Oops, Forgot To Blog…

Er, yeah, sorry about that… Here’s what I’ve been up to instead though!

  • Sharing loads of great links on Twitter – Trunkly has all of these
  • Trying out Google+ to see where the value lies (hmm…)
  • Looking for a place to live with Sarah  (any suggestions?)
  • Playing with my new Kindle (I’m reading Neuromancer)
  • Eating & drinking at some awesome places / seeing friends etc
  • Reconfiguring all my Google Reader feeds (more on this soon)
  • Watching movies: X-Men [8], Tree of Life [8] and Bridesmaids [9]
  • Testing Subscription Options v0.8 (v. cool gradient shit)
  • Reading The Authority by Warren Ellis, which is amazing
  • Listening to some brand new music, c/o Spotify
  • Working my balls off and all that…

Meanwhile, Brand Republic goes and published The BR 200 which is a list of “the best advertising, marketing, media, PR and digital blogs.” They stuck me in at #153, which is cool! Thing is, I haven’t blogged that much, have I? I’ll sort that out, sorry.

The BR 200 (OPML Feed)
BR 200 (OPML)

Meanwhile, as a mark of respect to the others on the BR 200, and to any remaining readers out there, I’ve compiled an OPML list of all the blogs on that list, which you can import into your RSS reader of choice.

There ya go, people! Enjoy all those proper bloggers. Hehe.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

My Personal Blogging Ecosystem

Hello! Before we get down to business, here’s just a quick announcement: This weekend I launched a new WordPress plugin called Foursquare Map – any readers with your own blogs, please check it out and let me know how it goes!

Another thing I did this week was to set up my own GTD system with a fresh Moleskine book. I’ll be using this set of icons to help me manage my growing to-do list. First on that list was to follow up on a note to “Map the Digital Cortex Ecosystem“, so *tick!*

What does that entail? Over the two years the site has been running, I’ve tried and tested loads of ways to syndicate content, drive traffic and grow my following. I think I’ve just about maxed-out on the optimisations I can make, and expect further growth to come solely from publishing interesting content. So what does my so-called ‘optimal’ set-up look like? Thanks to Paint.NET you can see for yourself (click for full-screen):

Some tips for building your own blogging ecosystem:

  • Try StumbleUpon – it shows me the coolest stuff every day because I’ve spent time telling it my interests, and then fine-tuning the system with thumbs up / down. I use it about 50 times a day.
  • Get Read It Later – when you don’t have time to give a site the attention it deserves, click the ‘RIL’ button and it’ll sync to the cloud, for reading at a later date. I’ve racked up so much cool stuff this way.
  • Use Delicious Effectively – it’s immensely powerful when used in the right way, and I use it to write one sentence descriptions, along with loads of tags, that publish to my Tumblr each day.
  • Start a Side Blog – some stuff is too cool not to blog about, but sometimes that stuff doesn’t warrant a full blog post (esp. when you’re busy). That’s where Tumblr comes in, and mine is now the fifth largest referrer here, after just two months!
  • Don’t Cross the Streams – sure it’s fun to publish everything everywhere, but it’s sensible to apply a bit of intelligence: what’s really the most appropriate content for that channel? That’s why only blog content goes to my Facebook fan page.
  • Twitter is WIN! – It’s an amazing tool for bloggers, both for content discovery and for content syndication. It’s especially powerful when paired with Tweetmeme buttons on your site (like below). The same is true of the Facebook ‘Like’ button.

There’s probably more to structuring a blogging ecosystem than this, like the ‘star system’ with Twitter/Spotify/Google or the X-Marks approach. There’s also the big question of how you go about measuring any of this stuff, and no word has been made of an actual content strategy but hey, that’s the eternal battle, eh bloggers?!

That’s it from me, hope you enjoyed this post. Let’s discuss tactics… Go!

What is AR and What is it Capable Of?

Presently, most AR research is concerned with live video imagery and it’s processing, which allows the addition of live-rendered 3D digital images. This new augmented reality is viewable through a suitably equipped device, which incorporates a camera, a screen and a CPU capable of running specially developed software. This software is written by specialist software programmers, with knowledge of optics, 3D-image rendering, screen design and human interfaces. The work is time consuming and difficult, but since there is little competition in this field, the rare breakthroughs that do occur are as a result of capital investment: something not willingly given to developers of such a nascent technology.

What is exciting about AR research is that once the work is done, its potential is immediately seen, since in essence it is a very simple concept. All that is required from the user is their AR device and a real world target. The target is an object in the real world environment that the software is trained to identify. Typically, these are specially designed black and white cards known as markers:

An AR marker, this one relates to a 3D model of Doctor Who's Tardis in Gameware's HARVEE kit
An AR marker, this one relates to a 3D model of Doctor Who's Tardis in Gameware's HARVEE kit

These assist the recognition software in judging viewing altitude, distance and angle. Upon identification of a marker, the software will project or superimpose a virtual object or graphical overlay above the target, which becomes viewable on the screen of the AR device. As the device moves, the digital object orients in relation to the target in real-time:

armarker2
Augmented Reality in action, multiple markers in use on the HARVEE system on a Nokia N73

The goal of some AR research is to free devices from markers, to teach AR devices to make judgements about spatial movements without fixed reference points. This is the cutting edge of AR research: markerless tracking. Most contemporary research, however, uses either marker-based or GPS information to process an environment.

Marker-based tracking is suited to local AR on a small scale, such as the Invisible Train Project (Wagner et al., 2005) in which players collaboratively keep virtual trains from colliding on a real world toy train track, making changes using their touch-screen handheld computers:

crw_80271
The Invisible Train Project (Wagner et al., 2005)

GPS tracking is best applied to large scale AR projects, such as ARQuake (Thomas et al, 2000), which exploits a scale virtual model of the University of Adelaide and a modified Quake engine to place on-campus players into a ‘first-person-shooter’. This application employs use of a headset, wearable computer, and a digital compass, which offer the effect that enemies appear to walk the corridors and ‘hide’ around corners. Players shoot with a motion-sensing arcade gun, but the overall effect is quite crude:

100-0007_img_21
ARQuake (Thomas et al, 2000)

More data input would make the game run smoother and would provide a more immersive player experience. The best applications of AR will exploit multiple data inputs, so that large-scale applications might have the precision of marker-based applications whilst remaining location-aware.

Readers of this blog will be aware that AR’s flexibility as a platform lends applicability to a huge range of fields:

  • Current academic work uses AR to treat neurological conditions: AR-enabled projections have successfully cured cockroach phobia in some patients (Botella et al., 2005);
  • There are a wide range of civic and architectural uses: Roberts et al. (2002) have developed AR software that enables engineers to observe the locations of underground pipes and wires in situ, without the need schematics
  • AR offers a potentially rich resource to the tourism industry: the Virtuoso project (Wagner et al., 2005) is a handheld computer program that guides visitors around an AR enabled gallery, providing additional aural and visual information suited to each artefact;

The first commercial work in the AR space was far more playful, however: AR development in media presentations for television has led to such primetime projects as Time Commanders (Lion TV for BBC2, 2003-2005) in which contestants oversee an AR-enabled battlefield, and strategise to defeat the opposing army, and FightBox (Bomb Productions for BBC2, 2003) in which players build avatars to compete in an AR ‘beat-em-up’ that is filmed in front of a live audience; T-Immersion (2003- ) produce interactive visual installations for theme parks and trade expositions; other work is much more simple, in one case the BBC commissioned an AR remote-control virtual Dalek meant for mobile phones, due for free download from BBC Online:

A Dalek, screenshot taken from HARVEE's development platform (work in progress)
A Dalek, screenshot taken from HARVEE's development platform (work in progress)

The next entry in this series is a case study in AR development. If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter or grab an RSS feed to be alerted when my series continues.

An Opus to AR – It Begins

Here it goes. The first entry of my grand opus on Augmented Reality, and why I think it will be the most impacting new media form we have had since the rise of the Internet. I will serialise a total of 10,000 words, hyperlinked where appropriate, and with illustrations where possible. The title of this work is as follows:

Assessing an Augmented Future: What is Augmented Reality, What are its Potential Applications in the Entertainment Industry, and What Will its Emergence Mean for the User in Society?

Series Order:

  1. Contents
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. What is AR and what is it capable of?
  5. Gameware: A Case Study in AR Development
  6. Constructing a methodology
  7. Reverse Engineering: Locating AR within its wider context
    1. Virtual Reality
    2. The Internet
    3. Mobile Telephone
    4. Summary
  8. Deconstructing AR: assessing it’s socio-cultural impact
    1. Applying McLuhan
    2. Applying Baudrillard
    3. Applying Benjamin
  9. Conclusion
  10. Bibliography
    1. References
    2. Further Reading

Please stick with me, I plan to release each element over a the next few weeks beginning today with Part 2, my research abstract. Grab an RSS feed and please chip in with your contributions.