Scripting News archive for May 2013

Dropbox is down permalink

We love that we don't have to run servers for most of what Fargo does, but that means we rely on Dropbox's and Amazon's servers.

And Dropbox appears to be down now, and that means no Fargo.

I feel the same sense of abandonment and confusion that other Fargo users feel.

Nothing to be done about it until Dropbox comes back.

Update at 11:30AM Eastern -- Dropbox is back up. :-)


Posted: 5/30/13; 10:09:44 AM.

My first ride on a CitiBike permalink

I just got back from a ride on a CitiBike, one of NYC's new bikeshare deals.

Executive summary: It works. I felt like I was there on the first day the subway opened in NYC.

However it was not without glitches.

I am a founding member, having paid the $95 annual fee on the first day they were available. I am user number 1411. In theory as long as each trip is 45 minutes or less, I don't have to pay any more money to use bikes. As much as I want.

A picture named bikes.gifBut how does it work? I looked all over the website. They had instructions for people who were buying day passes or week passes, but no instructions for people who have annual memberships. I figured I'd find out when I got to the bike station.

I went to the kiosk. No instructions for members. They did however suggest you get a membership if you're going to use it a lot. Okay I got one, so what do I do? No clue.

I wasn't going to go home without trying it so I put my credit card in and started the process of buying a daily pass. There are some real usability problems with this system. First, it's very slow. Second, the display is at about belt level for me. Granted I'm tall, but not that tall. Some of the instructions refer to buttons that aren't there. You might guess wrong, as I did. Some user testing could have avoided this.

It was so slow at responding to keystrokes, about midway through the process (I guess) after asking for my phone number and zip code, it just gave up and took me back to the main menu. By then a small crowd had gathered around to find out how it worked. A guy who had done it before showed me that I didn't need to do any of this. There's an unmarked slot where you can insert your keychain card. I did. It took a while for the light to turn from red to green. When it did, I was able to take the bike out of the rack, I adjusted the seat and off I went, south on Broadway toward Times Square.

The bike looks like a klunker, but it rides pretty smooth!

It has three gears, probably not enough, but pretty close to enough.

It's comfortable, more comfortable than my regular ride.

There are flashing red lights on the rear of the bike. (I know this because I saw them on another CitiBike.)

There's no bell. That makes it an illegal bike in NYC, as I understand it. There were many times on my little excursion that I wish I had a bell. Pedestrians in NYC think bike lanes are useful for picnics, baby carriages (with babies in them), hand-holding at arms length. Waiting for red lights. You name it. The cars like to honk when they think you're in their way. It'd be nice to have something to fight back with, even though a bell sounds a little wimpy, it's less likely to get you killed than the typical NYers salute of Fuck You Asshole. :-)

Update: Apparently it has a bell, I just didn't spot it.

As soon as I entered Times Square proper, I took a right and headed over to Ninth Ave and rode all the way downtown to Bleecker St, where I made a left on 4th St, and dropped the bike off at the stand on 7th Ave. I got a couple of hot dogs at the Papaya Dog on 8th St, and rode the 1 train back uptown.

It was on the subway that I realized that I had just used a new form of city transport, one that's perfectly suited for NY. I encountered a few other riders on my way. There's a Zero Day kind of feel to it. People seem excited. The bikes are nice. And there are enough bike lanes to get around.

Bloomberg is a total 1 percenter, and a real dick about some things, but he got this one right. He will be remembered as a visionary mayor. I believe this is a keeper. Bikes and NY go together.

Posted: 5/27/13; 5:15:01 PM.

New Flickr permalink

Users like changes in products that are responsive to their needs and wants.

Bugs fixed. Performance improved. A key missing feature added.

Users like a dialog with the product creators that show there's an understanding. That seems to work best if the people who decide about the product are also users of the product.

Star Trek fans were horrified to find out that JJ Abrams was not a Star Trek fan.

Couldn't they find a show runner who liked Star Trek-style science fiction?

That's why we watch serial shows like Mad Men. We like to see the characters we've come to know in new situations. We nod our heads, that's right, that's what Don Draper would do. If all of a sudden Don Draper started acting like Instagram, we'd wonder if we had the wrong channel.

A picture named newCoke.gifI've been using Flickr since almost the beginning. When I started, a generous Scripting News reader gifted me with a Pro account, and I've been paying the $25 every year. Sometimes I ask myself if I reallly want to do it, but in the end I always pay the money.

All the while, Flickr hardly changed at all. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing. It meant that the management at Yahoo wasn't paying attention, I figured. At least if they aren't paying attention there's little chance they'd screw with it. For many years they stayed away. But last week all that changed. All of it.

The change in Flickr was radical. And the performance of the site, which recently has been pretty bad, got worse. I assume this is because the servers have to do a lot more work to figure out how to lay out the photos so they show up in a neat array, as if we were reading a magazine instead of browsing a website.

Other people have analyzed the deal changes, I honestly don't care much if it's $25 or $50, and I don't come close to using a terabyte. Mostly what I value from Flickr is the longevity of it. It seemed like a safe place to leave my pictures. My father's pictures are there too. He died in 2009. Up till now I wasn't too worried.

Couldn't Flickr have given us the option of not using the new features? What if we don't want them? Why force this on us.

What if I don't like the idea of ads on my pictures, the ones I pay them to store for me, btw. I can pay to get rid of the ads for myself, but as I understand it (and my understanding might be wrong) the ads will still show up for people who view my pictures.

I want my pictures to be the star on Flickr, not Flickr. I don't care if they're hip -- or if they appeal to people who like Instagram or Facebook or whatever. I kind of doubt whether the superficial changes they make will attract many new users. Their competition have been out there for quite some time. I don't think Flickr did anyting more than match them. And the changes are so superficial. It looks like a mask that says Instagram while lurking in the back is something old and ugly, as if they're embarassed about what Flickr was. The site I thought was good enough to pay $25 a year to use. Flickr which looked just fine without the mask, now looks like a New Yorker cartoon. A parody of something that was pretty good as it was, and is horribly tragically pathetic trying to be something it's not and probably never will be.

I don't know what the answer is. Yahoo had a lot of money and offered some to the founders of Flickr. I don't blame them one bit for taking it. And how could the management at Yahoo understand what they bought if they weren't themselves users?

There's a lot of irony in the fact that all this embarassing change was implemented on the same day they were promisng that they would never do to Tumblr what they were proudly and openly doing to Flickr. Didn't anyone at Yahoo speak up and say that maybe people might notice the disconnect?

Posted: 5/27/13; 1:26:56 PM.

Fargo thread on Hacker News permalink

I didn't want to post Fargo to Hacker News because it would seem too much like an ad, but this evening someone else did, and it's generating a lot of new users, and people seem genuinely excited about it.


It's worth having a look at, and if you think it's interesting, please upvote! :-)


Posted: 5/26/13; 7:47:38 PM.

Kickstarter for VCs permalink

A picture named planetMoneySquirrel.gifListening to the latest Planet Money gave me an idea. They went to Kickstarter to give their fans a way to fund public radio in a fun way, by buying a t-shirt. They used this event as a way to program a few shows where they examined the economics of t-shirts, and since it's Planet Money it was hugely interesting. I love their show. And they raised an astounding amount of money. $590,807.

I thought that the way they did it might work for raising money from tech investors and successful entrepreneurs to fund the development of new open formats and protocols.

My work generates open formats and protocols, because unlike most other entrepreneurs, I have a philosophy of no lock-in for users. This makes me more vulnerable to predatory competition, and it usually it comes from VC-backed companies. It's hard for me to compete with them not only because they have more money (lots) but they also have the halo that comes from VC investment. There was a time when money from Kleiner Perkins was a huge lift for a startup and they're still a powerful ally, but now Union Square and Spark Capital are even more influential.

I've talked with the principal guys at these funds about changing the way they invest. Let's add a premium to investments that add to the open ecosystem instead of just consuming, but so far none of them have been willing to go for it. So it falls to me to do it for them. I'm not aware of other companies that do this, if there are any please send me an email.

I think it's a good idea for investors to put back, so that when this cycle winds down, as it inevitably will, there are some new open formats and protocols to build on. If you depend on me to do it, the results won't be as good as they should be.

Now, we could go to Kickstarter and ask end-users to fund development of open formats and protocols, and it might work -- it did for the Diaspora guys. But I suspect they were more investing in their anti-Facebook message, or their youthfu optimism (some might say naivete). I won't make my work anti-anything (except lock-in which isn't a thing really, it's more of a practice) and as you know I lost my peach fuzz a long time ago. ;-)

I think successful VCs and entrepreneurs should invest. I think they should kick back into the ecosystem that made them rich. I'll recuse myself from any investments such a Kickstarter might make, in fact I'll put money in along-side them. Let's give all new companies an incentive to give freedom of choice to their users, right from the start.

Look at it this way -- when you get good service at a restaurant, you don't have to leave a tip. But you do anyway, because it's the right thing to do. Same thing here. Open formats make people rich. Those people should give back to create more open formats for themselves the next group of investors, entrepreneurs and users.

Posted: 5/26/13; 5:55:20 PM.

If you love to make software... permalink

A 14-min podcast about programming as art and engineering, and why if that's what you do, you keep doing it.

Posted: 5/26/13; 11:36:27 AM.

Mathew taught me something permalink

A picture named accordionGuy.gifIn late March when we shipped Little Outliner, Mathew Ingram wrote a very nice piece about our startup in GigaOm. But the title was problematic. It said: "Watch out, internet: Dave Winer is back in the business of making blogging tools." I groaned. We had just shipped an outliner, a small one, and there were no blogging tools anywhere in sight. But somehow, looking at my outliner, Mathew saw blogging. I should have listened more carefully. Instead I wrote a post that claimed, boldly: "I'm not making blogging tools." I put a smiley after it to show there were no hard feelings. I wanted to get on the record quickly and clearly. Don't think this is a blogging tool. It's an outliner.

Then in April we shipped a much more ambitious product, Fargo -- whose name relative to Little Outliner was supposed to be kind of a pun. Little Outliner is little, but Fargo will Go Far(ther). How far it will go has not yet been revealed, but we're hard at work on a publishing platform that Fargo connects to. At the time I didn't think that the publishing side could or should be viewed as blogging. But now, as it's evolved, and I've met our first users (back in March we didn't know who they were), I can see that Mathew was right. We are in the business of making blogging tools. Did I know it at the time when I said we weren't? I didn't. Nothing changed except the product and the users. If they are changing, you have to go with them. You can't fight City Hall, and if your users say it's blogging, and a respected analyst says it's blogging -- it's blogging. ;-)

Another thing happened while all our development was going on -- Tumblr, a product which I have deep respect for, sold to Yahoo. What I admire most about Tumblr, as a product designer, is its templating system. It's a descendent of the ones we developed at UserLand in Manila and Radio, which in turn were descended from the templates used by designers in the desktop publishing era using Quark and Pagemaker.

Templating is at the core of blogging. The reach of a blogging system is determined by the richness and flexibility of its templating. And here's an interesting fact. If the content has structure, as outlines do, you can do a lot more for the user with templates. CSS is a nice beginning, but the outlines give you power flat text designers and authors can only dream of.

We can, and are, doing more. Tumblr has now been around for a long time. Our earlier work has been around even longer. It's time for a fresh look at tools for designers, writers and programmers, centered around web content. If people want to think of that as blogging, who am I to argue with them.

So I won't. :-)

PS: A good content tool should also be a workgroup collaboration tool, as Fargo is.

Posted: 5/25/13; 10:27:52 AM.

Investing in America on Memorial Day permalink

There's a false argument about the national debt that goes like this.

We can't leave a huge debt for future generations to pay off.

It's false for a couple of reasons:

1. If you make good investments, they create growth and the growth pays off the investment. That's how business works. If you build an interstate highway system, that creates growth in cities that weren't served well by other forms of transport, they pay more taxes, and those taxes are used to pay back the bonds that were sold to create the highways.

The time to worry is when we make investments that don't create value, like the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. No growth came as a result of that borrowing. We should think very carefully before starting unnecessary wars, aside from the moral reasons, the economics are really tough.

2. We pay the debt back in a currency that we print. So if there isn't enough money coming in from #1, we pay back the bond holders with new dollars. You say that's inflationary, and I'm no economist, but I have a bit of common sense. If taxes aren't generating enough to pay back your good investments that's because the economy is depressed, and in those times a little inflation is a good thing, because it counteracts something even worse than inflation -- deflation.

But even if you don't buy the math of it, consider the emotional argument. You're worried about future generations, but what about our debt to past generations that sacrificed for us so we could have good education, homes, health care, transport? Aren't we betraying them if we let the infrastructure they built for us crumble and disappear?

When do we think about our ancestors and what we owe them?

Of course that's what Memorial Day is for. To remember the people who came before, especially those who sacrificed so we could be propserous and healthy. We invest in our country because the only other option is to see the country crumble. And we invest because we hope for a better future for those who come next.

Posted: 5/25/13; 9:43:14 AM.

The whitewashing method permalink

You know how they have all these methods of development, agile, etc.

My method is whitewashing fences.

I'm Tom Sawyer and I have a great fence and some paint.

It's a beautiful day and I'm having the time of my life whitewashing this fence.

My friends want to know if they can do it too.

I don't know! I'm having so much fun...

I'll have to get back to you.

Posted: 5/24/13; 9:51:57 AM.

3 free ideas for Hacker News permalink

A picture named can.gifThe other day I suggested perhaps adding blocking to HN, mostly as a way of starting a discussion. And it led to some interesting ideas that I think are worth considering.

A lot of the personal attacks come from accounts created to post one message. The user has never commented before, or submitted a link to the site.

So here are some ideas:

1. Add a waiting period before new accounts can post. Like registering a gun.

2. Charge for creating an account. Maybe $5 or so. Not very much money, but perhaps enough to make someone think again. If they want to be anonymous, use Bitcoin. That's what it's for.

3. Automatically downvote posts from accounts created within the last hour. Make it clear to readers that this comment was made by a new account.

What made me think of this idea was yet another one-off flame from a user named redmarx who created the account 13 hours ago, the exact same time his post was created. Now what do you think is going on there? A courageous whistle-blower, or a coward who doesn't want to own his or her own words? :-)

Posted: 5/23/13; 11:59:33 AM.

Icon Chooser Dialog permalink

Our users love icons.

I guess most users do, but people who write in outliners need a little more graphic relief because our work is totally text and structure. Adding a bit of graphics is like adding spice to a sauce. And they're fun!

We're lucky because Font Awesome is such a great collection of icons. And it keeps getting better. If you're developing web apps, you're nuts if you aren't using Font Awesome. Seriously.

Anyway, until Fargo 0.65 it was a lot of work to add an icon to an outline. What changed is that we created an icon chooser dialog that makes it easy and fun.

If you're using Fargo, you can try it out with the Icon Chooser command in the Outliner menu.

If you're not using Fargo, here's a little demo app you can try. It doesn't do much but allow you to browse the icons. When you click on one, an alert pops up saying which icon you chose.

If you're a programmer, the code is free to use under the GPL. That means any improvements you make must also be licensed under the GPL. And it would be nice if you said where you got it. :-)



Posted: 5/21/13; 10:54:22 AM.

Hacker News is depressing permalink

A picture named trashcan.gifYesterday someone at Hacker News thought to point to my piece about Marissa Mayer. It was a story I wrote in about 15 minutes. The point was at the end of the piece. As a preamble, I told a couple of stories from my personal experience. I figured it would get a few comments, maybe a couple of thousand reads, and that would be that. But the torrent of abuse on Hacker News was something that I haven't seen in a long time.

One of the main reasons it doesn't work is that people don't ask questions to clarify. They jump to conclusions, some of which are very wrong. For example, they assumed I was the only person who was concerned about the BlogThis! button. Not true.

They assumed that I was being "egotistical" for thinking that Google ever cared what I thought, and arrogant that I think they should care what I think now. It's a fact that at one point, early-on, Google did care. Their chief PR person was from Apple, Cindy McCaffrey, a class act in every way. She would routinely send emails to me and Doc Searls asking our opinions. Whether anyone else there cared, I don't know. But I was invited to a meeting with engineers to talk about blogging, RSS and XML-RPC at one point. I can't imagine why they would ask me to tell them what I think if they didn't care. I suppose it might have been a big conspiracy, like Mission Impossible. Hey I wouldn't put it past some of the trolls on Hacker News to argue that. :-)

On the other hand, I don't take it personally that Google doesn't care what I think these days, partially because I don't think they care what anyone thinks. That's a long story all by itself.

Now, we could have had an interesting discussion on HN if people would have asked questions for clarification instead of just piling on the abuse based on their impressions. That's taking them at face-value, assuming they really want an informative discussion. Probably the trolls in the thread, and their upvoters, wanted nothing like that.

There were some other ludicrous statements. Did any of them know that I started a new company in December, and we shipped our first two products in March and April? They said I thought JavaScript was a bad language. How funny, because I'm writing almost all my code these days in JavaScript. They say I'm old and out of date. Funny. They're the ones who are out of date! :-)

And if you say someone's old as a way of hurting them, the joke will eventually come back to hurt you. As one of the characters of Citizen Kane, Bernstein, said so eloquently, old age is the one disease you don't look forward to being cured of. It comes to everyone. I was young once. Now I'm middle-aged. Truth. And the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I don't see what it has to do with the point of my blog post.

Now I think there's a solution to letting the assholes control the conversation...

As discourse has moved to Twitter, its big contribution has been to push aside the abuse that's common with discussion boards and mail lists. A very simple feature in Twitter, the block command, enforces decorum, by empowering the listener to turn you off if they find you offensive. People learn that if they say abusive things, they don't have to listen. The only people I listen to on Twitter are those who can make a point without getting personal. I learn from disagreement, but I can't stand people who use their freedom to speak as a way of hurting others.

Then I wondered -- if it works so well for Twitter -- why can't sites block Hacker News if the abuse gets too heavy? After yesterday's experience I probably would do it. I like the flow they deliver, but I hate the abuse.

So I have a suggestion for Paul Graham, the guy who runs Hacker News. Give sites the option of blocking links from Hacker News. I honestly don't care what the HN trolls, and the people who upvote them, supposedly "think" about me. None of it is based on anything real. A lot of it is anonymous. Sometimes people create accounts just for the purpose of dropping a big smelly turd in the middle of a discussion.

Let's learn a trick from Twitter, and cut off the trolls at the source.

PS: I subscribe to the Hacker News feed, which does not include comments. It's very useful stuff. So the links themselves are good.

Posted: 5/21/13; 8:34:39 AM.

I tried Google Glass permalink

A picture named glass.gifI went to dinner last night with the two Scobles, Robert and Patrick.

Robert is famous for the picture of him wearing a Google Glass while in the shower.

Last night, he was wearing the glasses most of the dinner, but took them off. He said I should try them. I did.

What you get is a sequence of cards, with recent tweets, emails, Google Now type stuff. You scroll through them by swiping on the stem of the glasses. It doesn't take any time to get the hang of it.

You can create tweets with voice. It happened so quickly I barely knew I had done it. I created a tweet on Scoble's account. It contained an expletive which they conveniently ***'ed out for me.

It was nice. However I don't feel any lust for having one of my own. I carry an Android phone and an iPad with me most places. The UI of Google Glass, while interesting, doesn't seem to be an improvement over the phone interface.

But it's early days. Maybe someone will figure this out. The Apple II wasn't much use before Visicalc, for example. The Mac came with a couple of demo apps, but didn't blossom until there were 20 or 30 useful pieces of software for it (it needed more of an ecosystem than an individual killer app).

Posted: 5/20/13; 12:16:09 PM.

My one talk with Marissa Mayer permalink

It was 2003. Google had just bought Blogger. On the acquisition, they said they wouldn't do anything to tilt the table in favor of Blogger. There was concern in the wider blogging community that Google might use its power in search to give people an incentive to use Blogger over other publishing platforms. They said this would never happen.

But a few weeks after the deal they broke the promise. They added a BlogThis! button to Google Toolbar. It only worked with Blogger. It would have been a simple matter to make it work with any blogging tool. But they didn't see why they should do that.

It would have been okay if Blogger was the default. But give the users a preference to set the address of our blogging platform.

Back then Google cared a little about what I thought, so the result was a conference call between me and an exec at Google, Marissa Mayer. I was driving cross-country from California to Boston, so I stopped in Utah, in the parking lot of a 7-11 just east of Salt Lake City, and we had the call.

A picture named fargo.gifAll I remember of it was there came a point in the conversation when Mayer had had enough. She just got up and left. I think the people remaining in the conference room were a little embarassed. Google didn't do anything to change the BlogThis! button.

All this is to say that the promises execs make on acquisitions are meaningless. They own the thing, they will do what they want to with it. It doesn't matter how many nice sounds Mayer makes on the deal. At the core she cares not one bit what the users of Tumblr think. She's saying what she needs to say to make the deal happen. To avoid a PR crisis on Day One. To make the team at Tumblr feel like their work has value to the new owners. That somehow this acquisition isn't actually an acquisition.

I have some intuition about this myself, because I sold a company. We were bought because we had a presence in the Mac market, which was highly coveted at the time. I negotiated for myself a role as the "Chief architect of Symantec's Mac strategy." A few weeks after the deal I made a presentation to the exec staff about what our Mac strategy would be. Only one person showed up, the president of the company, Gordon Eubanks. He watched a couple of slides and thanked me for the input. I asked What about my chief architect role? He told me that was something they told me to get me to do the deal.

He left the room. What was I going to do? What could I do? Nothing, that's what. :-)

Moral of the story: When you sell your company, no matter what promises were made, you sold it. It's theirs now. They will do what they want to with it. Promises don't matter.

Posted: 5/20/13; 9:54:46 AM.

Yahoo buying Tumblr permalink

It looks like Yahoo is buying Tumblr.

A picture named champagne.gifI feel some sense of pride here because Tumblr is a descendent of products I made, Manila and Radio, that laid the groundwork for products like theirs. David Karp and Marco Arment will get rich (or richer) and that's cool because they're smart people who worked hard and made something real happened. I am in awe of systems that handle as much content as Tumblr. Their users should be in awe as well, imho.

Yet we still don't have a whole system for product development in this industry.

The rewards for digging the first holes that become the foundations for great systems like Tumblr and WordPress are minimal, if they exist at all. When you try to talk with investors about kicking back a bit of their proceeds in ventures that in addition providing good ROI, also create open formats and protocols that industries can be built on, you get blank stares. As if they don't understand. Of course they do understand, it's just easier to pretend they don't.

They profit from this work, but like the grasshopper in the famous fable, they aren't willing to participate in the investment that made the profit possible. Too bad, because if they did -- I think their companies would be stronger as a result. The better the foundation, the bigger the building you can make, and the more efficient it is to keep it running. Had we had a longer easier runway for Radio and Manila, Tumblr might have gone further on less investment.

Anyway, that's a small point right now. Get out the champagne and celebrate, because some of the good guys won. (Or at least appear to have, we'll find out for sure tomorrow.)

Posted: 5/19/13; 1:55:21 PM.

Users mail list for Dropbox permalink

A picture named drum.gifI've been wondering lately why there has been so little useful stuff written about Fargo. It's an interesting product from a lot of angles.

So I've been asking questions, and this is what I've figured out.

1. There are great places to go for reviews of Mac products.

2. If you want to know about software that's sold on Amazon, you'll find lots of reviews from users. I understand that well because I depend on reviews for almost everything I buy on Amazon.

3. For IOS and Android apps there are the stores, which have reviews.

But there is no place, that I know for Dropbox users to find out what the great apps are and what users are doing with them.

Probably because Dropbox as a platform is so new?

It's like a fog here, because we're all operating with so little information.

So let's solove the problem. I started a mail list today for users of Dropbox who want to be in the loop on all kinds of new products. Obviously it's a chicken and egg thing. If enough users show up, the developers will follow, and vice versa.


We'll probably need some rules of conduct at some point, or move to a blog or blogs, because mail lists always tend to flame out if there's no moderation, but for now, it's a good way for people to meet, if there's enough interest.

As a vendor of a Dropbox-based product, I can tell you I am highly motivated to see this work. Most people who use Dropbox, some of whom would love a great outliner, don't know my product exists. I want desperately to fix that. :-)

Posted: 5/18/13; 3:12:17 PM.

Google is the new MSM permalink

A picture named bulworth.gifLast night watching the NBA on TNT, new commercials for the YouTube comedy fest. The production was distinctly not YouTube. It was professional in every way. Nothing amateur about it. Google is now MSM. All that talk about Burning Man is sleight of hand. That guy has as much in common with you and me as Rupert Murdoch does.

It's not just Google, Twitter is also MSM. Facebook? Eh. Their presence on TV is mostly in URLs at the bottom of other peoples' ads. Their commercials are amateurish, awful imitations of other tech company commercials. Not to say they're the only ones with awful commercials, but theirs are awful in their amateurishness.

A blog post on Forbes suggests that Google is going to bring RSS back in a MSM-type way. You'll be able to follow Blogger blogs in Google Plus. Maybe they'll make a deal with Automattic and Tumblr to make it possible to follow their blogs too. Me and you? Well we can be followed, but only if we use one of the silos. We have to be locked in someone's trunk to participate.

The web is going to play the same role to all this crazy locked up stuff that it played to MSM in the 90s. We're going to be the oddballs. The ones with amateurish sites. We'll be the artisans, the local farmers of ideas. The ones that lack polish but speak from our experience. We'll do what Bulworth so famously did. I don't have access, and I don't want it. I'd much prefer to hear from other people who don't have access and don't want it.

The web keeps moving. If your attention has shifted and you can't see that, that's not the same thing as the web being lost. Maybe you got lost? :-)

Posted: 5/17/13; 11:32:44 AM.

Why Dave Wynn uses Fargo permalink

Over on our Community Feed for Fargo users, a conversation started about how people are loving writing code with Fargo. This really surprised me, because we haven't done much to encourage this. There's a simple feature in the app that allows you to run a single-line of JavaScript code. This means you can call any routine that's in Fargo, or in Bootstrap, jQuery or in the core JavaScript libraries.

We have it in there because it's useful for one-liners, for debugging the app. It's not meant to make it a programming environment. But some people seem to love it. I wanted to know why, so I asked. And what came back from Dave Wynn, a user who I had not met until this exchange, was a simple and eloquent explanation of why Fargo is a great product (I happen to agree with him of course, but then it's partly my creation). Here's what he said, of course in an outline (Fargo is an outliner).

It's as cross platform as it gets

I use Windows at work and Linux at home, and making everything play nice (even with Dropbox) can be a HUGE pain

Linux also doesn't get a lot of love with regard to clean, user-focused apps

It's file backed

I couldn't get into Workflowy because I couldn't trust that they wouldn't just disappear one day, leaving all of my thoughts unavailable in the ether

I got into org-mode precisely because of this, but it took a lot of tweaking in order to work, and even then still missed some basic things like spell-check (which needed a diferent engine for each platform... see above)

I can inspect it much more easily than other software

Sure I know I can't see everything that's going on, but I can press the F12 key, and that makes little mods much more possible for a beginner like me

Feedback is immediate

CSS changes kick in right away, and there's no crazy compile step in order to get things right

Posted: 5/16/13; 11:55:16 AM.

Working without servers permalink

One of our fetishes at Small Picture is getting cool stuff working with no servers.

You can get a lot done. For example -- Little Outliner. There's only one function it relies on a server for, the importing of OPML. And if you think about it, it's ridiculous that that function has to be done through a server. The code is running in a browser, which is perfectly suited to get a file over the Internet.

Many of the limits of the 2013 web are accidents of history. Someone at some time thought an operation was too powerful, that it could be abused, so they made it illegal. But they didn't close off the ability to call a server to do it for us, so we effectively can do anything we need to do.

A great example of that is the way Dropbox allows Fargo to save to the local file system.

This is something we're not supposed to be able to do. But we're doing it anyway. And nothing is breaking as far as I can tell. We're inside a very simple easy to understand sandbox, a sub-folder of the Dropbox folder.

And in addition to being able to write to the local file system, we get cross-device synchronization for free. That's a great deal. (Understatement.)

All this means things are shifting pretty radically. Who is the operating system vendor if my files are equally accessible on Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, IOS, etc? Dropbox is, that's who.

A couple of years ago I asked the guys at Automattic to add a feature to their API that would allow me to store a small XML file along with a blog post. Had they done this, and if we had followed where it would logically have led, today they would have the equivalent of Dropbox, along with content management. You'd be able to publish just by saving a file.

Today you have to figure Dropbox sees this opportunity. And that they will, eventually, navigate to roughly where WordPress is.

The server is moving. A fair amount of what used to be "up there" is now in JavaScript, in the browser. The network services are doing what only they can do, provide global access to published information. And unfortunately due to history, they are also acting as pointless proxies for things a browser app should be able to do for itself.

Posted: 5/15/13; 11:14:23 AM.

What's new (or broken) with the Twitter API? permalink

My linkblogging tool, Radio2, has a connection with Twitter. You can establish a link between your feed and Twitter so that every item in your feed is also posted to Twitter.

Here's a screen shot. To create the connection you click on the blue bird. That starts an OAuth conversation where the user gives Radio2 permission to post to his or her Twitter account.

I've been hearing, peripherally, that some part of the old Twitter API is about to be turned off, or maybe has already been turned off. I can't pay full attention because it's a small feature, used by just a few people, and I have my attention elsewhere.

Late last night I tried clicking on the blue bird, and sure enough there appears to be some breakage. Twitter complains that there is "no request token for this page." Perhaps they changed something in their OAuth implementation?

I should investigate.

If you have any clues, please post a comment.

Thanks! :-)

Posted: 5/15/13; 9:26:34 AM.

We need a curator for the Apple river permalink

A picture named bus.gifI did a house-cleaning on my river server on May 9. At that time some of the rivers stopped updating. Mostly the ones that no longer have tabs in the user interface because either I personally didn't have enough interest in the subject and not many other people were reading them. I didn't feel like paying for machine resources if only one or two people were reading the flow, or if there were only one or two new items a week.

One of the rivers that I turned off is the Apple river. I use a Mac, several in fact. And I have an iPad and an iPod. I am a long-time Apple shareholder. I am an Apple user, but I am not a dedicated member of the Apple community like some people I respect are. For example, Brent Simmons, Marco Arment, John Gruber, Daniel Jalkut or Michael Gartenberg. I see a tremendous value in the river, if only someone rooted in the community would take an interest. It's also a potential money-maker, imho.

It's really time for communities to spread out and become more inclusive. With a well-curated river, the Mac community can explore more niches, and grow in some interesting ways, perhaps.

So I offer to keep running the river...

1. If someone with a site with serious flow offers to display the river on their site, linked to from their home page.

2. It can be rendered in their template.

3. I will provide support on the technical process for getting the river to display well in another site. It involves using jQuery, something I'm not an expert in. But I got it to work here, so I presume we can get it working anywhere. If we need help I know where to ask for it. ;-)

4. The curator has to have the ability to edit an OPML subscription list, and make it available at a public HTTP address. Fargo, my outliner, does this very nicely, in conjunction with Dropbox. But you can use any tool you like.

5. The person doing the curating and the person doing the display can be different people, if you like.

6. Curating here means choosing feeds, not stories. We're looking for good sources of Mac news and opinion. But it's up to those sources to decide what goes in the river. It's just an RSS aggregator on the back-end.

7. All I want in return is a link from the page back to a page that shows people how to set up their own rivers, which I will write. It won't be hype-ish. I may ask for a little money for the software.

I think the Apple river is a great place to start. Now I'm looking for one of the leaders in the Mac blogging world to step up and work with me on this. I may not be a Mac insider these days, but I go back to the beginning. I was onstage at the Mac rollout in 1984. I had an ad in the first issue of MacWorld. My product won the top Eddy in 1986. I used to go to WWDC back when it was in San Jose. I even spoke at WWDC one year. Ask Guy Kawasaki. ;-)

Let's do this. I think it'll turn out to be an important step in the growth of the Mac blogosphere.

Posted: 5/11/13; 7:16:00 PM.

Should the Community Feed be an RSS feed in addition to being an OPML feed? permalink

This question came up in the Community Feed, which you can read in Fargo, by choosing the Community Feed command from the Docs menu. Or you can read it in the Small Picture Reader if you don't use Fargo. I wrote my answer there, but thought it would be interesting to also post it here. No I didn't use the fancy Blogging 2.0 protocol I described in an earlier post. Soooon!

Well of course it would be nice to have everything, if there were no cost.

It would take time to write the code and keep it running. It would be worth doing if there would be a lot of people using it. But right now the Community Feed a new feature. We're still at the point where we're introducing ourselves. If that's all it does it will have been worth it.

I'm an investor in software, and I have to make decisions as any investor would. I can't buy everything. And right now there are other projects that I think need more attention.

Also, and this is a key point, this is not something you need Kyle or me to do. The OPML feed is public. If you want to write the code to convert it to an RSS feed, you can do it.

Read it once every ten minutes. Use the eTag feature of HTTP to conserve bandwidth. Generate RSS 2.0. How will you synthesize a title for each item? I don't know, that's a hard problem. RSS 2.0 doesn't require titles, but Google Reader did. That made generating RSS feeds a difficult process for data that doesn't inherently have titles. But Google Reader is going away, so we're free to do as we please, you say. Not so fast. The replacements are clones. I bet they're just as picky as GR was. At least until the dust settles, and that isn't going to happen this year even, probably.

But OPML feeds? Ahhh that's easy. Since I'm writing both ends I can make it work. And if I want to change things based on what I learn, I can do that too. That's why the early days on anything are important. And why you should go slowly enough so you can feed back what you learn into the protocol.

Anyway you see these questions sound simple, but when you actually start writing the code, they can become complex.

Bottom-line: My bet is that no one would use an RSS feed of this content. That makes it a bad investment. I've been wrong before, btw.

Posted: 5/10/13; 11:33:03 PM.

Standards for Rivers permalink

Jay Rosen wrote me last week to say that the River of News concept had reached a tipping point. That led me to publish a brief email exchange with Brent Simmons about what a river is, from a design standpoint. But there's more to rivers than their form, there are a couple of other very important ways to look at them:

1. Standardization.

The Mac beat the IBM PC because there were user interface standards. If I learned how to use a couple of apps, I was actually learning how to use all of them. If your river and my river work and act differently, we have no advantage, and people are going to stay with Twitter, because there, the UI for all rivers is the same. True, it's limited to 140 characters, but the advantages of standardization make Twitter easy and familiar.

It should also be possible for users to combine rivers. I want Reuters and Wired rivers, for example, but I don't want to go to two places to view their news. Again with standards, we don't have to force readers to make a choice. This means growth for the alternate-Twitter, which is the potential of news moving to rivers.

Standardization is something the tech industry has a hard time with. But my experience with news and RSS is that it's not as much of a problem with publishing. Once we had the NYT on board, all the other pubs followed, compatibly, without the usual fighting that happens in tech.

However now that they have been hiring programmers, lots of them, they're becoming more like the tech industry, in not-positive ways.

I offer the format we're using for rivers. It's a simple jQuery template, and an equally simple JSON format. The template was designed by an open community in a Google Group a couple of years ago. I designed the JSON format to help define the problem for the group. It was a wonderfully successful open collaboration. I hope other people just use it as-is.

2. Open the doors.

This part, I believe, will be difficult for news organizations. But, if you want to compete with Twitter, you have to include bloggers in your stream. I don't mean reporters who call themselves bloggers, rather people who have expertise or experience that makes them the kind of people reporters like to quote. People whose ideas you think are dangerous. More of that.

News needs reforming, literally, it needs to be formed again around the new reality -- we all have printing presses. News will never reform itself until it feels the pressure from the sources, where it matters most, on the screens of their readers.

We need to have one environment where professional reporters, sources and critics co-mingle their thoughts. We don't need a Public Editor as much as we need The Public. That's why Twitter has been so popular, but it's unfortunate that the news industry has been unwilling to meet them there.

Posted: 5/10/13; 12:07:48 PM.

Blogging 2.0 permalink

I wrote a piece in August 2012 which I posted on Medium entitled We Could Make History, in which I proposed that we get together and create a new API to connect authoring tools to publishing environments.

At the time I thought it was a long shot, but worth putting it out there in case anyone was listening at Medium, or elsewhere. That's why I made it openly. And why I put the post on Medium.

Today I'm writing this post on my own blogging platform, which is more or less some scaffolding I put together to hook my outliner up to the web, so I could publish, before we had something real that others could use.

Now I can make a more concrete proposal because Fargo is visible, people can better imagine what I'm talking about.

1. I don't like the idea of writing something to have it visible in only one place.

2. Sometimes I find that a comment I wrote in one place is really a blog post, but why should it stop being a comment?

3. Copy/paste is an awful synch protocol. It's 2013. We can do better! In fact we live in a time of great progress in sychronization, thanks to Dropbox. Publishing should make the leap into the future as well.

4. Software now runs in the browser, written in JavaScript. It's indistinguishable from desktop software. So any protocol we come up with must work equally well with JS apps running in the browser.

5. Meanwhile there are a number of projects underway to bring blogging up to date. But they're doing it without APIs and without feeds. Why? That's not really progress.

6. We were able to hook up Fargo to WordPress, largely to show what's possible. But we had to set up a proxy server so that our JS app running in the browser could call their server. This is a waste of resources and does not scale.

7. We will have a for-real CMS running on a server. It will do things that are new, that none of the other publishing platforms do. But there will still be things they do that we don't. APIs are needed. But I'd prefer to work with others to come up with the API, rather than do both ends myself. If we do it that way we get there sooner, better.

8. I'm pretty sure there will be APIs here. But I'd rather there just be one. We had that worked out pretty well in Blogging 1.0. But let's do it even better in 2.0.

9. Who wants to go first? :-)

Posted: 5/9/13; 2:10:12 PM.

Community Feed in Fargo 0.59 permalink

More about Fargo 0.59.

Posted: 5/8/13; 3:20:52 PM.

Levy on BigCo innovation permalink

Levy: "To really think big, you can't be at a big company."

I was amazed that these words came from Steven Levy, former Newsweek tech reporter, and late of Wired. He's spent a career supporting the myth not just that big ideas can come from big companies, but that they only come from big companies.

He was paraphrasing Evan Williams, founder of Twitter and Blogger. But it's still an amazing transformation.

Now, I don't expect the press to all of a sudden start reporting on where big ideas actually come from. But it's nice to be able to point to the truth, just once, from such a source.

BTW, we're thinking very big at Small Picture. :-)

Posted: 5/7/13; 5:54:04 PM.

Q&A w/Brent re River of News permalink

On April 11, Brent Simmons sent an email, included below. My words are indented beneath his in italic.

I like the river of news style of feed reading, despite having once written an RSS reader that doesn't use that style.

But I'm not actually 100% sure what the technical definition is. I'm not trying to be obtuse about this -- I want to be sure I understand.

I think it's something like this, but I'm not sure which parts are optional, and I might be missing things.

1. It presents a list of articles from multiple feeds in a scrollable list.


2. There might be multiple scrollable lists -- tabs of some kind.

Not required, but you can do it that way (I have it with my mediahackers site). But each one is a river, not the whole thing.

3. Items in the list are sorted in reverse-chronological order by arrival date (date the feed scanner saw the item) rather than by pubDate. (True?)

True. By arrival date. pubDate is not important for ordering.

4. Items are presented with title, link, and an excerpt. The excerpt should be just long enough to be meaningful (around 280 characters).

You could leave out the excerpt and it would still be a river. The important thing is that the excerpt be of determinate length, and short enough so you can see a lot of items on screen at the same time.

5. It handles edited items by ____? (I don't know. Does it show them again?)

Does not show edited items again.

6. There is no notion of read/unread whatsoever, and thus no unread counts.

Correct. No notion of read/unread.

7. There is no notion of starred (or flagged, or saved) items whatsoever. (Users can blog, send to a read-it-later service, etc. as they normally would for any web page.)

Not true -- you can do whatever you want there. I include a RT link on my items. Just as long as it's small and doesn't interfere with skimming.

8. A river of news feed scanner outputs river.js data. (Is this optional? Could it be RSS?)

Not required. It would however be useful to have a standard here. I want to write all my displayers in JS running in the browser.

9. Do river-of-news readers have to be web pages? Could an iOS or Mac app qualify, if it met all the criteria?

Of course it could be an IOS app.

The main idea aren't the details, but the way its used. I can scroll back to the point where I hit something I seen. Quickly. My memory is perfectly capable of telling me I've seen something before. You can rely on it, people can do this.

Posted: 5/7/13; 12:49:25 PM.

11th hour for news nets permalink

Michael Wolff comments on the job ad that Twitter is running, looking for a manager of news.

He suggests existing news execs, and that's probably the kind of person Twitter is looking for for this job.

It's a head-fake. This guy is a figure-head. He or she will be working with media companies, speaking at conferences, talking about how Twitter is helping media companies succeed in the age of realtime Internet-delivered news. He or she is a feel-good ambassador to the news industry. A person handing out complementary samples of pasta and baked goods while the real action is elsewhere.

The job is a bedtime story. News will be as it always was, with familiar faces and jobs, just with a new delivery system.

Meanwhile, the news system of the future is booting up all around Twitter, which is and always has been a coral reef. They need a new shipwreck to build around, and this time the sunken ship is the remains of the news industry.

Even at this late hour, I have a recommendation to any player in the news industry.

1. Create a river of news and put it on your home page.

2. Include all the news from your own organization, but include news from bloggers in your community.

3. Include the feeds of your competitors.

4. Deliver the best news product you can with today's technology. You can link from the river to stuff behind your paywall, if you must, but the river itself must be freely accessible. Think of it as a river of ads for full-length stories.

5. No 140-char limit. Pick a higher number. There should still be a limit to the length of a synopsis. 500 characters is plenty. Most NYT synopses are much shorter than that.

6. Make nice with Twitter. You can do a head-fake too. :-)

Posted: 5/6/13; 11:48:59 AM.

Managing expectations permalink

In software, mis-managed expectation can be as damning as it is in sports and politics.

For example, coming into a political debate, each side tries to portray the other as vastly superior, in every way. If you can get the expectation low enough for your guy, he or she might "win" just by showing up.

In sport, where the outcome is measured more definitely, in points on a scoreboard, you manage expectation to play with the mind of your opponent. An over-confident adversary might relax, and create openings. The Knicks almost lost to the Celtics that way.

In software, I've seen it happen over and over. I've never had to deal with too-high expectations, but my competitors have. The first time I encountered it, with competition from a much-bigger Lotus Development, I was scared. But when we survived the competition without a scratch, I learned that just because everyone thinks you're going to lose, don't necessarily make it so.

I wasn't happy to see the expectations so high for the vaporware product Diaspora. The kids behind it were too young and inexperienced to know how much work there is in creating a finished usable product. Academia, which generally doesn't have much respect for commercial development, doesn't help. The result was awful.

Coach Bill Walsh of the 49ers had this down. Before a big game he'd always pump up the skill and courage of his opponent. Why not? Maybe they'll get over-confident. Either way, if he wins, he just vanquished a superior adversary. And if they lost, he gets to shrug it off with an I-told-you-so.

In sport, politics or software, no one cares how great you think you are. What matters is what happens on the playing field. Did you win or lose? And did you do it with grace?

Posted: 5/4/13; 7:31:13 PM.

RFC: Markdown and outliners permalink

A picture named drummer.gifI've had Markdown on my to-do list for a few months, and the other day, with a bit of blank space in my worklist, I decided to give it a shot.

It was amazingly easy to integrate into our JavaScript app. I just downloaded the source for Pagedown, the Markdown interpreter used by Stack Overflow. I put it into a file on our server, and included it in Fargo. Added a command to the File menu, and came up with a simple way to generate it for users. The whole thing was done in a couple of hours.

Now we need people who know Markdown and outliners to take a look at this, try it out and relatively quickly, before there's an installed base to break, figure out if there's anything special we need to do, because this is an outliner and not a straight text editor.

Here are a couple of considerations:

1. Should we generate one or two return chars at the end of every outline heading? At first we did one, then thought better and generated two, but now we're back at one. Pretty sure one is the right answer. We often think of a headline as a paragraph, but sometimes headlines are titles. Markdown views titles and paragraphs very differently.

2. Indentation. I thought at first that we should generate a tab for every level, but backed out of that idea quickly because Markdown treats tabs as very special characters. Everything deeper than level 0 would be seen as preformatted code. Not the desired outcome.

So I wonder if there have been any others who have integrated outlining and Markdown before? If so, what did they do here?

See the Fargo docs for an idea how it works from a user's standpoint.

I welcome any comments from Markdown experts (I am anything but that).

Posted: 5/4/13; 4:43:42 PM.

Fargo and Markdown permalink

A picture named drummer.gifA quick note about a new development with our Fargo outliner.

Fargo now has a Markdown processor baked-in. This means that a user can write a Markdown-formatted outline, and generate HTML from it, with a single command in the File menu.

We're using the open source Pagedown library.

Markdown and text go together, by design. Outliners are text editors, a special kind that understand structure. There is a structure to Markdown, as there is structure to HTML, but so far as we know, none of the Markdown editors have been outliners.

How the connection with outlines and Markdown will proceed is an unknown. By baking in Markdown we're asking a simple question. How does this work? We hope to hear from users and other smart people who have ideas.

This feature is available in Fargo 0.55, which is now released on the site.

Let's have fun! :-)

Posted: 5/3/13; 4:40:18 PM.

The Knicks as a metaphor permalink

A picture named knicks.gifA number of Knicks players did something extremely stupid when they dressed in black for last night's game, saying they were dressing for the Celtics' funeral. These guys may be talented athletes, but they don't understand sports. Amazingly. How could they get that far in the NBA without understanding that you don't celebrate until you win. I know they're young. I wonder if they've ever heard about Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Sports, if it teaches us anything, it's how to struggle against our folly. How not to tempt fate. How to manage our own presence.

Look at the incredible baskets these guys make. But they only make them when they're grounded, in the moment, feeling the energy, whatever it is. So JR Smith started celebrating after they had a solid lead in Game 3. He got ejected, and suspended, and not only wasn't there to help in Game 4, he broke the bubble around the Knicks, that had been around the team since they emerged from an awful funk in February. Now we have to wonder if they can get it back.

The Celtics, last night, walking off the court, may have helped the Knicks get back in the groove, repeating trash talk about Carmelo's wife. I'm just theorizing, lip-reading. But maybe he'll get angry and really want to win. That's probably all it takes.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma City, the Thunder coach thought he could sneak by the Rockets with a trick. Oh how sad. Kevin Durant who I thought was a true fighter, is instead mired in self-pity. And the Rockets, a young, smart, admirable -- wonderful group of young men -- are pushing every one of their buttons, artfully. They might pull out the upset. Amazing parallels between the Celtics and the Rockets. One team old, one young. Both not going out peacefully.

All this is a metaphor for my former friend Mike Arrington, who may be the JR Smith of tech. He was celebrating the demise of RSS while the body was still breathing. He had no clue that he had won, or that anyone was keeping score.

Technology isn't all that different from basketball. There's teamwork, and bubbles of energy, and franchises. RSS is not something that dies, any more than the NBA dies. Players come and go, there are generations -- the Patrick Ewing Knicks and the Bernard King Knicks. Now we have the Carmelo Anthony Knicks. But RSS, like the NBA is bigger than me or Mike. He doesn't get to say it's dead. RSS just laughs, shrugs it off and keeps on going.

Posted: 5/2/13; 11:43:06 AM.

The Fargo-WordPress connection permalink

A picture named wheel.gifMy outliner is an authoring tool. I think of it as the hub of a wheel with lots of spokes. At the end of each spoke is a way to communicate.

Some of the spokes lead to private places, for example, the worknotes I share with my programming partner. No one else sees those. But then there are blog posts, like the one you're reading now. At the end of this spoke is software I wrote that renders an outline in this form. I'm one of a small number of people, today, using that method of rendering.

Yesterday we released a spoke that leads to WordPress, the popular open source blogging environment. You can now use Fargo to create and edit posts in WordPress. This works in two ways:

1. You can use the outliner to organize a library of posts you want to be able to access quickly.

2. You can use the outliner to structure each blog post.

By default each level is represented in the blog post by indentation. But we also add CSS styles to each paragraph that indicate what level they are at. So a skilled CSS designer can set it up so that level indentation does much more to control the appearance of the text. I expect lots of interesting stuff to develop here.

Here are the docs for the feature, and a list of recent new posts written in Fargo.

Here's a homemade video demo of the new Fargo-WordPress connection.

Over time you'll see us add more connection, and of course offer a general way for anyone to add new spokes to the wheel. And because we're using an open format, it'll even be possible to hook other outliners up to the same connections.

For anyone who cares, this is how you bootstrap a new standard, a coral reef for authoring and rendering.

PS: This is what the post looks like in WordPress. :-)

Posted: 5/2/13; 10:59:09 AM.


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