Archive for the ‘Project’ Category

Open Data Hack Day is underway at Colston Hall

Lorna Moir - December 3rd, 2010

This morning we had a room full of multi-talented front-end developers, back-end developers, designers, journalists, bloggers, tweeters and publishers, all ready to share their ideas and get making..

So why have a Hack Day?

Because it’s fun to make stuff, good to work with the council and talk, tweet and blog about it. Mr Andy P.

Hack day can explore opening up data the council has and doing more with it, Hack Day is about using data in ways that can benefit people in the city. Bristol City Council.

There has been no shortage of great ideas so far today around different data sets and the creative ways to utilize and represent information.

Teams have been formed and are currently scattered around Colston Hall to work on and develop ideas and digital tools.

Some of the main ideas so far include:

Doing more with the Your Freedom’ Dialogue data the government has now released
Ideas include making the data simpler to understand, running an analysis to discover the most discussed ideas and even condensing these down into poetry.

Mapping out the creative hot spots in Bristol

Looking at Bristol City Council environmental data on shopping trolleys being dumped in rivers and water quality data

Or even a rather unique idea which combines the two, such as creating a mobile game involving getting a shopping trolley home without it going into the river (including info on water quality of course!).

Using Bristol bus data and developing a web app that draws upon live Bristol Bus information

This would allow users to discover where the nearest bus is and when it’s due. Ideas have even been discussed about creating a hyper-local’ bus route newspaper.

We will re-gather at 5 to review the demo’s and prototypes of all the ideas being discussed. Exciting stuff!

We’re here in the Colston Hall

all day, so feel free to drop by and see what’s going on.
If not, then we’re tweeting under #bristolhackday, and will be blogging more too

Thought Den’s art of Flash game production

Alex Pitkin - January 15th, 2010

Some really good ‘Rules of Production’ from our compatriots at Thought Den in their The art of flash game production (with some baggage bowling fun thrown in) post.

It was written after the Suitcase Skittles development that we did with them last year for IHG in which we all learnt a lot. But that seems to be the case with most Flash game developments…

Making things better from a hospital bed

Chris Quigley - December 2nd, 2009
0 Making things better from a hospital bed

Pain can be a beautiful thing. And in my case quite an inspiring thing too. For the last 5 days I’ve been stuck in hospital with severe back pains – which have meant I’ve been totally bed bound, and completely dependent on the nurses at Kings College Hospital London (who have – by the way – been really great!)

Anyway, lying in bed – in pain – inspired me yesterday morning: could I be of any use to hospital lying here? The hospital staff are being great – but could I add anything – could I help improve how the hospital is run?

And the answer is of course YES. As a patient I – and the hundreds of other patients – are in the best place to help the hospital improve, as we’re the ones at the coal-face, experiencing the end products that the hospital delivers – whether that’s a quick fix in A&E, or a longer stay in one of the wards.

The only issue is how you collate and make sense of this collective experience. And the answer to that is the internet – create a crowd-sourcing website with a focus on collating “ideas of how to improve the hospital” and let patients share ideas, and self-organise the value of those ideas via rating and commenting systems. Given I’m the co-founder of an e-democracy company – Delib – that specialises in citizen empowerment – this was the easy bit!

So lying in my hospital bed – I asked Andy, Jess and Dave in Bristol to quickly put together a patient crowd-sourcing site using our one of our apps – and 2 hours later we launched “Help us Improve Kings”.

Check the site here (and add ideas if you have any!)

With the prototype site up and live, I’m now in the process of getting patients to take part and share their experiences and ideas – a bit of a tricky feat given I can’t walk, but they’re coming in slowly as I lynch people walking past my room! I’m also in the process of talking to the Patient Involvement team @ Kings – as obviously to make this work, we really need them on board to actually turn the ideas generated into concrete actions.

So there you go – an example of bottom-up patient power – empowered by the wonders of broadband and a wonderful set of e-democracy tools. Social media empowerment at its finest!

And most importantly this is a lesson to all those brands / businesses / government departments out there who are trying to work out how to make their business work better – the answer: empower your customers and employees and they will in turn help power your business!

Putting Team Rubber on the (a)Map

- January 28th, 2009

Our ‘viral product’ aMap has created quite a stir. 700 arguments have been mapped across the globe since the giant Web 2.0 news gatekeepers TechCrunch and Mashable (amongst others) featured the widget on Monday. Kudos to Erick Schonfield for taking the time to slot smaller start-ups such as ourselves into a news feed which puts us in the company of Google, Microsoft and Apple:

picture 9 Putting Team Rubber on the (a)Map

What is “Viral Marketing”? (and language->semantic effects)

Tim Wintle - January 24th, 2009

Reading through the RubberRepublic blog, I thought I’d point the whole of team rubber at the article on the semantics of the word “viral” when applied to marketing.

This is a very interesting topic to me. With my leniency towards very specific definitions, I’m going to start right from the start, and explain that I’m certainly not a believer in Wittgenstein’s views on natural language.

To me, it’s not unreasonable to define a strict subset of natural language with a single, well defined, 1-1 semantic value function for discussing technical matters (and I believe the definition of “viral” should fit into such a subset), in the same way that we define mathematical terms in first order logic (I’m not going to get into provability here).

i.e. I think that it’s possible, and reasonable, to define the meaning of individual words which are indisputable and fixed when talking in technical language.

For this reason, it really drives me up the wall when two people talk about something, use the same word, but are actually discussing different things.

An example is how we have recently changed the naming for our “Syndicated Ad Units” (Previously “Content Units”).

When we define terms for such a large system, we are effectively defining our own language (or at least the non-common alphabet – technically the set from which words are taken rather than set from which letters are taken). By changing the naming for the system, we have effectively created a second language.

These languages are technically as distinguishable as programming languages are – and switching between requires the same work as switching between programming languages.

Obviously we don’t want too much redundancy in our alphabet, or we end up

  • Having to remember a much larger set of nouns
  • diverging strongly from a 1-1 semantic value function, which is indistinguishable from the effect of losing orthogonality of the semantic values of individual nouns

To explain the second point, if we mark the semantic value function of a language “I” (for “interpretation”), and we have an alphabet that consists only of the words “abc”, “def” and “ghi”, then if we have orthogonality in semantic values of the nouns, we would have that changing the meaning of “abc” – marked I(“abc”) (though adding functionality to the thing we call “abc”) changes I(“abc def”) in the same way as I(“abc ghi”) changes. It also implies that I(“zyx…wv”) does not change unless “abc” is part of “zyx…wv”.

We did a very interesting thing while we changed the language used for syndication – we changed which objects have their own names. This changes the set of concepts that can be described with a single word – {I(a) for a in the alphabet}, rather than simply changing the strings used for the objects in the alphabet.

This fundamentally changes the language, and changes the effort required when semantic value functions change (as they always will on a long term software project).

For example, let’s take some of the objects that have changed names (you can see what the semantic values of these names are here):

Old Name New Name
Med. Rect. Gadget Content Unit Med. Rect. Fun Unit (Gadget)*
Med. Rect. Text Link Content Unit Med. Rect. Text Link Fun Links
Med. Rect. Text/Image Link Content Unit Med. Rect. Text and Image Link Fun Links
Fun Link of the day Text Link Content Unit Fun Link of the day Fun Links

* “(gadget)” is added internally for this type of Fun Unit.

By enforcing these changes, several changes to the alphabet are implied – firstly the fact that we do not use “gadget” externally creates two alphabets, and hence two new languages – but the aim is to keep one language a subset of the other one.

Previous alphabet:

“Med. Rect.”, “Gadget”, “Content Unit”, “Text Link”, “Text/Image Link”, “Fun Link of the Day”

New alphabet (internal):

“Med. Rect.”, “Fun unit”, “Gadget”, “Text Link”, “Fun Links”, “Text and Image Link”, “Fun Link of the Day”

New alphabet (external):

“Med. Rect.”, “Fun unit”, “Text Link”, “Fun Links”, “Text and Image Link”, “Fun Link of the Day”

Now let’s look at how orthogonal the meanings of these are…

if we suddenly decided to break years of internet tradition and say that a “Med. Rect” was actually 1024 pixels wide and one pixel high – that would effect all names with “med. rect.” in them equally. In fact, the meaning has not changed at all between the two languages – it defines the size that the syndicated placement will take up on your website.

similarly, the meaning of “Text Link” has not changed (and although we changed the string “Text/Image Link to “Text and Image Link”, the actual interpretation of these strings has not changed).

If you are looking closely though, you will have noticed that “Fun Link of the day Text Link Content Unit” has changed to “Fun Link of the day Fun Links” – this is an important change, since they have the same interpretation, the meaning of “Text Link” has not changed, and yet “Text Link” is not in the new name. This means that this semantic value must be associated with the phrase “Fun Link of the Day” – and so it is. But “Fun Link of the day” is also associated with a size (this is more obvious in the origional naming conventions) This is a many-1 mapping between the old language and the new one, and as such it changes the implied syntax quite dramatically.

Now for the most interesting strings – “Content Unit” has been changed to either “Fun Unit”, or “Fun Links”. This is very clearly a 1-many mapping during the changeover, which again changes the syntax of the language dramatically.

For example, let’s imagine (and this is purely imaginary), we decided to add a feature that (describing the semantic change in the old language) allowed you to “place your content unit in an RSS feed”.

In the old language, we have just updated the semantic value of “content unit”, however in the new language we have updated the semantic value of “Fun Unit” and “Fun Links”. Thus they are non-orthogonal (in fact, in terms of this change they would be parallel!).

For a user (of the language) who understands the new semantic value of “Fun Unit”, they cannot know that the semantic value of “Fun Links” has changed unless they have some prior knowledge about the language.

But how do we describe this intra-linguistical knowledge in the language itself? We cannot say “All content units have …”, because “content unit” is not in the new language. Rather, we would have to state that “Fun Units and Fun Links have …” – but this requires updated semantic values to two strings from the alphabet. This might not seem like much, but by talking in a specific language we actually train parts of our brains to translate from this language into semantics (this was explained by Derek Smith at the Bristol Knowledge Unconference much better than I could explain it). This is an actual change to our brain that we are requiring – and we are requiring two changes in the new language.

To avoid this, we have added another string to the alphabet of our new language – “Ad Unit”. An “Ad Unit” can be a “Fun Unit” or “Fun Links” – but not both – so the interpretation of “Ad Unit” is the common interpretation between a”Fun Unit” and “Fun Links”.

But then if the semantics have remained the same between the two languages, the interpretation of “Ad Unit” must be the same interpretation as “Content Unit” was before…

That would mean that “Fun Unit” and “Fun Links” (both new words) are completely irrelevant words – since they don’t add any semantic information to the language!

Well, to explain this one we have to go back to the reason that we actually replaced the language in the first place. The first language was defined by myself and Andy as we were thinking over the technical requirements, for use in implementing the systems. The second language came about after our sales and network teams mentioned that they thought users would get confused over the meanings of phrases.

We took this as a sign that we actually had two languages in use already – since there was obviously some concept that was essential to how this second group of people viewed the system that was not a concept to the technical team.

After some very long discussions, this concept had still not appeared to me, but the non-technical users described something that resembled the new language as describing their concepts better. This is a very interesting point to have come to in development terms – since it appeared to be a sign of what the users want to use the system to which is far better than anything that could be got out of a simple user-interview.

After hammering this out for several days, we finalised the new language. The above examples are only a small sub-section, but they are the section that cause the largest change in the allowed syntax of the language.

What was the difference?

Firstly let me quote the definition that the non-technical users decided on for “Fun Units” and “Fun Links” (I would have been far more strict over the definition, but if you’ve read this far then there’s a good chance that you would have as well; we may re-visit this definition):

  • “A Fun Link is an Ad Unit into which the Viral Ad Network can place a link to site hosting an asset”
  • “A Fun Unit is an Ad Unit into which the Viral Ad Network can insert actual content”

And that seems to be the difference – to me as a developer, there is a difference between the A,IMG,OBJECT,SCRIPT tags etc, – but that difference is contained in the selection between “Text Link”, “Text/Image Link”, “Video Player” (not mentioned previously) and “Gadget” (“Text” can only contain A tags, “Text/Image” can contain A and IMG tags, “Video Player” can only contain an actual video file, and “Gadget” can contain whatever you want).

For a non-technical user, really focusing on “this could be content” is more important – even though you could say that that information is already contained in the language, it’s so important that they want to say it twice.

Hence we’ve got the “old” and the “new” languages describing these things – the old language is cognitively simpler to learn, contains less vocabulary to learn, requires less mental work when new features are implemented, contains a single induced syntactic structure (at least over the vocabulary mentioned here) due to the orthogonality of semantic values, and does not require intra-linguistical “meta-knowledge” to talk about subsets of the language. It also has very low redundancy due to the

The new language has enforced redundancy, non-static syntactical structure, a larger vocabulary, non-orthogonal nouns, and thus has no strict subsets (when talking about Ad Units) that are languages capable of describing semantic updates in themselves. On the other hand, it focuses the mind on what the non-technical users found most important by repeating itself.

As you may have guessed, developers will continue to use the “old” language, and not just because switching over to the new language would require thousands of lines of code to be re-worked.

Tim Wintle

(oh, BTW, My definition of “viral” was brought here)

Say hello to aMap

Chris Quigley - January 21st, 2009

Drum roll . . .
I’m pleased to announce to everyone in TeamRubber that aMap has now officially launched!
Huge thanks for everyone who’s been involved with aMap (you know who you are, and if you don’t you’re mentioned here!) + also, a big thank you for all those in the team who are now helping out with the launch.

Most of you won’t really know what aMap’s about – other than seeing copies scattered around the office – and seeing people frantically packing them up. To help understand the background to aMap you should check out the aMap site. Over the next week or so, I will also be posting up blog posts relating to the theory behind aMap – touching on the concepts of informal logic and argument theory – so you can all indulge in some faux philosophical musings.

+ finally, over the next week I’d like you all to help Jake and Helen in getting aMaps out to the world. As part of this we’d like each of you to list 3 or more of your family / friends who you’d think would like aMap and then send them a few copies. We’ve written up some standard letters to help – and Jake and Helen are there to help . . .

We’d also like you all to each create your own customised online argument (using our widget maker) and send these to friends / embed them in your blogs / online communities to get the internet buzzing with arguments . . .

+ finally finally – the next step for aMap is to get it stocked in shops – so if you know of anyone who works for a bookshop / gift shop / publisher or if you’ve got ideas of shops that could stock them do send in ideas to either me or Helen.

Huge thanks + happy arguing . . .

Skills charity uses comedy animation Dudecorp to connect audiences with greatplaces2work

- November 20th, 2008

This is a story about a kind of advertising that we like a lot: about what Claude Hopkins called service, what Aesop allegorised as the sun, what Neil Perkin recently referred to as ‘goodness and happiness’. It’s a story about advertising that entertains and helps its audience, rather than bullying, brow-beating or bombarding them. It’s even a love story, a tale of an irresistible match of message and content.

And don’t worry: it’s also a short story.

greatplaces2work is a charity that enables those looking for a career or change in career to match their strengths and skills within the hospitality, leisure and travel industries. They wanted to take a message of ‘careers you’ll thrive in’ to their target audience in a way that reflected their desire to help people ‘make the most of [their] skills and personality’.

Dudecorp is a darkly funny animated miniseries about office life (and death) that we made a couple of years ago because we had some scripts that made us laugh.

greatplaces2work saw in Dudecorp the opportunity to reach their audience and provide them with entertainment – all the while, articulating the thought that perhaps the corporate machine is, er, not the ideal working environment for everyone. We were not going to be the wall to this Pyramus and Thisbe and so were delighted to take on the work.

We’ve gently repurposed the existing Dudecorp site and assets to work with the greatplaces2work proposition (‘get yourself a career you’ll thrive — not die — in’) and have been able to develop some great new Dudecorp content as well.

We’re launching the campaign this week with a panoply of targeted seeding, clever embeddable content units, videos, games and, of course, the original Dudecorp microsite.

Now, we’re watching and waiting for the happily-ever-after of people finding a career they love because they were entertained by content that advertised a service that was useful to them.

Maybe it’ll set a whole new paradigm and put an end to the incessant, aggressive calls from recruitment consultants. Sorry, scratch that last bit, this isn’t a fairy story.

Barcode porn

Chris Quigley - November 19th, 2008

I’ve worked in Soho for around 2 years now – and surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) I’ve never been into a porn shop.

Until today.

After finally finding out of how to make book barcodes (for aMap), and buying the software to create them, I then discovered that there are two types of barcode, and wasn’t quite sure which one to use.

Given that we’re surrounded by bookshops on the Charing Cross Road I thought it would be a good idea to pop along to one of them and ask them which was the correct barcode to use for books.

Having been initially failed by the sales desk lady at Foyles, I headed across the road to the Soho Bookshop (one of the last independent bookshops in Soho – which sells mainstream books on one level, and then has a porn section in the basement). The sales lady in the Soho Bookshop didn’t know anything about barcodes, but said her manager might – who worked in the basement (obviously). So I boldly descended into the basement, passed walls of porn mags and a carefully constructed butt-plug display, to find the manager standing at the sales desk. Carefully putting my example barcodes on the till desk – adorned by a montage of giant cocks and the like – I explained my barcode dilemma to discover he knew nothing about barcodes (again)- but that if I wanted a porno, they had a great 2-4-1 offer . . .

So emerging from the basement barcode in hand (and porn free), I headed over to Borders to see if they knew their barcodes. And thankfully they did. Without a cock or butt-plug in sight, the nice Borders lady advised me on which was the correct barcode for books – which was a relief.

Chris Moyles, e-consultation and Delib

Chris Quigley - October 10th, 2008

I never thought I’d hear Chris Moyles talking about “consultation” – but he did just that in his breakfast show last week.

As a brand of research activity consultation rates pretty low in the general public’s perception – with most people associating consultation exercises with village halls, weak coffee, stale biscuits, and even staler conversation.

So it’s nice to see the self-styled “Saviour of Radio” bigging up the BBC Trust’s latest consultation exercise - and putting some real energy into it. Maybe this is because this isn’t a village hall-styled consultation – but instead an easy-to-use e-consultation without a stale biscuit in sight.

Perhaps as Chris Moyles has now established himself as the Saviour of Radio, he should be looking to move on to save other communication channels. “Chris Moyles Saviour of consultation” has a nice ring to it (ish)?!

N.B. this post about online consultation was first written on Rubber Republic’s viral marketing blog @ Brand Republic

Kensington Report -> 3,157,804 views and counting

Andy Parkhouse - October 3rd, 2008

Why not join 3,157,804 other people and find out important news-facts including ‘Dogs: Friends or Foe?‘, and ‘Babies: Controlled by Aliens?‘.

The Kensington Report is a rubberductions production for Heavy.com