User generated content vs The Experts

Came across this article in Newsweek, entitled Revenge of the Experts, that suggest that the era of user generated content is going to change in favour of a more traditional approach based around fact checking and rigorous standards. This notion isn’t new and it’s been argued for, quite vociferously, by the likes of Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur, which I’ve talked about before. According to the article:

the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. "People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,"

Whist I understand the need for authoritative information, we have seen that the wisdom of the crowds does work – the most notable example of which is Wikipedia, which has over 75,000 people from around the world collaborating together to generate over 9 million articles in 250 different languages. A feat that I believe could not have been accomplished through any traditional publishing model.

It’s interesting that in the article we are told that two of the contributory factors leading to creating a "perfect storm of demand for expert information" are choice fatigue and fear of bad advice. I’m not actually convinced by either. I think the real reason for this resurgent push towards this "Revenge of the Experts" is largely based on economics, and a type of intellectual elitism that requires the masses to believe that they can only trust the opinions of experts. I really struggle with this – it offends my sense of right. . I don’t doubt that there are many subject matter experts writing articles in Wikipedia, they might identify themselves or they might hide behind assumed pseudonyms and the anonymity of the web, and I’m sure many of the contributors are hobbyists or individuals particularly passionate about a subject: I wouldn’t wish to discount their insight simply because they aren’t rubber stamped by an Institute somewhere. If the community is engaged and self regulating then it definitely does work.

It strikes me as a form of intellectual elitism; the expert is always right? – and yet research carried out seems to suggest that Wikipedia is almost as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Which seems to suggest that this model can work?

"The wisdom of the crowds has peaked … Web 3.0 is taking what we’ve built in Web 2.0—the wisdom of the crowds—and putting an editorial layer on it of truly talented, compensated people to make the product more trusted and refined."

I think economics does have a lot to do with it. Google has incentivised Knol, it’s Wikipedia-like alternative, by sharing ad revenue with the "authoritative" sources that are generating the content of the service. But frankly I don’t believe that this or other similar initiatives really spell the death knell for the kind of community generated content that has gained traction …

…while the tide of investment seems to be shifting somewhat, the nature of the Internet suggests that Web 2.0 populism will never be thrown out entirely.

I guess time will tell.

Swarm Creativity – feels like a kind of magic …

Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage Through Collaborative Innovation Networks by Peter Gloor is an excellent book. It introduces the concept of Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) – a methodology that aims to enhance quality and competitive edge. Anyone who has read The Wisdom of the Crowds or Emergent Intelligence will be familiar with some of the themes in this book, in fact it certainly does continue that tradition. According to Gloor a collaborative innovation network is a "cyberteam of self-motivated people with a collective vision, enabled by technology to collaborate in achieving an innovation by sharing ideas, information and work" – thus by extension Swarm Creativity is what results when such a group works together and exchanges ideas.

The idea of COINs are not new, in fact much of the book is devoted to providing historical examples such as Marco Polo, the Rothschilds and even the Fugger Banking empire of the German  Renaissance period. There are also much more modern examples including SHARE ( Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education ), Diamler Chrysler, , SalesForce, Intel, IBM, Deloitte, even the United Nations.

The book opens with what  I believe to be a seminal quote from Thomas W Malone  "The Future of Work", 2004:

"As managers, we need to shift our thinking from command and control to coordinate and cultivate – the best way to gain power is sometimes to give it away."

I can personally relate to this because the culture we are striving for at Talis seems to be underpinned with this kind of thinking. I don’t doubt that it feels radical to some since it does represent a departure from the bureaucratic hierarchical models of management that seem to permeate through many organisations. This new approach has many advantages though and until you experience them first hand they might seem impenetrable … in fact whilst reading the book I gained my own first hand experience of how beneficial COINs can be …

Just over five weeks ago Talis sent me, Rob, Chris, Alan and Ross away to a separate office to develop a prototype application. We were given a very short brief, in fact we had to actually define the requirements for the system ourselves. What ensued was a a couple of weeks of brainstorming, idea gathering, and then a week of wireframing and the a week of implementation, at the end of which we had a working prototype.

What wasn’t immediately apparent at the time was that this was a small COIN. The company had gathered together a small group of highly motivated individuals, presented them with a problem and asked them to come up with an innovative solution. Now during that four week period the team didn’t always agree with each other in fact we did disagree and at the beginning we probably had somewhat divergent views about what the product should be. We certainly challenged each others ideas and understanding and in doing so we slowly,  over the course of the first two weeks,  converged on a shared understanding and we then were able to very rapidly put the whole thing together. There was no hierarchy in the team, there were no prescribed roles or responsibilities, the team was very much self organising with each member of the team doing whatever needed doing without needing direction or being told to necessarily do something. Everyone, collectively, knew where we wanted to get and did whatever was required to get there. This is echoed in the book where Gloor points out similarities between creative swarms and phenomena found in nature:

"Swarm creativity is like a beehive or ant colony. It may look chaotic from the outside, but everyone has a job, knows what to do, and does it."

For me personally it was an incredible experience, both extremely challenging and also extremely rewarding. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you have a single problem to focus on without any other distractions. But as Alan observed what a collaborative effort like this does is enable even the smallest of organisations to compete with much larger organisations when it comes to innovation.

I thoroughly recommend the book!

Archery: Hanson Bowmen

Had a wonderful day on Sunday. Me and Richard, along with the other members of Kings Norton Archers attended the shoot at Hanson Bowmen near Derby. It was a fantastic day. For me and Rich it was a pretty early start he picked me up from my place at about 06:30 am and took me over to his new place at Benson School. We made breakfast for everyone else and made sandwiches and got everything together we would need for the day … before setting off at around 08:30

When we arrived there we got kitted up and registered for the shoot. We then split into two groups Richard, John, Alex and Phil were in one group and Me, Simon and Ciff were in another group. This meant that we didn’t actually see the other group till the end of the day ( or for five minutes when we broke for lunch and caught up at the tea tent). Cliff, Simon and me were joined in our group by Bob Tate from Wolverines Archers – a wonderful wonderful man who was joy to shoot with, not only was Bob a very good archer but also a great person and in many ways a wonderful ambassador for this sport.

Our group finished the shoot around about 4:30 so we were out there for a just under six hours, and I have to confess it didn’t feel like six hours , but by the end of the day everyone felt physically tired, it’s hard work walking through a muddy wood all day long. For the most part it was dry but there were some short spells of rain – but this didn’t dull our enthusiasm and certainly didn’t stop us enjoying the day.

I was also very proud of the fact that I scored just under 400 points, Cliff was our leading scorer but Bob came third overall for the day which he thoroughly deserved.

Here’s a few pics from the day but As always you can view the pictures from the shoot here.

Kings Norton Traditional Archers, from left to right: Phil, John, Alex, Richard,Simon, me, Cliff

Me shooting in the rain …

Bob Tate from Wolverine Archers, a true gentleman and wonderful archer!

For a moment I want to set politics and religion aside.

Richard, asked me to help out with a project he is involved in, really to support another mutual friend of ours Inspector Robert Williams. Rob is stationed at Birmingham Airport and he and some of his colleagues decided to raise money in order to build a restful garden area at at the Royal Centre for Medical Defence in Selly Oak Hospital for soldiers who are in injured whilst serving their country.

The plan is that on the 15th March 2008 a members from the various branches of the armed forces will endeavor to pull a plane across the apron of Elmdon terminal at Birmingham International Airport. After this members of the Armed Forces, Airport Fire Service and Ambulance Service along with people wishing to support the cause will recreate the journey from the airport to RCDM at Selly Oak by carrying a stretcher and a patient – a journey of roughly 14 miles.

To learn more about the event, and how to donate towards it should you wish to please visit

The falling of the leaves


        by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

    AUTUMN is over the long leaves that love us,
    And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
    Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
    And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.
    The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
    And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
    Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
    With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

A friend of mine asked me about Pakistani poetry, or specifically whether I’d read anything by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Well I have, and to be honest I’d always struggled with some of his writings – which were often political and deliberately antagonistic towards the ruling elite – he did this by challenging colonial as well as feudal values and as a result he was sent to prison repeatedly by both colonial and post colonial authorities. As a marxist his works reflect a strong sense of both commitment to and empathy for the lower classes. But I don’t want to dwell on the political aspects of his works largely because I don’t actually agree with some of them – I’ll save that for another day :).

What I do want to talk about are the various poems he wrote that dealt with love, loneliness and death. The more passionate followers of his work will often say that Faiz is considered primarily responsible for shaping poetic diction in contemporary Urdu poetry. I suspect they are probably right, whilst I can speak Urdu fluently, I can’t actually read it, so my exposure to Faiz’s works has always been through english translations. I do often wonder whether I do him a dis-service by judging, sometimes quite harshly, what I have read based on a translation, which may or may not genuinely convey what he intended.

Nevertheless, he was a very talented poet, here’s a few of my favourites:

              Some Lover To Some Beloved!
Down the memory lanes, on which
you've strolled since ages past
They will end if you walk farther a step or two
Where exits the turn towards the wilderness of forgetfulness
beyond which, there isn't any Me, nor any You
My eyes hold their breath, for any moment you
may turn back, move ahead, or at least turn to look back

Although my sight knows that the wish is just a farce
For if ever it were to run across your eyes again
right there will spring forth another pathway
Like always, where ever we run into, there will begin
another journey of your lock's shadow, your embrace's tremor

The other wish is also in error, for my heart knows
There is no turn here, no wilderness, no mountain-range
beyond whose horizon, my perpetual sun-of-your-Love can set
May you continue walking these pathways, its better this way
If you don't even turn to look back, it is okay


and …

                   Do not ask, my love.....
Do not ask, my love, for the love we had before:
You existed, I told myself, so all existence shone,
Grief for me was you; the world’s grief was far.
Spring was ever renewed in your face:
Beyond your eyes, what could the world hold?
Had I won you, Fate’s head would hang, defeated.
Yet all this was not so, I merely wished it so.
The world knows sorrows other than those of love,
Pleasures beyond those of romance:
The dread dark spell of countless centuries
Woven with silk and satin and gold braocade,
Bodies sold everywhere, in streets and markets,
Besmeared with dirt, bathed in blood,
Crawling from infested ovens,
My gaze returns to these: what can I do?
Your beauty still haunts me: what can I do?
The world is burdened by sorrows beyond love,
By pleasures beyond romance,
Do not demand that love which can be no more.


… and finally …

I am being accused of loving you, that is all
It is not an insult, but a praise, that is all

My heart is pleased at the words of the accusers
O my dearest dear, they say your name, that is all

For what I am ridiculed, it is not a crime
My heart's useless playtime, a failed love, that is all

I haven't lost hope, but just a fight, that is all
The night of suffering lengthens, but just a night, that is all

In the hand of time is not the rolling of my fate
In the hand of time roll just the days, that is all

A day will come for sure when I will see the truth
My beautiful beloved is behind a veil, that is all

The night is young, Faiz start saying a Ghazal
A storm of emotions is raging inside, that is all.


CBSO Youth Orchestra – another resounding success

I had an enchanting evening yesterday watching Alex perform with the CBSO Youth Orchestra … Richard’s been planning the evening for a while hoping that it would cheer me up or take my mind off things – I haven’t really been out since dad passed away so I wasn’t sure whether I’d really be able to enjoy it or whether I’d end up feeling quite distant and removed from it all. Fortunately it really was an amazing evening, I think it did me good to get out.

Alex was obviously playing so Richard, (the delightful) Moona and myself were watching intently and taking more than just a few (embarrassing?) pictures of our little prima-donna 😉 The orchestra played three pieces:

  • Britten Four Sea Interludes (from Peter Grimes)

  • Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1

  • Bartok Concerto for Orchestra

I really enjoyed the cello Concerto which was led by Guy Johnston who was, in a word, amazing!. At the interval Alex popped out for drinks with the rest of us and mentioned that Guy wasn’t just a great musician, but by all accounts he seems to be a wonderful, and very humble individual who earned the respect of the youth orchestra by actually thanking them for their efforts and for giving him the opportunity to play with them – which very few soloists ever bother to do.

Anyway here’s a few snaps from the evening:

The CBSO Youth Orchestra will be performing again over the coming year, I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who enjoys listening to classical music performed by a very talented group of musicians.

I’ve gone Mac

It’s been a busy month for a number of different reasons – mostly I’m still trying to come to terms with the death of my father – I’m not entirely sure if burying myself in work is the best way of dealing with it but so far it seems to be working, everyone @ Talis has been really supportive and the current R&D project I’m working on with a small team has helped me to totally immerse myself in a single problem and that’s made it easier to deal with things … plus what were working on is very innovative and so it feels really rewarding at the moment.

Anyway, as the heading of this post suggests I’ve gone Mac! and I love it!! When I returned to work this year I had a shiny new 17″ Mac Book Pro waiting for me. I have never used a Mac before I’ve always been firmly entrenched in the PC world, and for most of my development needs I would often run flavours of Linux inside of VM’s. The problem with this though is Windows has a host sucks and there’s only so many VM crashes I can put up with. Many of my colleagues chose to go down the route of wiping Windows off their laptops and installing Ubuntu. I seriously considered doing this but was convinced, primarily, by Rob and Chris and pairing with them or watching them do development work on their Mac Book Pro’s that Mac’s are a great alternative.

I spend a lot of time inside a terminal window and with Mac you have a fully featured bash shell which makes a huge difference in terms of productivity, on Window’s to get anywhere close I had to run CYGWin, or work in a Linux VM, … anyone who thinks that the Windows Command Shell is comparable needs to seriously seek help!

I spent a fair bit of time getting development tools installed and getting used to how different Mac OS X is to Windows or anything else I have used. So far Leopard has been a pleasure to use there’s been the odd quirk now and again, but nothing worth mentioning. Rob published a wonderful list of tool’s he installed on his Mac, which I basically used as a check list to get up and running. To his list I’d like to add the following:

CCMenu 1.0
Displays the project status of CruiseControl continuous integration servers as an item in the Mac OS X menu bar.

Lab Tick
Have you ever been annoyed by the fact that you could not turn on your PowerBook or MacBook Pro’s keyboard illumination in daylight? If so, here’s your solution. Lab Tick gives you total control over the backlit keyboard.

iComic Life
Only really started using this recently, but it’s a wonderful tool for quickly storyboarding scenario’s as Comic Strips. If you do choose to you this you might also want to download this set of stock images produced b Sun’s User Experience Team.

BatchResize’em all 1.1
A great little tool for quickly resizing a batch of images.

Dock DR
Wonderful little utility for customising your dock on Leopard.

There’s lots more which I’ll post up from time to time. If there’s one thing I do miss though, its Windows LiveWriter, which for offline blog editing was a wonderful tool and sadly isn’t available on the Mac. Instead I’m using Ecto which is good but nowhere near as simple to use or nice as LiveWriter was. Sad isn’t it? That’s honestly the only thing I miss … after spending the last few weeks developing on my Mac I don’t think I will ever go back to a Windows based machine.