Category Archives: iAD

Double!

Espen-Double

Here (photo: Lene Pettersen) is my last addition to my nerd kit: A Double from Double Robotics. I suppose this is formally defined as a telepresence robot, but a simpler way to describe it is to say that it is an iPad stuck on a Segway.

I spent most of Friday fiddling around with it, exploring what it can do. It is surprisingly natural in use: It can be raised (up to about five feet) and lowered, depending on whether you want to speak to someone standing or sitting. I drove it around the BI building, and quickly found that dead network spots (it needs a constant Internet connection to work) are problematic. Also, it is not very good at switching between routers on the same wireless network – it loses connection and needs a couple of minutes to find it again. I’ll probably have to get an iPad with a 4G connection, if such a thing exists (on the other hand, with a 4G connection I could send it out of the building and down the street.) Another problem was weak sound – in a room with other people speaking, the iPad speaker is too weak. I might have to get some small battery-powered speakers and Velcro them to the kit. elevators, doors and door sills, of course, are tricky.

Here are some pictures from a little excursion around the school library (photo: Martin Uteng, Instagrammed here.). A little tricky to talk to the students (again, not enough volume) and some network issues, but at least I am getting better at driving it:

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(Yes, this is actually research. And fun at work.) The use cases for a Double are several – I could advise students and go to meetings without leaving my home office, for instance. I have done that with Skype and other video conferencing tools for ages, but this thing is much less formal and allows you to putter around and talk to people. one of my colleagues has severe allergies and spends the spring as a pollen refugee in his mountain cabin – I am sure he would love to borrow it.

Compared to a picture on a computer or projection screen this little robot is much more intuitive and humanoid – you can see in which direction it is looking, for instance. I have been told that there are a bunch of these at Stanford, and that at first they were meant to be shared – but it turns out that people want their own, so they can personalize it as I have done with the ugliest bow tie I could find. My colleagues tell me it feels much more natural to speak to me through the Double than through Skype – it is almost as if I am there.

So, some technicalities left to resolve, but this has promise. I am already scheduled to give a talk through it, while I am in the States. And yes, I have already been compared to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Several times…

Write, that I may find thee

A Google Dance – when Google changes its rankings of web sites – used to be something that happened infrequently enough that each “dance” had a name – Boston, Fritz and Brandy, for instance – but are now happening more than 500 times per year, with names like Panda #25 and Penguin 2.0, to name a few relatively recent ones. (There is even a Google algorithm change “weather report”, as many of the updates now are unnamed and very frequent.) As a consequence, search engine optimization seems to me to be changing – and funny enough, is less and less about optimization and more and more about origination and creation.

It turns out that Google is now more and more about original content – that means, for instance, that you can no longer boost your web site simply by using Google Translate to create a French or Korean version of your content. Nor can you create lots of stuff that nobody reads – and by nobody, I mean not just that nobody reads your article, but that the incoming links are from, well, nobodies. According to my sources, Google’s algorithms have now evolved to the point where there are just two main mechanisms for generating the good Google juice (and they are related):

  1. Write something original and good, not seen anywhere else on the web.
  2. Get some incoming links from web sites with good Google-juice, such as the New York Times, Boing Boing, a well-known university or, well, any of the “Big 10” domains (Wikipedia, Amazon, Youtube, Facebook, eBay (2 versions), Yelp, WebMD, Walmart, and Target.)

The importance of the top domains is increasing, as seen by this chart from mozcast.com:

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In other words, search engines are moving towards the same strategy for determining what is important as the rest of the world has – if it garners the attention of the movers and shakers (and, importantly, is not a copy of something else) it must be important and hence, worthy of your attention.

For the serious companies (and publishers) out there, this is good news: Write well and interesting, and you will be rewarded with more readers and more influence. This also means that companies seeking to boost their web presence may be well advised to hire good writers and create good content, rather than resort to all kinds of shady tricks – duplication of content, acquired traffic (including hiring people to search Google and click on your links and ads), and backlinks from serially created WordPress sites.

For writers, this may be good news – perhaps there is a future for good writing and serious journalism after all. The difference is that now you write to be found original by a search engine – and should a more august publication with a human behind it see what you write and publish it, that will just be a nice bonus.

MIT CISR Research Briefing on Enterprise Search

imageLast year I had the pleasure of spending time as a visiting scholar at MIT Center for Information Systems Research, and here is one of the results, now available from CISR’s website (free, but you have to register. Absolutely worth it, lots of great material):

Research Briefing: Making Enterprise Search Work: From Simple Search Box to Big Data Navigation; Andersen; Nov 15, 2012

Most executives believe that their companies would perform better if “we only knew what we knew.” One path to such an objective is enhanced enterprise search. In this month’s briefing, “Making Enterprise Search Work: From Simple Search Box to Big Data Navigation,” Visiting Scholar Espen Andersen highlights findings from his research on enterprise search. He notes that enterprise search plays a different role from general web or site-specific searches and it comes with its own unique set of challenges – most notably privacy. But companies trying to capitalize on their knowledge will invariably find search an essential tool. Espen offers practical advice on how to develop a more powerful search capability in your firm.

Why is internal search so hard?

Have experience or an opinion? I would love to talk to you!

In collaboration with MIT CISR, I am currently researching enterprise search – i.e., the use of search engines inside corporations, whether it be for letting people outside the corporation search your website, or for letting employees search the internal collection of databases, documents, and audiovisual material. Consumer search – our everyday use of Google and other search engines – in general is very good and very fast, to the point where most people search for stuff rather than categorize it. Enterprise search, on the other hand, is often imprecise, confusing, incomplete and just not as good a source of information as searching the open Internet.

There are many reasons for this, both having to do with the content (most enterprise content lack hyperlinks, essential for prioritization, for instance), with the organization (lack of resources for and knowledge of search optimization, security policy issues, lack of an identified application owner), and with the users (who are to few to get meaningful statistics and do not, to the extent you do on the Internet, make their information findable).

Nevertheless, there are examples of companies – often consulting companies, research-oriented firms and others who deal in large amounts of information, such as pharmaceuticals and publishers, who do good work with internal, enterprise search. I have interviewed a few of those and a few search experts.

Now I would very much like to talk to anyone interesting in this topic – do you have experience, viewpoints, war stories, examples, ideas about what to do and especially what not to do? Then I am very interested in talking to you! Please leave a comment below or end me an email at self@espen.com.

How students search

David Weinberger has posted his notes from a very interesting session at Berkman that I for some reason missed – Alison Head’s presentation of studies of students’ information search behavior from the Project Information Literacy project. The findings confirm a lot of what I would have thought just by observing my own (young adult) children’s search behavior, or, for that matter, my own. Wikipedia is used a lot, and quite intelligently, in the beginning of a search. You talk to librarians and other people to get the vocabulary necessary for a search. And students (and everyone else) wants one database, not many.

Jeff Jarvis on his public parts

(taking notes from a presentation at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, December 6, 2011)

(David Weinberger has a much better writeup.)

Jeff Jarvis rake thin, grey-haired, dressed in black and bearded, and has had cancer, but any similarity with Steve Jobs stops there. His latest book, Public Parts, advocates more openness in a time concerned with privacy yet somehow unable to press that “like” button on Facebook.

His key point is that the tools of publicness need to be protected – and though privacy and publicness is not in opposition – and his fear that privacy concerns are misapplied and sometimes dangerous.

When Kodak was invented, there were articles written about “fiendish Kodakers” lying in wait, and the cameras were banned in some public parks. Anxiety about privacy goes back to the Gutenberg press, microphones, video cameras. Society is looking for norms, but legislates to keep the past, in terms of the past.

The tools of making publics: Habermas said public discourse started in coffee houses in the 18th century as a counterweight to government power. It was ruined by mass media. Now we have the tools of publicness, and we get things like Occupy Wall Street. Jeff started (after a few glasses of Pinot Noir) the #fuckyouwashington tag, which spawned a platform with more than 110,000 tweets.

The Gutenberg parentheses: Before Gutenberg, knowledge was non-linear, with Gutenberg it became linear, after Gutenberg it is non-linear and the knowledge we revere is the net. Danish professors arguing that the transition into Gutenberg was hard, and the transition out of it will be equally hard. Web content still shaped as analogues of the past.

Had to understand what privacy is – first take was that it had something to do with control. Came to think that privacy is an ethic. This means that publicness is also an ethic, an ethic of sharing information. Sharing his prostate cancer, including impotence, on the web. Hard to do, but got tremendous value out of it.  Various people contributed to the blog, telling things that the doctors won’t say, etc.

We need to learn from young people how to control sharing. Danah Boyd: COPA requires companies not to keep information about children younger than 13. But more than 50% of 12-year olds had Facebook – “on the internet everyone’s 14.” Sullivan principles (developed for apartheid) may help: Rules for companies to operate in South Africa.

Jarvis propose some principles:

  1. We have the right to connect.
  2. We have the right to speak.
  3. We have the right to assemble and to act.
  4. Privacy is an ethic of knowing
  5. Publicness is an ethic of sharing
  6. Our institutions’ information should be public by default, secret by necessity
  7. What is public is a public good
  8. All bits are created equal
  9. Internet must stay open and distributed

Fear that governments and companies will take this away.

Various questions in the question round – but the discussion didn’t really take off.

Jeff comes off somewhat like his books: Well articulated and with many interesting and well described examples, but I keep looking for some more analysis and less description. More depth, simply, not just a plea that openness is good and we need to develop norms on how to handle it. But the “history of the private and the public” part of his book is very good. And it does make for an interesting read.

Computers taking over: Examples

I am currently thinking about how computers are taking over more and more of what we humans can do, in ways we did not think about just a few years ago. The impetus for this, of course, is Brynjolfsson og McAfee’s recent e-book Race Against The Machine, where the main examples given are Google’s driverless cars, instant translation software, and automated paralegal research. I’ll use this blog post as a repository for examples of this, so here goes:

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