Social Media, Crowdsourced Reviews and the Edinburgh Festival

As usual, I spent the last few weeks of August at the Edinburgh Festival.  For those who have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s billed as the world’s largest arts event.  This year there were over 40,000 performances from 2,453 companies throughout the course of the month, selling over 2 million tickets.  However, I think that’s only around 40% of the potential tickets that could be sold.  As a result, throughout August, Edinburgh is consumed by a mad scramble of promotion, with companies handing out flyers, sticking posters all over the City and engaging in all manner of publicity stunts.  This year I expected to see companies starting to use social media and mobile phone apps to help promote themselves. Sadly, few appeared to use these at even the most basic level.

2010 was the year when the Internet finally overtook the local press.  For many years the main guide to what’s worth seeing has been the star ratings given by professional reviewers, notably from the Scotsman’s daily review section.  Over the past few years a growing number of web based review sites have emerged, with reviews contributed by audience members (and quite often by cast members).  As a result, anyone can post their own four or five star review, irrespective of the quality of the show, or their competence as a reviewer.  So every company capable of performing a Google search has been able to plaster their posters and handbills with a five star review, even though they may have submitted it themselves.  Seemingly unaware of the existence of the Internet, this triggered the Scotsman to pen a splenetic tirade about how people voicing their own opinion is devaluing the review process. 

As someone who is working with emerging location based social networking, it was disappointing to see how little has emerged at the Festival.  I came across no references to Foursquare, Gowalla or Loopt, surprisingly limited use of Facebook and Twitter and no Bluetooth marketing.  However, the growth of public reviews and the start of social media promotion by a few companies suggest that 2011 might be the year when things change and the position of the professional reviewer is finally undermined.  So what happened this year, and what do companies need to do in the future?

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The Curious History of UWB

Most technologies are born and either survive or die. UWB (Ultra Wide Band) seems determined to do it differently, by constantly reincarnating itself and never quite getting there.  It’s currently at another inflection point in its serendipitous life cycle and it’s not at all obvious whether it will survive this one.


I was recently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan, where I discovered that he had invented an acronym which struck me as remarkably apposite – the Universal Will to Believe. In his case it’s probably nothing to do with wireless (although it could be), but is the mysterious power source in Tralfamodorean spaceships that is harnessed to power the Martian fleet of flying saucers.  Obscure power sources for space travel seem to be a recurring theme in science fiction, as Douglas Adams created something remarkably similar a few decades later, with his Infinite Probability Drive in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  And recurring themes and reinvention are eerily common in the curious world of UWB.

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Glow in the dark Yoghurt – it’s the future for Science.

It’s always good to have a heart-warming story to start the year off.  What made this a particularly good start for me in 2009 was the fact that the story appeared in New Scientist.  In their opening issue on 3rd January, they tell the story of the “Rise of the garage genome hackers”.  It’s all about the research on genetic modification that is going on in sheds, garages and bedroom cupboards around the world.  It’s is a largely unreported phenomenon, but signals a growing trend which is the return of the scientific amateur or hobbyist.

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Horace Walpole and Serendipity

Horace Walpole may seem an unlikely subject for a website on Wireless Connectivity, being best known for his help in reviving the Gothic style in Victorian times, both with his mini-castle at Strawberry Hill and his early Gothic novel “The Castle of Otranto”.


What’s always intrigued me more about him is that he is credited with introducing the word “serendipity” into the English language, which is why he’s here.  I’ve always liked the fact that a scholar and Member of Parliament would revert to a memory of a children’s story – “The Three Princes of Serendip” as his source.  In it, Walpole explained, the heroes, the Three Princes of Serendip were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.  It suggests a man who has not had the misfortune of having to behave as a grown-up all of the time.


By referring to it as a Children’s book, Walpole devalued the fact that it is a much older story with nobler lineage, going back in oral tradition to stories of the life of the Persian King Bahran V.  But for the current purpose, that’s by the by.  I’ve always felt that it describes perfectly a lot of what is best and most satisfying in science and R&D – stumbling across something valuable that’s not what you expect.  Hence my choice for all of the bits and pieces that I find interesting that don’t fit under the more definitive categories of this site. I hope you enjoy them


As an indication that one’s actions can come back to haunt you, in the best gothic fashion, one other serendipitous claim to fame comes from Walpole’s cat Selima.  When it died, it provided Thomas Gray the inspiration to write his Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes.