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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

Permanent link to archive for Sunday, May 31, 2009. Sunday, May 31, 2009

A question for journalists Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I asked a question on Twitter: "An example of a non-monetary gift you couldn't accept from a company you cover? Why?"

Some of the answers...

Michael Calore: "copy of shrink-wrapped software i didn't review, comp tickets to a show/concert sponsored by a company i write about often"

Janet Ginsburg: "at businessweek (a while back) strong rule re no gifts. kept things clean. sm conf swag (pens, bags) but that's it."

Doug Levy: "just as physicians are inadvertently biased by trinkets like drug co pens, reporters need to vigorously avoid potential bias."

Freda Moon: "I was taught to accept no gifts from sources. None. Not tickets. Not a meal. Not even a cup of coffee. That last one can be hard."

Megan Taylor: "Tickets to sporting events. Reporters are supposed to be objective and accepting gifts compromises that."

There seems to be a consensus here.

Now a followup question.

Can you accept placement on Twitter's Suggested Users List if you are a journalist who covers Twitter?

Please this question is only for journalists.

Permanent link to archive for Saturday, May 30, 2009. Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Times attitude Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I don't know why I remembered this story last night, but that's when it happened.

When I was a kid, in sixth grade in PS 32 in Queens, there was a deal where we could get the NY Times for students. It was a special edition, with some of the big words edited out, or perhaps explained. I got it even though I had been reading the full adult version for a few years.

We also had a weekly quiz that was written by someone at the Times. It was multiple choice and it indicated (I guess) whether or not you had read the Times that week. There was one question on one test that really caused me trouble. What's the largest state in the US? There were four choices, and two of them were Alaska and California. That's a nightmare because they didn't say what the criteria was. Is it largest by area or population? So I chose Alaska, because I felt if you didn't say, it must mean area. Well that's not what they meant and I got the answer wrong. I protested to the teacher, who must have thought: Here's a teaching moment. So she asked me to write a letter to the Times, which I did. She mailed it for me.

A picture named mwom.gifNow here's the part that taught me a lot about the Times, and how adults can be ridiculously rude to children. I decided at the time to remember this so when I was an adult I would treat children with respect, which I really try to do.

The Times response came to my teacher, not me. They didn't like something about how I wrote my letter. And they didn't respond to the substance of the challenge. You may think it was a small point, but I was small then, and I wanted to know.

To this day, the Times has remained consistent and so have I. They generally talk over our heads, and respond to the manner in which the challenge is raised, not to its substance. I still keep trying to find new ways to approach this. I guess what I've been trying to say to the Times since sixth grade is this -- We are real people out here. Just like you. And we're smart. So let's talk, without the attitude.

An afterthought: Everyone is inside some things and outside everything else. I have a funny story to go with this. In 2004, I was at Harvard and Scoble was at Microsoft. I don't know how it came up but my longtime friend threw a bit of tech industry FUD at me, so I threw some Ivy League FUD back at him. I said that Harvard has been around since 1636 and pretty likely would be around long after Microsoft was gone, so don't try to push me around bud. We had a good laugh. (I think I also boasted that we had more cash than Bill Gates, but on reflection I doubt that was actually true.)

I also became friends with Chris Lydon, who had been a Times reporter in the 1970s. He clued me into some of the culture from an insider's point of view. I also got to know Rebecca MacKinnon who had been a reporter for CNN in Japan, Korea and China.

Rebooting the News 1-10 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A lot of change is coming in the Rebooting The News podcast series.

The last episode was so good, it seemed a shame there wasn't a site specifically for the podcast. So I bought a domain and spent a couple of days creating a site for it. (Along the way creating some interesting new desktop software for managing podcasts.)

There's a new feed just for RTN podcasts.

They will continue to appear in the Scripting News feed, so if you're subscribed to that, no need to change anything.

I also made a package of the first ten episodes and uploaded a torrent to Mininova.

So if you've missed any episodes, or would just like to have a complete collection through last week, please go get it. BitTorrent is such a rational way to distribute content, and it's under attack by the entertainment industry. This is a perfect non-infringing application of BT, Jay and I want you to have our recordings, so go get em! A picture named sidesmiley.gif

If you're new to BitTorrent, it's really easy. On the Mac, I recommend Transmission and on Windows, I use uTorrent. Just follow the instructions on the site to install, then click on the link above and click on OK to the prompts that appear. It may take an hour or two to get all 135MB, so just leave it running in the background. Once it's finished, leave it running a little longer so that the next people can download it from you. It's a peer-to-peer system.

And don't worry -- I'm allowed to do this -- I created the podcasts (along with Jay).

Permanent link to archive for Friday, May 29, 2009. Friday, May 29, 2009

Is there value in being on the SUL? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named pepper.gifI think it's self-evident that there is a lot of value in being on Twitter's Suggested User List, especially for publications that run ads on the pages they link to from posts to Twitter. And many of the most-followed Twitter users do that. You can see that if you look at the main 100TWT site, the posts of the 100 most popular Twitter users.

I wrote this app so I could get a sense of how these feeds were being used. Some even run outright ads in their feeds, not links to pages that have ads. AdventureGirl, with 493K followers, is an excellent example.

Some people have said that being on the SUL is like being linked to, but I don't think so. There is no web equivalent to the SUL. It's as if Google seeded their search engine so that every web newbie, when they searched for anything, got 20 of 200 sites in every response. There would be no correlation between the sites returned and the query. Further, the power of these initial sites in recommending other sites would be almost absolute. New users wouldn't have any other way to find things on the web other than the first few sites they got in their very first Google search. It's so out-there that it's hard to even explain, the web could never have worked that way, people simply wouldn't have gotten the point.

Another experiment would be to walk around the office and ask every Twitter user if they would mind having more followers. Don't say why you're asking, just ask. If they all say they don't care how many people follow them, I'll buy every one of them a bagel next time I'm in town.

I couldn't discuss this on Twitter because there's no way to explore any subtle subject 140 characters at a time. But I'm willing to discuss it here, as long as we're uncovering new ideas, and not rehashing stuff.

Note: I originally wrote this piece to reference a specific organization, but on reflection I think it works better if it it's general. These are my opinions, I don't present them as gospel, as always your mileage may vary.

Discussions in Twitter, day 2 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named reefFish.gifYesterday I soft-launched a little project I'm working on called Today the service gets a little more real, because now you can create discussions around tweets too, and not just your own tweets, anyone's. In other words, this could get interesting. A picture named sidesmiley.gif

For example, I just started a small discussion around a post by WNYC's Brian Lehrer. Apparently they had a power outage, and that's interfering with all kinds of things, including their ability to post a podcast. Maybe someone in the community can help.

And if you look in the right margin of that page, you'll see a very brief HowTo explaining how to create your own discussion pages. If you have any questions, post them here, and I'll build how this blog post and turn it into documentation.

PS: A million thanks to the guys at Disqus who provide a wonderful and flexible tool, and support it like pros.

Permanent link to archive for Thursday, May 28, 2009. Thursday, May 28, 2009

Google's killer app Permanent link to this item in the archive.

In May 2001 I went for a visit to Google, which was then a very young company. I offered a list of ideas that we could work on together that would help bring their search engine closer to the blogging world, which was also then, quite young.

Then as now I saw the challenge as shortening the distance in time between a post and its appearance in the search engine. I called the idea then just in time search, it's the same idea that people call "real time" today. The term "just in time" was borrowed from the manufacturing world, where the goal is to have the components needed to build a product ready at the exact moment they are needed.

The meeting was cordially breathless, we loved Google then, it felt like it was our company, they were on our side in keeping the web open and the playing field level. But the ideas discussed that day weren't implemented. I don't think this was anyone's fault because then it wasn't so easy to see exactly what was necessary. This was quite a bit before RSS solidified behind version 2.0, and hadn't fully bloomed yet. It may not have been obvious how to do it then, but today -- I believe it is.

I described it to Michael Gartenberg in a phone conversation this morning. It took me about five sentences and less than a minute. That deserves a blog post, I thought.

Here's what I'd like to see them do:

1. When my blog updates I ping their server with the address of the RSS feed.

2. They read the feed, note the changes from the last time they read it, update their index.

3. On the other side, they allow users to subscribe to a set of RSS feeds they maintain, either on Google or elsewhere (using OPML subscription lists). Google provides an RSS feed that can be read every minute to get all changes to the aggregated feeds.

I know they already have elements of #3 implemented in Google Reader, that's good!

The whole thing needs to be tested, burned in and tweaked with clients that do more or less what Twitter does. How it works on the back-end is Google's business.

If they want to do more, I don't have a problem with that. This is the part my software will use.

I would like to see #1 based on the ping protocol, which included a REST interface. I'm not wed to any particular format other than it be as simple as it possibly can be and not dependent on toolkits or having any particular software installed. No opportunities for lock-in, nothing that isn't completely transparent and simple.

Then Google gets to do what Google does best, and what we depend on them for -- run a great search engine. They get all the updates flowing through their servers. Believe me, everyone will support this. And the advantages for users are manifold. Wide choice of software to use. You can have a 140-char limit if you want, or not, if you don't, again -- your choice. You can include media objects, RSS fully provides for it, or you can choose not to. The whole point is to keep it super lightweight and give you all the choices. Let the market figure out where it goes, so we don't have to wait for any one person or group of people to figure it out. That's the Internet way of doing things.

I can be happy that at least I've written down the idea where all can see it. I don't know if anyone from Google reads my blog, or cares. Microsoft or Yahoo could do it, I would be happy to work with anyone with the search and scaling ability.

Twitter as coral reef, cont'd Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named reefFish.gifI've been feverishly experimenting some new ideas this week, the most interesting of which is a mashup between Twitter and Disqus.

This should make Fred Wilson happy, since he is an investor in both companies. But that's not why I did it.

Here's why I did it. The 140-character limit is driving me crazy.

I need a place to express ideas that just don't fit into 140.

There are some, believe it or not.

So here's an example. Early this morning Mike Arrington posted a teaser on his exclusive personal Twitter account. "Get ready for a very, very big news day." Well, Mike ought to know, everyone's telling him stuff they tell no one else.

So I wanted to post a comment asking What's up? What does everyone think this means.

So that's what I did.

Note the URL. Cute, huh? It's a pre-shortened url. No need to push it through any of the commercial shorteners. New trend started by my friend Andrew Baron with his new superhot beta startup

Anyway. So far there are 11 comments with some very interesting theories about what's up. If nothing else, it's an inventory of ideas out there that people are expecting as announcements any day now. Google's realtime search engine (would be great if it supported RSS both ways and compatible pinging). Microsoft's new search engine Bing (for which expectations are really low, so it should be easy for them to impress). And on and on...

Add your own two cents.

And my next sub-project is to create a bookmarklet that makes it super-easy for anyone to start a comment thread on any Twitter post they like.

So Fred, whatcha think? ;->

PS: Proof again that Twitter is the great coral reef of the latter part of this decade. It's so easy to attach something to it, that might turn into a branch or perhaps an entirely new species!

PPS: I'm working my way through James Burke's fantastic series Connections. Just watched episode 4, which ends with the beginnings of the modern computer. Hollerith, who invented the famous card that many people used to program Fortran and Basic (such as yours truly) decided to make them the same size as the dollar bill of the day. Because there was already so much machinery that existed to process them. Oh yeah. That's the kind of tech I love. Build on what's out there. More coral-reef thinking! Yehi.

Update: The big announcement is Google Wave. How much you want to bet in 5 years it'll be as famous as OpenDoc is today.

Permanent link to archive for Sunday, May 24, 2009. Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rebooting the News #10 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

We got this one folks!

Topics include: Maureen Dowd of course, the Church of the Savvy, One year of Twitter for Jay. Why is user interface so damned hard? 10 years since Edit This Page. And an inspired choice for Inspiration of the week, Elvis Costello's recording of Nick Lowe's classic What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding.

One of the best Reboots yet, imho.

A picture named cheesecake.jpg

PS: As usual subscribe in your podcatcher or iTunes.

What are reading lists? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

First an update on today's earlier blog post. Apparently Google Reader does not support reading lists. I think when I asked the question, the 140-character limit on Twitter made it impossible for an accurate answer.

No matter what, maybe it would be a good idea now to try to give a complete technical explanation of what a reading list is.

1. There are many kinds of "feed consumer" apps, all of them are capable of supporting reading lists, not just feed readers or aggregators. In the rest of this piece I'll use the shorthand "FC" to refer to a feed consumer app.

2. When you subscribe to a feed you're telling the FC that you want it to periodically read the contents of that feed and somehow act on the new items in the feed.

3. A reading list contains a set of feeds. The format of a reading list is exactly the same as the OPML-based subscription list format that's supported by many FCs.

4. When a FC subscribes to a readling list it does not import the feeds.

5. When the FC checks for updates, it checks for new items in the feeds in the reading list. Therefore it must keep a record of the feeds in the reading lists it is subscribed to.

6. If a new feed appears in the reading list, it does whatever it does for a new feed. Many FCs will consider all the items in the feed as "old" the first time the feed is read, esp if it's a podcatcher.

7. If a feed that was in the reading list has been removed, then the feed is not read and all record of the feed is erased from FC database, with the following exception. If a feed appears in two or more reading lists, a reference count must be maintained, and the feed is erased only when the reference count goes to zero.

8. Obviously the user can subscribe to as many reading lists as he or she likes.

9. The behavior I've described is how the NewsRiver aggregator that runs in the OPML Editor works. I suppose it's possible that other FCs work differently. If so, it would be great to hear about them.

I think that pretty much covers it.

Google's incomplete support of reading lists Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Kevin Marks, who works at Google, tells anyone who will listen that Google Reader has a new feature that's exactly like reading lists, and that's a good thing -- because they are powerful and useful, and likely a key to making news reading work for more people.

A picture named love.gifReading lists allow you to delegate subscription to feeds to experts. So for example, I could let Lance Knobel, an economist who I trust, choose the feeds I follow in his area of expertise. That way, when a new feed comes along, instead of sending me an email saying "Hey Dave you might want to subscribe to this feed" he can do it for me simply by adding it to his reading list.

Similarly, if a feed is no longer being updated, when Lance unsubs from it, so will I, automatically.

You can think of reading lists as a mutual fund of feeds. Busy people don't have time to research which feeds to follow and unfollow, so they delegate that to experts.

Another application -- the BBC has a large number of feeds, some for special events like the Olympics or elections. They could have a reading list for all their feeds, and when one falls off, they'd remove it, and when a new one comes on, they could add it.

It's an obvious extension to RSS, and to the ability to import and export OPML subscription lists. You can subscribe to a list of feeds in addition to individual feeds.

Now I'd love to provide reading lists for users of Google Reader, but I can't because they're using an incompatible format. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. When asked to explain why, Marks gives a nonsense answer about the OPML Editor, which this has nothing to do with. It's always a shame when technologists, who have to answer precisely to the computer, use political spin when talking to users.

Further, if Google plans to challenge Twitter, as I've said I hope they do -- they will not get my support if they respond to Twitter's locked trunk with their own locked trunk. They must use RSS, OPML, Atom, everything they can find that there is even a bit of consensus for, including Twitter's API. They must achieve a remarkable level of compatibility to make the barrier to entry as low as it possibly can be and to send a signal that they just want to be a player in the market, not the dominator of the market.

Google's attitude in this area has been very unfortunate -- they've tended to be incompatible with existing formats whenever they can get away with it.

If Google had not invented a new format for reading lists, this would be a very different post. I'd be offering some reading lists of my own for their users to subscribe to, and encouraging my colleagues to do the same. I'd have written a howto that shows people what they need to do to create a reading list for Google Reader if they don't use Google Reader.

It's bad strategy to be gratuitously incompatible. It's also bad manners. Google was given a market for their reader built on open formats. They ought not consume that open-ness, they ought to at least preserve it, if not enhance it.

However, I will sing their praises if they fix their implementation to use the same format we use for their implementation of reading lists. If not, we'll wait to see what their efforts to compete with Twitter look like.

Permanent link to archive for Saturday, May 23, 2009. Saturday, May 23, 2009

Maureen Dowd Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I don't want to make a federal case about it, but I don't think the press did enough checking into Maureen Dowd's explanation of the plagiarism that appeared in her column last week.

Had it been a major political figure, say a Governor or the Speaker of the House, I doubt if a vague explanation about quoting a friend would have stopped the questions. (I'm thinking of Spitzer, McGreevy and Pelosi, just a few recent examples.)

Doesn't it beg the obvious question -- who was the friend? We should know if he or she corroborates Ms. Dowd's explanation. Clearly there was plagiarism, someone committed it. If this friend is a reporter or columnist, don't his or her readers have a right to know who they are?

And by the way, Dowd hasn't admitted to plagiarism. So if we're to forgive her, if this is one-time thing, doesn't she have to say: 1. She did it and 2. She's sorry. She's done neither.

This is all part of the problem with journalism today. Maybe it has always been this way and we haven't had the tools to communicate about them without going through them. Maybe they've always been lifting copy from other writers, and only now do we have the ability to report on them instead of reporting through them.

We haven't gotten the facts from the Times and Ms. Dowd. We ought to press for them, the way a reporter would press a political leader. We, the public, their readers, are entitled to know what happened and what their standards are for columnists. If plagiarism is okay, then who can do it, and how much. Guidelines, public, open and transparent -- are a minimum requirement. Then we can decide for ourselves how much we want to trust the Times and their columnists.

I didn't read a single report from another journal saying that what Dowd did is wrong and that her explanation is unacceptable, and that the Times is stonewalling, all of which seem obvious to me. I don't know about other readers, but it's this casual attitude, the inside-dealing I see both within the press and with the people they cover that makes me unenthusiastic for ideas meant to "save" them. I'm more into reformation. I want a new kind of journalism that sees incidents like this as bugs to fix. An opportunity to make journalism even more excellent, instead of ever more mediocre.

Permanent link to archive for Friday, May 22, 2009. Friday, May 22, 2009

Ole and Lena jokes never go out of style Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Ole and Lena were laying in bed when the phone rang.

Ole answered.

"How should I know, that's over 2000 miles away!"

He slammed down the phone.

Lena says: "Who was that Ole?'"

Ole: "The hell if I know, some weirdo wants to know if the coast is clear."

This one from Jay Bryant, via email...

Ole and Lena were married in St Paul and took a bus up to Duluth for their honeymoon with a bunch of deer hunters who were heading north to catch the last day of deer hunting season.

They got about 2 hours north of St Paul when the bus broke down.

So everyone piled outside the bus for 2 hours while they waited for it to get fixed.

Ole was getting really horny and wanted to consummate the marriage out in the weeds. But Lena told him to wait.

They got back on the bus and made it within 30 minutes of Duluth when it broke down again.

So they piled off the bus and got outside.

Ole told Lena he couldn't wait any longer to have sex.

Lena asked why?

Ole responded.. Did you hear all those hunters on the bus saying:

"The fucking season is almost over!"

Permanent link to archive for Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A big idea in a little podcast Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named mirror.gifIt came to me while washing the dishes the other day, I figured out what the NYT should do with their Twitter feed, the one with almost a million followers.

I swear to god I didn't clue Jay in on this, but he asked me the question in yesterday's mini-podcast. I think he knew that I must be working on this puzzle and maybe he sensed I'd have something to say. Jay a really smart mofo, and he and I are developing a kind of mutual ESP. It's funny how often he asks the right question, and it's also funny how often there's a flipside story to tell about evolving media to my story about the evolution of technology. I think basically he and I have been following the same thread through our society but from opposite ends of a tunnel. We see the same thing, but come at it from different points of view.

It's really cool because he gets a chance to talk to tech people, and I get a chance to talk to journalism people. I don't think many people in the tech world knew Jay, and to the extent people in the journalism world knew me, I don't think they considered the possibility that there's much thought behind my conclusions.

Anyway, listen to the podcast if you have 15 minutes. And if you don't want to read the spoiler, stop reading right now, cause I'm going to spoil it. :-)

Here's what the Times should do. They should do what they always do when people are listening to them. Cover whatever it is that those people are saying and doing. News people are mirrors, they show you what you're doing. So if they've got the attention of people on Twitter, they should cover Twitter. Whatever that means. It's a community of hundreds of thousands of people. Maybe as large as the population of Staten Island, certainly as big as an upstate NY county. And they have a surplus of reporters there, and thousands of stringers.

Which leads me to the second part of the recommendation. Let this be the first environment when the Times deliberately includes content from respected amateurs. This is an idea I've been pushing on the Times since 2002. Now it's time finally to do it. Let this be a lab. What you'll see is that, as a result of opening the channel, a lot of new content will spring up. People will be motivated to learn how to write the kind of stuff the Times will carry. And I think everyone will be surprised at how good it is. Don't decide in advance where it goes, let it go where it's supposed to go. News people are just mirrors, not strategists, not economists or entrepreneurs. Just mirrors.

I would add a third part. Try to develop a sense of what people on Twitter are interested in, the way you know that your New York readers are interested in: 1. NY weather. 2. What did the Mets do. 3. Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, Bella Abzug, Jackie O, Elton John, Andy Warhol, John Lennon. 4. Etc. You get the idea. Twitter is a community with some cohesion. But it's going to change a lot in the coming months, and maybe years. Get confused along with everyone else, and write about it.

In other words, follow your nose and everything will work out. Too many reporters showing up at Jeff Jarvis confabs pretend they're Larry or Sergey or Steve or Bill. It doesn't matter what Google would do, you're not any of those people, thank god. You're reporters, and what you do is report. So that's what you should do.

If you were meant to make money doing this, as in meant by the Invisible Hand, you will. If not, something else will happen. Even the smartest financial type has no clue how the news will work economically in the future. And reporters are not smart about finance. So just do it and pray it all works out. That's basically all any of us have. So you're just like everyone else. Go figure! :-)

Permanent link to archive for Tuesday, May 19, 2009. Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rebooting the News #9.5 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A 15-minute test-cast that turned into a mini-episode.

Jay asked me to explain why it was so important that the NYT has a River of News.

We're now using the full-blown BlogtalkRadio system, this was just a test to make sure we knew what we were doing after Sunday's disaster.

However the feed stays the same, you can follow us in your podcatcher or iTunes.

Taking off the training wheels Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named twitterbird.gifTechnology loops, it follows a pattern that repeats, and we're in one of those loops right now.

Here's how it goes.

1. Something new comes along.

2. We all use one company's product because we need it simplified. I think of this as the "training wheels" phase. Not the full-power version of the technology, but a simplified one, easy to learn on.

3. Two forces oppose each other as the technology becomes familiar and popular. The company tries to build their lockin as the users crave more power. Even if the company didn't try to foreclose, eventually the users would break out because you can only get so much power from one vendor (strategy taxes and conflicts of interests rule, not maximum power for users).

4. Break out! Often explosive. Another huge wave of growth around the technology as the open version permeates the market.

5. Maturity. Back to step #1.

That's the loop. So many things have happened like this. A classic example -- email. In the 80s most people who used email did it on closed company-owned systems like MCI, Compuserve, AppleLink, then AOL and Microsoft's corporate servers. Then along with the rise of the web, email moved to the Internet, and mail servers became commodities. Everyone had one. Companies started out not wanting to operate their own servers, then because they weren't scared of running them, they broke out.

So then the question comes up, as we've been talking about now for years, what does the break-out from Twitter look like? We've tried a lot of theories, but before there's a breakout, everyone has to understand the technology, and to understand it, it seems you must know what it is.

So... What is Twitter? I didn't get any answers when I asked on Sunday. I'm watching all the public twits from people who work at Twitter to see if they have any ideas. If they do, they're not evident in the public twitstream.

I'm thinking now that Twitter is this -- A very low ramp onto blogging, which itself was a low ramp onto publishing. I told a friend today I didn't used to think it could get any lower than blogging, but I was wrong! Twitter is lower. I think for a lot of people the breakthrough in Twitter is that it makes blogging possible for them, both the reading and writing.

A picture named trainingWheels.jpgFor a guy like me, who mastered blogging long ago, Twitter is compelling because of the people. All these new people blogging, I want to read what they write, maybe they'll come up with something! But more and more, sorry to say, I don't think they are coming up with much. I think 140 characters is really very limiting for most people. Esp when you layer all the RT's and @screennames and #hashtags and tinyurls in and on it. It's getting really crowded there in 140-character-land.

Plus if you believe the loop model, the best of the Twitter users, the ones who are doing the most interesting stuff with it, they're going to want more, soon. And they're going to also want their freedom. All of which says the investors in products like Tumblr are really smart, except they ought to offer more freedom than Twitter does and they don't appear to. It also suggests that Facebook, Movable Type and WordPress would be well-served to produce low-end products, ones that did just a little more than Twitter. The key here is to be, in every way, a Twitter clone, but relax some of the limits. I'd bet that the Twitter founders are wrong about 140 characters. It may have been magic at one time, but that's the past. It would be easy to conceive of a UX that was every bit as simple as Twitter's but didn't have that limit.

Earlier today I twitted: "I like the open web so much I'm willing to accept its limits."

Then a few hours later Larry Page hinted at the explosive breakout I'm looking for. If I can write on the web, on my own server, and still have it instantly accessible to people who follow me, whether they use twitter or splitter or donder or vixen, then I've got:

1. My choice of tools.

2. My choice of servers.

3. When Twitter goes down I stay up.

4. They can be neutral or not and no one cares.

5. I'm no longer locked in.

Just one little protocol to implement it. I ping them when I update. They read the document I say changed. If it did, re-index. If it didn't, ignore the ping. That's all. Everything about Twitter reduced to a new search engine from Google, something they're good at, and a small enhancement to my CMS (and to be clear, it's old tech, we've been doing this in the blogging world since 1999).

Oh happy day!

Permanent link to archive for Monday, May 18, 2009. Monday, May 18, 2009

A policy question about web APIs Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Andrew Baron of Rocketboom called earlier today with a question.

He's getting ready to launch a new video aggregation site called Magma. I'll have more about the site when it's ready to launch.

As part of the service they check with several major services to see if they have any information about the videos they're presenting. Today the site is making 30,000 calls a day to each site. As it ramps up it'll make hundreds of thousands of calls, and eventually millions, every day.

Now the question is -- must they contact Digg, Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, etc to inform them and/or get permission? At what point will they be throttled? What's the proper way to make contact?

I asked him to post something on this, and he has.

I'll be very interested to hear the answer myself. ;->

Permanent link to archive for Sunday, May 17, 2009. Sunday, May 17, 2009

Placeholder podcast Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I screwed up and lost this week's Rebooting The News podcast.

This brief three-minute solo cast explains what happened and expresses apologies to Jay and everyone for this screwup.


Neutrality in different contexts Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named justice.gif1. In our world we call it net neutrality. It means that all packets are treated equally on the Internet.

2. Among journos, it's the distinction betw editorial and publishing functions, what's often referred to as a Chinese Wall.

In the tech press, back when there was such a thing, they'd sometimes send an ad sales person to visit along with the editor in chief. The editor excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the sales guy says "If you buy an ad he'll review the product." Even if they don't come out and say it, it's often understood. It also becomes obvious to the readers that this is going on, so they stop believing the reviews. It's likely it happens in areas businesses, like movie reviews.

3. In government, it's the separation of church and state. This is one of the ways freedom of religion is guaranteed. If there was a state religion, one which was part of the government, people of different faiths, or ones who don't practice any religion, would have less rights. When someone says the US is a "Christian nation" they're saying they don't believe in this separation.

4. At Microsoft they claimed to keep the systems and apps divisions separate. This became a farce when they claimed that the web browser was part of the system software, when it was clearly an app. This is how they justified their plan to suck the web into Windows.

A picture named dropdead.gif5. You don't want your Internet Service Provider to also provide your cable TV because they might screw around with BitTorrent to keep you from getting your entertainment on the net, protecting their revenue from cable TV. So they make a promise to keep the two functions separate, and there's a scandal every time they fail to.

6. With Google it means that the search engineers don't talk to the advertising people about fine-tuning their algorithms so the biggest customers get the best results. It's because we believe that Google doesn't screw around that we trust their search.

7. I feel very strongly that this kind of neutrality should be the rule on Twitter, and I also know that it's not the rule. They make no attempt to separate operational and editorial functions. In a way this is very honest of them, but it's also long-term going to be bad for business, as people they don't favor look for other outlets for their creative work.

8. Halliburton got some sweet deals from the Bush Administration because the VP was their CEO until he became VP. Did the VP ever explicitly tell DoD employees to favor Halliburton? He didn't have to, the theory goes, everyone knew where he came from.

This idea that you should keep certain functions separate from others permeates all human activities. It's so important we should have a theory for it, and a name that applies everywhere, so when a new thing comes along, no one need debate whether such separation is necessary or good. Unless somehow humans reinvented human nature, it's always both necessary and good.

This is something I hope to discuss with Jay in this evening's Rebooting The News podcast.

When will Twitter start for real? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named twitterbird.gifI've got a new way to view Twitter these days, looking at the collected tweets of people who work at two companies: The NY Times and at Twitter itself. I hoped to see cohesion, discussion between people working on projects together. Not yet.

Last night I added an aggregation of the tweets of the Gillmor Gang, a weekly talk-show podcast about the tech industry. And of course there's the first one, the Top 100 most subscribed to twitterers.

Now it's still really early in all of these feeds, but then that's how we think of Twitter itself. It's still early. It hasn't happened yet, whatever it is we feel is going to happen.

If you look at the tweets, dispassionately, what you'll see is a lot of people broadcasting. There is some shared wisdom, but not much of it is all that useful. One twitterer says you can walk into the wrong gender's bathroom by accident if you're reading tweets while leaving the correct bathroom. Another says he used a line from a movie in a meeting but no one knew what he meant. People wait for taxis, get them or don't get them. Yesterday I went to a ballgame and uploaded a picture.

What will it take for Twitter to advance beyond its potential to be great, to realize its potential? It's been in a holding place, in my experience, for a long time. Last summer we thought first Twitter had to stabilize, stop fail-whaling in order for it to realize its potential. I suppose some thought it would get real when the low-level politicos showed up, then the reporters, then mainstream users, celebs, Oprah.

At some point the potential must be realized. What will it look like then?

Meanwhile, even though some have said blogging was killed by Twitter, or RSS -- I still blog (you're reading a blog post right now) and I get most news from my aggregator. If I depended on Twitter for news it would be very haphazard, completely non-systematic. Today the only real use Twitter has is to explore the potential of a new medium. So far that exploration hasn't turned up much gold. There's the potential of value, that we see.

At some point we will finish this sentence: Twitter is... ?

Permanent link to archive for Saturday, May 16, 2009. Saturday, May 16, 2009

Following the people of the NYT and Twitter Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named twitterbird.gifI read a really interesting article the other day about the 47 people at Twitter, Inc and thought it would make an interesting aggregate. So I used the same code I had to follow the top-100 most followed people and did one for the 47 people of Twitter. Since it starts on a weekend, most people are doing home and family things, or not tweeting at all. It'll be interesting to see how it picks up on Monday.

The New York Times seems to operate at all hours. We aggregate the tweets of the people of the Times -- what they're talking about; as opposed to the stories they've written.

Both of the new feeds are interesting, as is the original:




I'm open to doing others if people have ideas.

Permanent link to archive for Friday, May 15, 2009. Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday night, I'm playing with Wolfram Alpha Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Okay, I need to get a life.

In the meantime here are some searches I did with Alpha.

1. The obvious vanity search.

2. A common expletive phrase.

3. Ooops it doesn't know what RSS is.

4. Madison, Wisconsin.

5. A favorite movie.

6. A recent movie.

7. Its inventor.

8. A relative. A contemporary. A great old movie.

9. A word I looked up on Google yesterday. (Very good!)

10. The cosine of 1204. (Something it does very well that I never need.)

11. A breed of dog. (It thinks it's a chemical.)

Tech heroes who blog? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Yesterday I asked who are your tech heroes. Please read the description for what I mean as a hero. Now today I'd like to ask a slightly different question.

I want to know about people who are active in technology who also blog whose integrity you trust.

I'm not looking for journalists who have a blog who write about technology, so even though I admire Marshall Kirkpatrick or Om Malik (only two examples, there are many more) they're not who I'm looking for.

I'm looking for people who might be thought of as sources for reporters who have gone direct.

This is not an idle question -- it's for a project I'm working on with a few other people. My job is to find some of these sources, people of integrity who write publicly about what they believe. The area I've been assigned to cover is tech.

Sources go direct Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named hope.jpgI read this morning that the NY Times will decide by the end of June how to generate more revenue from its online presence.

The two choices, they say, are: 1. Metering and 2. Membership. Metering is complicated, but boils down to a new rule -- you can use the site for free for a while, then you have to pay. Membership is like NPR membership. They ask for donations, if you like the service, you give them money. You might get a coffee mug or tote bag.

My opinion: They shouldn't do #1, it would screw everything up, and they might as well try #2, it will raise some money, but not enough, not until they inspire people with new ideas. (Make note, this inspiration is hugely important, and not impossible.)

I do think I know how this will shake out, but I don't have time this morning to explain in detail why. You'll find plenty of pieces in the archive of that back these ideas up. I can't prove that they'll work, but I'm pretty sure they will. But they will require the Times to give up one of its sacred tenets. And that won't go down easy. But I believe the quality and integrity of the product will soar as a result. But change is hard.

First some premises:

1. People want more news, faster.

2. The news industry has been cutting back.

3. Even so, news still happens.

4. Believe it or not, the tech industry doesn't know how to deliver news on the Internet. (Caveat: It's getting there.)

5. This creates a vacuum that is being filled by what some call "User Generated Content." I don't like that term. Instead, I call it "Sources Go Direct." Same idea, but with more respect and emphasis on quality. Sure, some of the stuff you read online is crap, but some of it is the quality stuff we crave.

Now what is the Times? Here's what I think it is.

It's a somewhat tarnished brand that equates in people's minds to "The Best in Journalism." It's not the printing press, the trucks, or even the editors and reporters. It is the logo and the tradition, the history. Whatever the Times does, it must not diminish the value of the brand, it must enhance it. The challenge is to tap into the enormous potential of the Internet as a news creation and delivery system.

Like it or not, and some Times reporters appear not to like it -- much of the value in the Times is captured by its sources. The reporters, when they're doing their best work, are facilitating the flow of ideas and information from sources to readers. And don't miss that the flow works the other way too, from readers back to sources. The newspapers have been complaining wildly about this, they say the bloggers get their ideas from news people. And who do you think the news people get their ideas from? And the truth is that a lot of the bloggers they don't like are also sources.

To understand how news works, you need to visualize a flow diagram that includes all the elements of the news process. All the people, not just the reporters and editors. That's where the growth is going to come from.

So basically the Times must evolve, just a little, to see their sources not just as quotes, but also as reporters with a beat -- their expertise. There's still enough shine in the Times rep that people could be enticed to write for the Times, for a fraction of what a reporter makes. Not for free, they must share in whatever revenue the Times gets from their work. But the Times is entitled to a cut, we want the Times to get a cut, because we want this system to go forward. Remember when I said inspiration was going to be key to it, this is how you build it. By showing people how you are going to lead us to the future. So far, I hate to say it, but the news industry has been a huge stick in the mud when it comes to the future. Just getting rid of the drag would be enough to get us to open our wallets, a bit. But imagine if the news industry decided that news was exciting again! That would do a lot to inspire people.

Basically, we're not going to let you fail if we love what you're doing.

And conversely, we're not going to rush to your aid if you're holding us back.

Now I have to get back to work writing some software for this new world. ;->

PS: One more thing. Of course reporters reading this are going to ask "What about me?" Well, you have to find a job that pays a salary and provides the benefits you need. Today there are some jobs for reporters. What skills do you have that a news org might need in a world where sources go direct?

Update: How will we tell deceit from truth?

Permanent link to archive for Thursday, May 14, 2009. Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's up with the Tumblr API? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I had set aside today to explore Tumblr's API.

Apparently it was the wrong day because I keep getting HTML in response to my write calls that says: "We're making some changes to our infrastructure and certain pages may be unavailable for a few minutes." This has been going on for many hours! Not gooood.

I looked all over the place to see if there were any notes about this, but haven't found anything. So as a last resort I'm asking here if anyone knows anything about this.

Does anyone know anything about this? ;->

Who are your tech heroes? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

This question came up in a conference call earlier today and I thought it would be useful to open it up publicly.

Here's how to decide:

1. Someone who has made largely selfless contributions to open technology -- i.e. tech that people can reuse without limits or fees. Examples would be BitTorrent or HTTP.

2. Someone who you think would "do the right thing" whatever that is, most of the time. That is, someone you trust.

3. Other criteria?

Caveat: No one is perfect. You're not saying your hero is a saint. Their contribution could have been amends for past mistakes. It should be someone who has made a major contribution without asking for much in return.

Permanent link to archive for Wednesday, May 13, 2009. Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The NY Times/Twitter feed Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Today I was thinking about what, in an ideal world, to do with the Twitter feed of the NY Times.

It has 852,709 followers. That's potentially quite powerful.

This is what I came up with.

Think about two communities: 1. The people who use Twitter and those who are likely to use it in the near future. 2. The people who use the NY TImes now and in the near future.

The community you're serving with this feed is the intersection between the two.

The feed should be used to push links to stories that would interest someone in this community. But not just stories from the NY Times.

The criteria would be: Would an informed person want to know about this? And does it fit the Twitter lifestyle of short attention span and retweeting.

"All the news that's fit to print" meets "People come back to places that send them away."

Could be very interesting. ;->

Opting-out of TechMeme Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named wallyOfficialSpokesperson.gifI appreciate all the flow that TechMeme has sent to over the years, but it's time to say a tearful goodbye. I think we'll do better independent of the community that TM defines. It has shifted over time, away from the individual and toward the "corporate blog" -- and I feel better just reading the TechMeme sites, and not participating in the discourse.

So long, and thanks for all the fish! It's been fun.

Lessons from the changes in Twitter Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Interesting changes in the Twitter community in the last 24 hours.

Here's what happened, from my point of view.

1. At some point yesterday afteroon I logged on and saw a message on the Twitter home page advising of a change in the way Reply works. It pointed to the Twitter blog for more info. I clicked on the link, but there was nothing there about Reply. Refreshed the home page and the advisory was gone. I gather most people did not see the advisory.

2. Started seeing comments about the change.

3. A blog post appeared, explaining in confusing terms what had changed.

4. Lots of theories.

5. A reference back to a post by Evan Williams last year, wondering if they shouldn't change the way Reply works.

6. More discussion.

7. It turns out there are technical reasons for the change. We don't know what they are. Biz Stone is surprised at how much interest there is in the change.

Now some comments...

I think the changes are okay, and I don't understand the technical reasons. I inferred that there must be a technical reason for the change, because it would have been simple enough to make it subject to a preference. As was pointed out many times on Twitter, it had been a preference. Therefore the inference.

When communicating with the community, the Twitter folk from now on should assume that every change will be examined in all possible nuance, with all theories explored, very quickly. Therefore, try to say what you know you're going to eventually admit to, as soon as possible. It will help build trust.

None of us outside the company have a clear picture of how the system works behind the user interface, esp since the performance issues were mostly resolved. Why is this feature so expensive? Unknown.

There will be many more problems like this in the future, some not so benign. The danger is that all the functionality of Twitter is centralized.

The centralization problems are in three areas: 1. Technical. 2. Financial. 3. Political.

The technical issues are obvious. If there is no redundancy in their network and a critical component fails, the whole thing goes down. I don't think people really are prepared for how disconnected we all will feel if this happens.

Assume that a change in ownership occurs at some point. What will the new owners change about Twitter. We have some feel for how the current ownership thinks. We obviously have no idea how a potential new owner thinks or what they might choose to sell. They could decide to sell information that we don't want sold.

The political threat is a major concern. Consider the pressure being applied to Craigslist over prostitution by the states attorney generals. What if prostitutes are operating on Twitter? What if a major act of terrorism is organized using Twitter? Would there be pressure to shut it down, or greatly control what it's used for? Remember the atmosphere after 9-11. Not so far-fetched. But it was hard to control the web, it was too diverse. Twitter, which is fully centralized, would be easy for a government to control.

Centralization has its niceties, for sure. They come up every time I warn of its dangers. This change was a very small reminder of what is, if you believe in Murphy's Law, as I do -- certainly in our future if we don't diversify.

Update: A smart look at this by Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW.

Permanent link to archive for Tuesday, May 12, 2009. Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Google this is your wakeup call Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I'm reading various reports on Google's announcments about search today, and it sounds scattered and totally uninspiring. And I might add, disappointing.

Google is today a big company, and it seems to lack the resolve to go into middle age with any passion. If ever there was a time to show some exciting new features for search, this was it -- and none of it was in any way exciting.

When Google came along, the CEOs of the existing search companies didn't pay much attention. They probably didn't understand what was so exciting about Google. It was very much like the way the leaders of the minicomputer industry reacted to the early PC, at first dismissive, then with arrogance. Their products seemed to assume they would overcome the challenge, and none of them did. The only one to make the transition was IBM, and then a few years later they would try to lock in the users, and finally lose out to the new companies that had cloned their products.

Twitter is that kind of generational challenge to Google. They have no choice but the same one IBM had with the Apple II, and Microsoft had with Netscape. They must compete, with a respectful product, one that is compatible with Twitter, and gives users a benefit of coming from a strong mature company. The time for this product is passing every week, as Twitter stabilizes and delivers a reliable service. Google's clone should have come out last summer when Twitter was having trouble keeping their servers up.

If I could talk to the management at Google, I would tell them to stop everything, go away for a week, and learn how to use Twitter, yourself. Get an inkling of what is so exciting and different about it. You can't get the gestalt by looking at the features, you have to see how people are using it and who they are. It's not about Oprah or Ashton Kutcher, it's about the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, and a hundred NY Times reporters who are breaking their company's rules by using Twitter the way bloggers were telling them to use the web. Twitter is in many ways the realization of the full promise made by blogging so many years ago. It's really exciting to see it come to fruition, but it's also depressing that it's all happening inside one company's environment. I don't honestly think it can work that way.

Google! You can't afford to stay on the sidelines. It's an urgent issue for your company. And pretty soon it won't be an issue at all.

When Netscape came along in 1994, I wrote a blistering piece about how the Internet had made Microsoft irrelevant. Bill Gates wrote back asking if this meant they'd sell any fewer Flight Simulators or CD-ROM encyclopedias. That wasn't the point. Google's search revenue won't feel the rise of Twitter for many more quarters. But the place people turn to for news is shifting. It never was Google, that wasn't something it ever did well. But it is something Twitter does, and at this point it doesn't do it very well. But the path is very clear, the information they need now flows through their servers. They just have to figure out the user interface. They will eventually figure it out. That's the half of the problem that Google already knows how to solve. But Google doesn't have the users. None of its products have the kind of flow that Twitter has, nor the growth that Twitter has. That's what Google has to get busy building. Once Twitter is delivering the news search that Google can't, it will be way too late. This is probably what the Google management doesn't understand because they aren't using Twitter themselves. And if they're like most other big companies, their employees don't want to tell them what they're missing, assuming they know.

To Gates's credit, a few weeks after his lame excuse, he figured it out, and had his famous December analyst meeting where he outlined how he would attack the Internet. Unfortunately for all of us, but especially Netscape, an attack wasn't what was needed, support and love from a mature leader would have worked much better. But at least he woke up. There's no sign at all that Google is aware of the challenge.

Back in the early days of the net Stewart Alsop would write these open letters to Bill Gates and Jim Manzi telling them what they were missing. I guess for Google in 2009, that job has fallen to me. ;->

PBS could become a cause for the web Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named blueribbongm.gifWriting about open formats got me in the heady mood of the 90s. Back then we believed the Internet would be a free speech engine of democracy. I still do, to this day, but it doesn't dominate discourse the way it did back then. Today, money is more important. The purity of the early vision has been tainted by abominations like "user generated content" and "crowd sourcing." In the 90s, our websites had blue ribbons which stood for freedom. One of mine still does, to remind me of those days.


NPR is having its pledge drive, so I gave my money -- $150 for the year, and I encourage you to give what you can. I listen to NPR, and watch PBS. I like FreshAir, All Things Considered, Frontline, Nova, Bill Moyers. And I admit that when there's a new Frontline, I download it via BitTorrent, and I seed it to make sure it's available for others. This adds to my $150 annual contribution. I'm giving some of my bandwidth to make sure people who live outside the US and who may not be near a PBS station, can get this stuff. I want them to know how we see ourselves in the US.

Is this legal? I don't know. Does PBS object? Again, I don't know. Until now, I've never asked.

If they do, I'd encourage them to look again. BitTorrent is a very rational technology. It's a perfect fit for PBS. And it's not well understood by even some tech companies like Apple, who is banning it from the iPhone. And it's being throttled by ISPs, when they can.

Now here's the pitch. If PBS actively promoted the BitTorrent distribution of their programming, the same way it distributes podcasts of the NPR shows, it would become a celebrated cause of the net. I tell people to give, but now I could give them another reason. PBS is embracing the Internet, and helping develop the platform in a way only they can do.

Think about it.

Mark this day Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Mark this day on your calendar.

After years of saying that instead of emulating print newspapers, Internet-based news should present the newest stuff first. I don't want sections, I want flow.

A picture named love.gifIt never seemed to me it should work any other way. Almost exactly 10 years ago, on May 9, 1999, we put up a web app called that ran off the same content flow as, using a then-new format called RSS. Their aggregator allowed you to lay out your own newspaper on the screen of your Mac or PC. UserLand's aggregator presented it as a flow, which I later called a "river of news" -- last-in-first-out. Want to know what's new? Visit the site and scroll until you're caught up. If something catches your fancy, click and read. When you're done, hit the Back button and resume the scroll.

So this period is important because ten years ago RSS happened.

And today is important because today the NY Times joined the party. They're now presenting their news flow as a flow. Gone is the pretense that news on the Internet works like news on paper. Welcome to the NY Times river of news, as presented by the NY Times.

I've had my own version of this flow for a few years. I knew this was coming, a source at the Times briefed me on it, privately, a few weeks ago. I turned off my flow, and will leave it there for the forseeable future. Go get the river at the Times website so they can get the ad revenue. Seriously. And congrats. Let's go do the other thing now, get the Times to carry news written by people who don't work at the Times. Then we'll be ready for the future.

See the next post for a note on why open formats are so important.

Why open formats are so important Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named love.gifIf you look at the archive of Scripting News for May 1999, ten years ago, you'll see how important open formats are.

At the time, a large company, Netscape, had done deals with major content vendors, Wired, Red Herring, Salon, Motley Fool and several others, to provide a flow of news for their new web app,

They didn't have to make this information public, they could have done private deals with each of the content sources. But they didn't. The format was documented publicly and the feeds were available to anyone who wanted to build on them.

At the time, I liked the river format, not the newpaper format that Netscape was using. Because the feeds were out there for anyone to use, I didn't have to do deals with the content companies.

They were open in another important way -- anyone could flow their content through, not just the big pubs. Suppose they had never heard of you, but you wanted your webzine to be part of their system. Because the format was open, and because their web app was too, anyone could join. This was important because at the time something new was happening -- weblogs, and they could be part of the flow because of this openness. If you had to get approval, maybe only the weblogs that Netscape liked could be part of their system. That would be wrong, imho.

And when Netscape was acquired by AOL at roughly this time, all the work could continue, even though their app was gone, and the people who worked on it had moved on. It truly was a coral reef, and for me as a technologist, there is no higher praise.

Today, Facebook is nowhere near as open as Netscape was in 1999. If I had a different vision for Twitter, I'd more or less have to start from scratch. If Apple doesn't like or understand your app, you can't ship it for the iPhone. And if Google failed, we'd all be up a creek without a paddle. Now you might observe that those companies are alive and Netscape is gone. Maybe you can't be open and keep your franchise going. But what's the point of being alive if you're not free? And we don't know the outcome yet for most of these companies.

Regardless, I think it's important to honor the contribution that Netscape made in laying the foundation for all the great stuff that has happened with RSS and is still to come. Thanks Netscape! ;->

Ten years later, we now know how well RSS worked. And let it serve as a lesson for all who follow. Let others compete with you, encourage it even. It's how you stay sharp and it's how you build markets, not just companies.

Permanent link to archive for Sunday, May 10, 2009. Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rebooting the News #9 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

This week's Rebooting the News podcast is up.

Jay and Dave talk about paying for the news, Ted Nelson as inspiration, "Giant Pool of Money."

As usual, subscribe to this feed in your podcatcher to get all the shows.

Door-slams by MSM journos Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I've gotten lots of angry emails from mainstream journalists about things I've written here or on Twitter, esp in the last couple of years, as things have spiraled down in newspaper-land. I understand, somebody's got to be to blame for what's happening, and I'm convenient.

A picture named chickenRoosting.gifBut I'm not the problem -- my writing about this stuff may be a symptom, when viewed from the top of the journalist ladder. If so, then what's the problem? The same thing that's happening to all other centralized knowledge-based professions, where there used to be gatekeepers earning a living based on the high cost of distributing information. As the cost has come down, the jobs have disappeared. Journalists are not the first to be hit by this, and as I've said many times, my own short-lived profession, developing shrink-wrap software for PCs, was devastated by this a long time ago. I was lucky to have saved some money, and also have shifted what I do, so I've continued to make money over the years, even though today no one earns a living the way I did at the beginning of my career.

Today I said that journalism needs a cleansing, and I seriously believe it. I've been part of the journalism system for my entire career. When I launched products in the 80s, I did it through that system. I did reasonably well at first, because the journos understood my product. It was designed for people like them. Later I developed products that weren't so easy for a liberal arts major to understand and they didn't fare as well. But by that time I had the ability to write publicly without going through the journalism system, so even though that door was largely closed, I was still able to get the word out -- and in so doing, defined a new kind of writing which came to be known as blogging.

Today's journalists are already an anachronism, and I think they know it, and that's why there's so much anger. For many years they could pretend, like American homeowners, that their value was based on something permanent. I own a home myself, it's worth a lot less than I paid for it. I'm not happy about that, but as an adult I accept it. The same kind of acceptance is required of everyone who earns a living in journalism. And the higher up the ladder you climbed in your career, the harder that must be to accept. I get it.

But I can't help you avoid the truth. My goal actually is to work with everyone else, who has been subject to the journalism system, even victimized by it. I've watched them sell us out over and over to the huge corporations that run the tech business. There's not much love lost here for the journos. If they did the job they say they do, following the truth where ever it leads, we would have avoided a lot of problems. But they don't do that. They avoid risks, like most people. They aren't the swashbuckling and courageous investigators portrayed in the movies. They're gray, average people who feel superior to the rest of us. And that veneer is disappearing now.

When I pushed RSS, my hope was to create a level playing field, so that if journalists wanted to do excellent work and stick their necks out, it could be seen, but not with any advantage over the amateurs, the bloggers, who would have full access to the same distribution system. RSS was a total subversion of the way information used to flow, but only tapped into the power that the Internet gave us, in itself it wasn't revolutionary -- that came from the inexorable lowering of the cost of publishing and the simplification of the process, and the ease of the tools. All of these things together are what is undermining the journalism business.

Some people say I don't understand the economics of journalism, but I think I do. It's the old economics that I don't understand,. No one can understand that, because it no longer works.

Permanent link to archive for Saturday, May 09, 2009. Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tweets of the rich and famous Permanent link to this item in the archive.

After a week of watching the amalgamation of the 100 most followed twitterers, a few observations, and no conclusions.

1. I still hope that by amalgamating this group it will change it, make the people with all the followers more aware of how they look to their followers, and may inspire some movement.

2. There are a fair number of robot feeds in the top 100, channels that are just pushing links to stories that make money for the owners. Examples: @time, @guardiantech, nytimes, @techcrunch, @mashable.

3. The cutest of the top 100 is @anamariecox. Imho. Ymmv. ;->

4. There's an awful lot of classic What I Had For Lunch type tweeting. The biggest offenders, the three Twitter guys, @ev, @biz and @jack. Same with @aplusk and the rappers and sports stars. They tweet infrequently and when they do they're borrring.

5. @oprah's fans got excited about Twitter for nothing. She's followed by 922K, follows 11 (all of them superstars) and has updated 38 times.

5a. Maybe something the stars aren't aware of or prepared for is how visible and transparent they are. In the non-twitter world we can't tell how much of their fan mail they respond to, or who they talk with and what they say when they're being themselves. On Twitter, we can. This might not be what they intended.

6. @timoreilly wins the prize for effort among the twitter superstars. It's pretty obvious he's doing it himself, or as obvious as it can be (he might pay someone to make it look like he's doing it himself).

7. I think people who tuned into it are as bored as I am. The usage was huge in the first few days, about 50K hits per day, but it's tailed off a lot now.

Tomorrow's inspiration Permanent link to this item in the archive.

For the last couple of months I've done a podcast every Sunday with Jay Rosen. Three Sundays ago he had a great idea, every week let's choose someone to honor as a source of inspiration to the new journalism we see emerging.

We alternate weeks, the first time he chose Edison Carter, the reporter on the Max Headroom TV series of the 80s. Then I chose Jon Postel, the man behind many of the open protocols of the Internet, and the keeper of its spirit, who passed away just as the Internet was becoming a huge societal force. And last week Jay chose Josh Marshall of Talking Point Memo. Now it's my turn.

I gave it a lot of thought. It seems we're doing the Yin and the Yang. Jay comes at it from the journalism side, and I approach from the tech side. This week I will continue in this mode.

My choice is Ted Nelson.

A picture named dreamMachines.gifNelson wrote a book called Computer Lib/Dream Machines, in the 1970s, in which he chronicled, in a very bloglike fashion (long before blogs existed of course) the path that computers took to become the ideal tools for thinking and collaboration. This was a very radical idea at the time, I know because I was talking to people about the same concepts, and getting told that computers are not creative tools, by people who supposedly knew better.

There were a small number of hippie computer types, not much like the guys who wore the nerd pocket protectors. We got dates, were gregarious and outgoing, liked to do drugs, and music -- and thought computers fit into the groovy lifestyle. It was kind of a lonely thing. The hippies didn't know what to make of us and neither did the nerds. But when Nelson's book crossed my path, and the paths of people like me, it gave us a sense that others saw it the same way.

Today, few question that computers are used for thinking and collaboration, although the people who say bloggers will never do the work of journalists sound a lot like the people who questioned computers as human tools in the 70s. The venture capitalists and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley don't understand why someone would develop technology without a plan to get rich from it, but the hippie tech guys don't have a problem with that. Changing the world for the better is a good enough cause. Helping people share their knowledge and insight is most of what computers do, most people who use them have no hope of getting rich from using them, but they do it anyway. So while the attention focuses on the people who make the money, the real action is with the people who learn and teach and share with them.

Further, Nelson believed, as I did and still do, that computers were primarily tools to connect up to networks. Later Sun Microsystems would codify this with the slogan "The Network is the Computer."

For those who have read Nelson's book, you must have guessed that at some point I will choose Doug Engelbart, and you would be right. But I first learned of Engelbart's work through Nelson's book. I met Nelson before I met Engelbart. Neither of these heroes are perfect, but then heroes who are real people never are. But Nelson's work is monumental, it gave hope and confidence to a generation of people who did make a huge difference. That's good enough to be my choice for this week. ;->

Permanent link to archive for Friday, May 08, 2009. Friday, May 08, 2009

Tweeting behind the firewall Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named hope.jpgI just added a new feature to tonight, with the help of Daniel and Jason at Disqus: You can now comment on the tweets of people in the Top 100. That's just the first toe-dip into commenting on tweets in general, a starting point.

To kick it off I posted a comment on a tweet by @ev, where he talks about a tweetranet at a staff meeting at Twitter HQ today. This is a topic much in the air these days after a blog post by Matt Mullenweg at about a behind-the-firewall Twitter-like system they're using there.

Lots of opportunity here, we did something similar in 2001 at UserLand. It's all coming back around folks.

The cool thing about comments, they're not limited to 140 chars! ;->

Amazon's new URL-shortener Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named accordion.gifIn March, I observed that Amazon had already done some URL shortening on its own, meaning that a link like this:

actually works. Now, apparently they've gone further and have a shorter domain, and a huge number of short URLs in that domain that take you to product pages on

Mike Koss wrote a script that worked its way through a dictionary trying all the different words, and published the list. (That's what I call investigative journalism, so much for bloggers being lazy.)

I'd love to see an official word from Amazon on this. How is a user supposed to go from a page on Amazon to a short URL? Even better, suppose they had a bookmarklet that would automatically populate the Twitter "What are you doing?" box with some text and a copy of the short URL? Might be a real money-maker, and we know that Amazon likes to make money! (And Bezos is also an investor in Twitter.)

Nothing from nothing Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Permanent link to archive for Wednesday, May 06, 2009. Wednesday, May 06, 2009

RSS is dead? My ass... Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named spiderman.gifI've been programming like a bat out of hell, in one of my most hectic spurts of creativity in a very long time. Not much time for blogging.

One of the results is a site where you can view the tweets of the 100 most-followed people and corporations on Twitter. These really reflect the friendships and choices of Twitter the company, pretty sure they're all on the SUL. But they're using Twitter, and it's fascinating to see how. Esp to see this as a benchmark, a beginning. What will the tweeting of the top 100 look like in a year? Already you can see it's very competitive.

It's coool. There's a lot more coming, if any of the other stuff I'm working on reaches fruition.

I'm singing a happy song! I love the work I'm doing.

I'm thinking of Mick Jagger and the band, warming up, and some drunken asshole is yelling at him from the audience. Jagger says, in his inimitable Jagger style: "Everything okay up there in the critics section?" And then they swing into a great rock and roll song, which I could remember which one.

A picture named loverss.gifSteve Gillmor, writing in TechCrunch says RSS is dead. He has a nice picture of the Beatles in what must be their last year as a group. RSS ain't like the Beatles, Steve, it's more like the Stones. Rough and passionate. And still with us after all these years.

As I said in the comments on Steve's post, with some irony, RSS is as dead as HTTP and SMTP, which is to say it's alive and kicking. These protocols get widely implemented, are so deeply ingrained in the infrastructure they become part of the fabric of the Internet. They don't die, they don't rest in piece. They become the foundation for everything that follows.

When you reboot your computer, whether it's a Mac or Linux machine or Windows box or netbook, probably even your cellphone, they all first load some ancient code written in the 70s by some guy no one remembers. That's the way software works.

A picture named chuckBerry.jpgMick Jagger didn't say Muddy Waters or Chuck Berry are dead. He loved those guys. Their work lived on in his music, and he was good to them. It's time for the tech biz to learn about love, Steve. Open your heart and sing happy birthday to RSS. It's been very good to you. You should be good to RSS, though god knows most of the icons of tech have been really unappreciative at the gifts RSS brought them. It's really sad what grumpy pissy jerks these guys are.

There are bursts of inspiration with wide open fields in front of you, huge memory spaces, and then things get crowded and we move on, looking for new frontiers to explore. The early years of the web, the early-mid 90s were like that. It was in that environment that RSS sprouted, after a few failed attempts with too much hype. I feel like we're there again, and it's not like the 70s, it's like the 30s. The film industry of today is still refining the art that was invented in that period as the next decades will be spent building and revising that which was defined in the last few decades.

That's why I love Joan Crawford, btw -- she's one of the very few stars of the silent era to blossom in the talkies. You can see her in this clip from The Hollywood Revue of 1929, along with many of the stars who didn't make the transition. Can you see the charm in the young Joan Crawford, and why it worked so well in both the new and old media?

PS: Just got a funny DM from Anil Dash. He says: "Just call their bluff! Anybody who thinks RSS is dead should stop publishing their feeds or shut up. Easy!" Hmmm. That's a good point. ;->

Permanent link to archive for Tuesday, May 05, 2009. Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gadget talk with Scoble Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named pre.jpgI was browsing FriendFeed yesterday and saw Scoble had started a thread on the new Kindle, which was being dismissed by the tech press as a "Hail Mary pass" to save the news industry. I don't see it that way. I like the Kindle, esp for reading the news, but a Kindle with a bigger screen might make the news even more attractive. Do I think it will work? I don't know, but why not give it a try.

So I called BlogTalkRadio, then called Scoble and we did a quick podcast, that started out talking about the Kindle, but turned to gadgets, the iPhone, the MIT Tech Review slam of Clay Shirky and myself, and on to opportunities for the Palm Pre to zig where Apple zags. They could let the software market run without control from the mother ship, see what happens. Maybe there are some great X-rated apps for mobile devices? ;->

As always, you can subscribe to my podcasts using a podcatcher or iTunes.

Permanent link to archive for Monday, May 04, 2009. Monday, May 04, 2009

Tricks your mind plays Permanent link to this item in the archive.

It's confusing when your mind plays tricks because it's playing many roles.

1. It is the subject of the trick (it's doing the tricking).

2. It is the object of the trick (it's being tricked).

3. It is perceived by the mind to be something other than what it is (the trick worked).

4. And the mind perceives itself misperceiving (it's aware the trick worked).

5. You can see this never ends. ;->

In the early days of the blogosphere we called this: watching them watch us watch them watch us watch them watch us. We're still doing it, many years later -- and it was going on long before the blogosphere. Humans are all about watching, mostly watching other humans, and in doing so hoping to learn something about themself. To the extent that we're aware that there are things that are not human, we tend to anthropomorphize them -- treat them as if they were human.

A picture named picasso.gifSometimes the tricks are willful, but usually it all happens below the consciousness. I play willful tricks all the time. To quit smoking there's a lot of trickery involved. My mind has trained itself to believe many things that are untrue about smoking. Some examples: Without smoking I will die. I use smoking to solve problems. I can't quit. Of course you can. If you put your foot down and said "Enough of this foolishness" to yourself, as an adult to a child, there would be no argument. But you never say that, because you don't want to quit and in order not to, you have to believe you can't.

It's so incredibly complicated. Mostly because there are so many observers all in one body. With so many different versions of the truth it's hard to sort it all out.

Now when you add millions of people to the mix, as you do on the Internet, without the normal cues and gestures that give you some idea of where the other people are coming from, the amount of trickery, conscious and unconscious, goes way up.

When someone says something emotional about another person, based only on knowing them through the Internet, they're really describing how they feel when they're reading what that person has written.

When someone says "He's really angry" what they really mean is "I feel angry when I read his writing."

There's no way you can know if someone is angry or not, esp if you're just reading. And if you were right, you're talking about an emotion that occurred in the past, when he or she was writing what you are reading now. To respond to this person as if he is angry now would be a mistake. Think about how quickly emotions pass. I can be angry or scared and in five minutes be relaxed and feel safe. Watch a child, their emotions shift in fractions of a second. All you can be sure of is how you feel. And given all the tricks you're playing on yourself all the time, maybe you're not actually so sure. ;->

Permanent link to archive for Sunday, May 03, 2009. Sunday, May 03, 2009

Rebooting the News #8 Permanent link to this item in the archive.

This week's podcast with Jay Rosen is up.

Topics: Jay opted out of Twitter's Suggested Users List, he explains why and we discuss. His choice for Inspiration of the Week is Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo.

As always, you can subscribe in your podcatcher or iTunes.

Conflicts of interest in tech Permanent link to this item in the archive.

It's Jay's week for the source of inspiration, so I'm bringing a different topic to our weekly potluck of speculation about Rebooting The News.

Obviously we're going to talk about Twitter's suggested users list.

Last week: 1. Jay was put on the list, 2. Got the surge in new followers, then 3. Asked to be taken off, and 4. Was taken off.

You can see the effect on his follower count in this graph. I took a screen shot because it will scroll off over time. It's stunning. Very clearly, being on the SUL has a dramatic effect on your count.

A picture named santa.gifWe've talked about conflicts of interest among journalists, but haven't talked about the same thing for tech people. Mike Arrington tried to ignite a scandal around me over something that happened at UserLand in 2002, when I was on the vendor side (and a blogger, which is part of what blogging was and is about). I responded, not with a blanket dismissal such as "Vendors don't have conflicts of interest" -- because I believe they do. They can get themselves out of conflict by divesting and/or disclosing. I guess most people felt that what I did wasn't so bad, because the hatefest never came about, and Mike looked bad, as if he was trying to deflect attention away from an article I had written the day before, about the conflicts that arise from accepting a large gift from a vendor you cover, without disclosing it when you write about them.

Today we'll find out, from Jay, what it means for a professor of journalism, and for an ordinary human being to receive such a gift.

In the course of the public discussion last week, I said that if I were put on the Suggested Users List, I would ask to be removed, and if the request wasn't honored, I would delete the account. I don't want the distortion it causes. I don't see Twitter as an advertising medium, I am not a journalist and could ethically receive a gift from a vendor, even so I would refuse it. I don't believe that Twitter should be getting in the middle of the relationship between users of its service. That's sacred territory. This is a matter of net neutrality. Could someone like Mike, who writes passionately about net neutrality in his TechCrunch column, possibly not see this?

Anyway, all this is a preamble for where I want to take this, because while these ethical issues are central to the trust between writers and readers, the economics of the web are goverened by another conflict, one that is very rarely talked about. I'd like to get it out there.

Here's the story...

1. Google makes a lot of money from advertising.

2. If one were to define advertising, it seems to me you'd have to include the idea of intrusion. An ad intrudes on your experience, it's a sidebar, it's something you wouldn't think of on your own. If you're already humming my jingle, I don't have to pay someone to play it for you. Or so it seems.

3. As search gets better, it will obviate the need for intrusion. A perfectly targeted ad at some point stops being intrusive and starts becoming information. If you get me the commercial fact that I need at precisely the moment I need it, you don't have to impose on me, I will welcome that.

4. Google is in the business of getting you the exact fact or link that you're looking for as quickly as possible.

5. Its advertisers pay money to get you their link before you find one in the search results.

6. But if they're the same link, maybe the advertiser will stop paying? Or if the customer believes that a better link is in the first search results rather than on page 5 or not there at all? The customer, perfectly happy, never has a reason to go where the ads direct them.

Now, I know that there are other forms of advertising, ones that program you to think a certain way, but you don't see those kinds of ads on Google. Maybe they'll have to change, because as the search engine gets better and better, which it should (right?) the ads will play less of a role.

We know that companies don't always play fair.

There was the case of GM sabotaging the public transit system in Los Angeles.

A lot of companies profited from the war in Iraq. If you don't believe they helped get that war going, I have a nice bridge to sell you. Special price. Just for you. ;->

Closer to home, the recent price drop in laptops, the netbooks, show that there was some kind of price fixing going on before that, a collusion between the vendors to keep prices high. So we know that the tech industry is capable of the same dirty economics as other industries.

When Google has to cut its own revenue stream by enhancing search, will they do it? So far the competition has made this easy for them, but just this week Wolfram Research has been wooing the analysts with their new way to do search. Maybe this isn't the challenger that will push Google to seriously upgrade search, if not, surely at some point it will happen.

I don't know how you feel, but it seems to me that search has been pretty constant for the last few years. It's been a long time since the quantum improvement that Google offered over Infoseek, Alta Vista, et al.

New iPhone Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named iphone.gifIt was raining on Friday, and I went for a long walk up and down the hills, very vigorous -- but I got soaked and so did my iPhone. After taking its last picture and uploading it to Flickr, it died. It wouldn't respond to attempts to revive it, so I took it down to the AT&T Store in downtown Berkeley and bought a replacement for $199.

My old iPhone truly was old, this bright shiny new one is so much nicer -- and faster. And the restore process worked flawlessly. Everything from the old phone was backed up on my Mac, and when I inserted the new one it asked if I wanted to restore it from the old image. I said yes. It took a long time, but I lost nothing, except passwords, which is the right way for it to work.

So now I have a new iPhone and where almost everything was broken on the old one, nothing is broken on this one. So the iPod functions work, and it can play videos -- the old one couldn't do eitehr of these things. All my headphones work with the new one, the old one had a non-standard jack for headphones (yes, I know I could get an adapter, but I can't manage to keep track of things like that, it was pointless).

But I still want to bring a music/video player with me because the iPhone, apparently -- can't multitask! If I'm watching a movie and it's going through a boring spell, or I just want to listen to the dialog, why can't I check my email or Twitter -- or look something up on Google? When I use my laptop I can do all these things and watch a movie.

And I'm reminded how shitty the keyboard is on the iPhone, and think it's a paradox that Apple's COO says netbooks have "cramped" keyboards. The iPod has the worst keyboard. Even if I type something correctly, there's a pretty good chance it'll change it to something ridiculous. When the Newton first came out people used to laugh at how it would mess things up. The iPod really isn't much better, but people stopped laughing. I wonder why? Cook is wrong -- my Eee PC has an infintely better keyboard than the iPhone, and you know something -- it costs less than an iPhone too.

Anyway -- net-net -- it's a nice new toy to have. In a way I'm glad the old one broke. ;->

Permanent link to archive for Friday, May 01, 2009. Friday, May 01, 2009

Posting to twitpic and posterous? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I'm having the damndest time figuring out the APIs to these two web services. I just want to post a picture. I already have code that does multipart forms, for Flickr and the now-defunct Pownce. These guys seem to be doing it in a non-standard way. Anyone with a clue?

Update #1: I got it working with Posterous, but I get image not found from Twitpic. Here's the request I'm sending to Twitpic, with the password xxx'd out.

Update #2: Don Park debugged it, now it works with both.

Maybe it should be social from the start? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named santa.gifSeeing the first-time Twitter user experience reinforced an idea that's been lurking in the background. Since the magic of Twitter is, theoretically, in its limits, perhaps they should have a limit on who can join and under what circumstances. Perhaps before you can create a new account you have to name 20 people with Twitter accounts who you want to follow. They could be celebrities if you want, or spammers -- then at least the recommended users could be tailored to your interests. The algorithms that suggest new feeds kick in, and they are well understood, once you have a few seeds to get started. The one-size-fits-all approach obviously isn't working.

What a first-time Twitter user sees Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I'm doing some work with a Twitter app that wants my username and password so I needed an account to test with. I created one, and accepted the 20 users that they suggested. This is what I saw:

There's a lot of spam in there, and little that's coherent. This is the best they could find? Are they even watching?


A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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