Can a programming language make you happy?

May 11th, 2009

We all know that some programming languages are a joy to use and others can be damned painful. Lukas Biewald ran an interesting experiment to gather some data about this in his post, The Programming Language with the Happiest Users.

“Which languages make programmers the happiest? … I decided to do a little market research. I scraped the top 150 most recent tweets on Twitter for the query “X language” where X was one of {COBOL, Ruby, Fortran, Python, Visual Basic, Perl, Java, Haskell, Lisp, C}. Then I asked three people on Amazon Mechanical Turk to verify that the tweet was on the topic. If so, I asked if the tweet seemed positive, negative or neutral. …”

Great idea and a nice use of Amazon Mechanical Turk!


Twitter Swine Flu news: the downside

April 27th, 2009

While we can use Twitter for news or reports on unfolding events from the field, it’s a noisy channel. As usual, Randall Munroe captures it well. I especially like its highlighting how Twitter’s search page lets you know there have been dozens of new matching tweets since you searched a moment ago. It seems that the flu-related tweets are arriving faster than anyone can read them.


Swine flu on twitter: the downside


Send Twitter tweets with your brain

April 24th, 2009

A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has developed a system that allows a person to send tweets just by thinking.

Researchers use brain interface to post to Twitter
In early April, Adam Wilson posted a status update on the social networking Web site Twitter — just by thinking about it. Just 23 characters long, his message, “using EEG to send tweet,” demonstrates a natural, manageable way in which “locked-in” patients can couple brain-computer interface technologies with modern communication tools.


Akshay on Twitter in the NYT

April 15th, 2009

We were happy to see recent UMBC alumnus Akshay Java’s work on Twitter is mentioned in an article, Utility in the Jumble of Tweets, in yesterday’s New York Times.

“Some developers are creating tools to help companies keep an eye on the buzz. Akshay Java, a scientist at Microsoft, is trying to figure out a way to identify which experts are most influential on given topics by automatically analyzing the content of their tweets and who is in their Twitter network. Companies like Microsoft could use that information to figure out which twitterers they should contact to create buzz about a new product.”


When every byte counts: URL shortening service review

April 4th, 2009

Searchengineland has a useful post on URL shorenting services, Analysis: Which URL Shortening Service Should You Use?.

“URL shortening services are experiencing a renaissance in the age of Twitter. When every character counts, these services reduce long URLs to tiny forms. But which is the best to use, when so many are offered and new ones seem to appear each day? Below, issues to consider and a breakdown of popular services, including recommendations and services to avoid (the new DiggBar being one of these).”

They review 15 services and discuss some of the underlying issues (e.g., 301 vs. 302 redirects).

The venerable Tinyurl.com? Too long! The popular bit.ly made the cut even though it’s longer than tr.im.


Twitter vs. Facebook: fad vs. need?

April 3rd, 2009

Earlier this week the Baltimore Sun’s Andrew Ratner had a story on Twitter, When did Twitter take over the universe?. The story had this interesting quote from UMBC’s Zeynep Tufekci:

Some people who study technology aren’t sure Twitter will endure.

“Frankly, I think a lot of twittering is somewhat faddish, whereas I never thought Facebook was. … People I interviewed and surveyed would talk of serious feeling of deprivation without Facebook and I’ve hardly heard anyone say that about twitter,” Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor who teaches the sociology of technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, wrote in an e-mail. “Will people Twitter five years from now? Perhaps, but I would not be surprised if they did not, or at least as much.”


Elevator pitch, meet twitter pitch

March 6th, 2009

Conventional wisdom is that you need a good elevator pitch if you have an idea to sell. An elevator pitch, of course, is a high-level description of your concept that is short enough to be delivered during an elevator ride — e.g., in a minute or less. This works out to about 150 to 300 words, depending on how fast you talk

I was amused to see a new PHP web framework, Twitto, advertise itself as “A web framework in a tweet” because the header code you need to add is “packed in less than 140 characters, it fits in a tweet.

Now Twitto is not actually pushing its concept in a tweet — they use nearly 1500 characters on their splash page, for heavens sake. But I like the idea of boiling down a pitch to fit in a tweet and think it has a future.

You can’t do a tweet pitch for every idea. Some are inherently too complicated. But if you can, maybe you should, at least as an exercise. The idea of a tweet concept may the new media version of the high concept notion that was popular in Hollywood back in the 1990s.

Note: Twitto apparently has some security issues, since someone added a prominent red box on the bottom of their page with the warning “TWITTO IS NOT SECURE, DON’T USE IT FOR YOUR NEXT WEBSITE.”


Evan Williams TED talk on Twitter

February 28th, 2009

Twitter founder Evan Williams gave a TED talk this earlier this month on how Twitter’s growth is driven by unexpected uses. His eight minute talk touched on twittering during dramatic events, political uses, services enabled by their API and the emergence of conventions like @reply and #hashtag.


Twitter-Calais mashup tracks IL-5 election buzz

February 24th, 2009

WindyCitizen.com is “a crowd-powered front page for the Windy City” that “brings Chicagoans the best of the local web by letting them share, rate and discuss their favorite local news, photos, videos and more.”




Their Windy City Twitter Tracker mashup uses Open Calais as a named entity recognizer to track Tweets about candidates in the special election to fill the US House seat for Chicago’s 5th district that that Rahm Emanuel vacated. Calais might be overkill for this, since there is a small set of known candidates, but it’s an impressive semantic mashup nonetheless.

“We’re searching Twitter constantly to keep you up to date with the conversation about the IL-5 special election. The graph above lets you track buzz about the candidates over the last two weeks.”

The Windy City Twitter Tracker is probably written to be easily repurposed, judging from the Web site, which describe it as currently tracking the “Race for the 5th”. The mashup is credited to Whattech.


Twitter as the Web stream of consciousness

February 15th, 2009

TechCrunch has a post Mining The Thought Stream on why Twitter continues to be hot even thought it doesn’t yet have a business case. The argument is that Twitter has fond a niche that none of the search engines covers well — providing visibility over the stream of consciousness of the Web. The final graf caught my attention:

“An undifferentiated thought stream of the masses at some point becomes unwieldy. In order to truly mine that data, Twitter needs to figure out how to extract the common sentiments from the noise (something which Summize was originally designed to do, by the way, but it was putting the cart before the horse—you need to be able to do simple searches before you start looking for patterns). But what is the best way to rank real-time search results—by number of followers, retweets, some other variable? It is not exactly clear. But if Twitter doesn’t solve this problem, someone else will and they will make a lot of money if they do it right.”

Akshay looked at the problem of analyzing tweets back in 2007 (see Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities). One difficulty is that tweets are necessarily short and telegraphic. This makes it hard to do any linguistic analysis with good accuracy. But, maybe if you can apply some back ground knowledge……


Pew: 11% of online adults twitter and/or update status

February 13th, 2009

Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet Project have a six-page note on Twitter and status updating based on a survey of nearly 2300 adults in November and December of 2008. The findings are not very surprising and include:

  • 11% of online adults use Twitter or update their status online
  • Twitter users are mobile, less tethered by technology
  • Younger internet users lead the way in using Twitter and similar services.

To me, the most notable item is one that suggests a very recent and sharp inclease in short, personal status updates.

“As of December 2008, 11% of online American adults said they used a service like Twitter or another service that allowed them to share updates about themselves or to see the updates of others.1 Just a few weeks earlier, in November 2008, 9% of internet users used Twitter or updated their status online and in May of 2008, 6% of internet users responded yes to a slightly different question, where users were asked if they used “Twitter or another ‘microblogging’ service to share updates about themselves or to see updates about others.”

I’d guess that this partly represents more people joining Facebook, creating an tipping point in the use of its status update feature.


Twitterment, domain grabbing, and grad students who could have been rich!

July 8th, 2008

Here at Ebiquity, we’ve had a number of great grad students. One of them, Akshay Java, hacked out a search engine for twitter posts around early April last year, and named it twitterment. He blogged about it here first. He did it without the benefit of the XMPP updates, by parsing the public timeline. It got talked about in the blogosphere, (including by Scoble), got some press, and there was an article in the MIT Tech review that used his visualization of some of the twitter links. It even got talked about in Wired’s blog, something we found out only yesterday. We were also told that three days after the post in Wired’s blog, someone somewhere registered the domain twitterment.com (I won’t feed them pagerank by linking!), and set up a page that looks very similar to Akshay’s. It has Google Adsense, and of course just passes the query to Google with a site restriction to twitter. So they’re poaching coffee and cookie money from the students in our lab 🙂

So of course we played with Akshay’s hack, hosted it on one of our university boxes for a few months, but didn’t really have the bandwidth or compute (or time) resources to keep up. Startups such as summize appeared later and provided similar functionality. For the last week or two we’ve  been moving the code of twitterment to Amazon’s cloud to restart the service. Of course, today comes the news that twitter might buy summize, quasi confirmed by Om Malik. Lesson to you grad students — if you come up with something clever, file an invention disclosure with your university’s tech transfer folks. And don’t listen to your advisors if they think that there isn’t a paper in what you’ve hacked — there may yet be a few million dollars in it 🙂