Filtering Twitter like Email

Recent discussions on the AoIR list, kicked off by Bernie Hogan — on mundane use of Twitter have gotten me thinking about other kinds of Twitter use I don’t like, and what to do about them.


My Summer at Microsoft Research

I’ve been remiss in not posting this earlier, but I am spending this summer at Microsoft Research New England — affectionately and appropriately dubbed “NERD” (New England R&D) — working with my good friend danah boyd. I am equally pleased to be working with (and sharing an office with!) Alice Marwick and Sarita Yardi. You may remember Sarita from such papers as Blogging at Work and the Corporate Attention Economy. We worked together last summer and it’s nice to get to do so again.

It’s really nice to be back in Cambridge. Angie and I have a fancy MS-subsidized apartment (they take really nice care of their interns!) from which it takes me a full 4 minutes and 30 seconds to walk to work, about 2 minutes to the Kendall Square T station, and maybe 10 minutes to the mall. I’ve already bumped into one old friend on the street, and expect more.

Like my old lab at HP, Microsoft New England boasts of physicists, theoretical computer scientists, game theorists, and what-have-you. There are frequent lab-wide lunches and people are actively multidisciplinary. So it’s a pleasantly familiar experience. But the view from the MS lab is just fantastic (h/t @yardi for the pic).

Alice, Sarita and I are all studying Twitter, but from different and interesting approaches — more on our results as we produce them. From informal conversations with friends who are interning elsewhere, it seems like everyone is studying Twitter in some capacity this summer. The contrarian in me wants to run in the other direction, but there’s a lot I want to know about how Twitter works, and I think it can be a useful case study to do some interesting social science, so I’ll ignore my knee-jerk response and stay with it. My prediction is that CHI’10 will be loused with Twitter papers, many will get in but many will not, and by CHI ’11 or ’12, everyone will be jaded and tired of Twitter papers. And so it goes.

The Broken Idea of Paying for Wireless (and other hotel things)

The hotel I’m staying in for this conference is nice, but making me pay for internet access is like making me pay to use the blinds or the sink. Charging for internet access would make Thenardier proud.

You can tell the hotel — and, of course, many others like it — are struggling against an outmoded but profitable idea, that internet access is a luxury, rather than a requirement. There is wifi — but only in the lobby. There is wired net access in the rooms — but at $11.95 a day and with a 2-ft ethernet cable, so my laptop can’t leave my desk if I do decide to purchase it.

This is completely broken.

The best explanation I’ve read is that net access is complimentary in cheap hotels as a perk, but it’s fee-based in expensive hotels, because people in expensive hotels are business travelers who will expense it, and so the buyers have minimal price sensitivity. And building the cost into the room fee is a nonstarter because advertised price of a service must be low, even if add-on fees make the “real” fee higher.

I think the solution is not in “free” internet access. It can’t be, since we’ve already established that many of the people making the purchase aren’t absorbing the cost, so competing on price won’t work. What will work, is competing on “easy”.

When I open my laptop, I want to be on the local network right away. No click-throughs, no scratch-off-and-enter-a-code, both of which invariably break every time I turn my laptop on. I want to be able to see local network resources, including any printers in the business center. The print jobs would have to queue in something like CloudPrint. I’d like the hotel website that the proxy invariably redirects me to, to be something useful. The ubiquitous useful folder of hotel services should be that webpage — you already know I’m in your hotel, so show me that instead of the Reservations page.

If I’m here for a conference, I probably know other people in the hotel. Have they checked in yet? Are they free for dinner? Can we share cabs to the airport? The hotel creates temporary, geographically-bounded real communities for groups of conference travellers. Design something special, and I’ll stay in your hotel, and you won’t have to charge me twelve bucks to check my email.


Eric Gilbert posts about his love of Vim. I don’t have much to add, besides “me too”.

Studying Society in a Digital World

For the next three days, I’ll be attending Studying Society in a Digital World, a conference put on by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy. I’m really happy to be going, because the lineup of speakers is one luminary after another and, for some reason, me.

I’m going to be talking on my work on temporal rhythms in Facebook, but putting it in the context of how I think the major contribution of data from the social internet will be its value in longitudinal studies that could never have been done before.

I will either blog about it, or perhaps livetweet it, because it’s sure to be a really thought-provoking few days.

Super Mario Lego Mosaics

Since I have an attic now, a recent visit to my parents was also an occasion to get my junk out of their house and into mine. Some of that junk was my large box of Legos, acquired from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s (ok, and one set my wife got me as a present not that many years ago).

I don’t have time to rebuild things like the Caribbean Clipper (6274), King’s Mountain Fortress (6081) or Forestmen’s Crossing (6071) — though I still have all the pieces and instructions — and I always preferred the bricks to the minifigs and other specialty pieces.

Enter Super Mario Bros. I never had an NES, so I never got particularly good at it, but now it’s on Wii Virtual Console, and I’m about as good as I ever have been. Last year I made a few papercraft characters from SMB, but the next step was of course to enshrine them in Lego. Thus, my Saturday:

They’re easy to make, pixel-for-pixel. There are loads of SMB screenshots on the web. Just grab one, open it in Photoshop, crop to just the sprite (character image) you want, and zoom in. Now you can see each pixel. The goomba and mushroom fit in a 16x16px square. The Mario and koopa troopa are just as wide, but are taller. For reference, a 1×1 lego brick is 8mm square, but 9.6mm tall.

Now that I’ve done them in paper and in Lego, I eventually want to do a 20-foot mural of the whole of Level 1-1.

Automating Taxes

It’s tax day!

This year was particularly complicated for me (due to moving, leaving my job, etc), and so over the past few days I’ve spent hours trying to wrangle Turbotax into submission. Along with over a hundred and thirty million other people, I paid my membership fees for civilization, but only after a collective billion or so hours was spent on needless paperwork.

Why needless? Because the IRS already has the information they need. Most of us are in essence sending them duplicate information, except scattered with random errors. All of the information that goes onto a tax return, pretty much, comes to us from sources that send the exact same information onto the IRS. Your employers send your W2s to the IRS. Banks send in your interest earnings, profit and loss from investments, mortgage interest, IRA distributions, whatever. We just parrot it back to them, except we occasionally transpose digits, make arithmetic mistakes, forget occasional 1099-INTs, etc.

Imagine receiving forms in which all you need to do is look at the information aggregated on your behalf and either accept or reject the result that is computed for you. Sweden already does things this way. You need to do more paperwork only if you itemize your deductions, which only about a third of people do.

The people this would help the most are those likely need it the most. A low-wage worker who didn’t earn enough to be required to file a return might have a refund waiting for them, but is likely to be among the people for whom filing the paperwork is most challenging.

All of us would be better off, and not just because we save a little of our own time. Making it easier to pay taxes means higher levels of tax compliance. If you pay your taxes, then you should want your neighbors to do so too.