Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Old Facebook Stupidity

You know what I dislike? It's people's abuse of the internet, and I am not talking about the hackers, crackers, spammers or scammers. Although, what I hate, is when people really think they can control the way the internet works, and that they can set the pace on how its used. (Sure users are the source of revenue but those who really understand users know that users are idiots and will keep coming back anyway. There is a sucker born every minute- I love this quote)

Back to the point.

I got two facebook accounts, more email accounts than fingers, and I don't know how many online accounts and logins on every website you can think of. It's just something that you have to come and accept that all this user activity we log, is simply unavoidable, and if you want to survive the informatin age, you just have to live with it.

An example of something I hate about user idiocy, is this "Bring back the old facebook" stupidity. Alot of people, actually most, people on the internet are completely ignorant of how the internet works, or how online communities work, or either of them. Sure, the thing about online communities is that they have no rules, and anyone can "start" a movement. I am not going to talk about online communities, that's actually an interesting thing to talk about. What really bugs me and spurred this post is how people don't understand how the internet evolves and will evolve, and that they think they can stop things if they get enough people behind it.

Go shout yourself.

For example, there is a group on facebook "4,000,000 to bring back the old facebook" and they are probably at like 3 million members so far. Utter stupidity. Facebook has changed its look and feel 3 times in the last 18 months, and none of these groups stopped them from doing that. And surprise surpise, out of the 3 million+ who joined these groups like idiots (sorry am using the word alot) did not leave facebook just because they didn't like the new look. Ha! that would be a laugh. They are simply too addicted and attached to it to leave, no matter how it looks. As long as it gets them to stupidly advertise themselves in a self-perceived-look-of-themselves-that-is-completely-different-than-reality, plaster their drunk pics, their lame social life, and their stupid ideas, then they will keep coming back. The only difference between facebook and other websites is that they do there changes in-your-face style, which I kind of like.

Take Amazon for example. If you take a look at the Amazon website 4 years ago, it would be much different. Yet, Amazon chose to introduce changes (recommendations, ratings, new products, etc etc...) gradually, and in a more subttle way, that users just evolved with it. Amazon probably has more users than facebook, but these users are a little more focused on the "in-out" idea (although this is changing also as more social networking features get added to amazon): find what you want, browse, buy, leave. But facebook is a passtime website, and users tend to spend longer time on it, and use the features, and hence notice them. And sometimes, don't like the way they change because its not the way they are used to..... but, they won't leave, because no else will !! There are 70 + million users, and growing, and as long as users think of self-advertising themselves on facebook, whatever Mr. Zuckerberg and co. at facebook decide to do, the users will accept.... well, as long as they don't start charging them for having an account. (Every wants free advertising )

Yet on the flipside, the crap thing about the changing online community is that business, like everything will set the pace on the evolution of the internet, is that it will go mainstream and become less fun. What facebook started off as something for fun and messing about making fun of each other and creating this virtual persona that had nothing to do with reality. Ribaldry (or manyake as we would say in Lebanon) was king, and I could up anyone by one, throw bad ass jokes on walls and portray myself as Chris Rock with a twist, it was fun. But when cats started using it to brag about how many friends they have, who they work for, what countries they travelled and how popular with girls they are, it all went wrong. And for people like me its now just another email concept of connecting with people- with less hassle on attachments. Check this post.

Bottom line, users are stupid, and smile, you are being exploited, because no one is leaving. As long as the girl thinks she can get back at her boyfriend by posting pics of her going out and having a blast, and as long as guys think they can get laid through facebook , everyone will keep coming back. I need to make a group called "all stupid facebookers"

It's shit that I now have to watch my mouth, even on facebook. Damn you majority.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Where Internet Search Fails - Outsmart Google

You know, the thing about being a geek is that it is a charachter. Something inborn that you can't change. You can become a financier, you can become a businessman, an artist or a comedian, but its this thing that when you retire to your room, in your warm comfy bed, free of society and alone with your thoughts that is when who you truly are surfaces, when no one is looking.
I am a lot of things, but, end come to end, I am a geek, and a techie geek (geek by definition is someone passionate about something so much it defines him- it's not restricted to technology- u can be a photography geek, or a stamp geek....). I always wanted to be a techie, coz I always was a geek. I do it for the joy. It's a geek's world, and a techie heaven, and I always wanted to be the guy who makes people look silly when it came to computers. Now I am one, and I may be into a lot of things, like running the London Bridge Festival club, and being into finance and business, but, when someone slightly mentions anything remotely techie, I drift away on techie tangents and the internals of how it works yada yada yada... you can't run away from who you are.

This is by far, a geek post, with a capital G.

Anyway, we were talking the other day about search engine optimization, and I instantly broke it down in my mind, following my usual habit of coming up with an innovative idea, building a business around it and running it to the ground of its flaws within 30 minutes. (bad, bad habit , come on bright idea please come! am poor!) .

I am sure you all heard about this small company called Google. Well, they are big on internet search. Besides the fact that I believe that the main reason Google is so successful is that they have an empty, basic, homepage, with just the search bar. It's human psychology- simplicity - is the way to keep people coming back. Now, behind that search bar, is the famous PageRank algorithm, u know where Google does its calculations of how high the page should rank by computing all these different factors, such as inbound links, outbound links, keywords, meta tags, and the works. The idea behind this is to come up with a number, that is associated with each page, related to a given search querry, and these pages accordingly.

In addition, they have something called an index, which, is something like hashtable to which each and every page (and I mean each- well almost) page on the internet hashes to one value within that table. So, when you have that index, and you compute a page's hashvalue based on the PageRank algorithm, u'll get your search engine results, ranked by the closest match between your querry, and the hashvalue within that index. The complete equation is not completely released by Google, or any of the other search engines on the web, but the idea is that they try to "approximate" what the closest value in that index is related to your querry.

Trick: if you want to get a rough estimate of the size of Google's index, just enter a random large string of characters like "fdjadkmfjakjfdakjsangfkjgsafsa" in Google, and u will get like 1 or zero results in the search, but it will say "Results 1 - 10 of about 19,000,000,000 pages" which you can estimate the number of pages in Google's index. Lately it seems though that Google noticed that, and when u enter such a random string, it doesn't spit out this index size anymore but rather rejects the querry or whatever. This is probably because of the index debate, with Yahoo claiming to have 20billion pages in its index, Google claiming to have 3 times that, and the new company Cuil (pronounced cool- company which is going nowhere) claims to have twice the index of Google. (Funny that there website crashed the day it was launched).

This is all nitty gritty and nice, except there is an upper boundary for what internet search can do. Your search results are limited to the text the user enters. No matter which way you want to put it, and no matter how many web crawlers and algorithms engines apply, they just can't get into a user's mind. You will only find what you need/want on the internet is if you know what you are looking for. i.e., if you are cluless of what you are searching for, for example "that movie that the guy says 'bloody as hell' ", well if you enter "bloody as hell" , you'll probably won't get very far. Entering "bloody as hell movie script" will probably have Pulp Fiction in your first few hits and you are there. But, the point here, is that your brain did most of the narrowing down of the set you want to search for. It's not very difficult for search engine optimizers (SEO) to have algorithms that simply figure out that when you enter the word "movie" after some text, it will look first in areas related to movies. You made the job straight forward when adding the word "script". Piece of cake. In simplified ways the engine would do this -> movies subset of index -> scripts -> sentence -> bloody as hell. (Now play drums).

The great Alan Turing set the upper bound for what computers can do, with his Turing machine, and he proved, beyond a doubt, with his Turing test, that computers can't and will never think, and similarly its the same bound for for search engines: they can't get into your head.

These days, with the growth of the internet, and the immense computing power for a massive search engine like Google, they could maybe index each and every word, but a better way is that they can harness user data, by keeping logs of the search querries, and minning the data, to make a better educated guess. If most people who enter "sex for free" go to the same website, even if it's PageRank is shite, Google will notice that, and will "bump-up" its rank in the search results, using guesstimates based on visits. It's the same with social networks and getting users to create Google accounts and all that stuff. Google don't care about reading your emails, or knowing which pages you visited to spy on you or find out if you are a pervert- what they really want- is your data as a "user" to give them a better search engine. (At least I like to think so).

But these are just variations and optimizations of the same thing: trying to figure out what the user is thinking, by comparing it to what most people were thinking when they entered the same thing. But, that's just a speculation, and there is always the X variable, that can negate it. I may be a weird dude thinking "looking where everyone has looked before, but thought no one had thought before" ! (paraphrased from Albert Von Szent-Gyorgyi)

You want a trick to break Google? Trying to find out what "the" is in English grammar. Google removes any occurance of "the" because its way too common. Entering "definition: the" helps a bit, but not that much either- but, by using "definition: " u already proved my point, of humanly limiting the search universe :)

They will mine my website and guess my trick and stop it, and I will find another one, because...... I am a geek who drinks too much coffee.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Sharia Bonds

I have this habit of walking into phone booths. Maybe because I've never actually used one. With a geek phone that almost makes me coffee, why should I? Maybe it's just my burning urge to make station-to-station calls to Alistair Darling, "This is Colonel Lionel Mandrake..."

Anyway, while I was walking on Parliament street, I remembered that a while back, when I was still at the LSE (doesn't time fly?!), I read an article in the FT that the Exchequer were going to issue Sharia bonds, or, in other words, Islam compliant bonds.

First of all, a bit of a background. A bond, is an I-Owe-You paper issued by the government to which certifies that the government owes the holder of the bond a certain amount of money, and that it agrees to pay a given amount of interest once the bond is mature. Mature, as in, when a bond is issued, it's issued over a certain period of time, up to seven years, and when the time is up, the government will pay you back the money with interest. Unlike stocks, bonds, are technically "risk-free" as in, it's highly unlikely that the government will default on the loan. (This is how a spread is calculated: the risk difference between a bond (risk free) and a stock (price changes, may default - bankruptcy).

But, what is important to this post is the interest part, to which, in Islamic law , or Sharia , is not allowed.

Sharia, is the law that governs Islam and how Muslims handle money. According to Sharia, no man can charge a fee just for lending another man a certain amount of money. i.e. interest. Islam preaches that every man has equal rights to do business, as long as there is equal opportunity to everyone, where in a perfect system, every man can either make a profit or loose, or what is called the "Halal" way of doing business. Charging interest, is banned, because technically, when someone gives someone else a loan, that man has to pay him back. If he is also paying an interest for that money, that means the lender is a partner (shareek as ther term is in arabic) in the profits, but not the loss. i.e. It is not an equal opportunity because he always emerges as a profiteer. It is taken to a further level of severity , that charging very high interest (like 10%+ of the loan amount) becomes what is called Ribba in Arabic. i.e. Immoral exploitation of the loaner.

Now, that creates a problem for muslims who may decide to purchase bonds, because they will be making a profit in terms of interest, when the government, basically doesn't loose, and consequently they are making money from money, guarranteed.

Luckily, there is a loophole to this. A bond, is usually backed by an underlying asset. i.e. the cash amount of a bond, technically (but not exactly) can be converted into a certain solid asset, such as gold, land, oil, etc... and a government bond, is backed by the Central Bank, which, is in turn backed by solid assets. Gold the government has, land etcetera. Now, the loophole, is that if these Sharia bonds (called Sukuk in Arabic) are backed by an underlying asset, such as a running business that can, in theory, loose money, so that means there is a possibility of loss.

Although the UK has stalled in issuing these bonds, Indonesia, the largest Islamic country by population (surprised it's not Saudi Arabia or Egypt?) , is leading the way and it has categorized how the Sharia bonds will be structured:

1) “Ijarah” : where the bond is a lease to rent a certain underlying asset.
2) "Mudharabah" : Mudarabah in Arabic means the ability to lower prices to compete in the market, thus sharing the profit.
3) "Musyarakah" : profit and loss sharing.
4) "Istisna" which, in Arabic, means exception, and in the finance context means an exceptional funding to fund a given project.

Regulation Regulation regulation! The one thing probably stalling the issue of these bonds in the United Kingdom, is that our beloved Chancellor isn't too satisfied with the suggested way to regulate them, and the FSA has been summoned to work on that. The issuing of these bonds, will widen the pool of financial products available to Muslims. Although, I guess Mr. Darling, with the cockup the bankers did in the credit shit, isn't being too sloppy with too loose of a regulation.

I personally think that it's not only to capture the local Islamic financial market, but also the global market, estimated at around $500bn. Now the credit crunch has attracted Islamic money, but they do drive a hard bargain. Prince Sultan Bin Nahyan, ruler of the Emirat of Abu Dhabi and co-head of the United Arab Emirates , invested £10 Bn for 30% share of Barclays, in an attempt to bail them out.....

Anyway, I do believe that the Middle East and the Arabs are up an coming when it comes to finance, but as long as they haven't grassped the fact that money is just another commodity like food, oil, wood etc. and interest is just how you make profit from this product, then they still got a long way to go. (Oh shit, did I just implicitly wink at financial derivatives? Ignore please).

I need to go to into a phone booth and call Dr. Strangelove. Enough blabbering.