Twitter – Killer App or Overkill?

I’ve become quite a fan of Twitter, although I’ll readily admit I never really “got it” to start with. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, and also in a recent tutorial video, Twitter makes a lot more sense once you add a group of people to your network. Having a likeminded group of fellow Twits from which to tap into some collective wisdom turns Twitter from a curious plaything into a rather amazing personal learning environment.

Twitter has an open API (Application Programming Interface), which mean that programmers who can think of interesting ways to mash the basic Twitter feed into another service are able to tap into the guts of Twitter in order to get it to power their own apps. There are a number of interesting tools/toys that hang off the Twitter API, from useful local clients like Twitterific, Twitterroo, Snitter, Spaz and Twitterbox, to fun implementations like Twittervision and Twittervision 3D. And just to show how circular life is, I’ve just been alerted to Twitterposter, thanks to, none other than my very own Twitter network.

Twitterposter creates image grids of the top Twitterers’ icon files, arranged so that the more influential (most followers) are shown larger than the others – sort of a visual tag cloud idea. Two things struck me as I browsed the grid… one was the number of people whom I actually recognised, at least by reputation. @Scobleizer, @ijustine, @Biz, @Gruber, among others. Seems that despite its vastness, the Internet is still a finite place full of very real people.

The other thing was just how big some of these Twitter networks can become. There were several I saw with well over 4000 followers and the largest following I saw was @Scobleizer with 6893. That’s crazy enough, but he is also following 6923 people!! How anyone could manage that sort of volume is totally beyond me, or why anyone would want to. Surely there must be a limit to how many in your network is the “right” number? If you can believe Dunbar’s Number, the “right” number is about 150. I tend to agree, and imagine that things would start to get a little messy after that. Just doing the math, I’m following about 100 people at the moment and I get tweets popping up every couple of minutes (especially during the North American daytime), so I imagine that following nearly 7000 people would have tweets popping up every few seconds? That’s just crazy stuff, and I would think totally blows away any usefulness that you might be able to get out of the collective wisdom of the network. Maybe someone with a large follow list might leave me a comment and let me know how that works for them. I’m really curious.

PS, In late breaking news, for a long list of Twitter-based apps, take a look at, courtesy of @whynot88. Thanks Anne!

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Domo Arigato, Mr Animoto

I was just playing around with Animoto, the fun online video creation toy that all the cool kids are talking about. It probably doesn’t have a huge deal of educational merit (because aside from picking the photos and music, you really don’t have any say over what it actually creates) but there is no argument that what it creates looks very funky indeed. And with so little effort!

This was thrown together from some photos I had on my hard drive just to see how Animoto worked…  I’d forgotten I had these pics… they were of some of the great teachers I worked with last year on my exchange year to Canada when we were messing about with PhotoBooth one day… wow, I really miss you guys!!

It’s amazing just how a bit of music and a few special effects can make a presentation look so cool though.

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Turning Data into Knowledge

Steve Madsen emailed me a few months ago behalf of the NSW Computer Studies Teachers Association, asking if I’d like to run a workshop at the next CSTA quarterly meeting. He didn’t have any particular theme in mind at the time, and indicated that he was happy for me to pick the topic… anything that might be useful to teachers of computing… and he asked that I get back to him with my idea for a workshop. No problem I said.

I thought about what might be useful to a group of computing teachers. They would be a tech savvy group, so what could I possibly share with them? As much as it might sound like a buzzword, it seems to me that there is still an awful lot about the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon that many teachers are still trying to get their heads around, so I thought something along those lines might be useful. I didn’t want it to be too predictable though, and simply talking about blogs and wikis seemed like just a little too… I don’t know… obvious? I started thinking about ways to explore the ideas behind Web 2.0 in a fundamental yet interesting way. Around the same time, I was struck by a couple of websites that do some very Web 2.0 sorts of things, and when looked at in context with each other it became clear that they were tapping into the same fundamental principles in some very interesting ways.

The three sites that grabbed my attention were,, and All of these sites shared the same underlying theme of tagging personal data which could then be viewed as a semantic snapshot of the collective consciousness. That seemed like a cool concept to me; this idea of thousands of people all voluntarily submitting many terabytes of content to the web – a massive collection of text, photos, audio and video. More importantly, they were also submitting their opinions and interpretations about that content, and doing it in a way where it could be collated and organised into a broader meaning. Thinking I was being clever, I decided to call the workshop “I Like 43 Delicious Things”.

I emailed Steve back with the idea and he responded by saying that the DET proxy filters might make it hard to do much with that, since they are locked down pretty tight. A little disappointed, I figured I’d mull it over a bit more and maybe some other idea would come to me. However, the next time I heard from Steve he sent me a copy of the agenda for the meeting and there was my original workshop suggestion, listed as a definite thing. Hmm, now I had to make my clever idea actually work.

I sent a couple of emails to clarify the filter situation and it seemed that I might be able to go ahead with the original idea after all, so I started to gather some resources for the workshop. I kinda sorta knew what I wanted to say, but it was all still a bit nebulous in my head. How could I tie it all together so that it made sense to people? (and me!)

It’s funny how things just fall into place sometimes… a few days before the workshop I was still trying to figure out how to make sense of my original idea, and I stumbled across three items that brought it all together for me… one I’d come across before but completely forgotten about, and the other two I’d never seen. When I put these three resources together with the three original websites, it formed a powerful summary of what I felt was going on behind the Web 2.0 phenomenon.’s use of tagging to create semantic taxonomies of knowledge was pretty clear to me. The way the tag clouds formed around large collections of bookmarked resources provided a clear snapshot into their hidden meaning. The same concept seemed to apply to the lists of personal goals submitted by people on Lots of people sharing ideas about life goals and forming patterns of collective thought by contributing those thoughts into one place. By tagging and adding metadata to their goals, it formed a “zeitgeist” picture of what the masses were thinking about. Finally, tapped into the large store of metadata collected within thousands of iTunes music libraries and brought it all together online to form a collective community of music lovers that were able to share their tastes and suggestions, linking musical tastes and suggestions from the crowd. Three very different sites that all used a common idea of data sharing, metadata tagging and community building.

The glue that held these ideas together was three more things… Firstly, a website which created dynamic tag clouds based on the past 200+ years of US presidential speeches. Chirag Mehta has cleverly been able to delve into the words of America’s past presidents, analyse the frequency and relative importance of their words, and create an interactive tag cloud concept which gives an amazing insight into the way the issues of their day could be seen as a summary of the culture at the time. It was a powerful example of the way existing data can be easily mined for greater meaning.

The second resource was a video called The Machine is Us/ing Us. Although this video has shown up on many education blogs in the last few months, it really explains well why the web is the way it is right now, and how the contribution of user data, tagging, XML and CSS are increasingly responsible for the new web landscape.

The final resource was a video from the TED Talks series called “The Web’s Secret Stories” by Jonathan Harris. In this video, Harris shows a piece of research work (it was more like conceptual art to me) called We Feel Fine. This incredible piece of work needs to be seen for yourself, but I felt it perfectly tied the loose threads together… it was the closest thing I’ve seen to an IT-based system that constantly analyses the random thoughts of the blogosphere’s collective consciousness in near real-time and massages it into a form that is not only informative and interesting, but utterly compelling. You simply must watch the video, then go have a play with the website. It is amazing.

I think most people got something out of the workshop, at least I hope they did. More to the point, I know that I learnt an enormous amount by preparing to share this information with my colleagues. I felt I came away from it with a much deeper insight in the nature of the new web, and in the process got to grips with tools that I had often used but never truly understood. It’s so true that if you want to really understand something, try teaching it to someone else.

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