Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

What’s In A Name? The Internet vs. The Real World

In the real world we own our name. I’ve got a birth certificate somewhere which confirms who I am and, short of changing it by deed poll, this name will remain with me until I shuffle off this mortal coil. Although there’s quite a few Gary Gales out there on the Internet, this one is inextricably me and no-one can take that away from me.

But in the online world we don’t so much as own our names, we … lease them. I’ve “owned” the domain name continuously since April 2001 but it’s not ownership as we understand it in the real world. If I don’t renew my domain every so often it’ll lapse and someone else, should they wish to, can take it over. This is an arrangement I can live with as it’s the way the Internet domain name system works, like it or hate it. I will, at least, get some warning to renew my claim on (temporary) ownership of the domain as there’s a financial arrangement at play. I pay some money and, domain grabs notwithstanding, I keep the domain for the duration of the period I’ve paid for.

Recent Conference Badges

But in social media, where most services are “free“, it’s by no means as clear cut. I’ve been @vicchi on Twitter since March 2007 and, for those people who know me on social media, Gary Gale and @vicchi are inextricably linked. But as Twitter giveth, so can Twitter taketh away.

A recent post on Paul Clarke’s blog highlighted this. The ever ingenious Tom Armitage used to have a Twitter account for @towerbridge, which was run by a Twitter ‘bot which tweeted the times at which this London landmark opened and closed the bridge over the River Thames. Twitter recently decided to take this account away, with warning but with no dialogue, and give it “official” status to the exhibition which runs inside the bridge structure, which may or may not be owned by The City of London, which actually owns the bridge. Twitter, as part of their terms of service says this …

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation

… which makes sense. But they then go on to say …

When there is a clear intent to mislead others through the unauthorized use of a trademark, Twitter will suspend the account and notify the account holder.

When we determine that an account appears to be confusing users, but is not purposefully passing itself off as the trademarked good or service, we give the account holder an opportunity to clear up any potential confusion. We may also release a username for the trademark holder’s active use.

A search of the UK Trade Mark database yields many matches for Tower Bridge. For an electronics company in the US, a software company in the US, a tobacco company in the UK, a clothing company in the UK and a leather good company in the UK. But the bridge itself? That’s trademarked as Tower Bridge Events, Tower Bridge The Venue and Tower Bridge Exhibition.

To my mind, Tom’s Twitter bot isn’t using a trademark nor is tweeting the opening and closing times of the bridge likely to mislead through unauthorised use of a trademark. But that’s just my opinion.


It does make me think about how much or how little control we have over our social media identity though. I’ve been Vicchi for as long as I can remember (or at least 15 years); the name is a contraction of a nickname I was given when I returned to the UK from Italy and started out as Gazzavicchi. The precise origins are lost in the mists of time but I can recall it was coined one drunken evening as it “sounds vaguely like an Italian version of Gary“, which is often how the best nicknames originate. This coincided with the explosion of the Internet and the Web and I needed a unique identity to register on the many and varied services which sprung up. Vicchi seemed to fit the bill and it’s been Vicchi ever since. Thankfully, it’s not (currently) a UK trademark although there do seem to be a couple of companies in Asia using the name. So far, they’ve not come calling asking for the name. I hope they never do but if this does happen, how much right over the name do I have, even though it’s fairly evident that I’m not trying to pass myself off as them nor to cause potential confusion?

But then again, the same could be said of Tom’s Tower Bridge bot as well.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Visualising Twitter’s Geotagged Tweets

You might have noticed but I’m a reasonably big Twitter user. Actually, I should be more precise. I’m a reasonably big Twitter API user … I tend to use Tweetdeck on my mobile devices and on my laptop. I very rarely use Twitter on the web, and so I’ve only just noticed how Twitter are handling the display of geotagged Tweets. Take a look below and you’ll see that on the accompanying map that they’re rolling up from the point of the geocode to the nearest administrative geographic entity and highlighting this in a rather fetching shade of transparent red.

For Tweets at home, the geotag rolls up to the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, although I had to check this as I was pretty sure the Borough didn’t have that shape; I was wrong on that count.

In Berlin, the geotag rolls up to the Bezirke or borough, as shown in the example below, Tweeted from Berlin’s Tegel airport. The vector of Reinickendorf can clearly be seen.

But sometimes the vector data just isn’t there. The final example, Tweeted from Hampshire merely shows what I assume is the minimum bounding rectangle for the county.

As a final note, this feature doesn’t appear in the “new” version of Twitters web site, where only the name of the geotag’s location is displayed; if you want to see this in action yourself, you’ll have to switch off the “new” version’s preview and revert to the older user interface.

Written and posted from the Nokia Office, Boston, MA (42.35071, -71.07146)

“Tweet Responsibly”

For almost as long as there’s been conferences there’s been conference back-channels. The precise medium which forms the back-channel has morphed over time, from quickly scrawled notes passed amongst delegates, to SMS messages, to IRC (Internet Relay Chat for those of you old enough to remember what this is). With IRC, the back-channel became a conversation, recognisable amongst conference goers. Witty, informative, scathing, irreverent, the back-channel provides near real time information on how the conference is going and on how the current speaker’s presentation is being received.

Twitter Shirt

Which brings me to Twitter. These days Twitter has all but supplanted almost every other form of back-channel communication. Not every conference venue and conference organiser likes this. I was recently at a conference which provided no network connectivity in the conference hall at all. When questioned, the excuse was that “using laptops distract from what the speaker is saying“. Ignoring the fact that 3G data dongles and smart phones are pretty much ubiquitous these days, it does make live demos and live blogging just a tad challenging. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some conferences actively encourage the Twitter back-channel, going so far as to publicise the official hashtag to be used and providing large screens running Twitterfall to provide immediate feedback to speaker and audience alike.

For the vast majority of conferences, use of Twitter is accepted and welcomed, somewhere in between the two extremes in the previous paragraph, but despite this I was a bit taken aback to be reminded in the opening proceedings to “Tweet responsibly“; judging by the instant flurry of Tweets on this topic, I wasn’t the only one. Granted, the Twitter back-channel isn’t always complimentary and can be harsh but then again, not every talk at a conference is excellent either, with barely disguised sales pitches masquerading as informed industry insight and frequent death-by-Powerpoint slides with the speaker insisting on reading out every single one of the damned bullet points.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the audience took the concept of responsible Tweeting and ignored it, providing the usual lively back-channel. Some of the audience, like myself, felt strongly enough about it to blog about it after the event. Telling an audience, most of whom have paid good money to be there (either personally or through their employer) to Tweet responsibly isn’t a good thing, smacks of a mother telling her child off (for something the child might do) and underestimates the audience’s intelligence. I think the best way to take this is to view it as well meaning but ultimately ill worded. Tweeting responsibly was a first in my experience. Hopefully it’ll be a last as well.

Photo Credits: Niall Kennedy on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Deep In The Twitter (Developers) Nest

The last week has been crammed with planning for and finally realising the first WhereCamp unconference to be held in Europe. More of that later but before WhereCamp EU, there was the London Twitter Developer’s DevNest.

Angus Fox, one of the organisers of the DevNest, had first got in touch with me last year after the launch of the Yahoo! Placemaker web platform that allows recognition of place references in unstructured text. Placemaker plus Twitter status feeds seemed an ideal candidate for a mashup and Angus was keen to get me to talk to his hard-core Twitter and social media literate developer audience.

Twitter Developer Nest

Then in November 2009 Twitter announced their use of WOEIDs, the language neutral geographic identifiers that underpin Placemaker and the other Yahoo! Geo Technologies platforms, in their new Trends API. Naturally all of the Geo group at Yahoo! were excited, verging on ecstatic, at this. But getting our respective schedules in synch with each other wasn’t the easiest of things and 2009 came to a close without getting a firm date in the diary.

2010 arrived and Twitter launched their Trends API and exposed WOEIDs to the world and Angus got in touch again and we both put the seventh DevNest in our respective schedules.

Come the evening of Wednesday March 10th and I made my way to the Sun Microsystem’s Customer Briefing Center, just north of London Bridge where I was joined by Ewan MacLeod, the straight talking and highly entertaining and informing editor of Mobile Industry Review,  Paul Kinlan, Developer Programmes Engineer at Google and a plentiful supply of beer and pizza.

Ewan went first and you knew he was tapping into a rich vein of mobile geekery when a slide of his tee shirt drew such loud chuckles and guffaws from the audience, myself included.

That's a Shit Phone

Ewan’s deck is on here and it speaks for itself even without an accompanying video; I strongly urge you to browse through his deck for some fascinating stats on mobile phone usage, breakdown and penetration and for the low down on exactly how much impact the iPhone is, and more importantly, isn’t making.

I was up next and gave a talk on (Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Geo (with WOEIDs), which attempted to give this tech savvy audience a background on what geocoding, reverse geocoding and geoparsing are, why this isn’t a trivial task, what WOEIDs are and why they’re important for geo and for deriving meaning from content, such as Twitter status updates.

My deck accompanying the talk is above and there’s also a (slightly shakey) video to accompany it as well.

Closing the talks was Google’s Paul Kinlan who gave us the low down on Google’s Buzz and showed that the adage of never work with children, animals and live demos still has life it in.

Accompanied throughout by beer and pizza courtesy of the event’s sponsors, the Twitter DevNest was thoroughly enjoyable, a bit of a revelation in places and showed that Twitter has a deep and very enthusiastic developer following.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Deliciousness: hairy landings, Twitter (mis)identity, escaped cat, the United States of Facebook and

The latest batch of social bookmarks from my Delicious stream:

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Have You Noticed That Have Noticed WOEIDs?

While everyone, well almost everyone, was fast asleep in London, Twitter quietly dropped a bomb-shell into their API announcements mailing list. Their new Trends API will help the service’s users answer the perennial question “what’s going on where am I“.

So far, so geo but Twitter has noticed what I’ve been saying in my talks and accompanying decks for the last two years or so.

We’re using Yahoo!’s Where on Earth IDs (WOEIDs) to name each location that we have information for — we’re doing so because those IDs give not only language-agnostic, but also permanent, stable, and unique identifiers for geographic locations.  For example, San Francisco has a permanent and unique WOEID of 2487956, London has 44418, and the Earth has WOEID 1.

Whilst there have been other uses of WOEIDs in the wild, including Alex Housley’s Total Hotspots, Twitter picking on WOEIDs rather than another of the competing geo-identifiers is a massive credibility boost for the WOEID as a geographic standard for identifying and describing place.
Using WOEIDs to geotag your content, be it Twitter status messages, blog posts or photos, automagically gives you access to an ever increasing range of data and web services that understand WOEIDs as well as those that still only understand longitude and latitude. Long/lat coordinates are an attribute of WOEIDs in case you were wondering. Proof of this is visible in the elegant and oddly addictive game of Noticings.
Noticings is “a game of noticing things about you” jointly created by Tom Taylor. Tom was responsible for Boundaries, the amazing visualisation of Aaron Cope’s Flickr Alpha shapes which allows geographies, such neighbourhoods, for which no formal definition exists, to be represented and viewed.
Basically you tag Flickr photos with the “noticings” tag and the photo’s location, either from an onboard GPS or on Flickr and then you score points for your photo of something you noticed. Which doesn’t do it justice. The rules are in a constant state of flux but all to the better making it a Mornington Crescent for geotagged photos.
Using WOEIDs as a stable and consistent geoidentifier is the glue that allows such a super-web-mash-up to be created. Flickr uses WOEIDs as a geotagging mechanism, either from the EXIF data embedded in a photo or by dragging and dropping the photo on a Map; these WOEIDs are then exposed via the Flickr API. The same Flickr API can be used to look for photos meeting certain criteria, such as the noticings tag and to discover photos taken in the same location, a fundamental part of Noticings. As Tom puts it …

(WOEIDs and GeoPlanet) gives us the opportunity to use colloquial geography rather than bounding boxes and radial searches and the like. I banged on about this in my talk at the AGI conference recently. I am such a geography bore. Anyway, we couldn’t have built Noticings without it.

For those who like the technical gory details, Tom’s put up an excellent blog post to explain it all.

But it doesn’t stop at photos and Flickr, once you have a WOEID you can pass it to any of the ever growing number of web APIs that know how to handle WOEIDs, Yahoo’s GeoPlanet, Placemaker, Fire Eagle, YQL as well as services that speak long/lat. That’s a lot of services, and the number’s growing. Plus you get access to the horizontal and vertical relationships, parents, children and neighbours that a WOEID has as well as more obtuse colloquial geographies, all in multiple languages.

All of which is somewhat apt as I’m writing this in Munich at the back of the Telematics 2009 conference. While Munich is fine for the English speaking world, it’s München in Germany and Monaco di Baviera to the Italians. But it may also be spelt as Muenchen and Munchen if special characters or accents aren’t used. All of these names are simply multiple versions of the same place, and so are mapped to a single WOEID, 676757.

Now go and notice something.

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

Deliciousness: megalomania, logos, Tube map, paper abstracts, location, Freud and tech mistakes

It’s been a while but odd, weird and even occasionally interesting stuff continues to fall down the back of the internet and gets captured in Delicious along the way. Here’s the pick of the last few weeks.
  • Today I was caught red handed trying to blow up the worldmwah hah hah hah.
  • A well known Irish budget airline found that its blue and yellow “harp” logo had suffered an, unasked for, logo makeover.
  • The London Underground Tube map regains the River Thames and gets a version for tourists.
  • Are you the sort of person who shouts at the screen “that’s not right” when watching a film? You’re not alone.
  • Looking for a nearby wifi hotspot? A low tech approach can help.
  • Microsoft’s new Windows 7 OS has inbuilt location services; but are they up to the challenge of managing location safely, securely and with sufficient flexibility?
  • Submitting a paper abstract for a conference? This might help.
  • You’ve probably heard of a Freudian Slip; now you can wear suitable slippers.
  • If Jack The Ripper was alive today, would he use Twitter?

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

Deliciousness: bacon, Protect and Survive, outing the paleotards, Fake Carol and crop circles

It’s been almost two weeks since one of these posts; I’ve been pretty much conferenced out, with FOWA London taking up a sizeable chunk of last week and the AGI’s GeoCommunity mopping up any spare time the week before that.

The hallmark of any successful tech conference is appallingly bad wifi which, despite the best protestations of the conference organisers, always buckles under the strain around 30 minutes into the opening keynote. All of which has meant that my Delicious account has been on a bit of a diet recently, but here’s what did make it through the wifi …

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

Deliciousness: themes gained, avatars lost, accents found, London and the end of the world, scrobbling and Streetview

Look at all of this stuff that fell down the back of the internet and got lodged in my Delicious bookmarks …

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

In the Spirit of Experimentation

Posterous is a service that just begs for experimentation; not only because it’s a beautifully simplistic yet rich service but also because the Help and FAQ pages can be a little bit light on detail for some of the less obvious questions; probably to avoid scaring those of a less-power-user-frame-of-mind away.

So the Posterous FAQ at says this “We’ll do smarter things for photos, MP3’s, documents and video (both links AND files)”.

Link eh? In the spirit of experimentation let’s try this, firstly from the easy and obvious one …

… and rival …

… and from my Flickr photostream …

… and finally a more challenging one, from my Facebook photo album …

… there’s only one way to find out, so let’s send this to Posterous right now and see what happens; all in the spirit of experimentation naturally.

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous