Snapping Profile Snaps
Recently, checking my RSS reader I came across this: Profile Snaps. TechCrunch was serious about it:
Recently launched Profile Snaps allows for additional context for content on news websites and blogs, by providing in-text profiles that gives the reader a snapshot of information about a public figure…….So if you clicked on Barack Obama’s Profile Snap, you’d see an about section, which gives a short bio of the U.S. president; a Twitter section that shows his latest Tweets; a news section with headlines that relate to him; videos of him from YouTube and a photo section that shows a slideshow of pics of President.
The concept behind Profile Snaps is good: since the real-time is hype, more and more applications seem to try to offer it by mashing-up different feeds/hoses/funnels/etc. into one platform. Profile Snaps obviously uses tags from (almost) decentralized sources: Wikipedia, Twitter, Google News, YouTube, Google Search and maybe Flickr for photos.
The problem comes when you aim to move away from the three given examples (the real-time feeds of Obama, Demi Moor and Radiohead). The real-time Tweets seem to just not work: I have tried (based on pure brainstorming) with Matthew Fuller, Lev Manovich, Kenye West, Massive Attack, Bojko Borisov (the Bulgarian prime minister), and U2. No real time Twitter-updates. What is worse, by relaying on tags from different platforms, results can get pretty messy. According to the Video stream, Matthew Fuller is a skateboarder; Lev Manovich is featured in Italian News as reference to an entry about computer games and whether they are remediation of cinema. According to the About stream, Kenye West is “High Speed Rail in the United Kingdom”. The News stream of Massive Attack is “Pakistan Launches Massive Attack on Taliban” and Bojko Borisov is featured in the top 4 links of the News in Macedonian (they use Latin letters). The only relevant result in all of the categories, except Twitter, was U2. I also tried with different language setting: if you query (in the window below the “Give Us a Name. Any Name”) Barack Obama in Bulgarian (Барак Обама), the provided Profile Snaps’ context breaks down even with a ‘name’ that was previously working in English.
Developing an application for capturing real-time streams apparently is difficult, especially when it relies upon tagged names and little portion of semantic Web. People do have similar fore/surnames meaning that a query based on names can be infinitely subjected to imprecision. I do not try to question the existence of this application since it has quite substantial logic behind. Context and content have become important for the online news-stories and any real-time change in the actor’s activity can influence the news context. What I aim to question here is the TechCrunch’s response to the application. TechCrunch has proved to be able to analyze the online critically and creatively (especially when their interests have been harmed). For example, they managed to reveal the back-end politics of Twitter’s notorious Suggested User’s List. Following the leak and the publishing of Twitter’s confidential documents on TechCrunch (even though they kept Twitter informed about it), the tech blog was taken out of the SUL (for a while) and that reflected on its Twitter’s visibility (it got less followers in the time out of the SUL than in the times it was/has been featured there).
In contrast to Twitter’s example, TechCrunch approached Profile Snaps in a very different manner. Did the tech editors check the application or just copy/paste the company’s PR announcement? It seems that they have put no effort in trying/playing around with Profile Snaps, otherwise they would have spotted its numerous drawbacks. On the other hand, being reviewed/featured in TechCrunch is seen as a marker of reputation (Profile Snaps has a banner on its webpage saying “As seen on TechCrunch”). There is clear politics of selection behind what TechCruch decides to approach critically and what not to. The question is how much of its content follows this pre-emptive selection and how much is based on the ‘free’ will of the editors to be critical and relevant about the newest/coolest tech introductions.