Storytelling and Social Networks: Why Twitter Beats Google Plus

twitter_v_gplus.jpgStarting next week, SpongeBob SquarePants will come to Twitter with a story specially made for the micro-blogging platform. Here's the pitch from Nickelodeon: "The Ice Race Cometh: A Twitter-Tale, was conceived and developed for Twitter by the SpongeBob SquarePants writing team and will run from Tuesday, July 12, to Friday, July 15. The story will be told via multiple tweets and images throughout each day to set scenes and advance the action involving SpongeBob and his friends as they prepare for The Bikini Bottom Great Sleigh Race." Tune in, or retweet, or something.

OK, I realize that ReadWriteWeb is not your go-to site for SpongeBob SquarePants news. And normally, the notion of SpongeBob - on Twitter or elsewhere - is probably the sort of pitch that most tech bloggers would roll their eyes at and ignore or delete.

But with the flurry of interest over the last week-and-a-half over Google Plus and questions about its potential implications for Twitter and Facebook alike, I've been curious to see how some of the storytelling efforts we've seen on Twitter may or may not transfer to Google's new social network.

What sorts of storytelling forms will we see on Google Plus? Will they build on some of the wonderfully creative endeavors on Twitter? Will authors have a stronger voice on Twitter or on Google Plus? Will they be able to better engage with readers in one network or the other?


Collaborative Storytelling on Twitter

ulysses_ss.jpgSpongeBob is quite a latecomer to Twitter in that regard, and an awfully commercial one at that. As more companies and brands start to broadcast their stories on Twitter, it may be that the noise becomes overbearing and the format dull. But in the meantime, we've seen a number of innovative uses of Twitter for storytelling. The works of James Joyce and Shakespeare have been retold in short snippets, for example, and artists like Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton have utilized Twitter for collaborative storytelling projects, engaging other users in helping create new stories, 140 characters at a time.

Twitter is well-suited for that. Thanks to the public nature of the service and of course to the hashtag, anyone can easily add a line to a story - an online version of the Surrealists' exquisite corpse game, where users can contribute one line, without any clear sense of where others plan to take the narrative. Crowdsourcing creativity, if you will.

The Rise of Storytelling on G+

This morning, Louis Gray tagged me in a post on Google Plus for a new tradition in-the-making - a Saturday Story Circle. The idea behind the #StoryCircle (he used the hashtag to mark the post) is to share a short story and then tag other people so they too can post on the topic.

In some ways, this feels rather akin to the memes from the early days of blogging or from Facebook status updates: everybody post on this pre-ordained topic, change your profile picture, and so on. The use of the hashtag to mark the nascent tradition draws from Twitter, true, but the rest seems rather conventional. This raises several questions: how will we track stories and memes on Google Plus - the hashtag? And (how) will we develop new conventions for storytelling on the site?

spongebob150.jpgThe notion of storytelling on Plus is intriguing as the new social network has introduced a new form for chronology and for networking. Unlike Twitter, for example, the posts on Plus aren't simply a stream. Comments bump old posts back to the top of your feed. And there are more granular controls with sharing, so the stories we tell needn't be de facto public.

That emphasis on privacy and control is something that Google highlights, and sure, there are definitely stories we'd be better off not sharing with everyone on the Internet. But the open and public nature of Twitter - along with the short, rapid-fire updates, has given rise to some interesting new ways of creating stories.

Something Old, Something New

As it stands, the stories shared on Google Plus feel an awfully lot like blogging. As in, here's my story: feel free to comment. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But it's not really a new thing. I'll include the standard "It's still early" caveat here, of course, because I don't mean to say that after 10 days we've seen the creative culmination of G+. No doubt new forms of collaboration will appear. Humans are clever that way.

But it's too easy (and too elitist) to mark the arrival of SpongeBob to Twitter as "the end days" for creative expression there. Indeed, it's still early with our experimenting with the shorter, collaborative format. Echoing all those who say they're not giving up on Twitter, I'd say that even with my enthusiasm for Google Plus, I'm still keen to see more stories crafted on Twitter - pineapples under the sea notwithstanding.


iPad for Business Round-Up: Oracle Virtual Desktop Client for iPad and More

The iPad isn't just a hot new consumer device, it's also an increasingly popular tool for business. Each week we take a look at the new or updated business apps for the iPad, and highlight trends in how tablets are being used in the enterprise.

It was a short business week in the U.S. and there were few new application releases this week. But there was one that caught or eye: Oracle Virtual Desktop for iPad. We also found some interesting articles on use cases for iPads in the workplace.


Oracle Virtual Desktop Client for iPad

Oracle VDI client for the iPad

This week Oracle released an iPad client for its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment. It joins Citrix and VMware in offering tablet support for VDI.

We've made the case before that VDI will continue to play a role in the enterprise, even in the post-PC era because it will enable users to maintain a consistent desktop across multiple devices. However, another approach is possible: making important files accessible from the cloud, and syncing application states across devices (which is what WebOS aims to do). It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

iPads for Field Technicians

TechWorld ran an article today about a lifecycle management application from Siemens. The app has been around for a couple months, but that isn't the interesting part. What's interesting is how the use case for tablets:

The advantage to carrying the lightweight iPad, which is connected to the Teamcenter data wirelessly, is that technicians can stay in place on the large machines being serviced, rather than having to climb down a ladder and find a workstation to call up the information, Taylor said.

"iPad support is now an enterprise requirement," writes RedMonk co-founder and analyst James Governor in a post about both the Oracle app and the TechWorld article. "From an architecture standpoint it makes little sense for enterprises to develop their own iPad apps - but when it comes to consuming them they're demanding native from vendors."

iPads for Point of Sale

Also, Information Week looks at another common use case for the iPad: point of sale systems for retailers:

Microsoft currently holds about 87% of the market for so-called Point of Sale, or Point of Service, operating software. But retailers' desire to arm employees with mobile gadgets through which they can provide and receive customer information while, say, on a showroom floor, has them eyeing tablets.

All the reason for Microsoft to get Windows 8 out the gate as soon as possible.

5 Free Collaborative Whiteboard Apps For the iPad

This week we took a look at free collaborative whiteboard apps, such as ZigZag Board (pictured above) and SyncSpace. Check them out and let us know which one you like best.


ReadWriteWeb Events Guide, July 9, 2011

We're always on the lookout for upcoming Web tech events from around world. Know of something taking place that should appear here? Want to get your event included in the calendar? Let us know in the comments below or email us.



5 Free E-Books on Haskell

Haskell logo There's been a lot of love lately for Clojure (which Heroku now supports), Scala (used at Twitter among other places) and Erlang (used by Facebook among other places). But if you're interested in functional programming, don't forget about Haskell.


Try Haskell

Before checking out the books below, you can check out Try Haskell an interactive, browser based tutorial. This will give you an overview of the language and help you decide if Haskell is right for you.

Learn You a Haskell for Great Good

Learn You a Haskell

Learn You a Haskell for Great Good is available as a print book or for free online. It's meant to introduce both Haskell and functional programming, but a background in programming is assumed.

Real World Haskell

Real World Haskell

Real World Haskell by Bryan O'Sullivan, Don Stewart, and John Goerzen was published by O'Reilly Media and is available online. In contrast to academic texts on Haskell, the book focuses on practical applications of functional programming. It assumes programming experience, but requires no knowledge of functional programming.

Yet Another Haskell Tutorial

Yet Another Haskell Tutorial (PDF) by Hal DaumeĀ“ III is a 182 page tutorial that assumes no programming experience, functional or otherwise. Like the above books, this tutorial assumes no previous knowledge of functional programming. It does suggest some background in programming, though, as it is not a general introduction to programming.

A Gentle Introduction to Haskell

A Gentle Introduction to Haskell by Paul Hudak, John Peterson and Joseph Fasel is a 64 page tutorial for those who already have some experience with functional programming.

Haskell: Functional Programming with Types

Like most Wikibooks, Haskell: Functional Programming with Types is a work in progress. The book is separated into three "tracks": beginner, advanced and "Haskell in Practice."

More Stuff

The tutorials section of the official Haskell site is a great place to look for more tutorials, examples and reference materials. It goes far beyond just tutorials and is one of the best collections of learning materials for a programming language I've seen yet.


Moprise Enables Mobile Sharepoint Sharing

moprise150.jpgWe have written about the rise of mobile apps that can connect you to your corporate documents previously such as Rover and MobilEcho. Starting this week, there is a free app called Coaxion from Moprise which can access your Sharepoint, Dropbox and Office365 file repositories as well as easily perform real-time threaded conversations.


You enter your Sharepoint server URL or Dropbox authentication details, and you can browse your directories and view your documents right on your iPhone. You can also view your contacts and calendars, although Moprise has mimicked the iPhone UI so closely that you might be confused that you are looking at your phone's own contacts and calendar listings.

Getting started with Coaxion is a bit perplexing, as you are initially presented with a conversation dialog box. You have to start a conversation with someone to start sharing something, before you are allowed access to any of your content. Once you start a conversation, you can add photos from your phone, documents from your Sharepoint or Dropbox repositories, and include text messages. All of this content is preserved in a threaded context so you can keep track of things easily. And, when you are done sharing a conversation with someone, all the data is deleted from the phone's memory. That is a nice touch. If you have an AT&T version of the iPhone, you can be talking and sharing information concurrently, which is a great way to work when you are on the go.

Moprise has a separate free app just for browsing your Sharepoint content that has been available for some time. Coaxion isn't the first iOS Sharepoint app: there are at least a dozen, and several free ones on the iTunes AppStore, including iShare and OData. And Coaxion won't be free for long, expect a $10 per month subscription fee when they launch a new version that will be iPad native at the end of the summer.

There is more info on how to use Coaxion on WikiHow here.


5 Free Collaborative Whiteboard Apps For the iPad

whiteboard-ipad-icon.png It seems as though the minute the iPad was announced, innumerable light bulbs went off as developers and entrepreneurs everywhere came to the same realization: "We could totally use this device as a digital whiteboard!" Indeed, a search for the word "whiteboard" in the App Store returns a whopping 170 iPad apps.

Although the device's 10-inch screen may not compare to a full-sized, physical whiteboard, it can be quite handy to use a virtual whiteboard with team members remotely, and the iPad's form factor suits itself quite well to exactly that.


As we mentioned, the App Store is loaded with these kinds of apps, and many of them are quite good. To help narrow things down, we've rounded up five of the best ones, focusing on apps that are either free or have a freemium pay model.


Try it out (iTunes link)


SyncSpace has all the standard drawing and text editing tools of a digital whiteboard product, but with a few extras thrown in. In addition to the ability to share the whiteboard with others in real-time, you can export it as a PDF, post it to Facebook or Twitter and send it to Campfire, which is a nice touch for users of 37signals' popular team collaboration Web app.

The size of the canvas is essentially infinite, as you can pinch to zoom in and out. You can share the whiteboard with others in real time by switching on the "Sync Document" option. You can send an email containing a unique URL from which others can view your SyncSpace document, but for now that link doesn't work in the browser so only fellow iPad owners can collaborate.

ZigZag Board

Try it out (iTunes link)


Upon first launching ZigZag Board, you'll be prompted to set up an account. After that, there's a handy page-by-page tutorial on how to use its drawing tools and how multi-touch gestures work within the app.

The magic of ZigZag Board lies in the ability to initiate meetings from the app, enabling others to join in from their desktop browser. Those participants will see the whiteboard and observe changes in real time.


Try it out (Web app)

LucidChart is a collaborative drawing Web app that we reviewed previously. It has a more robust feature set than many of the native "whiteboard" apps for iPad, as it's intended to create more complex flow charts and wireframes. Think of something like OmniGraffle, but with real-time collaboration features built in.

Best of all, it's an HTML5 Web app so it works on the desktop and the iPad without the need to download a native application.


Try it out (Web app)


Much like LucidChart, Conceptboard is a Web-based tool and thus can be used across platforms easily. It supports several standard document formats, which can be marked up and discussed in real-time. It also enables task management, team meetings and even inclusion of customers when necessary.

Whiteboard Lite

" target="_blank">Try it out (iTunes link)


One of the most popular whiteboard apps in the App Store is called Whiteboard Lite: Collaborative Drawing. It allows you connect with other users via WiFi or Bluetooth. At first glance, it has a busier interface than the other apps mentioned here, but the drawing tools at the bottom of the screen can easily be hidden so you can make the most of the canvas.

These are by no means the only options out there. What other whiteboard apps have you used and would recommend? Let us know in the comments.


Fight Information Overload With Trimit on iPhone

trimitlogo.jpgShort form, long form, there's a time and a place for reading all kinds of articles but wouldn't it be nice if you could have some very long things made very short, automatically, and still get the gist of them? Such is the promise of Trimit, a London-built iPhone app described as "an automatic text summarizer and editor for iOS."

This 99 cent app can take copied text or URLs (like links I've favorited on Twitter, for example) and apply an algorithm that shortens bodies of text thousands of characters long down to one thousand, five hundred or 140 characters automatically. How well does it work? It works well enough for me to appreciate it. Check out the demo video below.


"The algorithm finds the sentences in the passage of text that are most integral to the passage's meanings," says Trimit's Nick D'Aloisio. "We're utilizing keywords that are specific to the text, the appearance of adjectives and modifiers, where sentences are in the passage, use of conjunctions or contradictions, superlatives and dates, proper nouns, facts and figures, place and time adverbials, the syntax of the sentence (e.g if has list format) etc."

Machines Plus Text

We live in a post-scarcity media era where the most precious resources are time and attention.

Just as we wrote that there is more text and multimedia being created today than human labor can transform to meet the demand for video consumption (thus leading to the creation of automated platforms like Qwiki), so too is there more text content available than there is time and attention for readers to keep up with it. Apps like Trimit can help solve that problem.

The explosion of human and machine generated data, information and knowledge becoming available is fast overwhelming the limits of the human brain. Tools that can help us scale our productive and consumptive behaviors, meaningfully and effectively, could well become widely desired technologies in the near-term future.

The end result seems good to me most of the time. I got the gist of Danny Sullivan's long post about the new Google Analytics interface delivered to me in 25% the time it would have taken to read the whole article, thanks to this app. ReadWriteWeb's Klint Finley thought Trimit did a poor job summarizing one of his articles but I thought the summary was just fine. I've been going through my Twitter Favorites, grabbing URLs, popping them into Trimit and loving it.

It's not as good as some people could do at summarizing the text, but it's much better than most people (humans) could do. And most of the people who could do a better job than the algorithm Trimit has built aren't available to me at a moment's notice.

This kind of technology could of course be applied in lots of different places and there are no doubt many different companies building things like this. Making it relatively easy to use on my phone and selling it for 99 cents is very nice, though.

D'Aloisio says the company will release Mac and iPad apps in the next two weeks, a web interface and bookmarklet in a few months.

Imagine something like this being built into Instapaper and fed automatically: please store offline everything I favorite on Twitter, all the most retweeted articles among my friends or on some other site, then create 500 word summaries of the articles and let me choose which ones I want to drill down into the full text of.

That sounds great, but Trimit is pretty cool already just as it is.

Let's test this baby out. Trimit says the above article is 2922 characters long. Cut down to just over 500, Trimit's summary reads as follows. What do you think?

Short form, long form, there's a time and a place for reading all kinds of articles but wouldn't it be nice if you could have some very long things made very short, automatically, and still get the gist of them. And most of the people who could do a better job than the algorithm Trimit has built aren't available to me at a moment's notice. It's not as good as some people could do at summarizing the text, but it's much better than most people (humans) could do. That sounds great, but Trimit is pretty cool already just as it is.

That looks like a succinct but accurate summary of the above review to me.


Foursquare API Hits 10,000 Developers – But What Are They All Building With It?

Today Foursquare announced that its API now has 10,000 registered developers. That's an impressive number, especially since Facebook and Google were supposed to have killed the service off by now. But what exactly are all those developers doing with the API?

Marshall Kirkpatrick, our resident geolocation buff, asked around our virtual water cooler "Where are the magic results? Where is the TweetDeck of Foursquare? Where is the crazy awesome data analysis?"


To be fair, the TweetDeck of Foursquare is probably actually TweetDeck. But I've expressed disappointment before over unfulfilled potential of Foursquare's horde of location data.

Foursquare is highlighting application integrations - most notably Instagram, which uses Foursquare for its location component, and its competitor PicPlz. But there's also an directory of appsbuilt with the API, most of which I've never heard of.

There's Sonar and StreetSpark, which both help you connect with people nearby. There's, an iPhone app that shows you nearby locations from Yelp, Flickr photos taken nearby and more (who needs Color if you've got this app?).

Those of you who have been checking in to places on a daily or near daily basis for over a year might get a kick out of this app, which will show you where you checked in a year ago to the day.

Some of the apps and integrations are baffling - why would I want to check into Foursquare from SoundCloud? But there's obviously a strong developer ecosystem here, and it doesn't to be just being used to offer discounts and promotions (though companies are finding increasingly clever ways to do that too).

Maybe the sort of mind blowing, world changing geodata mashup app that Marshall and I dream of doesn't exist yet (or maybe it does and we just haven't found it), but there are some cool things being done with the API. What's your favorite use so far?


Chromebook Concerns for Businesses

We have covered Google's Chromebook in a series of posts previously, including our story about questions to ask here and some other considerations here. But Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has written an excellent take on ZDnet here about what you need to know before deploying any of the Chromebooks across your enterprise.


For example, you'll need your secret decoder ring to find how to activate its iffy VPN support, forget about hooking up to some of your Wi-Fi WPA2 networks for the time being, and opening a file can be vexing too. But hey, how about those Google Docs? And it boots as quick as a MacBook!

Perhaps some of this is just early days of trying to force a browser to do everything that a real OS should do, or perhaps all of the overhype that preceded the Chromebook in May is just getting a reality test. But until the basic utility software that corporations run on such as VPNs, remote control programs like Citrix Receiver, and wireless security is ironed out, Chrome is colorless for corporations currently.


Kenya Launches Africa’s First National Open Data Initiative

kenya open data 150.jpgYesterday, Kenya became the first African nation to institute a national open data program.

"The Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) goes live this morning," White African wrote yesterday, "in a big event that includes President Kibaki, as well as many politicians, government officials and local technologists."



The Data

The data is being made available via the Socrata platform. Socrata calls the Kenyan initiative, "one of the most comprehensive open data projects anywhere in the world" and writes that its goal is "to create enabling infrastructure that can accelerate human and economic development throughout communities in Kenya."

Data has been pulled from national census, the ministry of education, ministry of health, CDF projects, the World Bank and other sources, according to White African and Socrata. The data is organized under six types: education, energy, health, water and sanitation, population and poverty.

Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya's ICT, the state corporation in charge of the development and marketing of the information, communications and technology sector in the country, outlined the hopes for the program in greater detail.

"For the first time ever, people in our communities will be empowered to choose the best schools for their children, locate the nearest health facility that meets their needs, and use regional statistics to lobby their constituency representative for better infrastructure and services in their county. The research community, on the other hand, can use this consolidated resource of valuable new data to discover practical insights that can guide economic and human development in Kenya. For example: What effect does access to drinking water have on school attendance in children? What is the correlation between access to healthcare and school grades? Where does it make sense to build the next hospital? School? Irrigation project? All Kenyans can now participate in finding solutions to these crucially important questions."


Data-Inspired Projects

The Ministry of Information and Communications is awarding grants to support the development of native and mobile apps that use the data, through iHub, a Kenyan tech hub and community of 4,250 geeks.

Ushahidi, notorious for not sitting on their hands when there are data to crush, have already created a health-based project. They have taken the census data and overlaid it with healthcare institution data on their Huduma site. "It's still very beta, but it shows what can be done in just a few days."

Other projects include the Msema Kweli mobile app, "that allows you to find CDF projects near you, and for you to add pictures of them" and an app by Virtual Kenya "that shows which MPs refuse to pay taxes."

Almost 30% of Kenyans have Internet access and just over 63% have mobile access.

Nairobi photo by Brian Snelson | thanks to Rassina