Year in Review: Our Top Five Most Popular Articles

It is not our usual way at Technology Voice to predict winners and losers in the uses and exploitation of technology and innovation. We see our task as being to find out what is new, relevant and interesting and tell others about it. About 40% of ‘these others’ are readers who come from the business world matched by a roughly equal amount that come from the world of academia, particularly in the areas of reserach. Many of our readers are from Ireland but a significant amount also come from overseas.

However, from our position as observers on the sidelines we can’t help but notice trends and patterns in both the marketplace and research laboratories. These trends are reflected almost isomorphically in the relative popularity of our articles.

As is customary at the end of the year we shall round up with a list of our top five most popular articles. It can be seen that their relevance to our readers acts as commentary and reflection on activities in the tech world in the last year.

It is clear from this selection that networking technologies of all sorts are of predominant interest.

The most useful metric for determining relevance that we have at our disposal is the popularity of a given article or blog measured in direct hits on the relevant article’s page. But we should offer caution here that we know, but cannot quantify to any degree of accuracy, that our articles circulate out across the digital landscape in ways that cannot be easily counted or assessed. So, the following list is based on a first order of popularity that we were able to quantify ourselves.

(Finding a way to accurately track the dissemination of URLs would bring the inventor untold wealth from the world at large and eternal gratitude from me.)



Tapmap: Navigating Offline Store Inventory With Online Technology This is the business article that drew the most interest this year. So, congratulations to Philip McNamara.

TapMap matches a request for a product through a mobile device with the products availability from a given supplier. This saves the customer from having to traipse around from place to place or even site to site.

TapMap also helps smaller retailers fight agains the default shopping mode that a lot us have which is the tendency to just go to a larger merchandiser on the assumption that ‘they will just have it.’



Starfish: A User-Controlled Network

With the massive coverage of Wikileaks and the activities of Anonymous this was an article that seemed to touch the current zeitgeist. The opportunity to move to a decentralized method of distributing information using currently available technologies offers us an opportunity to slip the shackles of Big Brother and the Telcos.

Of course, our communications technology, both hardware and software, comes from somewhere and that somewhere has to remunerated in some way but the flatter more egalitarian distribution system put forward here has a lot to offer in terms of efficiency and robustness.

It seems almost inevitable that this sort of networking will be implemented in some fashion.



Data Mining: Using Predictive Analysis And Social Network Analysis

Although Herculean, the movement and storage of petaflops of data across the planet and occasionally beyond has been managed with relatively little obtrusiveness to our daily lives. The internet could double in size over the very short term and those of us who weren’t equipment manufacturers would barely notice.

But the value of data lies in its relevance and usefulness to a given purpose. It has to have meaning to someone or something. Discerning the meaning of data and its significance to other bits of data is the work of Eric Robson who leads the Data Mining and Social Networks Analysis Group at the TSSG which is based at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Without doubt the TSSG is one of Ireland’s gems and with its focus on the commercialization of research we will be hearing much more from and about them over the coming years.

Data mining is relevant in every area of life where it is important to match seeming disparately bits of information not only to tell us what is going on but provide us with predictive ability as to what may happen over some future period of time. Applications range across the whole supply management and distribution of services and to areas such as law enforcement.



Bio-Inspired: Electronic Chips Emulate Workings Of Neuron

Our second most popular story of 2011 was from, in all places, just across the NUI Galway campus from our office.

Dr. Fearghal Morgan, Dr. Jim Harkin and Dr. Liam McDaid have used the natural architecture of the brain to create an electronic system that emulates some of the workings of a neuron.

I am particularly pleased about this one as I have had a long-standing interest in the work of Jeff Hawkins, formerly of Palm and Handspring, and his development of software architecture and processes that parallel the working of the brain at Numenta.

While ‘brain as a computer’ is a limited metaphor there is no question that there are processes in the various parts of the cortex that lend themselves very well to emulation on a micro-processor.

Our brains are the most complex data handlers that we know of but the ability to utilise technology that has been worked on for hundreds of millions of years offers us a wonderful opportunity to find new, better and more efficient ways of doing things.



Crowdgather

By far our most popular post ever and is indicative of the difference between the hyped web and the ‘real web.’

Facebook deserves to be written about both as a cultural phenomena and as a constantly evolving technology that through trial and error – whatever happend to Deals and email? But it also provides us with a great opportunity to discover how users participate and communicate with each other by digital means. (Let’s leave the walled garden argument to one side for the moment. With nearly 800 million users it is moot now as to whether it is a barrier in the cultural sense rather than the technical sense.)

However, the web is expanding faster than Facebook is. As a thought experiment if you were to somehow be able to stand at the edge of the expanding web, due to the different speeds of growth, if you were to look at the space that Facebook occupies it would seem to be getting smaller in a relative way.

Stumbleupon has amazing growth and activity figures which parallel Facebook’s but have not incurred the massive press coverage that Facebook has. Most people, even those not on the web, could tell you that Mark Zuckerberg is the main man at Facebook. Try a pop-quiz with friends and relatives over the holidays and see how many could name his counterpart at Stumbleupon.

But this focus on Facebook is distorted and is not an accurate reflection of what is really happening in the field of online communications.

Bigger than these two in terms of activity and sharing is the world of online forums. Our interview with Sanjay Sabnani illustrates some key points and here are a number of quotes from the article:

“What matters on a forum is the worth of your intellect, the merit of your thoughts and your ability to communicate them.”

“Forums are designed for a multiplicity of people to communicate with a multiplicity of people and they are done in an organized fashion with a taxonomy that makes sense.”

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet.”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our regular contributors; Conor Harrington, Lisa Jackson, Ina O’ Murchu and John Conroy for the help they have given us this year.

We would also like to thank Tom McEnery, Rich Moran and Aoife Connelly for their valuable contributions which we are very grateful to have received.

Starfish: A User-Controlled Network

Raffael Kemenczy is an Austrian student, social thinker, and Relations Director at the European Organisation for Sustainability. He was in Ireland this week to speak at the MindField International Festival of Ideas, and also visited the 091 Labs Hackerspace in Galway to give a talk on his vision of a world-wide user-controlled network based on a distributed mesh architecture, which he calls Project Starfish.
  
The title comes from the book the Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, and the concept is that if a spider’s head or limb is removed it dies or is incapacitated, whereas if a starfish is cut in two, both parts will regenerate.

He lists his primary concern as being how to unlock humanity’s potential, and sees the outsourcing of thought and responsibility to government and industry as being detrimental to the well-being of humanity. This, he believes, is largely due to the centralized nature of our communications infrastructure.

“Even fewer people make decisions for an even larger amount of information. We need to think about where we get our information from and who is approving the information? Can we trust these companies and these people to deliver the correct kind of information?”

“Google is not just a search engine, Google is your view of the internet. We all use the same first page, and how many people go past the first page regularly? What you see of the internet is very regulated. We don’t even know what Google’s algorithm is.”

“Do you know who’s watching you, do you know who’s looking into your emails or possibly could?. Do you trust your service provider not to filter your data, or not to look at what you’re sending and receiving?

“What I’m proposing or trying to do, is to move on.”

How he proposes to move on from this centralised form of communication is through Project Starfish, “a structure which is completely distributed. A completely distributive system where each node has several possibilities to reach any other nodes”.

“Imagine you’re on your cell phone. Today, if you want to connect to anybody else you need to go to your provider. But imagine your cell phone has a wi-fi chip, and most of them have it anyway, it creates a local network. Imagine that network is an ad hoc network and can immediately connect with other networks. So all the cell phones we have create their own small networks and become interconnected with each other. That gives you a whole range of possibilities, and because you need no infrastructure externally, you make it by yourself. You have a cell phone, someone else has a cell phone, you just create it; you can have free network access.”

Raffael is quick to point out that this is not as far-fetched as it may seems and that the technology required already exists; the challenge is in making it readily available.

“How can you realise this? User controlled wireless nodes, or wired, it’s up to you. Mesh network technology. This already exists, I’m not talking about anything which does not exist, this is all here, it’s just a matter of packaging it. Every node would then be client and server at the same time, sending and receiving. That’s a whole different concept, not just receiving information, but you’re also able to send it, in your local area, all the time.”

“You have no centralised authority. There’s no third party ever to control your data for you or to control what you see. Then of course you share power, because your node is just as important as any other node to keep the network alive.”

“What you can get if everybody’s house has a router at home, and they all make networks and they’re all interconnected is basically, you make the provider obsolete.”

“Those who benefit from the current system are, in my opinion, very few. I’m not a big fan of killing the King or something like that, but if you do organise, and I think this can be achieved through distributed systems, you really can have a different kind of not just mindset, but a different kind of economy, an different kind of spirituality, and a different kind of politics.”

The main obstacle in project Starfish’s path is the development of hardware to make a fully-distributed, user-controlled network a reality. Raffael is not concerned that corporate interests would prevent industry producing such hardware.

“I believe, as Michel Bauwens says, that there is a fraction of capitalist establishment for which it is beneficial to develop and invest in things like this that are completely against the market logic. I think there’s a small part [of the industry] that can benefit from it.”

“As we outsource everything, I really think we fail a little bit out of humanity, and would you say your government is doing a great job? Or that the economy is so awesome? It’s not a matter of ‘Do I like this idea or not?’, but also about the necessity to survive. Can we afford as people and individuals to continue to outsource thought? What is the option?”