What’s the point of Jelly?

Jelly fish

I have to admit I’m attracted to anything new and shiny, and particularly products and services that aim to create or propagate value through networks and networking. I was therefore intrigued by the recent launch of Jelly, which has the gravitas and experience of Biz Stone (of Twitter fame) behind it. It certainly meets the “new” criterion, but I’m not so sure about the “shiny”.

The principle behind Jelly is summarised in a short blog post by Biz Stone himself:

“Using Jelly is kinda like using a conventional search engine in that you ask it stuff and it returns answers……Jelly changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks….getting answers from  people is very different from retrieving information with algorithms….it has the benefit of being fun”

Mmm, well I’d question whether this is anything like using a conventional search engine. I’d agree that getting answers from people is very different to getting answers (search results) from algorithms, and whilst this might be fun for some, it opens up the system to the mad and the bad, so you can forget about getting consistently serious or factual answers to your questions.

The concept behind the Android/iOS app is simple: take a picture of something and ask a question, and wait for the folks on your social networks (and their connections) to provide answers. This immediately limits the reach of who is likely to respond, since the question will only be seen by your followers and their networks, compared to, say, Quora, which has a global reach.

Answering questions about a picture is not exactly unique, and I believe I’d get a lot more relevant answers by using Google Goggles. But maybe the “fun” bit comes from the unpredictability of the answers you get by using Jelly?

When questions from your network come up, you can either answer them or swipe them away if you don’t have the answer; essentially, you’re being forced to make an instant judgment on whether you can answer the question, and once you’ve swiped it away, you won’t see it again unless you’ve starred it – which is a request to follow the answers.

The questions come up seemingly at random, with no ability to filter by subject matter, to avoid questions by nuisance users, or to go back to previous questions you may have dismissed by mistake.

I think it’s rather hopeful that the network-effect is going to create value from the questions and answers that get submitted, not least because of the problems in filtering out the trivia. I appreciate it’s early days, and maybe once the trolls and idiots have had their fun it might settle down into a more useful visual crowdsourcing environment.  However, I remain sceptical, and find myself swipe, swipe, swiping away those endless trivialities such as “what should I pick from this menu?”, or “what am I drinking?”, or “do you like my iPhone cover?”. I noted that one Jelly user went out of his way to answer every question he could find with “feta cheese”, an endeavour which was either epic trolling, an attempt to make a point about the lack of junk filtering on Jelly, or possibly both.

So, having tried it, albeit for a limited period, I have to admit I can’t see the point of Jelly. If I want a question answered I’ll stick with Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Quora, and if I’m out and about I’ll use Google Goggles. But, don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m the wrong demographic and that there is a latent network of people who thrive on trivia out there. If so, it should do well, but it’s not a network that I want to belong to!

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Enterprise 2.0 Social Search and Discovery

I attended (and presented at) the Butler Group “Information Management and Collaboration” event that was held in London on 14-15 May. Regrettably I couldn’t get to the first day of the event, so missed presentations on topics such as:

  • Document collaboration using Sharepoint, and
  • Next generation collaboration through BEA Systems portals

Hence, I was left to ponder how much emphasis was given to creating and developing a collaborative culture in these presentations, or whether (as I suspect) the assumption is that this shiny new technology would resolve all the Enterprise’s collaboration needs. Excuse the cynicism, but this seems to be the pattern on just about every vendor presentation I’ve seen or heard since the Web 2.0 bandwagon started rolling.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the presentation from Rob Gray, UK General Manager of blueKiwi Software, who clearly understood that without a collaborative culture, the technology would be nothing more than an expensive anachronism. Maybe this new wave of realism will begin to permeate some of the ‘traditional’ software vendors who have conveniently migrated to the Web2.0 space. We’ll see!

The blueKiwi software was something of a revelation, providing a fully integrated suite of social networking and social media tools for supporting communities of interest or practice. I’ve done much research in this area myself as part of my Technology Steward role for the IDeA CoP Platform, and was impressed by many of the features and its overall ease of use. Quite clearly it has been developed by people who understand this market and how communities (of interest/practice) work.

A brief aside here, because I feel there is some confusion about the use of terms such as social networking and social media, which are quite often used interchangeably.

Social networking is where users interact creatively. Sites such as Myspace or Facebook being the most popular for this genre.

Social media is where users publish and share information. YouTube is probably the clear winner for this genre.

In a similar way to the IDeA CoP platform, the blueKiwi software is both a social networking environment in that it enables new connections to be dynamically created, and a social media environment in that it provides a variety of tools for publishing and sharing information (e.g. forums, blogs, wikis). The company itself is French in origin, as you will see from the website. I’m informed an English version is imminent. Certainly worth keeping an eye on this particular company/product.

Back to my presentation, which was entitled “Putting Enterprise Search and Discovery to Work”. The presentation describes how social networks (and specifically communities of practice) can be used to improve the relevance of search results by using customised (i.e. thematic filtered) web searches. You need to use a search API to make this work. My case study was based on what we’ve implemented on the IDeA CoP platform, using the Exalead search service. The slides are available on Slideshare.

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Personalised Search for Communities of Practice

Exalead

Having only just seen the Exalead press release, I’m reminded of a significant new enhancement that we introduced to the IDeA Communities of Practice (CoP) web platform earlier this year. The Exalead search service provides each CoP with a facility for creating a personalised community list of websites that enables more focussed and relevant search results to be returned for their particular domain of interest. Community members have the ability to select or deselect any of the web sites in the community list for each web search query they submit, providing greater control over the number and relevance of results returned.

Having a personalised community list of web sites has the effect of narrowing the web search to just these sites, which the community members will have previously verified as having content more relevant to their domain of interest. For example, a search for ‘Local Area Agreements’ on Google returns almost 49 million results. A similar search limited to the Regional Centre of Excellence web sites returns 136 results, all of which are likely to have more contextual relevance than the wider web search.

This is just one of the many enhancements to the platform that is scheduled for implementation this year. More about the other enhancements will be published in this blog over the coming months.

My version of the personalised search facility that was issued to our CoP users: personalised-search-release-note-final-08jan08.

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Knowledge vs. Privacy, the Google dilemma

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Google – you either love ’em or hate ’em it would seem, reading the article from yesterday’s Sunday Times. Google are saying they need more information about us, and their competitors are saying they already have too much. The trigger for this latest pouring of outrage is – apparently – Google’s announcement that they  had invested almost $4m in 23andme, a fledgling biotechnology company co-founded by Anne Wojcicki (Sergey Brinn’s significant other half), that is interested in the human genome.  Interestingly, ordinary users (and I count myself in that category) are saying very little. I find that the Search engine does what is says on the tin; Google Reader is the best RSS  reader, and I make the most of all the other freebies (Notebook, Calendar, Documents, Spreadsheets, desktop  toolbar , screen saver, personalised search etc.)  that they make available via their web site. Their argument that by getting to know more about me and my search habits will improve the relevance of their search results sounds believable – to me anyway.

However, one interesting quote attributed to Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central,  with reference to Google’s pending (?) purchase of Feedburner (a company that tracks subscribers to all kinds of on-line content providers):

"Have people really thought about the ramifications of this? Google will not only know what you search for, what ads you click on, but they will also know exactly what you are subscribed to at a very intimate level…..they are going to know more about some people than their own family members may".

Perhaps it’s the fact that I come from a country that has more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other county in Western Europe (or the world), or my naive belief in the Google motto ‘Don’t do evil‘, but I believe that Google’s ultimate objective is to stay ahead of the game in providing a  search service that everyone wants to use because it finds what they are looking for!

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What good is IPSV?

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I’ve previously commented on this topic and think I’ve made my views fairly clear. However, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in questioning whether IPSV serves any useful purpose.

I picked up a report on a recent meeting of local authority webmasters and managers held in Birmingham (England), where most present appeared to conclude that IPSV, now the official Government Metadata Standard, served no useful purpose and should be ignored and not implemented. As a delegate at the meeting pointed out, search engines don’t use government metadata – at all. IPSV is not used. So really then, what is the point?  The report went on to say that delegates wree not sold on formal taxonomies for websites, and definitely not centralised taxonomies like this Vocabulary. The ability to produce a site map from a taxonomy is a benefit, but a fringe benefit at best. Current thinking appears to be arriving at a much less prescriptive model of metadata, in which, rather than forcing editors to select a term from a taxonomy for the area of business the content relates to, they’re provided a ‘finger buffet’ of metadata to choose from, including schemes for geographic, demographic, subject (i.e. topic) and business tags. (I think we’re heading into the realms of folksonomies here).

However, this will no doubt upset those that want to see a tidy hierarchical view made possible by a formal taxonomy, but does that matter if it provides vastly richer possibilities in terms of interrogating and presenting content?

One of the central selling points of LGCL and now IPSV was the broad view of government services relating to a given term (e.g. see everything that all government agencies and local authorities have on animal welfare), but the reality is that’s both a pipe-dream and of absolutely no use to the vast majority of users.  A broad view of government services however that relate to, say, a single mother, under 30, recently made redundant, with children under 5 living in Birmingham would be of real value. This is only possible though if one gets away from thinking like librarians and stops trying to neatly categorise every single one of a council’s services and information nodes based on universally understood terms.

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Intranet vs. Social Media

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I thought Euen Semple’s blog today comparing the ineffectiveness of most Intranet (enterprise) search engines with social media as a means of getting to relevant information and knowledge was spot on. Not much I can add, so suggest you read the source. All at bit close to the heart, since I’m currently doing some work with a large gov agency who are implementing a new Intranet search engine, and also a local gov agency who are developing social media tools. I think part of the answer to this conundrum is to start integrating things like discussion forums into the enterprise’s Intranet search index – the best of both worlds maybe?

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Personalised and Community Search

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I’m not sure if anyone else has tried out the beta ‘Coop’ facility recently announced by Google.

Dave Briggs has used this to set up a federated/personalised search engine – LGSEARCH – for searching across all local government web sites.

I think this is an excellent demonstration of how the technolgy can be used to obtain more relevant results by restricting search to trusted or authoratitive sites. Something I’d already included in the next set of requirements for the IDeA’s Communities of Practice site but without knowing what the solution was. I think this could be it! My thanks to Dave for demonstrating what is possible.

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