Click here to show or hide the menubar.

Home >  Archive >  2011 >  September

Previous / Next

RSS feed for Scripting News
This site contributes to the community river.

Scripting News -- It's Even Worse Than It Appears.

About the author

A picture named daveTiny.jpgDave Winer, 56, is a software developer and editor of the Scripting News weblog. He 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 and NYU, 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 New York City.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

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

"Dave was in a hurry. He had big ideas." -- Harvard.

"Dave Winer is one of the most important figures in the evolution of online media." -- Nieman Journalism Lab.

10 inventors of Internet technologies you may not have heard of. -- Royal Pingdom.

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.

8/2/11: Who I Am.

Contact me

scriptingnews2mail at gmail dot com.


My sites
Recent stories

Recent links

My 40 most-recent links, ranked by number of clicks.

My bike

People are always asking about my bike.

A picture named bikesmall.jpg

Here's a picture.


September 2011

Aug   Oct


A picture named warning.gif

FYI: You're soaking in it. :-)

A picture named xmlMini.gif
Dave Winer's

Google needs a Google Permalink.

I'm starting to get annoyed with Google's search engine. So much extra stuff, now they're displaying people's web pages in the margins of the search results. Why are we even going there. Is there a way to turn it off.

The reason we liked Google was it whisked us on our way to where we needed to go. Now, they're doing what the old search engines used to do, clutching us ever-closer. They're even sucking off-site content into their site. Google is becoming as much of a silo as Facebook is. Only it's happening slowly.

Google used to be fast, not just in responding to search queries, but in staying out of the way and letting us get on with it.

We need a Google for Google. Something to search it without getting in the way. So we can find what we're looking for on Google, and god forbid it might be on another site, there too.

"People come back to places that send them away."

A simple thought. A plain jane search, with none of the bells and whistles. Really excellent results, of course. I think such a search might go over well. Maybe no graphics at all. Just text.

Something I wouldn't mind linking to from a blog post. Starting to resent all the holding-on Google is doing. Remember the point of a search engine is to send you away. It's how Google won our hearts in the first place. Wonder if they have any corporate memory of this.

I get the feeling that users are more and more pawns in an epic battle to the death among the titans of tech. I'm looking for an opt-out.

Thanks for listening.

Last ride of Sept 2011 Permalink.

Pretty sure this was the last ride of Sept 2011.

It was a good one. I was sure I had a tail wind going uptown, but then I felt like I had one coming back down.

The roads were filled with all kinds of people, walking, running, eating (there's a food festival in Chelsea). Lots of traffic on the streets. Couldn't figure it out then I remembered it's the holidays. My lifestyle didn't notice. :-)

Got a pic of Point Thank You. I first noticed this sign a few rides ago. This time I had enough time to get the picture.

A picture named pointThankYou.jpg

Not living in NYC in the aftermath of 9/11, this was the first I had heard of this place.

Map: 1 hour 6 minutes. 11.62 miles.

Mind bombs of 2011 Permalink.

We used to talk about mind bombs here without too much shame.

Now we're for some reason afraid to say something is explosive even when we know it is??

Time to stop doing that.

Blorkmark demo Permalink.

Chris Davies asked about my paragraph-level permalinks in a comment on Google Plus. I told him about Blorkmarks, which is what comes next, imho.

Basically they're DNS-based markers in outlines. Here's a demo.

You kind of have to stare at it, and think and poke around to see all the interconnections. This is pretty fully-baked stuff.

Hidden away is the Accept header that allows you to request the OPML instead of the HTML. And then you're off to the races. (Because you get all the structure and data along with the text.)

If Google had a similar feature, I wouldn't have to link to Chris's post, I could include it.

That's what we all should be aiming for. Structures that seamlessly bridge systems, so we have real interop. Then we get to the next level, and have some fun before the next opportunities start coming into focus. The blogging silos that Google, Facebook and others are developing are not the answer.

Like, we didn't know that political blogging would be big when there were just a handful of blogs. That kind of observation.

Intuitively I think this tool gives new purpose to academics, researchers, librarians, programmers. After that, I don't know. Lawyers maybe.

BTW, Amazon's Route 53 was the missing piece for a long time. I needed a way to program DNS, and they finally delivered more or less exactly what i was looking for, at least to get started.

Command-line for browser Permalink.

How come there's no command line in the browser.

A window pops up and lets me enter a little JS code that runs right off.

It's a scripting environment, why not go all the way? Security issue?

Or maybe it's there and there's a secret handshake? :-)

Let's talk platforms Permalink.

I spent hours this morning getting this to look right, and it still doesn't.

HTML as a user interface language is no good.

It might have had potential at one time, but we're lost in space.

PS: I used a table to get the Submit button where I wanted it.

DaveCast #16: Mac of the web Permalink.

I wrote a blog post today about UI on the web. Permalink.

A picture named heisenbergSmall.gifAn important piece that could use some elaboration.

So I did a podcast.

The premise: The web is where the PC industry was before the Mac. No standard UIs. Big opportunity.

Why didn't we march? Permalink.

Question for everyone.

Why didn't we march on Washington when they were playing Russian Roulette with the guns pointed at us, not them.

When people look for a purpose to the Occupy Wall Street demos, that's as good a one as I can think of.

Who thinks that now that they exist, if something like that debt ceiling debacle comes again, we aren't going to mobilize? Do you think the police will stop the people? Doesn't look like they will.

No more brinksmanship. Let's start thinking.

An idea for the Republicans Permalink.

Why don't you guys make peace with the rest of us?

I don't think you get how much you're waging war, not against the Democrats, but against the country. Or maybe you do. In which case we have to get rid of you like a virus.

Watching all the gyrations over the nomination process is something.

CSS is a tradeoff Permalink.

I'm finally getting comfortable with CSS.

And not just to use it to style an individual site. I have to make CSS work in a templating language for the work I'm doing.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to two guys at Twitter for blazing the trail with the Bootstrap toolkit. It's a library of solved CSS problems. You have to puzzle them out, but it's not impossible, though it is difficult at times. But that's not their fault, because CSS can be dauntingly complex for newbies.

Once you work your way through the complexity, and I know I have now because most of the things I try now work (wasn't always that way), a picture emerges of a tradeoff that was made that I'm not sure the designers who invented it knew about.

Let me explain.

A picture named heisenberg.gifThey say the great thing about CSS is that it separates content from its appearance. I agree that this is great. I've been using a template language for my websites going back to before there was a web. This is one of the things Chris Gulker showed me about the work he was doing at the SF Examiner in the early 90s, to automate the prepress operation. The same ideas translated easily to the web. And they made things like blogging possible.

However when you delay rendering to the browser, you end up splitting the content in two. That's fine if you're working on a single site, and not trying to create utilities that work in a lot of different contexts. For example, suppose you wanted to create a library that handled drawing and interacting with menus. If you weren't using CSS, you'd just return a package of HTML, it would be dropped into the page, and that's that. However, with CSS, you also have to arrange for the style information to show up, in an entirely different place. That's the complexity that CSS adds.

That's why it's taken me most of a year to figure out how to make this work. In the end I did figure it out. It's still fragile and adds unnecessary complexity. And the fear I have is that all this will be reorganized yet again, and we have to go through this unnecessary exercise again.

I also note that we had the things that Bootstrap solves, 25 years ago, and the solution then was better and easier. More powerful. More leverage for the programmer. More complexity hidden behind the APIs. When I read a piece by Paul Krugman wondering if economists of the 1970s knew more than those working today, I said the same question must be asked about software developers. It seems to me we had it all working better before we switched to the web. We probalby never should have tried to make the web a GUI. But there you have it. (And if Microsoft, Apple and Sun hadn't been such BigCo's it might have happened.)

A picture named pingPongPaddles.gifThat's why Bootstrap makes a difference. It encapsulates in one place all the design assumptions. I don't want to have control over how the menus look. I learned that when I started making Mac software. It's a good thing if all menus work the same way. So if Bootstrap is a good thing, how much more can we simplify things by factoring out the look and feel and burying it even deeper and further away from the program logic? There's the answer. It belongs in the browser itself. There ought to be the idea of menus in the language that goes over the wire and is rendered in machine language by the browser. And all menus should work exactly the same way, whether you're in Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, Tumblr or on JetBlue's website or This is not a new idea. This is the idea of the Macintosh in 1984.

Another hit of the ping pong ball across the net to my buddy Joe (and maybe Nik Cubrilovic too, who picked up the ball on the Facebook story last weekend, and did great things with it).

PS: Is there a blog for news of Bootstrap? I don't want to join a mail list, I am just a user. But I'd love to follow a feed. (I see they have a feed for commits, but what I want is something more like my worknotes.)

Help fight MS Permalink.

I'm riding on Sunday in the NYC stop-MS bike ride.

It's a 30-mile loop around Manhattan. The purpose of the ride is to raise money to fight MS.

If you want to give a little, it couldn't hurt!

This is the web page to visit.

Let's have fun! :-)

PS: I can't ride on Sunday unless the number gets up to at least $150. They really figured out how to get you motivated to raise money.

What comes after the cloud? Permalink.

You know I think the cloud is great. I've been preaching the advantages of everyone having their own outpost on the web forever. The dream goes back, for me, to the early 80s. I wanted Compuserve to host my apps. They said I was crazy.

So I started a BBS on an Apple II running in my living room. Wrote the software myself.

Ten years later I had a server on the Internet, fumbling my way around, trying to recreate the virtual world we had on Compuserve.

Now I'm creating shrinkwrap software for Amazon and Rackspace's clouds. I love the idea of people running their own servers. And we're going to get some of them to do it, for sure. But there are ominous storm clouds looming over the horizon, and in those clouds are the seeds of the next revolution. Which is coming into focus...

Tech is just a loop. First we organize, then we disrupt, then it gets organized again, then that gets disrupted.

The benefits of all of us pooling our resources are great. But BigCo's form and make money from controlling the use of the pooled resources. Pretty soon they start upgrading your computer when they feel like it. Pretty soon you can't take data off the network. Pretty soon they control what gets said. Then someone invents a personal computer, one that you, the user, controls. The freedom is wonderful! I know because the PC was born when I was coming of age.

That's what comes after the cloud.

Can Larry reboot Google? Permalink.

Interesting story on Larry Page and Google. He of course is one of two founders, and the CEO of Google.

He says Google is its own biggest problem.

As an observer of BigCo's in the tech business for over 30 years (oy) I think I know at what point in the cycle he is in.

Here's the story, from an outsider's point of view.

When Google started it was great. They had a winning product, search, and it was connecting with users bigtime. Then they added mail, maps, bought YouTube and discovered ads.

The company grew and hired from the general talent pool of Silicon Valley. That means it was able to operate at huge scale, but the tradeoff was that great new ideas didn't make it there anymore.

Great ideas don't sound like great ideas before they happen. They sound unlikely. Egotistic. People find ways of dismissing them even if like Page you have a track record of recognizing, developing and promoting great ideas. The people at Google would recognize a fine new search engine or Twitter clone. Or a new YouTube, Dropbox, eBay or Skype. These are, today, proven ideas. And that's what Google invests in.

Larry Page is brilliant. And great ideas are addictive. And great ideas aren't just light bulbs. The transcontinental railroad was a great idea because of its scope and its ability to transform human civilization. To make something like that happen you have to do a lot more than "have" an idea. You have to develop it, make it work, and then convince everyone else to use it. Often without having the thing itself to help you sell it. (In other words to sell the idea of the transcontinental railroad you had to wave your arms a lot. Steve Jobs doesn't have to sell anything until he can put one in your hands.)

The people who sold JFK on going to the moon were some of the most accomplished tech leaders ever. I think Page probably could have been one of those people.

Anyway, he loves great ideas. Has done some and wants to keep going. But he has this huge ball and chain around his neck called Google. It's so large you or I couldn't comprehend it. He has had time to get used to it, but I bet it's incomprehensible to him too. You can't grok the totality of something as big as Google, no matter how great your mind is.

Bill Gates got to this point with Microsoft, tried to re-whip the intelligence of his early days, failed, and went on to be a philanthropist.

Steve Jobs was fired before Apple could get to this point. He spent years in the wilderness, came back and somehow got Apple to turn the corner. Probably because he had no reason not to fire the losers who accumulate in BigCo's. There was a huge purge at Apple in 1997 and 1998.

Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are there now. Neither of them has made it over the hump. Will they be Steve or will they be Bill? Or something else.

I would love to see a video of Page's talk. I hope that makes its way to YouTube. :-)

BTW, feature request. If I search for "google coffee mug" one of the first hits should be a blog-ready image of a google coffee mug.

Ask Doc Permalink.

Doc Searls knows why there's a picture of Shirley Temple here.

A picture named shirleyTempleAt16.gif

Rivers of JSON Permalink.

Sometimes I think of collaborative development as a game of ping pong. I pick up a paddle, and my partner picks one up too. He hits the ball over the net. I hit it back. Ping. Pong. Back and forth.

Joe Hewitt and I have been talking on and off for about five years. There's a pretty big age difference, I'm a generation older -- but there's a lot of similarity in thinking. Except in politics. Joe is a frequent commenter here, and most of his comments make me wish he'd start his own blog. I've asked many times. :-)

Now he has started his own blog. If you read Scripting News you should also be reading Joe's blog.

Joe is an accomplished developer. He and Blake Ross got Firefox started. And he did the iPhone app for Facebook.

A picture named pingPongPaddles.gifIn his latest piece, he takes the web apart, and claims we can rebuild it without HTML. Of course I agree. I've been working on RSS and OPML for a long time. These are very much web-able technologies, though it might not be so clear about RSS. Want a demo? Do a view-source on my RSS feed and see the links to the OPML source for each blog post. That's not HTML. You could do a whole browsing experience for Scripting News without touching a single HTML file. I've been wanting Joe and others to take a look at that for a while. I think maybe now they will. One can hope! :-)

And I have a new format that I think of as Rivers of JSON. You can have a peek at it by doing a view-source on one of the HTML rivers that my River2 software publishes. You won't see any data in there. The HTML is just a way of browsing the data behind it which is all JSON. You can think of the format as a super-RSS in JSON. It's got the content of many RSS feeds in it. But the elements would be familiar to anyone with experience working with RSS.

There's an example of what Joe is talking about. No surprise that the ideas interlock, because we've been doing verbal ping pong for a few years. My work is pretty far along. And he got me to roll up my sleeves and bake JSON into my world. So it's all sitting there waiting for him to take up a software ping pong paddle and hit the ball back over the net. :-)

New York Smiles ;-) Permalink.

A picture named monaLisa.jpgSnarling is a way of life in NYC. Really. It's not an urban myth. A lot of people snarl.

Now I'm aware it has something to do with who you are, what kind of package you come in.

I once had a very beautiful girlfriend. Gorgeous and statuesque. Poised. Lovely. And cute too. She had it all. When we'd go to parties, I liked to hang back and watch the guys swarm around her. All smiles, offering to do things for her, get her things. When she went out in the world, it looked like a smiling, happy, pleasing place. We had discussions about this. I swear she didn't believe me when I said it wasn't like this for everyone. :-)

And some days in NYC when I have good hair, I get looks that are almost smiles, but not quite.

That's why the times when people are nice are so special. I went for a couple of slices of pizza at a store on University Place yesterday, and the cashier was all smiles. Of course I beamed back, thanked her, and we had a little conversation. Nothing important. But I remembered the smile. It more or less made my day.

I try as best I can to offer a smile, most of the time. After all, if you're getting snarled at all day, who can blame the other person for being in a foul mood. You have a chance to make someone's day every time you go out. And don't just reserve it for people who are attractive to you. Make an effort to expand your horizons and everyone else's. Sure, the smile could be misunderstood, but then -- what are you actually risking? (And if it's too risky -- stay safe!)

This isn't one of those heavy pieces with an unobvious suprise ending. The ending is this. When someone gives you a happy look, appreciate it, and try, when you can, to return the favor.

Morning tugboat notes Permalink.

Good morning!

Woke up early and got in a 7AM ride.

Was a good time because I caught a huge cruise ship coming into port. I had caught the tail ends of a few of them but never one full-on. Got off the trail at the 46th St port, where the Intrepid is docked, and went all the way out on the pier and got some pics.

A picture named cruiseShip.gif

That picture doesn't really capture the enormity of it. Here are some closeups that attempt to give a sense of perspective.

And here's a romantic picture of a tugboat in NY Harbor just for kicks. :-)

Map: 1 hour, 8 minutes; 11.78 miles.

Who is screwing the USA? Permalink.

In a discussion today with Patrick LaForge of the NYT, who is a genial and intelligent person (I am no anti-Palafo partisan in other words), said the Times could not have a "partisan narrative" in its stories.

I immediately recognized this as response in support of he-said-she-said reporting, as described by my friend and colleague, Jay Rosen (I am pro-Rosen, which is now properly disclaimed).

A picture named elephant.gifI responded to LaForge by saying I am not partisan, I am a user, citizen, voter, taxpayer, but in US politics I am definitely not partisan. I can prove it by offering that if anything I am a Republican partisan because I've voted Republican more than I have voted Democratic. I am one of those independents who leaned right, until I learned what that meant. I voted Democratic in the last two national elections, as a result. But I could vote Republican, if they quit being the depraved advocates of the inbred ruling class that they have become.

Now to Patrick, of what relevance is the term partisan, when a famous partisan like David Frum, consistently writes on his blog, positions that, if you read them without knowing who was writing, you would be certain were written by a Democratic partisan?

What Jay says, and I agree mightily with this, is that voters, users, citizens, non-partisans, your readers -- what we want is to be armed with truthful facts and perspectives informed by facts.

When the Times runs an article that blames "Congress" for outrageous obstruction by Republicans, you are doing all of us a disservice. And not in a partisan way. If we're to make informed choices at the ballot box, we have to know who's doing what. The piece we debated in a 140-character-limited way, obscured the facts. It is not partisan to unobscure them. It's more properly called "editing."

Here's Frum's latest. Note that he doesn't say Congress when he means Republicans. This is the new partisan discourse. It's honest, direct, and informs the reader. It respects the reader. Now when Frum says something fact-based that favors Republicans, you can be sure I'll listen. Because I've come to trust him.

BTW, the President, a Democrat, was making this mistake too until recently. He said Congress when he meant Republicans. I tweeted today that I was glad to see those days are behind him. This is more likely to work too, because it provides air cover to Democrats who do the right thing. And also, if some Republicans split off, it couldn't hurt to point that out as well.

I offer that advice to anyone who seeks office. Saying things that smart people know to be true is a good way to gain their trust. Same with news organizations.

The rich *like* govt services! Permalink.

A picture named suit.gifThe flat taxers say the rich don't consume more highways than the middle class or poor people, so why should they pay more? But something has been bothering me about this. The poor and middle class don't own banks and car companies that need to be bailed out. Or oil companies that destroy Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico if we don't keep a close eye on them.

The scale of government services these people want is truly astonishing. It's in the trillions of dollars. And the armies we have to supply them with to keep their fortunes safe. Millions of Americans serve them. They like to say they keep us all free, but I've noticed that the wars we've been fighting lately have been about oil, not freedom. So let's not forget that.

This is their form of Medicare or Social Security. They don't pay into the system to cover the expense. The didn't earn this as the middle class earned the services they want to cut. Yet periodically they hold our economy hostage and demand the rest of us sacrifice ourselves for them. This is an important point not to be overlooked.

So when they say the government screws everything up, what they're really saying is they don't want you to get your services, but please don't talk about not bailing out their Too Big To Fail banks. That has to be taken care of before we get new bridges or pay our teachers.

Baseball vs real life Permalink.

I went to see Moneyball today and loved it.

It's a baseball movie, but not like any other you've seen.

Because it's also a math movie, like A Beautiful Mind or Good Will Hunting, or an iconoclast movie like Citizen Kane or Tucker. I didn't make this up, my good friend from Nashville, Rex Hammock, put together a Venn Diagram review of Moneyball. I concur mightily (and thanks for the recommendations of movies I haven't seen yet).

I read the book too, and loved it. But the movie and book are different enough and Brad Pitt is a wonderful actor, and he really shines in the role of Billy Beane.

The movie makes a point that there's baseball that the fans love, the team loyalty, the love of the players, the acting of baseball, the heart of baseball. But there's also Billy Beane's baseball, the game as reality. A business of dollars and cents. Of big decisions about people's lives, and what success and failure mean. It's good to know when you're talking about baseball the drama, the stage play -- and baseball the enterprise.

This is important to think about because we're entering political season in the US. Sure, there's the stage play, the horse race -- and it's captivating. I love watching the Republican debates, not because the lines the actors say mean anything -- they don't. They're designed to convey a feeling about the person who's saying them. If you listen to the actual words, when they make any sense, and that's a rare thing -- they are often outright lies. Not small white lies, but massively huge and important ones.

The drama is the logic of the baseball insider. They think in terms of perceptions or lately "optics" (they're exactly the same thing). The problem with that view is that as with baseball, there's another side to it. The one where real people's lives are changed. Only here the numbers are orders of magnitude greater. In baseball, Billy Beane chooses to play major league baseball after high school, instead of going to Stanford, and his life changes. In presidential politics in the US, billions of people's lives can change based on the decisions we make. And trillions of dollars.

It also tends to be that way in technology too. While I was out at the movies today, the piece I wrote earlier today got over 30,000 page reads. Not too many people saw it as me rooting for the wrong team, because for whatever reason, Facebook doesn't inspire that kind of fandom. Had I been writing about Apple, I would have totally offended their fans, and would have gotten a lot of grief that I didn't get for challenging Facebook. And I got some grief from people who work at Google. As I have in the past gotten flamed by people who work at Mozilla. They don't have Apple's army of trolls, but they're willing to do it for themselves.

Again, there are a lot more people's futures at stake in this than in baseball. Sure they have nice people working on the Chrome team. They also come and go. Are they respected by their bosses? As a user, I have no way of knowing, and it's not really a wall I want to look through and try to understand. To me Google is a whole entity, not individuals. They will make their decisions the way companies decide things. And I don't think they're any better or different than BP or Exxon or one of the banks that became too big to fail. I think they're insinuating themselves between all of us, and they're going to use that position to control things, once they have it all locked down, if they ever do. That's the way business works. If you work inside Google and think it works differently, then I think you're naive. I don't think it makes you a bad person, or incompetent. My concerns about Google are not personal criticisms of you. I don't know you.

I've been building up to writing this piece for a long time, and I doubt if many people will read it, or care. But I wanted to say it. I don't think we can afford to view politics or technology as we view baseball. In baseball, I can personally insult Yankees fans, or condescend to Cubs fans, or feel a soulful affinity with fellow Mets fans, and it's all fun. Because we know it totally doesn't matter. But these other things do matter. So we really can't afford to think of it as Us vs Them. It's not Republicans vs Democrats, it's Americans deciding what we want our government to do. And in technology, it's the people of the world, in very much the model of Jefferson, deciding what we want to be. And not having corporations and their need for profit, be the sole determinant.

I don't care if the people at Facebook and Google and Apple and Microsoft et al don't like this. I'm not talking to you, I'm not even talking about you. When I talk about technology or politics (really teh same thing) I am talking to other people who might read this, whose thinking I would like to influence. So if you take it personally, your imagination is betraying you.

I'll close this one with a line I've put at the end of many stories I've published here, going back to October 1994.

Thanks for listening.

Facebook is scaring me Permalink.

Yesterday I wrote that Twitter should be scared of Facebook. Today it's worse. I, as a mere user of Facebook, am seriously scared of them.

Every time they make a change, people get angry. I've never myself been angry because I have always assumed everything I post to Facebook is public. That the act of putting something there, a link, picture, mini-essay, is itself a public act.

This time, however, they're doing something that I think is really scary, and virus-like. The kind of behavior deserves a bad name, like phishing, or spam, or cyber-stalking.

A picture named lucyCharlieFootball.gifWhat clued me in was an article on ReadWriteWeb that says that just reading an article on their site may create an announcement on Facebook. Something like: "Bull Mancuso just read a tutorial explaining how to kill a member of another crime family." Bull didn't comment. He didn't press a Like button. He just visited a web page. And an announcement was made on his behalf to everyone who follows him on Facebook. Not just his friends, because now they have subscribers, who can be total strangers.

Now, I'm not technically naive. I understood before that the Like buttons were extensions of Facebook. They were surely keeping track of all the places I went. And if I went to places that were illegal, they would be reported to government agencies. Bull Mancuso in the example above has more serious things to worry about than his mother finding out that he's a hitman for the mob. (Both are fictitious characters, and in my little story his mom already knows he's a hitman.)

There could easily be lawsuits, divorces, maybe even arrests based on what's made public by Facebook.

People joke that privacy is over, but I don't think they imagined that the disclosures would be so proactive. They are seeking out information to report about you. That's different from showing people a picture that you posted yourself. If this were the government we'd be talking about the Fourth Amendment.

Also, I noted that I had somehow given access to my Facebook account to ReadWriteWeb. That's puzzling because I have no memory of having done that. And when I went to see what other organizations I had given access to my graph, there were lots of surprises. I think there's a good chance that by visiting a site you are now giving them access to lots more info about you. I could be mistaken about this.

And, until Facebook owns the browser we use, there is a simple way to opt-out, and I've done it myself. Log out of Facebook. And if Facebook had a shred of honor they would make their cookie expire, right now, for everyone, and require a re-log-in, and a preference choice to stay permanently logged-in. With a warning about the new snooping they're doing. Probably a warning not written by them, but by Berkman, the EFF or the FTC. (Yes, dear Republicans, I trust a bureaucrat more than I trust a tech exec in Silicon Valley.)

One more thing. Facebook doesn't have a web browser, yet, but Google does. It may not be possible to opt-out of Google's identity system and all the information gathering it does, if you're a Chrome user.

PS: There's a Hacker News thread on this piece. It's safe to click on that link (as far as I know).

Update: Nik Cubrilovic says that logging out of Facebook is not enough.

Obama's going somewhere Permalink.

A picture named indianGirl.gifThe President gave a not-tone-deaf speech yesterday, for the first time in his Presidency that I can recall. He's never known what he should do. But now he's figured it out. I guess sometimes if you're too close to the problem you just can't see it.

What Presidents have to do, every one of them, and so few do, is organize the people of the United States. Keep us thinking in a productive and useful way. If you don't do it, that leaves people's minds idle, and for some of them that means very destructive ideas get in their heads, by people who are willing to lead. People like the governors of Wisconsin, Florida and New Jersey. And Senators from Kentucky and South Carolina. And Representatives from Louisiana and Texas.

Keep it simple. See this bridge behind me. It's old and there's always traffic on it. It's safe to drive on, but it doesn't work in 2011 the way it was designed to work in 1954 or 1968. And we've got all these construction people sitting around doing nothing, wishing they had some work. Anyone can put that kind of two and two together.

You have to drill it. Repeat the ideas. And unless there's humor and levity, no one is going to listen to you say it over and over. So you have to be friendly and cheerful and keep the ideas easy to understand.

It may still be too late for us, but now at least there is some direction to where we're going. At least we have a chance to try, instead of being mere spectators. I think that's a big frustration a lot of people feel. They don't want to be on the sidelines, they want to be involved.

BTW, we could do some of this work on a voluntary basis. I think the President might be surprised at how well that would work if he applied the same kind of gentle, humorous leadership. (And the Republicans have never done this, so they shouldn't be too uppity about it.)

Twitter should fear Facebook Permalink.

Celebs will understand the features they added. They've turned Facebook into a perfect platform for actors, basketball players, Newt Gingrich (if he ever gets a clue) and the next despot to rise in the third world (which could easily be the USA).

A picture named silo.gifAnd most celebs totally don't mind being owned by megacorps. Most of them are, already.

I think when we look back we'll see the big stone Twitter left unturned was not making deals with their users to keep them from wandering too far.

They put golden handcuffs on engineers (or try to), but they let another class of valuable relationships remain uncompensated.

I think this is where UGC becomes too simple a model for tech firms.

And makes much more urgent the creation of great celebrity platforms that do not live inside megacorp silos.

Google search on iPad Permalink.

A few weeks ago all of a sudden, Google search changed the way it works on the iPad.

Here are two screen shots that illustrate the difference. The first is the normal view of Google search in a normal web browser. The second is what we get on the iPad.

A picture named regularVersionSmall.gifA picture named mobileVersionSmall.gif

Yes, there is a link at the bottom of the screen that gives you the higher density "classic" view. But please Google, give me a permanent preference so I never have to look at the mobile version again. I gave it a few weeks and I still hate it.

And one more time, an iPad browser is a regular browser. It doesn't need any fancy tricks to make it work like an iPad app. The reason we're choosing to use the browser and not the app is that we prefer the browser to the app. Come on software guys, design for your users.

Also, it's conceivable that Apple could help us out and give users a pref that tells websites that we're not using an iPad, so we get their normal version. Technically, it would be very easy to do.

About RBTN Permalink.

I promised on Sept 10 that I would write to explain why we stopped doing the Rebooting the News podcast.

First, it's my fault. I take the blame. My interests shifted. I think you can hear that if you listen to the last few podcasts we did.

I got tired of talking about rebooting the news, a process that we agree started many years ago, with the advent of the web -- and wanted to get back to actually rebooting the news. There's more to do and the talking wasn't getting it done.

An analogy: You can talk about love, which certainly is fun, or you can make love, which also is good.

As Pete Seeger sang: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

We may swing back around, with enough new rebooting under our belts, with a need to talk about it some more.

"A time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted."

New Facebook Permalink.

I'm intrigued by the features they're adding to Facebook.

A picture named dime.jpgIt's not a river, I don't really know what it is, and that's one of the things that's always bothered me about Facebook.

And I don't have a lot of people listening to me over there.

A half hour ago I asked a question -- how do you post a link on Facebook? I see people are doing it, so it must still be possible. But the command moved somewhere, and I can't find it!

So I'll ask here on Scripting News. Bet I get the answer pretty quickly. :-)

BTW, I offer my river -- updated every 10 minutes, as a good source of tech, political and science news.

We're in the money! Permalink.

You know how you get a song in your head and you just can't get it out?

I keep singin...

We're in the money!
We're in the money!
We've got a lot of what
It takes to get along!

The rest of the lyrics are great, and it's worth a listen.

Couple of reasons it's in my head.

1. I'm working my way through an archive of Warner Bros cartoons from the 1930s, and they sing that song a lot, along with Shuffle off to Buffalo. I love watching movies from that period, in order, to see how rapidly the art of movie-making was progressed in that period. And it's turning out to be true in cartoons as well. The first efforts were mostly of the Look Ma No Hands! variety. It must have been amazing that they could do it at all. I imagine people watching the movies the same way we used to revel at the early CP/M machines we hobbyists had in our living rooms. The miracle was that you could have a computer in your living room! Never mind they were a lot bigger than a breadbox. It was a miracle. Then a few years later we had Apple II's and a few years after that, Macs. And then HTTP into the home. You know the rest of the story. The 30's were to movies like the 80s were to PCs.

2. We're actually in a depression now, I think we'll see that in retrospect in a couple of years, and what's eerie about this one, according to people who study the history of the Great Depression, is that we're doing all the crazy things they did back then, again. It's as if we're re-living the past.

In the Warner cartoons of 1933 they already have caricatures of Hitler. Watching them, almost 80 years later, we know what was going to happen. The depression would keep going through the rest of the decade, while Germany was re-arming, and getting ready for mayhem.

Makes you think about some of the crazy war talk you hear these days.

Clueless political pundits? Permalink.

Maybe the headline of this piece is redundant.

The President made his proposal yesterday. I missed the speech, but got the gist.

The plan is a little less than what the Democrats would have proposed if they weren't trying to pre-negotiate with the Republicans. (Seen as a sign of weakness by the Repubs, causing them to push harder.)

Further, the President says if the compromise the special panel comes back with doesn't contain serious tax increases for the rich, if they don't bear their share of the burden of deficit reduction, if it just falls on the backs of the poor and middle class, he will veto it.

So here's what the pundits say.

1. WTF is he doing. This makes no sense.

2. The Repubs say his plan is dead on arrival.

3. He's playing nasty politics with the veto.

4. So this is really about the election, not what's happening now.

Okay, it's hypocrisy to put #2 and #3 together. Let's be fair, call them both ugly or both DOA. But not one standard for one party and another for the other. That's part of what leads to the lopsided equilibrium we're at.

And what the pundits don't get, that the President all of a sudden seems to, is that there's a third party involved here. It's not just Democrats and Republicans -- there are taxpayers, voters, citizens -- people -- here. Whatever you want to call them, we can change what the parties do.

And get this, it doesn't have to wait until the election. If all of a sudden the voters realize this is their call, the Republicans will change. And that will happen long before next year's elections.

Of course the Republicans totally understand what he's doing and they're desperately trying to sling mud on it to give the reporters some ugly questions to ask. Like the DOA stuff.

Tough love for Republicans Permalink.

The Republicans are so good at coming up with dishonest talking points and sticking with them.

A picture named bart.gifAnd when they're wrong, and they know it, they just resort to talking nonsense. Saw Lindsey Graham, a favorite of the Sunday morning shows. He was talking pure gibberish. That's how ridiculous it's gotten. The interviewer, on a sane planet, would roll her eyes and say "Mr Graham, I have no idea what you just said and I'm sure no one else did." And then bring in an English teacher, Mrs. McGillicuddy, to critique his use of the English language. He would claim it's unfair, and she has a liberal bias, or whatever. But anyone who can speak even rudimentary English would know she's right. And if he's not actually an illiterate idiot, he would know too.

So the Republicans are claiming that raising the taxes on the super-rich is class warfare. Oy. I suppose it was class warfare when they (the Repubs) lowered their taxes? And instead of paying for the (real, not imaginary) wars they started, borrowed money? And funneled the profits back to the defense contractors and oil companies they own?

But of course it isn't class warfare. It might be more accurately called "tough love." Dear super-rich. STFU and pay your share.

And start using your brains. There are going to be food riots in this country soon. And they're going to be coming to your neighborhood with the protests. That's one of the best reasons for starting to pay more now. You don't like it? Move to China, or an oil rig off the coast of California. We all pay taxes. It might be nice if you didn't have to, but it also might be nice to live forever. Neither is going to happen.

That's why the Republicans need some love. They need to be talked to like the spoiled children that they are. They've become accustomed to getting their way. No more of that.

And to the President, who seems to be getting the clue. We need a champion, someone to represent the people. The Republicans only have lies. All you have to do is point out exactly how they're doing it. And while you're at it, learn a few jokes. It couldn't hurt to laugh a little. At how sad the United States is, that this is what governance has come to.

Facebook not so evil now Permalink.

A picture named coin.jpgThis is a puzzle. Now that Facebook has subscribing, it makes a lot more sense to me. I feel like it's about to become meaningful.

And I think the people I share friendships with on Facebook just became more valuable to me, and me to them.

But now I really want to get my Blork feed to flow through there.

I'm scratching my head over their API. I'm sure it'll start making sense real soon now.

Interesting puzzle! :-)

Update: They use OAuth 2.0.

Selling out is selling out Permalink.

The term "selling out" is a great one, because it's both a state of mind and a financial transaction. But they mean the same thing, no matter which way you approach it.

1. He sold out. He used to have integrity, his word used to mean something, he took principled stands. But now, he's like a noodle, doesn't stand for anything, produces crap, is a yes-man, etc etc.

2. He sold out. He hired lawyers and accountants and financial advisers and gave up his labor of love, his virtual baby, for money!

A picture named joker.gifThere's a time for principled stands, and there's a time to sell out. I've done both. I get to do more of the former because I've done some of the latter.

But it's funny how there's no way to to avoid #1 once you've done #2. People always say they're going to, but it never works.

Soon after the sale, the founder leaves, often in a hail of virtual bullets, and you can see that the organizational independence that was supposed to be thematic, never was there at all. They blame the boss. But there really is no one to blame, it's just the way it works.

Being a very public thing, TechCrunch's transition from a platform for outrageous entrepreneurialism to a corporate cash cow, is something we can all watch.

I'm being polite. I won't miss the old TechCrunch. I don't like gatekeepers. I know eventually their lock breaks.

Their campaign against RSS was wrong. Essential plumbing from years-gone-by never goes away. There's still water flowing through pipes laid by the Roman Empire. Their roads still exist. Even if RSS has stopped growing, which I doubt, it's a long way from being what they said it is.

Now that's over (we hope), maybe we can distribute power more evenly, and get to do some really neat stuff in tech, with more people working with each other. TechCrunch often stood in the way of that.

Apple in Grand Central Permalink.

Passing through Grand Central today on my way to lunch at Naples 45 with Rich Ziade of Arc90, I got a glimpse of the new Apple store.

A picture named newAppleStoreGrandCentral.jpg

As you can see they've got the whole thing enclosed in a black box so you can't see what's coming.

I expect to be waiting in a few lines here before it's all over. :-)

The web presence for ideas Permalink.

It's hard work advocating for users.

The industry will have no part of it, they see their interests as being counter to the interests of users (at least in actions, if not words).

And users are only slowly realizing that it really does matter who controls the web presence for their ideas.

Om Malik posted about this yesterday. All the little atoms of content we leave all over the place, how will they be unified, and what do the tools look like. Not the messy messes we use now that are good at editing pages and posts (a process that started 12 years ago), but the amalgamations of these atoms. It is possible to do. But it won't be the current version of the tech industry that will discover and then implement this, they're looking in the wrong place.

Corporate blogging silos Permalink.

Google-Plus might be wonderful. Some people, including my longtime friend Robert Scoble, love it.

The Google-Plus advocates say they don't want an API for posting because that would open the door to a harmful flood of tweets.

Says JR Holmes: "As a former user of the nearly abandoned Google Buzz, I know to well what happened when Google made it too easy to bring Tweets into their early social network." Read the rest of his post. It's worth understanding his point of view.

But now look where he put his ideas.

I wonder if that link will work in five years.

A picture named coin.jpgWhy not put your ideas in your space and post a link to them in Google's. That seems the best of all possible worlds.

And Google, caring about data independence, and being a distant fourth to the three market leaders, might want to do something to upset the cart for the other guys. Like allow for the possibility that not all good content resides on their servers. Even embrace the idea.

Big companies have a way of walking away from their silos. We all know that by now. JR is talking about Buzz, which is a ghost town (I hear, I never go there).

I wrote in a comment in reply to JR over in Google's space and reproduced here:

"Maybe you haven't considered the good stuff that isn't making its way into the Googleverse because this door isn't open?

"I won't put anything more than a random comment into a corporate blogging silo like this without it flowing through my tools so I can archive it and publish it in my space too. The fact that it goes to Twitter too is the least important thing about it.

"It's as if you would say "I once met someone I didn't like who arrived in a car, so I am banning all cars."

"That's the other side of the coin."

Google saved my number Permalink.

I was writing this post when news of their API came in.

A picture named mabelllogo.gifPostscript to yesterday's piece about Verizon and my Droid. I bit the bullet and ported the number to Google Voice. A little less than 24 hours later the porting is done, the Verizon account is closed, and the number maps to Google Voice, and through that to a contractless account with T-Mobile that's running on my Samsung Nexus S that I bought in April for my trip to Amsterdam. Whew!

It worked and I still have the old number. So everyone is happy, except maybe Ma Bell's nasty bitch of a grand-daughter, Verizon. Yeah, actually I think they like it when customers walk. Anyway...

Google doesn't get it Permalink.

I usually don't say this about people or companies, aware that I am that it's often the other way around. The one saying they don't get it is the one that don't. In this case I am absolutely sure that Google is the one.

They need an API with one call, one that posts a tweet to their service. So people can hook up Twitter clients to Google-Plus, so the hundred million active Twitter users can post to Google-Plus from the comfort of whatever tools they depend on.

A picture named girlclown.jpgOf course it isn't the hundred million that they need, it's the hundred thousand who do all the work on Twitter. The ones that can't be bothered with a service that doesn't have basic rudimentary API support.

Big companies like Google think they're doing us a favor by adding an API. That's because they think not so much like big companies, but like employees who work at big companies. If they really had the ego of a big company they would think like this. You, developer, your job is to make me rich. So get off your ass and write some apps that drive people to my service. Not just any people but the ones who make Twitter sing.

Anyway, when I saw they had an API I was clearing my schedule to hook my tools up to Google-Plus and finally start getting to work making them a success. Instead, I'll get back the work I'm supposed to be doing.

One more comment: They should just support RSS, and forget APIs to read publicly available content. All that's going to happen now is people are going to write apps that produce feeds from their API so they can hook into the reading tools that were written a hundred years ago, like the one Google itself has. What is it about BigCo's that keep them from paying any attention to things they didn't invent? Larry Page: they're wasting your money and your time.

I feel like Paul Krugman writing about economists. When will these supposed software people learn how software works.

Next step in the phone saga Permalink.

A picture named droidshitphone.jpgThe Motorola Droid is a fairly fragile phone. Too many moving parts, they just wear out. The first one I got broke after a couple of months, and Verizon swapped it out surprisingly quickly and easily. A few weeks ago the replacement phone, almost two years old now, started behaving badly. The screen would jump around. It presses buttons by itself. Hung up on people. It's as if there was a ghost typing on the virtual keypad.

Well, I don't want another Droid. Just had my AT&T iPhone shut down. The T-mobile deal I thought was so good was just voice, no data. So at this point I'm paying for one phone, and it doesn't work. When I go out I don't have a net connection. I am paying for one.

I went down to the Verizon store at 581 Broadway, waited 45 minutes only to be stiff-armed. They want me to upgrade and get a new phone and a new contract. I just want a replacement phone. I pointed out if they replaced the phone they would still have me as a customer. They insisted I had to buy one. I would have told them to shut it off right then and there except for one thing -- I want to keep the number.

I also expect I will want an iPhone 5 when it comes out. So I don't want any deals. I'll probably just buy the iPhone outright when it comes out and go month to month.

While I was sitting in the store waiting to be served, twenty people came through the store to buy new phones. No waiting. Very friendly. They have it down. Make the customer suffer when they want something from you. But you breeze through when you sign up.

Funny thing is they said "sorry" to everyone one of the people who was before me in line today. They all walked out without their problems being solved. It was instructive if only for that reason. You can see how customer dis-satisfaction is built into the system.

Update: I ported my existing number to Google Voice. They take care of closing the Verizon account for me. For $20. Not a bad deal, considering cancelling the account was sure to cost me one hour on the phone with them. (It's like paying someone to wait in line for you at the DMV.)

Morning coffee notes Permalink.

Yesterday or was it the day before Microsoft busted out a bunch of new stuff. It's all a fog to me. But here's what I want -- virtualization that's easy. I'm told that's there. I just want a command in the Start menu that says: New Machine. Choose it, get asked for a name, and boom that's it. New machine boots up. A user interface just like CoRD. Anyway that's how I envision it working.

Instead I get the sense that they went the other way. This new operating system goes everywhere, does everything -- it even has an XBOX inside.

For me I want Windows to get smaller. They want it to get larger.

BTW, I have the same feeling about Mac OS, but they don't agree either. They changed the way scrollbars work. Damn. Just what I need. One machine out of the eight that I use regularly that has a different idea of scrollbars. Seriously bad UI work at Apple. :-(

But I have a feeling Microsoft just did that too. Did they break scrollbars? Oy. I don't want to know.

A picture named girlclown.jpgHow bad have things gotten in US politics? The candidate who threatened the life of the Fed chairman expresses dismay that the audience at his debate cheers the death of a hypothetical uninsured man. Or don't think we should educate kids whose parents immigrated illegally. He wonders where they got the idea that it was okay to be such openly disgustingly blood-thirsty revenge-seekers.

I just finished a corner-turn where I took all the extras out of a release of EC2 for Poets. It's a lot easier to work with without all that stuff in there. Getting ready for the next project after that.

Today might be the last warm day of 2011 in NYC. There's a cold front coming in. Low temp on Friday is forecast to be 46. That's freaking cold. I'm going to miss summer when it's gone.

The cow path business Permalink.

Just figured out recently I'm in the cow path business.

You create the cow path before you pave it.

It's a bit like digging a hole so you can fill it up again.

And when you're in the cow path business you unfortunately often step in cow shit. Occupational hazard. :-)

Looked it up on Google and found out that some people think you shouldn't pave cow paths. I think they need to take another look at how innovation actually happens, not how the would like to think it does. Imho, of course ymmv. (I don't really believe this, but..)

Rick Perry sure is a charmer Permalink.

Some people have charisma, and I know my liberal friends are going to scream at me for this, but it's true -- Rick Perry has boatloads of it.

You just can't keep your eyes off him. And when he talks, you have to listen. It's fun. But if you really listen to the words, he's not actually saying anything. I parodied him on Twitter last night during the debate:

Rick Perry: "I'm just going to say words for a while. Thank you."

Then watch him while Mitt Romney is talking about something, anything -- it doesn't matter. He's either nodding his head in agreement saying "that's right" or looking like he's on some really good drugs, giggling and laughing, but not in a mean way. It's like he's having fun up there. Taking it all in. Thinking about how he's going to vote for Mitt. You'd swear they were best friends.

And Perry really brings out the best in Romney. Makes him seem human. Again, in a good way.

I think some people just have charm. Bill Clinton is one of them, as is Rick Perry. That's why it was funny when Clinton called him "a handsome rascal." In a very admiring way.

A picture named lucyCharlieFootball.gifNow, I don't think it would be a very good idea to elect Rick Perry. We live in a complicated world. We really need someone more like Obama, a technocrat, a student. And in the end all the compromise Obama wants to make may work out. Esp if you listen to the Republican leaders in Congress these days. But I can't help but wonder if they aren't playing Lucy to (what they hope will be) Obama's Charlie Brown. You know the act they repeat over and over with the football. :-)

But I just wanted to say, that's why Perry might get elected. People like to vote for people who make them feel good. And that's something Perry has. Of course Perry is either an idiot, or lazy, or is a lazy idiot. Or completely utterly devoid of integrity. None of that is good, in reality, regardless of how we feel.

PS: Dana Milbank, a political pundit with no charisma, thinks it matters that Perry is an "empty suit." He's an optimist. :-)

PPS: David Frum: "Should Perry reach the presidency, his lack of intellectual resource will have consequences for the nation." Yup.

My NYU blog Permalink.

I've been at NYU for 1.5 years, and it just hit me -- I don't have a blog here. Now I do! :-)

This is where we're going to try out some of the ideas in my Educating the Journo-Programmer piece.

1. Journalists manage their own infrastructure.

A picture named shirt.gif2. Using rivers to support the editorial process.

3. Working with other institutions.

4. Etc.

The "etc" part is most interesting. When you combine tech with writing you get new stuff. And we haven't really begun yet to really fit technology to acts of journalism. Let's get the ball rolling.

So if you're an educator, at NYU or another fine academic institution, please work with us. I want to share all that we learn, and the faster we boot this up, the better.

NYT and my link-feed Permalink.

First a few recitals:

1. I read a lot of NYT stories.

2. I link to a lot of NYT stories. My qualification for pushing a link is "Would an informed person want to be aware of the information, ideas or opinions in this piece?" If I read it, the answer is likely yes.

3. If the person who clicks on the link is not a "digital subscriber" it counts against their quota of free articles for the current month.

Because of this, I've been asked by a few people who read my link flow to clearly identify NYT articles in some way. Perhaps by beginning them with NYT: as I sometimes do. Or with a #NYT hashtag.

A picture named lirrTicket.jpgHere are the problems:

1. It's four or five characters, depending on how you do it. In a 140-character-limited space, that's actually a lot, esp since my new URL shortener has an extra four characters in its name.

2. If I do it for the Times, why shouldn't I do it for every other publication as well? Because they don't have paywalls? Doesn't seem like a good reason. And maybe they will have paywalls in the future.

3. It's more work for me. Sometimes I push links while I'm waiting in line at the supermarket, or as a train is about to pull into the station. Adding the extra bit could mean missing the train, or not pushing the link.

4. Isn't this something Twitter could do automatically? It already sniffs the link. Couldn't there be a user setting that says "Warn me before clicking through to a NYT article." I know this seems like a lot to ask Twitter to do, but -- that shows that it's a lot to ask one humble blogger to do.

5. Isn't this problem between the reader and the Times? Why should I or Twitter have to worry about this? I have no stake in whether the Times has a paywall. There's no upside for me. I'm doing them a favor imho, free advertising for their revenue-generating service.

6. I vaguely remember at one point that clicks from Twitter were not supposed to count against the monthly quota. Was that not true? Or is that no longer true? Or perhaps the people making this request aren't reading through Twitter? (It's possible because my links come from a feed that flows to Twitter.)

My conclusion is that I would do something here if it could be done for all news publications equally, be totally automated, and not use up any of the 140-character limit.

Or I could send a link to this to my friend Jeremy Zilar at the Times and he could see that the right people read it! (Which is what I will actually do, for now at least.)

9/11 coffee notes Permalink.

I had to do some programming today because Adjix, the service we use for short urls on is having some downtime. Joe Moreno, who is a good friend and fellow software laborer of love is having an amazing run of bad luck. And his server is one of very few other than Amazon and Rackspace that we depend on for all that is Blork.

The programming was against the API, a product I had a hand in founding. I preferred to use Joe's software because we have friendship and that means everything. But I also have links to publish and users of my own to serve, so today I wrote bitly code. Which was pretty easy. Wanted to say that. When an API is straightforward enough to implement in a couple of sessions in one day, that says something good about the product.

Anyway, you'll notice that my shortened URLs are now on this domain: A little longer. But good branding! You can follow my links by following me on Twitter, or subscribing to the feed.

A picture named ticket.gifNext subject. I had really high hopes for Contagion. I don't often go to movies on the opening Friday, but this was one I didn't want to miss. What a cast, and what a topic, and what a director. I was hoping for another Traffic, but it's definitely not in that class. I don't get why it got such great reviews. I was so confused, maybe I remembered Traffic wrong. So I watched in several sessions, between programming work. It's a long movie, but incredibly rich and beautiful. Eclectic. Haunting. No music until the very end. Parts in Spanish. Soderbergh not only directed the movie but also ran the camera. And each thread has its own cinemagraphic style. It's something you don't realize until the story lines start intersecting, though most of the characters never actually meet each other. The movie packs so many punches, is so deep, so strong. In comparison -- Contagion has the cast, and from the promotion looks like it might be a Traffic. Well, at least it got me to see a great movie again! :-)

Orian Marx asked me what I thought of his critique of the Twitter API and Rachel Sklar seconded the motion. Hey it's nice to have my opinion sought-out. I agree with everything in the critique that i understand, but I have distanced myself from Twitter's API. That happened as they started exterting more control over the market. I'm not saying they did something wrong or right, I just know what's right for me. I have spent a lot of years developing on top of corporate APIs and I know the pitfalls. I made an exception with Twitter in the early days because 1. It was so interesting. 2. They had a hands-off attitude. 3. I knew a couple of board members, and they liked to discuss what could be done with the API. I thought this in itself was interesting. But eventually I ran out of ideas, and was hitting familiar walls. And they started killing developers, and that was a sure sign it was time to plant a garden somewhere else. :-)

There are some long-standing problems lurking in the API that deserve a callout that aren't in Orian's writeup.

For example, it's nuts that the URL is part of the 140-character payload. There's no good reason for it. I've had this discussion over and over, and don't care to have it again. This is one case where I will say Twitter is wrong. And URL-shortening is a really nasty thing to do to the web. It makes links twice as fragile as they should be. If you want to get an idea of how bad linkrot is, try clicking on some links from this blog in Sept 2001. It's going to be on average twice as bad in 2021 because of URL-shorteners.

I also thought it was a good idea to have open architecture metadata. They announced it, but didn't follow-through, and eventually cancelled it. That might have been something worth sticking around for.

On the whole, I think small independent developers only do well on truly open platforms and where we cooperate with each other to build systems that interoperate. It's not a dream, I've seen it happen, but it's a rarity.

Most of the things you can do with Twitter you can do with RSS and good blogging tools. I'd like to see us morph those tools to fit the new applications we like. In fact, I have been doing that myself. That's where I prefer to make an investment, at least then there is no big platform vendor that can cancel my ticket. :-)

Anyway keep up the good work! It's a fine idea to keep an eye on Twitter, and publish what you learn. It helps everyone, and while they might not believe it, it helps Twitter the most. I used to say this about Microsoft when they were interefering with the web in the 90s. If they would just kick back and let it happen, they'd get the lion's share of the growth. Same with Twitter. But it's not the way corporations work. Someday mabye some company will get to where Twitter is and play the game the way I think it should be played. Until then, we'll just have to try to make-do with the open web.

Friends' 9/11 stories  Permalink.

Yesterday I asked if people would blog their 9/11 stories.

So far three people have. So that's a wonderful excuse to link to them!

Jay Rosen: Building Froggietown: A Parent's 9/11 Story.

Peter Rojas: I was supposed to move to NYC on 9/11.

Deanna Zandt: Reflections on 9/11.

Flickr & Twitter Permalink.

A picture named cowgirl.jpgI use Flickr to store pictures that have little stories with them. When I push a link to those pictures to Twitter, I expect people to be able to read the stories along with the pics.

For example, I posted a screen shot from Cyclemeter, to illustrate a problem I was having with the software, which was explained in more detail in the description of the picture. (I also noted the resolution, another thing Flickr does easily that is virtually impossible on Twitter. There is no way to annotate tweets.)

However when Twitter posts links to the picture, it sees it's from Flickr, and they frame it with their own text. In the process, they've broken a useful way of communicating. Of course the workaround is to post the pic to a service that Twitter doesn't partner with.

BTW, I bet Flickr thinks Twitter is doing them a favor, by conserving server bandwidth. But if one of their goals is to keep users, it's not a good thing for Flickr.

PS: Here's an example of the framing.

My 9/11 Permalink.

I had lunch yesterday with Jay Rosen, my NYU colleague and friend.

We hadn't met since before the summer. I think it was really good to take a break, after doing a weekly podcast together for many months, to get a chance to step back and keep my thoughts about media news mostly to myself. But our lunch was more or less like the podcast, but perhaps a little more frank and risky -- because speaking in front of a microphone for others to listen to is very different from talking person to person.

It was a gorgeous late-summer day, so we ate outside at a restaurant near the Cooper Square NYU journalism offices.

Eventually the conversation got around to 9/11. Of course everyone knows tomorrow is the ten-year anniversary. As the news media ramped up, especially NPR, I got very tired of hearing about it.

My feelings about 9/11 could be summarized as follows:

1. We got through it.

2. Our worst fears of dirty bombs, and constant attacks, have yet to materialize. Knock wood.

3. It was the excuse used to start a very optional and horrible war in Iraq, one which destroyed their country, and more than we realize, destroyed ours.

4. I will never forget how our President betrayed our trust, much worse than what Nixon did.

5. Nor the betrayal of the promise-filled President we elected, supposedly, to fix the damage done by his predecessor.

6. The remembrances of 9/11 will be about the suffering of Americans, but we didn't really suffer that much.

7. My father, who was lost during 9/11, and was then found -- has since died of natural causes. That's how much time has passed.

That's how I felt before talking with Jay yesterday.

He didn't say much, but he did say it was the worst day of his life. He was in the middle of it on 9/11/01.

Where I live and work now is in the zone that was thrown into chaos by the destruction of the World Trade Center.

I realize I am a strange duck from the standpoint of 9/11. I experienced it from California, and blogged it, as my NY counterparts couldn't. I received their emails and pointed to their pictures and stories. I acted as an online anchor, and learned a lot that day, and grew a lot, all while being scared out of my mind and depressed. The blogging helped me get through it.

But the people here in New York, who live in my adopted home, their 9/11 experiences were radically different.

So, to me, that is the meaning of 9/11. Some people just like you and me, people I see every day on the subway, on the bike trails, in meetings and in restaurants, they lived the calamity and survived the killing of 9/11. It's out of respect for them that we mourn the events of ten years ago today. It's their pain that we recognize. But I don't celebrate the terrible things we as a country did in the name of that pain.

I have a suggestion for NYC-based bloggers, many of whom weren't yet bloggers in 2001. If you haven't already done so, how about writing up your memories of the day? It would be incredbile to read.

Also, I have some things to say about the podcast too, but they can wait until after we're through this event.

Quick review of Contagion Permalink.

When I saw the previews of Contagion I knew I had to see it.

Pretty good, not great.

One comment -- yet another movie where the blogger is a sleazy hypocrite.

The only real villain in the movie -- the blogger.

Even the Homeland Security spook and his hedge fund buddy have more integrity.


Only steal from the best Permalink.

I don't know who said this first, but he or she was one smart mofo.

It's one of my mottos, along with Still diggin, Let's have fun, It's even worse than it appears (also a favorite). We make shitty software and We make shitty software, with bugs.

What's great about this slogan is that it has several meanings which sneak up on you as you ponder its meaning.

Here are some of the things you can glean from it:

1. I care who I steal from.

2. To me, stealing is a sign of respect.

3. I am selective about who I steal from.

4. I give credit to them.

A picture named girlclown.jpgAlso, you can almost infer that I wish to be stolen from, on these terms. (I do.)

And I think it's implicit, almost definitional, that you steal from people you respect. Because respect means listening, and stealing indicates you were listening.

When it comes to ideas implemented in software, I choose to see it like music. It's okay for the Rolling Stones to build their repetoire based on traditions pioneered by blues musicians. So it's okay for people working on realtime systems to use what we did with RSS. Or people working on authoring tools, or methods of knowledge representation and presentation, or narrating your work -- to use outliners.

I do my work not just to create products, but to advance the art.

Krugman on being an insider Permalink.

Krugman was given access to the text of the President's speech under embargo. He was at a conference where reporters were sure they knew what the President was going to announce. They were wrong, and Krugman knew it. He felt the satisfaction that comes from being an insider.

I know the feeling. I have been an insider myself.

But then he observes that there is no advantage to being an insider. The same insights are available to everyone, no matter who they are, as soon as the news is made public.

The same thing is true, of course, in tech. I need to know if the product works, not which competitors the product manager dreams of killing. That's why the rare review that actually incorporates a few weeks worth of use of a product is so much more valuable than a scoop.

Fact is most scoops are just sneak looks at press releases not products. I'm more interested in long, detailed, arms-length looks at products.

PS: Perfect example of an insider, dropping names, talking nonsense.

Reporter's conflict of interest Permalink.

A picture named elephant.gifI mentioned in passing the other day the conflict of interest reporters have re bloggers.

I'm pretty sure I've written about this before, but it deserves a re-visit, in a little more detail.

First, you have to accept this premise:

1. Reporters get paid a salary to report.

2. In general bloggers do not get paid.

Now I don't believe they do the same thing, and if you're going to rebut me by saying that they don't do the same thing, forget it, because I agree with you. (Also, some people who call themselves bloggers are paid to write. I don't think they are bloggers. But there's nothing I can do to stop them from calling themselves bloggers.)

With those recitals out of the way...

I see the bloggers as sources. Not all of them, and not for all reporters. But the people who reporters quote, more often than not these days, have blogs.

The relationship between reporters and bloggers is the same relationship that travel agents have to flights or hotel rooms. Reporters facilitate access to the sources. And to the extent that we can go direct to the sources' blogs, that interferes with #1 above.

In the old days the reporters had an exclusive on access to sources. Today that exclusive is gone.

So if we were to respect blogs, that serves to undermine #1.

So the reporters have an interest in their readers not respecting blogs.

There's the conflict.

It's the same conflict my travel agent (who I have not spoken to in 20 years) had about the prospect of me using Expedia to book my own flights. She had to believe she was doing something special that I could not do for myself.

When I was finally able to do it for myself, this is what I learned about booking my own trips:

1. It takes a lot more of my time to do it.

2. But it takes less time as I learn how to do it and the sites become more accomodating to a person such as myself.

3. I generally end up spending a lot less money, and get more of what I want.

4. I think the travel industry has adapted, and have products that more suit the traveler, now that they no longer have to serve the interests of travel agents (My agent loves golf. That's probably why I ended up staying at resorts with great golfing. I don't golf myself.)

Anyway, all this is why I don't expect blogs and blogging to get fair treatment from professional reporters.

PS: And this is not their only conflict. They can't report on the media industry without a conflict. That's the industry they work for. Too bad, because they have great access, and it's a very important industry going through great changes. They could tell us how it really works, instead of reporting the company line, or ignoring it altogether (more common). I once had a big argument with Dan Gillmor over this, when he was working for Knight-Ridder. They were in the news. I wanted him to tell us what was going on. He wouldn't do it.

Cellphone progress! Permalink.

A bunch of good stuff happening in the phone department.

1. AT&T, as promised, disconnected the service on my iPhone.

2. Surprisingly (because I hadn't thought about it) the damned thing still works, over wifi. I get text messages, and Twitter updates, etc.

A picture named cowgirl.jpg3. Someone sent me a pointer to the T-Mobile website. Just for fun I tried entering the number I had for the phone when I first got it back in April. It asked me how much money I wanted to add to the account. I said $50. It said OK. And a couple of seconds later, the phone made a nice little sound and a text message arrived saying it was working again. Oh. Had I known it was that easy...

4. Next stop, and this one is going to take some guts, is to disconnect the Droid, but first have the number transferred to Google Voice, so I can keep getting calls on the number.

At that point I will be entirely month-to-month. And that's how I'd like to stay, forever. Hopefully when the iPhone 5 comes out I will be able to buy one without signing up for a 2-year plan.

And at some point, I expect to stop signing up for voice. I just want data anyway.

5. Can I still use Cyclemeter on my iPhone without an AT&T connection? I guess we'll find out. But it's raining in NY, so not today.

Updates: 1. The weather cleared and I went for a ride. 2. Cyclemeter does not work without a cell connection. I came back with 0 miles, and no route on the map. Going to have to find a Plan B. Wondering why it doesn't work.

Change at TechCrunch? Permalink.

To bring you up to date on the saga of TechCrunch, a few events yesterday (not all of them, just a slice).

1. MG Siegler suggests this might be the end of TechCrunch.

2. Mike Arrington demands that AOL live up to its promise of editorial independence for TechCrunch or sell it back to him.

3. Henry Blodget looks at all the likely outcomes.

4. Fortune says no matter what, Arianna Huffington loses.

It's worth at least skimming all these pieces to see the different points of view and possible outcomes. But there is one outcome that no one has considered, at least that I've seen, which I'd like to put out there.

What if TechCrunch were relaunched as the tech pub of and by the users of tech?

The promise of TechCrunch was that it would write unfiltered user-centered reviews of tech products. And in doing so would keep the tech industry honest in a way that the computer press never was able to. That was what Mike was doing when it started, and it's why I supported it, in the beginning, and promoted it, and used it as a shining example of what one person could do with blogging technology.

It eventually failed in this mission, because it became the ultimate insider's publication. So much so that it now flaunts it openly with the CrunchFund. The founder is taking money from the investors whose companies they're supposed to be keeping honest! Never mind the ethical considerations, who could trust such a publication? If the investors want to get their ideas out there, hire a PR firm. That's essentially what they are proposing to turn TechCrunch into, finally -- but the transition was almost complete anyway.

A picture named hamster1.jpgWhat if the editorial content of TechCrunch and the point of view of its interviews at its conferences, instead of being for the insiders, and analyzing business models that turn the users into more profitable hamsters, getting a good workout spinning the wheels but living in cages, what if it was the leading tech pub that championed the users, and along with studying the art of software, investigated the schemes of the companies, and looked into how well they were treating their users. Rated companies and products not by how they were exploiting users, rather by how they were serving them.

Here's a chance for AOL's populism to re-surface. To align itself not with the money-movers, but with the people who got their start on AOL and are now using the Internet.

Just a thought, perhaps something worth considering.

Month-to-month on Nexus S? Permalink.

1. I have a Nexus S.

A picture named nexuss.gif

2. Fully paid for.

3. No service plan now.

So the question...

I want a month-to-month plan.

What's the best deal?

A second launch couldn't hurt Permalink.

A picture named indianGirl.gifIt's great if your product takes off with the first launch, sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. That doesn't mean the product is doomed to fail, it may just mean that you have to follow-through. And a lot of people don't.

There was a fair amount of hoo-hah about Bootstrap when Twitter announced it. The usual quick pieces on TechCrunch, GigaOm, PaidContent. Maybe a few posts from bloggers like Scoble or Jeff Jarvis (I don't know if these guys specificially wrote about it). The product rolls through in a wave of publicity and that's it.

But just a half-hour after writing the review of Bootstrap here, weeks after its rollout, I'm getting emails from people who hadn't heard of it, people who could really use it.

No one promoted the product to me, and believe me, I'm not asking them to. But here's what can't possibly hurt. If you're the developer of the product, think of the people you read and whose opinions you care about. Not just who the PR people say are influential. Who influences you? In general those are good people for you to tell about your product. You don't have to write a fancy marketing piece, just an email that says hey, I read your blog and I thought you might find this intereresting. Include a link. Say thanks, and sign off.

For me, products that were made by my readers are inherently interesting. Here's a product developer I know I can influence, who I am influencing. If I see something in their product they're likely to listen. That matters a lot.

I don't think of this as a conversational medium like some people do, because I think that leads to people saying empty things just to "engage" with you, and I prefer to be treated like a human being, not a business model.

BTW, when I have a product that I think someone influential would find interesting, I don't wait for them to discover it. I send a link. No pressure. Here's something you might like. Bing.

Twitter's Bootstrap toolkit Permalink.

This morning I released a new UI for Blork on my server and to other people who are running Blork servers.

I'm already getting congratulations on such a nice-looking UI, but I don't deserve it. The credit should go to Twitter for releasing the Bootstrap toolkit, which I have been learning and building on.

A picture named cowgirl.jpgI needed a framework of solved problems that I could hook into. Trying to put all the pieces together when I'm already managing a billion pieces in my own world was going to take forever. They just put out a set of easy UI techniques that I could hook into. From there, it was mostly just programming. The complexities melted away.

This has been the problem with CSS. It was designed for laying out documents, for apps we need something akin to the Mac Toolkit (they call it Cocoa these days, I think). I'm not sure Twitter realized they were developing that, but they gave a guy like me what I needed to put it together.

They aren't the first, but I've spent a fair amount of time staring at other UI toolkits and never got to Hello World. With this one, once I realized the answers were available by doing a View Source, it was off to the races.

Now we have some glitches to clean up, no problemmo, because we have plenty of CSS gurus in our midst who can tell me what I did wrong. What I needed was a place to start. :-)

So -- thank you to the people at Twitter who had the talent to put this together, and the generosity to give it to the world.

Update: Here's a set of Bootstrap demos. They make it easier to get started. :-)

Catching up with Wikileaks Permalink.

Apparently all the US embassy cables, with none of the names redacted, have been released.

It appears to me the sequence of events was this:

1. The Guardian released a password that unlocks an archive which had leaked.

2. Who leaked the archive? I have no idea, but it appears not to have been Julian Assange.

3. Wikileaks released the archive without a password a large number of unclassified documents.

4. The full unencrypted archive is available elsewhere.

After that a deluge of condemnation, from the professional press, of Julian Assange.

It's all predictable, and as with almost everything they've said about and done to Assange, seems based on incorrect information, perhaps deliberately -- giving them the benefit of the doubt they never give to Assange.

I have a Google email filter that sends me news about Wikileaks. For a while that had gotten dull. Now there are dozens of new stories coming out. There might be some big ones in here. Even though Wikileaks has the feel of an old story, it's generating lots of new investigations. Perhaps more than it initially did in December of last year.

Micah Sifry says this will ruin some people's lives. Maybe it will, but we don't yet know which way things will turn. Why don't we reserve judgement until the facts are known. Also, Micah falls into the exact trap that the professional media laid for us, blaming it all on Assange. Someone pointed this out to him, and he acknowledges it in a postscript. But the attack remains, in the headline and the body of the piece. If I was Assange I would be seriously pissed off. Instead I am nauseated by the way these people flaunt their conflict, and pretend no one notices.

The leak he refers to is about an Israeli political leader who believes Israel will eventually have a majority Arab population, and being a democracy, that means at some point it will no longer be a Jewish state. But this leader believes that it'll be okay, and I agree that there are reasons to think that it might, given what's going on elsewhere in the Middle East. Who knows Israel might turn out to lead the Arab world to democracy. They have a fair amount of experience with it, relative to the others.

Regardless, the person said these things. And maybe others in Israel believe them too, but haven't had the guts to say them publicly. Now someone is on the record -- true -- without permission. They have every right to be angry. But who knows what energy could be unlocked. It might be just the thing to get things moving, and I think everyone agrees they need to be doing that. (And probably will, with or without Wikileaks.)

And that's just one random cable from one part of the world. The US does business everywhere.

The professional press has a lot at stake here. They have a method that they have religious feelings about, ones that some of us don't share, and that method is broken by the Wikileaks model. It's seriously unwise to try to make this about one person, because it's not. It's about a new technology that makes things like Wikileaks possible.

If you manage to nuke Wikileaks, that doesn't mean the genie goes back in the bottle.

I had an on-the-record email exchange with a reporter earlier this morning. Keeping with my no-interview policy, here's my side of the back and forth.

1. The technology that made Wikileaks possible is not going away. It may be that Assange is an imperfect leader, and maybe he's a visionary and has served his role, or maybe this is just version 1.0 and the people who won't work with him have their own issues (I think there's a lot of that going on). Regardless, it seems there's a huge amount of information that has just been released. Without judging the morality of the leaking or who is responsible (seems the Guardian leaked the password) the fact is a lot of information was just released and has yet to be parsed, so we have no idea what the impact will be and what its future implications are.

Also a question for [the reporter] -- when did reporters become such moralists? And don't you guys have a huge conflict of interest here? Shouldn't you bend over backwards to be fair to Assange in light of the conflict? Should we trust those organizations to factor out their conflict when evaluating their position?

2. I completely lost faith in print media when Keller wrote his piece in the NYT Mag about Assange's socks (and other personal irrelevancies). That would have been a good time for the other publications to have aimed a little of their grief at the Times, to show that they weren't all just gunning for Assange.

Best interview I heard on the subject was with the former NYT lawyer in the Pentagon Papers case, who said that Wikileaks deserves all the first amendment protection that the Times gets. Obviously that's true. And that should not have ever been in question. (This was on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.)

Reminds me of the lukewarm support we got for the web from the Times in the 90s when the Communication Decency Act made a mockery of the 1st Amendment on the Internet. They never lifted a finger to help. I guess they didn't imagine that they would depend on electronic media to deliver their reporting.

If this is all going to be dealt with an eye toward the future, you all need to take a step back and look at your own role, and admit some culpability and make some corrections. Just dumping on Assange creates a very negative impression.

BTW, I'm going to post all my comments on my blog. I don't do interviews, but I do blog posts. So please try to represent my point of view in whatever bits you choose to run (if any).

3. And one more thing. I'm wearing clean socks. :-)


PS: Congrats to Wired for reporting it accurately.

Google please Permalink.

A picture named girlclown3.jpgIf you want serious people to seriously use Google-Plus, here's what you need, pronto:

1. A bookmarklet. When I'm on a page and want to shoot a link over to people following me on Twitter, or Facebook, all I have to do is click a bookmarklet and type a comment and hit Submit. The process is considerably more onerous for GP. Lots of things to remember how to do. I don't remember. So I don't do.

2. A very very simple API. Just give me a way to post an item to Google-Plus from a web app. I already have such an app for Twitter, so I can use my own tools to write and publish where ever I want (including to an archive so I don't lose these suckers). I have the problem solved on my end, after years of fussing and figuring. Now please, the API only has to do this. You have to be able to write one of these in an afternoon.

3. If you really want to blow people away -- I mean really blow them away with a very powerful idea about data independence, publish an archive, in XML or JSON (RSS would be nice) to my S3 bucket, of everything I write on Google-Plus. Then it would become the home network for every power user of social networks. And tool makers. It's not enough to make the data easily exportable. If you really want gobs of (deserved) attention and kudos, and to raise the bar really high for your competitors, provide a real-time off-site backup, and at the same time connect up to Amazon's cloud. You may not like them, but we do. Lots of us. Worth reaching out to.

Okay, I know they're not going to do #3. But I wanted to at least give it a shot. :-)

PS: To Bradley Horowitz who, in a comment here, said I know how to reach him. I do. I write a blog post on Scripting News. (I didn't want any of my readers to think there was an insider's back-channel. Nope. Not here.)

RSS is supposed to be really simple Permalink.

A picture named girlclown.jpgI read yet-another article about how RSS readers do it wrong, and reward people for using Twitter as their feed reader. This pains me, because it's not RSS's fault, it's the fault of people who designed RSS readers to work like mail programs. RSS is not mail, and when you try to make it mail, you make something that doesn't work.

First basic fact about RSS is that it's for news.

I don't think this comes as a surprise to anyone.

So when you make something for reading RSS, think about making something that works for news.

If you miss five days of reading the news because you were on vacation (good for you!) the newspaper you read the first day back isn't five times as thick as the normal day's paper. And it doesn't have your name on the cover saying "Joe you haven't read 1,942,279 articles since this paper started." It doesn't put you on the hook for not reading everything anyone has ever written. The paper doesn't care, so why does your RSS reader?

The reason readers work that way is that this is a "feature" they can implement, and they think it's neat (the programmers and marketers) so why not? Well, if you make your users wrong, they're eventually going to tell you to fuck off. Which gets you articles like the one on TechMeme today.

Great. How about instead giving them what they want.

Which is this: An RSS reader that works like Twitter.

Which is what I've been asking people to do since we started with RSS in 1999.

I'll leave you with a pointer to my own RSS flow, something I decided to make public a couple of years ago so people could easily see how I think it should be done:

That's it. Really simple. Like the name says. :-)

Goodbye AT&T Permalink.

Yesterday morning, very early, I got a text message from AT&T confirming that I had changed the passcode on my account, and to call them (number included) if I hadn't done this. Very typical security measure, and useful too -- because I hadn't changed the passcode on my account!

I called the number, was told they aren't open yet, and I should call back during business hours. Hmm.

A picture named iphone4.jpgI then forgot about it, until I got another message as I was getting ready for my bike ride, saying that my passcode had been changed, same number -- call them if it wasn't me. This time there was someone there. I waited and waited. Finally talked to someone of indeterminate gender with a fairly heavy Philippine accent. This person couldn't understand that I wasn't the one who changed the passcode. Hshe kept saying "But you called us..." and I kept saying "No I didn't." For this I got noted as a difficult customer, and was referred to a supervisor. Who came on the line after 15 minutes on hold listening to insipid marketing for AT&T telling me that if I was like them I was always forgetting things, and they could help by taking money out of my account automatically. Thanks. Along with a half dozen other similarly ridiculous bits of personal advice delivered by a robot. The supervisor comes on, same deal. No clue as to gender, kept referring to me as "David" (a name only my mother uses), and kept saying over and over that I made the call changing the passcode. How does it know I made the call, I asked. Because you had the passcode. I said this is a security issue, please transfer me to security (thinking of credit card companies and how they clamp down quickly as soon at even a hint of a security issue). More complaints from this person that I was interrupting, and wasn't being a cooperative customer, and it was just trying to help me. So I said help me out and get me to security. Silence. I look at the phone. No call.

I call back. This time the operator sounds like she's in Dallas or St Louis, maybe Seattle, and is definitely a woman. After explaining both issues (the security issue and the impossibly bad service) she apologized and said she would be right back. Another 15 minutes listening to the same insipid messages. While I'm on hold, I remembered that I was borderline about cancelling this account, and didn't do it because I didn't want the hassle. Since I am already on hold, putting up with the hassle I was trying to avoid, why don't I just close the account? I decided that if there was the slightest difficulty I would.

When she came back, she said some nonsense about how it wasn't a problem. The person had changed my passcode (I still wasn't clear what aspect of my relationship with them the passcode covered, I was talking with them, they accepted I was who I was when I gave them my old passcode. I was able to access the website, where I paid my bill while on hold to be sure I could cancel the account). I asked for an explanation of what she said because I didn't understand. She just read the same nonsense words to me again. So I said I want to close the account. I figured that would be something they would know how to handle. She started to do it, put me on hold, then the line went dead, again. (It occurred to me later that this is a phone company and they keep losing the phone connection. Anyone else see a problem here. Also I bought the phone from Apple. They were the ones that chose this incompetent company to do their phone service.)

So I called back, and this time got the rentention script. Sorry to see you go Mr. Winer. We'd love to keep you as a customer. Etc. I said no, I just want to close the account. She puts me on hold, another 15 minutes. I wonder if this is part of the script. Put them on hold, a certain percentage will give up and we keep the revenue flowing. Eventually she comes back on the line, and says the "Customer Service Team" wants to speak with me. I bet they hired a psychologist to come up with that term. The team is interested! Yeah. Another ten minutes on hold, same insipid adverts, finally this intelligent-sounding deep-voiced woman comes on. I don't know how the intelligence was conveyed, but it was there. She said blah blah sorry to hear you're leaving us (make it personal) first I need to ask you why. I said no comment. She insisted. I asked if it was possible to close the account quickly without a long discussion. After a few backs and forths she agreed to close the account. I wanted it to be done immediately. She said I had to wait for the end of the month and then there's a period of 60 days when I can turn it back on without penalty. Thanks. I got off the line.

Then I realized there are 60 days for the person who hacked my account to call back and re-establish the service.

I wonder if it was really a hacker or if their computers went crazy.

Anyway, hopefully, I'm now down to one phone line. I have an iPhone 4 in fairly good condition that will be useless in a few days, with any luck. The Verizon Droid that's still connected has totally worn out, and often doesn't work to make or receive calls. I need to disconnect that one too, and then go month-to-month, probably with TMobile on the fully-paid-up Nexus S that I bought in April (and use for nothing now) and wait for the iPhone 5 to come and the must-have drool factor to take over. I've gone from three lines to one, for now. And it occurs to me that from now on I should just be month-to-month, makes terminating easy, just don't re-opt-in. Yeah I think that's right.

Previously: I terminated my Verizon Mifi in August.

Journalism is easy to define Permalink.

Really. It's not so hard.

Approach it like trying to define skiing.

No one has trouble with that, do they?

A picture named patrol.jpgI put on some boots, buckle them up, then insert the boots (with my feet in them) into bindings that attach me to some skis. (Yes, I can define what a ski is too.) Then I get on some kind of conveyance (examples include chair lifts and gondolas) that takes me to the top of a hill. I then slide down the hill on my skis, trying to maintain control until I get to the bottom of the slope. I might fall, hopefully not getting injured. If I'm okay, I get up and continue my trip down the mountain. If I get injured the ski patrol comes and gets me and takes me to the hospital. That's skiing.

Now journalism.

A picture named phone.jpgI get an idea for a story or someone gives me one. Do a little searching on the web, call a few people. Take notes on what I hear. Call some other people or send them emails. Write up the notes on my computer. Organize them into a sequence. Then, I optionally offer it for review to other people to get their opinions and they possibly rewrite it, or I incorporate their feedback and make changes. This is called editing. This process iterates a few times. Then the story is published, usually on a website, and possibly at some later time on paper.

If you do this then you're doing journalism. If you do something else, it's something else. It's not good or bad. But this is what we call journalism.

Google's SUL Permalink.

At this moment I am left speechless. And that's a rare thing!

A picture named googleSul.gif

Basic CSS question Permalink.

I have a style sheet that declares the link colors globally as:

a:link, a:visited {color:blue;}

I have a div where I want the link color to be gray.

.divMenu a:link, a:visited {color:gray;}

This doesn't work. The links in the menubar still show up as blue.

There's something I don't get here.

Arrington is the future of what we used to call journalism Permalink.

Interesting but not too surprising how the tech press is spinning the new VC fund being run by Mike Arrington of TechCrunch.

There's not any real controversy here, however.

1. It's not news. He's been investing in tech startups for a long time. Maybe as long as he's been doing TechCrunch. Depends on how you score it. TechCrunch was a blog he started when he and Keith Teare were launching a company called Edgeio. The blog turned out to be a better business, but Mike never claimed to be a journalist.

A picture named girlClown.jpg2. Journalism itself is becoming obsolete. I know the reporters don't want to hear this, and they're likely to blast me, even try to get me "fired" (it's happened before) because at least for the next few months I hang my hat at a J-school. I happen to think journalism was a response to publishing being expensive. It cost a lot of money to push bits around the net before there was a net. They had to have huge capital-intensive printing plants, fleets of trucks and delivery boys with paper routes. Now we can hear directly from the sources and build our own news networks. It's still early days for this, and it wasn't that long ago that we depended on journalists for the news. But in a generation or two we won't be employing people to gather news for us. It'll work differently.

3. Mike is and always has been a Source that Goes Direct. You can say whatever you want about his personality, I don't think that's particularly relevant (and I speak as someone who has been blasted personally and publicly by Mike). There's no doubt that he has access to ideas and information that the rest of us want, with or without conflicts. So we will read him, whether he's employed by AOL or goes back to being a individual blogger like Fred Wilson or Brad Feld. If I were AOL, I would try to keep Mike, and learn how to fold in other highly-opinionated, conflicted, but well-informed people to blog for them. Without a second thought. No matter what the reporters say (they have the biggest conflicts, they want to keep their jobs).

4. I've always felt that Mike should be an active investor and not in the informal way he was doing it. I saw Ben Rosen rise to the top of tech investing in the 80s based on access to information like the flow that Mike has. Their temperments couldn't be more different, but the idea is the same. This is how you can get comfortable with it.

5. Kara Swisher calls what Mike is doing "Pig Pile Partners" with other cute mud slings. She's right though. Slicon Valley is all about feeding at the trough and next-to-nothing about the idealism that many of us felt about the technology. The pigs always push aside the idealists, because they're willing to do the things the others won't do. And like the Republicans in Washington, unfortunately, that's a winning strategy, at least short term. I tried to solve the problem by leaving Silicon Valley, and writing software I believe in, and doing the best I can. For me it's never been primarily about money. I like money, up to a point -- but I'm really in it for the wonderful things you can do with the tech. It's an end in itself, not a means to an end. Kara does the best she can to deal with the trough-feeding-frenzy, but she must have to do a fair amount of it to be competitive in the business she's in.

I will add that the Republicans couldn't exist without the founding fathers who did a wonderful idealistic job with the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Likewise with tech, we have the foundations laid by the pioneers of the Internet. They give us something to hope for, even when the pigs are eating our seed corn. :-(

The arrogance of tech Permalink.

A picture named girlclown.jpgTwo things came up in the last couple of days that reminded me how people in the tech industry get drunk on the idea that they are the origin of the magic.

1. Despite all the negative reviews, I now have to use the Lion release of Mac OS. I bought a spiffy new 13 -inch MacBook Air. It's nice and fast, and only a little bigger than the old 11-inch one. And it has amenities like a backlit keyboard that I really missed. But I understood there was probably a pragmatic reason it was missing. Now it's back. So far so good.

But they took away scrollbars! Scrollbars. Can you believe it. That would be like god taking away fingernails. Okay our lives don't depend on fingernails, but please. Why do they even think of these things, much less deliver them in a finished product?

Sorry Apple, this is just plain wrong. Let me say that slowly. Just. Plain. Wrong. A mistake. A bug. Something you must fix if only to teach you the lesson, whoever you are, Oh Hater of Scrollbars, that you are not God and don't get to make these decisions.

2. Just read a piece on TechCrunch about GDrive, a product in development at Google that "captured the web's imagination." Indeed. Such a service from Google a few years ago would have been fantastic. Now we have other answers from smaller companies, and there's Amazon S3 which is a close approximation. But why did they kill it. Oh this is too good. "The concept of a 'file' was outdated." Oh really. I've got millions of them. Literally. Accumulated over twenty or more years. Did they all, suddenly, get outdated? When exactly did that happen? What were they replaced with?

The scary part is this. As with Apple and its scrollbars, companies like Google and Apple have incredible monopoly-like power. They could force us to live without these things. Just as Apple is forcing the issue of scrollbars, and who knows what else (I've only begun to explore Lion).

Wouldn't it be nice if somehow these guys got the message that they are making products for customers and while they may have a good idea every once in a while, that they must be positive, not negative? You can't take features away. And to the rest of us it brings home the idea that these guys desperately need real competition so they don't feel they have the luxury of pontificating to us about what we do and don't need.

© Copyright 1997-2012 Dave Winer. Last build: 12/22/2012; 9:13:40 PM. "It's even worse than it appears."

RSS feed for Scripting News

Previous / Next