The Flickr Era

I’ve been wondering how the Flickr era was going to close for a while, but the resignation letter couldn’t have been a more fitting ending to the story. Looking back, I think there were a lot of smart things that Yahoo! did during that time which are easy to overlook. The end result of the action muted the intent, in many cases, but the desire to do the right thing was and is still very prevalent.

I’ve been playing around with Swivel, Dipity, Timeline and Google Docs a bit recently to try different ways to use data for storytelling. So, the flickr departure news seemed like a great time to give these things a shot.

Below is the “flickr era timeline”, the smart things that Yahoo! did from early 2005 to the middle of 2008:

I’ve also opened sharing on the spreadsheet. Feel free to add to it.

Here’s the embed code for the timeline:

London hackers are back

It seems very strange blogging about this topic from my desk here in London. If there’s one constant in the Internet, it is change. But one thing that is still the same a year on — hacking is alive and well.

This coming Saturday hackers will again descend onto London’s Alexandra Palace to come up with some new ideas with their fellow coders. The same basic rules apply: hack anything you can think of in 24 hours and then demo your creation in 90 seconds. From what I hear, there are a few new twists to the event that could make it really interesting.

BBC is driving the event this time, and they’ve called it Mashed. The Guardian is one of the sponsors, and they’ve just opened up an additional 100 tickets in our name. So, if you can code or build stuff, grab a place now and come join the fun:

Here are a few links of interest:

O’Reilly prescient on the DataPortability issue

I just found this nugget while scanning for a quote to use from Tim O’Reilly’s 2005 article “What is Web 2.0“:

“Much as the rise of proprietary software led to the Free Software movement, we expect the rise of proprietary databases to result in a Free Data movement within the next decade. One can see early signs of this countervailing trend in open data projects such as Wikipedia, the Creative Commons, and in software projects like Greasemonkey, which allow users to take control of how data is displayed on their computer.”

I’m not sure he imagined it happening in the social data game at the time he wrote this, but it’s pretty clear he was grokking the issues at both macro and micro levels. He at least understood the dynamics that led us into today’s DataPortability debate.

Local community data reporting

EveryBlock has taken a very data intensive look at local news reporting. As founder Adrain Holovaty explains:

“An overall goal of EveryBlock is to point you to news near your block. We’ve been working hard to do a good job of this so far by accumulating public records, cataloging newspaper stories and pulling together various other geographic information from the Web.”

This generally takes the form of raw data points placed on maps. They recently rolled out a variation on the theme by using topic-specific data which adds more context to the local news reporting idea.

“A week or so ago, 15 people were arrested on bribery charges as part of a federal probe into corruption in Chicago city government. We’ve analyzed U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s complaint documents and cataloged the specific addresses mentioned within. On the project’s front page, you can view every location we found, along with a relevant excerpt from the complaint. You can sort this data in various ways, including a list and map of all the alleged bribe locations.”

This is the type of value that’s otherwise kind of missing from the experience. Rather than providing a mostly pure research tool, the site now gives some insight and perspective with an editorial view on the data. In this case, the data is telling a story that otherwise might seem a little distant to you until you see how the issue may in fact be a very real one right in your backyard, so to speak.

But it occurred to me that the community is probably even better able to capture and share this level of useful insight. It would be really neat to see EveryBlock open the reporting and mapping process so that anyone who has an interest in exposing the trends in their neighborhood or elsewhere had a platform to do so.

Average payment (€) by Area
Similar to the way Swivel allows you to collect data in spreadsheet form, visualize it and then share it the way Flickr and YouTube allow you to share, EveryBlock could provide an environment for individuals to do the reporting in their neighborhood that matters to them. The wider community could then benefit from the work of a few, and suddenly you have a really powerful local news vehicle.

This isn’t necessarily in contrast to the approach has taken by aggregating shared information from around the web, but it certainly puts some structure around it in a way that may be necessary.

Managing a community is a very different problem than aggregating and presenting useful local data. But I wonder if it’s a necessary next step to get both of these fledgling but very forward-thinking local media services closer to critical mass.