Mar 27

Comparing the census – 1911 vs 2011

I’ve been researching my family history for a lot of years’ starting with trips to London to look up birth, marriage and death certificates and pore over the micofiche of the various censuses (censii???).

Today, it’s a lot easier, the national records are all online and I can sit on the couch and do almost all my research. Which is ironic as I now live in walking distance of the National Archives so a trip to do research does not need an all day trip down to London. I pay for access; if you go to the archives you get the same records on computer but for free.

I’ve been able to trace family all the way through, back from 1911 to 1841, seeing how many children survived, how the jobs stayed consistent across the years, how little some people moved. In the 1911 edition, they introduced a new piece of information – how long has a couple been married. Makes it a lot easier to track down the marriage certificate. Even better, the scanned records are now the original from the household, not the summaries. So you can now see an example of your relatives’ handwriting.

The 1911 census from James Hickman, my great-great-great-grandfather.

I was interested in doing the 2011 census; it would be the first one I’d have the chance to complete. I was either abroad or not the householder for the previous ones. But I was so disappointed. It was not the elegant single form just after the basics. it was a long, complicated set of pages, after all sorts of information about jobs, religion and the house I lived in. I vaguely understand why they want this (although not particularly happy about who is processing the data), but it seems to have grown because it could.

But I’m also disappointed for the future family historian. The information will ONLY be available online – you can complete it fully digitally if you want, you don’t need to fill in the form. There is a strong possibility that the data won’t be there in 100 years time, that it won’t be accessible. And the historian will not have the original documents to review, something that is always recommended when investigating digital records. It’s a shame that we’re not keeping that connection – I love the fact I can research digitally but have misgivings about moving purely that way for such important records that are supposed to last a century at least.

Mar 13

2011 SXSW experiences part 1

Due to a few things, (mainly my lack of organisation), my SXSW experience did not start well. In fact, it started with a 5 hour delay to the flight, stuck on the tarmac at Heathrow as the American Airlines plane got a valve fixed. The staff did their best, we got snacks, drinks, but we were stuck on a plane not going anywhere. At 4 hours in, there was an announcement that we were now allowed to leave, as soon as they found some immigration and customs staff to do all the admin. 30 mins later, the problem was fixed and we were ready to go. But now, due to shift limits, we were not going to Dallas, but to New York. New York acheived, out through immigration and customs and back through security to get on the same plane down to Dallas, with a new crew. So instead of an good night’s sleep, I got less than 2 hours in my hotel before leaving again for the trip to Austin.

Once there, plans became fluid. Taking a look at the cinema where the documentary Senna was playing, I got recognised by a Twitter contact, Statesmanf1. A local journalist, he was perfectly placed to find me a good place to eat breakfast and then hang around with atfter the film. He had a spare pass to the post-film reception, being run by the Austin Formula 1 group to help promote next years event. Some chat, food, drink, a few speeches and an F1 car in the sun made for a lovely afternoon.

So it was only in the late afternoon that I made my way to the coonvention centre to collect pass and start meeting up with people. Although the evening did not last long, as completely exhausted with travel, I had a quick dinner and an early night.

Day 2 started with an early breakfast with Rebecca, a friend from London who had moved to New Zealand. Then panels, about TED and about ethics in transmedia, lunch with a great bunch of transmedia people (Adrian, Andrea, Dee, Brad and …why can’t I remember the otehr 2 names!) before back to keynote with Chris Poole. Now to recharge before starting the next part of the day

SXSW 2100

Mar 13

SXSW – Christopher Poole

  • founder of 4chan. founded in 2003 as an image sharing community, for Japanese comics.cartoons/anime. A chatroom with 20. Now 12m visitors monthly.
  • no registration. no archive. ideas – it’s about survival of the fittest. what resonates, stays on the board. Community flows over a day; the culture changes. to start a topic you need to provide an image still to start a topic. But it is more than the random board, about 50 topics – photography, origame, adult stuff. Media think the audience is just young, white, males..but not completely accurate
  • Last year, started to think about what could be done better…what a message board could be. Leanrt things from 4chan to share, that define it
  • Fluid identity. Site is anonymous; people can chat as anyone; moving towards persistant identity, you lose some of the innocence of youth – you can’t make mistakes, you can’t learn, you can’t start again. Cost of failing is high, if only one identity, as yourself. Anonymity is authenticity in this environment
  • believe in content over community. it’s not just your history; people can assume by history not by contribution. so site just judges you on most recent contribution. Content gets riffed on, changed, moved.
  • Added recaptcha last year (spam problem) and got a lot of backlash immediately. But people started to create art around them, adding images. Community takes a situation and turns it into something creative
  • A lot of 4chan is copy/paste, has been there before. a lot of the content is the same. It is not all ephemeral, the content is often there – but the experience is ephemeral, it cannot be repeated. It’s a community experience, a different way to share things. The refrigerator magnet game becomes a shared experience for 4chan people. It’s a place where people go to hang out
  • All of these things combine into a new thing called Canvas, building a site for people to share, play, collaborate and hangout
  • you can post anonymously, but using facebook connect during the beta period to register, to weed out more casual trolls
    built fun tools to people to use, to allow it to be easy to modify on the site. don;t need to use photoshop. has levelled the playing field. Finish the drawing are fun, get very popular. Making it easy, reducing fear of failure, has worked well
  • Wanted to focus also on contributors. On 4chan, because it is anon, you get a few more users, but lurker is still high. so on canvas, looks to encourage contributions. created stickers, you could tag content. to sort and categorise, help popular things to bubble up; had 100k in a few weeks.
  • Found that chat does not build durable conversations. Interesting to be in conversation, but not if you want to re-read. It’s like improv – funny to be there live, but not to rewatch/taped. First product was built to be chatty, but have gone back to comments, as people are putting stuff on that is worth going back and reading.
  • We are also looking at growing slowly. 4chan was not overnight, it was a slow growth. you have to allow for a culture and an identity to grow on the site. wnat to integrate users as they come into the site. Scaling is not just architecture, but building a community that is worth scaling.

You can sign up

Mar 13

Opening up TED, June Cohen, SXSW

  • Started releasing talks in 2006. as talks grown online, the audience has gone fromn 1000 people in a room to 100m around the world it changed the organisation, from conference for an elite audience to thinking about how to serve the global community. So everything rallied around the notion of ideas worth spreading. A complete turnaround
  • Will now be opening up API, to allow developers to build Ted apps, to continue with the philosophy of radical openess.
    The idea of having people running TED events makes lots of people nervous for us; most organisations would find the levels of openess challenging and frightening. They found the steps frightening as they took them. For all of the scenario planning, but have learnt that the unintended consequences have been overwhelming positive.
  • It started with the content, in 2006, podcasts, then websites in 2007. Was a controversial decision at the time; TED was know as an elite conference, expensive and that was part of the appeal, that it was private. But the impact was limited; deciding to put talks online was against widom – would there be any audience, this is against standard business – keep commodity scare and price high to keep the value.
  • In the first year, when we put talks online, we increased our fee by 50% and sold out in a week with a 1000 person waiting list. They’d sold out before, but not as quickly. Putting the talks online was not about selling seats – it had sold out always – but the goal was to spread ideas. Every decision has been around this question. Will it spread ideas.
  • We were looking to reach people everywhere, both in geography and in media habits. It needed to live on any platform and adapt as things change.It also needed to adapt the open model, eg releasing under creative commons. We wanted it to spread…out of our control, as long as it was non-commercial. We used embedable players, was very important to get it out there.
    Focused on for a small screen – the mobile. Focused on tight focus, engagement through tight shots etc, they designed the shoot for that model.
  • Ted talks start strong, they do not include the introductions as that is boring online. you need the speaker to get right to it. It has to grab them in 5 secs.. The talks look to evoke contagious emotions, evoke human connections.
  • They needed to find visionary sponsors, as it is expensive and time consuming. IF you have great content, you can find these sponsors who share the vision. You need plenty of support and a great team
  • Open translation project – people were asking for it. Took a few years of development, launched under 2 years ago Subtitles in 80 different languages, dynamically changing during the talk . 16000 translations, 600 translators. All volunteers. One question often asked, is about quality, how to maintain it. We thought about it for 6 months. We needed a systemthat worked in languages we did not understand. We did a lot of talking with others doing it. This was not wikistyle, we assigned places. There are 2 translators for each talk, a translator and a reviewer. You give them credit; and holds them responsible. There is also a feedback loop, to give responses. Finally they have guidelines, about principles, what to think
  • IN 2009, we were really only reaching English speaking. IN 2010, huge areas of the world opened up. Hitting around 65% of the worlds population. Theoretically. THere are bandwidth issues etc, so looking at other ways. TedTV is one pilot project to get the content out there. Broadcasters can take talks and build own programmes.
  • Next thoughts were about connecting people. Two weeks ago they launched a conversation tool; to propose an idea, stage a debate or ask a question. They have time limits, constraints are good. Significance completes what they were thinking about when starting putting content online – allows the conference experience of people/debate/conversations to move online. The stage is only half of the experience, the conversations are the other half.
    Opening up the whole programme – TedX. They could not produce the conferences themselves; they made a programme, with guidelines, etc. They do not charge event holders, TedX can’t make a profit. ALl about spreading ideas further. They launched with excitement but a lot of nerves. They put a lot of thought into guidelines. What has been fascinting has been the level of professionalism, experience and enthusiasm and they have learnt a lot. They thought there would be a couple of dozen events; there have been 1500 events, in many languages.
  • Open Sourcing the code – opening up the API. To spread ideas, need to reach people on different platforms. TED has a small team and can’t do it on own, and don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. There are so many platforms to reach. They want to be surprised by the apps. All talks and the metadata will be accessible. Looking at launching on mid year…but will work with developers to ensure what they do meets needs.
  • Openness works when there is a clear goal that inspires; where there is a passionate userbase; where there are clear guidelines – with rewards and consequences; allow community ways to police itself; Finally, make your contributors rock stars. THey thought about making the speakers rockstars, now it has expanded. THey make them feel honoured in the community.
    Openness is not easy; it goes against human instincts to protect what you have. it is challenging to fight against that but have to push through that fear. The rewards have been extraordinary.