Sunday, December 30, 2007

JPG Magazine & Picture This

As much as I love Flickr (and believe me I do), there are times when the size of the community (25 million monthly visitors according to Compete) and the sheer volume of photographs being shared (2 billion and counting) feels a bit overwhelming. So, it was with some delight that I stumbled upon not one, but two, smaller (and more focused) online photography communities this week.

First was JPG Magazine which has been producing a bi-monthly print magazine since January 2005, initially via self-publishing site but more recently as a fully-fledged news-stand title (in the US at least) from 8020 Publishing. The emphasis is very much on quality rather than quantity with users encouraged to upload only their best, high-res shots (no more than 10 per day) and then assign them to themes, some of which are earmarked for forthcoming issues. The JPG community then votes on the submissions with the editors having the final say on what makes it into the mag. If you're lucky enough to get a photo printed you get $100 and one year's free subscription. Nice.

My second discovery (via Hilary) was Channel 4's new photography project Picture This. A joint-initiative with Flickr, the site has more of an educational bent with a focus on improving users' photography skills through mutual feedback. The other manifestation of Picture This is a television series which starts on 6th January at 7pm on Channel 4. Much like Photo Friday, users are invited to upload their best shot in response to the week's theme (week one is Self Portrait) with the added incentive that the judges will pick out some to feature on the show. The site is full of Web 2.0 goodness including commenting, tagging, rating and seamless integration with the Flickr API (it even pulls in the EXIF data).

I've just submitted one of my photos so why not head on over and proffer some (constructive) criticism? Alternatively you could visit my JPG profile page and check out some of my favourite snaps.

Monday, December 24, 2007

RescueTime (or how I really spend my time online)

I've made a couple of rather unscientific attempts in the past to quantify my online usage and create a breakdown of which sites I devote most time to. Just under a month ago I installed RescueTime which promised to deliver a much more accurate picture, not only of my web usage but of all activity on my home computer. Billed as a time management tool, my hunch is that it's more likely to be installed by stats junkies than those genuinely seeking to increase their PC-based productivity (or maybe that's just me).

Whilst some users will inevitably balk at the perceived threat to their privacy, the company pledges to only ever use data in aggregate, no one else can see your personal information and you can delete your account at any time (none of which can be said of Facebook).

Above is a chart of my first few weeks with RescueTime installed (click for larger version). The list of Top Apps isn't wildly different from my list of most visited bookmarks, although sites which tend to warrant only a quick visit (netvibes, e-mail etc.) are understandably absent.

Some other headlines observations:

- I average 2.5 hours of home screentime a day (talk about busman's holiday...)
- Facebook (and Scrabulous in particular) is a big time sink (average 30 mins a day)
- Time spent searching Google adds up more than you might think (1 hr 26 mins over three weeks)
- There's a reasonable 'long tail' of activity with 38% of time spent on sites outside the Top 10

Whilst the RescueTime app is far from perfect (it logs whichever window is in focus, which inevitably excludes swathes of secondary/background activity such as listening via iTunes), it provides a fascinating (for a geek like me at least) insight into where all that time goes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Must-watch music/science/life documentary

Photograph: BBC

Finally found the time to sit down and watch Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, which I downloaded via BBC iPlayer a couple of weeks back, and I just can't recommend it enough. The documentary follows Mark Oliver Everett, the creative force behind criminally underrated indie rock band, Eels, on a journey across America to discover more about the father he never really knew - taciturn quantum physicist and author of the Many-Worlds Interpretation, Hugh Everett III. The film works on a multitude of different planes (appropriately enough): as a primer on quantum mechanics; as a thumbnail sketch of post-war America; as a portrait of a distant father-son relationship; and as an insight into the minds of two geniuses, one musical, one scientific.

Unfortunately the programme is no longer available to download although thanks to the BBC Programmes BETA I can link to a permanent episode page which will automatically provide an embedded on-demand stream of the programme for a week after transmission should it be shown again (would be nice to add a broadcast alert feature to these pages come to think of it - will mention it to the brains in Audio & Music Interactive).

Until such a time, you'll have to make do with a couple of tasters from the BBC's YouTube channel:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bruce Parry blogging from the Amazon

Very excited about Amazon. No, not the online retailer (like they need the Googlejuice), but Bruce Parry's latest adventure and one of the BBC's first blogs to launch in support of a TV series. For the uninitiated, Bruce Parry is a former British Royal Marine instructor who now makes his living presenting anthropological documentaries such as the acclaimed Tribe (known as Going Tribal in the States) and the children's 'Serious...' strand (e.g. Serious Desert, Serious Arctic, Serious Andes).

Building on the success of Long Way Down (which had a pseudo-blog built using one of the BBC's content management systems), the Amazon production team have been blogging using Moveable Type since mid-October, when their epic journey began (in Miami airport). In addition to text entries, the team are also posting photos and embedded video clips (see below), which really enhance the offer. There's also an Interactive Map, overlaying the team's blog entries onto a Google Map so you can chart the narrative geographically.

What's exciting to me is the way in which the team are using the web to extend the life of the broadcast way beyond a single moment of transmission, to cover the whole production process (see Dan Hill's seminal piece on The Social Life of a Broadcast) and the blogging platform in particular, to provide an authored and serialised version of that narrative which users can engage with at any point.

It's not all been plain sailing of course - laptop problems forced the team to dictate some entries to the team back at base in Cardiff via satellite phone and they've had to implement a frustrating, but necessary, 3-5 week delay in actually putting the posts live to protect the security of the crew (watch the below video from coca country to understand why).

Huge props to Andrew Dudfield, Jo Pearce and the rest of the multiplatform team in BBC Wales for getting the blog up and running and looking so slick on the BBC's current installation of Moveable Type (no mean feat!) and David Felce for shoring up the platform (see Robin Hamman on 18 Months of Blogs on the BBC Internet Blog).

Amazon with Bruce Parry will air on BBC TWO in 2008.

Disclaimer: I work for the BBC. The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent the views of my employer.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

8 Random Facts About Me (tagging meme)

Meme alert. Have just been tagged by Gary Hayes (of Personalize Media and The Project Factory) and tasked with sharing eight random things about myself and then tagging eight others to do the same. Whilst I share Steve Woodruff's reticence on the basis that it's slightly reminiscent of those hideous email chain letters, I'm not being threatened with disastrous consequences if I don't do it and I'm always loathe to turn down an invitation to talk about myself, so...

Here are the rules:

  1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
And here are my 8 things:
  1. I eat with my knife and fork in the 'wrong' hands (i.e. fork in my right hand, knife in my left). Not sure why.
  2. I can put my feet behind my head (though not at the same time).
  3. I've demoed DAB digital radio and podcasting to HM The Queen (not sure she was really feeling it).
  4. My father appeared on Mastermind on 23rd March 1986 (unfortunately he wore matching yellow socks and tie, swore after giving a wrong answer and, er, came last).
  5. I play the piano, guitar and harmonica. All very badly.
  6. I lost 2 stone (c.13 kilos) aged seventeen when I fell in love for the first time (bless).
  7. I am wholly at the mercy of Steve Jobs. In the last 4 years I have bought one iBook, 2 PowerBooks, 2 MacBooks and 5 iPods (a mini, a classic, 2 nanos and a touch). Rest assured most of them have now found new homes.
  8. One of my tutors at university was Linda Ruth Williams, leading authority on erotic thrillers and wife of Five Live film critic, Mark Kermode.
That's my eight. I'm now proffering the baton / throwing down the gauntlet to this unsuspecting lot:

James Cridland (done)
Jo Twist
Martin Belam (done)
Nick Reynolds
Richard Titus
Robin Hamman
Roo Reynolds
Tom Coates

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Which mobile next? You decide...

my mobile history

One area of technology in which I've always been strangely retrograde is mobile phones. My first handset was a Nokia 5110, which I bought at university back in the late Nineties. My 'upgrade' path since then has been: Nokia 3210 (February 2000) > Nokia 8310 (July 2002) > Motorola V980 (May 2005) > Nokia 8310 (June 2005) > Sony Ericsson K750i (June 2006). My unfortunate one-month dalliance with Motorola in May 2005 is detailed here.

So, for the last 18 months I've been soldiering on with a chunky K750i with a broken joystick, waiting for my contract with Vodafone to run its course. As of this week, I'm a free man with a world of mobile possibilities open to me. And can I decide which handset to plump for? Hell, no. Which is where you come in. I've been wanting to try out PollDaddy for a while now and have decided to kill two birds with one blog post by inviting readers to vote on which mobile they think I should go for.

My top five priorities (which unfortunately aren't perhaps wholly compatible) are:

  1. Battery life - all the functionality in the world isn't worth a mobile which dies when you need to make a phone call
  2. Internet access - ubiquitous, uncapped and as fast as possible please
  3. Size (esp. depth) - time to leave behind the "is that a K750i in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?" gags
  4. Camera - not too fussed about megapixels, just one which isn't completely crap in low light conditions
  5. Appearance - call me shallow, but having spent the last 18 months getting the mobile equivalent of the Hunchback of Notre Dame out of my pocket, I'm ready for something a little more svelte
my mobile future

Enough preamble, onto the vote. I've picked out five contenders with a free text option if you think I've overlooked my dream handset. Now get voting - my mobile future is in your hands...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chat around TV?

Between May 2003 and March 2005 the BBC piloted an online chat service (called BBC Connector) which enabled visitors to certain parts of the BBC website to instant message other users viewing the same page as them. Referred to internally as 'chat around content', the concept was arguably ahead of its time / the available technology (the same could be said of MyBBC - a forerunner to the personalised startpage, live on between 2000 and 2003).

Fast forward a couple of years and the notion of chat around content seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance, although this time it's video rather than webpages (Gabbly, weblin et al. excepted) which is the content in question. Stickam got the ball rolling with the launch of its Media Chat service in August 2006, followed by Lycos Cinema in the November and ClipSync in the December. Also in December, YouTube started offering YouTube Streams via its ideas incubator, TestTube. February this year, Lycos added Lycos Mix and in August, Skype launched a new version which enabled users to download videos from Dailymotion and Metacafe and add them to their 'mood', inviting other users to chat around them. In November, Joost revealed Meebo was to provide its chat widget and then just last week Userplane announced tie-ups with Channel 4, The CW, Fuel TV and IFC (although it's not yet clear whether the company's popular IM and chat tools will be directly deployed around video assets or not).

Of course, not all users haven't been waiting around for media owners to join the dots and many have been hacking together their own chat around content experiences for years. One of my favourite BBC Radio Player anecdotes concerns multiple users communicating via Instant Messaging to coordinate a simultaneous press of the play button on listen again programmes, to ensure a synchronous (and therefore shared) listening experience. If its been done for radio, it's a safe bet that the same has been happening around live and on-demand television as well, at least in pockets.

What hasn't yet been established is to what extent users would make use of chat around television functionality were it to become more widely available. Microsoft demonstrated a TV chat interface as far back as 1999, which singularly failed to take the world by storm (although recently leaked screenshots suggest 'Chat whilst watching TV' may be appearing as an option on suitably IPTV-enabled Xbox 360s in the not too distant future).

One argument is that even in this age of continuous partial attention, online chat is too intrusive an activity for most television viewers (although I'm not sure how much water that holds when you consider that talking over the TV is practically a national pastime). Whether viewers will use chat applications to discuss the on-screen programming or not is perhaps a more pertinent question. I also can't help feeling it won't be long before advertisers are asking for IPTV chat apps to be disabled during ad breaks because viewers are ignoring their ads in favour of chatting to their mates (solution: makes your ads interesting enough that people want to talk about them).

Regardless of the absence of demonstrable user-demand, chat functionality is likely to feature on the roadmap of many IPTV companies, looking to use the potential of a network to gain a competitive advantage over terrestrial broadcasters without an integrated back-channel. Only time will tell whether its a mass-market proposition or not.