Ada Lovelace Day

I’ve signed the Ada Lovelace Day Pledge, and you should too if you know a woman who works in technology whose work you admire or like. What is it about? On 24th March 2009, the aim is for 1,000 bloggers to write a post about a woman in the technology industry that they admire. It was started by Suw Charman-Anderson, a freelance social software consultant. If you’re on Twitter and live in the UK, you probably know her already. 880 people have already signed up, and only 120 more are needed. This is how it all came about:

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited to take part. All you need to do is sign up to this pledge and then publish your blog post any time on Tuesday 24th March 2009. If you’re going to be away that day, feel free to write your post in advance and set your blogging system to publish it that day.

You can sign the pledge here, read more about it here, and get updates on Twitter here. And last but not the least, read more about Ada Lovelace herself, here

A list of online menus

I was trying to find a place from where I could order food to be delivered last night. When I realised that none of the menus I had in the house had the kind of food I wanted to eat at that time (Thai), I decided to ask my good friend Google. It wasn’t as easy as I thought, so to help others avoid the pain of going through the whole process, here’s the fruit of my research. If you know of any others that I can add, do let me know. 

1. Just Eat: Enter your postcode, zero in on a restaurant from the list it throws up, place your order online, pay for it online if you like (or you can just pay cash on delivery). This is what I used eventually, and it was very convenient. 
2. Menulover: This site actually has scanned versions of actual menus!
3. Order Takeaway: What I don’t like about this site is that you HAVE to register just to see a list of places (which is not the case with Just Eat – you only need to register if you decide you want to place an order). 
4. Fancy a Bite to Eat: This one has a very limited list of restaurants in its database, so it’s not of much use.
5. Takeaway2nite: This one has virtually no menus in its database, so I don’t know what they’re doing!!
6. Fodder Finder: This site serves only Lincolnshire. 
7. Seamless Web: I remember using this in the US (it has details of restaurants in 14 US cities), but I think it’s still really small in London, which is the only non-US city it has details for. When I typed in my postcode, it said it didn’t have any restaurants in my area but that it is ‘constantly expanding’.
*Update: 8. Hungry House: This one seems like a pretty good online ordering site for the UK. Shane, from the company, wrote to me to include it and from a quick look, it seems as good as Just Eat. I’ll try this one next time!
9. E-Resistible: Founded by 3 students at the University of Warwick (who are currently completing their degrees), this site focuses on Birmingham, Bristol, Bath, Coventry, Reading and some parts of London. An interesting feature is the search within menu function, so if you like chicken tikka masala and don’t want to labour through a long menu, you can see if it’s there very quickly and save yourself some time. I look forward to seeing their database grow. 

Protesting via Facebook

I noticed this on Facebook today. Following the Mumbai attacks, people are going around tagging friends in photos of the mishap taken off the internet. Someone has put the images all up on a Facebook album that is open to public view, and is encouraging everyone to tag friends as a sign of ‘protest against terrorism’. I read recently of marketing spam on Facebook in exactly the same vein. 

I don’t know how much actual change an act like this will achieve. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that this act – like becoming a ‘fan’ of something on Facebook – is merely an expression of emotion. You become a fan of something if you like it. The people who are tagging friends, similarly, are doing it to show support for the National Security Guards and police, anger and sadness about the death and destruction caused, and frustration with the administration. If it is picked up by the Indian media, for example, the people who are part of this will actually have had some sort of impact. If it isn’t picked up by the media, then it remains a form of protest. A digital protest. And any protest against an atrocity is a sign of an active, thinking society, which is important, and in a democracy like India even more so.

Dsplaced: An experiment in collective storytelling

My friend Jinal and her friend Mansi have started a collective storytelling experiment called Dsplaced, which chronicles thoughts and images from you, me and everyone who has ever lived away from the place they like to think of as home. It captures emotions for posterity. As Jinal said in a message to me:

We don’t know what will come out of this – but we surely are hoping it will help us answer some of our own unanswered questions about leaving home and continuously redefining the idea of home.

I know that having lived in multiple cities across the world, it’s nice to be able to articulate my feelings about being a nomad of sorts. I’m grateful for my experiences in so many different cities, but at the end of the day, it’s nice to think quietly of home. I’m sure we’ve all been displaced in our lives, at some point or the other. Go and put your thoughts down at Dsplaced then! More details are also available at the Dsplaced Facebook fan page.

The Mumbai attacks

Since the Mumbai attacks began last week and finally concluded today, I have been observing the internet going nuts with social media activity. Twitter, blogs, Flickr, you name it. Tim Malbon, who I work with, has analysed the Twitter side of things rather well, so I’m not going go there again. Apart from the stuff being said on Twitter at #Mumbai, there has been the Mumbai Help blog, a lot of discussions on SAJA (of which I listened in to a live radiocast of one), the news networks I watch on TV (BBC and Sky News mostly), news sources online (The New York Times, CNN, NDTV, IBN Live, Hindustan Times, Times of India, BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, Mint), numerous friends updating their status with Mumbai-related news or thoughts on Facebook, and a host of blogs. All in all, an avalanche of media.

None of this detracts from the fact that nearly 200 innocent people died, including policemen and waiters at the hotels that were under siege. People who were doing their job. People who were living their lives, like you and me. 
Take one look at these photos at the Big Picture to keep it all in perspective. 

Thoughts on monetizing Twitter

Twitter is creating revenue streams for a lot of people, and if I may say so, encouraging a lot of creative ideas. Not all are good, that goes without saying, but the sheer volume of ideas around Twitter is certainly getting to be overwhelming. In the last two weeks, I chanced upon @tweecret_santa, and @stocktwits, for example. @tweetbomb has been shut down, though I noted that too. 

Elaborating on the revenue stream concept I mentioned earlier, I found Be A Magpie, which is an ad network for Twitter. It’s a move that is bound to be met with hostility from the majority of people on Twitter – look at this TechCrunch post on the topic.

I’m interested in knowing what their take-up is. I’m saying this with a motive: I signed up to be part of Guy Kawasaki’s experiment to publicize Alltop on Twitter via Twitterfeed (all of you who follow me on Twitter and noticed those tweets will finally realise what that is all about!!), because I found, prior to signing up, that Alltop interested me enough to tweet links to it anyway, and also because I wanted to see how far he could take it as an experiment in social media. In addition, he was offering free copies of his latest book. Anyway, last week, he changed the rules based on feedback from other people who took this up – based on the frequency of tweets, relevancy of tweets to the subscriber, and sensitivity of some proposed new Alltop topics (like hunting and addiction). Of course, the option to remove oneself from the list is always there. 
Be A Magpie, in a sense, is an extension of Guy’s idea, or perhaps a mix of this and Google AdSense. Twitter AdSense, I’ll call it. On the negative side is the obvious unwelcome invasion of a public sphere online (considering Twitter is a public sphere on the web). On the positive side is the monetary aspect (apparently I can earn almost 42 euros a month if I choose to sign up to this – which, in case anyone is wondering, I will not!!). TechCrunch can earn upwards of 14,000 euros – it all depends on the strength of your network. 
Bloggers who display Google ads do it for the money, don’t they? So they are in effect monetizing their online fame. Twitterers who sign up to this will be doing much the same thing. In both cases, readers/followers have the option of not reading the specific blog or unfollowing the person. The difference is that Twitter is a much more personal sphere online. 
The question of boundaries is subjective, which is what this and similar schemes ride on. I may find something offensive or irritating, but you may not and vice-versa. As long as the majority is OK with it, you’re safe. If someone I follow chooses to sign up to Magpie, I will follow them as long as what they say has some value to me, or in the very least is not offensive. I assume this is why Guy Kawasaki has introduced his latest modifications – he was bound to lose more people from his scheme in the future than he already was, because those people were in turn finding that their followers found the Alltop tweets irritating. Be A Magpie has two very sensible guidelines to get around this problem: one, you can define the frequency, and two, all Magpie tweets are identifiable with a hashtag. If Guy had that option, I’m sure it would make life easier for people who choose to sign up to the Alltop Twitterfeed. 
As for what I’m going to do about my own involvement, I’ll wait a bit to decide. 
Update: Just heard that Notifxious does a similar thing – notifies you via a medium of your choice (phone, email, IM), when a site you’d like to follow is updated. 

Technology and films

In the New York Times, Kevin Kelly writes about the advance of technology with regard to films. From the days of special effects in Star Wars, we’ve moved on to the kind of effects in Speed Racer, where, as Kelly says, “the spectacle of an alternative suburbia was created by borrowing from a database of existing visual items and assembling them into background, midground and foreground”. So now, not only can we create our own movies with iMovie, we can find three-dimensional set models on Google’s 3D Sketch-Up Warehouse and we can recognise objects in still images as Viewdle does with celebrity images. Then of course there are the mash-ups: TimeTube in fact tracks all videos linked to the most popular YouTube videos, including mash-ups. In conclusion, Kelly foresees a time in the near future where we can just drag images from films and transpose them into our own cinematic creations. 

Technology and the internet are also affecting TV – William at Made By Many recently wrote about why it pays to be young in TV, for example. All this set me thinking about citizen film-making, like citizen journalism. Citizen filmmakers already exist – as technology makes it easier for them, I predict that we will see a rise in their number, but, as with the internet, we will also see a lot of babble, which will need to be weeded out. And that will be a difficult task, begging questions of freedom of expression, to start with.