Category Archives: Analysis

Those who don’t understand algorithms…

Don’t be scared if you don’t know what an algorithm is. This article is for you, so please read on.

If you know what an algorithm is but mainly from a mathematical viewpoint, you may skip the following paragraph, but please read on below, too.

About algorithms… and human action

Picture ‘Lamp Flowchart’ by Wapcaplet, via Wikimedia Commons

In a nutshell, an algorithms is the standardized function by which an action is executed – the important word being “standardized“. Because: the action to be executed is defined very clearly, and the function must state unambiguously in what circumstances and under what conditions this action has to be executed (or not).

This may sound very theoretical, but we all have already been confronted with a multitude of algorithmic processes.

Retrieving money from a cash machine is a typical, rather simple example: the machine has a certain number of predefined “actions” it can do (ask for your PIN code, hand out a certain amount of money, show account balance, swallow your card etc.) and its actions depend on your input, which are “conditions” for the machine.

Of course every action that is computer-based is algorithmic, i.e. implemented within different “layers” of programming, all boiled down to the basic electronic signals 0 and 1.

But no need for computers: actually, every procedure guided by a flowchart is algorithmic, too. Everything that is standardized. Everything that is automated.

“Algorithm” means no room for interpretation. And no choice. Continue reading

Technology: corporate vs. humanitarian needs and trends

Lybia Crisis Map by UshahidiThis week, the 3rd International Conference of Crisis Mapping was held in Geneva. However, don’t expect this article to be a wrap-up. No, a wrap-up is later or elsewhere. This article is just one of many inspirations by ICCM put into words, reflecting on our expectations in technology and the direction we are heading.

It is about where we expect technology to take us. If we don’t know what is possible, our estimates will always be wrong.

During the first day’s keynotes and Ignite sessions it became very clear already: what is expected from technology – and the way it is used – corresponds explicitly to some requirements/trends identified independently from humanitarian applications already. I had to realize that it makes a lot of (imaginary?) boundaries between corporate and non-profit disappear.

(However, let’s not forget that the weight of a need/trend is very different in the two areas: what is an interesting tool for branding/customer retention/sales/… or simply a nice gadget in the corporate world can have life-saving impact in the humanitarian field. Nothing less.)

Gameification

In countries where there are no accurate maps, how to get people to contribute to the Humanitarian Open Street Map project? And how to get them to contribute useful data? Learning by doing. Kate Chapman said that in Indonesia, they organized a contest at a university where teams of students were invited to map their city. 5 points for each building mapped, 1 point for everything else.

User-based design and simplicity

Before a crowd-sourced mapping of Indonesia was even possible, the tool had to correspond to something people were able to understand. Kate Chapman explained that they had to adapt the iconography and create icons that would make sense to Indonesian people – the standard Western ones simply wouldn’t. Continue reading

“Adult” TLD .xxx is just the beginning

Do you watch internet pornography? Chances are you do: worldwide, there are 72 million visitors monthly to pornographic web sites, and 42.7% of internet users view adult entertainment.

Before you start arguing about statistics, their meaning, their biases, know this: I agree with being critical – but the point I’m trying to make doesn’t depend on the figures.

A lot of online adult entertainment is watched by a lot of people. That’s a fact. Just check out the most popular sites of your country, and you will probably find a couple of pornographic sites among the top 50. They occurr usually clustered, starting e.g. around position 40 for the US, position 30 for France and Great Britain, position 25 for Germany, and position 20 for Switzerland and Italy at the time of writing.

Another fact: The ICANN has authorized, a few months ago, the (sponsored) top-level domain .xxx – after a decade of debate. Continue reading