My American shopping list

Before, we went to work. Now, we go to shop.

With Ireland’s booming economy and America’s flagging currency it has become a recent Irish ritual to make a brief trip State-side to stock up on bargains in time for Christmas.

This year, a few members of my family are joining the temporary exodus and heading to New York City early in December and I’ve been landed with a question that is both exciting and torturous – do I want anything while they’re there?

So I’ll throw this question to the floor for suggestions – what should I put on my US wish list that is either impossible to find here in Ireland, or far cheaper on the other side of the Atlantic? So far I’ve been thinking in terms of games – namely some DS titles, maybe even a DS Lite – and some other vague ideas relating to unusual runners or t-shirts.

So – lend me your advice!

(Just for the record I just got a laptop and I don’t want an iPhone – anything else I’m open to suggestion on)

Wikipedia shenanigans ar an Roinne Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta

This is a story that was supposed to be published in The Irish Times way back when but for some reason or another it wasn’t.

It relates to wikipedia edits made by someone in a Government department and was researched and written back when the joys of the WikiScanner was discovered by everyone.

To the best of my knowledge this particular angle was never actually picked up on, so in the spirit of blogging I publish it below the fold for your enjoyment:

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has started an internal inquiry after it was revealed that a civil servant there had made offensive changes to a Wikipedia article on ‘English people’.

The changes, which were made from one of the Department’s computers in August 2005, claimed that English people are World renowned “larger louts” who are “well know for their lack of ability to hold their drink and act in a violent and lewd manner when drunk”. It also described them as the most hated people on Earth.

The Wikipedia is a popular resource which acts as an online encyclopaedia. Anyone can edit articles on the website; however their computer’s IP address is logged when they do so. A recently launched tool called the Wikipedia Scanner allows people to search these logged IP addresses and ranges to see what changes were made from them.

“This Department has strict policies in place for the use of both email and the internet. In this context, the editing of Wikipedia articles to include material offensive to any community or any individual would be strictly forbidden,” said a press officer for the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. “Minister Ó Cuív has been made aware of the issues and senior management in the Department has assured that appropriate action will be taken when the investigation is complete.”

Other edits made from the Department’s IP address in August 2005 include a change to a ‘County Londonderry’ article to replace ‘Londonderry’ with ‘Derry’ and the creation of an article on a civil servant working at the Department. In July an edit was also made to the ‘Republic of Ireland’ article, and the user removed the sentence: “Although it has less than 1% of the Union’s population, it has received 16% of all “first warnings” issued on environmental issues”.

A scan of the Government’s entire IP range turns up a long list of edits over the past three years, most of which are innocuous changes to articles of general interest. The few edits made to political entries, such as one made to the ‘Bertie Ahern’ article, are also only minor corrections or grammatical changes.

The Wikipedia Scanner tool has already been used to find an edit from a Northern Ireland Civil Service computer which changed an article to call Irish people evil. Internationally, a computer at the Vatican was found to have edited an article on Gerry Adams, while many large corporations have been found to be editing articles to make their businesses look better.

No word on what came of that investigation – anyone want to find out?

That thin line

There is a thin line between being seen as a in touch with the modern world and being seen as completely out of touch. There is a thin line between getting the joke and being the joke. There is a thin line between being seen as respectable and in tune and being seen as foolish and desperately past it.

This is always true but particularly when it comes to politicians, who fight a constant battle to appeal to supporters of all hues.

So, which side of the line has US Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fallen on with this campaign video? You decide:

Science Week: Congratulations to the winners

Congratulations to the five winners of the Science Week competition – Kevin, Brian, Monscooch, David and Johnny.

It was a great idea by the people at Forfás/Edelman and became the talking point of the Irish blog community all last week – personally it was a lot of fun to think about my favourite gadgets from childhood or thinking about what invention I’d love to see next. I hope other companies and organisations were taking note of a great way to get people to engage with what they’re doing (offer them the chance to win free stuff if they talk about other stuff!).

Don’t be a loser, get a social life (SBP – 18th Nov. 2007)

Here’s a transcript of my article from the Media & Marketing section of The Sunday Business Post on marketing and social networking; found in today’s edition:

Pushing your products successfully on sites such as Myspace.com, Facebook.com and Bebo.com takes a savvy approach, writes Adam Maguire.

Social networking sites offer huge potential to companies willing to take them seriously in their marketing spend but, just as with all forms of online advertising, where there is potential, there are also pitfalls.

On paper, social networking sites seem like a dream come true for marketers, simply because users of popular sites such as Myspace.com, Facebook.com and Bebo.com all volunteer information on their taste and use it to discuss everything that is on their mind.

‘‘A lot of the more savvy [marketing companies] are already out there selling their products through social networking sites,” said Tom Raftery, a social media consultant, ‘‘although a lot of the more traditional ones may be scratching their heads and wondering where to start.”

With applications like Facebook’s Flyers Pro, it is easy to target specific demographics, even down to the most minor of details. A quick selection shows there are 154,200 people registered as being in Ireland, the vast majority of whom fit within the 18-35 age bracket.

With the Flyers Pro application, you can even narrow down your search to people employed by a particular company, so a headhunter could direct a job listing advert at the employees of a certain company and no one else.

This is something Facebook did recently with an advert for jobs at Facebook, which was targeted at Google employees.

The problem with these figures and statistics plucked from user profiles, however, is that they are reliant on users themselves giving accurate information, which is not always the case.

There is no better example of this than the recent revelation that Tom Anderson, cofounder of Myspace.com, had pretended to be four years younger than he actually was on his on-site profile. According to Anderson’s profile he is about to turn 33, meaning he would have been 27 when Myspace launched in 2003. The reality, however, is that he is about to turn 37, meaning he was 31 when the site launched.

‘‘Some people will lie and push their age back or forward, but that’s a fact of life on the internet,” said Krishna De, an employer and personal branding strategist. ‘‘In the end, though, the truth will out and, for the most part, people will tell the truth.”

Indeed, this kind of deception is not unusual to online advertisers. Few search engines now consider the description given by websites when trying to find relevant sites as so many people lied in them in the past to draw in more hits. Click fraud was also a major issue some time ago, where people would create bots to automatically click adverts on their website, thus generating revenue for them.

But there is little doubt that social networking is seen as the next great online revenue producer. Towards the end of October, software giant Microsoft announced a $240 million investment in Facebook for a mere 1.6 per cent stake. Google, among others, had been courting Facebook for some time and Microsoft’s investment is seen as a defensive manoeuvre against its rival, which has dominated online advertising for some time.

Of course, Google is not one to be left behind. Last week it announced its Open Social platform, which aims to unite the structures of numerous existing social media websites so users, developers and advertisers can work across them all at once, rather than deal with them one by one.

These high-profile launches and investments are probably spurred on by the fact that survey after survey is showing how dominant social networking has become online.

‘‘The biggest difference [between other sites and social networking sites] isn’t so much the destination, it’s what people do at that destination,” said Raftery. ‘‘On your average blog, a person might come on, read an article for a few minutes and click to another page and then they’re gone. But on a social networking site, they spend typically 20 minutes at a time, so the magnitude is far greater.”

Just as online advertising changed the way people interacted with adverts, social networking sites have the potential to go far beyond the traditional practice of simply finding a target audience and showing your product.

‘‘At the very least, what people should be doing now with social media sites is monitoring them, looking at the trends and looking at the discussions,” said De.

Social networking sites are a treasure trove of information, on everything from the most popular drinks to what TV shows people are watching at the moment, and offer many layers of simple market research to advertisers.

Businesses can, for example, find and analyse a group in Facebook where people are talking about a product or service they like or dislike; or they can identify the most popular TV programme and advertise when it’s on air, maximising their audience.

Companies can also use these sites to interact with customers, find out what people are saying and, if it is negative, try to resolve it. Honesty is always the best policy in this area.

‘‘People, especially in Ireland, hate having things sold to them and will get turned off if people come at them with a brash sales pitch,” said De.

‘‘When interacting with your customers online, you should use it as an opportunity to give them honest advice and be as helpful as you can. That way, they’ll end up trusting you and will come back to you again.”

It is clear that social networking sites are impossible to ignore for anyone wanting to advertise online, especially to a younger demographic.

There are plenty of niche sites appearing to counter the all-encompassing popularity of the big three networking sites; over-50s group Saga has just launched Sagazone, specifically aimed at the 50-plus audience, while other sites are selling themselves as women-only networking sites, for example.

But with people spending more time on social networking sites than any other websites and so much information and discussion available to marketers looking to see what is in or out, these sites will become an asset to any advertiser who to masters them.

‘‘It’s about courage, not cash,” said De. ‘‘Companies have to be willing to make the leap into something new, but it won’t cost them very much to do so.”

The main players:

Bebo
Founded in January 2005, Bebo pitched itself as a site for people to keep in touch with friends, particularly former classmates. The site has since become the de facto place for schoolchildren to keep in touch on a daily basis. In March 2007, it became the most visited site in Ireland; it is currently in second place. It is extremely popular in Ireland, Britain and New Zealand, but has failed to make much of a mark in the US.

Myspace
Set up in 2003 as a platform for musicians and bands to promote their music, Myspace has been instrumental in the rise of acts such as Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys. That said, its broad user base is not confined to artists, although it tends to be more popular in the US than Europe. The site was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp in 2005 and has more than 200 million users.

Facebook
Established in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook was originally limited to students of Harvard University. Since it was opened up to other users, the site has become a more mature alternative to the likes of Bebo and Myspace.

Surprisingly just 10,000 Irish users are listed as attending college, well below 10 per cent of the Irish user base. Worldwide, the site is approaching 50 million users and expects this to surpass 60 million by the end of the year. The price paid by Microsoft for a 1.6 per cent share means the company is valued at $15 billion.

Science Week: In your opinion what was the best invention in 2007?

To celebrate Science Week bloggers are being invited to talk about the effect that science has had in their lives through a range of topics – each day the organisers will reward the best post with a Nintendo Wii console. This post is one of my entries to the competition.

“Q2 – In your opinion what was the best invention in 2007?”

The last topic and probably the hardest – for a start most inventions, even the best ones, don’t reach the mainstream until long after their actually invented so many gadgets and gizmos that were big in 2007 were probably creations of 2006 or even 2005.

If the topic were ‘In your opinion what was the best invention you first used in 2007?” I’d probably be able to find an answer easily enough – the DVR, perhaps… but it’s not.

So after much thinking and soul/google searching I’ve found a suitable answer – super-thin, super-flexible body armour – like this stuff.

Why is it such a great invention? Well for a start it’s mind boggling to see such a thin piece of flexible material absorb such a huge amount of energy and has plenty of applications in areas like sport, leisure and security.

Not convinced on its practical applications? Never mind, at the very least it has a tonne of entertainment value:

Science Week: Which invention has helped you most with your working life?

To celebrate Science Week bloggers are being invited to talk about the effect that science has had in their lives through a range of topics – each day the organisers will reward the best post with a Nintendo Wii console. This post is one of my entries to the competition.

“Q2 – Which invention has helped you most with your working life?”

It’s a simple, and probably obvious, answer for me but the single most advantageous invention for me in my working life has to be email.

My career revolves around email. I often make first contact with someone for an article via email. I normally pitch an article to an editor via email. More often than not I arrange an interview via email. As a freelancer I always submit copy via email. Frankly I hardly use email socially – text or phone would be my main mode of communication there – but for work it’s vital.

If I didn’t have email I’d still be able to pitch articles, contact interviewees and so on but it would be just that little bit harder and submitting copy would be a total pain (telegram? Courier? Pigeon?!).

Other inventions are extremely important to me too (obviously email wouldn’t be possible without the internet and the computer) but none are quite as critical as email. If I didn’t have a mobile phone it would be a pain but not the end of the world – same would apply if I didn’t have a laptop or a dictaphone.

So email it is – I shiver when I consider life without it.

Science Week: What’s the next gadget that you want to buy?

To celebrate Science Week bloggers are being invited to talk about the effect that science has had in their lives through a range of topics – each day the organisers will reward the best post with a Nintendo Wii console. This post is one of my entries to the competition.

“Q2 – What’s the next gadget that you want to buy?”

There are about a million and one gadgets that I’d love to get my hands on as soon as possible if I could afford it but the next gadget that I need and want to buy has to be the Zoom H4.

The Zoom H4 is a portable digital audio recording device which I’m looking to invest in for the production of my side-project Dáil30. Without a decent audio recorder the project just isn’t going to take off and that’s not something I want to see happen.

What’s so attractive about the H4, besides the fact that I can use decent quality external microphones and record at a decent quality on the go, is its storage medium – SD card.

I’ve just ordered myself a 2GB SD Mini card with an SD adaptor which I plan to use for this device. What that basically means is that I can pop my adapted SD Mini card into the H4 and record an interview; then on the bus journey home I can take the card out of the adaptor, slot it into my Nokia N80 and listen back to see how it sounds; then once I get home I can drop it back into the adaptor and slide it into my laptop’s built-in SD card reader for editing and production. Now if that isn’t some form of convergence, I don’t know what is.

Science Week: What invention do you want to see most in the future?

To celebrate Science Week bloggers are being invited to talk about the effect that science has had in their lives through a range of topics – each day the organisers will reward the best post with a Nintendo Wii console. This post is one of my entries to the competition.

“Q2 – What invention do you want to see most in the future?”

It’s funny; once I started to think about potential future inventions I’d like to see I ended up in a number of mental moral battles over each one’s implications.

A time machine would be great, I thought, but then I reckoned that with the effect it would have on the past such a creation would probably do more harm than good. A teleporter? Sure, I hate most journeys too and would love to get to most places in an instant but then the warnings of dodgy Sci-Fi stories started to worry me. What if I accidentally shared my trip to the office with a tiny insect and ended up developing its severe body hair and acne problem as a result? What if the technology was used for a new form of terrorism where people teleported bombs to the exact place that someone was standing in at that time, thus blowing them up from the inside out? (This idea came from the one episode of Earth: Final Conflict I ever saw).

So as I sat there, staring at the solitary wire protruding from the back of my laptop, I realised just what kind of invention would truly make a difference. At the moment the technology for renewable and green energy is a reality, I thought, it’s just a matter of widespread adoption. What has yet to be mastered, however, is a new way to deliver this energy – so my most anticipated invention has to be wireless electricity.

Think about it; wireless technology has reached its tipping point and now every device on the market comes with some kind of wireless functionality. Mobile phones are everywhere, landlines phones no longer mean a handled tethered to a block via a weird curly wire, printers and cameras and next generation consoles all have wifi or bluetooth chips built in and even the most basic of kitchen appliances can now be operated by remote control or SMS. And yet they all still have to be plugged in.

We’re at a stage now where a computer can operate wirelessly with a mouse and keyboard, printer, camera, speakers and internet connection – its only the power cable that’s getting in the way (or maybe the monitor cable too, depending on your computer).

Just imagine being able to pick up any device in your house and put it anywhere else without having to even switch it off. Imagine having your mobile charged while it sits in your pocket or your laptop charged while it sits in your bag. Imagine not having to search for plugs anymore, or have to add another double adaptor to your already perilously over-used gang-plug. Imagine if fitting a new light simply meant screwing it anywhere on the wall or ceiling (putting the switch somewhere else, which communicated with the light via bluetooth). Imagine how much more practical it would be to have an electric car if you could charge it anywhere in the country, not just where there were custom-build charging ports. The list goes on.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the moral, or more importantly medical, consequences of such an invention. Given that we as humans were raised on a healthy fear of electricity it’s certainly intimidating to think of it whizzing around our heads constantly. But unlike the unpredictable and potentially catastrophic uses of some hypothetical technology I think wireless electricity will be nothing other than a marvel assuming the whole “extreme danger” thing is worked through by those in the know.

Then there’s the issue of access management – how do companies keep people who aren’t paying from using their service? What if I have my own supply that I want to stop neighbours leeching off of? Something tells me that by the time wireless electricity becomes a mass-marketable reality, people won’t be thinking about electricity in commercial terms anymore.

Some more of today’s entries: Roosta, Daragh, Simon, Kevin (leave a comment if you have an entry you want added)

Where’s Browne’s Nightly News?

Back in late August TV3 announced plans to revamp its nightly news broadcast (subs required), putting Vincent Browne at its helm and turning it into more of a current affairs programme than a news update.

At the time it was reported that it would start in November 5th, and Browne even got some practice in as co-presenter of TV3′s Ireland AM a few weeks ago, but anybody paying attention will have noticed that TV3′s News Tonight has not yet been replaced by the mooted ‘Nightly News with Vincent Browne’.

Is there a reason? Well The Sunday Independent’s Fifth Column, which wouldn’t be much of a Browne fan, has been saying that the programme is now delayed until the new year and that staffing issues are the reason behind it. Apparently the programme is looking for two dedicated correspondents and while there’s a huge appetite amongst staff in TV3 the hiring process has not gone smoothly (whatever that means).

Other rumours are abound that problems at the programme go beyond simple staffing issues, although that may be what the Fifth Column was implying when it said things were not quite going to plan.

Assuming the creases, whatever they may be, are ironed out it will be interesting to see what form the finished product will take. Hiring dedicated correspondents is a good sign as it suggests that the show will be more than just a late-night news update after all. Whether the correspondents will simply be used to put a new spin on the stories of the day or to source and investigate completely new stories will be the critical point in what this programme is all about, however.