Wordle Tells All, Sees All

12 07 2008


Jonathan Feinberg, over at Wordle, has created an intriguing device (he calls it a “toy” but I’d use that word only in the sense that people once called computers “toys”) which creates a word cloud that includes most of the words from any text you input (you can paste in text, give it a URL of a web page, or put in a del.isio.us user name). [To the left is the Wordle for my blog without this new post.]

It then creates one of those frequency cloud pictures that shows what words you’ve used, with the size of word reflecting how often it was used in that text.

At first glance, you might think it was a toy — someone posted one called love iphone/hate facebook — but already a few interesting clouds have turned up. There’s one called “Things i want to say to you, but can’t” which features such words as chance, life, don’t and (of course) love.” That one feels almost as revelatory as PostSecret.

There’s another one on today (so many get posted that you’re never going to find these easily unless I give you URL, since Jonathan doesn’t give any sort of databasing search tool), called “What did YOU wear today?’ and another one which was put up by Wired on people’s thoughts on the iPhone.

The possibilities are tremendous — as a way of visually representing the way people are thinking at any given moment. Here, for instance in the Wordle for an article on today’s Huffington Post about Karl Rove (the link to the original article is here). The largest words seem to be Obama, government, money and Shiite. A recent Washington Post column by Dana Milbank on Rove creates a different Wordle with the biggest words being Rove, Karl, House and travesty (the original article can be found here). An article from conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, has this Wordle, with the biggest words read, rest and post.

Helpfully, Wordle will remove common words (like “the” and “and”) if you ask it to, so you can straight for the content and you can get deeper into the text’s actual meanings.

The holy grail of marketing on the Web is measuring its readers. The next step after that is making sense of what you measure. Wordle is an interesting way of making that “sense” more visible.

By the way, you can click here to see the Wordle for this blog with this new post.





The World Really IS Flat

10 07 2008
The World is Flat

The World is Flat according to Thomas Friedman, Thomas Ryan, Ken Rutkowski, Fred Wilson and me.

A recent post by VC (Venture Capital) blogger Fred Wilson reinforces Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book/theory that globalization has completely changed the way we do business, in general, and entrepeneurship, in specific. That, combined with a discussion on a recent KenRadio show (I believe by Thomas Ryan and Ken) reveals much about where our expectations should be in the 21st century.

For those of you not familiar with Friedman’s book (available from Amazon, and from Audible as an audiobook), he takes the position that technology and our new mindset have leveled the playing field so that there is no real difference between countries anymore. It’s a philosophy I first heard expressed in the mid-seventies when Paddy Chayefsky had one of his characters in the film NETWORK proclaim that “There are no more countries of the world. There are only ATT and Exxon and…” [he went on and on from there]

On KenRadio, Ryan and Rutkowski were talking about the dearth of new American ideas in tech startups and discussing whether Americans were being “dumbed down.’ Ryan’s comment was that it wasn’t so much that Americans were getting dumber, as that the rest of the world was getting smarter and Americans were sorta standing still. In my opinion they’re dead on here. As both a teacher and technologist, I can’t say that I have seen my students or the startups in this country to have fallen off in any way. My students at USC are still as challenging, bright and motivated as ever. It’s what keeps me in an industry (education) that forced me to take a huge paycut when I joined it seven years ago.

However, because of that very thing (educators being paid less) as well as government support of education and technology waning, other countries have been able to boost their status quite well.

And this leads me back to the first paragraph of this posting — Fred Wilson’s blog from today entitled “Taking Stock of Tech Startups in Paris.” (Fred’s blog, by the way, is one of the most informative and consistently interesting blogs about venture capitalism around. You should definitely check it out.)

There, Fred talks about a meeting he attended in Paris called Open Coffee in Paris, which is a weekly Thursday get-together of technology business people held every Thursday in Paris (open to everybody, so if you’re in Paris and you’re interested, check out their Facebook page from the link above). He also attended a “speed dating” event for Parisian entrepreneurs. There Wilson met, in his words:

 [T]he entrepreneurs I met yesterday were very typical of the people I meet every day in our business. And they are working on exactly the same problems/opportunities that startups in the US are working on.

He then goes on to detail the companies that he talked to at the event. Here is his scorecard, listing the industry they were in, the number of companies in each market space, and whether his own VC company is currently investigating companies in the same space in the US:

Entertainment ratings/reviews – one company – current
Mobile banking – one company – current
P2P lending – one company – current
Interactive/Internet TV – two companies – current
Sentiment analysis/tracking – one company – current
Stock footage – one company – current
Mobile gaming – two companies – current
Mobile RSS – one company – current
iPhone apps – one company – current
Prediction markets – one company – current
Virtual worlds – one company – current
Video ad creation – one company – current
Mobile/web integration – one company – current
Career/Jobs web service –one company – current

Here’s the interesting thing to me about this. Every single one of the categories has stateside equivalents that his VC company is currently investigating. In other words, the industries that we are developing here in the US are not ours alone. They are worldwide industries. Wilson’s conclusion:

Don’t think that the most interesting mobile games or iPhone apps will be built in Silcon Valley or even the US. Some will. Many won’t be.

This is what globalization is all about and it is further evidence that we are in a changing world. Those of us who create content would be foolish to ignore this. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. If you think that the ultimate goal for your content is a big screen (cinema) or small screen (television) then your train has already left the station and you’re not on it.

You are going to have to think globally — global stories, global collaborative ventures, global financing, global production and post-production, and global distribution. That’s the train you want to be on if you want to be around and thriving in the year 2020.





The Password Post-It Conundrum

7 07 2008

Any of you who have worked in a cubicle-style environment will have noticed one of the biggest ironies of the Information Age. You walk around the office, checking out people’s computer monitors and nearly every single one has Post-It notes stuck to their edges. And, if you looked closely (I’m not advising you to do this, I’m just saying…), you’ll notice that a very high percentage of monitors have, on at least one Post-It, a sign-in password.

That’s right.  Most people have the keys to unlock their computer, sitting right there on their computer. That’s like leaving your front door key inserted into the lock in your front door all of the time.

For those of us who don’t want to do that, we do something almost equally moronic — we attempt to use the same exact password for all of the sites that require a password. And that password is usually something like the name of your child, or your spouse’s birthday, or something else equally guess-able.

The reason why we do this is obvious — there are way too many sites that require passwords for us to remember them all. Many sites have arcane restrictions on them (“Must be 8 characters long, contain at least one number and one ampersand.”) and require you to change them every few months.

With the rise of identity theft, this isn’t a bad idea. But the plain truth is that most sites require passwords for monetary reasons, not security ones — in order to continue producing the site, most companies need to monetize it. And that means collecting data on you. The only way to do that effectively is to register people, so that they can track what you’re doing on the site. Then they can either sell something to you, or sell your eyeballs to an advertiser (well, not literally your eyeballs, but at least the information about what those eyeballs are looking at).

This leads us to the Information Overload Password Conundrum (or IOPC, a term I just made up).

People, who are generally unable to retain a variety of complex passwords, will do their best to make their passwords less complex and less varied.

This is a problem for institutions who really need to keep your data private — like banks, medical facitilities, research institutions, etc.

There are two initiatives that have been brewing to help to make this entire process both more secure and less intimidating for users.

The New York Times, on June 24, published an article on an organization which is developing something called the Online Information Card. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Equifax, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal are trying to come up with an online version of a driver’s license ID card.

The idea is to bring the concept of an identity card, like a driver’s license, to the online world. Rather than logging on to sites with user IDs and passwords, people will gain access to sites using a secure digital identity that is overseen by a third party. The user controls the information in a secure place and transmits only the data that is necessary to access a Web site.

There are a host of problems with this, of course, most notably the fact that the consortium will have to convince millions of web sites to trust the company behind the inititative — the metnioned “third party” — with the data that the sites’ users have entrusted to them. Personally, I don’t know how I feel about that. Is there a difference between a government Big Brother and a private industry one? We regularly hand over large amounts of our personal data to companies right now. About the only thing that keeps them from abusing that data too much is that it is fragmented between many companies.

Still, it’s a laudable start to our IOPC.

Another, more interesting one, came up in today’s “Bits” column in the New York Times. Called “More Personal Password Questions” the piece talks about a new inititative at the Palo Alto Research Center (which, as Xerox PARC, developed the icon-based user interface which is used on nearly personal computers today) called “Blue Moon Authentication.”

Named under the erroneous assumptiion that you only forget your password “once in a blue moon,” this technology is used to provide reliable, but difficult to crack, “fallback questions.” These are the questions that you need to answer when you’ve forgotten your password and need to either reset it, or have the website send you an email with that information. You choose from a list of questions: what was your first pet’s name?, where were you born?, what is mother’s maiden name?, etc.

The problem is that they are very hackable, especially to someone who can automate the responses (the Times even publishes a list of common pet names). PARC’s idea is

While registering for a site, users are asked to select from a long list things they like and dislike (punk music, golf, southern food, for example). If they forget their password, they return to the site and are presented with the list of items they selected. Then they have to specify whether they like or dislike those things – a quick personality test. Forget about plumbing the depths of your brain; just be yourself. “It turns out very few people have a hard time remembering who they are,” [Markus Jakobsson, principal scientist at PARC] said.

The piece says that, in a study, the chance of someone not being able to remember the answers to those questions was near zero. No one knows, of course, what happens if you choose to dislike chocolate after liking it for many years. People change, though not as often as most sites require us to change our passwords.

Still, it is a step to solving our password problems, something that has been discussed for years. Now that we do much of our purchasing, banking, and investing online, it’s time to do something about it.





Measuring Viral Videos and Making Use of the Web

15 06 2008

So, do you know that seeding videos on the web can give you amazing brand recognition? Do you know that the Numa Numa video, for instance, as had over 19,000,000 views? Now, if only you could trap that magic, you could make some real money from it, eh? (or at least, according to the recent South Park episode, some Imaginary Dollars).

[Moving out of Heavy Irony Mode now.]

Well, not so fast. The real problem with monetizing all of that web activity is that you can’t reliably measure it yet. It’s easy to get clicks, sure. And it’s easy, if you are controlling things, to measure how many people are watching your video, how far they watched, and other data.

The problem is aggregating that data. As Ken Rutkowski is fond of saying, there are 3 M’s to web success — Move (that is, bringing people to your site), Measure and Monetize.

Well, Viral Video Chart, is a web site that is trying to do something about that.

From Viral Video ChartThis site is designed to monitor occurrences and viewings of videos on YouTube. At present it doesn’t check the other web sites, meaning that Viacom’s products won’t show up that much.

But what it does do so far is pretty interesting. For one thing it tracks the shape of viewer interest. So, for instance, on the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal HD trailer page, you can see that viewing of the trailer peaked on May 21st, the day before the film opened (the chart to the left links to a blowup of that chart — I know that it’s hard to read here). By the following weekend, it had dropped to virtually nothing, and has been bouncing around on the low end of the scale since then — not too different from its box office numbers.

This data is not dissimilar to the numbers that Moviefone collects and sells, pegging potential box office to the number of people who call to get information on showtimes and people who do searches on the films on its website.

The possibilities are huge here, if you’re interested in making money. On today’s main page for Viral Video, you can see that three of the top four performers are I’m Voting Republican, Barack Obama’s Speech on Father’s Day and John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush which certainly speaks to the way in which the public is getting information on the Presidential race today. It’s no secret that one of the reasons for Obama’s success this year has been his use of the Internet. This information just backs that up.

And that is the main point here. We are getting more and more sophisticated at turning the wild wild west of the web into something graspable, something marketable, and something comprehensible. Sure, it’s still possible to lose an entire morning going from one link to another. But social networking companies like StumbleUpon are attempting to bring some order to this. What good does it do to have a zillion videos on YouTube if you can’t find the one you want? How good is the web for research if you need to rely solely on Google to find information?

There will be some — myself included — who will mourn the disappearance of that wild web experience. But there will some — myself included — who will be happy to see just what we’re doing with it, when and how. That’s what measurement is going to do. And it’s only beginning.





Shooting… the Independent Way

14 06 2008

Stu Maschwitz, author of the great book, DV Rebel’s Guide and filmmaker, blogger (over at Pro Lost), techno geek, has a really interesting blog about “clipping.”  For those of you who know little but could care more, that term refers to the point when video (or audio) reaches a saturation point and can no longer take any more light.  Stu refers to it this way:

Throw enough light at a piece of color negative and eventually it stops being able to generate any more density. Clipping, i.e. exceeding the upper limits of a media’s ability to record light, happens with all image capture systems.

In the posting, titles “On Clipping, Part 1” Stu gets into quite a bit of detail about how our eyes perceive light, as oppose to our digital capture systems (read that as “cameras”) and, at times, it went clean over my head.

But he makes the good point that film treats clipping much more forgivingly than video and digital capture does.  DPs have learned to expose for the whitest whites as much as possible, and to let the color timing bring the image down to respectful levels. This approach works fine, according to Stu, but falls apart when images clip, because bringing down a clipped image leaves you open to many digital imperfections — including milkiness and noise.

Editors have dealt with this for years, especially as more and more of us are pushed into the realm of color correction (way beyond most of our skill sets, I should point out, and that’s a topic for another post). But Stu lays it out in a great way.  And, along that way, he points out that clipping isn’t always bad.

And that’s OK. While HDR enthusiasts might disagree, artful overexposure is as much a part of photography and cinematography as anything else. Everybody clips, even film, and some great films such as Road to PerditionMillion Dollar Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey would be crippled without their consciously overexposed whites.

Go check out the posting, and while you’re at it, take a look at the other postings on Stu’s blog.  You’ll find it way worth your while.





Amazing Amazing Amazing

13 06 2008

If this is true then there is proof that there is a God.

Wes Plate, the innovative maven behind Automatic Duck, did a demo of the soon-to-released Pro Export FCP 4 (due, according to the video, sometime this summer). In the video, which you can see at the Film & Video web page where I found it, actually shows ProExport 4 changing FCP media into MXF files that the Avid can actually read. In addition, with the effects that are in the demo, the program translated the FCP effects into Avid effects, and translated an FCP marker into an Avid locator. This is in addition to the already valuable function that the program performs in version 3 of translating project files.

Once again, if this is true — there is a God. Or, at least, the Holy Grail. For years, that unattainable goal was to easily move a project and its media from FCP into Avid, because most people felt that the finishing tools there were better. Or, perhaps, you’re moving from one facility to another.

Wes Plate, you are a God!!





Fun Red One Demo

12 06 2008

Red One cameraTed Schilowitz, public face of the RED CINEMA Digital Camera, knows how to put on a show. He, and Michael Cioni (Plaster City Digital Post), put on a short demo of shooting with the RED, and playing it right on a Final Cut Pro system.

There’s nothing really special about that.  FCP can do that with the P2 cameras. Avid can too. But the way that Ted does the demo is really fun. He and Michael have two red cameras (take THAT, Red Camera fanatics) and shoot a little mini show called “Mythbusters.”  While still rolling both cameras, they walk into the next room, which has a spiffy 27 foot screen, plug one of the cameras into a second Mac (eight-core) system, and immediately project the footage onto the screen.  Frankly, it’s a demo that Sony and Panasonic could do as well, with their technology.  The cool thing is that Mike is demonstrating it using the 2K movie files right out of FCP (something that Ted advises you not to do, by the way). And there are some occasionally funny titles laid over the picture.

There are 4K and 2K versions of the film posted on the Red Cinema bulletin board.