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Embedding Tweets With Blackbird Pie: Why?

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I don’t “get” stuff that I come across on the Internet. And such it is with Twitter’s new offering, Blackbird Pie. The whole time I was trying it, I was thinking, “And this is better than a screen shot how?”

You can get an overview of Blackbird Pie at http://media.twitter.com/411/fresh-baked-tweets and the tool itself at http://media.twitter.com/blackbird-pie/. Briefly:

You might find an interesting quote on Twitter that you want to, well, quote. You can quote it the regular way, with, like, quotation marks, or you can take a screen shot of the quote. (I don’t know why this developed as a method — do you take a screen shot of a Web page every time you quote it?) Or you can use Blackbird Pie.

With Blackbird Pie, you enter the URL of a tweet (Direct URLs look like this: http://twitter.com/FakeAPStylebook/status/13449746429), and it spits out a huge line of code. Copy that line of code to your Web site, and you may or may not get a live version of the quote (that is to say, the direct URL is clickable, the Tweeter’s account is clickable, etc.) I say “May or may not” because this tool is not meant to work with some sites.

Let’s see if it works for me.

.bbpBox{background:url(http://a3.twimg.com/profile_background_images/62706301/fakeapbg.gif) #EBEBEB;padding:20px;}p.bbpTweet{background:#fff;padding:10px 12px 10px 12px;margin:0;min-height:48px;color:#000;font-size:18px !important;line-height:22px;-moz-border-radius:5px;-webkit-border-radius:5px}p.bbpTweet span.metadata{display:block;width:100%;clear:both;margin-top:8px;padding-top:12px;height:40px;border-top:1px solid #fff;border-top:1px solid #e6e6e6}p.bbpTweet span.metadata span.author{line-height:19px}p.bbpTweet span.metadata span.author img{float:left;margin:0 7px 0 0px;width:38px;height:38px}p.bbpTweet a:hover{text-decoration:underline}p.bbpTweet span.timestamp{font-size:12px;display:block}

Do not confuse the Mexican holiday “Cinco de Mayo” with the recent condiment stock trading scandal, “Sinkhole de Mayo.”less than a minute ago via HootSuite

If you saw a snarky tweet from FakeAPStylebook, it worked. If not…

The person who developed this, Robin Sloan, said he did it because “we just think it’s a pain to take screen grabs of tweets.” My setup makes it incredibly simple to take screen shots (which is why most of my writeups include screenshots nowadays). Further, I’m a little worried about the external image reference to Twimg.com. If Twitter goes down will that make the tweet impossible to load? And what happens if FakeAPStylebook deletes this quote?

I like Mr. Sloan’s idea, and if it were something like embedding a live, refreshing Twitter List I would be right there (why oh why oh WHY don’t Twitter Lists offer RSS feeds?) but I don’t understand the need to embed one tweet at a time. I just don’t get it. It’s probably me.

Answers.com Pushes Answers to Twitter

Answers.com, which you might remember from WikiAnswers or ReferenceAnswers, announced last Wednesday a new alpha feature called “Hoopoe,” which ties in with Twitter. Hoopoe’s Twitter account is at http://twitter.com/answersdotcom.

Here’s how it works. Either send a tweet to @AnswersDotCom or write a tweet with the hashtag #AnswersDotcom or #hoopoe . Answers.com will send an autoresponse with a snippet of information and a pointer to the answer on its Web site.

The first thing I did was send a tweet to @AnswersDotCom asking “What is a hoopoe?” No more than a minute or so later I had the tweet you see above. The URL ponted me to an Answers.com page that provided information from a dictionary, Columbia Encyclopedia, Western Bird Guide, and a huge Wikipedia article with lots of images. I am now very confident about my basic hoopoe knowledge.

Next I tried a more abstract question, “When is the sun coming up tomorrow?” I tried that twice with #AnswersDotCom and #hoopoe. Be careful about including extraneous text in your question; Hoopoe will try to answer all of it. (It would be great if it only tried to answer the text set before the hashtag. That way you can warn all your followers you’re playing footsie with an autoresponder.) AnswersDotCom couldn’t answer the question, referring me to the site instead.

Thinking that perhaps that question didn’t provide enough data (like where I was) I asked a simpler reference question, “What is the square root of 12?” I got an answer from Answers.com but it was incorrect. And it completely ignored my similar question from a few minutes later — I think it searched for “Square root of” and gave me the first thing it could find in its database.

So if you’re looking for reference-type information, Answers.com’s Twitter service is fast and good. And #hoopoe is a hashtag I could actually type on my cell phone without too much trouble. On the other hand if you want math questions or almanac questions answered, you’ll have to keep waiting for Wolfram|Alpha to come out with a twitter service.

Cuil Launches Cpedia, Web Aggropedia

Poor Cuil, a victim of what I like to call “Teoma Syndrome.” Teoma, for those of you who weren’t geeking out on search engines ten years ago, was a search engine that launched in 2000. It got TONS of publicity. Lots of people made noise about it. It was the alleged Google killer. Ask.com bought it in September 2001, spent some time working on it, and then it just kind of… faded out of the public consciousness. It’s still at http://www.teoma.com/ if you want to try it. It’s not a bad engine, if you can ignore the smaller data pool and the fact that for every page of ten search engine results you get ten sponsored results (five above and five below.)

When Cuil was launched there was a similar level of fuss, a lot of press, and then poor reviews and some concern about results. Cuil had interesting ideas, but couldn’t compare to Google at launch.

But here’s the thing. If Cuil hadn’t been so constantly and overtly compared to Google, it could have stunk at launch and that would have been unfortunate but okay… it would have had the breathing room to get better. As it was, there were bad reviews at launch, it wasn’t Google, and it didn’t get the traction it could have. And that’s one of my complaints about this “Google killer” business.

The thing that kills Google — one week from now or ten centuries from now — will not look anything like Google. Yahoo and Ask are not threatening Google right now, Facebook and Twitter are. And if something like Facebook gains ascendancy, it won’t be a Facebook clone that overcomes it. It’ll be some site or service that we can’t imagine now, like BrainColorSearch, a USB-powered portable MRI that you hook to your computer while exploring the Internet. The portable MRI device scans your brain constantly as you search and each item of Internet content has an aggregated brain scan associated with it. Searchers using BrainColorSearch match for relevance and for a map that most consistently matches their brain (or how they have declared they want their brain to look — a specified mood.) Searchers end up exploring a Web that makes them the most neurologically comfortable. (Soon tweeners begin “Brain Bombing,” hacking the MRI devices to search for content items that generate bizarre, almost impossible MRI activity maps…)

Okay, that example was a bit goofy, but you get the idea. The next company to displace the leader will not be leader+10%, it’ll be something completely different and (at least for a while) strange.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yes, Cuil. Cuil has moved away from being a Web-type search engine and has announced a change to something different, an attempt to aggregate “instant reference” pages. Sort of like Mashpedia, which I reviewed last week. Cuil’s new effort, Cpedia, doesn’t seem to go to the breadth of Web properties that Mashpedia does, but I found the results more relevant in some cases with nice clustering.

Start your search at http://www.cuil.com and enter a topic. I used Benjamin Franklin as my test search with Mashpedia so I repeated it here. As you can see all the content in the result is from Web search — you won’t find Flickr, YouTube, etc here except as the byproduct of a Web search. The results were a little odd; the first one was “huh?”-inducing — I couldn’t figure out why it ranked higher than the Wikipedia article — but the rest of it was good content. There were other tabs across the top of the page to provide more targeted content — Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Benjamin Franklin House, etc.

There were also related topics on the right. The query Benjamin Franklin spawned such related topics as “Gentlemen Scientists,” “Continental Congressmen From Pennsylvania,” and “United States Presidential Candidates, 1808.” These headings show a list of topics which, when clicked, take you to a new page of search results (though in the same browser window, so open some tabs if you want to go off exploring.)

At the top of the topic list is a window that opens real-time results. I didn’t get any for Benjamin Franklin, so I tried cows and I only got one for that, so I tried Padres and then I got a bunch, from Twitter and other news services. A slider allows you to specify how recent you one the information to be, from last hour to last day. I am not normally one to comment on design, but it’s annoying to have the main search page designed vertically, and the streaming results designed horizontally.

I can imagine using Cpedia in a complementary fashion to Mashpedia. I’d come to Cpedia first, to explore content topically and zero in on the names/descriptions/topic headers that really find me what I want. Then I’d take those to Mashpedia and use them to explore certain parts of the Web (Flickr, YouTube, Twitter) more deeply.

Another People-Powered Q&A Search Engine on the Scene: Quora

Do you remember when natural language search engines (sometimes called “question engines”) were hot? It was about twelve years ago. Ask Jeeves was all that. Everybody wanted to be able to search in plain English (or Spanish or French or Esperanto or whatever their preference was.) I remember reviewing a search engine called Electric Monk and quite liking it.

But natural language searching went somewhat out of fashion, replaced by the more practical cluster searching, and by Google, which is actually not a bad natural language search engine but which never made a big deal out of it.

Fast forward to 2010, and question engines are hot again, only this time they’re human-powered. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that it’s because people have gotten used to almost real-time interaction in social networks; toss out a question on your Twitter feed and according to the question and your followers, you could get dozens of replies within an hour. Add that to the ongoing presence of deliberately structured sites like Yahoo Answers and the Q&A feature on LinkedIn, and people became blasé about the idea of hundreds (thousands, more) of people hanging around a Web site, ready to answer whatever question you wanted to holler into the void.

In February I reviewed Aardvark (which had been acquired by Google), and now I am hearing about a new Q&A engine called Quora, which is available at http://www.quora.com/. Well, it’s extant at Quora.com, but not yet available; you can leave your e-mail address for an invite.

According to a recent article in TechCrunch, the beta is a hot ticket, so don’t hold your breath. Also according to the article, Quora was founded by ex-Facebook employees and has gotten a recent round of funding. Check out the article for a brief interview with a couple of the founders and one investor.

I think the popularity of Q&A services like this lie at the intersection of real-time searching — how 2001, to post a question on a site and get an answer back in a couple of days! — and researching in a mobile situation, where deep research is generally not necessary but where you might have lots and lots of small questions (“Where can I find parking in Savannah, Georgia?” “Are there any traffic accidents on I-20?” “What happens if I accidentally drive into the ocean?”) It seems to me that successful development will require a good sense of community, the ability to deliver answers a lot of places very quickly, and potentially integration into other social systems where a lot of data is flying around right now — Twitter, maybe, or LinkedIn.

Definitely something to watch.

Making A Reference Page From Several Resources: Mashpedia

Over at MakeUseOf I read about a recently-launched resource called
Mashpedia. Though it might sound like a wiki for potato recipes, it is actually a cool tool from gathering reference information from several places into one easily-scanned page. It lives at http://mashpedia.com/.

The front page shows you some hot searches but you can also do a keyword search. This is topical searching, so think directory-level searches, not anything complicated like you might do for a full-text search engine. I did a search for Ben Franklin.

The resulting page pulled together a variety of information for me, including Wikipedia details, videos from YouTube, two tabs’ worth of content from Digg, a Twitter feed, photos from Flickr, what looks like feeds from Google News and Google Images, and even a book search result. Every set of information resides in its own collapsible section; you can also set sections to show only one result or to show all results (the “all results” actually paginate so you’re not going to get a giant scrolling page.)

Now, the search for Ben Franklin had mixed results. On the other hand, it started off with a great Wikipedia article, the quotes pages in the Web results were good, his autobiography popped up in the Google Books section, and there were actually a lot of relevant YouTube and Flickr results. On the other hand the name “Benjamin Franklin” has bene used for so many things that there was a lot of gunk in the results as well. I tried a second Mashpedia search for something less ambiguous — Butler University (congratulations on your great NCAA basketball season.) These results were much more focused, except the Digg results were a little odd (looked like the words were being searched for separately.)

This would make a handy quick reference. It could be even handier if some of the searches could be focused more for ambiguous terms (it might be tough, though.) I also wonder if some of Yahoo’s Web services wouldn’t be a wonderful match for the existing offerings here? I’m thinking specifically of the Term Extraction Service.

Now We Are Twelve

I wrote my first book about using search engines in 1996. Google wasn’t around then, but there was still plenty to talk about. In fact, there was so much to talk about that I felt like I needed a Web site to keep up with all the changes, and in April 1998 ResearchBuzz was born. So this month ResearchBuzz is twelve years old, which is A TON in Internet years.

When ResearchBuzz started, I ran it using FrontPage. Now it runs on WordPress. The weekly newsletter has been replaced by daily e-mailed updates by those who want them, and of course the RSS feed is still around. There’s a bit of social media, now, too — ResearchBuzz has a Twitter account that both sends out news updates and those brief bits that used to be called “littlebuzz.” ResearchBuzz is also on Facebook, though I’m trying to learn to do more with that.

And of course the search engine scene itself has changed. You don’t hear much about AltaVista or HotBot anymore. Nobody resigns themselves to waiting 6-8 weeks for a Web page to be indexed. And while there are still some resources that do not have RSS feeds, they are greatly outnumbered by those which do.

You might think that I would be tired of search engines and databases by now, but I’m not. I still love searching. I still love playing with engines and figuring out the best ways to get the most out of special syntax. I still love finding databases filled with odd and unusual collections. I still feel a sense of glee when I find a well-designed and implemented digital archive.

And I’m still grateful to those of you who read ResearchBuzz, who send me cool resources to check out, who let me know when I’ve found something that’s made your work easier or given you a laugh. I’m so happy that there’s a way I can help librarians and teachers out there, even if it’s only a tiny bit.

You may have noticed in the last several months that there’s a lot more ResearchBuzz going out. I have revamped some of the tools I use, which has made it easier to get the writing and the research done. And if I can keep them going, I’ll see you again here in another twelve years, saying “Now We are Twenty-Four”…

Thank you for reading.

Internet Archive Hits Two Million Books

A big congratulations to The Internet Archive, which announced yesterday that it has hit two million free digital texts. The 2 millionth text, if you’re wondering, is Homiliary on Gospels from Easter to first Sunday of Advent, which is a thousand-year-old book, handwritten in Latin.

I don’t mind that it’s a thousand years old but I don’t think I’ll get past the Latin. If you’re looking for other books to explore, check out the Internet Archive Ebooks and Texts section at http://www.archive.org/details/texts. (Actually that section says it has 2.2+ million texts. I wonder where the others came from? Anyway.) The books here are divided into several sections, including books from American libraries (the largest section with 1.2 million texts), books from Canadian libraries, Open Source books, Project Gutenberg, and Children’s Library. If you want to browse check the nav on the right for the most popular downloads of all time, the most popular downloads of this week, and Editor’s Picks.

You can do keyword searches, too. If you want to do anything beyond a simple keyword search I recommend you go straight to
the advanced search page; there are so many fields available to search that it’s hard to remember them all. The advanced search is easier.

If you can’t think of anything to search for let me recommend a few fun ones. Try Joe Worker and the Story of Labor (it’s a comic!) or Punch (one of several volumes the IA has available) or, if you’re looking for a little Timothy Leary and Stewart Brand, how about a copy of Psychedelic
Review from 1967
?

You’ve probably gotten the idea; The Internet Archive’s texts selection is huge and eclectic, and with over two million items now available you’ll have no trouble finding something of interest.

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