Twitter cleaning

I figure I need to clean up my @chuggnutt Twitter account (and probably the @hackbend and @brewsite ones as well).

Not that I have an extraordinary number of followers, or people I’m following—522 and 425, respectively—but I realized there’s a fair amount of “noise” on what amounts to my personal Twitter account and there are accounts I’m also following on either @hackbend or @brewsite, and I don’t really need to see redundant tweets.

So I’ll be going through my personal Twitter account and weeding out accounts I’m following, and figure if anyone’s using something like who.unfollowed.me and gets offended that I unfollow them, I can at least point to my criteria:

  • If the account hasn’t had an update in 2 months or more, unfollowed.
  • If I’m also already following that account on @hackbend or @brewsite, I’ll unfollow on @chuggnutt.
  • Unless it’s someone I know personally, or have interacted with on @chuggnutt more often, then I’ll keep the (redundant) follow.
  • Of course there are accounts I just find interesting even if I never interact with them, so I’ll keep following those.
  • If the account seems spammy, or keeps posting repetitive tweets, unfollowed.
  • If the account is something like a brewery that I’m not already following on @brewsite—or a Bend business or similar I’m not already following on @hackbend—I’ll follow on those respective accounts and unfollow on @chuggnutt.

I’m not too worried about the followers to my account; it’s been awhile since I’ve had to do a bot/porn sweep and block accounts, and I haven’t really seen any I’d consider blockable come through lately.

…I should probably go through and clean up my Facebook sometime, too.

Ning

By now the geeky part of the blogosphere and, er, web-o-sphere has been rocked by the announcement of Ning two days ago. Check it out. Their one-line description reads “Ning is a free online service (or, as we like to call it, a Playground) for building and using social applications.”

What this means is they’re hosting a service/platform that allows people to build their own social software applications… things like online voting/polls, dating services, bookmarks, review sites. In theory the level of complexity in creating these ranges from point-and-click Clone-N-Theme all the way up to Advanced PHP Developer.

Yup, PHP. It looks like they’re opening the doors to the system and letting you code the apps directly. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “I hope they have PHP sandboxed.” And sure enough, it says in the FAQ that they do. Sounds iffy to me (let’s just say I’m glad I’m not responsible for running this service!), though I’ll give them points for innovation and guts here.

Looks like they offer up an API for their developer environment, all running under PHP 5. And from what I’ve been seeing, they’ve assembled a team of some of the top PHP people out there to put this together, so that’s impressive.

It’s all very Web 2.0, especially with tags (and the annoying/clever convention of showing the relative popularity of various tags with different font sizes). I don’t know, it looks interesting, and it’ll be hot for awhile, but I gotta wonder just how valuable it is to have hundreds of crappy variations of “Which is cuter,” most of which were created as throwaway examples and abandoned by idly curious people (like me)…

Friendster goes PHP

An item I saw yesterday but forgot to blog about: Friendster goes PHP. Pretty cool.

Finally on Friday we launched a platform rearchitecture based on loose-coupling, web standards, and a move from JSP (via Tomcat) to PHP. The website doesn’t look much different, but hopefully we can now stop being a byword for unacceptably poky site performance.

I haven’t had much of a chance yet to use Friendster to see if it truly is faster, so I can’t personally comment on that aspect. And predictably, this is going to bring all sorts of people out of the woodwork arguing over the relative merits of Java/JSP (which was old Friendster) versus PHP… just look at the comments on the link above to see it already happening. And while debate and disagreement can be healthy and productive, how about a quick reality check to everyone:

PHP is good. Java is good. Both have their merits and disadvantages. Loudly complaining that [Java|PHP] is the only true way and the other is crap is boring and uninformed.

Shakespeare Social Networks

This is an amazing link: Shakespeare Social Networks.

PieSpy is a tool designed to infer and visualize social networks on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It works by applying simple heuristics to work out who is talking to whom. This information can be used to produce a visualization of the social network, essentially showing which users are connected and how strong those connections are.

As PieSpy matured, it became obvious that IRC was not the only suitable testing ground. By feeding PieSpy with the entire texts of Shakespeare plays, it became possible to produce drawings of the social networks present in his plays – it is now possible to visualize the relationships between the characters in his works.

So it treats a Shakespeare play as an extended IRC session. Brilliant. I love thinking outside the box!

Of course, it doesn’t have to be limited to Shakespeare. You could feed the program any play, script, or written work that looks enough like dialogue from a chat session. Jeez, or law enforcement agencies could use it to draw social network diagrams of people based on wiretaps…

Social software again

All the hooplah over Orkut last week got me thinking more about this “social software” phenomenom from sites like Orkut and Friendster. You may remember I’ve ranted about Friendster before. My conclusions at the time were that I could see some value to it, but didn’t know what I could actually do with it.

Several months later, same results. What do I do with this type of software? I don’t need a date. I get bored with searching for people I don’t know when all I can do is search. They’re poor at facilitating communication compared to other technologies. I already have an address book—several, actually—of people that I do know and keep in touch with. So?

So, all of these social networking sites seem to me to be half-baked: they’re a framework built upon an interesting idea, but they’re not done yet. Honestly, I’m not even sure I can tell what the end goal is—having an interesting idea doesn’t guarantee success.

The interesting thing about Orkut is that it’s an invitation-only service—meaning, that every user is linked to every other user in one big network—unlike Friendster or the others where there are “pockets” of networks, existing independently. Having everyone linked in some way is inherently more valuable to me; stand-alone networks diminishes the value of the system.

But what system? Still a problem. I suppose it would be interesting to be able to crawl or browse the network of people—the big one, like Orkut does—and be able to drill-down into user data to varying degrees, based on the proximity in the network that user is to you. But there would have to be more than just user data; I’d want to drill-down into their online presence/identity/platform—the blogs, the photo galleries, the web pages and XML files of metadata, their trail of public interactions across the web (like on forums, or weblog comments)… As an example, a user browsing/crawling me would be able to drill-down into chuggnutt.com, which is becoming more and more the platform which defines my online existence. From here they could read my weblog and the archives, follow the links to any projects I’m working on (that I choose to share), see what sites and blogs I read, play with any apps I develop, etc.

(I realize as I write this I’m also envisioning some of the online experience David Brin wrote into his near-future novel, Earth. But I haven’t read it in a long time, so I may be way off.)

But, I can accomplish a lot of that now anyway, why another service for it? As far as I’m concerned, the real social software has been around for quite awhile now: BBSes, email, IRC, Usenet, instant messaging, weblogs. There’s more, but you get the idea.

More Friendster Notes

I’ve noticed from the referrer logs that my earlier Friendster post is the #3 result on Google for the search phrase “Friendster is slow“, so I figured it was high time I revisited Friendster and poke around a bit more, to see what I could find out.

It was still slow, but not as fatally slow as the first time I was playing with it. I had previously created a profile for myself and uploaded a picture, but I had not invited friends to join. I was curious to find out if I could use Friendster without any friends (irony! irony!), and the answer is “yes,” albeit conditionally.

About the only thing you can do when you don’t have any friends—apart from inviting some—is search for other users. However, I’ll save you some time on that right here: you can only search for users from your personal network—that is to say, friends of friends of friends (ad nauseum); if you don’t have any friends, and by extension no network, then you’ll always end up with 0 users found on the search results.

This wasn’t obvious to me from the way the site was set up, but for sake of argument let’s say I’m socially retarded and overlooked the fact that a site that’s designed to network among friends wouldn’t naturally let you search for strangers… anyway, maybe it was obvious in hindsight and I missed it. Moving on.

I invited some friends. Five that I could think of that (hopefully) wouldn’t think I was too weird in sending them emails inviting them to my Friendster network. Okay, nothing to do after that but log off and wait.

A little while later, my brother had registered with Friendster and suddenly I had a friend! But then I ended up asking myself, “What now?” There still wasn’t any obvious benefit to this system that I could see.

Then, later in the day, another friend registered on the site (I got an email notifying me of this). Didn’t have time to check it out at the time, I was heading home from work. Also didn’t figure there would be any more to do with Friendster with two friends instead of one, so it wasn’t a big priority.

But by the time I logged back into it from home, my jaw dropped: I suddenly have 400 people in my personal network! It turns out my brother linked to two more friends, who in turn link out to friends, who link to more friends, etc. Very six degrees of separation.

Now I can see the value in what’s going on here. I have access to a network of people that I can browse, search (by demographics or by interests), contact. (Noting, of course, recent stories about how a lot of Friendster accounts are fake as people assume different identities online or are just playing around.) Very interesting. I haven’t decided what I’ll actually do with Friendster yet, aside from figuring it out.

Here’s something interesting, though: When I logged on and found my network of 400 people, Friendster seemed to run faster than when I had none. This is counter-intuitive; it should run more slowly when it’s sifting through larger data sets (ie. larger networks). The only thing I can figure is that their data queries are either highly unoptimised—perhaps brute-force searching through all the users to find out none were in my network?—or when dealing with zero-user networks (ie. no friends), the database/system/whatever is dealing with NULLs improperly. And any good database tech can tell you that NULLs can be a killer. It’s very odd.