Monday, December 11, 2006

I Searched For An Idea And It Found Me

Search engines are great tools. Blogs are great tools. But both have their short comings. You see, you can't easily control most search engines so that you limit them to only the types of results you want to get. Take Google for instance: a search for the word, "poet" brings up any number of listings but look at the #4 listing. It's a software company that has absolutely nothing to do with poetry.

And what's wrong with the first and second listings? They're both the same website. And coming in at #3 is dear old Wikipedia. Look, I like Wikipedia, I use it daily but it's predicted that at Wikipedia's current rate of growth Wikipedia may well become the #1 result for every single query in all of the major databases sometime in the next two years. The first actual listing of a real live poet comes in at #20, the second at #42. That would be Billy Jones of (Yes, that is your's truly.) So why is it the #1 and #2 poets on the Internet today are placed #20 and #42 in a Google search for the word, "poet?"

Note: Search engine results change often, a few months ago I was #1, last month I was #5 and next month I might not even be on the radar.

Now, let's move on to blogs, shall we. Blogs are great, I love 'em, they help build communities, and they're fun, but most blogs are all about one person, that being the author of that blog. No matter what the purpose or the context, most blogs are still about an individual. Not that there's anything wrong with that but I'm thinking there has to be more.

So I came up with two blogs that combine search and blogging limited to certain topics, the first being and the second being Blogsboro411. Unlike search engines, I can control what websites are listed in either database. is a database of poetry bloggers and Blogsboro411 is a listing of bloggers who live in the 11 county Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. The bloggers submit their blogs along with their bios and anything else they consider to be their passions be it their business, volunteer efforts, personal info or anything in-between.

A similar project limited to 100 entries in each category is Any listing can be added to, the only questions are how will they list you, will your listing remain in their top 100, or will you be deleted from their database?

Oh sure, human edited search is nothing new, the Open Directory Project has been around for years. I use Open Directory to power two search applications, and but you won't find my websites listed in either one. You see, despite the fact that I've 3 books in print (two of them poetry books) have no less than 3 novels online, post poetry online every single day, and edit the world's first and only full-featured poetry aggregator-- the "editors" at Open Directory have never bother to accept my application as a poet. Their editors consider my blogs to be personal websites when the one topic I shy away from is blogging about my personal life. And have you ever tried to get your own listing at Wikipedia? Did I mention I'm the #2 poet on the Internet today?

Look, I'm not mad, I just decided to do something about it and so can you. Is there a subject you specialize in? If so then why not own a piece of it? Odds are we'll not see another Google, Yahoo, or MSN emerge in our lifetimes but the niches are out there for those of you who desire to fill them for fun and for profit.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Call for Action - Free The Tripoli Six!

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been wrongfully charged and are awaiting execution by firing squad in Libya for allegedly infecting children with HIV. They were tortured and forced to sign "confessions" written in Arabic they did not understand. In fact, the poor hygiene and bad practices in the hospital are to blame.

You can get more information in Nature (free access) editorial and news report and even more detail in an official report (pdf) and a letter (pdf) to Qaddafi.

What can you do?

First, ask your congresscritters what are they going to do about this - are they going to put international pressure on Libya to release the prisoners?

Second, e-mail your story to friends and, if you have a blog, write a post about this. Make sure that you have the words "Tripoli Six" in your post so that it gets picked up by Connotea, Technorati and Google blogsearch engines. Update: For Google (and Google News) you can also use "Benghazi Six" as well as "Tripoli Six".

You can also see what my SciBlings have written about it so far.

More information and commentary:

Saratoga Spirit
Declan Butler
Thoughts In A Haystack
Gene Expression
Stranger Fruit
Effect Measure
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge
Pure Pedantry
Respectful Insolence
Uncertain Principles
The Questionable Authority (the best source of action/contact information)
Science Ripsaw
The World's Fair
Terra Sigillata
Open Reading Frame
Maya's Corner
Maya's Corner
Maya's Corner
Tinkerty Tonk
Thoughts From Kansas
Cyberspace Rendezvous
Effect Measure
Lingual Tremors
Crooked Timber
Cosmic Variance
Malaysian Medical Resources
Alternet PEEK

Update: Revere and Lindsay now report that the Tripoli Six story has spread from science blogosphere to both Left and Right political blogs, ranging from DailyKos to Instapundit (gosh, even Free Republic!). This is certainly not just a science/medicine issue, and is certainly not a partisan issue - it is a matter of saving innocent lives!

Declan Butler, who has been on top of this, has already collected 82 blog links on Connotea and is working on the next step - getting the MSM to place this story on front pages. Can you help? Blogswarm this story by blogging about this, or blogging about this again, and again. Urge your readers to peruse this list of contact information and ask the congrescritters to pay attention and do something. If you know anyone in the MSM, hound them to write about this. This is not about the self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back about the "power of the blogosphere" - it is about righting a wrong and saving innocent lives.

Monday, July 10, 2006

StreetPlanes Are Flying High

Here's my newest idea:

Advertise you website, blog, or business on the street with StreetPlanes. That's right, StreetPlanes-- airplanes that never leave the ground preferring instead to fly where the people are while pulling your banners for all to see. My website, has been picking up over 200 new readers a day since I started using StreetPlanes and now you can too. Check out and remember you heard about it right here at

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On Book Design

On Book Design by Richard Hendel - Communication Arts review.
Richard Hendel is an award-winning book designer from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Consistent Correlation Between Book Page and Type Area - by Jan Tschichold; selection from "The Form of the Book", essays by Jan Tschichold pub. by Lund Humphries 1991

Jeffery Keedy: Thoughts on Designing Type
"I am also inspired by type designers, their contribution as unique individuals, and how that manifests itself through their work. Designers like Dwiggins, Cooper, Goudy, Gill, Koch, Middleton, Excoffon, Novarese, Zapf, Carter, Unger, and Licko, would be on my short list."

Interview with Rudy VanderLans - Emigre

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dancing to Cool Vblogs Being Piped Out

I don't know if this is happening, but I was thinking how MTV influenced many of us 25 years ago, and how their videos went into dance places (bars), but I think vblogs could do the same--and perhaps we can get some cool stuff out that way. What I don't know is how many still go out and get their ants pants out. I will find out.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Value of Social Networks

Today I received this e-mail about an author and his new book--in Cambridge, MA. To quote:

I thought some of you might be interested in this event featuring Yochai Benkler speaking about his new book:
Please join Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society on Tuesday evening for a short talk by Yochai Benkler, and then a celebration in his honor. Prof. Benkler has recently published his book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom," through the Yale University Press.

Prof. Benkler's research at Yale Law School focuses on the effects of laws that regulate information production and exchange on the distribution of control over information flows, knowledge, and culture in the digital environment. His particular focus has been the neglected role of commons-based approaches toward management of resources in the digitally networked environment, the increasing importance of nonmarket production in general and collaborative peer production in particular, and the significance of these phenomena in both economic and political terms.

The Wealth of Networks is a comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy. In it, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing-and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves.

More information on the book (and ordering information) is available at
and you may download it (parts and much more) on his wiki at

Sounds interesting...Benny

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Idea Generation, Creativity, and Incentives

Columbia University researcher Olivier Toubia used an online discussion tree to devise an impact-based measure of how one idea in a group setting affects the generation of other ideas. That measure then served as the basis of an incentive system to reward individuals for stimulating ideas among other group members. An online test of the measure, with three groups of 26 members each, showed its value compared to two more common incentive methods.

The test asked the groups to generate ideas on the same problem — in this case, how to improve the United Nations Security Council. In the first group, everyone received the same flat fee. In the second group, your reward depended on how many ideas you contributed. In the third group, your reward depended on how many ideas other group members added to your ideas in the discussion tree.

The results showed that the third group generated more ideas overall, more different streams of ideas and ideas that were more fully articulated.

Read the rest here (text borrowed directly from Columbia's Ideas@Work).

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ad-Busting Brain

From Seed Magazine:

Study shows that some words used in consumer branding only dig so deep into the brain.

by David Cohn • Posted March 22, 2006 11:48 AM

In news that must be distressing to advertisers spending an average of over $350,000 to produce a national 30 second commercial, a study examining the neural response to brand personality suggests that consumers aren't buying the hype.


The finding indicates that the anthropomorphizing of brands often used in commercials isn't humanizing a product, and thus, the ad is falling on deaf ears.

Read the rest here.

It has implications for those who advertise on the Net.

I noticed that Seed is also advertising a Science Writing Contest--their first annual. This is intended to inspire writers to think critically about the state of science in America.


Amidst emerging competitive threats from abroad (China and India in particular) and heated debates over intelligent design, stem cells and climate change: What is the future of science in America? What should the US do to preserve and build upon its role as a leader in scientific innovation?

I bet readers and consultants on this blog could pen some great "overviews" and solutions on that topic. Winners get their essays published in the magazine and a little bit of cash.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reporting for Idea Duty

Hi! I'm Benny and I was graciously asked to join the Idea Consultants community. At the moment, I don't have a new idea to offer, but when I do, I will be blogging here!

Thanks, AnonyMoses for inviting me here, and I hope we can do some good work for the One America Committee (OAC) as I've been told by a couple of posters they would love to see some ideas generated by us and the Tar Heel Tavern folks.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Sorry for three days of absence from this blog. I needed some time to recuperate after the Podacstercon which I attended last Saturday. It was a marvelous experience. For more information check out the Podcastercon blog, the wiki, a nice article in News and Observer, the blog reports via Technorati tags, Technorati search and Google blogsearch and pictures on Flickr.

Kudos to Brian Russell for organizing an unconference and taking the concept to the maximum. All sessions were designed by participants by editing the wiki ahead of time. Some of the open sessions were designed on the spot! With at least half of the participants constantly online via their laptops, and two big screens in each of the two big classrooms, it was possible to make changes on the go and still be confident that all participants would be cognizant of the changes.

At one point someone asked "What are we supposed to do now?" and the next person answered "This is our conference. We'll do whatever we want. So, let's do something" That's the spirit! I did not see anyone uncomfortable with the free-flowing format. Everything that needed to happen happened and everyone was always in the loop.

The attendants, of course, are all used to the concept of swarming and connectivity and the order emerging out of chaos, so this worked perfectly for this kind of crowd. Still, if the conference gets bigger in the future (there were about 300 participants this time around, more than a third coming from out of state) and spreads over two days, perhaps a little bit more structure may be neccessary, but not too much more....

In the morning I attended The 411 - How to Podcast session. A little bit too non-linear and occasionally over my head (and I am a blogger, familiar with a lot of online stuff!), but I still managed to learn a lot or at least become familiar with some of the aspects of the process of making a podcast. Perhaps I should have gone to the Podcasting For Everyone open session in the afternoon - I heard it was better geared towards beginners (No, I do not regret attending the Podcasting and Traditional Media: Competition and Cooperation session - I have learned a lot about the radio business there).

First I need to chase down the tech-support guy to fix my sound card so I can do this. Then, guided by Brian's excellent Indy article, the book I got after the conference - Podcasting Hacks - also Podcasting For Dummies I just ordered, and the online tutorial Podcasting 101, I can get myself started on podcasting.

On a number of occasions in the past I've been frustrated when I wanted to include a paragraph or so from a source that is not available online (e.g., a book) in my blog posts. Mostly, I ignored it, sometimes I transcribed/retyped it, but in the future I plan to just read it into a microphone and embed an audio file into the post. How about a weekly podcast from James Dobson's childrearing books followed by my written commentary?

I met some extremely interesting people at the conference, as well as several bloggers I knew from before. We had dinner at Rathskeller and a beer at Fuse. It was a very valuable experience.

But the main reason I went to the Podcastercon was to attend the Education Session. It was worth it! David Warlick led the discussion. You can see his own comments, the workpage that was updated in real time during the session, and an excellent review by Teach42. There is so much material in all those places, there is no way I can summarize all of the session here, so just go and investigate by yourself.

What I want to do is record my lectures and have them available for students. I am teaching in March/April next time and I will definitely do this. But what was most interesting to me was the way this technology adapts to the psychology and sociology of today's students. As David stated in the beginning, today's students are extremely connected to each other. When they come into the classroom and are asked to switch off all of the electronic equipment (cell-phones, iPods, computers, etc.), we are cutting off their 'tentacles'. Now if I were a squid and someone cut off my tentacles I'd be very uncomfortable to say the least.

What the new technology does (and what freaks some people out) is that each student's work becomes public (not neccessarily to the wide world, but at least to other people within the school if the website is password-protected). In the past - and present - the only reader of the student's work is the teacher. In the future, all the work will be read, heard or seen by their peers. How is that going to shake the social organization of the classroom? Is that going to break down the traditional division into cliques of jocks, nerds, etc.? Is a popular jock going to be deflated when exposed to be a half-illiterate dummy, and a shy Goth girl in the corner becomes popular due to immense writing, speaking, acting or video-editing talents? Is the motivation going to rise for students to perform always their very best? I have asked similar questions regarding blogging in the classroom before. Is it going to have an effect like this?

That is why, I think, Fred Stuzman's work on The Facebook is so important (although it is a work on progress - he has done no stats yet, and I seriously doubt there is going to be a significant difference between # of friends that liberal and conservative students have, or the subtle changes in proportions of liberals and conservatives over time - it is only freshmen and only one semester so far, and a more longitudinal study is needed as I have stated before). What do you think?