Power law relationship in modern demographics

Cognition seems to be the driver behind a power law relationship, which would be odd indeed. It implies a fixed way of thinking about geography and places that can be modeled statistically. Human thought processes aren’t generally amenable to quantitative models.

Is this something new?

curious relationship


Giving a name to a place is an important act. It says a place has meaning, that it should be remembered. For thousands of years, the way we kept track of place names—or toponyms—was by using our memory. Today, we’re not nearly so limited, and the number of toponyms seems to have exploded. Yet oddly enough, the number of places we name in a given area follows a trend uncannily similar to one seen in hunter-gatherer societies.…

via Per Square Mile
Next steps?

  1. Confirm if Eugene Hunn’s 1994 findings were reproduced with current data
  2. Check whether the USPS zip code information used was correct

Vestiges of Dutch Colonialism in the New World

Saint Eustatius island

Saint Eustatius Harbor circa 1750

Despite my best efforts at over-dramatization, and some inclination toward satire, I could not bring myself to title this post without any regard for accuracy. I did spin some sensationalist gems that I can’t resist sharing. I discarded these candidate titles due to their obvious discrepancy with reality:

  • Kingdom of the Netherlands: Autonomy or subjugation for vassal states Bonaire, Saba and Saint Eustatius?
  • Landscape of imperialism in the twenty-first century: Historically significant changes in sovereignty in the Netherlands Antilles.

Or most misleading and untruthful of all:

  • Turmoil revisits Dutch West Indies half a millennium after rout of Spanish Armada!

Birth of Nations

In fact, the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist as of October 2010. Curacao and Saint Maarten are now autonomous nations, governing themselves. The three islands Bonaire, Saba, and Saint Eustatius became municipalities in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Residents now have the same benefits and rights as Dutch citizens.

While browsing the GeoNames site a few days ago, I first learned of the transformation of the Netherlands Antilles.  It motivated today’s post, whose primary topic is privacy considerations for social networking. Location sharing (and associated geodata) is part of the privacy issue.

I was evaluating an alternative micro-blogging platform, identi.ca. It is a status.net project. identi.ca is like that mainstay of micro-blogging, Twitter. The two platforms even have a certain measure of cross-compatibility. In terms of branding, good choices were made: identi.ca is a partner, or possibly a subsidiary, of laconi.ca. laconi.ca is the perfect name for a communication medium restricted to 140 characters or less!

identi.ca is conceptually similar to the highly anticipated Facebook alternative, Diaspora. Both Diaspora and identi.ca are open source projects. For the user, the relevant issue is that both assure a higher level of privacy. The design model for Facebook, and many other social networking applications, is that very little information will be retained on the client side. Most everything goes to a server-side repository. It is irrelevant whether user data resides in the cloud, or the Facebook data center. Neither is under the control of the user.

identi.ca and Diaspora are different in that they do not require users to relinquish all personal data. One way to do this is by running one’s social network on one’s own server, thus avoiding the concerns of information misappropriation, be it intentional or accidental. Running one’s own server does not sound very feasible for most people, and in fact, the shift to client side is probably more subtle e.g. greater reliance on the user’s browser.

Google Buzz provides an example of accidental over-sharing.  In the early days of Google Buzz, the full power of Open Social API was unleashed without forewarning users. This was accidental, and Google didn’t profit from the mishap. Google Buzz was irresponsible for not first offering opt-out to segregate some or all account contacts from participation.  The issue was promptly remedied. Unfortunately, despite the rapid redress and that there was no revenue stream associated with the disclosure of information (unlike the copious chronology charts of Facebook’s information peddling showcased in the Wall Street Journal), Google’s temporary disclosure of information about users to each other had a very negative impact on acceptance, usage and success of Google Buzz.

Identi.ca includes a location identification option using GeoNames data.  Tie-in to the Dutch West Indies follows:

New Countries

Flag of Curacao

Three new countries came into being after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in October 2010… ISO assigned the code BQ to the three BES islandsRead More via GeoNames

Published in: on 14 January 2011 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spam Expands In Space-Time

As data usage expands into new dimensions, from 2-D print to the internet and now geolocation, spam will tag along.

Foursquare is offering an essentially useless promotion, a Starbucks frappuccino special that is taking on a distinctly spam like aspect: It’s a low-value offer available only to a tiny number of people.

Tod Maffin noted that the ubiquity of Starbucks, with the chain’s next-to-worthless Foursquare offer, poses a serious challenge to the app’s usefulness. It is location spam, LBS spam or “Something You Aren’t Interested in Nearby!”

There are more Starbucks in this city than stop lights. One intersection even has two Starbucks! That means that pretty much any time you use Foursquare in Vancouver, you’re going to get an offer from Starbucks.

Problem is, the Starbucks offer is lousy. It’s only for the person who has checked in the most — and even then, it’s a cheap offer: $1 off a limited number of their cold beverages.

Negative benefits

Apparently the law of diminishing returns from too much advertising can move on to a second phase of dis-utility, which actually drives customers away. This is an even worse outcome than not advertising at all!

Forrester gives the concept some in-depth coverage: Foursquare Advertising Getting Less Interesting.

Published in: on 3 August 2010 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thoughts about Emotional Data in Wiredset Blog

Foursquare User Numbers Soar

The title of the article Data Driven Experiences: Emotional Data, by Mark Ghuneim is fascinating, however, I’m concerned about address-level sharing of geo-spatial information as part of social networks.

FourSquare is a phone application that has seen soaring popularity since the 2010 SXSW event in Austin,Texas in March. Details of how the application works can be found at the Foursquare.com site. I was dismissive initially. It seemed little more than a way of telling others where you are at the moment, maybe make a restaurant recommendation, and earn very cute badges based on level of activity.

Activity is measured by the user’s “check-in” to a location, which is received and time stamped via mobile device by FourSquare and further validated by GIS-type service. Of course there is the element of competition by earning badges and becoming “Mayor” of a location. FourSquare also offers users a less blatant way of informing friends, and possibly everyone else, that you shopped at a great new clothing boutique, or went dancing at an upscale club over the weekend. Better yet, if you made an appearance at not merely one nightclub but three, in a single evening! FourSquare would be very effective for that. Why? Well, the app is new and not yet hacked or gamed by savvy users, it is far more credible than heresay and not subject to human error.

Foursquare activity in TX

Foursquare activity @ SXSW 2010, Austin TX

At first glance, FourSquare and similar didn’t seem terribly compelling. Merely more of the popularity contest and conspicuous consumption effect? Well, I didn’t foresee much potential for widespread appeal for another social networking phenomena, different but novel in its own way: the Facebook game, Farmville… and I was so very wrong.

Foursquare Logo

Businesses will certainly find value from subscriptions to FourSquare user data feeds. Geo-spatial data based social network applications, described by the more general term of LBS, location-based services, are attracting attention in unexpected ways.

For example, FourSquare advocates introduce the alluring idea that it actually enriches the lives of users with a collectively magnified knowledge base of the world to draw on, leading to a higher level of engagement with everything.

However, I believe that most possible benefits are far outweighed by the risks of over sharing. The most obvious negative consequence is increased vulnerability, impacting personal, family and property security. Note that FourSquare does have a posted privacy policy , about which I am not informed enough to comment.

Published in: on 2 April 2010 at 11:21 am  Comments (2)  
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