Category Archives: blogging

Perfect Advertising

I was at a StartUp Club event last night and had a brief discussion with someone who had the thesis that all advertising by companies is evil and therefor will soon (?) be overtaken by personal recommendations from your social circle.

I disagree with that for a number of reasons (eg, your social circle may not be best qualified to make a recommendation etc etc), but during the course of the discussion I was surprised when no one recognized the term Perfect Advertising. A quick bit of Googling today only turned up one decent post, and yet I’m sure this isn’t a concept I’ve invented.

Perfect Advertising is the idea that a person sees no advertising until they need something, and at that point a single advertisement is presented to them that matches their requirements perfectly.

The example last night was jogging shoes. The original argument was that you will get shoe recommendations from your friends. My counterpoint was that it would be easy to get better recommendations by instrumenting your body and taking advice from sports scientists, and in a world with perfect advertising you would be presented with a single choice of shoes, in the correct size that compensated perfectly for your over or under pronation. That’s not a recommendation your friends are likely to be qualified to make, but of course perfect advertising would take into account the views of your social circle, too (eg: will you be socially ostracized by buying Nike shoes, or will you be laughed at for buying Vibrum Five Fingers?)

This might seem a distant goal, but none the less it’s an important concept because it shows the weakness in social advertising systems (the lack of intent) as well as a weakness in search advertising systems (the lack of context).

Is it easier to add context to search advertising or derive intent in social advertising? That’s the $100 billon question (literally), and I don’t have the answer.

Preserving privacy while promoting social network portability

Brad Fitzpatrick and David Recordon recently wrote an interesting paper Thoughts on the Social Graph which gathered quite a lot of attention. They addressed some themes which I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now, and certainly moved the issue on a lot more than the recent Wired article did.

There’s no doubt that Brad & David know what they are talking about, either. Indeed, if Tim O’Reilly invented Web 2.0, then I think it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Brad wrote the software which powers it.

However, I think their approach to the social network problem is surprising. In particular, I think it’s odd that the people who invented OpenID are proposing a centralized repository for all social networking data.

I believe there are better approaches. I’ve proposed and built a demonstrator for a system using what must be one of the most under appreciated data structures of all time: the Bloom filter. In short, a Bloom filter is a compact data structure which will remember if it has seen a piece of data previously, without remember the data itself. Obviously, this is useful in the social networking context because you can do things like load up all a users contact and then make the Bloom filter public. That allows system to query the filter to see if they know another user, without exposing their contact list to privacy leaks.

Incidentally, that demonstrator is my first Facebook app. Writing Facebook apps turns out to be pretty nice, although in this case I wrote it in PHP -which is less enjoyable. Have I ever mentioned that I’m not a huge PHP fan? Perhaps that’s partially because I don’t know PHP at all, but it’s just such a goopy language. Mucking around with Ruby (which I don’t know either) makes you go hmmm.. that’s nice. Even in Javascript I find myself going hmm… okay.. not quite what I expected, but it kind of makes sense. Doing the same in PHP just makes you go hmmm… – not in a good way, either.

Open social networks?

At work I’m building a custom vertical social network. It’s interesting work, and so I’ve been following some of the stuff about how social networks need to become “open”

I had a half-written post about how an “open” social network means such different things to different people that it is pretty much meaningless. Dare says it much better, than I could.

I still think someone needs to point out what a crap article the Wired piece “Slap in the Facebook: It’s Time for Social Networks to Open Up” is.

They spend a long time listing different web tools you can use to build some kind of nice looking website, and then miss the “social network” bit of building a social network.

A social network isn’t about a stupid frigging BLOG (yes, I’m quite aware of the irony of saying that on a blog). It’s about the personal interactions and relationships the software enables. Go and listen to some of the Danah Boyd podcasts recorded at the seminars – you’ll note she talks about the social pressures of how to order your friends lists, how bands on MySpace are identity markers and how the “wall” is useful as a publicly witnessed space. There’s nothing in about blogging or social bookmarking or group calendaring – as useful as those things may be.

So anyway – the social network I’m building is going to be as open as I can make it – but it’s MY definition of open. Specifically, it’s going to make it as easy as possible to use external applications like blogs, and yet still tie them into your identity on the system. That sounds pretty obvious of course, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong.

Hmm.. I seem to be discussing work projects on here a lot more than I used to.. not sure what that means.

BadMagicNumber take 4

Yes, I’ve moved my blog (again), this time to WordPress. If you are reading this then all code to redirect feeds has worked. Visits to posts on should be redirect here, too.

I’ve been blogging since early 2003 (although I lost the dates for everything prior to June 2003 in a small domain-name related accident). It’s pretty amazing how far blogging tools have come in that time.

Now all I need to do is use these wonderful tools a little more often than I have been.