manage a good balance you are able to create a website that sorts news by personal relevance on another level than we are used to.

I don’t know if an algorithm can create a better news experience and what it should look like. I do think there is value in tracking and learning form your users behavior and return new or additional value to the reader.

Update: Concept Design

What this could look like and how you can keep this simple for the reader. The text is in Dutch. The screens ask for your location, favorite topics, company you work or would like to work and friends.

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Relevancy? The first experience sucks

What your friends are reading (LinkedIn)
At the Next Web conference there was an overall urge for relevancy. You noticed it in presentations and startups. Unfortunately there weren’t many speakers that had exiting answers. In his presentation Robert Scoble made clear that for most new web applications ‘The first experience sucks‘.

This is inherent to how these new web applications work. The webservices that are doing something new are often ‘connected‘ applications. Websites and widgets connect information and people resulting in a new collections and new relevancy. This relevancy will only show itself when using the service for a while. Which is – of course – difficult to explain to a user when he or she signs up.

This is a user experience problem, but not one we will not find a solution for. The friendfinder button in most new web services enables you to import your Gmail contacts or another social network. Most applications are doing something similar to a service that already exists, with the open web (API’s and feeds) technology should be able to suggest a personal social profile before you start.

When information gets fragmented
What’s more interesting about this is what this search for relevancy really means. The web was always used similar to previous media. We made pages and domains on the web. Information was reserved for one place and relevancy was made by the website editor. This can be a news website or a blog.

Now the web is evolving in something that goes beyond what we are used to. Everything gets fragmented, distributed and aggregated. Information (text, photos and video) transfer from one online place to another. Information gets distributed and duplicated. The collection made by the creator is getting less relevant.

The distributed future of this blog post
For example this blog post is distributed through RSS and it will be picked up by a dozen of spam blog that will all duplicate the entire text and distribute it again. All these blogs are indexed over and over by aggregators like Google or any other. This blog post is written in the context of my blog, but most people will probably read it in another context. Specialized companies trace discussions about brands on the web and redistribute relevant articles. Social networks are crawling the web to show articles that are personal relevant to your profile (LinkedIn).

Data is made to be duplicated
The incredible amount of fragmented information is what makes the web interesting. New social recommendation tools, networks, online friends, aggregators, feeds and widgets are breaking the web apart. This is what makes the web really exiting and work like a network.

This is difficult to understand and use by publishers, copyright lawyers and designers but more relevant for the user. The reader doesn’t care what blog or website presents a good article or where they read it, as long as they can read it. The most important value is the relevancy of the presenter, this can be a system or your friend.

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Everyone is a publisher. So, what’s the problem?

2006 was the year of the people (Time magazine said so) In 2007 the elite joined the discussion, and more outspoken than they had been in the last years. In short, the web is crap! Or at least a lot on the web is crap.

Andrew Keen talked about how everyone has the same voice, we don’t check facts or sources and basically create an environment with so much * useless * information that it could have a negative effect on culture in general.

I don’t believe public / universal access to information and publishing can have a (lasting) negative effect on culture, creativity or anything else. What I do believe is that the discussion is connecting the problem to the wrong cause.

What’s the problem?
The real problem isn’t that everyone has access to information or can publish anything he or she wants. The problem is you can’t find what you want and are confronted with the things you don’t want to see or know.

In an ideal situation the web only gives you the correct answer to what you need or want.

The discussion shouldn’t be about the mass joining and filling the web with everything and photos of their cat. The discussion should be about how do we enhance our filters.

The discussion only emphasizes that filters and thus search engines aren’t yet good enough, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Developing the signal to noise ratio
2007 was about social recommendations and social networks. The social web works with filters by like minded and ‘friends’. Mix this with the power of a search engine like Google and we are closer to the next stage of navigating through information on the web.

Don’t say that what people make or do is not good enough or wrong. Just be happy they tried.

I have updated the original photo in this post with a new one.

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How we created a metadata profile

My tagcloud
This is me, these are words extracted from every 850+ post ever published on hypernarrative. This is meta data; data about data. It tells you what hypernarrative is about, and since it’s kind of a personal blog it also tells you something about me. These words are related to the things I care about.

The size emphasizes its frequency and thus importance. Sure, most of these tags are general words. The value is not in the individual tag but in the collection of tags.

The last years semantic classification in the form of tags got really big. Not mainstream, but big. Why? Because it is a raw classification, you don’t need to know classification structures to order data the same way scientists used to know to order species (how many legs does this creature have?). Tags are free and easy, I can tag objects the way I like, there are no rules and you don’t need any knowledge.

In the last years we have created a new layer to information on the web, we tagged hyperlinks, photos, video’s, presentations and articles. Almost every new website gives us the option to tag. Tags are the new categories. Categories are closed, tags are open and infinite.

My semantic profile
But what if we trace tags back? Tags tell you something about the tagger. What if you would trace back all my web accounts and the tags I have used. If you collect this information in a database you have a semantic layer about me. I have a semantic profile, and this is valuable.

It shouldn’t be difficult the come up with an application that can use this. For example you could make a social network that automatically connects you to other people that have similar interests through the tags they have used on Flickr (what they have seen for real) on YouTube (what they made) on Delicious (what they like) on blogs (what they care about) and more.

It would create a cross websites social network that doesn’t need an invitation system. It just connects you to minds alike based on what you have done already. Maybe it’s already out there.

Link to the picture on Flickr