Archives for the month of: February, 2011

Big dog is a joint project involving DARPA, NASA and Harvard University. It is an all terrain robot that can walk through snow, balance on ice and even avoid toppling over when kicked. Amazing!

Also, as the Berg Blog points out, the part of the video when Big Dog gets kicked provokes the same kind of negative emotions we would feel if seeing a real dog kicked. Is this a glimpse of something much larger – human machine empathy?


Socrata – A variety of data sets with a social vibe.

Timetric – Timetric aggregates statistics from the the world’s leading sources of economic data

Google Public Data Explorer – Anyone can upload data to Google’s newly launched search service.

Infochimps – Find every dataset in the world. Upload datasets and point to others across the internet. Datasets are easily browsed and the metadata is contributed by users.

Datamarket – UN, World Bank, Eurostat, Gapminder and others all contribute to 13,000 dataests (both paid and free).

Data.Gov – American government data

Data.Gov.Uk – UK government data

Get The Data – A forum of data geeks helping you with your data queries.

The internet has led to a boom in collaboration. Across fields as different as politics to programming –  online collaboration has effected powerful changes to our world.

But what is collaboration? Etymologically, the first use of the word is credited to Jeremy Bentham – a liberal philosopher who supported animal rights and the abolition of slavery. Recording Bentham’s early use, the OED defined the word ‘collaborator’ as:

‘One who  works in  conjunction with  others; esp. in literary, artistic, or scientific work.’

Here we see that collaboration is woven in with the idea of creativity. In more recent times the word has taken on tones of rebellion. Wordnet includes one of its definitions as:

‘[the] act of cooperating traitorously with an enemy that is occupying your country’

When these two senses are combined we can understand collaboration as creative rebellion.

The arrival of the world wide web has enabled humanity to move forward in leaps and bounds. It has destabilized old forms of power, fundamentally altered the  media landscape and connected people all over the world. We are only at the early stages of the digital revolution and we expect further life-changing developments  to come.

But what if robots could benefit from the internet in the same way? That is the question posed by the Roboearth project, a venture funded by the EU which intends to start building the world wide web for robots.

The idea behind RoboEarth is simple. Thousands of robots exist behind closed doors, but we never see them because they are usually programmed for very specific functions in very specific environments. Roboearth aims to change that by building a network where robots can upload their programming and connect with other robotic programmes.

The idea is that they will learn from one another and, according to the website, pave the way for “rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction”.In an interview with the BBC, Markus Waibel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, described it as a Wikipedia for robots.

Obviously, all the worries about robots becoming our ‘overlords‘ have been bounding around the internet, and not without good cause. After all, this is the start of a worldwide robotic communication network that could exist independent of human input (kind of like Terminator’s SkyNet).

But I don’t think we need to worry quite yet. The ability for robots to share both environmental knowledge, object recognition and action databases will likely be the first step in robots stepping out of the factory and more into our daily lives.

Mashable is the largest independent tech site on the web and boasts 12 million unique visitors every month. It publishes around 30 articles a day – an almost chaotic amount of news for tech fans to keep on top of.

So in an attempt to order some of the chaos, they are implementing a new community based layer that will help personalise your Mashable experience – called “Follow”.

It intends to battle both the information overload and the fragmentation of the internet experience by centralizing the news experience and integrating it with the social elements.

The key features are:

  • A profile page which you can sync with your other social networks and use to connect with other community members.
  • A customised feed of stories based on stories where you click the “follow” button.
  • A one button sharing tool to publish Mashable stories to all your social networks simultaneously.
  • A game like reward system that awards people badges and other incentives to share and contribute to discussions.

As Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s founder and CEO, states : “Beyond personalization, we believe that curation is the next great wave in news, and empowering our community to choose the news of the day is the ultimate aim of the Follow project.”

Yammer is an enterprise social networking tool that offers both free and paid for services. You register using your companies unique email address. It is pretty much a private Facebook for your company – with all the social networking features you could want. It is used by 80% of the Fortune 500 companies and top clients include the BBC, Groupon and Barclaycard.

Yammer saves time and increases productivity, encourages spontaneous real time conversations, connects people within the organization and encourages the sharing of new ideas. The Facebook-like layout also means that people intuitively know how to use and navigate around the site.

A recent poll of 10,000 Yammer users has turned out some positive results for the company:

At one end of the spectrum we have the traditional long-form blog, and at the other end we have the microblogging service Twitter. But 2011 will see the advent of an innovative and creative space between the two.

Tumblr is one of a few platforms (along with Posterous) that allows people and companies to play with this creative space. The target user is usually someone that doesn’t feel they can commit to a full blog, but wants the opportunity to do more than the format of Twitter allows.

Part of the power of Tumblr is its ease of use – something that the company takes very seriously. Sign up is easy, and users can post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio – either via email, through the simple dashboard or by using a wide range of browser and mobile app’s. The format allows short, regular updates but can also be used to publish lengthier articles.

Tumblr has a scrapbook feel – you cut and stick things you find around the web without much hassle. It is this scrapbook feel that makes the site great for content curation and has led to its adoption by news media companies. The Atlantic, NewsWeek, The New Yorker and The Economist are among the many organisations using Tumblr to publish links to content, highlight important quotations, display infographics and curate some of the most important and beautiful content from around the web. The ‘feel’ of Tumblr is much less serious than the traditional websites of these companies, and it is this informality that is allowing these media companies to build a friendly social face.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the Al-Jazeera English Tumblr. The news organisation has impressed the world by using the site to publish images, videos and more from the ground during the Egyptian protests. They are using the platform to publish important tweets with contextual information, provide links to important YouTube videos and AudioBoo recordings, and provide short accounts of the most important developments. It is an inspirational and powerful example of how this platform can be used to improve journalistic efforts.

The fashion industry is also getting involved with Tumblr: according to Tumblr CEO David Karp, 180 of the top 1000 Tumblrs are fashion blogs, and these blogs are reblogged more frequently than normal Tumblr posts. As evidence of its commitment to work closer with the fashion community on Tumblr, the company will be sponsoring 20 bloggers to attend New York fashion week.

Fashion brands are increasingly using Tumblr as a way to directly engage with their current and potential customers. Luxurious fashion brands, like Oscar de la Renta, are using Tumblr to become “present and persistent in [the] minds” of the customers who cannot yet afford their products, but could someday soon. Mid-range brands are using Tumblr to create a natural and uncontrived “holistic story” about their brand.

Fashion company Kate Spade has just started its Tumblr account. Digital Marketing Manager Cecilia Liu says:

“People are using and sharing beautiful visuals on Tumblr, posting things they think are inspirational,” she observes. “In that vein, it seems like a really great platform for us to get our voice out there, not just as tweets and text, but through images and color, which is the DNA of the brand”

So, with two important industries capitalising on the benefits of this new digital space, I expect other industries will begin to take notice. I also expect many people who have been put off blogging through the fear of a steep learning curve will embrace the growth of Tumblr, bringing a new crowd into the social media world.