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Fri 15 Sep 2006

Great technologists
yesterday-tomorrow

Pleased - really pleased - to find that Shelley is back. No longer Burningbird, now BBgun. Those of you who don't want discussion of women in technology, and prefer the pictures of baby elephants and ducks, will want to subscribe to Just Shelley.

As one technologist returns, another passes on. Farewell, Raymond Baxter. You were tomorrow's world, in the days before it was Judith Hann.

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posted 15 Sep 2006, 19.58 +0100

Mon 25 Sep 2006

Wiki-wiki-wah-wah

The "consensus" for the third annual Wikipedia conference venue (next July) is Taipei, Taiwan. This year's event took place in Boston, Canada; the 2005 inaugral event was in Frankfurt-am-Rhein. Other bids were from London, Torino, and Alexandria.

In recognition of the global intent of the Wikipedia project, it is deemed important to hold the event in diverse places throughout the world, a consideration that put London and Torino at a slight disadvantage. The clincher for Taipei over Alexandria seems to have been the desire of a preciously small clique to make some sort of protest against what they perceive as censorship by the government of Red China. Just ten people out of the much-hyped zillions of users had any say in this matter, and the voting figures have not been released. Even the notoriously corrupt IOC is more open and honest than this.

A review of the debate suggests that Taipei was not a consensus option amongst the many people who might have contributed to the conference, and any gains from the cheap shot across the bows of the Peking administration may be more than cancelled out by the damage done to the project by holding the annual conference in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare.

Indeed, there's a nagging doubt that the Wikipedia project is being hi-jacked by those wishing to put forward a particular extistential view. Wikipedia's original vision owes so much to the post-modern view, that there's no such thing as objective truth, that the entire project is in grave danger of disappearing up its own jacksie.

Of course, if one's prepared to be post-modern to the point of asininity, one could suggest that the apparent "victory" for Taipei is only one opinion amongst many, and that the winner of the discussion was Alexandria. And Torino. And London. And that there will be four conferences, all equally official. Philosophically, this is utterly and completely consistent with the Wikipedia founders' propositions; indeed, the claim that there is ever a single winner is far less consistent, as it presents a subjective opinion as objective truth.

Yes, this is an utterly absurd proposition, and one that smacks of taking one's golf-balls home after losing 18½:9½. But it is surely no less absurd than the notion that there is no such thing as a fact, as propounded by the Wikipedia founders.

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posted 25 Sep 2006, 19.26 +0100

Thu 05 Oct 2006

The benefits of careful consideration should be clear to all. They are not.

I had the slight misfortune to hear an interview with Jeremy Wright (C, Rugby and Kenilworth) yesterday evening. He was ploughing on about how utterly wonderful the new-look Conservative party was, and he wasn't at all apologetic about the party's lack of policies. To paraphrase, his point was that the Conservatives would not be rushed into presenting a new policy every time the wind changed. They'd rather take their time and come up with a coherent and consistent set of policies.

Of course, this is a veiled attack on the knee-jerk policy-making of the Labour party. For the last ten years, its policy has been driven exclusively by what would look good in the next day's press, rather than what would be good for the country, or consistent with other proposals.

But it's a lesson that other people might well learn. Just after I completed my mini-essay on Six Apart's idiosyncratic approach to contract law, the most almighty mess was exploding right across its Livejournal property.

At 10.53 on Friday night, Denise Paolucci re-informed users that paid-for commercials were being slipped into the site. At the time of writing, there were over 3600 comments to Ms. Paolucci's post, of which approximately 3500 expressed dissent to the proposal, and the remainder were from staff valiantly defending the idea. Many of the critics found her tone to be patronising, insulting, offensive, or some combination thereof.

Site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick saw the shitstorm, and posted at 2.28 on Saturday afternoon. His post has attracted a mere 1400 comments, many of which interpreted the original post as an attack on Ms. Paolucci. Mr. Fitzpatrick substantively revised his post some time later, and (because Livejournal is not Wikipedia) the original is no longer available.

On the Monday, there was an emergency staff meeting, from which a more coherent policy has emerged (in particular, posts 1, 2, and 3, all posted from the account of Abraham Hassan.

The link with Mr. Wright's observation should be obvious - Six Apart has singularly failed to think through its policies, and has succeeded in alienating a significant proportion of its paying userbase.

Can we draw this analogy further, and directly compare Six Apart with New Labour? Well, perhaps - user Insomnia might represent Old Livejournal, and he's not afraid to call site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick a control freak, a clear comparison with Mister Blair. Both organisations seem to be dislocated from reality - the initial comments on Ms. Paolucci's post from staff were "everything in the garden's rosy", as divorced from reality as anything Hazel Blears would come out with. And Anil Dash comes across as Six Apart's resident John Reid - when he's not lying through his teeth to present Six Apart in a slightly less negative light, he's pouring liquid flame onto an already flammable situation. We should also point out that Livejournal is, ultimately, owned by an unelected cabal over which the regular user has neither influence nor importance.

(As a sidebar, was there ever a serious proposal for Livejournal to be run by a board of trustees elected from amongst the paid users? That would have worked against attempts to turn a profit by most funding methods, but a democracy could be the best way forward for a site paid for by its users. This is a completely hypothetical discussion, as the chances of Six Apart giving up its one cash cow are minimal to none.)

Once we move beyond slightly cheeky personal comparisons, the analogy rather breaks down. New Labour is committed to introducing its own database recording where everyone is at any time; this is utterly unworkable, has no reason for being, and would be cancelled by any quarter-wit within ten seconds of coming to power. Six Apart, on the other hand, prefers to outsource its tracking to an advertising agency with ideas above its station.

OK, both are fully prepared to lie through the teeth about their tracking mechanisms - Labour claims that their "identity register" will be useful to prove one's entitlement to services, er in the war against terrorism, er to prove one isn't an illegal immigrant, er, for reasons that Labour has yet to invent.

Six Apart, meanwhile, claims that, with G****e, "Users can only be tracked anonymously". It's a fib. It's probably the biggest fib that anyone has told so far this month. It's also a very common misperception, a lie allowed to persist by G****e's sickening mendacity. It's a desperate shame that there are still people so woefully ill-informed that they see G****e's activities as benign, and an even greater shame that its tentacles are spreading into parts of the web from where it has previously been blocked. It is not clear when the anti-advertisement activists will target their attention to the world's biggest spam engine.

Mr. Wright's analysis is correct: a little time in careful, considered reflection is worth a million and one apologies later on. Labour didn't, and they're paying the price. Livejournal didn't, and it's really paying the price.

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posted 05 Oct 2006, 20.02 +0100

Wed 11 Oct 2006

Writing like an economist

The Economist style guide in a nutshell:

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posted 11 Oct 2006, 19.52 +0100

Sat 04 Nov 2006

Search here

Leading search terms last month:

why are rolling stones on my google toolbar Could it be because you've put them there?

banker formula deal or no deal Think of what you'd like to be offered, then generate a random number between 0.5 and 2. Multiply the two together, then multiply by 3, and divide by the number of the round. Then forget all the above and offer £50 and a half-eaten pork pie.

body shop organisation chart See "Nestlé".

european call centre awards jimmy carr So that's what he's doing now!

inland revenue tax tables turkey Yes, under Gordon Brown's latest stealth tax, each fowl and swine will be taxed, at 44p per bird. Bernard Matthews is leading the opposition to what he's describing as the Beak Tax.

knapsack blackbox yes no No.

m6 accidents 1983 The road was closed in various places during the year. Further details from the Friends of the M-6 in Macclesfield.

patrick stewart number of the beast iron maiden 86166 15. Oh, sorry, that's the number of the Lordi.

runaway train was a hit single in uk in which year 1993.

second world war and motty strategy in finland I leave this as a writing prompt for anyone who wants to pick it up.

which 1978 single is the biggest seller of all time in the uk None of them; it's that dirge from Dane Elton John.

For those who care about such things, the browser wars last month were:

IE 5944
MZ 5402
OP  309

Internet Deplorer and Mozilla have been neck-and-neck for the last four months, with Moz winning in September and June.

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posted 04 Nov 2006, 09.35 +0000

Wed 29 Nov 2006

Traveller's Tale

Phew. It's a long one, but it's finally done. The report on my recent trip to Brussels is finally up, and it's split over four (count 'em!) pages. The highlights:

Page 1 - From Brum to Brussels by Eurostar.

Page 2 - My hotel, and gandering around Brussels.

Page 3 - Going shopping, and going to Antwerp.

Page 4 - Off to Heysel, and coming home again.

Interleaved throughout the travelogue are little essays, on topics such as the local transport system, the television channels, and other ideas.

Those after some photographs will have a short wait. Pictures should be with you around next week-end.

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posted 29 Nov 2006, 19.39 +0000

Thu 30 Nov 2006

How far has Livejournal fallen? (November 2006)

Unless indicated otherwise, comparisons are against last month's figures.

The headlines

size	accounts	11717087 (+217648, 1.85%)
size	accounts_active_1	589457 (+49862)
size	accounts_active_30	1852281 (-22735, -1.21%)
size	accounts_active_7	1178102 (-21953, -1.83%)
statbox	postyester	187644 (n/c)
statbox	totusers	2901464 (n/c)
usercluster	active	483304 (n/c)
usercluster	total	10818562 (n/c)
userinfo	allow_getljnews	435119 (-4022, -0.92%)
userinfo	randomcount	5000 (n/c)
userinfo	total	11702739 (+217021, +1.89%)
userinfo	updated	7636741 (+99200, 1.32%)
userinfo	updated_last1	232884 (+19815)
userinfo	updated_last30	1104471 (-21532, -1.91%)
userinfo	updated_last7	644637 (-19508, -2.94%)

The 24th month of unconstrained growth sees raw account growth of slightly less than 1/50th. I don't attach a huge amount of importance in the last one day, and the last seven is affected by a public holiday in Japan and parts of Canada. The number of active accounts, though, continues to fall away at a rate of knots.

As mentioned last month, I propose the Userinfo: Updated figure as a lower bound for the number of accounts created by people.

The Statbox figures are completely unchanged after a full month; it is exceedingly improbable for this to happen by pure chance.

The News account reaches less than 5% of all personal accounts, and that its reach has actually fallen by 1% in the last month. Could this have anything to do with the woeful quality of advertorial in the official spokesblog, and the way that site news now creeps out across a dizzying array of journals?

Gender

F	3212264 (+60911, 1.93%)
M	1548087 (+33463, 2.21%)
U	1865248 (+55132, 3.05%)

Total gender declared: 6,625,599 (56% of Accounts, 86% of Updated - no significant change.)

The traditional assumption is that Livejournal skews female; this month has certainly moved more male.

Ages

Livejournal users by age

Modal age is still 18, with 516,771 users, though 19 is barely 1200 people behind. Quartiles come at 18.3 (+0.1), 20.8 (nc), 24.7 (+0.2); a slight skewing older, possibly significant, as I would only expect an increase of 1/12 of a year (~0.08) per month.

Total declaring an age: 5,128,434 (+197005, 4.00%) (77% of Gender, 67% of Updated). It's clear that some existing users have declared their age during the month, this figure is up by just 20,000 fewer than the total number of new accounts.

Top 20 Countries

US	3207059
RU	386877
CA	268846
UK	228577
AU	108307
UA	44529
PH	41557
DE	38516
SG	35438
FI	30881
JP	25897
NL	21911
IL	15926
NZ	15566
BR	14564
BY	14423
ES	14409
FR	13775
SE	10284
IE	9900

224 other countries: 235,811

Total countries declared: 4,783,053 (+82775, 1.76%) (93% of those declaring an Age, 72% of Gender, 63% of Active). In the top 20, Belarus (BY) moves past Spain (ES). Fastest growth amongst the 20 came from Singapore, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia - all managed 4% growth, no other nation grew by 3%. Only Canada (1.6%) and US (1.2%) were slower than the 1.8% global growth in accounts.

Signups

Livejournal signups in November, 2001-6

The November period actually runs from 29 October to 28 November.

Total signups:
2001 - 22,381
2002 - 37,330
2003 - 71,159
2004 - 321,102
2005 - 246,873
2006 - 223,664

Six days in 2006 were more popular than the exact corresponding date in 2005. The system outage on 4 November caused total signups to dip to 2542, fewer than the corresponding date in 2003 (2795).

Top 20 interests

music	1509982
movies	995567
reading	664496
writing	626881
friends	611323
art	483951
computers	463142
dancing	429673
photography	419095
books	403795
shopping	354195
singing	340951
love	339306
poetry	330157
drawing	313963
anime	311816
sleeping	299205
swimming	290462
sex	259002
food	251416

Drawing moves past Anime for 16th, Food displaces Boys from the top 20. Greatest gainer is Books (+19,946); Swimming is the slowest climber, +425.

Also targetted for advertisements:

boys, harry potter, video games, cats, tattoos, internet, guitar, laughing, chocolate, dvds
coffee, concerts, rain, animals, stars, guys, cooking, painting, cheese, soccer
acting, piercings, dogs, girls, family, talking, basketball, snowboarding, traveling, manga
taking back sunday, women, kissing, biking, philosophy, lord of the rings, rock, nirvana, summer, history
punk, fashion, running, tv, fantasy, pictures, football, shoes, green day, cars
dreams, johnny depp, the beatles, clothes, radiohead, psychology, hugs, driving, музыка, the used
eating, sleep, candles, family guy, literature, drinking, snow, the cure, brand new, camping
pink, vampires, emo, sports, dashboard confessional, parties, afi, aim, hiking, politics

Next 25:
linkin park, cuddling, incubus, mp3s, water, romance, ice cream, life, my chemical romance, travel
bright eyes, money, men, black, weezer, cartoons, thursday, piano, theatre, star wars
skateboarding, blink 182, pizza, skiing, yellowcard

Literature (111-85), sports (103-94), politics (105-100) enter the top 100. Out go linkin park, cuddling, incubus. A total of 454 interests are recorded in the stats.

Syndicated feeds

Top 10
Blogthings	33225 (+13)
PostSecret	23348 (+248)
Dictionary Word of the Day	16453 (+81)
Neil Gaiman	15225 (+217)
Astronomy Picture of the Day	10547 (+84)
Penny-Arcade	8785 (+108)
Sinfest	8476 (+52)
Dan Savage	7763 (+78)
Overheard in New York	7676 (+55)
New Urban Legends 6535 (NE)

Last month's number 8, VG Cats, has been deleted; the readership of vgcatscomic is just 85, compared with 8278 a month ago.

Readership of feed ranked:
50	1283 (+33)
100	658 (+31)
200	300 (+8)
500	120 (+3)
1000	54 (+1)

The Zipf distribution allows us to approximate n = (1/k^s)*a
where n = number of readers
k = rank
s = exponent (experimentally, 1.07)
a = scalar multiple (experimentally, 87,600 - last month 85,800)

We might extend the table:

2500	20
5000	10 (+1)
10000	5
25000	2
50000	1

Somewhere around 80,000 feeds have at least one reader.

These are the statistics. Conclusions may be yours.

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posted 30 Nov 2006, 19.11 +0000

Thu 07 Dec 2006

Nikkogen

Two weeks ago, someone plugging Nikkogen, a vendor claiming to offer a perpetual motion machine (pat. pending), left an unsolicited commercial comment with Tim Worstall.

As anyone with a basic understanding of entropy, thermodynamics, or the songbook of Flanders and Swann will tell you, you can't pass heat from the cooler to the hotter. It appears that Nikkogen had failed to anticipate questions on this subject being asked on this week's University Challenge, but that's OK, they're not selling a time machine, just a perpetual motion machine.

There we would have left it, had Nikkogen left it. The rationalist behind The Ministry of Truth has received a snot-o-gram from Nikkogen insisting that the company has defied the laws of thermodynamics, and insisting that the Min. of Truth removes all referencs to Nikkogen within one calendar week. A similar snot-o-gram has been received by Mat GB, and probably others. Nikkogen claims that Mr. Worstall has withdrawn his statement that the company's product does not work. Mr. Worstall has done no such thing, and comments there give details of Nikkogen's owners and its product (pat. pending).

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posted 07 Dec 2006, 19.38 +0000

Thu 14 Dec 2006

Mourir demain: Le Meur

A follow-up to yesterday's post about Six Apart being a bunch of pottymouths. The story has reached the ivory towers at Het Grauniad, where they're concentrating on the dismissal of Sam Sethi and closure of Techcrunch UK. Het Graun's original piece did not mention Loïc asshole Lemeur's employer once; could this be because Six Apart also supplies the newspreap's webties comment system? Could this latter fact be why we will never use said newspreap's webties comment system?

We note that the politicians who spoke at the conference were Shimon Peres (Israel, centre-right), M. Bayrou (France, centre-right), and M. Sarkozy (France, right-wing). There was no platform for Mme. Royal or any other left-of-centre speaker. What does this tell us about Six Apart's politics? In particular, this provides more ammunition for claims that they're closeted Corporatists, in favour of invading Iraq, killing innocents, abandoning democracy, supporting the military junta, and fleecing the many for the benefit of the few.

Or is it, as many voices suggest, more to do with M. Lemeur's ambition to achieve elected office himself, and beat Iain Dale as the first professional blogger in the corridors of power? Tom Raferty says this in so few words. Nicole Simon says that she's betrayed, this event has been hijacked to be a pit stop of the french presidential election campaign, and accuses M. Lemeur of selling out European bloggers for a cheap headline. Even the Torygraph is wondering, Why are we here?, and goes on to call M Sarkozy's appearance the equivalent of a pop-up advertisement. Shane Richmond, a hundred thank yous, I shall be using that image for at least the next four-and-a-half months.

For those of you who like nothing more than to cut-n-paste graphics into your blogs, here's a graphic to cut-n-paste into your blog.

LLM
Recommandé par des Influenceurs.

In rough translation, it says,

I want to be the voice of the internet user - Loïk Le Meur, in le Parisien, 9 December 2006.
My vote, you see, is up to me, no room for error.
Le Meur cannot steal my voice; I affirm with my click.

What would be really, really good is for this to be shrunk into the 100x100x40K limits for a Livejournal icon, so that the resistance can display it as their default. Just imagine, searching for France and not only coming up with fifty identical icons, but coming up with fifty identical icons railing against Six Apart's employee in France. The fucking arsehole would tear her hair out.

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posted 14 Dec 2006, 19.57 +0000

Sun 31 Dec 2006

How far has Livejournal fallen? (3)

Has my cron job worked, so that I can publish figures from 2006 in 2007? Result!

The headlines

size	accounts	11925333 (+208246, 1.78%)
size	accounts_active_1	489134 (-100323)
size	accounts_active_30	1808939 (-43342, -2.34%)
size	accounts_active_7	1096006 (-82096, -6.97%)
userinfo	allow_getljnews	431723 (-3396, -0.78%)
userinfo	total	11910953 (+208214, 1.78%)
userinfo	updated	7731271 (+94530, 1.24%)
userinfo	updated_last1	192288 (-40596)
userinfo	updated_last30	1075476 (-28995, -2.63%)
userinfo	updated_last7	596644 (-47993, -7.44%)

Slightly slower growth this month - November saw 215,000 new accounts - but it's all consistent with 1.8% growth per month, 24% per annum. I think the single most important statistic here is Active: 30d, the accounts that are used in a month. That was -1.21% last month, -2.34% this. Mark Kraft, himself a former staff member, prefers to monitor Updated: 30d, which has been falling at around 1.8% per month since the start of 2005.

The benchmark figure for accounts created by people is Userinfo: Updated, which increases at 45% of the full account speed for the second month.

Gender

gender	F	3270136 (+57872, 1.80%)
gender	M	1580353 (+32266, 2.08%)
gender	U	1917539 (+52291, 2.80%)

Total gender declared: 6,768,028 (+142429, 2.15%) (57% of Accounts, 88% of Updated - both figures have inched up.) Again, the stereotype that Livejournal is female dominated is being slowly reversed. At 0.3% per month, it'll be around a year before there are half as many declared males as females on the system. Note that this figure will include the unused accounts, the statistics do not give information on who actually uses the system.

Age

As we suggested last month, modal age has ticked up from 18 to 19. Rather than propose a graph that isn't changing shape from month-to-month, here's a list of the ages with at least 100,000 people:

age	15	192730
age	16	365731
age	17	478658
age	18	531666
age	19	533783
age	20	496836
age	21	444710
age	22	355492
age	23	287148
age	24	237562
age	25	187031
age	26	182522
age	27	121030

Quartiles come at 18.3 (n/c), 20.9 (+0.1), 24.7 (n/c), consistent with the usual aging process. Total declaring an age: 5,297,813 (+169379, 3.30%) (78% of Gender, 69% of Updated). Both figures have moved up.

Top 20 Countries

US	3242494	+35435
RU	403335	+16458
CA	272764	+3918
UK	232672	+4095
AU	110237	+1930
UA	46578	+2049
PH	42604	+1047
DE	39413	+897
SG	37198	+1760
FI	31581	+700
JP	26411	+514
NL	22265	+354
IL	16343	+417
NZ	15891	+325
BY	15162	+739
BR	14928	+364
ES	14790	+381
FR	14137	+362
SE	10550	+266
IE	10116	+216

224 other countries: 241,593

Total countries declared: 4,861,062 (+78009, 1.63%) (90% of those declaring an Age, 71% of Gender, 62% of Active - all down a point). In the top 20, Belarus (BY) continues to climb, this month moving past Brazil (BR). Fastest growth amongst the 20 came from Belarus (up 5.1%) Singapore, Ukraine, Russia - all managed 4% growth, no other nation grew by 3%. Canada (1.5%) and US (1.1%) continue to grow more slowly than accounts overall, but are joined this month by the Netherlands (1.6%).

Signups

Livejournal signups, Decembers 2001-6

The November period actually runs from 29 November to 29 December.

There's interest in this month's graph, as December 2003 saw the removal of invitation codes, causing a six-fold increase overnight. Five days in 2006 (3, 17, 18, 25, 26) saw more sign-ups than the corresponding date last year, and 30 November had more signups than in 2004.

Total signups:
2001 - 19,915
2002 - 37,237
2003 - 236,626
2004 - 290,140
2005 - 223,890
2006 - 208,768

Interests

It is remarkable that the same 454 interests are recorded this month as last. I can't rely on a fixed list of categories, so must discontinue this section of the analysis.

Syndicated feeds

Top 10
Blogthings	33306	+81
PostSecret	23731	+383
Dictionary Word of the Day	16589	+136
Neil Gaiman	15419	+194
Astronomy Picture of the Day	10699	+152
Penny-Arcade	8879	+94
Sinfest	8560	+84
VG Cats	8278	NEW
Dan Savage	7831	+68
Overheard in New York	7753	+77

VG Cats was number 8 in October, but was missing from November's survey for reasons that are not clear. It has exactly as many readers as it did in October.

Readership of feed ranked:
50	1307 (+24)
100	647 (-9)
200	297 (-3)
500	114 (-6)
1000	52 (-2)

The Zipf distribution allows us to approximate n = (1/k^s)*a
where n = number of readers
k = rank
s = exponent (experimentally, 1.13)
a = scalar multiple (experimentally, 117,000)

We might extend the table:

2500	17
5000	8
10000	4
25000	1
50000	1

Somewhere around 56,500 feeds have at least one reader. Note that these last figures are not comparable with previous months, as I've included all available data, rather than a subset.

These are the statistics. Conclusions, as ever, are yours.

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posted 31 Dec 2006, 12.03 +0000

older writing... write to