Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Google Alerts - Alert

In my last post I discussed using Google Alerts to keep track of subjects of interest on the web. I included my name ('Gavin Stewart') in that post so I have had an opportunity to track how quickly it took the service to send me an e-mail (techno-self can't beat it!) . I posted on Monday and I received the e-mail alert early this morning (Wednesday). This is clearly a lot quicker than the example I gave about flickr. Nonetheles, reaching back to my 'technorati' postings of last week, it is still not as quick as the ping service I described. However, I have also just discovered that Technorati is down for scheduled maintenance so maybe the Google Alerts will win this particular race.

This post contains my name as well....round we go again!


Monday, January 29, 2007

Google Alerts

One of the many challenges facing writers using the web is how to keep track of all the changes going on out there. RSS and blogs are a very excellent way of noting new material and changes in the web. However, not every site has a feed yet and there are other ways to see relevent new stuff. For instance, you can always get the most popular search engine on the planet to send you an e-mail with a link when it notices something that you say you are interested in.

The Google alerts service comes free (for the moment) with a google account. It is very easy to set up (you simply provide it with a series of search terms like a google search). Like many others, I am rather a fan of googling myself so I gave the alerts service 'Gavin Stewart' as my search term. The initial e-mail I got back was full of an assortment of strange and irrelevant stuff. However, since then things have settle down to a few e-mails a month of highly focussed stuff. Perhaps the only short coming to this service is what one might call 'spider-lag'; i.e. it takes a while for a search engine to get around to the interesting page. Back in November
2006 I gave a research talk and placed an image of the talk on flickr. The alerts service sent me an e-mail for this change yesterday. Arguably, I did not need to know that this change had occurred ( because I made this change myself). However, it rather demonstrates how searches are not always complete ( as they might not contain the latest additions to the www). Still, I am sure that google will sharpen up this performance otherwise technorati will steal their thunder!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is this the most unpopular blog in the world?: Marketing 101

I noted yesterday that I had a seven digit technorati listing which, in laymen’s terms, means that this blog is currently as popular as [insert amusingly unpleasant thing here]. Today that number has got bigger so that it now stand at 1,637,743, which either means that some long-tailers have got a new link over night or else a brand new blog has risen from the underworld up into the charts above me. O shame of it. Now I know that pub mythology argues that the only way to raise the popularity of a site is to scrawl viagra, breast or free beer all over the page but it turns out that there is a little more to it than that in blogosphere. For example, a brief search of the blogger site turned up 'Promoting your Blog' by Biz Stone. While most of the suggestions in this article are rather blogger focussed, however, it does also provide some more generic marketing advice for folks that run their own blogs.

The first item mentioned in the article was to “turn on ping”. Now, I can see the point of a ping as it lets key sites out there know instantly that you have fresh material on your blog. This is particularly important if you are providing topical fare that needs to be read in real-time. It is also possible to put an automated ping to technorati and others agrregation sites on your site. This means that all those good old reading folks will be able to do a technorati search on this article (among many others) from the moment that it is posted.

The blogger article next recommends that you activate your navbar (Navbar? - It comes in three delicious fruit flavours…). This is one of those features for serendipity lovers as it provides a button at the top of the blog which when clicked takes the reader to the next Navbar-enabled blog. Blogger observe that ‘it turns out this couch-potato like way of flipping through blogs is very appealing”. So greetings potato-people, you are most welcome.

Next up comes - Install Email This Post .This provides a nice e-mail icon by the side of the post which is supposed to encourage your serendipitous potato-chips to e-mail your witty musings to all their friends.

The Blogger article also provide a number of other technical suggestions, such as ‘Turn on Post Pages’, ‘Turn on Site Feed’ and ‘Add your Blog to our Listings?’ which were all done for me as defaults so I can’t blame any of these obvious things on my failure to have a Technorati ranking of 1. Would it be embarrassing if I simply asked you to 'Love me. Please love me!'

The generic marketing items in Stone's list are also well worth taking note of. For example, the author suggests that you should:

Write quality content and do it well.
Publish regular updates
Think of your audience..
Keep your posts and paragraphs short.

The article also suggests that you submit your address to the smaller blog search sites and directories such as However, perhaps best bit of advice given was to link to other blogs. Biz Stone notes:

"This is a great way to get traffic. Here's what happens when you link to another blogger: she sees you in her referral logs, checks out your blog, and then very likely links back to you or at the very least makes a mental note to do so."

So watch out folks the link man is coming your way. Let’s hope you are keen to link back to me!


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Technorati: Knowledge is Power?

I have just 'claimed' this blog on the Technorati site. This was a fairly simple procedure which I hope will give me a little better idea of who is coming and going from my site. For example, the information of Technorati have given me a 'long tail' ranking - 1,626,267 - and records that this blog has 2 links from 2 blogs tracked by Technorati (let's face it ...that definitely gives me scope for becoming the most improved blog in 2007). It is also useful to know that I had a link from Technoliteracy even though I can not make head nor tail of the context or timing. However, I am a bit unsure how the whole thing works (nothing new for me in the blogger sphere). Maybe some one or some thing will pick up on this post and direct me to a decent link!


Quote of the day

I have been forced recently, by bureaucratic circumstance, to write 'occupation=artist' on a form. Moi Pretentious?

The label, artist, makes me cringe, mainly because during their Dadaist phase, John Heartfield and George Grosz once observed that "the name of 'artist' is an insult. The denomination 'art' demolishes equality between men". Still, it could be worse. I could have been forced to write academic, politician, geek, teacher...Isn't the world of work a rewarding place!

An End to E-tailing at Amazon?

Just a little follow-up to my flip of the Long Tail!

You might remember that I blogged about Long Tail economics back in November. Well there is nothing like practicing what one preaches, so on the strength of my posting, I signed-up for an Amazon seller account and put a few second-hand books up for sale. It seemed appropriate to put Chris Anderson on my sales list and sure enough the book (not the man…this is not E-bay) was sold within a couple of hours (which makes me think that I sold it too cheaply).

All of this happened with the minimum amount of fuss; for as you would expect with Amazon, the system is reasonably safe and reasonably reliable. I found the interface a bit fiddly (long tail…long learning curve). I also found myself struggling to describe, in positive terms, the state of some of my more dogged-eared books, but all told I managed to get rid of ten books in the run up to Christmas. Not exactly a business, more a mental exercise that got me thinking about how this procedure might work more effectively.

My main gripe with Amazon marketplace is philosophical. It seems to be locked into a retail model which might not be the most effective way to create a market in the digital age. Another recent read, the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki (bought second hand through Amazon marketplace) set me to thinking about this model of e-tailing. There is plenty of information about product (great!), other sellers (prices, reputation etc. also great) but it does not really give you the full market information as one can not get on the other side; that is to say, I could not find a mechanism that would allow me to propose to buy a book at a price other than the one that a seller had proposed. No haggling! The key, therefore, to improving this kind of market is providing information about who wants to buy, and at what price. To get technical for the moment, there does not appear to be a bid-offer spread in the Amazon model. Basically, as a buyer I can not convey to the market that you are willing to buy (but a price that is lower than the current lowest seller).

I can’t help wondering about all those millions of books that are currently sitting on people’s wish lists. To be simplistic for a moment, a wish list is a list of books that one wants to buy but for some reason won’t buy in current market conditions. I guess the question for the smart people at Amazon is - why do books end up on wish lists rather than being bought? For myself, I guess there are three sorts of reasons that a ‘super read’ ends up on their database rather than in an envelope in their warehouse. Reason One is Pot-lessness i.e. I have no money, whatsoever, and can not afford to buy anything at any price (other than zero) at the present time. Reason Two Time-management i.e. these are books that I would quite like to know more about at some point in the future but do not have time or inclination to deal with at the moment ( I use my wish list as a pending tray). Reason Three – Price i.e. the seller (often the publishers in this case) is, imho, asking too much for the book. In this case, I will buy the book when it comes down in price but only if I remember to go back to my list and revisit the price (which to be honest is something that I do about once every blue moon). In effect, this is a market inefficiency as I am unable to convey to the sellers (or the Amazon system for that matter) that I will buy this book but not at the advertised price.

I think that it is a shame the wish list part of the Amazon account is not developed to fulfil this role. I have any number of books on my wish list which I would like to make a bid for at about $3 lower than the retail price. More importantly, I am not alone. I am sure there are literally millions (if not billions of transactions) that do not take place because bids from potential buyers are not made available to the product sellers and the system. Why not record this information and make this data available?

I can see that would be difficulties that would have to be solved (I am, after all, describing a suggestion not coding the back-end). The system would have to ensure that potential buyers could put a time-limit on their bid. Similarly, the system would have to have credit card details, credit limits etc. sorted out to make sure that the buyers actually paid up if a seller hit their bid. E-mails would have to be exchanged. Rules would have to be devised. However, I see a change from the ‘e-tailing’ model as being a win-win-win situation. I will win because I will get to read a book I want to read. The publisher will win because they will increase sales (quite dramatically in many cases) and Amazon will benefit because they will take more money because there will be more transactions.

Problem solved? I am sure it is not that simple!


Monday, January 01, 2007


I have been tagged for a meme.

Nikki Hastie over at Out on a Dike passed on to me the following challenge:

“Write down five things about yourself that others probably don’t know, and pass it on."

Well, this could be a challenge because like many bloggers I do tend to talk a lot about myself so I have given away quite a lot whilst I have been betwixt and between. However, I am also something of a ‘private’ person (yes folks I have quite a long list of things I don’t blog about) so there are still some marketable skeletons in the old closet….Let me see now…

My first revelation is something that I have made a lot of over the years in conversations with friends but I don’t think I have ever blogged about ( I wrote a poem about it once …but who reads poems). I was a witness to a small chunk of twentieth-century history as I was present when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. It is strange to think about how important this felt at the time (both personally and also in terms of the landscape of politics). It felt like a great new world order was opening up as the Iron Curtain was raised. However, here in 2007 with Iraq, Afghanistan and the War on Terror dominating the political landscape it seems like my vision of the future was just another never-never land. The New Year is only a few minutes old and it is already providing me with waves of nostalgia.

The second revelation is quite a new thing so I have not blogged about it because I did know myself until last week. I love the music of Tracy Bonham. I particularly love the serendipitous way in which I came across her stuff via, my Space and iTunes. Thinking about it, the real revelation here is the fact that I use to be scared to go into record stores (with the notable exception of the music tents at WOMAD). It is not really that surprising. They are dank, underlit and frankly unwelcoming sink holes. They are particularly alienating for me because I feel a strong sense of disconnection with the counter staff. This was not just an age thing. I also felt disconnected from them because I can not hear or be heard at the counters and I have trouble reading body language (always a good recipe for paranoia). This is bad, for me and for the shop, because I want to connect when I buy music! I want what passes for wisdom in the world of pop. I want to talk music.

I have always been a word of mouth kind of guy. I like my friends to play me records they like. I like their enthusiasm even when I hate what they are playing. But the typical record stores don’t really cater for this kind of conversation. They are also a good example of the paradox of choice. Full of intimidating options that I feel I can’t use. They just leave me feeling battered. I blogged about Pandora last year (2006). I still stand by my initial enthusiasm. However, I now see fitting into a much wider vista of joy which includes a lot of other sites and people. In fact one of the great pleasures of the last year has been my regular meetings with my friend Andrew at the end of which we would e-mail each other a list of URLs for stuff on YouTube , Flickr and god knows what else. I have felt re-connected.

The third revelation reaches back to my childhood and will be familiar to my family. When I was eight/nine I wrote a long fantasy piece about a purple giraffe (with very long ears) called Winpo. This was an interesting tale that covered the usual sub-Tolkeineque landscape of trolls and goblins. I had not learnt much about economy or history in those days so the battle scenes (approximately 99 percent of the text) also contained pint-sized planes, tiny purple battle tanks and flame-throwers. The anachronisms were solved by an optimism featured in many a Bruce Willis Lie-Hard movie. Things got further muddle by the addition of lots of very small giraffes as allies. I would love to write in that unrestricted way again.

The fourth revelation is that I really enjoy visiting the British Library reading rooms. It is not the building so much or the rather barn-like humanities section. It is certainly not about the long wait for the books to come through. It is just that I like the feeling of being around thinking (which is daft of course because the place is full of muttering academics). I am a bit of a research groupie I guess. I enjoy the strange, transitory and wonderfully naïve sense of having lots of books nearby but it is also that sense of almost belonging. I don’t do clubs (insert Groucho Marx cliche here) but the BL is about as close to a sense of club as I want to get. Weird huh!

The last thing is sort of seasonal. I have never really discussed the fact that I don’t send Christmas cards. Please understand this does not mean I am Scrooge or that I hate Christmas on principle (though I have been challenged to like the current festive season). It is more about the sheer waste involved in mass producing and distributing the things. I also think that it is somewhat sad that you get all your greetings at the same time of the year. So I decided that I would send every one I like an individualized e-mail in early January instead. This has proved to be a nice sentiment rather than a practical scheme because the trouble with adopting this craft based approach to long-distance love is that it takes for ages. I suspect that I might be resorting to a round-robin or perhaps a triangular tit this year (which sort of defeats the desire to get away from a mass-produced object but hey ho). Don’t be offended if you have not received one of my missives yet this year (it is only a few hours old) but I’ll get there..I’ll get there…

I am going to tag Nicki Hastie back (is that allowed and do we care) because her tag came at just the right moment to alter my own personal history. I am also going to try and tag Toby Barnes and Tim Wright …mainly because these two guys were responsible for getting me involved in Playtime back in October…which I have to say was one of the best days I had in 2006.

Happy New Year!