dimanche 13 avril 2014

A consultation with a social librarian

    I came upon GoodReads again this morning, and decided to sign up and give it a goI've been yearning for some medium-light stuff in English to complement my worthy trawl through the French classics, currently La Peste.
    GoodReads is like Facebook for book lovers: 25 million users have shared their literary preferences, and, using the power of the social graph, once you do that too, those magical inklings about what you "didn't know you didn't know" become yours for the taking.
    This technique worked dramatically for me. Told I needed to rate 20 books to start receiving recommendations from the site, I set off, but was being presented with digital screeds of books I'd never heard of, and didn't even care that I hadn't. After scrolling through many pages of this, I finally lighted upon Richard Feynmann's Surely you're joking Mr Feymann?, gave it a five star rating (heartfelt: I even bought it for a nephew last Christmas), and from that moment on, my universe at the site changed completely, and I started to be presented with much more plausible choices of stuff that I might actually want to read. I was reminded that I have yet to tackle much of Dostoyevsky and Kafka for example.
    There was a slight dip when I came to rating my preferences in sport, where, as a simple matter of attentional survival (84kb PDF), I limit my reading strictly to cycling. Amidst a morass of recommendations treating on American-rules "football" (this though the ball is hardly ever kicked), baseball, and basketball, cycling was nowhere to be seen. This time I had to resort the the site's search tool: a search and a click on Tim Krabbé's The Rider sufficed to transform the site once more into friendly territory.
    It's a pretty awesome site, it has to be said. So now the problem is the more familiar "so many books, so little time." But my impression is that the site offers a powerful attentional tool, enabling ready surmise of populist preference, whilst easily forcing it to turn to the interest at hand (say, by specifying philosophical works). For an autodidact this is invaluable. For example, you'd seen references to the 19th century philosopher Schopenhauer, but didn't know where to begin; the GoodReads recommendation looks like a pretty palatable place to start. And unlike at Amazon, the GoodReads reader reviews generally seem non-trivial and sane.

mercredi 2 avril 2014

Was this URL censored on Twitter?

Update 2/12/16: The problem was likely the hashtags rather than enemy action. Until this morning, I naively imagined that 1 hashtag = 1 character. But according to social media pros SocialOomph, hashtags get converted into t.co links of up to 23 characters whatever their original length. Paranoia diminished.

The post's still worth a read though. If I was writing a post with >2 embedded tweets today, Storify's ease of use would be a tempting alternative to this 'ere Blogger.

Try as I might (and I need my beauty sleep) I could not manage to post a tweet with this URL in it tonight: http://www.ouest-france.fr/louis-le-duff-sinterroge-sur-son-siege-social-rennes-2079853

The story there describes how a Mr Duff, head of his large eponymously-named company, only agreed to move his head office to Rennes from current locations in London and Paris, because he knew there was going to be a new airport at Notre-Dames-Des-Landes. Three hundred jobs are reportedly at stake.

The idiocy of this position can hardly be described. Why does he need a new airport 90km away, when he's already got one 10km away on the outskirts of Rennes? I crafted a tweet to point out this basic absurdity at 2330h on 2 April 2014:

 M. Duff retirerait 300 emplois si #NDDL n'aurait pas lieu: http://www.ouest-france.fr/louis-le-duff-sinterroge-sur-son-siege-social-rennes-2079853 Mais il déjà existe un aéroport à Rennes! #bizarre

[Mr Duff will pull 300 jobs if #NDDL isn't built: http://www.ouest-france.fr/louis-le-duff-sinterroge-sur-son-siege-social-rennes-2079853 But Rennes already has an airport! #bizarre]

 and thought I was about to head for bed, when it failed with the following error:

'Your Tweet was over 140 characters. You'll have to be more clever.'

Well, actually, it wasn't. It was 110 characters, plus a valid URL, which would normally be shortened by Twitter's URL-shortening service to 20 characters. This gives a total of 130 characters, well within the 140 character limit.

But try as I might, that Tweet wouldn't post. I redrafted it. It was very like Twitter was overwhelmed, as happens sometimes, so I thought I'd complain
and get off to bed. But then that tweet posted so easily and quickly (i.e. not at all like a general server fail that you sometimes see at busy times with Twitter) that my curiosity was piqued.

So I thought I'd post another tweet, avoiding the hashtag #NDDL and the URL to the Ouest-France story, and see how I got on:
That posted very nice and smoothly. Hmm! This was looking, on the face of it, like a keyword censorship problem at Twitter. I used the is.gd and bit.ly URL shortening services. Those yielded 'internal server error(s).' It seemed to me that the powers-that-be had created some crummy propaganda (which really is of insultingly low quality) and didn't want sarky tweets flying around deconstructing it before it's had a chance to fool a few time-pressed loyalists.

So I alternated attempts to post the most refined version of the tweet (as follows):

M. Duff retirerait 300 emplois si #NDDL n'aurait pas lieu. http://www.ouest-france.fr/louis-le-duff-sinterroge-sur-son-siege-social-rennes-2079853 Et l'aéroport actuel de Rennes ne sert à rien?

with a few tweets on other subjects, as one might, while on general internet patrol.

The madness that is the public discourse over American healthcare never ceases to exercise a horrible fascination in me, for example:
Hmm. No problem posting that one either.

So what are they filtering on? Surely the #NDDL hashtag can't be entirely blocked, because that would be too obvious, and people would complain:

So #NDDL is alright. Must be that link. But I still have not succeeded in posting it in any way to Twitter from my location here in France. I complain

And start researching Twitter censorship. It seems that France is indeed the leader in this. On the spurious grounds of preventing the sale of Nazi memorabilia, the French government have demanded that internet players be able to filter content by national boundaries.

I, however, am not even trying to sell a Hugo Boss suit: I am legitimately participating in a public debate about whether to build a new local airport using my taxes! Leaving aside the environmental question for a moment, the proposed subsidy is €266 million euros (which is about €450 for every man, woman and child in Nantes)—for what? A useless white elephant further away from Nantes, with no public transport, when we're already proud owners of a prizewinning airport.

I regard this as prima facie evidence that tweets around a certain URL were blocked between 2330h and 0300h, when I stopped trying to tweet, and began to pull this post together. I really cannot believe that they are defending this completely idiotic story, which they obviously plan to circulate as a major triumph in their new airport = jobs argument. Such a completely bogus argument. Mr Duff! Indeed!

Doubtless the filter will be switched off tomorrow and everyone can deny this ever happened.

In the meantime, I have engaged here:
But really! This is supposed to be the EU, not some banana republic.