Thursday, 26 April 2007

Free as in beer, base as in database

After I mentioned Freebase in a previous blog posting, I was contacted by the company and invited to check out their product. This isn't the first time I've been contacted by a company after blogging about them - the guys at Eyejot did as well - so someone out there is reading! Worth bearing in mind if you want to try out something that has invitation-only access.

Anyway, I've been busy and the invitation got put on the back burner. I've finally had a chance to check it out, and can now share my findings.

Basically the idea behind Freebase is that we can and should sort all the world's data semantically. Imagine all the Wikipedia data organised by type, (in fact Freebase's starting point for some topics is data pulled from Wikipedia), where that type and all the related data can be cross-linked with data of a similar nature. Imagine if everyone's tags were properly organised on every site on the web.

On the surface you get more powerful ways to search and mine data; for example, a search like finding all companies in London in the design industry with 100+ employees would become very straightforward. But the real kicker is when people start developing applications on top of this database. We've had mash-ups for a long time, but that's nothing compared to the potential of this resource.

Freebase has an API open to those who are taking part in the alpha phase, which means those developers can get their hands dirty with this stuff pretty quickly. I think you need to be logged in to see the stuff that's been built so far (and to be honest it's not that sensational as the database is still quite young), but the potential is there. Blog about the product and you might get a look in! Or ask me for a demo.

Jim O'Reilly has had a play with Freebase and has some screenshots on his blog posting. Could it become addictive? Perhaps in the same way Wikipedia compelled people to contribute. Whether it can become the starting pistol for Web's hard to tell. But in the meantime the excitement builds as we move towards beta and (presumably) a fully Open API which can be used by a much bigger community. I shall be watching with interest.

It's a Scoop!

There's an interesting story doing the rounds, about a Wired journalist, Fred Vogelstein, who asked Jason Calacanis (prolific blogger and internet entrepreneur) for an interview. Calacanis said yes, but only if the interview could be conducted by email. Vogelstein put the whole exchange on the web and accused Calacanis of being cowardly. Calacanis has defended his decision via his blog. And has followed up with a very entertaining podcast exchange (audio only - first minute covers this story) recording a subsequent phone conversation between the two men.

For me, it begs the very interesting question: who owns the story? Is it the reader, the journalist, or the interviewee? I'm sure all would stake a claim. A truthful report is obviously the best outcome for the reader, but even a true account can be objectified in all sorts of ways by the journo. Would his objective be to offer a faithful account of Calacanis' responses? Or to try and dig around for the more interesting subtext that might sell more copies of his magazine?

I think, given the choice, I'd prefer to give an interview like this by email as well. Not only for the same reasons at Calacanis, but also so I can review and shape my thoughts and responses as they're being composed. I amended this blog posting several times during it's construction, and hopefully my views are expressed more eloquently as a result. Calacanis is clearly a very smart and very confident speaker; I'm less so on both counts.

But at the end of the day, I suppose it comes down to how much you need the press. As Calacanis points out, "I have 10,000 people come to my blog every day--i don't need wired to talk to the tech industry". Lucky for him! In the event I'm ever asked to do an interview, I doubt very much whether I would have that luxury!

I'd like to make a tenuous link to this entertaining story too: a PR guy who works for Edelmann happened to mention on his Twitter page that he throws his free copy of PC Magazine in the bin. The editor of PC magazine (part of Ziff-Davis empire, who produce the excellent responded saying that he'd now be less inclined to give interviews with Edelmann's clients. And witness the PR guy trying his best to undo the damage. Fake Steve Jobs goes to town on him.

It all just goes to show how important communication is in this industry. I'm a strong advocate of radical transparency, but you've got to be very careful what you say to whom. It can't be undone.

Update 26/4/07: Jeff Javis has covered this issue in some style on his blog.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Photos from Cocoa Beach

I've uploaded the third and final set of photos from our trip to Florida here, mostly from around the Cocoa Beach area (which is where we were staying on Cape Canaveral). Click for a link to the photos on Picasa Web Albums (which I'm warming to, by the way).

Cocoa Beach

Would you like lard with that?

Part of traveling is experiencing local culture, and so we felt inclined to visit the International House of Pancakes during our recent trip to Florida. We knew American portions were generous, and the food was sometimes pretty unhealthy, but were quite unprepared for what awaited us.

The picture on the left was taken from the menu. So that's dipped in batter, then fried, then smothered in gravy. Plus pancakes. I felt my arteries hardening just by breathing in the atmosphere.

I did have some pancakes and syrup though. When in Rome, etc. At least I didn't have cheese. Unlike Will.


Three men walk into a 7-Eleven store in Florida, and two of them walk to the counter while the third wanders off. One of the guys at the counter asks for a packet of cigarettes, and is asked for photo ID because he "looks under 27". He was 31 years old, and the legal age for buying cigarettes in America is 18. He didn't have photo ID with him, but his friend did, and so the friend offered to buy the cigarettes. He was 34. No deal, said the checkout girl, in case he was buying them for the first guy. So the first guy goes out to the car to get his ID.

While he's outside, the third guy ambles over to see what's going on. The first guy returns with his ID...but now the third guy (who is 30 years old) is asked to show ID (in case one of the first two guys was buying cigarettes for him). But he doesn't have photo ID with him.

The three guys, all over 30, leave the shop without cigarettes.

A true story.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Photos from Space Centre

Loads more (very cool) photos from Kennedy Space Centre have been uploaded here. Pictured left, we're in the 3-D Imax.

Photos from the Road Trip

Alright, not really much of a road trip, more of a 45 mile journey. With beer at the end of it. But we saw some nice things along the way and when we got there. Album can be seen here.

Kennedy Space Centre

Kennedy Space Centre was very good! Got to see a fully operational Saturn Rocket that was built for an Apollo mission before Congress withdrew the funding. This thing was enormous. Also the 3-D Imax films were particularly impressive; one was all about the moon landings, the other about the International Space Station.

The two main disappointments were that we couldn't go inside the intruiging Vehicle Assembly Building, which in turn meant we couldn't see any actual Space Shuttles. But the good stuff made up for it, and it certainly reignited my childhood ambition to go into space. Maybe Richard Branson can help make it affordable?

I'll try and get some more photos uploaded soon, but in the meantime there are a couple of shots on my Flickr page.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Test mob blog

I'm sending this from my phone to see how it looks...bottom of a beer bottle!

Update via web interface: Neither gmail mobile app or gmail mobile web page allow me to add the attachment (beer photo). That's both disappointing and surprising. Hey ho.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Orange Partner Camp 2007

Well, I'm in a fine old mood today. Not only has the sun been out for a whole week. Not only has the pile of work on my desk decreased to a sane level. But the main reason I'm happy is that I'm going to see a REAL SPACESHIP on Sunday.

One of the perks of having Orange as a client is that I get to go to their occasional "Partner Camp" conferences. Next week's conference will be in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Google Maps link here, and if you want to go all nutty and 3-D and fly-by, here's a file you can launch in Google Earth.

Partner Camp itself is brilliant. Orange present lots of their projects and initiatives, and we've worked on some of them. But all in all, it's a great insight into an incredibly industrious organisation, and makes our work far more enjoyable when it is understood in the context of the broader corporation.

But before that all starts on Monday, there is the serious business of seeing REAL SPACESHIPS. The conference location is only 15 miles or so from Kennedy Space Centre, and my colleague and I are going there to do the tourist thing on Sunday. The visitor centre highlights are mouth-watering, to say the least.

But first, a 10 hour flight in Economy class. Urgh.....