Off the Top: Web Entries


December 3, 2016

Diffen for Comparisons

I stumbled across Diffen the other day thanks to Macdrifter’s Diffen mention. I have found it a great service for comparing things. But keep thinking of all the things I really want it to compare, but since it has two fields that allow you to compare any two things you can do it. I may keep the Diffen compares Holland vs Netherlands close at hand as it is a pet peeve and explaining it isn’t quite as easy as pointing to the link (particularly when people say, “well everybody calls it Holland”, the answer is everybody doesn’t and understanding what is correct is easy).



January 1, 2016

What to do with Podcast Favorites

Another thing I’m wanting to sort is podcasts I like, make that one’s I listen to and like. I have a list of podcasts I regularly listen to tucked into the left column in my links: podasts.

But, there are often podcasts I listen to that I really like and would like to easily share out to others. When I run into podcasts episodes that I hear mentioned I will track them down and most often use Huffduffer to grab it and putting into my listening queue that I most often consume in Overcast in the car driving to get my son or going through my morning routine that includes making breakfast and coffee and consuming them while scanning news and the day’s plans.

Last year I found many of the episodes of Exponent with Ben Thompson and James Allworth that I really liked a lot. While Overcast has a nice share component within it, that functionality takes the person clicking to it to Overcast’s web page for the podcast (or to the exact timestamp in the podcast) and to play it. While I like the idea of this, what I’m really wanting is to primarily link to the actual podcast page (hopefully this is something beyond a Soundcloud page, which I find to be really frustrating for this purpose as well).

Potential Zeef Solution

I do use a “podfodder” tag in Pinboard, which I occasionally push things into. But with this I don’t have it easily exposed elsewhere and people aren’t exactly looking for a podfodder tag they don’t know of (well they may do so now, but now isn’t then). I keep thinking I will do something similar I do to the “linkfodder” tag in Pinboard, which I use on things I read I really like (when I remember to tag them).

With “linkfodder” I pull that tag into Zeef, which is a list making and managing site that structures related content well, as a link widget. The Zeef link widget pulls the last 10 from the “linkfodder” list and makes them available in as a JavaScript component, which I embed in the side of this vanderwal.net blog. I could do the same thing for "podfodder’ (in 2 minutes I added the feed to a private page in Zeef and may make it public), but I’m not sure where the widget will be best placed.

Wishing a Solution Were Just Here

About a year ago Matt Haughey wrote about podcasting needs and more directly Matt Haughey has social subscription list wish. I keep hoping somebody would have built this podcasting social subscription list as a tool. It seems like a perfect thing for Huffduffer as a “rate after listening” feature. This seems to be wide open for somebody to do, it may not have great money attached to it, but it would be a great service that has value.



Happy New Year - 2016 Edition

Happy New Year!

I’m believing that 2016 will be a good year, possibly a quite good year. After 7 years of bumpy and 2015 off to a rough start on the health front it stayed rather calm.

I don’t make resolutions for the new year. It is a practice that always delayed good timing of starting new habits and efforts when they were better fits. The, “oh, I start doing this on on New Years” always seemed a bit odd when the moment something strikes you is a perfectly good moment to start down the path to improvement or something new.

This blog has been quiet for a while, far too long in fact. Last year when I was sick it disrupted a good stretch of posting on a nearly daily basis. I really would like to get back to that. I was planning to start back writing over the past couple weeks, but the schedule was a bit filled and chaotic.

Digging Through Digital History

This past year I did a long stretch working as expert witness on a social software case. The case was booted right before trial and decided for the defense (the side I was working with). In doing this I spent a lot of time digging back through the last 5 to 10 years of social software, web, enterprise information management, tagging / folksonomy, and communication. Having this blog at my disposal and my Personal InfoCloud blog were a great help as my practice of knocking out ideas, no matter how rough, proved a great asset. But, it also proved a bit problematic, as a lot of things I liked to were gone from the web. Great ideas of others that sparked something in me were toast. They were not even in the Ineternet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Fortunately, I have a personal archive of things in my DevonThink Pro repository on my laptop that I’ve been tucking thing of potential future interest into since 2005. I have over 50,000 objects tucked away in it and it takes up between 20GB to 30GB on my hard drive.

I have a much larger post brewing on this, which I need to write and I’ve promised quite a few others I would write. The big problem in all of this is there is a lot of good, if not great, thinking gone from the web. It is gone because domains names were not kept, a site changed and dropped old content, blogging platforms disappeared (or weren’t kept up), or people lost interest and just let everything go. The great thinking from the 90s that the web was going to be a repository for all human thinking with great search and archival properties, is pretty much B.S. The web is fragile and not so great at archiving for long stretches. I found HTML is good for capturing content, but PDF proved the best long term (10 years = long term) digital archive for search in DevonThink. The worst has been site with a lot of JavaScript not saved into PDF, but saved as a website. JavaScript is an utter disaster for archiving (I have a quite a few things I tucked away as recently as 18 months ago that are unreadable thanks to JavaScript (older practices and modifications which may be deemed security issues or other changes of mind have functional JavaScript stop working). The practice of putting everything on the web, which can mean putting application front ends and other contrivances up only are making the web far more fragile.

The best is still straight up HMTL and CSS and enhancing from there with JavaScript. The other recent disaster, which is JavaScript related, is infinite scroll and breaking distinct URLs and pages. Infinite scroll is great for its intended use, which is stringing crappy content in one long string so advertisers see many page views. It is manufacturing a false understanding that the content is valued and read. Infinite scroll has little value to a the person reading, other than if the rare case good content is strung together (most sites using infinite scroll do it because the content is rather poor and need to have some means of telling advertisers that they have good readership). For archival purposes most often capturing just the one page you care about gets 2 to 5 others along with it. Linking back to the content you care about many times will not get you back to the distinct article or page because that page doesn’t actually live anywhere. I can’t wait for this dim witted practice to end. The past 3 years or so of thinking I had an article / page of good content I could point to cleanly and archive cleanly was a fallacy if I was trying to archive in the playland of infinite scroll cruft.

Back to Writing Out Loud

This past year of trying to dig out the relatively recent past of 5 to 10 years with some attempts to go back farther reinforced the good (that may be putting it lightly) practice of writing out loud. In the past few years I have been writing a lot still. But, much of this writing has been in notes on my local machines, my own shared repositories that are available to my other devices, or in the past couple years Slack teams. I don’t tend to write short tight pieces as I tend to fill in the traces back to foundations for what I’m thinking and why. A few of the Slack teams (what Slack calls the top level cluster of people in their service) get some of these dumps. I may drop in a thousand or three words in a day across one to four teams, as I am either conveying information or working through an idea or explanation and writing my way through it (writing is more helpful than talking my way through it as I know somebody is taking notes I can refer back to).

A lot of the things I have dropped in not so public channels, nor easily findable again for my self (Slack is brilliantly searchable in a team, but not across teams). When I am thinking about it I will pull these brain dumps into my own notes system that is searchable. If they are well formed I mark them as blogfodder (with a tag as such or in a large outline of other like material) to do something with later. This “do something with later” hasn’t quite materialized as of yet.

Posting these writing out loud efforts in my blogs, and likely also into my Medium area as it has more constant eyes on it than my blogs these days. I tend to syndicate out finished pieces into LinkedIn as well, but LinkedIn isn’t quite the space for thinking out loud as it isn’t the thinking space that Medium or blogs have been and it doesn’t seem to be shifting that way.

Not only have my own resources been really helpful, but in digging through expert witness work I was finding blogs to be great sources for really good thinking (that is where really good thinking was done, this isn’t exactly the case now, unless you consider adding an infinitely redundant cat photo to a blog being really good thinking). A lot of things I find valuable still today are on blogs and people thinking out loud. I really enjoy David Weinberger, Jeremy Keith, and the return of Matt Webb to blogging. There are many others I read regularly (see my links page for more).



December 3, 2014

24 Ways: A Web Holiday Favorite

Nothing makes me happier than to see the winter holiday begin and 24 Ways start its annual release of web development and design goodness. Drew McLellan and the 24 Ways crew have done another great job and I look forward eagerly for every day’s gem that is released.

To make all of this better, 24 Ways is in its 10th year. Congratulations for all the great content and work, from the very first to the current offering of the day.



October 31, 2014

Deconstructing for Fun

There are two video gems I have fallen into really liking in the last year Every Frame a Painting and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Every Frame is a Painting

Every Frame is a Painting tickles the film nerd in me. This takes me straight back to a great class in media criticism by Father Mike Russo in undergrad. We not only learned how to watch film, but how to deconstruct it, which turned into how to make film for many in that class.

Tony Zhou who creates Every Frame is a Painting provides great insight into film direction and cinematography, by breaking down scenes and the make-up of a shot to convey a story through film. Film and its genres as well as directorial influences not only help see film with a new eye of appreciation, but the world beyond film. A lot of interaction design in technology heavily references film and the ability to direct attention and create an enjoyable experience.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

I’ve wasn’t a fan of the Jerry Seinfeld show. I saw a decent amount out of inertia (was watching the show on same channel prior) or it was a lead-in to something I wanted to watch. But, while there were some gems, most was listening to people whine, which lead to that same whining tone coming from myself the following day.

But, Seinfeld’s stand-up was something I had appreciation for and enjoyed. But, he has a web video series with the construct of him driving a historic car to pick-up another comedian to go get coffee. Most of the episodes are 15 to 20 minutes of he and his fellow comedian talking craft and sharing stories.

Much like Every Frame… Comedians in Cars… puts the focus on deconstruction of the craft, background of the artist, and breaking things down. There is often quite a bit of humor, which also helps.

In college and the years when I lived in San Francisco I loved going to stand-up shows. There were a lot of really good comedians working through their craft in SF in the mid–80s to mid–90s. The best times were often at open mic nights where comics would try out new material and often spill out into the parking lot or streets for an hour or few of riffing and stories.

Deconstruction is Essential for Understanding

A lot of undergrad for me seemed to be about not only learning (building a corpus of knowledge), but learning to deconstruct and understand the world and craft around me. Comedy and film (media in general got this treatment) were two of many of the disciplines I learned to breakdown to understand at more atomic levels, so to understand how to build more than capably as well as much better.

Learning the craft of deconstruction through something fun like film and comedy is a great place to start. Warning - this will change how you not only watch and consume things and may change the enjoyment and mindless nature that is desired, but it does give enjoyment on many other levels.



October 30, 2014

Refinement can be a Hinderance

Refinement can be a hinderance.

We learned the lesson in early blogging years (late 90s and very early 00s) that just getting things out there in rough form has value. I look back at my early blogging at vanderwal.net from 2001 to 2003 and it is not exactly refined.

(Now for the big but)

Those early blog posts, up through 2006 are the ones I continually go back to and refind (or more of Google surfacing them for me when thinking I need insight on something that I want more insight on). They were a paragraph or few. They were straight brain dumps. Most importantly they were nodes that brought conversation, next thing colleagues, invitations to explain at conferences, and a great cadre of like minds.

Over time I was encouraged to be more refined and edited, which slowed things down. It slowed down to the point I am sitting on a massive amount of text and markdown documents tagged “blogfodder”. So, much I fear being called the godfather of blodfodder.

The past year my most valuable inbound content has been from a few voices sending things in TinyLetter. A few blog friends have sparked up their old blogs with old school medium length (one paragraph to eight or so) blog posts. Both TinyLetter and these medium length posts are most often stream of consciousness, not heavily edited, and are incredibly valuable as they are good smart insights from real perspective, not contrived want to be smart BS that just rehashes what was common knowledge for the last 6 to 15 years.

Enter the Tilde

This past month Paul Ford popped up Tilde.Club and the old internet and web was reborn. It is pure nostalgia, less for the tech, but for the mindset of discovery of people, how to do things, how to do things better, and connecting like souls and minds. Everybody was a maker and striving to understand the tools, but also to connect to a wider world. It was the new way forward, which didn’t exactly play out at all like that as the band of hacker / maker / understand deeply to make better for all was just an incredibly small group that connected in a couple thousand or so in the early 2000s out of the billions of people on this planet. We thought it was the mainstream as a couple thousand looked like a lot of people to have in a convention center in Austin (in 2001 there were about 1200 and that was the best tight group of similar minded people I’ve ever run across).

But, the early 2000s the hackers and makers blogged. It was unfinished. It was raw. It was fluid. It was quite valuable.

I’m loving Tilde (yah, most don’t understand it and may never and that is all good too). Also loving those back to writing and sharing regularly, nearly daily with short blog posts.

Manufacturing a Habit

I’m going to make an attempt to get back and make a habit of posting daily. I’ve been writing daily and just not posting. The more I write the shorter the pieces. The more I write the more I focus on writing better. But, this blog on vanderwal.net is going to be rough and non-edited (okay maybe lightly and after posting), while Personal InfoCloud will have a little more time and editing put into it (I have 40 to 50 social lenses related posts and about 15 Shift Happened posts to get posted there, along with a lot more that fits in neither of those categories).

As I found in the early 2000s getting things out there in rough form has a lot more value than just sitting on my hard drive, now tagged blogfodder. Sitting on things to refine may be the dumbest thing I’ve done in a long long time. I’m tired of the dumb things ruling.

Others that Pushed This for Me



April 13, 2014

Site Shift has Started

After seven to eight years with the same web host a move is underway again. This will be slower and it may hit reverse for parts. Having read Phil Gyford’s recounting his host move I think I am prepared for the scope of what this move entails.

In my time with this host I put up dev projects that then moved to their own servers, I experimented with a lot of different tools and services that I continue to use (or would love to get back to using), and I have a boat load of mail accounts set up for contextual use and family.

The are a few domains, a lot of subdomains, many databases, and many applications (my hand built and third party creations). I’m expecting to have to tweek some code and scripting to handle different versions of PHP and Python than I currently run.

Two Host Mambo

The move is splitting things to two different hosts (one a VPS and the other a modern hosted web host). The split is to give some of the more resource heavy applications like Fever and ThinkUp room to flex and grow, these are applications that only I use and are really helpful for a variety of reasons. Other applications I have run locally on a Mac Mini will move there as will old services I shuttered due to lack of web resources availalbe.

The bulk of what is here at vanderwal.net and publicly available will move to a web host with good management consoles and mail (for now). While I am comfortable living and working at command line, I like a good console to make things easier. Also having someone else doing security updates, patching, and upgrades is nice as well so I can focus on the things I really want to do.

Mail

Mail is something that I really want to improve. Having to pester to have somebody give the mailserver a kick to get mail functioning again is something that shouldn’t need to happen. I have run my own mail server in the past (10 years back) and I know not to do that again as it was a pain and that pain is much worse with dealing with SPAM as well as getting on the wrong side of a SPAM blacklist (difficult to get off of a blacklist or greylist for domain or IP block when you are fewer than a few thousand accounts). The days of small email services died 5 to 10 years ago and that gets worse with each passing year.

Mail for the moment is going with my web hosting. This is less than optimal, I know that well. But, a good sized web host has the bulk to deal with black / grey listing to some degree. I know my optimal choice is FastMail, but making that move will take more decisions to narrow down mail accounts and sorting the size I am willing to limit some accounts to.

Getting Real

This only gets real when the domains get repointed and propigate. That is not today.



April 6, 2014

Changing Hosts and Server Locations

I’ve been in the midst of thinking through a web host / server move for vanderwal.net for a while. I started running a personal site in 1995 and was running it under vanderwal.net since 1997. During this time it has gone through six of 7 different hosts. The blog has been on three different hosts and on the same host since January 2006.

I’ve been wanting better email hosting, I want SSH access back, more current updates to: OS; scripting for PHP, Ruby, and Python; MySQL; and other smaller elements. A lot has changed in the last two to three years in web and server hosting.

The current shift is the 4th generation that started with simple web page hosting with limited scripting options, but often had some SSH and command line access to run cron jobs. The second was usually had a few scripting options and database to run light CMS or other dynamic pages, but the hosting didn’t give you access to anything below the web directory (problematic when trying to set your credentials for login out of the web directory, running more than one version of a site (dev, production, etc.), and essential includes that for security are best left out of the web directory). The second generation we often lost SSH and command line as those coming in lacked skills to work at the command line and could cripple a server with ease with a minor accident. The third has been more robust hosting with proper web directory set up and access to sub directories, having multiple scripting resources, having SSH and command line back (usually after proven competence), having control of setting up your own databases at will, setting up your own subdomains at will, and more. The third generation was often still hosting many sites on one server and a run away script or site getting hammered with traffic impacted the whole server. These hosts also often didn’t have the RAM to run current generations of tools (such as Drupal which can be a resource hog if not using command line tools like drush that thankfully made Drupal easier to configure in tight constraints from 2006 forward).

Today’s Options

Today we have a fourth generation of web host that replicates upgraded services like your own private server or virtual private server, but at lighter web hosting prices. I’ve been watching Digital Ocean for a few months and a couple months back I figured for $5 per month it was worth giving it a shot for some experiments and quick modeling of ideas. Digital Ocean starts with 512 MB or RAM, 20GB of SSD space (yes, your read that right, SSD hard drive), and 1TB of transfer. The setup is essentially a virtual private server, which makes experimentation easier and safer (if you mess up you only kill your own work not the work of others - to fix it wipe and rebuild quickly if it is that bad). Digital Ocean also lets you setup your server as you wish in about a minute of creation time with OS, scripting, and database options there for your choosing.

In recently Marco Arment has written up the lay of the land for hosting options from his perspective, which is a great overview. I’ve also been following Phil Gyford’s change of web hosting and like Phil I am dealing with a few domains and projects. I began looking at WebFaction and am liking what is there too. WebFaction adds in email into the equation and 100GB of storage on RAID 10 storage. Like Digital Ocean it has full shell scripting and a wide array of tools to select from to add to your server. This likely would be a good replacement for my core web existence here at vanderwal.net and its related services. WebFaction provides some good management interfaces and smoothing some of the rough edges.

There are two big considerations in all of this: 1) Email; 2) Server location.

Email

Email is a huge pain point for me. It should be relatively bullet proof (as it was years ago). To get bullet proof email the options boil down to going to a dedicated mail service like exchange or something like FastMail, a hosted Exchange server, or Google Apps. Having to pester the mail host to kick a server isn’t really acceptable and that has been a big reason I am considering moving my hosting. Also sitting on servers that get their IP address in blocks of blacklisted email servers (or potentially blacklisted) makes things really painful as well. I have ruled out Exchange as an option due to cost, many open scripts I rely on don’t play well with Exchange, and the price related to having someone maintain it.

Google Apps is an option, but my needs for all the other pieces that Google Apps offers aren’t requirements. I am looking at about 10 email addresses with one massive account in that set along with 2 or 3 other domains with one or two email accounts that are left open to catch the stray emails that drift in to those (often highly important). The cost of Google for this adds up quickly, even with using of aliases. I think having one of my light traffic domains on Google Apps would be good, the price of that and access to Google Apps to have access to for experimentation (Google Apps always arise in business conversations as a reference).

FastMail pricing is yearly and I know a lot of people who have been using it for years and rave about it. Having my one heavy traffic email there, as well as tucking the smaller accounts with lower traffic hosted there would be a great setup. Keeping email separate from hosting give uptime as well. FastMail is also testing calendar hosting with CalDAV, which is really interesting as well (I ran a CalDAV server for a while and it was really helpful and rather easy to manage, but like all things calendar it comes with goofy headaches, often related timezone and that bloody day light savings time, that I prefer others to deal with).

Last option is bundled email with web hosting. This has long been my experience. This is mostly a good solution, but rarely great. Dealing with many domains and multitudes of accounts email bundled with web hosting is a decent option. Mail hosting is rarely a deep strength of a web hosting company and often it is these providers that you have to pester to kick the mail server to get your mail flowing again (not only my experience, but darned near everybody I know has this problem and it should never work this way). I am wondering with the benefits of relatively inexpensive mail hosting bundled into web hosting is worth the pain.

I am likely to split my mail hosting across different solutions (the multiple web hosts and email hosts would still be less than my relatively low all in one web hosting I currently have).

Server Location

I have had web hosting in the US, UK, and now Australia and at a high level, I really don’t care where the the servers are located as the internet is mostly fast and self healing, so location and performance is a negligible distance for me (working with live shell scripting to a point that is nearly at the opposite side of the globe is rather mind blowing in how instantaneous this internet is).

My considerations related to where in the globe the servers are hosted comes down to local law (or lack of laws that are enforced). Sites sitting on European hosts require cookie notifications. The pull down / take down laws in countries are rather different. As a person with USA citizenship paperwork and hosting elsewhere, the laws that apply and how get goofy. The revelations of USA spying on its own people and servers has me not so keen to host in the US again, not that I ever have had anything that has come close to running afoul of laws or could ever be misconstrued as something that should draw attention. I have no idea what the laws are in Australia, which has been a bit of a concern for a while, but the host also has had servers in the US as well.

My options seem to be US, Singapore, UK, Netherlands, and Nordic based hosting. Nearly all the hosting options for web, applications, and mail provide options for location (the non-US options have grown like wildfire in the post Edward Snowden era). Location isn’t a deciding point, but it is something I will think through. I chose Australia as the host had great highly recommended hosting that has lived up to that for that generation of hosting options. It didn’t matter where the server was hosted eight years ago as the laws and implications were rather flat. Today the laws and implications are far less flat, so it will require some thinking through.



Non-UNIX Timestamping has Me Stamping in Frustration

In the slow process of updating things here on this site I have nearly finished with the restructuring the HTML (exception is the about page, which everytime I start on it the changes I start to make lead quickly to a bigger redesign).

Taking a break from the last HTML page restructuring I was looking at finally getting to correctly timestamping and listing the post times based on blog posting location. Everything after the 1783rd blog post currently picks up the server time stamp and that server is sitting in Eastern Australia, so everything (other than blog posts from Sydney) are not correctly timestamped. Most things are 14 to 15 hours ahead of when they were posted - yes, posted from the future.

Looking at my MySQL tables I didn’t use a Unix timestamp, but a SQL datetime as the core date stored and then split the date and time into separate varables created with parsing timestamp in PHP. This leaves 3 columns to convert. It is a few scripts to write, but not bad, but just a bit of a pain. Also in this change is setting up time conversions that are built into the post location, but shifts in time for day light savings starts adding pain that I don’t want to introduce. I’ve been considering posting in GMT / UTC and on client side showing the posting time with relative user local time with a little JavaScript.

I would like to do this before a server / host move I’ve been considering. At this point I may set up a move and just keep track of the first post on the new server, then at some point correct the time for the roughly 500 posts while the server was in Eastern Australia.



March 16, 2014

Mind the Construction Dust

I’m in the midst of a structuring here across all the pieces of vanderwal.net. It started in January with another project, a meetp-up hack to dive into Zurb Foundation. Within a couple weeks of starting down that path I decided it would be fine time to rebuild and redesign vanderwal.net using Foundation. Before I started down the road leaving the horses behind I desided I was going to update the structure of the HTML of these pages and bring them into modern times with HTML5 and CSS3.

This thinking and tinkering has been finally fixing some of the underlying details that bugged me, but it also allowed to set a much better and more object focussed semantics. This shift will also enable the content objects to flow better and be better foundations for a redesign as well.

While I have no idea what the redesign will be and not even thinking of that, I did find the original photo that I modified to be used for the header image and I put that to the pages I have touched. The new image now is much wider to allow for a fluid page and the “vanderwal.net” text is now out of the image and I a truly proper H1, that has alluded me for a long time (and bugged me to no end). The menu of the updated pages has brought back the selected portion of the site with a bleed to page, which was there at the beginning, but some shift in CSS caused it to go away.

I may, possibly likely, shift hosting at some point in the near future, but that may wait until I have some of the underpinnings of the blog tool updated a little. Some of those changes will wait a little, but have been brewing a long time. I don’t think I am bringing comments back, but will likely bring in web mentions (Jeremy Keith has a great explaination). There is a lot going on in the IndieWeb that has been inspiring and may trigger some more changed that I have longed for to finally get put in place.

BTW, this is the short version of this. Two prior attempts at writing up something short both ended up over 2,500 words.



January 16, 2014

Brett Terpstra Focusses on His Work Full-time

I have been a fan of Brett Terpstra for some time. I found his site through a few buds who focus on productivity and personal workflows (including scripting). I have followed his Systematic podcast since the first episode and have found it is the one podcast I listen to when my weekly listening dwindles to just one podcast. His nvALT became an app that is always running and where a lot of writing snippets get stored on my Mac (that content I also reach on my iOS devices to edit and extend). His Marked2 app not only is my Markedown viewer, but a rather good writing analysis tool.

Not only all of this but Brett is a tagger and not only tags, belives tagging is helpful for personal filtering and workflow, but has built tools to greater extend tagging in and around Mac and iOS. If you talk folksonomy and pull the third leg of it, person / identity back into just your own perspective and keep the tag and objects in place you have the realm that Brett focusses and pushes farther for our own personal benefit.

Brett Steps Out to Focus on His Work

This week I have been incredibly happy to learn that Brett moved out of his daytime job to and his new job is to focus on his products, podcast, writing, and new projects and products. This is great news for all of us. Brett took this step before, but we can help him keep these tools and services flowing by supporting him.

If you have benefitted from Brett’s free products of want to ensure the great services and tools that Bret has created you paid for keep improving go help him out.



August 15, 2012

Prepping to Move Personal InfoCloud

I am in the midst of moving my Personal InfoCloud blog from TypePad to SquareSpace, so blogging there has slowed down a little bit. The move is related to some of my modifications and TypePad updates after they SixApart was sold and the TypePad pages picked up a ton of JavaScript for Facebook and other things I do not use, but the scripts add to the download time and occasional funky display. Some modification on their end broke all of my pagination that I had ensured was still working even though I use my own templates. The point of having a hosted service is things just work.

I have all my posts and comments from Personal InfoCloud moved over and it is just a clean-up of the HTML and getting the CSS set properly. I am going to move the domain before the rest of the design is done as it may be some time doing the a redesign.

I am not using SquareSpace 6, the latest and greatest version as that did not automatically import form TypePad and and version 5 did. The template I spent a couple nights a month back modifying was built for version 5, so for now it will stay there. I’m not sure when I will flip the switch on it, but it will likely be in this next month.



May 12, 2012

HTML5 Demo Watch

Thanks to the Berg Friday Links I found the Suit up or Die Magazine and Cut the Rope HTML5 demo sites.

Both have me thinking this is really close, then I remember one of my favorite periodical apps, Financial Times went HTML5 more than a year ago. FT went HTML5 to better manage the multi-platform development process needed for iOS and the multitude of Android versions. While many have said the development is roughly 1.5x what it would take for just one platform development it does same incredible amount of time building an app across all platforms. Since all the major smart phone platforms have their native browsers built on webkit, there is some smart thinking in that approach.

Personally, my big niggle with the FT app is while it is browser based doesn’t have Instapaper built-in and it moves me out of the app to send a link of an article (often to myself because lacking Instapaper) rather than natively in the app, or exposing browser chrome so that I can do that while still remaining in the app and in reading their content mode. It would be really smart for FT to sort this out and fix these as it would keep me in the site and service reading, which I am sure they would love. If they could treat both of those like they do with Twitter and Facebook sharing out all within the app it would be brilliant.



May 2, 2012

The Data Journalism Handbook is Available

The Data Journalism Handbook is finally available online and soon as the book Data Journalism Handbook - from Amazon or The Data Journalism Handbook - from O’Reilly, which is quite exciting. Why you ask?

In the October of 2010 the Guardian in the UK posted a Data Journalism How To Guide that was fantastic. This was a great resource not only for data journalists, but for anybody who has interest in finding, gathering, assessing, and doing something with the data that is shared found in the world around us. These skill are not the sort of thing that many of us grew up with nor learned in school, nor are taught in most schools today (that is another giant problem). This tutorial taught me a few things that have been of great benefit and filled in gaps I had in my tool bag that was still mostly rusty and built using the tool set I picked up in the mid-90s in grad school in public policy analysis.

In the Fall of 2011 at MozFest in London many data journalist and others of like mind got together to share their knowledge. Out of this gathering was the realization and starting point for the handbook. Journalists are not typically those who have the deep data skills, but if they can learn (not a huge mound to climb) and have it made sensible and relatively easy in bite sized chunk the journalists will be better off.

All of us can benefit from this book in our own hands. Getting to the basics of how gather and think through data and the questions around it, all the way through how to graphically display that data is incredibly beneficial. I know many people who have contributed to this Handbook and think the world of their contributions. Skimming through the version that is one the web I can quickly see this is going to be an essential reference for all, not just journalists, nor bloggers, but for everybody. This could and likely should be the book used in classes in high schools and university information essentials taught first semester first year.



January 22, 2011

Traits of Blogs with Highly Valued Content for Me

I was going through my inbound feeds of blogs, news, and articles and catching up on the week. In doing so I open things that are of potential interest in an external browser (as mentioned before in As if Had Read) and realized most have some common traits. Most don't have Twitter feed (most Twitter feeds run at a vastly different information velocity and with very different content areas that distract from the content at hand). As well, many do not have comments on them any more or have moderated comments using built-in commenting service/tool (very rarely is Disqus used).

Strong Content is the Draw

The thing in common is all are focused on the that blog post's content. The content and the focus on the idea at hand is the strength of the attraction.

Some of the blogs are back to their old ways of posting short ideas and things that flow through their lives the want to hold on to, but as also comfortable enough to share out for other's with similar interest.

Ancillary Content Can Easily Distract Attention and Value

Sorting out what the focus of a blog (personal or professional) is essential. The focus is the content and the main pieces on the page. It is good to help keep the focus there without any swirling tag cloud (these seem to be the brunt of the fun poking sticks at conferences these days as they add no value and are completely and utterly unusable, so much so those with the mike continually question what understanding somebody has to add them to their page or site) or any other moving updating object. When talking with readers most say they do not notice these objects, just like web ads have taught us to ignore their blinking and flashing and twirling. As is often said personal sites begin to look like entries in a NASCAR race, where the most anticipated outcomes are the wrecks.

I have seen many attempts at personal homepages and personal aggregation pages, which are of big interest to me (for personal archiving, searching, and review), which are a better place for pulling together the Twitter feed, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Aggregation of this content in a feed option is good too, but keeping the blog page content to a main focus on content is good for the reader and attention on the written word.

Yes, over on the right I have my social bookmarked links. It has been my intention to pull recent items with tags related to content tags, but that has yet to happen.



September 22, 2010

Good Night Sweet Six Apart

Odd how news of business transactions hits. Today I saw Six Apart was bought by VideoEgg (yes, Six Apart that makes TypePad and MovableType). This news made me a bit sad and nostalgic.

Movable Type is Old Skool

As the young people used to say (they were still young back then) Movable Type (MT) is OG. MT was far from the first blogging platform, as Blogger and others like Grey Matter (this influenced the blogging platform under this blog a lot). MT was started by the couple Ben and Mena Trott out of their house in the dust of the test boom bursting. It was started as a blogging platform and build to be a well thought through platform for others to use. By 2002 it had been launched user tested and was the first underpinnings of Boxes and Arrows Magazine (as deployed by Jay Allen).

Those were good days and MT was a solid product. MT turned in to Six Apart and offered a hosted platform, TypePad, which my Personal InfoCloud blog is hosted on. The became the first real blogging platform company and it grew into a solid company.

The Show Goes On

The announcements around the purchase state MT and TypePad will continue to be supported. The big change is a new owner, a new company name (SAY Media), and possibly a new direction. I've had a lot of friends work at Six Apart or work with them.

The days of sitting up late talking blogging platforms in the early days at SXSWi and how all of this was more than just something the "broken one's" did. We have seen WordPress surface out of another platform and thrive as have many other personal sharing social platforms that have not only changed the web, but have also largely changed the world for the better. MT and other blogging platforms gave nearly everybody a printing press with a wider reach around the globe than any personal printing press ever had. As well the readers or people with affinity to the ideas shared, or even trying to get a new or different view.

I look forward to my new TypePad overlords and hope they are as inspiring and gracious as the kind, smart, gentle, and caring folks at Six Apart always have been. I also have my own hand rolled blogging platform that sits under vanderwal.net, as well as my vanderwal on Tumblr blog, and all those other social platforms I share things within and on. Be well Six Apart as you move from a blogging platform company with a name on the door, to our collective blogged memories.



June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop…
“We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

Things here are a little quiet as I have been in writing mode as well as pitching new work. I have been blogging work related items over at Personal InfoCloud, but I am likely only going to be posting summaries of those pieces here from now on, rather than the full posts. I am doing this to concentrate work related posts, particularly on a platform that has commenting available. I am still running my own blogging tool here at vanderwal.net I wrote in 2001 and turned off the comments in 2006 after growing tired of dealing comment spam.

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools focusses on the myriad of discussions I have had with clients of mine, potential clients, and others from organizations sharing their views and frustrations with Microsoft SharePoint as a means to bring solid social software into the workplace. This post has been brewing for about two years and is now finally posted.

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

Optimizing Tagging UI for People and Search focuses on the lessons learned and usability research myself and others have done on the various input interfaces for tagging, particularly tagging with using multi-term tags (tags with more than one word). The popular tools have inhibited adoption of tagging with poor tagging interaction design and poor patterns for humans entering tags that make sense to themselves as humans.

LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow)

I have a two part post on LinkedIn's social interaction design. LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 of 2 looks at what LinkedIn has done well in the past and had built on top. Many people have expressed the new social interactions on LinkedIn have decreased the value of the service for them.

The second part, LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2 looks at the social interaction that has been added to LinkedIn in the last 18 months or so and what lessons have we as users of the service who pay attention to social interaction design have learned. This piece also list ways forward from what is in place currently.



August 28, 2008

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

Yesterday I made a few comments in Twitter that prompted a fair amount of questions and requests for more information. The quips I made were about the differences between Web 2.0 (yes, an ambiguous term) and Enterprise 2.0 (equally ambiguous term both for the definition of enterprise and the 2.0 bit). My comments were in response to Bruce Stewart's comment The whole "Enterprise 2.0" schtick is wearing thin, unless you've been monitoring real results. Otherwise you're just pumping technology.. In part I agree, but I am really seeing things still are really early in the emergence cycle and there is still much need for understanding of the social tools and the need for them, as well as how they fit in. There are many that are selling the tools as technologies with great promise. We have seen the magic pill continually pitched and bought through out the history of business tools. (For those new to the game or only been paying attention for the last 15 years, a huge hint, THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL).

Tale of 2 Tunnels

One comment I made yesterday is, "the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is like the difference building a tunnel through rock and tunnel under water".

That this is getting at is Web 2.0 takes work to build to get through the earth, but once built it can suffer from imperfections and still work well. The tunnel can crack and crumble a little, but still get used with diminished capacity. We can look at Facebook, which has a rather poor interface and still gets used. Twitter is another example of a Web 2.0 solution that has its structural deficiencies and outages, but it still used as well as still loved (their Fail Whale is on a t-shirt now and a badge of pride worn by loyal users).

The Enterprise 2.0 tunnel is built under water. This takes more engineering understanding, but it also requires more fault testing and assurances. A crack or crumbling of a tool inside an organization is not seen kindly and raises doubts around the viability of the tool. The shear volume of users inside an organization using these tools is orders of magnitude less than in the open consumer web world, but faults are more deadly.

The other important factor is perceived fear of the environment. Fewer people (by pure numbers - as the percentages are likely the same, more on this later) are fearful of tunnels through land, they may not have full faith in them, but they know that they will likely make it safely on all of their journeys. The tunnels under water have greater fears as one little crack can cause flooding and drowning quickly. Fears of use of social tools inside an organization is often quite similar, there may be many that are not fearful, but if you spend time talking to people in organizations not using tools (it is the majority at this point) they are fearful of open sharing as that could lead to trouble. People are not comfortable with the concept as they are foreign to it as they are lacking the conceptual models to let them think through it.

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

Another statement yesterday that garnered a lot of feedback was, "Web 2.0 does not work well in enterprise, but the approaches and understandings of Web 2.0 modified for enterprise work really well." The web is not enterprise or smaller organizations for that matter. The open consumer web has different scale and needs than inside organizations and through their firewalls. A small percentage of people using the web can get an account on a tool have have appear to be wildly successful correctly claiming 70 million or 100 million people are or have used their tool. But, even 100 million people is a small percentage of people using the web. Looking at real usage and needs for those tools the numbers are really smaller. Most darlings of the Web 2.0 phase have fewer than 10 million users, which is about 5% of the open consumer web users in the United States. On the web a start-up is seen as successful with 500,000 users after a year or two and is likely to have the capability to be self sufficient at that level too. Granted there are many players in the same market niches on the web and the overall usage for link sharing and recommending for Digg, Mixx, or Reddit is much higher across the sum of these tools than in just one of these tools (obviously).

These percentages of adoption and use inside organizations can make executives nervous that their money is not reaching as many employees as they wish. The percentages that can be similar to the web's percentages of high single digit adoption rates to the teens is seen as something that really needs more thinking and consideration.

Enterprise 2.0 is more than just tools (see my Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success for better understanding) as it also includes interface/interaction design for ease of use, sociality, and encouragement of use. The two biggest factors that are needed inside an organization that can receive less attention on the web are the sociality and encouragement of use.

Understanding sociality is incredibly important inside an organization as people are used to working in groups (often vertical in their hierarchy) that have been dictated to them for use. When the walls are broken down and people are self-finding others with similar interests and working horizontally and diagonally connecting and sharing with others and consuming the collective flows of information their comfortable walls of understanding are gone. A presentation in Copenhagen at Reboot on Freely Seeping Through the Walls of the Garden focussed just on this issue. This fear inside the enterprise is real. Much of the fear is driven by lacking conceptual models and understanding the value they will derive from using the tools and services. People need to know who the other people are that they are sharing with and what their motivations are (to some degree) before they have comfort in sharing themselves.

Encouraging use is also central to increased adoption inside organizations. Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a "build it and they will come" scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens.

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

The last related statement was around the gaps in current and traditional enterprise tools. At the fantastic Jive Enterprise UI Summit in Aspen a few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion about enterprise tools, their UI, and ease of use for employees by the incredible collection of people at the event. One of the things that was shown was a killer path of use through a wide encompassing enterprise toolset that was well designed and presented by SAP's Dan Rosenberg who has done an incredible job of putting user experience and thinking through the needed workflows and uses of enterprise tools at the forefront of enterprise software planning. Given the excellent design and incredible amount of user experience thought that went into the tools behind the SAP toolset in the scenario (one of the best I have seen - functioning or blue sky demoed) there are still gaps. Part of this is identifying of gaps comes from traditional business thinking around formal processes and the tools ensure process adherence. But, the reality is the tools are quite often inflexible (I am not talking about SAP tools, but traditional enterprise tools in general), the cost of time and effort is beyond the gain for individuals to document and annotate all decisions and steps along the way. The hurdles to capture information and share it are often too large for capturing one to 10 quick sentences of information that can be retained for one's own benefit or shared with other where it is relevant.

There is another gap in business around the collective intelligence that is needed, which can lead to collaboration. Most businesses and their tools focus on collaboration and set groups, but at the same time wonder why they do not know what their company knows and knowledge is not all being captured. First there is a difference between collective and collaborative activities and the tools and design around and for those different activities is more than a nuance of semantics it is a huge barrier to capturing, sharing, and learning from information that leads to knowledge if it is not understood well. Enterprise has gone through its phases of knowledge management tools, from forms for capturing information, forums for sharing, and up to enterprise content management systems (ECM) that encompass document management, content management, knowledge management, and information harvesting. But, the gaps still exist.

These existing gaps are around conversations not being captured (the walls of the halls have no memory (well today they do not)) and increasingly the ubiquitous communication channel in organizations, e-mail, is being worked around. Quick decisions are not being documented as it is not enough for a document or worth completing a form. As the iterative processes of development, design, and solution engineering are happening at quicker and smaller increments the intelligence behind the decisions is not being captured or shared. This is largely because of the tools.

As has always been the case large enterprise systems are worked around through the use of smaller and more nimble solutions that augment the existing tools. Even in Dan's incredible demo I saw gaps for these tools. The quick tools that can fill these gaps are blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, Twitter type sharing, Veodia type video sharing, instant messaging, etc. There are many avenues to quickly capture information and understanding and share it. These tools get out of the way and allow what is in someone's head to get digitized and later structured by the individual themselves or other people whom have had the information shared with them in a community space. This turns into flows through streams that can be put into many contexts and needs as well as reused as needed.

Another point Dan stated at the Enterprise UI Summit that is dead on, is organizations are moving out of the vertical structures and moving to the horizontal. This is having a profound effect on the next generation of business tools and processes. This is also an area for Enterprise 2.0 tools as they easily open up the horizontal and diagonal prospects and tie into it the capability for easily understanding who these newly found people are in an organization through looking at their profiles, which eases their fears around sharing and unfamiliar environments as well as their related tasks.

[Comments are open and moderated at Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 :: Personal InfoCloud]



June 11, 2008

"Building the social web" Full-day Workshop in Copenhagen on June 30th

Through the wonderful cosponsoring of FatDUX I am going to be putting on a full-day workshop Building the Social Web on June 30th in Copenhagen, Denmark (the event is actually in Osterbro). This is the Monday following Reboot, where I will be presenting.

I am excited about the workshop as it will be including much of my work from the past nine months on setting social foundations for successful services, both on the web and inside organizations on the intranet. The workshop will help those who are considering, planning, or already working on social sites to improve the success of the services by providing frameworks that help evaluating and guiding the social interactions on the services.

Space is limited for this workshop to 15 seats and after its announcement yesterday there are only 10 seats left as of this moment.



May 3, 2008

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

Comments are open (with usual moderation) at this post at Getting Info into the Field with Extension :: Personal InfoCloud.



April 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

This post on Granular Social Networks has been years in the making and is a follow-up to one I previously made in January 2005 on Granular Social Networks as a concept I had been presenting and talking about for quite some time at that point. In the past few years it has floated in and out of my presentations, but is quite often mentioned when the problems of much of the current social networking ideology comes up. Most of the social networking tools and services assume we are broadline friends with people we connect to, even when we are just "contacts" or other less than "friend" labels. The interest we have in others (and others in us) is rarely 100 percent and even rarer is that this 100 percent interest and appreciation is equal in both directions (I have yet to run across this in any pairing of people, but I am open to the option that it exists somewhere).

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

What we have is partial likes in others and their interests and offerings. Our social tools have yet to grasp this and the few that do have only taken small steps to get there (I am rather impressed with Jaiku and their granular listening capability for their feed aggregation, which should be the starting point for all feed aggregators). Part of grasping the problem is a lack of quickly understanding the complexity, which leads to deconstructing and getting to two variables: 1) people (their identities online and their personas on various services) and 2) interests. These two elements and their combinations can (hopefully) be seen in the quick annotated video of one of my slides I have been using in presentations and workshops lately.

Showing Granular Social Network


Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

The Granular Social Network begins with one person, lets take the self, and the various interest we have. In the example I am using just five elements of interest (work, music, movies, food, and biking). These are interest we have and share information about that we create or find. This sharing may be on one service or across many services and digital environments. The interests are taken as a whole as they make up our interests (most of us have more interests than five and we have various degrees of interest, but I am leaving that out for the sake of simplicity).

Connections with Others

Our digital social lives contain our interests, but as it is social it contains other people who are our contacts (friends is presumptive and gets in the way of understanding). These contacts have and share some interests in common with us. But, rarely do the share all of the same interest, let alone share the same perspective on these interests.

Mapping Interests with Contacts

But, we see when we map the interests across just six contacts that this lack of fully compatible interests makes things a wee bit more complicated than just a simple broadline friend. Even Facebook and their touted social graph does not come close to grasping this granularity as it is still a clumsy tool for sharing, finding, claiming, and capturing this granularity. If we think about trying a new service that we enjoy around music we can not easily group and capture then try to identify the people we are connected to on that new service from a service like Facebook, but using another service focussed on that interest area it could be a little easier.

When we start mapping our own interest back to the interest that other have quickly see that it is even more complicated. We may not have the same reciprocal interest in the same thing or same perception or context as the people we connect to. I illustrate with the first contact in yellow that we have interest in what they share about work or their interest in work, even though they are not stating or sharing that information publicly or even in selective social means. We may e-mail, chat in IM or talk face to face about work and would like to work with them in some manner. We want to follow what they share and share with them in a closer manner and that is what this visual relationship intends to mean. As we move across the connections we see that the reciprocal relationships are not always consistent. We do not always want to listen to all those who are sharing things, with use or the social collective in a service or even across services.

Focus On One Interest

Taking the complexity and noise out of the visualization the focus is placed on just music. We can easily see that there are four of our six contacts that have interest in music and are sharing their interest out. But, for various reasons we only have interests in what two of the four contacts share out. This relationship is not capturing what interest our contacts have in what we are sharing, it only captures what they share out.

Moving Social Connections Forward

Grasping this as a relatively simple representation of Granular Social Networks allows for us to begin to think about the social tools we are building. They need to start accounting for our granular interests. The Facebook groups as well as listserves and other group lists need to grasp the nature of individuals interests and provide the means to explicitly or implicitly start to understand and use these as filter options over time. When we are discussing portable social networks this understanding has be understood and the move toward embracing this understanding taken forward and enabled in the tools we build. The portable social network as well as social graph begin to have a really good value when the who is tied with what and why of interest. We are not there yet and I have rarely seen or heard these elements mentioned in the discussions.

One area of social tools where I see this value beginning to surface in through tagging for individuals to start to state (personally I see this as a private or closed declaration that only the person tagging see with the option of sharing with the person being tagged, or at least have this capability) the reasons for interest. But, when I look at tools like Last.fm I am not seeing this really taking off and I hear people talking about not fully understanding tagging as as it sometimes narrows the interest too narrowly. It is all an area for exploration and growth in understanding, but digital social tools, for them to have more value for following and filtering the flows in more manageable ways need to more in grasping this more granular understanding of social interaction between people in a digital space.



Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

The announcement yesterday of Delta and Northwest airlines merging triggered a couple thoughts. One of the thoughts was sadness as I love the unusually wonderful customer service I get with Northwest, and loathe the now expected poor and often nasty treatment by Delta staff. Northwest does not have all the perks of in seat entertainment, but I will go with great customer service and bags that once in nearly 50 flights did not arrive with me.

But, there is a second thing. It is something that all mergers and large organization changes trigger...

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

Stewart Mader brought this to mind again in his post Onboarding: getting your new employees cleared for takeoff, which focusses on using wikis (he works for Atlassian and has been a strong proponent of wikis for years and has a great book on Wiki Patterns) as a means to share and update the information that is needed for transitions and the joining of two organizations.

I really like his write-up and have been pushing the social tools approach for a few years. The wiki is one means of gathering and sharing information. It is a good match with social bookmarking, which allows organizations that are coming together have their people find and tag things in their own context and perspective. This provides finding common objects that exist, but also sharing and learning what things are called from the different perspectives.

Communication Build Common Ground

Communication is a key cornerstone to any organization working with, merging with, or becoming a part of another. Communication needs common ground and social bookmarking that allows for all context and perspectives to be captured is essential to making this a success.

This is something I have presented on and provided advice in the past and really think and have seen that social tools are essentials in these times of transition. It is really rewarding when I see this working as I have been through organization mergers, going public, and major transitions in the days before these tools existed. I can not imaging thinking of transitioning with out these tools and service today. I have talked to many organizations after the fact that wished they had social bookmarking, blogs, and wikis to find and annotate items, provide the means to get messages out efficiently (e-mail is becoming a poor means of sharing valuable information), and working toward common understanding.

One large pain point in mergers and other transitions is the cultural change that brings new terms, new processes, new workflow, and disruption to patterns of understanding that became natural to the people in the organization. The ability to map what something was called and the way it was done to what it is now called and the new processes and flows is essential to success. This is exactly what the social tools provide. Social bookmarking is great for capturing terms, context, and perspectives and providing the ability to refind these new items using prior understanding with low cognitive costs. Blogs help communicate people's understanding as they are going through the process as well as explain the way forward. Wikis help map these individual elements that have been collectively provided and pull them together in one central understanding (while still pointing out to the various individual contributions to hold on to that context) in a collaborative (working together with one common goal) environment.

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

Another attribute of the social tools is the speed and cost at which the information is shared, identified, and aggregated. In the past the large consulting firms and the slow and expensive models for working were have been the common way forward for these times of change. Seeing social tools along with a few smart and nimble experts on solid deployments and social engagement will see similar results in days and a handful of weeks compared to many weeks and months of expensive change management plodding. The key is the people in the organizations know their concerns and needs, while providing them the tools to map their understanding and finding information and objects empowers the individuals while giving them knowledge and the means to share with others. This also helps the individuals grasp that are essential to the success and speed to the change. Most people resent being pushed and prodded into change and new environments, giving them the tools to understand and guide their own change management is incredibly helpful. This decreases the time for transition (for processes and emotionally) while also keeping the costs lower.

[Comments are open and moderated as always in the post at: Social Tools to Efficiently Build Common Ground :: Personal InfoCloud]



April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

The web provides wonderful serendipity on many fronts, but in this case it brought together two ideas I have been thinking about, working around, and writing about quite a bit lately. The ideas intersect at the junction of the pattern of building social bonds with people and comfort of know interactions that selective sociality brings.

The piece that struck me regarding building and identifying a common bond with another person came out of Robert Paterson's "Mystery of Attraction" post (it is a real gem). Robert describes his introduction and phases of getting to know and appreciate Luis Suarez (who I am a huge fan of and deeply appreciate the conversations I have with him). What Robert lays out in his introduction (through a common friend on-line) is a following of each other's posts and digital trail that is shared out with others. This builds an understanding of each others reputation in their own minds and the shared interest. Upon this listening to the other and joint following they built a relationship of friendship and mutual appreciation (it is not always mutual) and they began to converse and realized they had a lot more in common.

Elements of Social Software Build Order What Robert echos is the Elements in Social Software and its build order. This build order is common in human relationships, but quite often social software leaves out steps or expects conversations, groups, and collaboration to happen with out accounting for the human elements needed to get to this stage. Quite often the interest, ideas, and object (all social objects) are the stimulus for social interaction as they are the hooks that connect us. This is what makes the web so valuable as it brings together those who are near in thought and provides a means to connect, share, and listen to each other. I really like Robert's analogy of the web being like university.

Selective Sociality of Villages

The piece that resonated along similar threads to Robert's post is Susan Mernit's "Twitter & Friend Feed: The Pleasure of Permissions". Susan's post brings to light the value of knowing who you are sharing information with and likes the private or permission-based options that both Twitter and FriendFeed offer. This selective sociality as known Local InfoCloud of people and resources that are trusted and known, which we use as resources. In this case it is not only those with whom we listen to and query, but those with whom we share. This knowing who somebody is (to some degree) adds comfort, which is very much like Robert Patterson and Luis Suarez#039; villages where people know each other and there is a lot of transparency. Having pockets where our social armor is down and we can be free to share and participate in our lives with others we know and are familiar to us is valuable.

I am found these two pieces quite comforting as they reflect much of what I see in the physical community around me as well as the work environments I interact with of clients and collaborators. The one social web service I have kept rather private is Twitter and I really want to know who someone is before I will accept them as a connection. This has given me much freedom to share silly (down right stupid - in a humorous way) observations and statements. This is something I hear from other adults around kids playgrounds and practices of having more select social interactions on line in the services and really wanting to connect with people whom they share interests and most often have known (or followed/listened to) for sometime before formally connecting. Most often these people want to connect with the same people on various services they are trying out, based on recommendation (and often are leaving a service as their friends are no longer there or the service does not meet their needs) of people whom they trust. This is the core of the masses who have access and are not early adopters, but have some comfort with the web and computers and likely make up 80 to 90 percent of web users.

[Comments are open (with moderation as always) on this post at Selective Sociality and Social Villages :: Personal InfoCloud]



April 5, 2008

Getting to the National Press Club's AFFIRM Event

Yesterday evening I had the wonderful fortune to speak on a panel for AFFIRM Web 2.0 event, which was held at the National Press Club. I really enjoyed the panel as the moderator (Dan Mintz CIO of the U.S. Department of Transportation) and other panelists (Chris Rasmussen: Social Software and Knowledge Manager and Trainer, National Geospatial - Intelligence Agency; and Geoffrey Fowler: Editor in Chief, CIA Wire) were all fantastic. The sold out audience was deeply engaged and asked really good questions.

Impediments to Getting to the Event

While I deeply enjoyed the event and conversation that followed, getting to the event was a completely different story. I felt like I was in a misinterpretation of the joke "how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice" with battling Washington, DC's often horrible transportation/traffic woven into the punch line. The event was to start at 5:30pm, it was raining and during rush hour. The drive from the office to the National Press Club normally takes 35 minutes with some traffic. I thought about taking the Metro, but the last couple of times I have used Metro I have been stuck with horrible delays and outages. I opted to leave an hour early, which I figured would work well. This was not enough it seems.

Technology Did Not Save Me

I made it to about 7 blocks from the National Press Club is great time then all went wrong. It started sleeting and in typical Washington, DC form the rules of the road were thrown out the window and chaos was deeply embraced. I was listening to XM Radio's DC traffic and weather channel in the car, which did not mention anything about downtown Washington, DC traffic had come to a complete halt. I flipped to regular WTOP on regular radio to sort out why I had not moved an inch in 20 minutes (having 10 minutes left to get to the event on time). Neither of these options were working so I tried to Twitter to get feedback and let others know I was running late (I was not actually connected to the people at the event - silly me), but SMS was not going out. I tried calling others at the event, but mobile signal was saturated and when I got through I got no answer and voice mail was full. I had been using the ever wonderful Google Maps and expanded my view to look at the freeway traffic congestion and all of the DC region was red (stopped in its tracks). I was able to get to Mobile Twitter to read and send messages, but it did not help traffic.

Finally, I was able to travel 4 blocks to get to New York Avenue after traveling 1 block per 30 minutes and turn and find a parking lot that was going to be open past 7pm (Washington, DC thinks people only work and go home). I walked the last remaining 2.5 blocks to arrive at 6:35pm, a wee bit late and a wee bit damp (even with an large golf umbrella). Thankfully, they waited and I was whisked to the head table and the event started.



March 23, 2008

6th Internet Identity Workshop Coming Up

The other event that I am finding to be fantastic is also in the Bay Area the week of May 12th is the 6th Internet Identity Workshop. This is the event for people working around identity related issues (any social application or service) that are now the core of nearly all products on the web and intranet. I have found that those who attend this event really grasp the meaning and deep impact of identity along with the needed tools and services around identity. It is really rare that I find somebody talking or writing about identity related issues in a smart manner that has not been part of one of the past IIW events.

As the discussion around the social graph has become hot identity (and the issue of privacy) has come to the forefront even more. Most services are not dealing with identity in an intelligent manner that is recognizable by a huge majority of people who are using these digital services. Much of the mangled discussion around social graph is missing solid understanding from a digital identity perspective and the use and reuse of statements of relationship that do not transcend various services.

Discussions around persona (not the IA persona variety) and identity abound and the need for services that grasp these differences are worked through. The need for better understanding the incredible value the role of identity in tagging services has also been discussed here, which is something many services do not grasp and are doing a dis-service to the people who want to tag items in their own perspective and context to ease their own refinding of the object (Twine really needs a much better understanding of tagging as their automated tagging is incredibly poor and missing many tangents for understanding that need to be applied for full and proper understanding of the objects in their service).

I am really hoping to get to part of the IIW event this time around my workshop in Las Vegas to continue with the great identity conversations from the past IIW events.



Data Sharing Summit Announced

The Bay Area the week of May 12 has a couple great events that many who read this blog should be attending. I will be in Las Vegas (putting on a Enterprise 2.0 Jumpstart workshop with Jevon MacDonald) for part of the week, but should be in the Bay Area for the remainder of the time (at least that is the plan at the moment).

Data Sharing Summit

Following on the success and interest from the event last year is the Data Sharing Summit held April 15th at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Data sharing is getting to be the next hot spot that social web services and enterprise tool makers really much deal with as people are not satisfied living in their single walled gardens that inhibit their ability to share, find, hold on to, and refind information, media, and knowledge that is of interest or needed by them. Understanding the limits of the partitioned spaces and embracing more open (particularly securely open) uses of the contributions made by the tools and services participants is vitally important as the participants and system owners are realizing there is rich value to be gained from a much better understanding of these interactions with participants and other services.

We are living in a digital sharing realm that was dreamed up by designers and developers scratching their own itch and in doing so the tools are self contained and not living in a social ecosystem that is based on intelligent interactions. This will likely be the focus of the discussion as people on all sides are working to vastly improve the value of their services and tools and the value that people get from using them with other tools. This is not an event to sell products, but an event for smart people to discuss where things are, where they are going (or went when we were not looking), how to progress with opening up in a manner that all the parties gain value (understanding what and where the value resides is critical), and how we can all move forward.

I will see you there, right?



February 25, 2008

Paparazzi on Mac Fix-up

Since I upgraded to Apple's Mac Leopard I have had intermittent issues with Paparazzi for Mac, a webpage screen grab tool that will make an image of the full page. I am not sure what version I had, but am fairly sure it was still version 0.4.3 from my Tiger build. My issue was it would not render pages and would just stay blank.

In search of a remedy I went to the Paparazzi page and grabbed the 0.5 beta. When I loaded this on my MacBook Pro with Leopard 10.5.2 it the application would just crash. This was a step in the wrong direction.

One thing to keep in mind is I am a huge fan of Skitch, which I use for capturing sub-page elements. The ease of use, beauty in the interaction would make it really difficult for another tool to supplant the viewable screen grabs and sub-page screen grabs of Skitch. The freakishly ease of moving grabs and images out of Skitch into the apps and places I need to use the images and places I want and need to share them is unparalleled in any other application on any platform. So, I am looking for a full webpage screen grab tool

Call for Help on Twitter

I put a call out to friends on Twitter for an alternate resource. As is normal with Twitter I had a response with in minutes and many responses in 30 minutes. Jorge Arango made the great suggestion of using FireFox Extension - ScreenGrab, which I loaded and does a good job. Occasionally, I want to grab images of variances across many browsers, so I kept listening.

Another FireFox and Mozilla offering was surfaced by Joshua Porter of Page Saver by Pearl Crescent. The full paid version offers sub-page screen grabs, but it whole of the tool looks decent.

Nate Koechley stated his Paparazzi 0.4.3 was running just fine on his Leopard 10.5 and 10.5.2 installs. I went back to Paparazzi and grabbed the 0.4.3 install and used it to replace the 0.5 beta install. I started up Paparazzi and it ran just fine, just like it used to. The bugginess with my old install may have been that I had not recompiled Paparazzi to run under Leopard, which is what reloading essentially performed.

I am not one to always stop looking once I found what I was looking for (things are not always in the last place you look), so I listened to The Ronin and his suggestion for WebSnapper from Tasty Apps, which looks to be the next step up from Paparazzi with the breadth of output it offers. But, the downside is WebSnapper does not offer a preview of the output page as Paparazzi does.

The Result

It looks like Paparazzi (repaired) 0.4.3 will be my replacement for Paparazzi for pages it will deal with and WebSnapper will be its likely back-up. I hope that one day Skitch offers a full-page screen grab of web pages, but that day is not today. I am deeply appreciative of all those that offered their responses on Twitter.



February 22, 2008

Remote Presentation and Perception Matrix for Social Tools

This post is also found at: Remote Presentation and Perceptions Matrix for Social Tools :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

Today I did something I had never done before (actually a few things) I sat in my office in my home and gave a live web video presentation to a conference elsewhere on the globe. I presented my nearly all new presentation, Keeping Up With Social Tagging to the Expert Workshop in: Social Tagging and Knowledge Organization - Perspectives and Potential that was put on by the Knowledge Media Research Center in Tübingen, Germany.

Remote Presentation Feelings

While the remote video presentation is normal for many people inside their large organizations and I have presented at meetings and conferences where my presentation was provided to other location on live video feed (my recent Ann Arbor trip to present at STIET was HD broadcast to Wayne State in Detroit), this home office to conference presentation was new to me. The presentation and video link used Adobe Connect, which allowed me to see whom I was talking to, manage my slides, text chat, and see myself. This worked quite well, much better than I expected. I did have my full slide presentation in lightroom view set up in Keynote on my external monitor on the side and used Awaken on the side monitor as well to help with timing.

The ability to get feedback and watch the attendees body language and non-verbal responses was insanely helpful. I have given webinars and done phone presentations where I had not visual cues to the audience responses, which I find to be a horrible way to present (I often will expand on subjects or shorten explanations based on non-verbal feedback from the audience). Adobe Connect allowed this non-verbal feedback to be streamed back to me, which completely allows me to adjust the presentation as I normally do.

One thing that was a wee bit difficult was having to change focus (I suppose that comes with use and experience), but I would watch audience feedback while presenting, peek to the side to see where I was with time and slides (to work in the transitions), but would then try to look at the camera to "connect". Watching myself on the video feedback the moments I would try to connect through the camera I would open my eyes wide as if trying to see through my iSight and boy does that come across looking strange on a close range camera. I also (unknown to myself until recently watching a video of another presentation I had done) use a similar facial expression to add emphasis, I am realizing with a camera as close as it is for web presentation also really looks odd. I am sort of used to listening to myself (normally to write out new analogies I use or responses to questions), but watching myself in playback from that close of a range is really uncomfortable.

One thing I really missed in doing this web video presentation was extended interaction with the attendees. I rather enjoy conferences, particularly ones with this focussed a gathering as it makes for great socializing with people passionate about the same subjects I am passionate about. I like comparing note, perceptions, and widely differing views. It helps me grow my knowledge and understandings as well as helps change my perceptions. Live face-to-face conversation and sharing of interests is an incredibly value part of learning, experiencing, and shaping views and it is something I greatly enjoy attending conferences in person. I am not a fan of arriving at a conference just prior to a presentation, giving the presentation, and then leaving. The personal social interaction is valuable. The video presentation does not provide that and I really missed it, particularly with the people who are so closely tied to my deep interest areas as this workshop was focused.

New Content in Presentation

This presentation included a lot of new content, ideas, and concepts that I have not really presented or written about in as open of a forum. I have received really strong positive feedback from the Faces of Perception, Depth of Perception, and Perception Matrix when I have talked about it with people and companies. I have included this content in the book on social bookmarking and folksonomy I am writing for O&Reilly and pieces have been in public and private workshops I have given, but it was long past time to let the ideas out into the open.

The components of perception came about through reading formal analysis and research from others as well as not having a good models myself to lean on to explain a lot of what I find from social computing service providers (web tools in the Web 2.0 genre as well as inside the firewall Enterprise 2.0 tools) as tool makers or service owners. The understandings that are brought to the table on a lot of research and analysis is far too thin and far too often badly confuses the roles and faces of the tool that are being reviewed or analyzed. In my working with tool makers and organizations implementing social tools the analysis and research is less than helpful and often makes building products that meet the user needs and desires really difficult. I am not saying that this conceptual model fixes it, but from those who have considered what it shows almost all have had realizations they have had a less than perfect grasp and have lacked the granularity they have needed to build, analyze, or research these social tools.

I am hoping to write these perspectives up in more depth at some point in the not too distant future, but the video and slides start getting the ideas out there. As I have been walking people through how to use the tools I have been realizing the content needed to best us the model and matrix may take more than a day of a workshop of even a few days to get the most complete value from it. These tools have helped me drastically increase my value in consulting and training in the very short time I have used them. Some are finding that their copying of features and functionality in other social services has not helped them really understand what is best for their user needs and are less than optimal for the type of service they are offering or believe they are offering.



February 11, 2008

Challenges as Opportunities for Social Networks and Services

Jeremiah Owyang posts "The Many Challenges of Social Network Sites" that lays out many of the complaints that have risen around social networking sites (and other social computing services). He has a good list of complaints, which all sounded incredibly familiar from the glory days of 1990 to 1992 for IT in the enterprise (tongue firmly planted in cheek). We have been through these similar cycles before, but things are much more connected now, but things also have changed very little (other than many of the faces). His question really needs addressing when dealing with Enterprise 2.0 efforts as these are the things I hear initially when talking with organizations too. Jeremiah asked for responses and the following is what I posted...

Response to Challenges of Social Network/Services

The past year or two, largely with Facebook growing the social networks and social computing tools have grown into the edges of mainstream. Nearly every argument made against these tools and services was laid down against e-mail, rich UI desktops (people spent hours changing the colors and arranging the interfaces), and IM years ago.

Where these tools are "seemingly" not working is mostly attributed to a severe lack of defining the value derived from using the tools. These news tools and services, even more so those of us working around them, need to communicate how to use the tools effectively and efficiently (efficiently is difficult as the many of the tools are difficult to use or the task flows are not as simple as they should be). The conceptual models & frameworks for those of us analyzing the tools have been really poor and missing giant perspectives and frameworks.

One of the biggest problems with many of these tools and services is they have yet to move out of early product mode. The tools and services are working on maturity getting features in the tools that people need and want, working on scaling, and iterating based on early adopters (the first two or three waves of people), which is not necessarily how those who follow will use the tools or need the tools to work.

Simplicity and limited options on top of tools that work easily and provide good derived value for the worklife and . As the tools that were disrupters to work culture in the past learned the focus needs to be on what is getting done and let people do it. Friending people, adding applications, tweaking the interface, etc. are not things that lead to easy monetization. Tools that help people really be social, interact, and get more value in their life (fun, entertainment, connecting with people near in thought, filtering information from the massive flow, and using the information and social connections in context where people need it) from the tools is there things must head. We are building the platforms for this, but we need to also focus on how to improve use of these platforms and have strong vision of what this is and how to get there.

[This is also posted at Challenges as Oppotunities for Social Networks and Services :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]



Yahoo! Makes Good Call on Microsoft Purchase

The Wall Street Journal article about Yahoo! Rejecting Microsoft Bid (many more stories on TechMeme) was one that restored my faith in Yahoo! (not that it was really lost). I am proud of the Yahoo! board, but not for the reasons most are talking about. Since hearing about the Microsoft bid to take over Yahoo! I thought it was a really poor idea, well horrible idea. I really like Yahoo! and a lot of the things they are doing. I also really do like Microsoft (it is just some of their products that frustrate me to no end), in particular I think the MS Live group has come up with some great ideas out of research and that pleases e to know end. I am a giant fan of Ray Ozzie (oh, where have you gone Ray?).

Merger Would be a Giant Culture Clash

Yes, there are the technology concerns with some of the best open and shared technology development and augmentation coming out of Yahoo!, which is counter to the Microsoft focus on using their own tools (most of the web is built on open tools and Yahoo! helps make that a great platform to develop upon). This is not my big concern.

Where I see a giant problem is the management and employee culture. I know and have known a lot of employees and managers (mid-level and upper-level) at both organizations. Microsoft is a tough business culture with keeping the top percentage of employees and contributers on a project and moving others off to find a spot on other projects. In talking with many Microsoft employees (most were in the top performer group) this is often seen as horribly disruptive to the team when the changes occur. This management model also discourages sharing collectively and building collaboratively, which is also stated as a huge problem. These disruptions and metrics that are counter to strong development for the web and quick iterative cycles (not that Yahoo! seems to iterate quickly other than Flickr and a handful of other products) are quite counter to an open shared development process at Yahoo!. The clash of management cultures on this front, unless Microsoft did the unthinkable and adopted the Yahoo! approach, which could fix a lot of what has been holding Microsoft back (well, from current and former employees perspectives).

Related to the performance of employees the management teams go through similar reviews. But, many employees I have talked with (at conferences, networking events, airports and airplanes (there is always one within 10 seats of me it seams), and chat) have been really frustrated with management changes that can occur after 6 to 9 months. Having a new manager often changes focus and direction, which breaks momentum and continuity. Talking with great people Microsoft has lost over the past couple years, this management change was their biggest reason for leaving. The changes in management also often lead to conflicting measurement goals, which would make a great product or team look as if they were not working up to the standards. This is not management, but business process failure. This is not saying Microsoft has poor managers, quite the opposite in fact as many are some of the best I have run across in the business. But, the structure, processes, and measurement that the top management of Microsoft has established seems to be what has inhibited Microsoft from really top performance. What may work for some parts of Microsoft does not seem to work for other areas (actually, of all the Microsoft employees I have talked with from all across the organization the model does not work outside of sales).

The Yahoo! management has had more than their share of restructuring, but the disruptions this has made to product development and progress have been minimal. The goals, direction, and means to get the job done do not change for the most part (from what I have heard). Employees are flustered, but not demoralized. Yahoo! seems to have much greater continuity and central focus. Their products are well known, well used, and they iterate (over time). Many discussions with Yahoo! employees and managers outside the walls of Yahoo! are more frustrated by the silos and inability to work across the silos, but some the restructuring in the past couple of years has helped move to alleviate these problems. The cross platform team that works to help research, understand, and develop best of class solutions is a great step in this direction (from the perspective of many within Yahoo!). Yahoo! has known what has been holding back its efforts (Panama ate focus and resources) and has taken steps to alleviate the problems and move in a new positive direction. There are many things in Yahoo! that were more transparent two years ago than they are now (part of that may be those talking about things openly have been insanely busy). One of the things that seems to be problematic (from an outsider's perspective) is blinder focus and lack of concurrent development within groups.

Sum of Parts are Not Positive

When looking at the two cultures of the companies they are incredibly polar. One of the first steps in looking at a purchase or merger must be to look at compatibility of the cultures. Sure the products and services look like they may be a good fit by some at Microsoft, but those products and services are built by people with in a culture that propagates an environment to build wonderful things. Breaking that culture (Microsoft repeatedly iterated the vast savings the combination of MS and Y! would make) through integration of polar cultures has the high probability of destroying the value of what you believe will help. In this case a one plus one could equal less than one.

Partnering Not Combining

Yahoo! and Microsoft could have increased value partnering and working together though a Microsoft investment. What and how I do not know, but Microsoft needs positive outcomes and Yahoo! could use some financial boosts. Microsoft could also use a culture change, but that does not seem to be with in their vision as of yet and it is a huge organization to move in a new direction.

Yahoo! could improve its lot with partnerships, be it Microsoft, Ebay, Murdoch, Time Warner (AOL), and Google. I really do not want to see the Yahoo! search engine go away as the competition is good and provides alternatives should something go wrong with a one player or few player marketplace (oligopoly).



February 5, 2008

Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida in April, 2008

ASIS&T has a new event they are putting on this year, the Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida on April 10-11, 2008 (a reminder page is up at Yahoo's Upcoming - Social Computing Summit). The event is a single-track event on both days with keynote presentations, panels, and discussion.

The opening keynote is by Nancy Baym. I have been helping assist with organization of the Social Computing Summit and was asked by the other organizers to speak, which I am doing on the second day. The conference is a mix of academic, consumer, and business perspectives across social networking, politics, mobile, developing world, research, enterprise, open social networks (social graph and portable social networks) as well as other subjects. The Summit will be a broad view of the digital social world and the current state of understanding from various leaders in social computing.

There is an open call for posters for the event that closes on February 25, 2008. Please submit as this is looking to be a great event and more perspectives and expertise will only make this event more fantastic.



January 16, 2008

DataPortability Video is Place to Start Understanding

Marchall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has posted a good background about New Video Explains the Basics of Data Portability. The DataPortability - Connect, Control, Share, Remix video is under 2 minutes in length and explains the reasons why the DataPoratbility.org group is important. It aims to ease the pain many are experiencing as they use more social media, social web services, social networks, and/or social computing services in their personal and work life.

Control

The biggest piece in this for me is control with translates to services respecting privacy wishes among other desires around trust and control of sharing. As Tom Raftery points out With the rising interest in, and use of Social Networks (FaceBook, Plaxo et al) there is growing unease in what those sites are doing with your data, never mind the inconvenience of uploading all your data every time you join a new site. The DataPortability.org aims to include in its focus data that is "shared between our chosen (and trusted) tools and vendors".

I have been working around the edges on a project whose aim is to respect these privacy wishes. This is one of the things that really needs to be at the core of all services entering into this market segment.



January 14, 2008

Ma.gnolia Goes Mobile

On Friday Ma.gnolia rolled out a mobile version of their site, M.gnolia - Mobile Ma.gnolia. This had me really excited as I now have access to my bookmarks in my pocket on my mobile. Ma.gnolia gives a quick preview in their blog post Ma.gnolia Blog: Flowers on the Go.

What Mobile Ma.gnolia Does and Does Not Do

First, off the mobile Ma.gnolia does not have easy bookmarking, which is not surprising given the state things in mobile browsers. I really do not see this as a huge downside. What I am head over heals happy about is access to my bookmarks (all 2800 plus). The mobile version allows searching through your own tags (if you are logged in). It currently has easy access to see that is newly bookmarked in Ma.gnolia groups you follow, your contact's bookmarks, popular bookmarks, your own tags, and your profile.

Mobile Site Bookmarks

One thing that is helpful for those that use mobile web browsing is having easy access to mobile versions of web sites. Yes, the iPhone and many smartphone users (I am in the Nokia camp with my well liked E61i) can easily browse and read regular web pages, but mobile optimized pages are quicker to load and have less clutter on a smaller screen. The iPhone, WebKit-based browsers (Nokia), Opera Mini, and other decent mobile web browsers all have eased mobile browsing use of regular webpages, but having a list of mobile versions is really nice.

Yesterday, Saturday, I created a Ma.gnolia Mobile Version Group so people can share web pages optimized for mobile devices (quicker/smaler downloads, smaller screens, less rich ads, etc.). One of the ways I was thinking people could use this is to find sites in this group then bookmark them for their own use with tags and organization that makes sense for themself. The aim is just to collect and share with others what you find helpful and valuable for yourself. This group will be monitored for spam as the rest of Ma.gnolia is (Ma.gnolia uses "rel="no-follow"" so there really is little value to spammers).

Ways You Can Use Mobile Ma.gnolia

This means if you tagged a store, restaurant, bar, transit site, or other item that has value when out walking around it is really nice to have quick access to it. It can also be a great way to read those items you have tagged "to read" (if you are a person that tags things in that manner) so you can read what you want in the doctor's office, bus, train, or wherever.

I have a lot of content I have bookmarked for locations I am work, live, and visit. When I come across something I want to remember (places to eat, drink, learn, hang, be entertained, etc.) I often dump them into the bookmarks. But, getting to this information has been painful from a mobile in the past. I am now starting to go back to things I have tagged with locations and add a "togo" tag so they are easier for me to find and use in the Ma.gnolia mobile interface. I have already added a bookmark for an museum exhibit that I really want to see that is not far from where I am. When a meeting is dropped, postponed, or runs short near the museum I can make a trip over and see it. There is so much information flowing through my devices and it is nice to be able to better use this info across my Personal InfoCloud in my trusted devices I have with me and use the information in context it is well suited for, when have stepped away from my desk or laptop.

I am looking forward to see where this goes. Bravo and deep thanks to the Larry and others at Ma.gnolia that made this happen!



January 10, 2008

Posting Elements of the Social Software Stack

I have been working for quite on finding a good way to explain the elements in the social software stack (or most of the important ones). I have blogged the result of the work as The Elements in the Social Software Stack (comments are open there).

In my public and in-house workshops I have worked through various graphics from others and my own to work as a foundation for talking to and through the subject. In November I finally sat down (in a hallway open space) the day before my workshop at the IA Konferenz in Stuttgart, Germany. It had all the elements that are part of a solid foundation, in progressive order:

  1. Identity
  2. Object (social object)
  3. Presence
  4. Actions
  5. Sharing
  6. Reputation
  7. Relationships
  8. Conversation
  9. Groups
  10. Collaboration

This and one other post that is in the works are becoming the corner stones for my work helping start-ups and enterprise work through social software (social computing) to properly solve their problems and address the issues at hand. It has also been the foundation for rethinking (mostly more clearly thinking about) social bookmarking and folksonomy. I am rewriting the work I have done toward the book based on these two pieces as it is making the communication of concepts clearer.

Who Does This Help?

People looking at the social software services should have a solid idea of the central elements, identity and the social object. After that it is a building process to account for the other elements leading up to the services full offerings. Social bookmarking (folksonomy related services) should get up to or include conversation. Tools like Ma.gnolia go up to groups for their social bookmarking service and they cover the elements leading up to that end point.

There is more that can be fleshed out in this, but it is a foundation and a starting point. The next piece will build on this posting and should be a good foundation for understanding.

Still here? Go read The Elements in the Social Software Stack :: Personal InfoCloud and offer constructive feedback. Thank you.



December 4, 2007

Finding Real Community

This past week was really rough, but a good lightbulb moment for community. My wife had a bad fall on steps and badly broke her ankle. The response has been overwhelming from the people in our physical neighborhood, but also on Twitter and to a lesser degree on Facebook. The ability to hear from people offering condolence but offering assistance has been incredible. I lost track of the feedback on Twitter after 80 responses, all from a group of friends and collaborators I share with regularly. I have a similar number of connections in Facebook, but only received 10 or so responses (largely because the interface in Facebook is poor for tracking all presence messaging with social networks that scale (I have discussed this before in Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable and Can Facebook Change Its DNA?).

An Expanded Network of Caring

The people in the neighborhood bring food and offering help has been really comforting. I hear many people now living neighborhood where they do not know their neighbors and do not have this caring. I feel very fortunate to have a traditional neighborhood that cares.

The Twitter responses blew me away, as the sincerity and support went far beyond any offerings of connections in the past. Twitter has acted like a local neighborhood but with global connections. There are continual complaints about Twitter not being real community, but the short messages (140 characters), the interface, and flow to people I have personal contact with (not face to face, but just as real) is utterly impressive. Twitter triggered IMs, SMS, and messaging through Twitter. It was simple best wishes to many offers of being available for support to talk and offers to send anything needed.

This really floored me as it is an extension of humanity in the most touching way (other than face-to-face). Twitter has been my social environment for humor, sharing, calls for assistance (out and responding to), and in many ways that my old physical office space used to provide, but now the people connected are many more and it is far more manageable. I have grown accustom to this closeness and alternate means of socializing, but was still amazed with the real caring response.



August 23, 2007

Making a Mobile SmartPhone Selection

Many of you know I have a relationship of hate with my Palm Treo as it (well it has been four of them) a really poor phone and device.

The Needs

I have been trying for some time to weigh my options for a new phone. I really have wanted a phone that works globally. I needs to be a great phone. I needs to have e-mail and web capability. It must sync with my Mac and be capable of handling my full address book (1300 entries - stop your nattering) and my calendar. It must be a stable phone (not crash multiple times each day) and be responsive. It needs to have a camera of decent quality of 2 megapixels or greater.

The Should Haves

I really want an unlocked phone. This has a few advantages that include being able to change carriers if one is not meeting my needs, drop in a SIM when I travel to get lower telecom rates, and the phone is not crippled. I not only have a crippled Treo (thanks to Sprint) that keeps me from transferring files to and from it via bluetooth, but my old Nokia 3650 was crippled by the old AT&T from similar file transfers and using it as a dial-up modem. My old Nokia was moved to T-Mobile and the transfer did not fix the phone being crippled. I would really like the phone to have 3G data capability, partly for Skype and part for downloading documents. I would like the phone to have quad band, which means it will work in most countries around the globe with out changing phones.

I really would like to have WiFi capability built into the phone. It should have the ability to add Skype. I should have the ability to add applications to the phone. It should have the capability of acting as a dial-up modem via bluetooth for my laptop or one of my other devices. It should be easy to use. It should be very responsive - I touch it and it immediately does what I ask and not sit for 3 to 10 seconds before responding. It should have GPS or the capability to use external bluetooth enabled GPS devices to use with phone based applications. It should have a full QWERTY keyboard (2 character toggles could work too). I also like the Treo screen size, which works well for web browsing and reading documents. I would also like a touch interface on the screen (it is an ease of use thing I have grown accustom to with my 8 years or more on Palm devices).

The Should Not Haves

It should not be locked to one carrier (this is not a deal breaker, but for the international travel it is important). It should not be more than $600 (USD), which is about the going rate for unlocked smartphones. It should not be huge (to quantify the Treo is bulky, so it should not be thicker or wider and/or longer than the Treo). It should not crash multiple times each day. It should not require wires to transfer data between my main computer (laptop) and the phone, as well it should not route this trough the internet.

Things That Do Not Matter

I really do not care if my smartphone can play music or play videos. Having this capability would be nice, but the occasions when I want this functionality I have my iPod with in easy reach and it serves me well.

The Options

Yes, I have been looking at the Apple iPhone. I have been looking at the Nokia E61i for quite some time. I have been looking at the Blackberry devices. Lastly, I have been looking at various Sony Ericsson devices.

iPhone

This is an utterly amazing phone. I have spent a lot of time in Apple retail stores testing every inch of the iPhone. It is the most stunningly easy to use and responsive phones I have ever run across. It meets all of my must have requirements and does not match any must not have requirements. The lack of not being able to add applications (particularly GPS and Skype) means I need an data connection to get applications and functionality. This is really not good as international data rates are horrible and WiFi is not always within reach in many countries, so this is a huge problem (cheaper or unlimited international data would solve this issue, but it is not an option as of today). The lack of 3G and true GPS is also less than optimal for me. The ease of switching from mobile carrier to WiFi is fantastic and the preference for WiFi use is a great plus.

Then there is the AT&T issue, which is a provider of last resort for me. The downsides of the iPhone are not huge and can be worked through, many likely getting resolved with software updates over time (3G requires different hardware and is the only non-upgradable detractor), but AT&T/Cingular has notorious high rates for data and horrible customer service. The rates I figure could get resolved, but getting AT&T to let existing customer change with out charges or other painful experiences (read hours on the phone arguing and debating). When I compare AT&T to T-Mobile there is comparison for customer service, T-Mobile is utterly fantastic, has a great site that lets you add and remove features with out penalty and their customer service is kind and will often bend over backward to do what ever it takes to keep you (their customer) happy.

Then we have the AT&T censorship and customer monitoring issues, which are not new. In recent news AT&T admits it has censored many bands (after getting caught censoring Pearl Jam) and the censoring is nearly always political in nature. AT&T has also been overly willing to offer up customer data to the government. With all of the name changes AT&T has gone through it seems that it has also confused its own country of the USA for the USSR.

The iPhone being tied to AT&T makes it really a difficult choice for me. Moving to AT&T will be done as a last resort.

Nokia E61i

I had a lot of interest in the Nokia E61, which did not have a camera and a camera is a must for me. The Nokia has all of the must haves and none of the must not haves. It is nearly perfect in every way, but does not have a touch interface on the screen. It also can be a little quirky in Nokia kinds or ways, which means interactions are not always as easy or seamless as the could be. I have read bits with getting the E61i to work with WiFi properly problems. The E61i is not as beautiful as the iPhone, but it does cover many of the bases that I need it to, including SIM card swapping and being fully unlocked (or the ability to buy it that way). One slight downside has been finding a place to find the Nokia line up in the US to try and buy. I have resorted to trying international friends phones and looking at Mobile Planet to purchase (Dell is now selling the E61i, but it takes 2 to 3 weeks to ship).

Blackberry

I continually have looked at the Blackberry as an option. The bulk of most of the devices (other than the Pearl) has been a turn off, as the device will likely live in my pocket. While I like the functionality of the Pearl (it has a camera and meets the must haves) and I really like the size compared to other Blackberries, the lack of a full keyboard and the smaller screen are drawbacks.

Sony Ericsson

The Sony Ericsson phones have a similar problem to Nokia phone, in that they are rather difficult to find in the US unless you go to Mobile Planet. I have mostly resorted to trying international friend's phones. The lack of a full QWERTY keyboard has been a downside and some of the models have seemed a little bulky. The P1i, which is new to the market has been really interesting and could fit the bill, but I have not seen one. The P1i does not have a full QWERTY keyboard, but has a similar keyboard to the Blackberry Pearl, and it has a touch screen. It is missing WiFi too, which is not a killer. The biggest downside is it is over $600 price limit (making it more expensive than the iPhone).

Conclusion

After much debating options I am going to try the E61i as I can return it in 15 days if it does not work well for me. The little quirks and WiFi access will be the biggest potential frustrations. How much it frustrates me will be the key. It seems like it will be a large improvement over the Treo, which would be difficult to not beat. The ability to try the phone is really important for me. One thing I need to sort out is how to move my number from Sprint to the T-Mobile account easily (I will like move my T-Mobile number to Sprint or Verizon for a second phone option - as I have come to learn there are CDMA and GSM cities in the US and having at least a cheap phone on each is a good plan).

Should my trial with the Nokia E61i prove too frustrating the international carriers for the iPhone will likely be selected in the next couple weeks and I will see if that changes options for the iPhone being completely locked. The next question will be iPhone or the Sony Ericsson P1i, which will depend on the pain of AT&T.



August 20, 2007

Why Ma.gnolia is One of My Favorite Social Bookmarking Tools

After starting the Portable Social Network Group in Ma.gnolia yesterday I received a few e-mails and IMs regarding my choice. Most of the questions were why not just use tags and del.icio.us. After I posted my Ma.Del Tagging Bookmarklet post I have had a lot of questions about Ma.gnolia and my preference as well as people thought I was not a fan of it. I have been thinking I would blog about my usage, but given my work advising on social bookmarking and social web, I shy away talking about what I use as what I like is likely not what is going to be a good fit for others. But, my work is one of the reasons I want to talk about what I like using as nearly every customer of mine and many presentation attendees look at del.icio.us first (it kicked the door wide open with a tool that was light years ahead of all others), but it is not for everybody and there are many other options. Much of my work is with enterprise and organizations of various size, which del.icio.us is not right for them for privacy reasons. I still add to del.icio.us along with my favorite as there are many people that have subscribed to the at feed as they derive value from that subscription so I take the extra step to keep that feed as current.

Ma.gnolia Offers Great Features for Sociality

I have two favorite tools for my own personal social bookmarking reasons Ma.gnolia and Clipmarks (I don't think I have anything publicly shared in Clipmarks). First the later, I use Clipmarks primarily when I only want to bookmark a sub-page element out on the web, which are paragraphs, sentences, quotes, images, etc.

I moved to try Ma.gnolia again last Fall when something changed in del.icio.us search and the results were not returning things that were in del.icio.us. My trying Ma.gnolia, by importing all of my 2200 plus bookmarks not only allowed me to search and find things I wanted, but I quickly became a fan of their many social features. In the past year or less they have become more social in insanely helpful and kind ways. Not only does Ma.gnolia have groups that you can share bookmarks with but there is the ability to have discussions around the subject in those groups. Sharing with a group is insanely easy. Groups can be private if the manager wishes, which makes it a good test ground for businesses or other organizations to test the social bookmarking waters. I was not a huge fan of rating bookmarks as if I bookmarked something I am wanting to refind it, but in a more social context is has value for others to see the strength of my interest (normall 3 to 5 stars). One of my favorite social features is giving "thanks", which is not a trigger for social gaming like Digg, but is an interpersonal expression of appreciation that really makes Ma.gnolia a friendly and positive social environment.

Started with Beauty, but Now with Ease

Ma.gnolia started as a beautiful del.icio.us (it was not the first) and the beauty got in the way of usability for many. But, Ma.gnolia has kept the beautiful strains and added simple ease of use in a very Apple delightful moments sort of way. The thanks are a nice treat, but the latest interactions that provide non-disruptive ease of use to accomplish a task, without completely taking you away from your previous flow (freaking brilliant in my viewpoint - anything that preserves flow to accomplish a short task is a great step). Another killer feature is Ma.gnolia Roots, which is a bookmarklet that when clicked hovers a semi-transparent layer over the webpage to show information from Ma.gnolia about that page (who has linked to it, tags, annotations, etc.) and makes it really easy to bookmark that page from that screen. The API (including a replica of the del.icio.us API that nearly all services use as the standard), add-ons, Creative Commons license for your bookmarks, many bookmarklet options, and feed options. But, there are also the little things that are not usually seen or noticed, such as great URLs that can be easily parsed, all pages are properly marked up semantically, and Microformats are broadly and properly used throughout the site (nearly at every pivot).

Intelligently Designed

For me Ma.gnolia is not only a great site to look at, a great social bookmarking site that is really social (as well as polite and respectful of my wishes), but a great example for semantic web mark-up (including microformats). There is so much attention to detail in the page markup that for those of us that care it is amazingly beautiful. The visual layer can be optimized for more white space and detail or for much easier scrolling. The interactions, ease of use, and delightful moments that assist you rather than taking you out of your flow (workflow, taskflow, etc.) and make you ask why all applications and social sites are not this wonderful.

Ma.gnolia is not perfect as it needs some tools to better manage and bulk edit your own bookmarks. It could use a sort on search items (as well as narrow by date range). Search could use some RedBull at times. It could improve with filtering by using co-occurance of tag terms as well as for disambiguation.

Overall for me personally, Ma.gnolia is a tool I absolutely love. It took the basic social bookmarking idea in del.icio.us and really made it social. It has added features and functionality that are very helpful and well executed. It is an utter pleasure to use. I can not only share things easily and get the wonderful effects of social interaction, but I can refind things in my now 2,500 plus bookmarks rather easily.



July 21, 2007

Inline Messaging

Many of the social web services (Facebook, Pownce, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) have messaging services so you can communication with your "friends". Most of the services will only ping you on communication channels outside their website (e-mail, SMS/text messaging, feeds (RSS), etc.) and require the person to go back to the website to see the message, with the exception of Twitter which does this properly.

Inline Messaging

Here is where things are horribly broken. The closed services (except Twitter) will let you know you have a message on their service on your choice of communication channel (e-mail, SMS, or RSS), but not all offer all options. When a message arrives for you in the service the service pings you in the communication channel to let you know you have a message. But, rather than give you the message it points you back to the website to the message (Facebook does provide SMS chunked messages, but not e-mail). This means they are sending a message to a platform that works really well for messaging, just to let you know you have a message, but not deliver that message. This adds extra steps for the people using the service, rather than making a simple streamlined service that truly connects people.

Part of this broken interaction is driven by Americans building these services and having desktop-centric and web views and forgetting mobile is not only a viable platform for messaging, but the most widely used platform around the globe. I do not think the iPhone, which have been purchased by the owners and developers of these services, will help as the iPhone is an elite tool, that is not like the messaging experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile users around the globe. Developers not building or considering services for people to use on the devices or application of their choice is rather broken development these days. Google gets it with Google Gears and their mobile efforts as does Yahoo with its Yahoo Mobile services and other cross platform efforts.

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

I understand the reasoning behind the services adding steps and making the experience painful, it is seen as money in their pockets through pushing ads. The web is a relatively means of tracking and delivering ads, which translates into money. But, inflicting unneeded pain on their customers can not be driven by money. Pain on customers will only push them away and leave them with fewer people to look at the ads. I am not advocating giving up advertising, but moving ads into the other channels or building solutions that deliver the messages to people who want the messages and not just notification they have a message.

These services were somewhat annoying, but they have value in the services to keep somebody going back. When Pownce arrived on the scene a month or so ago, it included the broken messaging, but did not include mobile or RSS feeds. Pownce only provides e-mail notifications, but they only point you back to the site. That is about as broken as it gets for a messaging and status service. Pownce is a beautiful interface, with some lightweight sharing options and the ability to build groups, and it has a lightweight desktop applications built on Adobe AIR. The AIR version of Pownce is not robust enough with messaging to be fully useful. Pownce is still relatively early in its development, but they have a lot of fixing of things that are made much harder than they should be for consuming information. They include Microfomats on their pages, where they make sense, but they are missing the step of ease of use for regular people of dropping that content into their related applications (putting a small button on the item with the microformat that converts the content is drastically needed for ease of use). Pownce has some of the checkboxes checked and some good ideas, but the execution of far from there at the moment. They really need to focus on ease of use. If this is done maybe people will comeback and use it.

Good Examples

So who does this well? Twitter has been doing this really well and Jaiku does this really well on Nokia Series60 phones (after the first version Series60). Real cross platform and cross channel communication is the wave of right now for those thinking of developing tools with great adoption. The great adoption is viable as this starts solving technology pain points that real people are experiencing and more will be experiencing in the near future. (Providing a solution to refindability is the technology pain point that del.icio.us solved.) The telecoms really need to be paying attention to this as do the players in all messaging services. From work conversations and attendees to the Personal InfoCloud presentation, they are beginning to get the person wants and needs to be in control of their information across devices and services.

Twitter is a great bridge between web and mobile messaging. It also has some killer features that add to this ease of use and adoption like favorites, friends only, direct messaging, and feeds. Twitter gets messaging more than any other service at the moment. There are things Twitter needs, such as groups (selective messaging) and an easier means of finding friends, or as they are now appropriately calling it, people to follow.

Can we not all catch up to today's messaging needs?



July 7, 2007

Yahoo Takes Shot at Own and Customer's Foot

I just got an e-mail that Yahoo Photos is closing September 20, 2007 at 9pm. I have been finding the closing of the site somewhat odd, mostly because the many of the people I know and run across that use Yahoo Photos rely on Yahoo Photos to always be there. They are often infrequent users. They like and love the service because it is relatively easy to use and "will always be there". Many real people I know (you know the 95 percent of the people who do not live their life on the web) visit Yahoo Photos once or twice a year as it is where holiday, travel, or family reunion photos are stored. It would seem that this user base would need more than a year's notice to get valuable notification that their digital heirlooms are going to be gone, toast, destroyed, etc. in a few short months.

It the good will lost through a class action lawsuit against Yahoo! brought by its regular people user base (the core of its business) will not make things better. You know legal action is coming as photos are a valuable part of people's life and memories. Many of the regular people do not check their e-mail regularly as they have more than one or two accounts. Many people I know chose Yahoo Photos over other competitors, because Yahoo had been around longer and understood how to maintain their memories over time. To many Yahoo Photos is not an experiment that would go away.

Yahoo Is Many Things To Many People

I absolutely love Flickr and have never really been a Yahoo Photos user, as I mostly put my own photos on my own servers prior to Flickr. Part of Yahoo's quandary goes back to last a memo last Fall, names the Peanutbutter Manifesto, which was written by Brad Garlinghouse. Garlinghouse railed against the Yahoo multi-headed approach to services. Some services were new and innovative, while others were older and more tradtional. To the novice it would look like they served the same purpose. Yahoo Photos and Flickr do both serve digital photos and provide online photo galleries. Flickr has been providing a good source of ad revenues and Photos has not been as profitable. This seems on the surface to be smart decision, but to the millions more users of Photos than in Flickr this will do little more than bring ill will. Ill will is not something Yahoo can really afford these days.

Innovation and Incorporation of Ideas

Yahoo in the past few years has been buying innovative companies that provide value and unique ways of interacting with people and information on the web. Yahoo has also been innovating in-house with its research labs and now, Brickhouse. Having similar service running allows for one to be innovative and test the waters, while keeping one a safe resource that is familiar to the many who want stability over fresh and innovative. Companies must understand these two groups of people exist and are not fully interchangeable (er, make that they are rarely interchangeable). Innovation takes experimentation and time. Once things are found to work within the groups accepting innovation the work becomes really tough with the integration and use testing with the people who are not change friendly (normally a much larger part of an organization's base).

It would have seemed the smart move to be mindful that Flickr is the innovation platform and Photos is the stable use platform. The two groups of use are needed. Those in the perpetual beta and innovation platform are likely to jump to something new and different if the innovation gets stale. The stable platform users often are surprised and start looking to move when there is too much change. It is a real smart understanding that is needed of who the people are that use, love, and depend on these services. Real smarts are needed to keep these two different communities happy and loyal. When this works well the innovation group is happily the test bed for new helpful tools for the stable platform (which will need beta testing of its people using the service as well).

Irony Run Rampant

While Yahoo is aiming to show it does not grasp the two different use groups of its two photo platforms, nor the loayalty the much larger group has entrusted in Yahoo, many other companies are following the trail Yahoo has put in place by setting up beta programs for their own innovation of products. Google has its labs, but is moving its second generation attempts into its labs. Nearly every large consumer facing web organization has set up labs and/or has been buying small innovative web properties to boost their relevance and ability to build to the future more easily. Most organization outside Yahoo are innovating, testing, and moving solid broadly usable components into their stable large use base products. These other organizations understand loyalty and their customer base. I really thought Yahoo grasped this, with Jerry Yang taking over I had thought a new smart direction was in the works. A Yahoo that snubs its loyal users who believed they placed their prized possessions in the hands of an enduring web property, is new but not innovative and not a lasting property.



June 13, 2007

Full-Day Social Web & Folksonomy Workshop at d.construct

Tickets for the d.construct Workshops go on sale June 14, 2007. Buying a ticket for a full-day workshop provides free access to the full d.construct conference on September 7th. I am presenting the following workshop on September 6th...

Building the Social Web with Tagging / Folksonomies

On September 6th, 2007 Thomas Vander Wal will be holding his Building the Social Web with Tagging/Folksonomies — d.construct Workshop — at Brighton Dome, Brighton, England, UK.

Thomas Vander Wal, creator of the term folksonomy, provides a full-day workshop on building the social web through a detailed look at tagging systems. The workshop will provide a foundation for understanding social software from the perspective of the people who use it. This perspective helps site owners solve the ‘cold start’ problem of social software not starting out social.

The focus of the workshop is to provide a solid foundation for building and maintaining a social system from the design and management perspective. The workshop will cover policy issues, monitoring, analysis, and tagging systems as features that are added to the mix of existing tools.

The day will provide a brief history of tagging from the days of tagging in the desktop era to current web use. The exercises will focus on better understanding what happens in tagging systems and use those lessons to frame how to build better systems and make better use of the information that is made relevant through those tagging systems. The workshop includes overviews of social web pattern interaction design and the wide array of features.



June 7, 2007

Down with DreamHost? Then Up with SegPub

After the security problems with DreamHost in the past day or so (many sites getting hacked as DreamHost is storing their passwords to accounts in open text files (something that should never be done)) I am getting a lot of requests from friends for options.

Look at SebPub for Hosting

Nearly 2 years ago I was getting fed up with my old hosting solution as the outages were unbearable. I needed solid open source and open standard hosting. I found some of my friends were hosted at SegPub and were loving it. After an introduction to SegPub I moved my hosting and have never been happier.

SebPub is an Australian company, which means you pay in Australian Dollars making the price relatively reasonable. The support has been wonderful, often on IM. Occasionally I will get an IM from them asking how things are going. They have kept the small town feeling with personal touch even as they have grown.

Needless to say the personal attention is nice, but the incredibly rare need to talk to them about downtime, problems, etc. is really a nice change. I can not recommend SegPub highly enough.



May 31, 2007

Folksonomy Book In Progress

Let me start with an announcement. I have not had any answer for continual question after I present on tagging and folksonomy (I also get the question after the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud presentations), which is "where is your book?" Well I finally have an answer, I have signed with O'Reilly to write a book, initially titled Understanding Folksonomy (this may change) and it may also be a wee bit different from your normal O'Reilly book (we will see how it goes).

I am insanely excited to be writing for O'Reilly as I have a large collection of their books from over the years - from the programming PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby to developer guides on JavaScript, XHTML, XML, & CSS to the Polar Bear book on information architecture, Information Dashboard Design, and Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design along with so many more.

Narrowing the Subject

One of the things that took a little more time than I realized it would take is narrowing the book down. I have been keeping a running outline of tagging and folksonomy related subjects that have been in my presentations and workshop as well as questions and answers from these sessions. The outline includes the deep knowledge that has some from client work on the subject (every single client has a different twist and set of constraints. Many of the questions have answers and for some the answers are still being worked out, but the parameters and guidelines are known to get to viable solutions.

Well, when I submitted the outline I was faced with the knowledge that I had submitted a framework for a 800 to 1,000 page book. Huh? I started doing the math based on page size, word counts, bullets in the outline, and projects words per bullet and those with knowledge were right. So, I have narrowed it down to an outline that should be about 300 pages (maybe 250 and maybe a few more than 300).

What Is In This Smaller Book?

I am using my tagging and folksonomy presentations as my base, as those have been iterated and well tested (now presented some version of it well over 50 times). While I have over 300 design patterns captured from tagging service sites (including related elements) only a few will likely be used and walked through. I am including the understanding from a cognitive perspective and the lessening of technology pain that tagging services can provide to people who use them. There will also be a focus on business uses for intranet and web.

When Will This Be Done

Given that I have a rather busy Fall with client work, workshops, and presentations I set a goal to finish the writing by the end of Summer. It sounds nuts and it really feels like grad school all over again, but that is my reality. I have most of the words in my head and have been speaking them. Now I need to write them (in a less dense form than I blog).

Your Questions and Feedback

If you have questions and things you would like covered please e-mail me (contact in the header nav above). I will likely be setting up a blog to share and post questions (this will happen in a couple weeks). I am also looking for sites, organizations, and people that would like to be included in the case studies and interviews (not all will end up in the book, but those that are done will end up tied to the book in some manner). Please submit suggestions for this section if you have any.



January 31, 2007

It is Finally IT and Design in Enterprise (and Small Business)

My recent trip to Northern California to speak at the UIE Web App Summit and meetings in the Bay Area triggered some good ideas. One thread of discovery is Enterprise, as well as small and medium sized business, is looking at not only technology for solutions to their needs, but design.

IT Traditions

Traditionally, the CIO or VP IT (and related upper management roles) have focussed on buying technology "solutions" to their information problems. Rarely have the solutions fixed the problems as there is often a "problem with the users" of the systems. We see the technology get blamed, the implementation team get blamed (many do not grasp the solution but only how to install the tools, as that is the type of service that is purchased), and then the "users need more training".

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

This cycle of blame and disappointment in technology is breaking around a few important realizations in the IT world.

Technology is not a Cure All

First, the technology is always over sold in capability and most often needs extensive modification to get working in any environment (the cost of a well implemented system is usually about the same as a built from scratch solution - but who has the resources to do that). Most CIOs and technology managers are not trusting IT sales people or marketing pitches. The common starting point is from the, "your tool can not do what you state" and then discussions can move from there. Occasionally, the tools actually can do what is promised.

Many, decision makers now want to test the product with real people in real situations. Solution providers that are good, understand this and will assist with setting up a demonstration. To help truly assess the product the technical staff in the organization is included in the set-up of the product.

People and Information Needs

Second, the problems are finally being identified in terms of people and information needs. This is a great starting place as it focusses on the problems and the wide variety of personal information workflows that are used efficiently by people. We know that technology solutions that mirror and augment existing workflows are easily adopted and often used successfully. This mirroring workflow also allows for lower training costs (occasionally there is no training needed).

Design with People in Mind

Third, design of the interaction and interface must focus on people and their needs. This is the most promising understanding as it revolves around people and their needs. Design is incredibly important in the success of the tools. Design is not just if it looks pretty (that does help), but how a person is walked through the steps easily and how the tools is easy to interact with for successful outcomes. The lack of good design is largely what has crippled most business tools as most have focussed on appealing to the inner geek of the IT manager. Many IT managers have finally realized that their interface and interaction preferences are not remotely representative of 95 percent of the people who need to or should be using the tools.

It is increasingly understood that designing the interaction and interface is very important. The design task must be done with the focus on the needs of real people who will be using the product. Design is not sprinkling some Web 2.0 magic dust of rounded corners, gradients, and fading yellow highlights, but a much deeper understanding that ease of use and breaking processes into easy steps is essential.

Smile to Many Faces

This understanding that buying a technology solutions is more than buying code to solve a problem, but a step in bringing usable tools in to help people work efficiently with information. This last week I talk to many people in Enterprise and smaller businesses that were the technical managers that were trying to get smarter on design and how they should approach digital information problems. I also heard the decision managers stating they needed better interfaces so the people using the tools could, well use the tools. The technology managers were also coming to grips that their preferences for interfaces did not work with most of the people who need the tools to work.

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

I have also been seeing the technology tool makers sitting with their actual people using their tools to drastically improve their tools for ease of use. One President of a technology tool maker explained it as, ":I am tired of getting the blame for making poor tools and losing contracts because the technology decision makers are not connected with the real needs of the people they are buying the tools for." This president was talking to three or four users on problems some of his indirect clients were having with a tool they really needed to work well for them. This guy knows the tech managers traditionally have not bought with the people needing to use the tools in mind and is working to create a great product for those people with wants and needs. He also knows how to sell to the technology managers to get their products in the door, but knows designing for the people using the product is how he stays in the company.



December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

The past two days have brought back many memories that have reminded me of the advances in technology as well as the reliance on technology.

Ghost of Rich Web Past

I watched a walk through of a dynamic prototype yesterday that echoed this I was doing in 1999 and 2000. Well, not exactly doing as the then heavy JavaScript would blow up browsers. The DHTML and web interfaces that helped the person using the site to have a better experience quite often caused the browser to lock-up, close with no warning, or lock-up the machine. This was less than 100kb of JavaScript, but many machines more than two years old at that time and with browsers older than a year or two old did not have the power. The processing power was not there, the RAM was not there, the graphics cards were not powerful, and the browsers in need of optimizing.

The demonstration yesterday showed concepts that were nearly the exact concept from my past, but with a really nice interface (one that was not even possible in 1999 or 2000). I was ecstatic with the interface and the excellent job done on the prototype. I realized once again of the technical advances that make rich web interfaces of "Web 2.0" (for lack of a better term) possible. I have seen little new in the world of Ajax or rich interfaces that was not attempted in 2000 or 2001, but now they are viable as many people's machines can now drive this beauties.

I am also reminded of the past technologies as that is what I am running today. All I have at my beck and call is two 667MHz machines. One is an Apple TiBook (with 1 GB of RAM) and one is a Windows machine (killer graphics card with 256MB video RAM and 500MB memory). Both have problems with Amazon and Twitter with their rich interfaces. The sites are really slow and eat many of the relatively few resources I have at my disposal. My browsers are not blowing up, but it feels like they could.

Ghost of Technology Present

The past year or two I have been using my laptop as my outboard memory. More and more I am learning to trust my devices to remind me and keep track of complex projects across many contexts. Once things are in a system I trust they are mostly out of my head.

This experience came to a big bump two days ago when my hard drive crashed. The iterative back-ups were corrupted or faulty (mostly due to a permission issue that would alter me in the middle of the night). The full back-up was delayed as I do not travel with an external drive to do my regular back-ups. My regularly scheduled back-ups seem to trigger when I am on travel. I am now about 2.5 months out from my last good full back-up. I found an e-mail back-up that functioned from about 3 weeks after that last full backup. Ironically, I was in the midst of cleaning up my e-mail for back-up, which is the first step to my major back-up, when the failure happened.

I have a lot of business work that is sitting in the middle of that pile. I also have a lot of new contacts and tasks in the middle of that period. I have my client work saved out, but agreements and new pitches are in the mire of limbo.

Many people are trying to sync and back-up their lives on a regular basis, but the technology is still faulty. So many people have faulty syncing, no matter what technologies they are using. Most people have more than two devices in their life (work and home computer, smart phone, PDA, mobile phone with syncable address book and calendar, iPod, and other assorted options) and the syncing still works best (often passably) between two devices. Now when we start including web services things get really messy as people try to work on-line and off-line across their devices. The technology has not caught up as most devices are marketed and built to solve a problem between two devices and area of information need. The solutions are short sighted.

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

Last week I attended the University of North Carolina Social Software Symposium (UNC SSS) and while much of the conversation was around social software (including tagging/folksonomy) the discussion of technology use crept in. The topic of digital identity was around the edges. The topic of trust, both in people and technology was in the air. These are very important concepts (technology use, digital identity, and trusted technology and trusted people). There is an intersection of the technosocial where people communicate with their devices and through their devices. The technology layer must be understood as to the impact is has on communication. Communication mediated by any technology requires an understanding of how much of the pure signal of communication is lost and warped (it can be modified in a positive manner too when there are disabilities involved).

Our digital communications are improving when we understand the limitations and the capabilities of the technologies involved (be it a web browser of many varied options or mobile phone, etc.). Learning the capabilities of these trusted devices and understanding that they know us and they hold our lives together for us and protect our stuff from peering eyes of others. These trusted devices communicate and share with other trusted devices as well as our trusted services and the people in our lives we trust.

Seeing OpenID in action and work well gave me hope we are getting close on some of these fronts (more on this in another post). Seeing some of the great brains thinking and talking about social software was quite refreshing as well. The ability to build solid systems that augment our lives and bring those near in thought just one click away is here. It is even better than before with the potential for easier interaction, collaboration, and honing of ideas at our doorstep. The ability to build an interface across data sets (stuff I was working on in 1999 that shortened the 3 months to get data on your desk to minutes, even after running analytics and working with a GIS interface) can be done in hours where getting access to the wide variety of information took weeks and months in the past. Getting access to data in our devices to provide location information with those we trust (those we did not trust have had this info for some time and now we can take that back) enables many new services to work on our behalf while protecting our wishes for whom we would like the information shared with. Having trusted devices working together helps heal the fractures in our data losses, while keeping it safe from those we do not wish to have access. The secure transmission of our data between our trusted devices and securely shared with those we trust is quickly arriving.

I am hoping the next time I have a fatal hard drive crash it is not noticeable and the data loss is self-healed by pulling things back together from resources I have trust (well placed trust that is verifiable - hopefully). This is the Personal InfoCloud and its dealing with a Local InfoCloud all securely built with trusted components.



December 4, 2006

Let Me Count the 24 Ways

It is that wonderful time of the year for 24 ways, the wonderful 24 gifts from one web developer to the rest of us. I deeply enjoyed them last year and am looking forward to the remainder of the gems.



November 9, 2006

Stikkit Is a Nice Example of a Personal InfoCloud Tool

I have been using the newly launched Stikkit for the last day and rather enjoying it. Stikkit, is a web-based postit with super powers of a notepad with bookmark, calendar, lite address book for people, tagging, to do, and reminders to SMS (in the U.S.) and/or e-mail.

Stikkit is the product of values of n start-up that is the founded by Rael Dornfest, formerly of O'Reilly.

This summer I was in Portland and got a preview of Stikkit and was really impressed. It was a slightly different application at that point, but it had the great bones to be a really nice application for one's own Personal InfoCloud. Much of the really good intuitive scripting that turns dates in text into calendar entries, text to do lists into ones that can be checked-off, and other text to real functionality is in the current version and just sings.

When I used the Stikkit bookmarklet it captured pertinent information from a page that I wanted to track, which had date related information that is essential to something I have interest in, it made a calendar entry. The focus of the Personal InfoCloud is to have applications and devices that let people hold on to information that they have interest in and move it across devices, as well as add their own context. Stikkit, really is a wonderful step in making a rather friction free approach to the Personal InfoCloud. It puts the focus on the person and their wants and needs for the use of the information in a page. Stikkit can free the information from the confines of the web page and alert the person to important dates. Stikkit also allows the person to share what they find easily.

I think the key to Stikkit is the term "easily", which is the underpinning of the whole application. The only thing I would love to see is Microformats added so that the information in Stikkit could be dropped into my own address book or calendar and synced (if the gods of syncing shine favorably on me that day). Looking at the markup in Stikkit, it seems to be semantically well structured to easily add microformats in the near future.

This has been cross-posted at Stikkit at personalinfocloud.com where there is commenting turned on.



October 27, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarking and Broken Roadmap

[Update: [This response came from Nathan Arnold an engineer on the Bookmarks/Social Search team

It would seem that either we've under-communicated the roadmap ideas, and you've gotten the wrong impression of what's going on.

No MyWeb user is being forced to use Bookmarks or Del.icio.us just yet. Del.icio.us continues to stand on its own, and MyWeb and Bookmarks continue to share your data. If you save something in Bookmarks, it will be private in MyWeb. If you save something in MyWeb, it will show up in Bookmarks and you can edit it their (bookmarks being private, only you can access it).

The eventual roadmap is to migrate users off MyWeb only when the good social elements of MyWeb have been integrated into the bookmarks product. Until that time, users can continue to use MyWeb as they see fit. When we do shut the switch off to MyWeb, the same features will be available on Bookmarks.

At that time, they will ALSO have the option of migrating content to del.icio.us.

Hope that clears it up...]

I have received a lot of response to one item from yesterday's post, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha), which looked at the new bookmarking replacement from Yahoo!. The response has been rather harsh and critical of one move, that is pulling the MyWeb 2 content into the Bookmarks Beta. Most IMs and e-mail are from people who are really livid that their social bookmarking content is pulled into a closed system. Had Yahoo been smart and clearly stated they were doing this on the Bookmark Beta page it would not have helped it seems as they took people's information from one context and are breaking that context. Not grasping this essential component has be questioning if Yahoo really has thought this through. Yesterday I focussed on the design and development problems, today I am focussing on the product issues.

Bookmarking Beta

Yahoo! drastically needed to update their Bookmarking tool. It is a tool that is widely used and was really clumsy in today's web works. The ease of use of the new tool and adopting MyWeb 2's saved pages and adding tagging to folders was essential. Bookmarks is a closed system as it always has been, but some elements of sociality are integrated that are seemingly familiar and comfortable for regular people.

Bookmarking Beta has a good overview video highlighting some of the new functionality and possibly helpful help pages (ironically the link for help is broken in Safari and the in Firefox you can get to the help page, but the content is not viewable). The marking and explanation around the new Bookmarking tool is good and is needed.

Breaking Social Bookmarking

Yahoo! moving the the small base of people using MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta was flat out foolish. I thought so yesterday, but there were so many other things that needed addressing I lumped it in with the rest. The livid responses I received about this one made me realize it really needs more focus. Yahoo! never explained or marketed MyWeb 2 well, if at all. It is a rather good tool that did some things really well. One of the things that was quite good was its ability to share and recommend items from your friends and contacts. This was a component that oddly was well ahead of del.icio.us and was in the product before Yahoo! acquired del.icio.us. The potential for great social interactions, recommendations, and interactions was central for most of the people that used MyWeb 2 regularly. For others it was a more friendly interface to a social bookmarking tool than del.icio.us (I will get to this in more depth in a moment).

Moving MyWeb 2 content, which is content with intent to be social into a tool that is not social is really backwards thinking. The strong reactions by people who use the tool prove this out. Connecting those dots to begin with deeply has be questioning if Yahoo! gets what they are doing. It is an old web mistake, a really poor old web mistake.

Shrinking 3 to 2

The stated roadmap for MyWeb 2, Bookmarks, and del.icious has Yahoo! moving three main products into two. Two are similar and one is different. Bookmarks is different as it is not traditionally a social tool (not saying it could not or should not be, if done well). MyWeb 2 and del.icio.us are similar tools in that they are both social bookmarking tools. While they are similar the audiences for both are vastly different and the I am really not sure they will or even should mix.

Yahoo! Innovation and Focus on Regular People

Yahoo! in recent years has bought some incredibly innovative companies. There was a whole lot of questions about integrating products that were innovative into the standard Yahoo! offerings. The first of these companies was Flickr, which was a product that was (and is back to being) incredibly innovative. Flickr was vastly different than Yahoo! Photos and many questioned how Yahoo! would integrate them. What Yahoo! did with Flickr is take some of their innovations and integrate them into their mainstream Photo product. What Yahoo! did that was brilliant was leave Flickr as a its own product and let them innovate and test the waters. The Flickr team has grown and they are back to doing insanely brilliant things. Integrating a Flickr into Photos would not have been good for either product. Photos is aimed at regular people who love the product and it serves them well. Flickr is a different beast as it is very social and it is very emergent and it has a fan base that gets that. Flickr has passionate users that love the new features, functionality, and sociality. It has an interface that meets those passionate fans.

Yahoo! has an incredibly large user base (around 70 million people). Its focus is on regular people and serving their needs really well. It is currently going through upgrades to its interfaces for many products, see the Yahoo! homepage for a sample of the great interfaces that are aimed and working really well for regular people and are seemingly being brought to other products, like Bookmarks. These regular people are not the alpha geeks and followers of the innovative products, they want products that work as they expect and they are comfortable with allowing them to do what they want and need. Yahoo! gets this really well and are marrying the innovation and improved design that will work across browsers for these regular people. Yahoo takes time and care ensuring that the products are as smooth, bug-free, and usable as any product or company out there (possibly better than most). They build real products that real people can use.

Innovation and del.icio.us

The big problem I see, which is far worse than the big mistake of moving MyWeb 2 into Bookmarking Beta, is taking an innovative product like del.icio.us and pushing it mainstream. Currently, del.icio.us has about 1 million users. These users are not the normal Yahoo! regular people users, they are ones that will use and enjoy innovative products. The del.icio.us interface is one that many of the regular people understand or like (I have done a decent amount of user testing around this) as it seems very "geeky" and I have heard comments along the lines of "I never liked DOS". This is fine as many of those that use and passionately love del.icio.us enjoy the interface. The interaction design, like the compound tag terms are really foreign to regular people, who more easily understood the comma separated tags with spaces between real words (as that is how most regular people write a string of terms). It has a completely different base of people using it than regular people.

Yahoo! really needs del.icio.us to keep innovating. Joshua Schacter and his team are doing incredible things and they need to keep trying new things and pushing the envelope. Yahoo! really needs a del.icio.us, just like it needs Flickr to remain a distinct product. I have constantly wondered why del.icio.us never took on Yahoo! branding like Flickr or Upcoming, but of late I had thought it was letting del.icio.us innovate and be free, which makes a lot of sense.

Poisoning the Water

What the Yahoo! roadmap seems to be doing is poisoning the water. Bringing del.icio.us into the mainstream will piss off many of those people who are passionate about del.icio.us and its innovation. There were fears of this with Flickr, but Yahoo! proved that leaving Flickr alone was valuable to the company as a whole. Either Yahoo! does not care about the innovation or the passionate users that help provide feedback on social bookmarking to Yahoo! or they don't get what they have. There are two very different sets of people using Yahoo! products and those using del.icio.us. Mixing the two will more likely alienate the passionate del.icio.us users or not be a product that will work well with regular people. Like Flickr and Photos they are two separate groups of people. Yahoo! needs both groups of people to maintain is regular people using Yahoo! and to keep the innovation going.

What Roadmap?

It really makes no sense to poison del.icio.us by pushing it mainstream. So what roadmap? It seems like Yahoo! should have a self supporting tool with del.icio.us with a revenue neutral product (at least revenue neutral) that is ad supported. It needs that quick moving testing and innovation platform (it also needs them for many other products, like calendaring, address book, file storage, etc.) to keep the pipeline filled with good well tested ideas that work with people who are understanding of emergent systems. These good ideas can then flow into testing for the tools for regular people and see if they work there. Yahoo! needs its social bookmarking advocates that love del.icio.us, they can not afford to lose their eyes, interest, or input.

So where does the social bookmarking tool or features for regular people go? Yahoo! needs its new and improved Bookmarking tool and it needs del.icio.us. Changing del.icio.us to go mainstream would be a monumental screw-up. Bringing more sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool, would be a better option. Yahoo! already screwed up by putting content from a their social bookmarking took into a non-social bookmarking tool. The failures of MyWeb 2 were largely no marketing and no iteration to fix the many rough bits.

New ideas explaining and time. Innovation takes time to become integrated into use by regular people. Innovation and understanding of new constructs and concepts get adopted through reading the manual (FAQ or Help), watching a demonstration, reading about it in their normal media streams, watching friends and co-workers, and recommendations of friends. Yahoo! is beginning to take these steps with Bookmarking Beta, they never did this well for MyWeb 2. Bringing the new tools of sociality into the regular Bookmarking tool with highlighting the need for it (triggering the lightbulb moment) and various means of educating would make sense. The social networking tools should become part of the mainstream. Tying these interactions and relating them to known social constructs in peoples lives for sharing information with some groups and not all is something many regular people get. It takes explaining it in terms that regular people understand. Yahoo! does this explaining very well in many other places, why is it so difficult to grasp for social networking?

One avenue for introducing social bookmarking into the mainstream is sharing bookmarks with Yahoo! Groups that they already belong to. Many people have their bridge club in Groups or their kid's soccer (football) team. They have groups of people that they are comfortable sharing links and other information with already. Limiting the new Bookmarks tool to e-mail and SMS is fine, but it seems like there is a ready audience waiting for a well explained tool that would solve technology problems they already have, which is sharing links and bookmarks with people they already know and trust. Yahoo! really needs to use what they do well in various contexts and various audiences that use it.



October 26, 2006

Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta (or Alpha)

Yahoo! has released it fourth or fifth public bookmarking site, Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta to go along with Yahoo! Bookmarks, del.icio.us, and two versions of Yahoo! MyWeb. This new version seems aimed at being a long needed replacement for the relatively ancient Yahoo! Bookmarks. But, as the post on Better Bookmarks, Better Toolbar this new Bookmarks will do away with Yahoo! MyWeb, as MyWeb will be bundled into del.icio.us. This for me seems really odd as MyWeb2 was much better with the social network than del.icio.us has been. I am going to focus on the new Bookmarking site, because there are some things I like, but there are things that are quite broken and should have been caught with a decent quality assurance test or a decent interaction design heuristic test (some of the things that are broken have been broken in MyWeb 2 for months and it seems to have been imported here). I am normally a big fan of what Yahoo! does, but this release is horribly bumpy and would to be better suited with an Alpha moniker.

Y! Bookmarks Beta Good Things

Yahoo! Bookmarks has been needing an overhaul for years. It is great to see that the six or seven year old product is finally getting attention. Keeping the folder metaphor is good for those that have lived in that realm is a good thing and including tagging as well is a great step forward for this product (oddly, an odd interface for adding tags is used, but that is for later and a rather minor thing compared to the bigger bumps). Having the video for an introduction is a great step forward and would have been a great asset for MyWeb 2 (not so sure it would help adoption with del.icio.us as its interface seems to be a stopping point for regular people using the web) as it would illustrate the lightbulb moment for people to understand why MyWeb 2 is important and useful.

The basic interaction design improvements are very good, with the drag and drop (there are usability/accessibility limitations with drag-and-drop and it would seem like the click-and-stick would have been much better, but that is another long post). The three view options for the bookmarks is helpful too as it provides a nice visual interface with helpful information or ones that are more scannable for people. The layout of the full view is a really nice improvement over the existing MyWeb 2 interface. Another great step forward is the URLs are readable links in the status bar not the hash or unfriendly to human links that were in MyWeb 2.

The URLS overall are well designed in Bookmarks Beta. They can be guessed and edited easily. This is a wonderful change from MyWeb 2.

Bookmark Homepage Oddities

As mentioned above there are some (many) places that need help or some attention to detail in the new Bookmarks. I am using screen captures to help illustrate the points and the images are on Flickr and notations are there. Some of this seems snarky at times, but I am rather shocked that so many details and blatant errors made it public. I am a huge Yahoo fan, for a long list of reasons, but this does get me to question the attention to detail and care that goes into design and development. This was likely hundreds of hours of work by a team and a lot of testing. Just really surprised.

bookmarks_home_default_sort

When I first came to the new Bookmarks Home page I was surprised to see all of the content. My expectation was it was going to be my old bookmarks that were included in My Yahoo! pages, which I update and are extensions of bookmarks from 1999. There was no clue on the page that the content had come from MyWeb 2, it took some digging and the "imported delicious" in my tags was the clue. There is no explanation how the bookmarks would be integrated into My Yahoo (I don't want my 2,400 some MyWeb bookmarks in My Yahoo).

The interface on Bookmarks Beta, while nice is difficult to find the sorts and folder/tag view modification as the typeface is very small. The "Sort by:" does not state was the default sort is. The sort is a toggle between date and title (presumably title by alphabetical sort, but my assumptions seem to be off on many things on the site).

The tools bar with view selection, add, edit, move, send, and delete was a little confusing. Some of the tools relate to making a check box selection in the bookmarked items, but that is not clear. While, other tools are not related (view selector and add). I easily understood view, add, edit, and delete were. Move has an icon that indicates moving out of a folder, but I was not clear where a "move" would put the selected items. Was it going to a folder, into My Yahoo sidebar, into del.icio.us, etc. Where was it moving things to? Send had similar problems as one could send by e-mail (should it state e-mail instead?) Why not use the really helpful convention in Yahoo! Local, which is really clear as to where things can be sent? Lastly, I found out that deleting something from Bookmarks removes the item from MyWeb 2 and that should not happen, unless it is made clear in the page that your bookmarks are being pulled from that repository, which Bookmark Beta fails to do.

Edit Bookmarks Broken

edit_form

The Edit Form page was where I began to think that the Bookmark Beta was more an Alpha. I had first thought it was my using Firefox 2 as a browser, but the same if not worse problems also exist in my Safari browser. The edit bookmark screen is missing labels for the form fields, but it is also missing the existing content. It seems that this could be caused by relying on JavaScripting rather than a server generated page, as this page does not degrade well at all. Additionally the tag fields are empty, where the tag I want to edit should be. If the tag had been in the text box field I would have had a far more painful time separating the multi-term tag into its intended single term tags. Yahoo MyWeb 2 did this really well with a convention called commas. The social bookmarking site, Raw Sugar also uses this common convention and has wonderful affordance for assisting people with their comma separate string of tags. Having text box fields limits the ability for scaling, even if the interface populates the screen with a new text box when the five offered are filled it is still a really clumsy interaction it seems (I know Yahoo! test the living daylights out of their interfaces, which is a great thing, and I would love to know how this interface ended up in the public). Oddly, the one thing missing from this screen is the ability to add this bookmark into a folder. The new Bookmark tool is keeping the folders or is it not? Should not all of the possible interactions be available from the edit view?

Additionally, in a second view of the bookmark edit screen you will see the selected entry is not next to the bookmark edit screen. This likely means that the item being edited, if selected from the lower portion of the page, will not be anywhere near the editing box. There really must be closer. There is a lot of JavaScript being used on the page already, why not hide the items not selected for editing to provide a better proximity for people editing?

Bookmark Search Missing Items or Poor Sort

Y! Bookmark Beta Search Results

I tried "Search bookmarks" to get "tech" items. This search is supposed to query tags, titles, descriptions, etc. The resulting set was missing the first item from my default view, which is tagged "tech" is not in this set returned. This set is set for a sort order by date, which should put the item at the top of the returned set. This was something I really wanted to try in search as a similar returned set has been the result in MyWeb 2 and del.icio.us for at least a couple months. The algorithm is horribly off or the the sort is off. The good thing in the Bookmark Beta is it lets you know the sort order (the state in the default result is called out correctly),and lets you select a different sort order. Unfortunately, the search is broken as it is elsewhere. When I ran the search on tags (in the tag view portion of the page) the proper result set was returned with the most recently added item with a "tech" tag right at the top of the date order sort.

The labeling of the page and the type of search is missing from the page. The heading for the results states "Search Results 1-10 or 572", but it does not say what type of search I just ran. A proper heading should be should be "Search Your Bookmarks Results 1-10 of 572".

Add Bookmark Screen

Y! Bookmark Beta Add Bookmark Screen

This page has few oddities. The thing that stands out on this add bookmark page is the "My Tags" area. In the folder view of that content object you can drag-and-drop an item into a folder. The convention has been set that there is a drag-and-drop connection between that content object and my bookmarks. But in the tag view you can not drag one of the 20 tags into an empty (or filled) tag text field. The convention that was set, does not extend.

More troubling is the "My Tags" content object has find functionality stating "Type Tag here" in the text field next to the find button. When I have the add screen open I am not expecting that to take me to a new screen. Since the add tag interface does not have type ahead from by tag set, I would think had been hopeful that I could drop in a tag and have other related tags I have used on bookmarks would surface. What does get returned is a tag search result page and my add bookmark screen is blown away. I realize that the convention for what happens with tag search/find is already set, but since the convention for drag-and-drop is broken from folders, other things could be emergent as well.

All My Tags

Y! Bookmark Beta All My Tags

This page is held back by poor labeling with the "All Tags" label, but it is actually "All My Tags" or some similar convention, as they are not all the tags from all of the users. The tags are semantically well structured in the XHTML as they are an unordered list, which is easy to parse mechanically or for accessibility reasons. The layout of the tags would benefit from having the list be full justified, which would provide a little more space around the tags leading to easier scanning of the page full of tags.

It is odd that the page has a handful of weighted tags, the flat list of tags alphabetically is easier to scan than a weighted tag cloud but these five tags that are most often used seems to be rather odd. I am quite happy not to see a full tag cloud.

Recommended Bookmarks

Y! Bookmark Beta Recommended Bookmarks

The Recommended bookmarks tab is the old unuseful default page from MyWeb 2, also known as the Interesting Today page. Ironically, there has never been anything interesting on this MyWeb 2 page. Yahoo Bookmarks has a really good clue as to what I find interesting (or any other person using the tool) or pay attention to, it is our bookmarks. We make an explicit statement each time we bookmark something as to what we have an interest in. This can easily be paired to find people who have bookmarked the same items (this identifies people who may be good sources for new bookmarks to recommend) and what vocabulary they have used to call that bookmark something (if they use the same terms to describe the bookmark it can be easily and most often correctly deduced that we do really have similar interests) and we have a few similar matches like this that person, their terms, and bookmarks can be used to build a list of things I would be interested in. If you take that list and parse it against things I have already bookmarked you will have a killer list of things to recommend me that I will care about. This can be server intensive, but the matching and pairing does not need to be done on the production server for the bookmarks, it can be chugging away in the background and serving up recommendations. This flows directly out of the presentation I have given to Yahoo! Tech Dev and have had many long discussions about at Yahoo! Since this is part of a public presentation I give all of competitors to Yahoo! have the information and most are putting it to use in various ways.

Wrap-up

Some of this seems harsh, but it is a public release by Yahoo! with a Beta moniker thrown on to it. But, much of this information Yahoo! already has as they have asked for the feedback before and received it. Things just don't get fixed. Some of these things are minor, but others are not details, they are big glaring errors. Yahoo has some of the best brains, designers, and developers on the planet and they should be producing products, even with Beta moniker that are not this rough. This is much closer to a Google product that is launched and is really rough around the edges and will likely not get fixed. At least I know with Yahoo things normally get ironed out, or at least they did.

None-the-less this has promise and it should be more accessible to regular people than MyWeb 2, but it seems really silly to throw out MyWeb 2 as it does many things better than del.icio.us, but del.icio.us does many things insanely well. Seeing the two products mixed will be a really tough challenge as it could easily break the fan base in del.icio.us or make a social bookmarking site like MyWeb 2 less approachable by putting a more geek-centric del.icio.us interface on it.

[I have added a follow-up to this focusing on the Yahoo! Roadmap for Social Bookmarking.]



October 24, 2006

Rebranding and Crossbranding of .net Magazine

From an e-mail chat last week I found out that .net magazine (from the UK) is now on the shelves in the US as "Web Builder". Now that I have this knowledge I found the magazine on my local bookstore shelves with ease. Oddly, when I open the cover it is all ".net".

Rebranding and Crossbranding

In the chat last week I was told the ".net" name had a conflict with a Microsoft product and the magazine is not about the Microsoft product in the slightest, but had a good following before the MS product caught on. Not so surprisingly the ".net" magazine does not have the same confusion in the UK or Europe.

So, the magazine had a choice to not get noticed or rebrand the US version to "Web Builder" and put up with the crossbranding. This is not optimal, as it adds another layer of confusion for those of us that travel and are used to the normal name of the product and look only for that name. Optimally one magazine name would be used for the English language web design and development magazine. If this every happens it will mean breaking a well loved magazine name for the many loving fans of it in the UK and Europe

What is Special About ".net" or "Web Builder"?

Why do I care about this magazine? It is one of the few print magazines about web design and web development. Not only is it one of the few, but it flat out rocks! It takes current Web Standards best practices and makes them easy to grasp. It is explaining all of the solid web development practices and how to not only do them right, but understand if you should be doing them.

I know, you are saying, "but all of this stuff is already on the web!" Yes, this stuff is on the web, but not every web developer lives their life on the web, but most importantly, many of the bosses and managers that will approve this stuff do not read stuff on the web, they still believe in print. Saying the managers need to grow-up and change is short-sighted. One of the best progressive thinkers on technology, Doc Searls is on the web, but he also has a widely read regular column in Linux Journal. But, for me the collection of content in ".net" is some of the best stuff out there. I read it on planes and while I am waiting for a meeting or appointment.

I know the other thing many of you are saying, "but it is only content from UK writers!" Yes, so? The world is really flat and where somebody lives really makes little difference as we are all only a mouse click away from each other. We all have the same design and development problems as we are living with the same browsers and similar people using what we design and build. But, it is also amazing that a country that is a percentage the size of the US has many more killer web designers and developers than the US. There is some killer stuff going on in the UK on the web design and development front. There is great thought, consideration, and research that goes into design and development in the UK and Europe, in the US it is lets try it and see if it works or breaks (this is good too and has its place). It is out of the great thought and consideration that the teaching and guiding can flow. It also leads to killer products. Looking at the Yahoo Europe implementations of microformats rather far and wide in their products is telling, when it has happened far slower in the Yahoo US main products.

Now I am just hoping that ".net" will expand their writing to include a broader English speaking base. There is some killer talent in the US, but as my recent trip to Australia showed there is also killer talent there too. Strong writing skills in English and great talent would make for a great global magazine. It could also make it easier to find on my local bookstore shelves (hopefully for a bit cheaper too).



October 19, 2006

The Excellence of Accessibilty Presentations

One of the people I have met this past year and come to know better through traveling to and from Web Directions 2006 and hanging with at d.construct is Derek Featherstone. His presentations on the subject of accessibility are the best I have ever seen. The past year I have not had the opportunity to think, talk about, or develop around the subject of web accessibility (I had thought of this as a good thing, but I will explain that shortly) other than as an extension of semantically well structured information, which most conference I have been speaking at are related to in one form or another.

Derek is one of the first presenters that digs deep into accessibility beyond a set of rules, but also looks at usability for those with accessibility needs as the baseline for building great sites that work for all. He frames his presentations not as accessibility is for "them", but as it is for all of us. This focus is astoundingly refreshing and rare.

Derek digs into how JavaScript and Ajax, if done well (did you read that caveat, "done well"?), can actually improve accessibility. In his presentation Derek walks through how to think about interfaces, both rich and static, and improve upon them for everybody. Much of this is basic usability that is missed by many, but the rich interface elements are something I have not heard before from somebody talking about accessibility.

Lastly, Derek's presentation style is light and easy, which bring many people who are put off my accessibility into listening and learning. It is a great thing to watch people gain interest as he presents about a subject they did not care about. But even better is when they start talking about they now have a good framework to think about and approach accessibility does the power of Derek's presentation style and deep knowledge make a the subject come to life.

Granted I have not been reading much around accessibility for the past year, although I have had some great discussions about it with Matt May and Christian Heilmann at various points this year along the lines of rich interfaces and caring about those with accessibility needs. My lack of interest is not because I do not care about accessibility, but I have been burned out from dealing with the politics of accessibility in the U.S. Federal Government. I enjoyed working with the webmasters on the government side, but outside of that it was really painful. Most people would go out of their way to make unusable, poorly structured, semantically incorrect, let alone unaccessible sites just because they were told to make a site accessible. The long battles, even with those charged with caring and ensuring accessibility, made me very happy not to have to deal with accessibility for quite a while. Since you can get about 90 percent of the way to accessibility with just semantically well structured XHTML mark-up, which is the mark of any decent web developer, I have not considered the subject much beyond that in over a year.

Derek's presentations and our long discussions regarding semantically well structured information as the basis for everything that has improved the web in the past few years, brought me back to enjoying the subject of accessibility. In saying this I am more sure now that those who wrote the U.S. Section 508 regulations and those on the Access Board have failed those who needed real accessibility so they could partake in this freedom of information we embrace.



October 6, 2006

IA for Web Developers Presentation

My recent presentation at Web Directions South on Informaiton Architecture for Web Developers is now here live online. I am using SlideShare from Uzanto, which is Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle in the Mountain View, California and others in India.



September 29, 2006

Web Directions Presentations Posted

I have posted my two presentations from Web Directions for download: IA for Web Developers (PDF 14MB); IA for the "Come to Me Web" (PDF 3MB). Please e-mail questions and comments (found under the connect button (JavaScript needs to be on).

I will have a follow-up post in the near future (hopefully), in short Web Directions has been a great conference, run by and attended by utterly fantastic people.



September 1, 2006

Domain of Digital Design Includes Strings

Many of us around the digital design profession consider visual pixels our domain, information as content and its structure is our in our domain, and the ease of use as part of our domain (all of this depending on what label or design community we align with). Strings do not fall into the design camp. By strings I mean data strings, which include date stamps, URLs, identity strings, etc. These often fall through the cracks.

In the last year or so these have become quite important to me as I look at the URLs on this site (vanderwal.net) and they are not as friendly, readable, or guessable as they should be. There is no understanding what http://www.vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog62 will lead to. Do people actually care about this?

Attention to Strings

I find not everybody cares about data strings, but some people do and many devices and services do too. We know many people do not pay attention to their address bar when surfing the web, but when they copy a link to send to a friend or IM a friend, they often look at the URL as a double-check. This is where confusion comes in, they have no idea that blog62 is the post they are wanting to share and it takes them out of a simple flow if they want to make sure it is the right thing.

Not only do people care by devices and services care about what is in strings. When a site is scraped by a search engine one of the important components in weighing the validity is the words in the string. If "blog62" were some thing that I wanted to ensure had optimal opportunity to surface in any of the major search engines I would want to ensure some key terms were in the URL that was being scraped and used. To the search engines 1862 means very little.

Human Readable

The goal is to have these data strings human readable, which leads to text that machines can read and used in algorithmic and automated filters and optimization tools. Not only do URLs need help, but so do date strings. Date strings should be easily understood and they should be labeled with relevant time zone if time is displayed as well.

Ground Control to Major Thomas - Where Are You

Again I turn to my own blog and its less than optimal state of being for my fodder. Since Fall of last year my vanderwal.net site has been hosted in Australia (a wonderful hosting company Segment Publishing (SegPub)). Part of this means that my time stamp for posting my blog entries grabs the local date and time. Since last Fall I have been blogging from the future, or so readers have been thinking. In a couple weeks I may actually be blogging from a the local timezone for my blog, but it is something I need to change.

One complication I have is I post content from various timezones. I could make all dates local to where I post, or choose the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a default and label it properly as such. One of the things that the date and time stamp for posts does get mostly right is it is understandable. Many times we see sites with the tech generic "2006-7-23T2:44:03Z" rather than a more easily human readable "7 July 2006 2:44:03AM GMT".

Data Strings Design Worthy Too

I hope these examples from my own site (a self-built blogging tool that I have not touched much since 2001 or 2002, which I use but not fix or move away from) help illustrate the confusion unattended to date strings play. If we care about the experience for people coming to our sites we build and design we need to care about the little things, the details, like URLs and date strings.

[Yes, I will fix my site eventually. I have been waiting for that magical downtime to sort through porting all my posts and related metadata into a real blogging tool, as I really do not see me finding the time or desire to start tackling all that I want and need to fix in my own dear little tool.]



August 24, 2006

Net Neutrality Faces Biased FTC

FTC to the Rescue?

Monday the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC Chairman, Deborah Platt Majoras, stated the FTC was going to look into the Net Neutrality issue. Her statement already shows the outcome based on her language and the tools they are going to use to investigate.

Chairman Majoras has formed an "Internet Access Task Force", which could be good, but depends on who is on the task force. Where things get troubling is the Chairman&'s preference for reliance on the markets to sort things out and using "cost benefit analysis" as their policy tool.

The "Market"

The Chairman's preference for the market to sort things out is very problematic as there is really no market. In economic terms the market normally applies to a "free market", which is setting where their is open competition and many players. With Net Nutrality we are talking about the telecom companies being the the providers of bandwidth that stands between the consumer and those with the content on the Internet. It is rather funny to call the telecom industry a market as their are now four players and possibly three soon (Verizon, ATT, and Qwest) for landlines. That is not a market but an oligopoly (a small number of providers). An oligopoly does not act like a free and open market, but much more like a monopoly. The prices do not very, there is very little differentiation between products. The consumer has little choice, well they get a different brand on their phone bill.

The "Tool"

The Chairman stated she was going to use a "cost benefit analysis" to determine what is happening. There was one very strong point that came out of graduate policy school, cost benefit analysis (CBA) is highly biased and really does not pass the laugh test (mention it in serious settings and you are not taken seriously or you are out right laughed at).

The problem with CBA is the variable you are investigated are weighted with nothing to back them up. Lets say you want to compare sheep and cows and figure out which is better. You can examine weight be market value divided by the cost to raise the animal. But, if you live in a cold climate you may value the wool of the sheep more, so you use CBA to give weight to the wool in the equation, which is fine until you go to assign value to the wool. Assigning values makes the CBA highly biased.

Two Wrongs Do Not Make a Good Decision

The Chairman said she prefers markets to sort things out, but a free market does not exist. She said she wants to use a heavily biased tool to sort things out. These are not the words of an open arbitrator, but somebody who has made up her mind. She is trusting a biased market to be good players (we broke that market up once before for similar tactics).

Whom Do We Trust

I have worked in the telecom industry a couple of times. In the early post Ma Bell break-up doing work for an alternate long distance carrier (one that barely served a whole area code in the California Central Valley) I put speed dialers into homes and businesses to help them deal with the many extra numbers needed to dial for the cheaper service. I also did analysis work for market entry for telecoms in the late 90s (including work for Bell South involving market assessment tools and visualizations of the data for policy work and decision making) mostly focussing on wireless and satellite broadband.

I did have some trust in the telecoms when they were in a free market, but they have not been playing fair as their numbers have dwindled. In the Net Neutrality debate they have taken a three legged argument (telecom, consumer, and content provider) and removed themselves from the argument. The telecoms want people to believe a lie that it is the content owners and the customers that are on opposite sides. But, in reality it is the telecoms that stand between the people and the content and the telecoms have threatened to extort money from the Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. The telecoms fed the lies to Senator Ted Stevens to make him look like a bufoon talking about the "Internet are just tubes".

Do we trust Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo? Well the content providers are far more in number than those. Every web start-up is a content provider. MySpace, YouTube, Dabble, RocketBoom, Ze Frank, and every blog and videoblog are your content providers too. I do trust Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo with my content, but I also have trust and have faith in the small players.

The Real Market is Bottom-up Innovation in a Free Market

Who stands to lose if the FTC mangles its investigation (remember they have already claimed their bias)? It is the small players that will not be able to pay the extortionist pricing of the telecoms. Innovation often begins with the small players taking risks. Google started a few years ago as a small player in a free market. Companies like YouTube, Dabble, RocketBoom, etc. are the new Googles, but they need a free market, not one that is biased toward the oligopolies.



August 22, 2006

The Tension of Sharing

In today's culture there is a serious tension between creative types, publishers & owner of rights, and other creative types. Society and culture has traditionally been handed down through generations and each innovation is built upon. Today we are living in a world that is trying to monetize this sharing and handing from one creator to another, which is placing money as a higher value than advancing culture and society. Today in the New York Times the latest iteration of the clamping down is presented in the article, Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing, which is about sharing guitar tabs online.

We Can Advance Culture and Society Faster Today Than Ever Before

This sharing of guitar tabs has always been around, as has sharing most other music insights from one musician to another. This sharing is how nearly all of us have learned, embraced, and improved our skills. Not only do musicians learn this way, just as they always have, but it also how designers learn and share. The web not only made this quicker and easier, but web designers and developers have always been able to peek at the under pinnings of each others markup and design. This sharing helped move the web along more quickly than many technologies and mediums that came before it. The web is built on a creative culture mindset of free sharing. Part of this extension is nearly all creative cultures have advanced in recent years because of the web. Creativity has been democratized and the ability to get from zero to 7 is made very easy. It has been a time of immense innovation and a vast spreading of innovation.

One of the odd things is the corporate culture, which does not move at as fast of a pace (look at the ironic juxtaposition of Microsoft, which enabled innovation and was incredibly innovative, often by using the innovation of others (bought or "borrowed") is not a big corporation that is very slow moving and more reactive than innovative (on a whole, as I do realize there are some incredibly innovative segments inside Microsoft - particularly in the Live area and things that Ray Ozzie touches). It is the corporate culture of those that do not create but try and "own" what is the result of the creative process that are trying to stand in the way of traditional sharing in society and culture. It is ironic that what they spend their time suing to inhibit is what created the items of value they are claiming they are protecting.

Creativity Needs Sharing and It will Find Ways Around Control

There are many ironies in the top-down control industry, in that they are trying to kill what makes them money. The RIAA has tried to kill peer-to-peer sharing, but with the horrible state of radio the best way to learn about new music is to use peer-to-peer services. Recent studies show nearly all of the music on in iTunes and iPods is actually owned by the person using that device. Research around how people find the music they purchase points to open sharing of that music. That is how I do it and many of the others that I know.

Let me illustrate... Recently I ran across a Steely Dan making of Peg video on YouTube, which I really enjoyed. It was about the deep geek side of musicians sharing how they recorded and produced their hit song Peg. They were sharing their secrets, for a small price. But in this instance it was free on YouTube. I doubt that Steely Dan or anybody related to the DVD that this video came from authorized its use. But, because of watching the YouTube segment I bought the Steely Dan Aja DVD. I would have never known about it had I not run across the sample on YouTube. Not only did I buy it but in my circle of friends I know seven others that did the exact same thing, watched it on YouTube and then bought it.

This is a story of free sharing about musicians sharing their craft with others so to improve upon the whole of the craft. This is the thing that the New York Times article highlights as being a problem. But, it is the corporations around creativity that have put a noose around their prospective industries by getting their friends in U.S. Congress to regulate sharing and creativity and make it a crime in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (PDF).

I am finding that much of the music I enjoy is not coming out of the corporations, but the creators and innovators who are connecting with their audience directly. Last evening I watched a video on YouTube that we are interested in picking up. I clicked a little bit on YouTube and discovered The Dualers from London, who I am quite impressed with. The Dualers are a ska/raggae duo/band who do not have backing of a record company, but made it into the pop charts in 2004 and stayed there for a bit. Ska/raggae is a type of music that is out of fashion with the record companies, but still has a large following. It is music that still resonates not too far out in the long tail. YouTube is one of the means that The Dualers promote their works. They have sold over 35,000 CDs, which is atleast $350,000 if they are sold for $10 a pop, which would be much better than a deal a record company could offer them starting out.

How to Ease the Tension?

A large part of fixing the current problem is fixing the laws and getting people in upper management and in control of the media companies organization that litigate rather than adapt. We need to return to embracing creativity and sharing. We need to do this in a manner that creators can make a living, which may include cutting back on the role of the middle men. I see a shift toward media outlets that can innovate, iterate, and help support the creators as well as support the media outlets. The radio industry is in serious trouble in its current iteration and may need to move to a more segmented and broader distribution like XM and/or Yahoo Music and LastFM and MySpace as social means of finding new music and connecting directly with bands/creators.

I have been quite interested in some of the stories about EMI and how they have added value, creativity, and innovation for Gorillaz and even Coldplay. It seems that EMI pays attention to the community and lets the artists connect with their audience, which then helps shape their music and creativity. This sounds like the smart leadership that is needed. I have only heard these stories anecdotally, so I am not sure how much is really done by the community with interest or the artists. But, I can hope.



August 21, 2006

Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time

This past week Boeing cancelled its in plane internet connection services, called Connexion. The service has been in development for six years, but only in limited service for about 18 months. Boeing stated it did not get the acceptance and use of the service it expected. While Boeing was using satellites, which produce solid quality, its competitors are using less expansive and more fickle cellular approaches.

Acceptance Takes Consistency and Ubiquity

If I remember right it was only two or three airline carriers (Luftunsa) that had this service only on some of their planes. The people who I knew who used Boeing's services on airlines loved it, but they were never sure if the plane they were flying on would have access. This lack of consistency lowered the expectations of those who loved the service. These early adopters were reluctant to encourage others as the service may not be available. There are many people that want this type of service and to the level of bullet-proof service Boeing provided.

Air travel (like many others in the service industry) is an industry that is build around habits. Heavy travelers all have very set patterns and even well patterned alternate habits. They have certain airlines they fly (affinity programs encourage this), what airlines they use, hotels, and rental car they depend upon. The big mantra is no surprises and consistency. Packing their travel bags and gear with expectations of that they will need, with a big nod to what will not be needed so it is not packed (lighter travel is better than heavy travel). Depending on internet connection on the plane for many was not consistent and could not planned around.

Be Patient

How would Boeing get to the expected customer base? As a start they should take a lesson from Amazon, which puts innovative ideas in place all the time, but then lets the users catch-up to the tools. With Amazon their early adopters will use and play with their innovations (around which Amazon uses the feedback and iterates the products). Did Amazon announce their gold box? No, they put it out there and tested it and over a couple years it has become a staple that many people use as part of their regular Amazon experience. Amazon is doing similar things with tagging on their product pages and it is growing slowly.

Tagging is another area that is a slow growth. Currently there is less than .5 percent (half of one percent - comprised from Nielsen estimate of 750 Million people on the web and a compiles number of 2 to 4 million people using tagging services, not including blog categories as tagging) of people on the web tagging. Even with all of the hype tagging is still out in the long tail, and is an edge activity. Will tagging hit the next phase of innovation growth and spike in usage, the hockey stick curve, in the near future? It will take patience, consistency, iteration, and much better light bulb moments (quick a ha moments for those not using tagging).

Broadband In Planes Doomed?

It sounds like there are other technologies that are doing similar things to what Boeing was trying, but not as solid. These technologies are less expensive to implement and lower costs for those that fly. Can a poorer technology take off? The VHS (a greatly inferior product to Betamax) took the market.

It seems there is a future for broadband for those companies that can stay for the long run and help build demand and wait for demand to catch-up to innovation.



August 4, 2006

Do Not Break the Web

On the list of things you should never do is Do Not Break the Web particularly for important resources. No matter what problems exist in winding down a partnership, never, never mess with the public good that has been done. This may be one of the most damaging childish acts I have seen in a while.

One only hopes that the Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog can come back to life as it was a central resource used by people and proved blogs have a place. Who cares who built it. It has real value to real people.

This site was informative, provided a central point of communication, and built community. It was about those that used it not those who made it.



June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

Those of you that know me well know I am not a fan of being labeled, yes it is rather ironic. A large part of this is a breadth of focus in the lens, from which I view the world. I am deeply interested in how people interact, how people use technology, and the role of information in this equation. My main interest is information and information use, when to people want it and need it, how people acquire it. I am utter fascinated by how technology plays in this mix and how important design is. I look at technology as any mediated form of communication, other than face-to-face communication. The quest began in the technology "quot;paper age" looking at layout and design of text and images on the printed page and the actual and latent messages that were portrayed in this medium. I also dove into television and video as well as computer aided visualizations of data (Tufte was required reading in quantitative methods class (stats) in the early '90s in grad school).

Well, this life long interest only continued when I started digging into the web and online services in the early 90s. But, as my interest turned professional from hobby and grad student my training in quantitative and qualitative (ethnographic) research were used not for public policy, but for understanding what people wanted to do with technology or wished it would work, but more importantly how people wanted to use information in their life.

Basis for Digital Design and Development

As I have waded through web development and design (and its various labels). Most everything I have done is still based on the undergrad training in communication theory and organizational communication. Understanding semantics, rhetoric, layout, design, cogsci, media studies, cultural anthropology, etc. all pay a very important part in how I approach everything. It is a multi-disciplinary approach. In the mid-80s I had figured everybody would be using computers and very adept by the time I finished undergrad, that I thought it was a waste to study computer science as it was going to be like typing and it programming was going to be just like typing, in that everybody was going to be doing (um, a wee bit off on that, but what did I know I was just 18).

People Using Information in Their Life

The one thing that was of deep interest then as it is now, is how people use information in their life and want and need to use information in their life. To many people technology gets in the way of their desired ease of use of information. Those of us who design and build in the digital space spend much of our time looking at how to make our sites and applications easier for people to use.

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

We (as designers and developers) focus on making our technology easy to use and providing a good experience in the domain we control.

People want to use the information when they need it, which is quite often outside the domains we as designers and developers control.

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

Part of what I have been doing in the past few years is looking at the interaction between people and information. With technology we have focussed on findability. Great and good. But, we are failing users on what they do with that information and what they want to do with that information. One question I continually ask people (particularly ones I do not know) is how are you going to use that information. When they are reading or scanning information (paper or digital it does not matter) I ask what is important to them in what is before them. Most often they point to a few things on the page that have different uses (an article referenced in the text, an advertisement for a sale, a quote they really like, etc.). But, the thing that nearly everything that they find important is it has a use beyond what they are reading. They want to read the article that is referenced, they want the date and location for the sale (online address or physical address and date and times), they want to put the quote in a presentation or paper they are writing.

End-to-end is Not the Solution

Many companies try to focus on the end-to-end solution. Think Microsoft or Google and their aim to solve the finding, retaining, using, and reusing of that information all within their products. Currently, the companies are working toward the web as the common interface, but regular people do not live their life on the web, they live it in the physical world. They may have a need for an end-to-end solution, but those have yet to become fully usable. People want to use the tools and technologies that work best for them in various contexts. As designers and developers we can not control that use, but we can make our information more usable and reusable. We have to think of the information as the focal point. We have to think of people actually connecting with other people (that is individuals not crowds) and start to value that person to person interaction and sharing on a massive scale.

Our information and its wrappers must be agnostic, but structured and prepared in a manner that is usable in the forms and applications that people actually use. The information (content to some) is the queen and the people are the king and the marriage of the two of them will continue the reign of informed people. This puts technology and the medium as the serf and workers in that kingdom. Technology and the medium is only the platform for information use and reuse of the information that is in people's lives. That platform, like the foundation of a house or any building must not be noticed and must serve its purpose. It must be simple to get the information and reuse it.

Technology and Design are Secondary

Those of us that live and breathe design and development have to realize what we build is only secondary to what people want. It is the information that is important to regular people. We are only building the system and medium. We are the car and the road that take people to Yosemite where they take pictures, build memories, bond with their travel companions, etc. What is created from this trip to Yosemite will last much longer than the car or road they used to get them to the destination. We only build the conduit. We have to understand that relationship. What we build is transient and will be gone, but what people find and discover in the information they find in what we build must last and live beyond what we control and can build or design. We must focus on what people find and want to use and reuse while they are using what we are designing and building for them.

Information as Building Blocks

All of what is being described is people finding and using information that an other person created and use it in their life. This is communication. It is a social activity. This focus is on building social interactions where information is gathered and used in other contexts. Information use and reuse is part of the human social interaction. This social component with two people or more interacting to communicate must be the focus. We must focus on how that interaction shapes other human interactions or reuses of that information garnered in the communication with an other and ease that interaction. If you are still reading (hello) you probably have something to do with design or development of technology that mediates this communication. We are building social tools in which what is communicated will most likely have a desired use for the people interacting outside of what we have built or designed.

Technosocial Architects

People who understand the social interactions between people and the technologies they use to mediate the interactions need to understand the focus is on the social interactions between people and the relationship that technology plays. It is in a sense being a technosocial architect. I ran across the word technosocial in the writings of Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold, and Bruce Sterling. It always resonates when I hear technosocial. Social beings communicate and inherent in the term communication is information.

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

Just above you see that I referenced three people (Mimi, Howard, and Bruce) as people who used a term that seems to express how I believe I look at the work I do. It is people, more importantly, it is individuals that I can point to that I trust and listen to and are my social interpreters of the world around me. These people are filters for understanding one facet of the world around me. People have many facets to their life and they have various people (sometimes a collective of people, as in a magazine or newspaper) who are their filters for that facet of their life. There are people we listen to for food recommendations, most likely are different from those that provide entertainment, technology, clothing, auto, child care, house maintenance, finance, etc. We have distinct people we learn to trust over time to provide or reinforce the information we have found or created out of use and reuse of what we have interacted with in our life.

Looking at many of the tools available today there is a focus on the crowd in most social tools on the web. Many regular people I talk to do not find value in that crowd. They want to be able to find individual voices easily that they can learn to trust. Just like I have three people I can point to people in social software environments look at the identity (screen name many times) as their touch point. I really like Ask MetaFilter as a social group "question and answer" tool. Why? Mostly because there are screen names that I have grown to know and trust from years of reading MetaFilter. The medium is an environment that exposes identity (identity is cloaked with a screen name and can be exposed if the person so decides in their profile). People are important to people. In digitally mediated social environments the identity is that point of reference that is a surrogate for name in physical space. In print the name of the writer is important as a means to find or avoid other pieces or works. We do the same in movies, television news, television shows, online videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. the list does not end.

Our social mediums need to keep this identity and surface the identity to build trust. People use identity as gatekeepers in a world of information overload. When I look at Yahoo! Answers and Yahoo! MyWeb (my absolute favorite social bookmarking tool) I get dumped into the ocean of identities that I do not recognize. People are looking for familiarity, particularly familiarity of people (or their surrogate identity). In MyWeb I have a community (unfortunately not one that is faceted) where I trust identities (through a series of past experience) as filters for information in the digital world around us, but I am not placed in this friendly environment, but put in an environment where I find almost nothing I value presented to me. This is the way Yahoo! Answers works as well, but it does not seem like there is the ability to track people who ask or answer questions that a person would find value in.

The tools we use (as well as design and build) must understand the value of person and identity as information filters. The use of information in our lives is one explicit expression of our interest in that subject, the person who created the information, or the source what housed that information. Use and reuse of information is something we need to be able to track to better serve people (this gets in to the area of digital rights management, which usually harms information use more than it enables it, but that is another long essay). The medium needs to understand people and their social interaction people have with the information and the people who create the information and the desired use. This use goes well beyond what we create and develop. Use requires us understanding we need to let go of control of the information so it may be used as people need.

Need for Technosocial Architects

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.



June 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

I have been fascinated by prefabricated (prefab) homes for the past few years. It first started with "why"? Why would somebody want to live in a prefab home. But, that turned into, "Hmmm, there is something to this prefab stuff". Part was the Dwell magazine interest in prefab, which played out into a prefab competition and prefab competition winners.

Prefab Blogs

I had the same feelings toward the standard blog styles, templates, and themes. Quickly, the standard designs became the norm. Where we had personally designed pages that had their own distinct flavor and style we had beautiful generic designs adopted by growing masses. The level to entry to beauty was lowered. In doing so I began to have many friends with the same blog design (this personally caused me cognitive difficulty as I remember blogs by color and distinct design and the wonderful design of the generics made my methods of distinguishing one blog from the other null and void). This sameness may say something about my friends and their similar taste and my apparent lack of diversity in choice in those whose company I enjoy all through the lens of visual design.

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

The more I thought, and still think, about prefab homes the more I realize our modern post-industrial lives are prefab. The suburbs (even urban settings) are all based on a limited selection of "floorplans" and exterior designs. I have spent a fair amount of time traveling the past year or two in the northern and western hemisphere in urban settings. There is a sameness to the city center architecture in Amsterdam, Oxford (England), San Francisco, Berlin, London, etc. The homes, commercial, and public buildings have their set patterns that distinguish time, use, and taste.

I think about my home, which was built in 1951 and was part of a small sub-division, which had a limited number of options that included our "cape cod" floor plan and style. Our neighborhood is changing like many others around the country that have homes more than 20 years old the older homes are being vastly modified and expanded or are being torn down and new larger homes are taking their place. These newer homes are too quite similar in style and floor plan to each other.

Is Prefab Bad?

As my initial dislike of prefab has faded, I still keep wondering about good or decent design being mass marketed and becoming too familiar and creating a backlash. One purveyor or good design for everybody is IKEA, which everybody I know owns at least one or two pieces of furniture from, no matter their financial or social status. Prefab homes are not quite in the same category, but they are heading in a similar direction. In our post-industrial life familiarity and similarity breeds comfort for many. We see similar patterns of similarity even in those cultures of differentiation (punk, MySpace, alternative, etc.) where the rebellion against the "beautiful" and commonly accepted "good design" is subverted. Tattoos, piercing, mohawks (again, which is comforting and ironic to me), illegible text in designs, low contrast design of bold color choices, etc. all are part of the counter culture, but are all a blending and a culture of familiarity and comfort.

There are set patterns in our cultures. When personal websites started (this one is a variant of one I started more than 10 years ago) there was a handful of them, a few hundred or a few thousand handfuls. Personal sites were personal reflections. They were our playgrounds and our means to be different, as much a part of being divergent as they were emergent. In MySpace we see much of the same attempt to separate one's self from the crowd. But, at the same time with 51 million (give or take 10 or 20 million more) differentiation is only part of a much larger pattern.

Finding a Home

Prefab is not bad, but just a means to inexpensively and easily get a home. It is not the exterior, but the interior space that is the place for personalization. Just as templates in blogs are a means to get a good design as a starting point to personalize, but the personalization is minor edits to the design as one component. The real personalization is the content that fills the once blank spaces. It is what is put in the blank text box. It is the voice and the expression of our views and ideas that make the space its ours and theirs. Much like what activities, what we make of the places we occupy, and who we interact with that shape our physical prefab spaces it is much the same same in the digital prefab spaces.

We are all out to find and build our home. It is something that is ours. It is something that is a reflection of who we are, who we want others to believe we are, and/or who we want to be.



June 21, 2006

Still Thowing Out the User

There is much buzz about getting rid of the term user these days. Don Norman talks about using the term person, PeterMe picks up on this, and others are not happy with the term "user generated content", like Jon Udell who would like to use "reader-created content", Robert Scoble who believes it is screwing the Long Tail, and Jeff Veen who talks about people writing the web. I have to agree, well I did more than agree.

Throwing Out the User

More than a year ago I got fed up with the user and wrote about saying Good Bye to the User. In years prior I have watched people having painful moments in usability testing. These people felt sorry that they could not easily use what we built and designed. They had empathy for us, but we just lumped them in the category "user". User is not a good word, it is a dirty four letter word. Far too many times designers and developers blame the "user". We tried to solve the user's problems. It was not the problem of the user, it is a real person's pain.

As designers and developers we know deep inside that technology is complex and difficult to use, but we often forget it. The term user has stood in the way. But using person or people, we can see the pain and feel the pain. Many of us consider ourselves users and we do not have these problems, but we are über users, who at one point had the same pain and struggles.

People are different, we have learned this early in life. We can take some characteristics and lump groups of people together, but there are so many important facets that that make us who we are it is difficult to lump people across facets. The only way to lump people separating ourselves as designers and developers out of the equation and putting the focus on regular people. If you are reading this, you are most likely not a regular person who has problems using technology as they wish or need to. It is real people with pain. It is real people who worry about privacy, identity issues, easy access to needed info for themselves and some easy access for some people they know but impossible access for most everybody else, etc. But, the problem with this is these real people do not know this is what they want or need until they do not have it an it becomes painfully aware to them.

Generating Content

I like approach of Jeff Veen and Jon Udell who focus on person-created content. In a hip world of popularity engines like Digg where the masses or crowd bubble up information we forget that most people listen and trust individual voices. We have done this with mass media for years. We trusted certain news anchors and certain reporters on television. We read and trusted certain journalist, columnists, reviewers, and opinion writers. This trust was not always to the wrapper of the communication, like a paper or the whole network news offerings. It comes down to people trusting people. Individuals trusting individuals.

Those of us who have been blogging for nearly a dog year or more understand it is about the individual. We are individual people creating content. We are individual voices. We may be part of a collective at times, but people trust us the person and over time may come to trust people we trust, whom our readers do not know and do not trust yet.

Bringing People Together with People

So what do we need in these social computing environments? We need to see the person. We need to have the ability to find the person similar to us. We want to find those whom are near in thought to us. This may not be the most prolific person on a subject or the most linked to, but their interests match our interests and or vocabularies are similar (often a very good sign of commonality). In the popularity engines we should be able to find those who have "liked" or "dug" things similar to that which we have the same feelings and/or interests.

Doing Without the User

The past year I have been asked many times how easy it is not to use the term user. Well, at first it was hard to transition because it was a term I just used with out thinking. It was also hard because many of my clients and customers I worked with liked using the term user (they also have had many of the problems that come with the term user). But, over time I have a few clients using people and the empathy for the pain that the people who use their products feel is felt and it is reflected in their work products.

One benefit that came from focussing on the person and not the user has been being able to easily see that people have different desired uses and reuses for the data, information, media, etc. that the products I am working on or my clients are developing. I can see complexity more easily focussing on people than I could the user. Patterns are also easier to see looking at the individual people as the patterns resemble flows and not steps. When we focus on the user we try to fit what we built to pre-determined patterns, which we have broken into steps. We can determine steps that are roughly common points of task changing in the flows (changing from seeking to recognizing in a search task it part of an iterative flow, which we can determine is a separate step, but whether that leads to the next step or iterates a few more times is part of a person's information workflow.

Steps are Broken

One of the steps that is getting broken by real people is that around process. People use tools in different ways. For years we have been looking at a publish and subscribe model. But, that is missing a step or two when we look at the flows. People create content and publish it, right? Well, not quite. We are seeing people skipping the publish and pushing it straight to syndication. There is no single point where it is published and has a definable address. The old publish and subscribe model assumed publishing would syndicate the information (RSS, ATOM, RDF, etc.). But, we all know that syndication has been a really slow adoption for traditional media. It was many years after those of us blogging and syndicating information saw traditional media pick-up on the trend. But, traditional media has always understood going straight to syndication with columnists, radio, and television shows. It was the blogging community and personal content creators that were late to understanding we could just syndicate the information and skip the publishing step in the flow.

Getting to Watching People and Flows

How do we not miss things? We watch people and we need to pay attention to their flows. Each individual, each of their desires, each of their different personal information workflows, across each of their current devices, and how they wish they could have what we build inflict less pain on their person.

The person should not feel empathy for those of us building and designing tools and systems, we must feel the person's and peoples pain and feel empathy for them. Where have we stood in their way of their desired flow? Now we must get out of the way, get rid of the user, and focus on people to build and design more effectively.



June 17, 2006

Cultures of Simplicity and Information Structures

Two Conferences Draw Focus

I am now getting back to responding to e-mail sent in the last two or three weeks and digging through my to do list. As time wears I am still rather impressed with both XTech and the Microlearning conferences. Both have a focus on information and data that mirrors my approaches from years ago and are the foundation for how I view all information and services. Both rely on well structured data. This is why I pay attention and keep involved in the information architecture community. Well structured data is the foundation of what falls into the description of web 2.0. All of our tools for open data reuse demands that the underlying data is structured well.

Simplicity of the Complex

One theme that continually bubbled up at Microlearning was simplicity. Peter A. Bruck in his opening remarks at Microlearning focussed on simplicity being the means to take the complex and make it understandable. There are many things in the world that are complex and seemingly difficult to understand, but many of the complex systems are made up of simple steps and simple to understand concepts that are strung together to build complex systems and complex ideas. Every time I think of breaking down the complex into the simple components I think of Instructables, which allows people to build step-by-step instructions for anything, but they make each of the steps as reusable objects for other instructions. The Instructables approach is utterly brilliant and dead in-line with the microlearning approach to breaking down learning components into simple lessons that can be used and reused across devices, based on the person wanting or needing the instruction and providing it in the delivery media that matches their context (mobile, desktop, laptop, tv, etc.).

Simple Clear Structures

This structuring of information ties back into the frameworks for syndication of content and well structured data and information. People have various uses and reuses for information, data, and media in their lives. This is the focus on the Personal InfoCloud. This is the foundation for information architecture, addressable information that can be easily found. But, in our world of information floods and information pollution due to there being too much information to sort through, findability of information is important as refindability (this is rarely addressed). But, along with refindability is the means to aggregate the information in interfaces that make sense of the information, data, and media so to provide clarity and simplicity of understanding.

Europe Thing Again

Another perspective of the two conferences was they were both in Europe. This is not a trivial variable. At XTech there were a few other Americans, but at Microlearning I was the only one from the United States and there were a couple Canadians. This European approach to understanding and building is slightly different from the approach in the USA. In the USA there is a lot of building and then learning and understanding, where as in Europe there seems to be much more effort in understanding and then building. The results are somewhat different and the professional nature of European products out of the gate where things work is different than in the USA. This was really apparent with System One, which is an incredible product. System One has all the web 2.0 buzzwords under the hood, but they focus on a simple to use tool that pulls together the best of the new components, but only where it makes sense to create a simple tool that addresses complex problems.

Culture of Understanding Complex to Make Simple

It seems the European approach is to understand and embrace the complex and make it simple through deep understanding of how things are built. It is very similar to Instructables as a culture. The approach in the USA seems to include the tools, but have lacked the understanding of the underlying components and in turn have left out elements that really embrace simplicity. Google is a perfect example of this approach. They talk simplicity, but nearly every tool is missing elements that make it fully usable (calendar not having sync, not being able to only have one or two Google tools on rather than everything on). This simplicity is well understood by the designers and they have wonderful solutions to the problems, but the corporate culture of churning things out gets in the way.

Breaking It Down for Use and Reuse

Information in simple forms that can be aggregated and viewed as people need in their lives is essential to us moving forward and taking the pain out of technology that most regular people experience on a daily basis. It is our jobs to understand the underlying complexity, create simple usable and reusable structures for that data and information, and allow simple solutions that are robust to be built around that simplicity.



May 28, 2006

An Overview of the Local InfoCloud is Available

I have finally posted a write-up on Exposing the Local InfoCloud, which explains the attributes and components that comprise the Local InfoCloud. This is a write-up of an explanation that has been bubbling for a couple years and I finally put into a presentation last Fall for Design Engaged. The Local InfoCloud include resources that are familiar to us and can often be the social software elements with which we interact as trusted resources.

During a recent symposium on social software (I attended virtually) there was much grumbling around the term "community" and when I stated I was going to try and redact that term from my usage, I was quickly asked what I was going to replace it with. Community is broadly used and for most of my uses the components in the Local InfoCloud are more distinct pointers to what people can mean when they discuss community. The components are also can help us describe the human and digital resources that bring data, information, and media objects closer to us.

When I have chatted with people about the attributes and components in the past it leads to more questions and wonderful discussions. The point of this piece is to clarify the framework for the Local InfoCloud and capture discussion. I have incorporated the feedback from chats I have had, where it was convincing, relevant, and I was happy with how it jelled. I am looking for more feedback and discussion, which is part of the reason it is posted at the Personal InfoCloud (comments and trackback capabilities are available, but moderated, there).



May 26, 2006

TechCrunch Party in Seattle

I am in Seattle next week for a few days and while there I will be heading to the TechCrunch Party on May 31st. It looks like a good event, as most TechCrunch events go. If you are around you will need to sign-up on the wiki to attend.



May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

Andrew in his post "Reading user interface libraries" brings in elements of yesterday's discussion on The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud. Andrew brings up something in his post regarding Google and their Google Web Developer Toolkit (GWT. He points out it is in Java and most of the personal web (or new web) is built in PHP, Ruby [(including Ruby on Rails), Python, and even Perl].

When GWT was launched I was at XTech in Amsterdam and much of the response was confusion as to why it was in Java and not something more widely used. It seems that by choosing Java for developing GWT it is aiming at those behind the firewall. There is still much development on the Intranet done in Java (as well as .Net). This environment needs help integrating rich interaction into their applications. The odd part is many Intranets are also user-experience challenged as well, which is not one of Google's public fortés.

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

This whole process made me come back to the two differing worlds of Internet and Intranet. On the Internet the web is built largely with Open Source tools for many of the big services (Yahoo, Google, EBay, etc.) and nearly all of the smaller services are Open Source (the cost for hosting is much much lower). The Open Source community is also iterating their solutions insanely fast to build frameworks (Ruby on Rails, etc.) to meet ease of development needs. These sites also build for all operating systems and aim to work in all modern browsers.

On the Intranet the solutions are many times more likely to be Java or .Net as their is "corporate" support for these tools and training is easy to find and there is a phone number to get help from. The development is often for a narrower set of operating systems and browsers, which can be relatively easy to define in a closed environment. The Google solution seems to work well for this environment, but it seems that early reaction to its release in the personal web it fell very flat.

13 Reasons

A posting about Top 13 reasons to CONSIDER the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development and its response, "Top 13 reasons NOT to consider the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development" [which is on a .Net created site] had me thinking about these institutional solutions (Java and .Net) in an openly developed personal web. The institutional solutions seem like they MUST embrace the open solutions or work seamlessly with them. Take any one of the technical solutions brought up in the Microsoft list (not including Ray Ozzie or Robert Scoble as technical solutions) and think about how it would fit into personal site development or a Web 2.0 developed site. I am not so sure that in the current state of the MS tools they could easily drop in with out converting to the whole suite. Would the Visual .Net include a Python, PHP, Ruby, Ruby On Rails, or Perl plug-in?The Atlas solution is one option in now hundreds of Ajax frameworks. To get use the tools must had more value (not more cost or effort) and embrace what is known (frogs are happy in warm water, but will not enter hot water). Does Atlas work on all browsers? Do I or any Internet facing website developer want to fail for some part of their audience that are using modern browsers?

The Web is Open

The web is about being browser agnostic and OS agnostic. The web makes the OS on the machine irrelevant. The web is about information, media, data, content, and digital objects. The tools that allow us to do things with these elements are increasingly open and web-based and/or personal machine-based.

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

The web is moving to making the content elements (including the microconent elements) open for use beyond the site. Look at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the open APIs in the Yahoo Developer Network. Both of these companies openly ease community access and use of their content and services. This draws people into Amazon and Yahoo media and properties. What programming and scripting languages are required to use these services? Any that the developer wants.. That is right, unlike Google pushing Java to use their solution, Amazon and Yahoo get it, it is up to the developer to use what is best for them. What browsers do the Amazon and Yahoo solutions work in? All browsers.

I have been watching Microsoft Live since I went to Search Champs as they were making sounds that they got it too. The Live Clipboard [TechCrunch review] that Ray Ozzie gave at O'Reilly ETech is being developed in an open community (including Microsoft) for the whole of the web to use. This is being done for use in all browsers, on all operating systems, for all applications, etc. It is open. This seems to show some understanding of the web that Microsoft has not exhibited before. For Microsoft to become relevant, get in the open web game, and stay in the game they must embrace this approach. I am never sure that Google gets this and there are times where I am not sure Yahoo fully gets it either (a "media company" that does not support Mac, which the Mac is comprised of a heavily media-centric community and use and consume media at a much higher rate than the supported community and the Mac community is where many of the trend setters are in the blogging community - just take a look around at SXSW Interactive or most any other web conference these days (even XTech had one third of the users on Mac).

Still an Open Playing Field

There is an open playing field for the company that truly gets it and focusses on the person and their needs. This playing field is behind firewalls on Intranet and out in the open Internet. It is increasingly all one space and it continues to be increasingly open.



May 24, 2006


The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud

Over at Personal InfoCloud I posted The Future is Now for Information Access, which was triggered by an interview with Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) about the future of technology and information. I do not see his future 10 years out, but today. I see the technology in the pockets of people today. People are frustrated with the information not being easily accessed and use and reuse not being as simple as it should. Much of this is happening because of the structure of the information.

Personal InfoCloud is the Focus

One thing that struck me from the article, which I did not write about, was the focus on Google. Personally I find it odd as Yahoo is sitting on the content and the structure for more than 90 percent of what is needed to pull off the Personal InfoCloud. Yahoo is beginning to execute and open access to their data in proper structures. Ballmer lays out a nearly exact scenario for aggregating one's own information and putting it in our lives to the one I have been presenting the last few years. Yahoo has the components in place today to build on top of and make it happen. Google is not only lacking the structure, but they are not executing well on their products they produce. Google does the technically cool beta, but does not iterate and fix the beta nor are they connecting the dots. Yahoo on the other hand is iterating and connecting (they need to focus on this with more interest, passion, and coordinated direction).

The Real Battle

I really do not see the battle as being between Google and the others. The real battle is between Yahoo and Microsoft. Why? Both focus on the person and that person's use and need for information in their life and with their context. Information needs to be aggregated (My Yahoo is a great start, but it goes deeper and broader) and filtered based on interest and need. We are living in a flood of information that has crossed into information pollution territory. We need to remove the wretched stench of information to get back the sweet smell of information. We need to pull together our own creations across all of the places we create content. We need to attract information from others whom have similar interests, frameworks, and values (intellectual, social, political, technological, etc.). The only foundation piece Yahoo is missing is deep storage for each person's own information, files, and media.

Microsoft Live Gets It

Microsoft has the same focus on the person. I have become intrigued with the Microsoft Live properties (although still have a large disconnect with their operating systems and much of their software). Live is aiming where Yahoo is sitting and beyond. Microsoft has the cash and the interest to assemble the pieces and people to get there. Live could get there quickly. Looking at the Live products I saw in January at Search Champs with some in relatively early states and what was launched a few months later, the are iterating quickly and solidly based on what real people want and need in their lives (not the alpha geeks, which Google seems to target). Live products are not done and the teams are intact and the features and connections between the components are growing. They are leaving Google in the dust.

Can Yahoo Stay Ahead of Microsoft?

The question for Yahoo is can they keep up and keep ahead of Microsoft? Google has the focus in search as of today (not for me as the combination of Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0 and Yahoo! Search combined blow away anything that Google has done or seemingly can do. Yahoo! does need to greatly improve the simplicity, ease of use, and payoff (it takes a while for the insanely great value of MyWeb 2.0 to kick in and that needs to come much earlier in the use phase for regular people).

I am seeing Microsoft assembling teams of smart passionate people who want to build a killer web for regular people. It seems Ray Ozzie was the turn around for this and is part of the draw for many heading to work on Live products. The competition for minds of people who get it puts Live in competition with Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon, and even Apple. I am seeing Live getting the people in that they need. Recently (last week) Microsoft even started changing their benefits and employee review practices to better compete and keep people. It seems that they are quite serious and want to make it happen now.

Yahoo Under Valued

Recent comments about Yahoo being under valued in the long term are dead on in my view. A recent Economist article about Google pointed out how poorly they execute on everything but their core service (search). This waking up starts to bring a proper focus on what those of us who look at regular people and their needs from information and media in their lives have been seeing, Yahoo gets it and is sitting on a gold mine. Yahoo has to realize that Microsoft sees the same thing and is pushing hard with a proper focus and passion to get there as well.

Google Overvalued

What does this mean for Google? I am not sure. Google is a technology company that is focussed on some hard problems, but it has to focus on solutions that people can use. Google aims for simple interfaces, but does not provide simple solutions or leaves out part of the solutions to keep it simple. They need a person-centered approach to their products. The addition of Jeff Veen and his Measure Map team should help, if they listen. Google has some excellent designers who are focussed on usable design for the people, but it seems that the technology is still king. That needs to change for Google to stay in the game.



May 23, 2006

More XTech 2006

I have had a little time to sit back and think about XTech I am quite impressed with the conference. The caliber of presenter and the quality of their presentations was some of the best of any I have been to in a while. The presentations got beneath the surface level of the subjects and provided insight that I had not run across elsewhere.

The conference focus on browser, open data (XML), and high level presentations was a great mix. There was much cross-over in the presentations and once I got the hang that this was not a conference of stuff I already knew (or presented at a level that is more introductory), but things I wanted to dig deeper into. I began to realize late into the conference (or after in many cases) that the people presenting were people whose writting and contributions I had followed regularly when I was doing deep development (not managing web development) of web applications. I changed my focus last Fall to get back to developing innovative applications, working on projects that are built around open data, and that filled some of the many gaps in the Personal InfoCloud (I also left to write, but that did get side tracked).

As I mentioned before, XTech had the right amount of geek mindset in the presentations. The one that really brought this to the forefront of my mind was on XForms, an Alternative to Ajax by Erik Bruchez. It focussed on using XForms as a means to interact with structured data with Ajax.

Once it dawned on me that this conference was rather killer and I sould be paying attention to the content and not just those in the floating island of friends the event was nearly two-thirds the way through. This huge mistake on my part was the busy nature of things that lead up to XTech, as well as not getting there a day or two earlier to adjust to the time, and attend the pre-conference sessions and tutorials on Ajax.

I was thrilled ot see the Platial presentation and meet the makers of the service. When I went to attend Simon Willison's presentation rather than attending the GeoRSS session, I realized there was much good content at XTech and it is now one on my must attend list.

As the conference was progressing I was thinking of all of the people that would have really benefitted and enjoyed XTech as well. A conference about open data and systems to build applications with that meet real people's needs is essential for most developers working out on the live web these days.

If XTech sounded good this year in Amsterdam, you may want to note that it will be in Paris next year.



May 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

Nick does a killer job in a post on XHML wireframing and use and reuse of deliverables. This is something I had been doing for years and found it really made the conception to inception process really quick. It also gives the means to keep your documentation up to date. The time savings with XHTML wireframes has been about a quarter to a third of the development time saved.

Those who don't like giving clients clickable wireframes, the pages can be printed/saved out in PDF and annotated.

The other knock is IAs not knowing XHTML or CSS. Somebody working in the practice of web development and web design that does not have an understanding of the handful of elements in XHTML needs to learn it quickly. Go look at CSS Zen Garden to get an idea of what design can be done on top of properly structured XHTML. Lift the hood and look at the mark-up. It is not that difficult.

In short go read Nick's wonderful piece and give XHTML wireframes a shot.



Upcoming Conferences I am Presenting at and Attending

Okay, things have been quite busy here. But, here will be changing as I am hitting the skies a bit in the short term. This means I may be near you so reach out and we can hang out and chat. I am completely looking forward to all the places on my schedule and seeing all of the people.

XTech

I am off to Amsterdam, Netherlands (no not that other one) this week to speak at XTech. I will be presenting Developing for the Personal InfoCloud on Thursday at 11:45 in the morning.

BarCamp Amsterdam

On Saturday I will be attending BarCamp Amsterdam for part of the time.

Seattle Area

Following the Amsterdam trip I should be in the Seattle area for work. I don't have dates as of yet, but if you shoot an e-mail I will be sure and connect.

Microlearning 2006 Conference

I will be heading to Innsbruck, Austria for the Microlearning Conference and preconference (June 7). I will be talking about microcontent in the Personal InfoCloud and our ability and desire to manage it (one means of doing this is folksonomy, but will be discussing much more).

Following Innsbruck I may be in Europe a bit longer and a little farther north. I will be in Amsterdam just following the conference, but beyond that my schedule has not yet fully jelled.

WebVisions 2006

I will be heading to WebVisions 2006 in Portland, Oregon July 20th and 21st. I will be speaking on Friday the 21st about Tagging in the Real World. This will look at how people are making use of tagging (particularly tagging services) and looking at the best practices.

The Fall

In September it looks like I will be in Brighton, UK for a wonderful event. I should also be in Australia later in September for another conference.

As these events get closer, I will be letting you know.

Yes, I know I need to be publishing this information in hCal, but I have been quite busy of late. But, I am moving in that direction very soon. You can also follow what I am watching and attending in Upcoming for vanderwal.



May 5, 2006

Ze Saves Me with Daily Humor

I have a new daily habit, The Show by Ze Frank. It is a great way to start my day with humor. Is it same for work? Well, that depends on where you work, doesn't it?

For those who have been familiar with the humor and geek renderings of Ze for years, this is a daily dose. I am not usually a fan of podcast or videocast as it is tough to focus on 15 to 45 minutes of chatting. This is the perfect length, 3 to 5 minutes, as is Rocketboom. This has become my television.

Now back to work, which is why I don't have time for 45 minutes of chatting at me from a podcast.



May 2, 2006

Mis-Marketing

I have been needing to turn comments back on here in Off the Top. I get really good, er, make that great responses in e-mail to many of my posts here. There needs to be a conversation, which is what blogs are all about and it is in comments that much of this conversation takes place. But, as we all know having comments on is a large problem. Why is it a problem?

Problems Created by the Clueless

The problem with comments is the mis-marketers. No, not those mass marketing, but people with little clue about finding a good information space and bringing up products and ideas when they are coherent, which would be good marketing. Good marketing can be annoying, but it is not good marketing that has made an utter mess of blog comments. These people have not clue, they think they are on to a good idea that will make them wealthy, but like most get rich ideas they do not work. Not only do they not work in this case they create animosity toward the product and site. They are putting themselves on black-lists and lowering the value of what they are trying to inflate the value of. It is a clueless approach. They think they are marketing and creating value, but are actually doing the opposite. These mis-marketers not only have shot themself in the foot (or worse) they have ruined great tools.

I am curious if there is a convention or summit for mis-marketers? Can we get a little Cluetrain juice for them to sip?

Looking At My Options

The mis-marketers have made a mess of e-mail with SPAM, referrer logs, blog comments, and trackbacks (I know I am missing many other good communication methods). My blog is broken, I know this. I am still running my own blogging software from 2001. No, I do not have the time for upkeep. But, I keep looking at the time to convert my database to a format for MovableType or WordPress and keep the nearly 2000 entries still working for historical purposes. I do not see that time coming any time soon.



April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

Matt McAlister brings up the problems of being popular. This is a subject I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the past few months. Matt has a statement that is at the core of my focus, "Popularity-driven models water down the value in those hard-to-find nuggets." I spend a lot of time with regular people talking to them about tagging and many of the newer web tools that are popular with the forward thinking web geek crowd. One of the biggest problems stated are around the popularity tools, like tag clouds and collective voting on news (e.g. digg, etc.).

The problems are related to popularity getting in the way of what they are seeking. The tag cloud is what gets noticed on pages, but most people think del.icio.us (or any other tool or service that uses tag clouds) is fully represented by the tag cloud. That is a huge problem as del.icio.us is a very broad tool, but a quick look at what is in a tag cloud or the new items on the front page has users thinking it is a very narrowly focussed social bookmarking tool that mostly attracts people with technical and web interests. This completely misses the communities that sit under that tag cloud. In popular tools most of the content and communities of interest are sitting below the tag cloud and are not represeted at all by the tag cloud.

Much of the value of human filtering, which is the capability of a social bookmarking tools (like del.icio.us, RawSugar, Shadows, and Yahoo's MyWeb 2) is in finding the those &#quot;hard-to-find nuggets" (as Matt states). The value in these tools is being able to follow certain people on specific subjects, which they bookmark and tag. Many of these tools are fairly good at this, but they must focus on the specific interests not just the person in that service. As the tools grow with more people using them the tools must scale to allow us to filter out the noise.

Popularity does not help filter, but it takes the fire hose of information and just focusses it. What we find with the popularity tools it that much of this information can be found elsewhere. Remember high school? Do the popular 10% represent the interests of the remaining 90%? Didn't think so. Now look at the popularity tools and interfaces and you begin to see the problems that the 95% of the web users have with these tools. They don't scale, they are tied to their interests that they celebrate as being popular. How do regular people fly below the tag cloud? How do regular people use a Digg or a memeorandum to find their interests (if these sites were that broad)? How do we (as web developers and designers) build for breadth and depths to surface that, which is lost in the regular web search engines?

Seeing how Yahoo's MyWeb 2 surfaces content that people in one's own community have found and bookmarked, it could be that tagging is one of the methods (MyWeb 2 is hands-down my favorite social bookmarking tool as it makes Yahoo Search the best search engine for me by a long shot because it focusses on my vocabulary and interests. Were my interests focussed on model railroading or knitting a tool along these lines would be far more valuble than any other tool. Finding new items, as well as the gems that are hidden, is quite tough on the web today and I don't see the popularity tools doing anything to fix this.

Does this mean that the popularity tools do not work? No, but their usage is limited.



April 11, 2006

Odd Moments in the Day - Odd Moments with Technology?

Today brought an odd moment. I looked up at iChat (my IM interface) and I see my name (Thomas Vander Wal) and podcast under Jeremy's name, which means Jeremy is most likely listening to a podcast interview with me. I had never seen that before.

Now I decide to share that odd moment with Jeremy, which I did not realize would cause Jeremy to have an odd moment.

How can the world of pervasive/ubiquitous computing ever get off the ground when we give each other odd moments through our friendly stalking? By the way I prefer using stalking, where as some people like the term monitoring, but the term monitoring does not cause me to think about privacy implications that I believe we must resolve within ourself or learn to better protect our privacy.

The incident today still causes me to chuckle for a short moment then realize how open we are with things on the internet and how different that seems to be even though most of our life has been public, but to a smaller and more localized group. It also resignals that change that came with the internet (well and much of technology) is that we can not see those who can see us. In a town we know the local video store guy knows what we rent, but now Amazon knows what we bought as do those people on our friends list whom we share our purchases with so they can have some insight as what to buy. My local video store guy in San Francisco, near California and 2nd or 3rd Avenue, was amazing. He knew everything I rented in the last few months and would provide perfect recommendations. Did he use a computer to aid himself? Nope, he was just that good and his brain could keep the connection between a face and videos rented and if you liked that video. He knew my taste perfectly and was dead on with recommendations. Not only was he on with me, but most others who frequented his store. He was great recommending, but also could help people avoid movies they did not like.

Was the guy in the video store freaky? Not really, well to me. He was a person and that was his role and his job. I worked in a coffee house for a while first thing in the morning. After a couple months I knew who the first 10 customers would be and I knew about half of the orders or possible variations of what people would order. People are patterned, I could tie the person's face to that pattern for espresso coffee drink order and I could recommend something that they should try. To some this was a little disturbing, but to most is was endearing and was a bond between customer and shopkeeper as I cared enough to know what they would like and remembered them (I did not often remember their names and most of them I did not know their names), but I knew what they drank. If is the familiarity.

So, with technology as an intermediary or as the memory tool what is so freaky? Is it not seeing into somebody's eyes? Is it the magic or somebody more than 3,000 miles away knowing what you are listening to and then have the person whom you are listening to pop-up for a chat? I think it is we have collapsed space and human norms. It is also difficult to judge intent with out seeing face or eyes. I was in a back and forth recently with a friend, but could not sense their intent as it seemed like the tone was harsh (for a person whom I trust quite a bit and think of as being intensely kind and giving) and I finally had to write and ask, but it was written from a point where I was bothered by the tone. My problem was I could not see the eyes of the person and see they playfulness or gestures to know their intent was playful challenging.

While at the Information Architecture Summit a couple/few weeks ago in Vancouver a few of us went to dinner and we played werewolf (my first time playing). But, I was reminded that the eyes hold a lot of information and carry a lot of weight in non-verbal communication. I could pick the werewolf whose eyes I could see, but in two occasions the werewolf was sitting next to me and I could not see their eyes. There was one person in each of the two games whom I did think was the werewolf as their eyes were signaling similarly to people who were not telling the truth in the cultures I grew up in.

Could technology be more easily embraced if it had eyes? Should we have glancing as Matt Webb has suggested and built an application to suggest? But could we take Matt'a concept farther? Would it be helpful?

This was a long post of what was just going to be pointing out an odd moment in the day.



April 3, 2006

Mr. Thackara Provides Fodder for Two Loose Thoughts

Things have been busy of late after a return from Vancouver, British Columbia from the IA Summit. It took a week to get through taxes stuff for a four month old company (as of January 1) and a large stack of e-mail (in which responding meant more e-mail).

Yesterday morning I had the pleasurable fortune to have breakfast with John Tackara of Doors of Perception fame. I really need to put two things out there that popped up in conversation that I need to think about more deeply.

Children today are not into the web tied to computers, but focus on their friends through the mobile voice and text messaging. I have been running into this comment quite a bit from Europeans, but increasingly from parents of teen and pre-teens in America. Having a computer is not a large interest for them, but they live in their mobiles as a means to connect, filter, share, convene, and stay tethered to those that matter to them, their friends. The quick 10 to 20 year scenario for this could mean the web is dead and is a technology that had an immense impact, but was a technology that was relatively short lived. Are our communication technologies trending through ever shorter life spans? This could bolster my thinking that the web is increasingly a temporary terminus for information to be shared and picked up and used in context in other media that is better situated within people's lives.

This leads us to context. I keep looking at much of the information that is on the web as being out of the proper use context for most people. We read information on the web, but the web is not the context in which we will make use of this information we find. The web as it has been traditionally built is marginally better than television, in that an address for a car lot flashed on the television screen is as usable as it is plastered on a web page. The address does us more good in our pocket, in driving (or mass transit) routes, in our mobile that is in our pocket, etc. than it does on the web page, but few web pages today get that clue.

I have also been thinking about tagging and particularly tagging in the folksonomy subset as the tags providing mental context to external information. We use the tags to pull back these bits of information or to aggregate this information when we pull on the digital threads that draw what is at the ends of these tag tethers closer to ourselves. A chunk of information or media out on the web is lacking context to our lives with out these tags. When we have needs, most always framed in the context of a need related to a subject we use tags related to that subject to draw back in that which we found or other people with similar vocabularies have found. These tags provide context for the few thousand chunks of information out of the billions that we have explicitly expressed interest in and have placed the context upon based on its relationship between the information or object and ourself.



March 9, 2006

Microsoft Live Image Search

I have been rather quiet about my trip to Microsoft as part of their Search Champs v.4. This trip was mid-January and I was rather impressed with the what Microsoft showed. The focus was late-stage beta for MS Live products and things that were a little more rough. Last week Expo launched, which is a rather cool classified site along the lines of edgio and Craigslist. Expo did not launch with anything ground breaking, but that could be coming. None-the-less it is refreshing to see this kind of effort and interest coming out of Microsoft.

Live Image Search is a Great Web Interface

One of the products that was stellar and near launch that we saw was Live Image Search (shown with vanderwal - what else). Image search was stellar as it is quite similar to Apple iPhoto with its interface, but built for the web. Take Live Image search for a spin. No really, scroll, mouse over, change the thumbnail size on the fly. It is fast and responsive. I am quite impressed.

Oh, since I am on a Mac, I have been using Firefox/Camino to view Live Image search and it works just as wonderfully as it did in the demos on Windows with IE. I think Microsoft understand that the web is a platform, just like Windows and Mac. Microsoft gets that the web as a platform must work on top of other OS platforms. The web browser is an OS agnostic application and must remain so. Microsoft seems to understand that when building for the web it should work across browsers and OS platforms otherwise it is just developing for an OS, but that is not the web. The proof in this will be when Microsoft releases an Live toolbar for Firefox that has all of the access and functionality of the IE toolbar.

More to Come

I am really waiting for another product to get launched or closer to launch as I really think Microsoft will have a good product there too. It is something that really is of interest to me. It really seemed like the Microsoft people we worked with were really listening to our feedback.

Color my opinion changed toward Microsoft. Not only are they doing things of interest, but they are shipping. They are not only trying to get the web, but they have brought in people who understand and know what direction to head. I went to Microsoft out of curiosity and found something that went against my notions of what they were doing. Microsoft get the web in a similar manner to the way that Yahoo does, it is about people with real problems.

Where is my Mac?

Am I giving up my Mac? No. Hell no. My OS works the way that I work and does not get in my way. I don't spend time swearing at it or messing with it. I do the things I need to do for my job and life using technology to augment that effort. Apple has been doing this for years and I don't want to mess up a very good thing.



March 8, 2006

Ray Ozzie Demos Live Clipboard for the Personal InfoCloud

Boy, did I whine too early! As Jyri blogs, Ray Ozzie demos a desktop to blog structured information tool. Ray demonstrated a potential (or is it real) tool from Microsoft, Live Clipboard. A set of screen captures of the Ozzie demonstration of Live Clipboard shows what they are up to. It is killer stuff that really solves real problems people have in living their life with digital information across their devices and platforms. He focusses on structured information, which is all around us, or should be all around us.

Ray Ozzie is one of my favorite geeks. I would have some extremely serious Microsoft love if Microsoft follows the Ray Ozzie vision of technology rather than that of the buffoon Steve Balmer. Ray has the vision and understanding that Bill Gates had for the desktop, but never showed beyond that. Balmer just seems to do more damage to Microsoft than any benefit (what is his benefit?) he provides. Where as Ray just flat out rocks by being brilliant (in a visionary to real product way), calm, and a wonderful communicator. Ray built one of my favorite tools, Groove, but stopped non-Microsoft version far too early as that could be THE killer app of the decade (last 10 years). If Groove were platform and device agnostic it would be the best thing going, but it will have to settle for a good app that has boundary limitations.

Ray is bright and understands the problems that real people have with digital information and focusses along the lines of the Personal InfoCloud for solutions. He seems to show not only tools, but simple solutions for real people to use. It is what Microsoft needs (that and to ship) and what the industry needs. So far Apple is one of the few big (non-web) companies in the space providing simple solutions that work to resolve the problems of real people as they interact with digital information and media.



ETech is Emergent? [updated]

I thought this would be the year I was going to ETech, but with a few other things going on it was not the year. I have many friends that go each year and I see them very rarely.

But, I think I would have been very frustrated by ETech this year. It is still about the web. Achingly, still about the web. The problem is digital information and media is increasingly living beyond the web. The web is but one platform to distribute information, but thinking people live their lives in and on the web is silly. Want the information that is on the web, but need the information in their lives, in their devices they have with them, and in context to the rest of their life.

The panel that triggered this reaction is one by friends, Jesse and Jeff "Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps". In Tom Coates review the binary approach (web for reading and web for apps) sounds so short sited and really caused the trigger. Is Emerging Tech just rehashing the current and the past? Or can it move forward? I am not seeing much of that forward movement this year.

People live their lives attracting information and focussing on the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud we know people need the information to better mesh into their personal digital information workflow, which involves very little of the web. People find the information that they want and need and work very hard to keep it attracted to themself for easy refindability. Other than social bookmarking tools and a few others web based tools, much of this is done with tools that are beyond the web. Some people tuck all of their needed information and links into e-mail, others calendar, to do lists, PIMs, text files, syndication, e-mail, SMS, MMS, documents, mobile syndication, mobile documents, outlines, wiki on a stick, etc. There are many tools and many ways of working around lack of web access when people need the information most.

Many people, unlike those of us that build web-based tools (I am in that category), don't live on the web and their digital information needs to live beyond the web as well. That is the future of the web, it is a platform for just one state of information. That state that the web represents is the state of information transience. The information is in the process of moving from the creator to the person needing that information for their own use or for their reuse. This use will most likely not be on the web, but the reuse of information may be on the web.

The web as it exists now is a tool for publishing and aggregating. Some will use the web for use and reuse, but we need far more options that the web for real people to adopt their future and our now. We, as developers of tools, information, and resources must pay attention to real people. We must pay attention to their lives beyond the web and the large box in front of them. We need to understand their problems that they really have, which revolve around refindability and information reuse in their environment and context.

Now please go back to paying careful attention to the great things that friends and other alpha geeks are presenting at ETech and other conferences and un-conferences as that information is needed, but remember we are moving beyond, far beyond this current state of the web.

[update] Um, well Ray Ozzie just made me wish I was at ETech. He just showed what is emergent and what is the future. It could answer many of the items I just listed above. You go Ray!



Upcoming Presentations and Conferences

Things have been a little busy around these parts, but activity and early Spring allergies will not keep me from letting you know that the road show is beginning again.

SXSW

I am heading off to SXSW Interactive to participate in Tagging 2.0 Panel where we will discuss growth, changes, and new ideas in the realm of tagging.

I will also be hanging out with the Web Standards Project (WaSP) people as we are having our WaSP Annual Meeting open to the public.

This year looks to have some killer content at SXSW, not that it has not in the past, but there are more things than ever that I am interested in attending. I certainly hope they found larger spaces this year. Usually the corridors are overly enticing, but the session rooms could pose a challenge this year. I am looking forward to hanging, chatting, learning, and recharging my web vibe.

IA Summit

I am headed to the IA Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia later in March. I am on the Wireframing Challenges in Modern Web Development panel, which I will be moderating Nathan Curtis, Livia Labate, Bill Scott, and Todd Warfel. We will be looking at the wireframing challenges and solutions of the current web.

I am also presenting my IA for Efficient Use and Reuse of Information. As the web 2.0 meme rings out we realize there is a greater need beyond that as people actually want to use and reuse the information in their own personal information workflows and not always in one web application. I will focus on granular content inventories as well as how to identify content objects for information reuse and set the structure of that information for better use and reuse.

I am incredibly happy to see that Kevin Chang (along with Jane Jao) are presenting Communicating with Comics as a panel as well as a full day workshop. This could be the hidden golden nugget at the IA Summit.

XTech

I will be heading to Amsterdam, Netherlands for XTech in May. I am presenting "Developing for the Personal InfoCloud" on Thursday May 18. I will be discussing the Model of Attraction and Come to Me Web as foundations to focus on building for personal use and reuse of digital information and objects.

Microlearning Conference 2006

I will be one of the keynote speakers at the Microlearning Conference in Innsbruck, Austria held on June 8-9, 2006.

More to Follow

There are a few more that will be added shortly. I am also keeping busy with in-house presentations on the Come to Me Web, Personal InfoCloud, Folksonomy, and other related topics. If you would have an interest in having me present at your conferece, workshop, or an in-house event please contact me.



February 20, 2006

Ma.Gnolia Review and Color Me Disapointed

I have been digging around Ma.gnolia since it became public and I am finding it missing a lot of things. It is closer to Yahoo! MyWeb2 than del.icio.us but not doing things as well. The design is nice to look at, but there is too much white space and it requires a lot of scrolling. Watching people use del.icio.us, MyWeb, and the many other social bookmarking tools I see scrolling inhibits finding information, as having bits of information in the same line of focus draws lines of connection for the person using the site and this is a great value for the person using the tool.

Rating Bookmarks and Retention Modes

The rating bookmarks is something people say they want, but it is not used to often. People only bookmark what they like, they do not bookmark things they have no interest in. In spending time talking to people using social bookmarking tools they have two or three retention modes: self-interest, others have interest whom the individual values that the person uses as a filter for their attention, and community tagging.

Private Bookmarks and Community

Ma.gnolia has two modes for privacy, on and off. MyWeb2 adds community, which is extremely valuable. MyWeb2 even needs refinement on this front to make that more granular to greatly help findability and valuable community filtering. Not including these social aspects leaves Ma.gnolia behind in the field with a lot of catching up to do.

API, Walled Garden, and In-site Findability

Lacking an API is a serious problem, but it may be in the site somewhere, but the information is really not easily found on the Ma.gnolia site. This seems to be a nice gesture that Ma.gnolia wants to be their own user community, but that is the thinking of two or four years ago. Communities are opening up and walled gardens are opening to let the information and beauty get discovered.

There is Good

All is not needing improvement. I love the beauty of the site. The broad folksonomy well, as the person tagging is clear, the object tagged is clear, and the tags are clear. The ability to pivot when using two of the objects to find the third. I do like the Ma.gnolia approach of marketing by using visible celebrities tagging on their site.

Saving Bookmarks and Wrap-up

Lastly, Ma.gnolia touts their saved pages, but many social bookmarking services provide this service (well, accept del.icio.us as it is missing this component). It seems Ma.gnolia was targeted as a del.icio.us alternative, but those are a dime a dozen. There is nothing new in Ma.gnolia and many things that could have been and should be done a lot better. As I read the Ma.gnolia site is sounds like it is believed to be fully baked at this point, which I deeply hope it is not as this should be a start of the project and quickly fix the project and listen to users.



February 15, 2006

Thomas Vander Wal on PodLeaders Podcast

I have been quite busy of late. Between some InfoCloud Solutions client work and some other things (including family).

I really need to pay attention to my blog a little bit as I do have things to post, like Thomas Vander Wal interviewed by Tom Raftery on PodLeaders podcast. The podcast covers the "come to me web", folksonomy, InfoClouds, and InfoCloud Solutions work. I wish I could talk more about my client work, but that will come.

This was recorded over a Skype connection with Tom sitting in Ireland. I was using my Apple iSight and it worked rather well. I have been enjoying Skype for chats with friends and business relations in Europe, I really like the quality as well as the price. But the thing that I really like is that it is really personal, much like a mobile phone, you are pretty much assured of getting the person you wish to talk with rather than some answering service or other interference.

I am back to working.



February 14, 2006

Yahoo! Releases Web Developer Golden Nuggets

An e-mail from Nate tipped me off to the Yahoo! releases today. We now have at our finger tips, Yahoo! User Interface Library, the same libraries that power Yahoo! Yahoo! Design Patterns Library, which has been the culmination of a lot of effort and is considered to be the best internal resource around and is now in our hands. Yahoo! User Interface Blog and its corresponding Yahoo! User Interface Blog feeds. Lastly, Yahoo! delivers a Graded Browser Support (article).

Once again Yahoo! shows it gets community involvement with developers and is becoming a killer resource. This is the kind of involvement and giving that raises the level for all web developers. Bravo Yahoo! and thank you Nate for your involvement.



February 4, 2006

Internet was down

I have been dealing with my internet access going up and down all afternoon. It seems there is some outage beyond my DSL provider, as I can get access to them easily, but the hops stop just after their router. This is what they are reporting also. I left about 5:00 to go get WiFi access at the local Starbucks, but they were out too. After negotiations at home to get work done that is all web-based, I finally found access about 10 miles north of us in Gaithersberg/Rockville. There were a few others at the coffeehouse (part of a small chain that used to be here in Bethesda also) that had been going through the same thing.

This new year I have had this discussion about an "always-on society" is fine until it is broken. I clear time to get work done around my son's naps and other down times, when the work load is light. When the network is out, increasingly this is the case, or the power is out I am sunk. More and more of our work is moving toward web-based applications, but our networks are not bullet-proof.

My trip to San Francisco nearly had me ready to give up on WiFi as it was really difficult to track down (it is not everywhere) and the carriers block so many port one can not send secure e-mail or other normal tasks. As WiFi expands its footprint is seems to be less usable. On my recent trip the most reliable connection was on my hip in my Treo, but I can not do the work on web-based applications that I needed to from that device. As web applications get richer interfaces the limits to what devices can use them. Unless the rich web interfaces degrade we are going to have problems with this diverging problems based on usage.

I get quite used to an always-on mentality and a instant or quick response communication. When it does not happen, it seems problematic and I wonder what went wrong. It was like this through the holidays as people who would respond in under an hour, or in at least a day were taking longer than a week. January turned into two to three week response times as everybody is swamped, or battling for their jobs with budget cuts.

As much as I like the public access to WiFi idea, it is not hear yet. The current state of things is making the mobile broadband cards from the mobile carriers look very tempting. It creates two classes of people, but the cost recovery (based on high rates while on business travel) and easy access is very tempting.



January 30, 2006

Four Things Meme

I was hit with this Four Things meme by Mike Migurski. I am not a fan of similar memes, but they do provide a way to connect and open doors.

Four Jobs I've Had

  1. Taco Bell Clerk
  2. Electronic Data Analyst (I had green ruled paper, a metal ruler with points and pica, and paper to write data conversion strings instead of a computer)
  3. Starbucks Barista
  4. Director of Strategic Analysis

Four Movies I Can Watch Over And Over

  1. Mind Walks
  2. Do the Right Thing
  3. Sure Thing
  4. Lost in Translation

Four Places I've Lived

  1. Seattle, Washington, USA
  2. Portland, Oregon, USA
  3. Oxford, England, UK
  4. San Francisco, California, USA

Four TV Shows I Love

  1. Top Gear (UK)
  2. 24
  3. Mad About You
  4. CBS Sunday Morning

Four Places I've Vacationed

  1. Calvi, Corsica
  2. Paris, France
  3. Carmel, California, USA
  4. Luzern, Switzerland

Four Of My Favorite Dishes

  1. Paella
  2. Zachery's Pizza (deep dish)
  3. carne asada tacos from a tacqueria
  4. (French) Onion Soup

Four Sites I Visit Daily

This has changed a lot in the last couple years as I tend to intially scan most of what I visited daily through RSS/Atom feeds. The following are the sites I actually open everyday

  1. Financial Times
  2. Wall Street Journal
  3. BBC News
  4. Flickr

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now

  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  2. San Francisco Bay Area
  3. Portland, Oregon
  4. Oxford, England, UK

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging

Pardon me, but this is the meme and is seemingly harmless.

  1. Peter Boersma
  2. Andrew Otwell
  3. David Smith
  4. Joshua Porter


January 27, 2006

Microsoft and the DOJ Data Search Request

Yesterday at the Microsoft Search Champs v4 Microsoft peeled back the layers around their dealings with providing the U.S. Government with data around search. Joshua Porter writes-up U.S. Government request and Microsoft responce. The Microsoft discussion was very open and but was closed to those of us in the room. Late in the day we were told we could openly blog the information and discuss it.

A few of us got together last night to discuss the information and recorded the discussion in a podcast the privacy and Microsoft response to DOJ (MP3 10mb 42 minutes hosted on Alex Barnett server). The podcast is a discussion between:

Robert Scoble was the first to break the news in his blog.

From my personal perspective it was very refreshing to hear Microsoft be open with their thoughts and openly admitting they may have dropped the ball, not in the data they gave (because the data given was not personal data in any shape or form). They openly admitted they need to be a more open citizen of the internet. They have responsibility to be open with the personal information and data, which we as citizens of the web trust those with our digital tracks. There is a compact between the people using tools and the providers of internet tools that our digital rights are protected.

I have a very strong belief that Microsoft is a good citizen that looks out for my privacy. This was a trust I did not think I would have at any point in my life. It is a trust today that I have with them, but it will be a trust they must continue to foster. There are many in the Search Champs that strongly believe all of the search and portal companies must work together to ensure they are consistent in protecting the privacy of the digital citizens that interact with them. There was a lot of Google love that was lost with their public spin to try and drive a wedge between themselves and the other search engines and portals. Google was very good in publicly pointing out the DOJ request and getting public attention on the request. But, Google must work together with Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL to protect not only digital citizens but their whole industry.



January 21, 2006

Changing the Flow of the Web and Beyond

In the past few days of being wrapped up in moving this site to a new host and client work, I have come across a couple items that have similar DNA, which also relate to my most recent post on the Come to Me Web over at the Personal InfoCloud.

Sites to Flows

The first item to bring to light is a wonderful presentation, From Sites to Flows: Designing for the Porous Web (3MB PDF), by Even Westvang. The presentation walks through the various activities we do as personal content creators on the web. Part of this fantastic presentation is its focus on microcontent (the granular content objects) and its relevance to context. Personal publishing is more than publishing on the web, it is publishing to content streams, or "flows" as Even states it. These flows of microcontent have been used less in web browsers as their first use, but consumed in syndicated feeds (RDF, RSS/Atom, Trackback, etc.). Even moves to talking about Underskog, a local calendaring portal for Oslo, Norway.

The Publish/Subscribe Decade

Salim Ismail has a post about The Evolution of the Internet, in which he states we are in the Publish/Subscribe Decade. In his explanation Salim writes:

The web has been phenomonally successful and the amount of information available on it is overwhelming. However, (as Bill rightly points out), that information is largely passive - you must look it up with a browser. Clearly the next step in that evolution is for the information to become active and tell you when something happens.

It is this being overwhelmed with information that has been of interest to me for a while. We (the web development community) have built mechanisms for filtering this information. There are many approaches to this filtering, but one of them is the subscription and alert method.

The Come to Me Web

It is almost as if I had written Come to Me Web as a response or extension of what Even and Salim are discussing (the post had been in the works for many weeks and is an longer explanation of a focus I started putting into my presentations in June. This come to me web is something very few are doing and/or doing well in our design and development practices beyond personal content sites (even there it really needs a lot of help in many cases). Focussing on the microcontent chunks (or granular content objects in my personal phraseology) we can not only provide the means for others to best consume our information we are providing, but also aggregate it and provide people with better understanding of the world around them. More importantly we provide the means to best use and reuse the information in people's lives.

Important in this flow of information is to keep the source and identity of the source. Having the ability to get back to the origination point of the content is essential to get more information, original context, and updates. Understanding the identity of the content provider will also help us understand perspective and shadings in the microcontent they have provided.



January 12, 2006

A Better Day and Brigher Future

Things are a little better on this end today. I was able to delete the Photoshop French version and reinstall a Photoshop demo (I was very surprised I was able to do this and get back to the exact days left on the tryout where is left of yesterday) so I could continue to work. The shipment of the new package will be the fourth attempt to get this right by Adobe (their stock price is what?).

I have received many great suggestions on hosting and am looking at two of them seriously. E-mail has been up all day today as host hosting, which is good.

Along this front I am really getting tired of my own blogging tool. I no longer have time to keep running and the effort it takes to write, check, and post does not work for me any longer. I am doing too many things at once and not paying enough attention to the actual writing, which I really need to. I also blog adding all the mark-up needed (including needed character encodings). I really want to turn on comments again as readership here has grown and I really want to get back to "conversations" (not just monologues plus e-mail). There are things I want to build that I think would help the blogging community, but it is really fruitless to do this for a tool that has an install base of 1.

I have my options narrowed down for me as I will be running two sites from it and be using it as a CMS as well as a blogging tool. The two candidates I am down to are Movable Type and Drupal. I am leaning toward MT mostly because they have a very active support system inside the company and user-base. Drupal has a killer user-base that is very innovative and the tool has many social and community aspects to it that I really like. I will most likely be playing with both. Both have a good track record running more than one site off an install and using shared components for the different sites.

Now it is sorting out, which I can dump my current site into most easily and clean out the mark-up and encoding so to let the blogging tool do it (will make for easier current specification RSS/Atom feeds). I am also wanting to keep the 1770-plus URLs the same (as well as RESTful), which I have not sorted out. Suggestions are welcome.



January 11, 2006

Need Web Hosting Recommendations

Hey, I am back on-line and have e-mail. After the fourth major outage is five days I am needing a new hosting option. E-mail me suggestions, please. My InfoCloud Solutions, Inc. site and e-mail are on the same server and need solid hosting (this has been the worst six months of hosting I have had in the 10 years of having a personal site on-line), beating Interland on poor service (actually they may have been much worse, but that is far enough away) is a feat.

I like the people at the current hosting company and running servers is a thankless horrible job that I don't ever care to do again.

I really would like bullet proof e-mail, or close to it. LAMP stack hosting is required (preferably with PHP and Python for the "P") Ruby on Rails would be a nice to have (but that is mostly testing and I can do that on my laptop).



Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

Thanks to Tim Boyd I found a wonderful Mobile Flight Tracking Tool (the flight tracking tool is described by Jon Gales the developer. Tim took a photo of the flight tracking tool running on his Treo.

This is exactly the right tool to do the job that many need. Everybody complains about the lack of mobile interfaces to flight on-time information when they are needing to meet somebody at the airport. The airlines solutions either do not exist, are not detailed enough, or have interfaces that are cluttered (even on a Treo). Airlines suggested arrival times are a joke as they are trying to compensate for their tendencies for late arrivals, which they get penalized on. This has lead to a 45 minute flight from Washington to New York being stated at a flight time of 2 hours or more. On-time flight is not anything close to an efficient guide.

Most of the airline sites only think of the desktop for decent information, but where real-time flight arrival information is important is when you are on the go. Jon Gales's application solves a real life information need in the context of life. A standing ovation for his work is in order. I wish more apps like this were in existence, information solutions for people's real lives (we do not sit at our desktops and most do not carry their laptops where ever they go).

When designing for the mobile (this app horizontally scrolls on my Nokia 3650 and solving that is a relatively easy solution) we need to cut out the clutter. We need to understand the information need and the information that can be provided on that small screen. Paring away what is not essential is a vital task. Getting to what is important is also important. What is important is accurate and useful information for people's given the context that people wanting to use the information on the go face.



January 6, 2006

Yahoo! Go Launches [Updated]

I am quite interested in the newly launched Yahoo! Go, which is self described as:

Yahoo! Go - a new suite of products and services for your PC, mobile phone and even your TV.

Yahoo! Go allows you to access the information and content that is important to you on whatever device you choose.

So wherever you go, your photos, your music, your email, " your life&#quot; is right there with you. Ready to go.

The service provides your contacts (address book), photos, messanger, and mail. All great to have where ever you go. This is a very helpful service.

But wait! It is missing one thing. Yahoo! states, "allows you to access the information and content that is important to you". If that is true it is missing one giant piece. Where is the calendar? [Update] The calendar is actually there. Russ Beattie (of Yahoo! Mobile) provided the following response:

Y! Go also syncs the Calendar, it syncs with your Yahoo! Calendar and uses the Series 60 native calendar app on the phone for alerts. The SyncML service also syncs the calendar on phones like the SonyEricsson's and Nokias which support it.

What really impresses me is the SyncML work. That news is one of the most impressive things I have heard on calendaring in a while. I have been waiting for Apple to go this route for their iSync for the last couple revisions and I thought they would be the leaders on this syncing standards front. Yahoo! seems to understand the needs today and the future, which is one of the things that has impressed me about Yahoo! in the last year or two (they really get it, possibly better than any other large web company, yes I am considering Google too). If you want more info on Yahoo! and using SyncML Russ has the following post on Yahoo! Mobile Services: SyncML and More. I am still not sure why the marketing people left out calendaring. [/Update]

<ignore>Of all the things to leave out.</ignore> The calendar is one of two pieces of essential social data that people complain constantly that they do not have access to, or did not sync properly (the other is contact info). A large part of our social communication is about the "next". It could be the next call, the next meeting, the next lunch, the next... you fill-in the blank. Social is not completely about the now, it is about the future too. Not having a component to connect in the future and to ensure proper planning it is only a partial social tool.

One of my pet peeves the last four years, or so I have been working with the Model of Attraction and the Personal InfoCloud (your information you are interested, that you have attracted to your device, becomes attracted to you and moves across your devices so it is at your ready call when you want it and need it) is constant access to one's own information, which means whether you have connectivity or not and is available on the device you have with you (it must be device and platform agnostic). Yahoo! seems to get this all but for that one important bit.

In the past year Yahoo! purchased a company that provides event information (Upcoming), which could tie wonderfully into a calendar (either as events you are attending or potential events). Yahoo! also recently announced connecting Tivo and your Yahoo! calendar. We know they get the importance of the calendar. Where oh where is it? [Update] It is actually there just not advertised.[/Update]



December 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

Joshua Porter brings up a wonderful point he is calling the "Delicious Lesson". The Del.icio.us Lesson is incredibly important, as it is one thing that many tools and implementations of the social web do not get. The person must get value for their interaction in the service or it will fade.

I see so much focus on the technology, the interaction components, the network effect, etc. But, the driver for these services that are successful is that they have a direct primary value for the person choosing to use them.

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

Jeff Hawkins (the inventor of the Palm device and pen-based writing language (Graffiti) Palm used) talks about the most important point for people to adopt and learn Graffiti was it gave the person value. Jeff points out that learning Graffiti took a little bit of time, but people could see value of learning Graffiti as it made for a quicker input of information. There was personal value that did not take a lot of initial effort to learn, which returned a much greater value.

Social Network Ecosystems

In social networks and personal interaction with web applications and their associated communities there is a ecosystem. The social networks have value chains. I have been playing with this idea for a few months (mostly with in the intersection of the Personal InfoCloud and the Local InfoCloud. I have been using it on some personal projects and it is weaving its way into my consulting practice (but with focus on the full ecosystem and values).

The personal interaction with the system/application/service and value derived is a viable measure, particularly when there are two points of value for the person. The first personal value is derived from the service returning direct value to the person for their interaction. In del.icio.us it is making one&039;s own bookmarks/favorites more easily refindable, the ability to expand one's own bookmarks/favorites beyond the functional restrictions of the browser, and having access to the bookmarks/favorites from any browser anywhere one has web access. The second value is the network value, which can be a feeling of digital philanthropy (doing it out of goodness), personal attention (being an authority, coolness, building points for alphaness, etc.), a driver for monetary reward (recognition increases clicks to an site with ad revenues, builds attention for a business, etc.), etc.

Attention is Value

Attention for those providing development, like in the widget communities for Yahoo! Widgets and Apple Dashboard is very important. In the podcast of the Niall Kennedy and Om Malik interview with Kevin Burton regarding APIs this issue gets brought up (beginning at 15:19 into the podcast). The example discusses Konfabulator (the original product name for Yahoo! Widgets) and Apple Dashboard. Kevin Burton (I believe) states Apple Dashboard has larger exposure than Konfabulator does at the moment and Apple could offer the developers more attention to get more people writing widgets for them. Here the initial value for the developers is attention, as is pointed out in the podcast. The developers are passionate about what they do (personal value in a platform for their expression of their development prowess), but the secondary value received is attention. In a limited pool of developers (not only for widgets, but APIs, and other open development arenas) value to the developer is attention, which can lead to monetary value. This value to the developer is going to be a driver for which service they provide their services (a secondary driver is ease of development). The value to the network is more widgets equal more cool things for the service, but the primary reason the developers are there, is often the value to themselves.



December 20, 2005

Del.icio.us is Back

Yeah!! Del.icio.us is back. After many hours, if not a day of being down due to residual effects from a power outage. I bet Joshua is looking forward to somebody else managing the servers.

I has been a bad week for the popular stuff on the web with TypePad outage problems in the past week as well (yes, that meant Personal InfoCloud was down).

Does it bug me? Not so much. Del.icio.us being down meant I was not cross posting with Yahoo! MyWeb rather than to both places. If this site is down I am not too happy as my work e-mail is on the same server and I have been living in e-mail lately. But, I think with TypePad and Del.icio.us and the like with their outages I have appreciation for what it takes to keep that up and running. I also know the problems inherent in scaling those type of services. At some point the killer ease of use applications become more about killer sysadmins and server/datastore optimization skills. That is where one learns to grow up.

Along those lines, I am quite happy to see Technorati get their server situation sorted out and they are now running at usable speed again (it was a seemingly long time coming).



December 19, 2005

Web 2.0 Dead?

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it was a little sooner than expected. Richard McMannus explains why Web 2.0 jumped the shark as an follow-up to his Web 2.0 is dead. R.I.P. post. This pronouncement has an impact as he is co-writing a book on Web 2.0 for O'Reilly Books (with Joshua Porter) and writes Web 2.0 Explorer on ZD Net. In Richard's explanation he gives the prime reason is to get away from the hype and cynicism.

Tim O'Reilly describes Web 2.0 in rather long detail. But in the more than a year that the term has been around it has not been used in any specific specific sense and it quickly turned into a buzzword with little meaning. There are some profoundly different things taking place on the web, when we compare it to the web five years ago. These things seem to be best described by their terms and pointing to what has changed and where we are going now. Richard writes that he will still largely be writing about the same things, but will not be using the Web 2.0 moniker.

The Rich Interface

During the past six to nine months one could easily see that the term Web 2.0 getting flattened into hype and mis-understanding. Many articles were written about new technologies that were changing the landscape, but neither were the technologies new, nor were they doing much of anything different than sites were doing or trying to do in the previous three to five years. AJAX was not new, it was a new name for xmlhttprequest (which most web developer worth much of anything knew about, but knew there was little browser adoption outside of Microsoft IE). Jesse James Garrett provided a much easier means of calling the long term, mostly to talk more easily about what Flickr and Google (in Gmail and Google maps) had been doing in the past year using it as part of their rich interfaces. The rich interfaces were absolutely nothing new as Flash had been providing the exact rich interface capability for years. The problem was much of the design world had not worked through its documentation and design specifications for a rich interface using Flash, but they jumped all over AJAX with out ever working through solutions to the problems of state, (re)addressing information, breaking the back button, addressable steps in a process, etc. Web browsers growing up and becoming consistent and more processing power and memory on the machines under the browsers have enabled the rich interface more than anything that gets credit for being new.

Web as Platform

The web as a platform is a great step forward, but it is anything but new, just ask the folks at Salesforce. But it has been embraced as a replacement for the desktop . The downside is most people do not have continuous access (or anything near it) and many do not want it. People have set workflows that cross many devices, contexts, and information uses. Thinking the web is the only way is just as short-sited as closed desktop applications. The web as a platform is insanely helpful, but it should not be the only platform. We have to work towards cross-platfoms and cross-device use development as an end not just the web.

Forbidden Term

Very quickly this year the Web 2.0 term was forbidden from usage from many conferences and large meetings I went to. It was forbidden as by that point it had lost its meaning and using the more direct terms, like social networking, social bookmarks, rich interface for mail, web as an application platform, etc. It was also noted that people should not say the new web, with out explaining why they thought it was new. There needs to be clarity in understanding so we can communicate, and Web 2.0 did not provide that as it was an umbrella term that was used as a buzz word to replace specific changes people did not understand.

Without a Term How to We Understand

There have been a handful of people who have been writing on the Web 2.0 changes and landscape and using the term well and describing the components that are being used in new ways. Richard was one and his writing partner Joshua is another. The group that is aggregated at Web 2.0 Workgroup are most of the rest.

With out the term Web 2.0 it will be tough, but it was more a marker of a confluence of many different things that shifted than a bright line in one or two areas. Understanding what has changed will make sense, which is a large part or what Joshua has been doing and a small handful of others. When the confluence is the streams and rivers of technology, social interaction (as Bruce Sterling calls it "technosocial"), interface, web services, application that provide uses that are needed, cultural and social changes along the lines of privacy (this could swing back massively), cultural changes with more people having comfort with social interactions using technology, trust, etc. take place there will be problems describing it. There will also be only a rare few that can cross the chasms and grasp, make sense of the subtle as well as vast changes, and explain them intelligently and simply to others. As the majority of writing has proven it is a very rare few indeed that have the background and wit to handle this challenge.

Now that I am at the end of the brain dump (some of it long festering), I think I am a wee bit sad to see the term losing traction. But, I don't have to think had to remember one of the vast many of poor articles that every journal has had somebody write.

In full disclosure I spoke on the BayCHI Web 2.0 Panel held at Parc in August. Been writing and speaking on digital information use across devices and platforms for three or four years and the underlying information architecture that is needed to support it. In this past year I frame the need for it as a change from the "I go get web" to the "Come to me web" (not quite equivalent to the push/pull analogy, but I will explain this later for those that have not heard the presentations or me just ramble about it). I felt it important to frame what I change I was talking about rather than rely on the Web 2.0 moniker.



December 9, 2005

Yahoo! and Del.icio.us come together

Today brings wonderful news on the folksonomy front, del.icio.us is now a Yahoo! property (Yahoo! announcement). The del.icio.us tool and Yahoo! MyWeb are two of my favorite tools out there.

There are many things I would like MyWeb to do, but would be difficult as they would be treading on IP of del.icio.us, which is delicate territory (just ask Blackberry/RIM). Del.icio.us would not be able to pull off the MyWeb improvements that come in the Yahoo! search, which now kicks anything Google is doing (Google has really fallen behind with search just because of this). Having both products, with del.icio.us hopefully becoming MyWeb 3, would make it nearly untouchable. Granted there is an insane amount of fixing that Yahoo needs to do with its social networking (or community tool as it calls it) under MyWeb, but that is not rocket science and hopefully would all be fixed in the next version of MyWeb.

Congrats all around on this one.



November 29, 2005

10 Wonderful Years

Before I forget, as of some point between the 20th and the 30th of November I will have had a personal site on the web for 10 years. All of this started with a few simple pages to say who I am (never very well), post a links page so I could have access to things I have an interest in from any internet access, and play with HTML. Much of the first site was silly with each page having its own look-and-feel (see playing with HTML), but I really wanted to experiment.

The first site was hosted on Compuserve, but with in a year it was moved to Clark.net hosting (that was bought by Verio and went downhill). In 1997 or 1998 I bought this domain name and soon after hosted the site outside (first with ASP and then ColdFusion) in real terms. In 2000 I moved the site to PHP, on the same hosting service, but they did not understand open source server hosting. In very late 2000 I started blogging with Blogger, which in 2001 switch to hand mark-up and then by the end of 2001 I implemented my own blogging tool that still runs the blog (it desperately needs a few hours of attention to get if functioning properly). But, work has largely kept me from making other profound changes to the site since then, there was the redesign to the current presentation in 2002 or so.

These past 10 years have made for a wonderful digital life. If you see me in London or Brighton (given the appropriate venue) lets celebrate this little event of personal expression and personal existence.



November 2, 2005

Folksonomy Definition and Wikipedia

Today, having seen an new academic endeavor related to folksonomy quoting the Wikipedia entry on folksonomy and I realize the definition of Folksonomy has become completely unglued from anything I recognize (yes, I did create the word to define something that was undefined prior). It is not collaborative, it is not putting things in to categories, it is not related to taxonomy (more like the antithesis of a taxonomy), etc. The Wikipedia definition seems to have morphed into something that the people with Web 2.0 tagging tools can claim as something that can describe their tool (everybody wanted to be in the cool crowd). I hope folksonomy still has value as a word to point something different in the world of tagging than the mess that went before it. It is difficult to lose the pointer to something distinct makes understanding what works well. Using folksonomy and defining it to include the mess that was all of tagging and is still prevalent in many new tools dilutes the value.

Folksonomy Is

Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrival. The tagging is done in a social environment (shared and open to others). The act of tagging is done by the person consuming the information.

The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object as well as. The people are not so much categorizing as providing a means to connect items and to provide their meaning in their own understanding.

Deriving Value from Folksonomy

There tremendous value that can be derived from this personal tagging when viewing it as a collective when you have the three needed data points in a folksonomy tool: 1) the person tagging; 2) the object being tagged as its own entity; and 3) the tag being used on that object. Flattening the three layers in a tool in any way makes that tool far less valuable for finding information. But keeping the three data elements you can use two of the elements to find a third element, which has value. If you know the object (in del.icio.us it is the web page being tagged) and the tag you can find other individuals who use the same tag on that object, which may lead (if a little more investigation) to somebody who has the same interest and vocabulary as you do. That person can become a filter for items on which they use that tag. You then know an individual and a tag combination to follow. The key is knowing who and what specifically is being tagged.

Social Tagging

There are other tagging efforts that are done for socially connecting others and others where people are tagging their own information for others. I have been to workshops where items on the web were tagged with a term that was agreed upon for tagging these objects across tools. This allows the person to retrieve information/objects connected with that event as well as others getting access to that information/object. Does it fall into the definition of folksonomy? This gets fuzzy. It is for the retrieval of the person tagging the information, so it could fit. It gets close to people tagging information solely for others, which does not get to a folksonomy, it is what Cory Doctorow labeled Metacrap.

Academics Quoting Wikipedia

Sadly, I have had 15 to 20 academic papers sent to me or links to them sent to me in the past year. No two of them use the same definition. Everyone of them points to Wikipedia. Not one of the papers points to the version of the page.

The lack of understanding the medium of a Wiki, which is very fluid, but not forgetful, is astonishing. They have been around for three or four years, if not longer. It is usually one of the first lessons anybody I have known learns when dealing with a Wiki, they move and when quoting them one must get the version of the information. They are a jumping off point, not destinations. They are true conversations, which have very real etherial qualities.

Is there no sence of research quality? Quoting a Wiki entry without pointing to the revision is like pointing to Time magazine without a date or issue number. Why is there no remedial instruction for using information in a Wiki?

Personal Love of Wikis

Personally, I love Wikis and they are incredible tools, but one has to understand the boundaries. Wikis are emergent information tools and they are social tools. They are one of the best collaboration tools around, they even work very well for personal uses. But, like anything else it takes understanding on how to use them and use the information in them.



October 16, 2005

Closing of the First Phase of the Fall European Tour 2005

I am back in Amsterdam tonight after a wonderful trip to Brussels for the Euro IA Summit. It was quite refreshing to talk to people that have a different perspective from Americans on IA, mobile, technology, privacy, and the possibilities for social interaction with digital devices. Last year after Design Engaged in Amsterdam I believed Europe to be farther ahead on internet and mobile (including mobile internet) than America. I now firmly believe Americans have a lot to learn from the Europeans.

I wanted to come and present the InfoCloud information in Europe because I thought they would be more ready for it. They would be able to provide criticism and questions that I do not get in America, mostly because the Europeans have been implementing mobile and trying to work through a means to access information in the environment and context where the information makes sense. Boy, was I right. The InfoClouds are more than mobile, as they are a means to think about information access, personally managing that information (or providing people the ability to manage, use, and reuse the information intelligently) and reusing it as that information is needed and framing the information in ways that make sense (web 2.0 fit this bill). I ran into smart thinking about web 2.0 here, not the just go do it, just open your information up, but working to think about if it made sense to do the cool and how they would do it intelligently.

The Europeans also really get cross-cultural sensitivity and are smart about how to approach working with other cultures. I was delighted to find what American's call internationalization is referred to as localization. How brilliant. How understanding. How unalienating. There is a distinct understanding that people are different and we need to understand that and embrace that. Hmm, there is a very strong reason why it is called the Personal InfoCloud and not the User InfoCloud. If you are not thinking in a local sense you will not get to the personal sense. You can get from localization to personalization, or from the Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud and also back. We all deal with more than one Local InfoCloud and I received some of the best questions about the interaction between the various Local InfoClouds and the Personal InfoClouds. Interaction be between the social part of personal it of immediate interest here. People are very tied to their communities here, it is a strong part of their identity.

I found myself surrounded this weekend by insanely smart people, who love what they do, and are doing things to help others. Everybody was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in learning everything they could and sharing what they knew. I could not have asked for a better way to have spent any of this time. I would do all of this again in a heartbeat.

Thank you to all of those that I had the pleasure of sharing time with. Who were incredible hosts in their countries. Who asked and listened and from whom I learned to do the same, as when you listen you can learn. I learned an incredible amount. Thank you again. I am ever so much looking forward to my next two trips.

Peace!



October 5, 2005

Subject of a Life Scrape

The past few months have been quite interesting to watch as I can see people doing a "life scrape" on me. A what? Yes, life scrape. This is somebody searching your digital being online. Let us say you meet a wonderful person at a happy hour and you start seeing a lot of traffic coming into your blog or other web property from a wide variety of inbound links in your referrer logs. You check your web access logs and see that many of the broad inbound links were the result of one IP address. This is a life scrape. Just like search engines will scrape a web page for its content a person's digital life can be scraped to get an understanding of who they are, for what ever the reason.

I am coming up on 10 years of having a personal website, blogging for 5, and have been commenting around the internet for more than 13 years. There is a fair amount of digital life to scrape. People could be doing this for due diligence (they are going to use me for work, hire me, write about me, or stalk me (white-hat stalking or black-hat stalking)), but I am never sure. The past couple of months I have been getting this confirmed by the people doing the life scrapes. I think the people doing the life scrape are a little more freaked out that I figured it was them (I sometimes know what search engine they have used because of the order the inbound links come in and the source of the inbound links). The web is not as anonymous as many think and with a little context (I met person X at a happy hour and they want me to help review a project for them) I have a decent idea of the probable suspects.

All of this is a part of having a digital life. It would be nice to be able to see all the inbound links for any information we as people have out there. We can examine the inbound traffic for our own websites, our RSS feeds, what others are saying, but we can't see who is hitting the external information. It is sort of the digital equivalent of having your ears ringing (somebody is talking about you says the old wives tales).



September 25, 2005

Web 2.0 Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

I posted a write-up on Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction, which explains the Housing Maps through the Model of Attraction lens.

Read and comment over at Personal InfoCloud.



August 25, 2005

Del.icio.us and MyWeb Combo Bookmarklet

I took two of my favorite bookmarklets (for del.icio.us and Yahoo MyWeb 2, put them in my javascript collider to get a Combo Tag Tool (drag this to your browser's bookmark bar.

By clicking on this bookmarklet you get the del.icio.us tag interface populated with the title. You also get a MyWeb entry pop-up window.

I have been seeing the early benefits of Yahoo's MyWeb, but I also want to keep the community I have in del.icio.us. Keeping both up to date and in sync is my goal and hopefully this will help you do the same.



August 20, 2005

BarCamp is Rocking the Free World

I started following BarCamp on IRC, Flickr, and streaming video. Today I was able to participate in one of the discussions. This is one of the better things I have done lately directly on the web.

It has not been perfect as people go outside and gather, but nobody takes the streaming camera. It is like not having legs, or other communication means.

Go follow along. You are invited.



August 19, 2005

Yahoo! MyWeb Imports Del.icio.us Bookmarks and More Observations

Yesterday's post, MyWeb 2 Grows Up Quickly into a Usable Tool, had part of my answer delivered today by e-mail. Yahoo! had already built a del.icio.us import tool (as well as an Internet Explorer bookmark, Yahoo bookmark, and RSS import tools) to grab your bookmarks and tags out from del.icio.us.

My import went well, um it took four attempts to get all 1,440 of my bookmarks into Yahoo MyWeb 2, but they are all there along with the 20 or so I had stored in MyWeb already. I wish it could have kept the dates from my del.icio.us bookmarks as the time puts those links in context for me with other things I was working on at the time I made the bookmark.

I am not abandoning my del.icio.us bookmarks and will keep feeding it as it is my only easy option at work at the moment. Now I am interested in a JavaScript bookmark that would post to both MyWeb and del.icio.us from the same form. There is community around one's social bookmarks as I know there are people that pull my del.icio.us bookmark feed into their aggregator, just I do that with other's bookmarks. This is part of their being social, yes?

Now I want to play with MyWeb with my 1,459 plus pages in it. As a personal bookmarking tool this will be a good test. I am now also curious with searching with Yahoo! if my own bookmarks will appear on the search page. This would be nice as I found Google somewhat scary when I started seeing my own blog posts showing up in searches I was doing from work. But, I started my blog (nearly five years ago) as a note to self tool, which also happened to be open to everybody else in the world. It is my outboard memory. This is also the reason I started my own personal site nearly 10 years ago, as a link tool so I could keep access to my web links from any web connection I could get. A lot has changed in these nearly 10 years, but so much has stayed the same.

I have a laundry list of interface changes I would love to see in MyWeb that I will be shooting to them that are interface related. I also have many social network improvements for their tool to get more fine grained in their connections between people in the social engine, which may take more than just a few e-mails.



August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

A question came up with Rashmi in the week prior to the BayCHI Web 2.0 event that I thought would definitely come up at the panel in the Q&A session, but most of the questions related to the application and technology side of things.

As content can be repurposed in and pulled into various tools with drastically different presentations than the sites they sit within. There seems to be a logical question as to the value of the user experience of the initial site. We are spending a lot of time, effort, and resources building optimal user experience, but with more and more of the content being consumed in interfaces that do not use the user experience should we spend less time and resources on perfecting it?

One answer is no, things are fine the way they are as the people that still consume the information in the traditional web manner (is it too early to call it traditional web manner?) are a narrower audience than the whole of the people consuming the information. The design of the site would have to add value, or provide additional service to continue enticing people back. I have been talking about the Perceptual Receptor in the Model of Attraction for a few years and the sensory components of design, look, and appeal should be targeted to the expected users so it fits their expectations and they are attracted to the content they are seeking in a manner that is appealing to them.

The converse to this is we are spending too much time on the ephemeral in relation to the benefit. With increasing consumption of the information done though RSS/ATOM feed readers and aggregators on the desktop, mobile, or web (as in Bloglines or My Yahoo) interfaces, which nearly all strip the presentational layers and just deliver the straight content with the option for the person to click and get to the site we developed. Information is also pulled together in other aggregators as summaries on various websites and versions e-mailed around. The control of the user experience has drifted away from the initial designer and is in the hands of the tools aggregating (some provide presentational layers from the content owners to show through on the aggregators), or the people consuming the information that choose their own presentation layer or just strip it for other uses.

With content presentations in the hands of the people consuming and not the crafting designer how does branding come through? How does the richer integrated interface we spent months designing, testing, and carefully tweaking? Branding with logos may be easier than the consistent interface we desire as the person consuming the content has a different idea of consistent interface, which is the interface they are consuming all of the information in. People have visual patterns they follow in an application and that interface helps them scan quickly for the information they desire.

Where the content creator puts their content out for aggregation in XML related feeds, they have made a decision at some level that having their content in the hands of more people who want it is more important than a unified user experience. Consumption of the media has a greater impact than fewer people consuming a preferred experience. All of the resources we put into the refined user experience is largely for the user's benefit, or at least that is what we say, but it is also for the business benefit for consistent branding and imprinting. The newer consumption models focus on the person and their getting the information and media they want in the easiest and their preferred manner for that person.

Is there an answer? One single answer, most likely not. But, I personally don't think we and crafting designer have a great say at this point. As tools people use mature, we may get more control, but optimally the person consuming is the one in control as they want to be and should in the "come to me web".



August 13, 2005

Back from "Vacation"

I am back home from a week (um, with an interruption) at the New Jersey Shore. It was a good week, but a different week. Our usual destination of Spring Lake is undergoing change. Over the past seven years we have been going there we have watched the housing prices rise. But this year we were seeing many of the stores we knew replaced by real estate offices and many stores were saying good bye to us as it was their last year, they too are being out priced and replaced by real estate offices.

The oddity is that many who go to this quaint little slice of the shore love the quiet, the wonderful neighborly nature of the community, and the main street (3rd Street). The increasing residential housing costs have hit the main street and part of what has made Spring Lake a great destination (very much like going back in time) is being thrown away. The success is killing what has made it a success.

We also noted there were far fewer people this past week than there have been in past years. Many have said the B&Bs are getting overpriced and a couple have left the marketplace. We also have noted that the homes that are for sale are on the market for a lot longer. The quiet nature is getting some of the pushy New York feel (which is fine in NYC or the Hamptons, but that is not what we have been wanting on a week away).

This trip also had a quick jaunt out to San Francisco thrown in the middle so to speak at . I ordered a car service that picked me up at 5:40am that took me to the Newark airport. The driver was one of Jackson Browne's road keyboard players in years past. We talked about the music industry, travel and kids, Europe, and the changes in Spring Lake (echoing all that we had heard). I got to Newark to find out Continental had overbooked the flight and I did not have a seat (had I known this I would have booked on an other carrier), but it turned out well.

I had another whirl wind trip through the Bay Area and had not enough quality time with people I wished I had more time to hang with. I met a few new people that I a really would like to have gotten to know a little better. I must apologize to a couple people I cut short at as I was leaving PARC, as I was running late to, drive up 280, return my car, have a quick face-to-face meeting, and get on my plane. I am now trying to sort out my next trip back.

I got back into LaGuardia the next morning at 9am (after changing planes in a quiet Cleveland). I took the shuttles to Grand Central then to Penn Station to catch the New Jersey Transit train back to Spring Lake. I was running to get a ticket and then catch the train, but did not get the arrival time into Spring Lake. I figured I could get the information on my Treo easily enough as it was New York and it would be mobile enabled. Um, wrong. The web version is only JavaScript enabled (with no thought for no script versions) and therefore does not work on a mobile device (it can be a rather slick site on a laptop or desktop), which is what I needed.

I had a nice last few days at the shore and it was more relaxed than the first part. I had a nice chat on the beach, which may turn into a trip north in the end of September.

It is rather nice to be back on my laptop with a broadband connection. Using my Treo for connectivity to my digital life was a stretch. It was better than the year prior, but there were also times then the advances of the web toward AJAX, general DHTML, and rich interfaces left the needed information unaccessible from a mobile device. The page size for these pages was huge (many over 200kb), which is fine on broadband, but not smart on a mobile device. The lack of a link to a mobile version (I have not found a version of a site that I needed that offered a mobile option) was quite silly (a page without the JavaScript would have worked just fine or search for mobile could have been a solid solution).

Lastly, my Treo 600 seems to be on its last legs again. It has been only 18 months (or 20) since I got it, but it is not keeping up with the my wear and tear. My Startac and my Motorola 270c took more punishment and kept going for twice as long. The OS is getting buggy and crashing on me, which was not happening until my last day at the Shore. But it is a recurring problem tied to Snapper mail and the web browser in some way. The limitations of the memory, the added large SD card does not help, really show when trying to use the devices as one's main devices for a week. It is just an intermediary device, which it is designed to be, but the rigors of vacation use for light web, 50 plus e-mails a day, calendaring (although not dealing with iCal subscription) really made live tough. I did not have access to del.icio.us, Flickr, nor my RSS feeds (although I could have loaded FreeNews from FreeRange Communications if I could get Java running on my Treo again without it crashing).

Well, I am home. I have a ton to catch up on this weekend and to follow-up on from this week. I have to nail down some arrangements for the "Fall Tour". I will be back shortly with some more stuff here or over at the Personal InfoCloud site.



August 5, 2005

Quiet, Not for Long

Things are going to be quiet here for a few days...

Right, okay. We are fine on this end, but have just been a wee bit busy. We will be filling you in on the Fall Tour in a few days as we have been setting the initial groundwork for travel and blocking out dates.

In the short term Thomas is off the the Jersey Shore for "rest" and relaxation. Oh, since the Jersey Shore is in close proximity...

Right, okay. Thomas will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday the 9th to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. Drop by and say hello.



July 25, 2005

Speaking at BayCHI August 9th

I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area August 9, 2005 to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. This will be at the PARC's George E. Pake Auditorium (formerly known as Xerox PARC). I am looking forward to the panel and being back in the Bay Area.

Did I mention I am only on the ground for 12 hours? I am flying in from vacation on the New Jersey Shore, but it will be worth it. I have a couple places I need to stop, but shoot me e-mail to meet-up or let me know you will be going to the panel. I have a long string of things to get to in the Bay Area that have been building since January, but this will not be the trip to knock all of them out.

I really need to get to the Bay Area more often, it is home (well where I was born and spent much of my life there).



July 22, 2005

Make Nice with Mobile Users Easily

Those interested in making friendly with their mobile users trying to consume their content aimed at the desktop browser market should take a peek at Make Your Site Mobile Friendly by Mike Davidson. This is one method that makes for a little less sweat and keeps some dollars in our budgets for other needs.



July 17, 2005

Designing for the Personal InfoCloud presentation at WebVisions 2005 Wrap-up

I have posted my presentation from yesterday's session at WebVisions, in Portland, Oregon. The files, Designing for the Personal InfoCloud are in PDF format and weigh in at 1.3MB.

I really had a blast at the conference and wish I could have been there the whole day. I will have to say from the perspective of a speaker it is a fantastically run conference. Brad Smith of Hot Pepper Studios did a knock out job pulling this conference together. It should be on the must attend list for web developers. I was impressed with the speakers, the turn out, and how well everything was run. Bravo!

WebVisions is held in one of my favorite cities, Portland, Oregon, which has some of the best architecture and public planning of any North American city. I have more than 300 photos I have taken in 48 hours and will be posting many at Flickr in the next couple of days.



June 29, 2005

Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 Goes Beta

Yahoo has launched Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 today. It has elements of Flickr but not the polish, nor the attention to detail. There are a lot of very rough edges, but there is a lot of potential also. I may spend some time playing around with it in the next few days and weeks. I surely will be sending a ton of feedback in. Hopefully MyWeb will iterate far more rapidly than their blogging software, which had rough edges and they still exist and no noticeable improvements have been made (I don't know many that will recommend it to nubies until the rough edges are fixed).

The tool from the very little I have looked at it seems like it has the broad folksonomy executed well. This seems to have many elements of del.icio.us integrated. I am curious is there is the capability to have community around tags (be same definition).

My curiosity is really piqued with the MyRank search engine. It seems to be a predictive engine of sorts, which really has my interest.

If you want to add me I can be found at tjvanderwal there in Yahoo! type places.



Join the Cause with Live8

In light of the G8Reboot, I would be remiss if I did not mention Live8 or the tracking the Live8 web conversations using Technorati. Twenty years ago Live Aid made a change, but today we have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact. Add your voice and your support, can you think of anything better to do?



June 18, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

The last few years I have kicked myself for not going to WebVisions, well I finally am attending, actually I am presenting my Personal InfoCloud at 1pm. This is the latest refinement of the Personal InfoCloud that I have been working on for four years and sharing with those that are finding it quite useful.

The essential information you need is that you should be at WebVisions 2005 in Portland, Oregon. It is being held July 15th at the Oregon Convention Center.

What do you say? "Join the giants of the Web world to explore the future of design, content creation, technology and business strategy. From podcasting to universal usability, you'll discover how the Web is interacting with digital devices to change the way we communicate, access information and do business."



June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

I finally put my finger on it. There has been growing frustration within me with where I work and as well with some of the leaders in the web design community of late. The problem and the solution has been known to me, but scattered in pieces and I did not pull all the pieces together until today. Why today? Well, it took a little doing, but I finally got my hands on this month's issue of Fast Company - June 2005, which I had been subscribed to until the May issue. It took a little bit of time to track down the issue as it was to the point in the month when the next months issues are getting put out. But, having that issue in hand (having read some on-line) I stumbled across my tipping point in the Be Cooler by Design column. I did not make it past the fouth paragraph when it hit.

It Begins with a Canyon

The paragraph has a header, "Show Them the Canyon" and discusses a designer at Ford, Giuseppe Delena, who would say, "Don't tell me you need a bridge, show me the canyon!" This was aimed at marketing people who would ask for specific design solutions, but not explain the problem.

That is my tipping point. Having to start with somebody's solution to design problems (most often solutions to the wrong problem). Not having the problems put forward, but an answer. An answer without anybody showing their work to how their arrived at the solution. For nearly four years I have been working, for the most part, with the end results of the work of others who started with a solution and worked that as a starting point, while never considering the problem (or in nearly all cases the multitude of problems they needed to solve). They did not understand the problems nor do they understand or know the standards and requirements that their end result must meet. Lastly they do not understand the medium in which they are working. In short it is a string of considerable messes that our team deals with continually. The sad complication is this is taxpayer money being spent (often quite nice sums) for end products that require incredible fixing to meet minimum standards and be usable on the web.

It is not my direct customer, who is in the same boat I am in as we support him (and he is one of the very few that really get what they are doing), but the "customer service" management and the management signing off on these projects that have become the problem. With the web, the business customer is not always right, the user is, as without the user their is no business customer. In our situation, by-and-large, the web being built is using what works for print and for multi-media, neither of which are solutions for text on the web. The business customer requires solutions for the wrong medium, which (as those who have sat through usability test find out) the tan text on brown background and all of the animated bits make using the information as is it is intended, nearly impossible.

Designers Must Explain Design Better

In part the design world is to blame as we have done a very poor job of educating the rest of the world as to what we do. We solve problems. We have spent an inordinate amount of time on learning everything we can about our medium, how people think, how people interact with our medium, how people interact with their devices (desktop, laptop, PDA, mobile, etc.) as they are all different, how to organize and structure for people interacting with what we design, how to build for people to give them freedom to choose the solution that is best for them, how to build for ease of use by people, and how to build for people to easily reuse what we provide (the list goes on). Yes, it is not a short list and I do not know a good designer who will truly claim they are done learning all of these aspects. We know what works best with everything we do know for the problems before us and we test everything we do and we iterate through our designs while always striving to make things better. Every designer I know loves to show how they got to their solution and document it for others to do, as their joy in designing is not repeating, but problem solving and innovating to better solutions. As designers we are always trying to learn what others do, so the good designers share in as much detail so others may learn what to follow and what to modify for even better solutions down the road.

In my current situation the lack of time to document and show our work is a major problem. The lack of documentation (or deliverables) is part of where the problem lies with the problems up the food chain (not that there are skilled designers or people that would understand up the food chain). If we had the time to show our work we could hand it to those at the beginning of the process so we could get better products with fewer problems when we receive them (although it is a very rare occasion that any of what we have produced for these purposes is ever followed). Many of the places up the food chain have sold a bridge with out ever seeing the canyon it is just a cookie cutter. It is rare when we get to solve the problems, either at the beginning or the end, we just get to fix it so it will just pass the minimum requirements, which are horribly low.

Understand and Explain the Problem First

This frustration has also flowed over to the web design community of late as there is excitement in the web community again. The excitement is not bad, actually it is great. But some of the new solutions are being framed as new wonder solutions without framing the problem they are solving. In the world of design (as it is with many other things) it is a realm where the answer to most every question is, "it depends". What is the solution? It all depends on many factors in the problem. Teaching how to understand problems and to walk through the decision process to get to the solution (or more correctly, one of many possible right solutions) is what raises the profession.

What has been happening of late in the web design/development community is looking at solutions that may be terrific implementations for a certain problem in a set environment, but proclaiming what is new is "the new way". For those that are not good designers or even designers at all, this approach reaches a problem point very quickly. It was not long after XMLHTTPRequest was coined AJAX that customers, and those I advise from farther away, started asking for their solutions to be AJAX. There are right places for AJAX, as it is just one of many solutions for problems where it may be one of the solutions. It is quite similar to aura around Flash as a solution, but AJAX has its benefits and detractors when compared to Flash.

Where the problem around the AJAX solution got tough was when AJAX was tied to a whole new exitement around the web. It was at this point the AJAX solution was being demanded from customers. I was hearing if from many corners, this great solution touted, was for customers the only way they would accept their final products. AJAX had quickly become the cure-all in customer's eyes, much like Flash had years before.

Our Responsibility

What we have to realize as designers, is people do listen and people want to believe there is one simple solution for all of their web problems, all of the information problems, etc. We know there is not a simple solution as of yet. In fact the digital information world is far more complex than it ever was, as Europe and Asia will attest, with the influx of mobile handheld use. (Europe and Asia have things a little better than the U.S. right now, as they have much less of a population that believes build for desktop (including laptop) solutions is the one way all design is heading.) Europe and Asia understand the world is far more complex and information far more useful when it can be used in context on a mobile device. The expanding of the devices and the realm of possibile solutions with their benefits and detractors across the many variables we monitor componded the problems we are solving. Simplicity is many designer's goal, but getting there is ever harder today and we must embrace the complexity (thank you Mike for turning that light on for me) and work through it. We also need to communicate the complexity to our customers so everybody understands it is not as simple as it seems.

It is this complexity of convergence around devices is also compounded by the flood of information people are experiencing, which is what has me loving the work I get to do around the Personal InfoCloud (and the Model of Attraction and folksonomy that are intertwined with it). This work is satisfying as it is not only defining the problems and working through possible solutions, but more importantly laying out frameworks to design and build solutions that others can use. There are increasingly people (who may become customers) that are coming and asking the right questions from the right perspective around the Personal InfoCloud, which may be another reason I really like working on it (we all love people asking smart questions). People are asking how to cross their canyon while describing the canyon and many times showing me the canyon they would like a solution designed for.

I think we all know what the next step is. It will not be happening tomorrow, but every day that passes makes the frustration that much worse. Knowing there is one point around which much of my frustration revolves may help me deal with it better.



May 30, 2005

Academic Cites for Interested Parties

One of the things that I am still mulling over that came out of the Social Software in the Academy Workshop is the relationship between academic cites and interested parties (non-academics researching, thinking deeply, and writing about a subject). Over the past year I have had some of the work I have posted on my web sites cited in academic papers. These papers have been for general coursework to graduate thesis.

In the academic realm these cites in other's works give credibility and ranking. In the realm of the professional or "interested party" these cites mean little (other than stroking one's ego). These cites do not translate to higher salary, but they may have some relationship to credibility in a subject area.

Another aspect is finding a way to tie into academic work around these subjects. There are often wonderful academic related gatherings (conferences, symposia, etc.) around these subject matters, but these are foreign to the "interested party". There is a chasm between academic and professional world that should be narrowed or at a minimum bridged in a better way. At SSAW there were some projects I found out about that I would love to follow, or even contribute to in some form (advisement, contributor, etc.).

I have a feeling I will be mulling this for some while, and will be writing about it again.



May 1, 2005

The Art of the Pivot

We live life linearly, but there are many tangents and crossing points. Physical life makes surfing those tangents not an easy task, but it is part of the brilliance of digital life to surf serendipitously with purpose. Every now and then, with more increasing regularity I find myself in awe (yet with each occurrence with banality creeping in) of the tangential currents that draw life closer and the world smaller.

Flickr provided this evening's wonderful spark. While peering through the lens of my friends and "contacts" photos I clicked on one that had a familiar scene, it was not that I knew the people in the photo, but it was the table, cups, and feel of the place. It was a photo in the Pork Store on Haight Street. I have had so many wonderful breakfasts there from when I live behind the restaurant on Waller, to trekking over from where I lived on Arguello, to the pilgrimage on nearly every trip I make to San Francisco.

What made this particular photo special was not that I easily recognized the scene, but I double checked in Flickr's tags to see a "porkstore" tag. I clicked the tag to see if that photographer had entered more photos in the Pork Store, but no. I clicked to see "all other public photos tagged with porkstore". In doing this I saw in the thumbnail somebody I thought I recognized. I clicked to the larger photo to ensure it was somebody I had just met yesterday. The world just shrunk.

What was the point of this? It is the ability to pivot or surf in new direction that is related to where we are all thanks to the hyperlink and meta information. As the web has changed my perception of what is right and possible in the world, I increasingly find one of the major differentiators between physical life and digital experiences is the pivot. Including hyperlinks or means to pull information closer to you that is tangential to the current desire or direction. When relevant information is not hyperlinked it is lacking the pivot. Or when there is a lack of ease to find associated information that is relevant to what is in the browser and relevant to the person consuming the information or object on their screen it is frustrating for the user and disappointing as a developer knowing the ease of the solution and the great value it adds.

Oddly, one of the interfaces I love also bothers me for its lack of the pivot. The iPod is great, but it is missing one pivot option that is now driving me nuts. When in Shuffle mode and I hear a song I like by an artist I like often want to pivot and listen to more of that artist or that album. This should be an option on the center button, just like getting to add song rating, scroll through the song, etc. Not only is it in Shuffle mode it is when listening to mixed playlists or soundtracks. It should not be that difficult to implement, one of the screens clicked to from the center button, while listening to a song, should bring up a "listen to more by this artist or album" option. Then life would be so much better.



April 10, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

I, Thomas Vander Wal, will be presenting the Personal InfoCloud at the WebVisions 2005 in Portland, Oregon on July 15th. In all it looks to be a killer conference, just as it has been in the past. This year's focus is convergence (it is about time).

WebVisions is one of the best values in the web conference industry these days, as the early bird pricing is just $85 (US). You don't need an excuse, you just go. You spend a Friday bettering yourself and then Saturday in Powell's Books the evenings are spent talking the talk over some of the world's best beers served up fresh.



March 21, 2005

Outside of the 3rd World, Yahoo Buys Flickr

Once again we are back into living in the third world. It is the first day of Spring and we got a lightning storm and out goes the power. We have this to look forward to until Fall. Well, unless we move.

Once the power came on it was errand time, then time shout congratulations to Flickr and Yahoo!. The news was officially announced, that Yahoo! bought Flickr. The Flickr team is staying intact and in Vancouver. Flickr is one of the kick-ass products on the Web right now and with Yahoo! support it could stay at the forefront.



March 15, 2005

SXSW Mini-Redux Part 2

It is 1am and I am home safely, my laptop is recharging, and I will soon do the same. I had a great time at SXSW Interactive as I had many, many wonderful conversations. I am still digesting many of them, (as well as still digesting those from the previous weekend at the Information Architecture Summit in Montreal.

The end of SXSW (I really wish I could have stayed to the end of the Interactive Festival to continue soaking in a realm people who "get it") was fitting as I snagged a ride and good conversation from Robert Scoble, which I am thankful for both.

More to follow, once I get some sleep.



February 24, 2005

Folksonomy Fixed in Wikipedia

It looks like somebody finally fixed Wikipedia entry for Folksonomy, it no longer makes the mistake of calling the a folksonomy a blend of folks and taxonomy. The taxonomy has connotations of being formally structured, which as far from what is going on in del.icio.us from what I see, as the user's of del.icio.us can free tag and choose what ever they wish to tag an object with

Bless you, whom ever fixed this. It looks like it was done today. I have tried to get this fixed before, but my change was bounced, I guess I did not know enough about folksonomies. There is a lot more in the entry that has been added, including the semantic derivation. Thanks to whom ever is getting it right, finally.

This gives me less to complain about Wikipedia than I had before (I have watched entries go from being correct to wrong and stay wrong for quite some time). A co-worker stated Wikipedia is stated to be the current day Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy, which was wrong in spots to mortal detriment at times. I somewhat agree, although a little less so today.



February 21, 2005

Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies

I have been explaining the broad and narrow folksonomy in e-mail and in comments on others sites, as well as in the media (Wired News). There has still been some confusion, which is very understandable as it is a different concept that goes beyond a simple understanding of tagging. I have put together a couple graphics that should help provide a means to make this distinction some what clearer. The folksonomy is a means for people to tag objects (web pages, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., essentially anything that is internet addressable) using their own vocabulary so that it is easy for them to refind that information again. The folksonomy is most often also social so that others that use the same vocabulary will be able to find the object as well. It is important to note that folksonomies work best when the tags used to describe objects are in the common vocabulary and not what a person perceives others will call it (the tool works like no other for personal information management of information on the web, but is also shared with the world to help others find the information).

Broad Folksonomy

Let's begin with the broad folksonomy, as a tool like del.icio.us delivers. The broad folksonomy has many people tagging the same object and every person can tag the object with their own tags in their own vocabulary. This lends itself very easy to applying the power law curve (power curve) and/or net effect to the results of many people tagging. The power terms and the long tail both work.

The broad folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
visualization of the text on broad folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object (content) and makes it accessible to others. Other people (groups of people with the same vocabulary represented people blobs and noted with alphabet letters) tag the object (lines with arrows pointing away from the people) with their own terms (represented by numbers). The people also find the information (arrows on lines pointing from the numeric tags back to the people blobs) based on the tags.

Digging a little deeper we see quite a few people (8 people) in group "A" and they have tagged the object with a "1" and a "2" and they use this term to find the object again. Group "B" (2 people) have applied tag "1" and "2" to the object and they use tag terms "1", "2", and "3" to find the information. Group "C" (3 people) have tagged the object with "2" and "3" so that they can find the object. Group "D" has also tagged the object with tag "3" so that they may refind the information this group may have benefitted from the tagging that group "C" provided to help them find the information in the first place. Group "E" (2 people) uses a different term, "4", to tag the object than others before it and uses only this term to find the object. Lastly, group "F" (1 person) uses tag "5" on the object so that they may find it.

Broad Folksonomy and the Power Curve

The broad folksonomy provides a means to see trends in how a broad range are tagging one object. This is an opportunity to see the power law curve at work and show the long-tail.
Shows tag 2 with 13 people tagging, tag 1 with 10 people, tag 3 with 5 people, tag 4 with 2 people, and tag 5 with 1 person
The tags spike with tag "2" getting the largest portion of the tags with 13 entries and tag "1" receiving 10 identical tags. From this point the trends for popular tags are easy to see with the spikes on the left that there are some trends, based on only those that have tagged this object, that could be used extract a controlled vocabulary or at least know what to call the object to have a broad spectrum of people (similar to those that tagged the object, and keep in mind those that tag may not be representative of the whole). We also see those tags out at the right end of the curve, known as the long tail. This is where there is a small minority of people who call the object by a term, but those people tagging this object would allow others with a similar vocabulary mindset to find the object, even if they do not use the terms used by the masses over at the left end of the curve. If we take this example and spread it out over 400 or 1,000 people tagging the same object we will se a similar distribution with even more pronounced spikes and drop-off and a longer tail.

This long tail and power curve are benefits of the broad folksonomy. As we will see the narrow folksonomy does not have the same properties, but it will have benefits. These benefits are non-existent for those just simply tagging items, most often done by the content creator for their own content, as is the means Technorati has done, even with their following tag links to destinations other than Technorati (as they initially had laid out). The benefits of the long tail and power curve come from the richness provided by many people openly tagging the same object.

Narrow Folksonomy

The narrow folksonomy, which a tool like Flickr represents, provides benefit in tagging objects that are not easily searchable or have no other means of using text to describe or find the object. The narrow folksonomy is done by one or a few people providing tags that the person uses to get back to that information. The tags, unlike in the broad folksonomy, are singular in nature (only one tag with the term is used as compared to 13 people in the broad folksonomy using the same tag). Often in the narrow folksonomy the person creating the object is providing one or more of the tags to get things started. The goals and uses of the narrow folksonomy are different than the broad, but still very helpful as more than one person can describe the one object. In the narrow the tags are directly associated with the object. Also with the narrow there is little way of really knowing how the tags are consumed or what portion of the people using the object would call it what, therefore it is not quite as helpful as finding emerging vocabulary or emergent descriptions. We do find that tags used to describe are also used for grouping, which is particularly visible and relevant in Flickr (this is also done in broad folksonomies, but currently not to the degree of visibility that it is done on Flickr, which may be part of the killer interactive environment Ludicorp has created for Flickr).

The narrow folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
vizualization of the text on narrow folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object and applies a tag ("1") that represents what they call the object or believe describes the object. There are fewer tags provided than in a broad folksonomy and there is only one of each tag applied to the object. The consumers of the object also can apply tags that help them find the object or describe what they believe are the terms used to describe this object.

A closer look at the interaction between people and the object and tags in a narrow folksonomy shows us that group "A" uses tag "1" to find and come back to the object (did the creator do this on purpose? or did she just tag it with what was helpful to her). We see group "B" also using tag "1" to find the object, but they have tagged the object with tag "2" to also use as a means to find the object. Group "C" uses tag "1","2", and "3" to find the object and we also note this group did not apply any of its own tags to the object as so is only a consumer of the existing folksonomy. We see group "D" uses tags "2" and "3" to find the objects and it too does not add any tags. Group "E" is not able to find the object by using tags as the vocabulary it is using does not match any of the tags currently provided. Lastly, group "F" has their own tag for the object that they alone use to get back to the object. Group "F" did not find the object through existing tags, but may have found the object through other means, like a friend e-mailed them a link or the object was included in a group they subscribe to in their feed aggregator.

We see that the richness of the broad folksonomy is not quite there in a narrow folksonomy, but the folksonomy does add quite a bit of value. The value, as in the case of Flickr, is in text tags being applied to objects that were not findable using search or other text related tools that comprise much of how we find things on the internet today. The narrow folksonomy does provide various audiences the means to add tags in their own vocabulary that will help them and those like them to find the objects at a later time. We are much better off with folksonomies than we were with out them, even if it is a narrow folksonomy being used.

Conclusion

We benefit from folksonomies as the both the personal vocabulary and the social aspects help people to find and retain a tether to objects on the web that are an interest to them. Who is doing the tagging is important to understand and how the tags are consumed is an important factor. This also helps us see that not all tagging is a folksonomy, but is just tagging. Tagging in and of its self is a helpful step up from no tagging, but is no where near as beneficial as opening the tagging to all. Folksonomy tagging can provide connections across cultures and disciplines (an knowledge management consultant can find valuable information from an information architect because one object is tagged by both communities using their own differing terms of practice). Folksonomy tagging also makes up for missing terms in a site's own categorization system/taxonomy. This hopefully has made things a little clearer for all in our understanding the types of folksonomies and tagging and the benefits that can be derived.

This entry first appeared at Personal InfoCloud and comments are open for your use there.



February 20, 2005

The Future of Newspapers

A state of the newspaper industry article in today's Washington Post tries to define what people want from newspapers and what people are doing to get information.

Me? I find that newspapers provide decent to great content. Newspapers are losing readers of their print versions, but most people I know are new reading more than one paper, but online. The solutions I see from my vantage are as follows.

Ads

The articles rarely have ads that relate to the stories, foolishly missing ad revenues. The ads that are available are distracting and make for an extremely poor experience for the reader. News sites should ban the improperly targeted inducements that rely on distracting from reading the article, which is the reason the person is on that web page. The person has an interest in the topic. There are monetary opportunities to be had if the news outlets were smart and advertisers were smart.

How? If I am reading an article on the San Francisco Giants I would follow and may pay a little something for an ad targeted to this interest of mine. I like to buying Giants tickets, paraphernalia, a downloadable video of the week's highlights, etc. If I am reading about an airline strike a link to train tickets would be a smart option. A news article about problems in the Middle East could have links to books by the journalist on the subject, other background books or papers, links to charitable organizations that provide support in the region. The reader has shown an interest, why not offer something that will also be of interest?

We know that advertisers want placement in what they consider prime territory, the highly trafficked areas of the site. Often this is when the non-targeted ads appear. This is an opportunity to have non-targeted ads pay a premium, say five to 20 times that of targeted ads. The non-targeted ads have to follow the same non-disruptive guidelines that targeted ads follow. This is about keeping the readers around, without readers selling ads does not make any sense.

Archives

One area the news site are driving me crazy is access to the archives. The news sites that require payment to view articles in the archives are shooting themselves in the foot with this payment method and amount required to cough up to see an article that may or may not be what the person interested is seeking. The archives have the same opportunity to sell related ads, which in my non-professional view, would seem like they would have more value as the person consuming the information has even more of an interest as they are more than a casual reader. Any payment by the person consuming the information should never be more than the price for the whole print version. The articles cost next to nothing to store and the lower the price the more people will be coming across the associated advertising.

Blogging and personal sites often point to news articles. Many of us choose whom we are going to point to based on our reader's access to that information at any point in the future. We may choose a less well written article, but knowing it will be around with out having to pay extortionist rates to see it is what many of us choose. Yes, we are that smart and we are not as dumb as your advertisers are telling you. We, the personal site writers are driving potential ad revenues to you for free, if you open your articles for consumption.

Loyalty

Loyalty to one paper is dead, particularly when there are many options to choose to get our news from. We can choose any news source anywhere in the world. Why would we choose yours? Easy access, good writing, point of view, segment coverage (special interests - local, niche industries, etc), etc. are what drive our decisions.

I often choose to make my news selections to include sources from outside my region and even outside my country. Why? I like the educated writing style that British sources offer. I like other viewpoints that are not too close to the source to be tainted. I like well researched articles. I like non-pandering viewpoints. This is why I shell out the bucks for the Economist, as it is far better writing than any other news weekly in the U.S. and it pays attention to what is happening around the world, which eventually will have an impact to me personally at some point in the future. I don't have patience for mediocrity in journalism and the standards for many news sources have really slipped over the past few years.

News sources should offer diversity of writing style and opinion of one source will attract attention. The dumbing down of writing in the news has actually driven away many of those that are willing to pay to read the print versions. Under educated readers are not going to pay to read, even if it is dumbed down. Yes, the USA Today succeeded in that, but did you really want those readers at the loss of your loyal revenue streams?

Loyalty also requires making the content available easily across devices. Time and information consumption has changed. We may start reading an article in the print edition (even over somebody's shoulder and want to follow-up with it. We should be able to easily find that article online at our desk or from our mobile device. Integration of access across devices is a need not a nicety and it is not that difficult to provide, if some preparation is done with the systems. Many of us will pull RSS feeds from our favorite news sources and flag things for later consumption, but the news sites have not caught on how to best enable that. We may pull feeds at one location, but may have the time and focus to read them at another location, but we may not have the feeds there. Help those of us that are loyal consume your information in a pan-medium and pan-device world that we live in.



December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

Fast Company published costs facing business. The top four relate to poor design and information use: Poor knowledge harnessing ($1.4 Trillion); Digital publishing inefficiencies ($750 billion); Data quality problems ($600 billion); and Paper-based trade processes ($400 billion). That is 3.15 Trillion U.S. dollars down the tubes with no benefit.

The solutions are not that difficult, but everybody seems happy to use the rear view mirror to view the future.

Christina stated, "What me worry" about design and business. The whole CIO is a sham as the CIO is a technology driven person, which is tangentially related to information and technology still hinders information flow if not planned for properly (more on this is coming in the near future here on this site). There needs to be a chief level position that cares about the information, the people using it, and the people who create the information. To Christina's post I responded with the following on her site (posted here so I can better keep track of it):

It seems like the 80s all over again. The focus on design in the to late 80s, mostly with unified branding and creative practices formally brought in-house. There was a lot of push around design, mostly labelled branding (nearly the exact same discussions, but slightly different terms). Much of this was around the brandhouses like Landor. The business community embraced the results and tried to incorporate the creative culture as part of their own.
What happened? The innovators were bought by large advertising or public relation firms and the firms changed their industry term to communication companies. Companies created corporate communication divisions (comprised of adversising, PR, branding, and other creative endevors) and had high level management visability.
By the early 90s the corporate environment had largely subsumed the communication into marketing and business schools that has embraced the creative mindset followed suit. Today marketing is often what trumps design and there is no creative in marketing. The creative departments by the late 90s had been gutted by the web craze. This left business types with little creative craft understanding as those driving what was once good.
It is not suprising that currently named "design" is taking off, as what was good about the creative was gutted and most companies lack central design plans. There is tremendous waste in cross medium design, as few sites are built with an understanding of the digital medium, let alone cross platform design or true cross media design. Part of the problem is far too few designers actually understand cross-platform and/or cross-media design. There is millions wasted in bandwidth on poor web design that is using best practices from the late 90s not those from today. There is no integration of mobile, with a few exceptions in the travel industry. There is still heavy focus on print, but very little smart integration of design in the digital medium. This even applies to AIGA, which is a great offender of applying print design techniques on the web. How can we expect business design to get better if one of the pillars of the design profession has not seemed to catch on?

There are large problems today and we need to break some of our solutions were have been trying to get to solutions that work. Not only do today's solutions not work today, they will not work tomorrow as they are only stop gaps. Cross-platform, cross-device, and cross-medium design solutions are needed, but technology is not here to deliver and few that I have run across in the design world are ready for that change as they have not made the change to today's world.

Today's designer focusses on getting the information in front of the user and stops there. They do not consider how this person or machine may reuse the information. There is so much yet to improve and yet the world is progressing much faster than people can or want to change to keep up. There are designers and developers who will not build for mobile (it is not that hard to do) because they do not see them in the user logs. They fail to see the correlation that their sites suck for mobile and mobile users may test once and go somewhere else for their information. The people that are seeing mobile users in their logs are the ones that have figured out how to design and develop for them properly (most have found that it is relatively inexpensive to do this). This is not rocket science, it is using something other than the rear view mirror to design for now and the future.



Fix Your Titles for Better Search and Use

Lose the ego already! Since I have been using del.icio.us I have been noticing how backwards so many site's header titles are these days. The header title should be specific to general information.

You are saying "huh?" Okay, take CNN who uses the header title like <title>CNN.com - Dog Bites Man</title>. The better way is <title>Dog Bites Man - CNN.com</title>.

Why? Search engines, browser headers, and bookmarks are why. Search engines use the words to give preference and the words closer to the beginning have higher preference. A browser header will only show the first so many letters (depending on the browser and how wide the browser window is open). Lastly the title is used in browser bookmarks. If a person has four bookmarks to items in a site they would see the site name and then the bit that is important to the user.

Now look at the pages you build are they built for search engines and for people to actually use and come back to? It may be your site management tools that have mangled your titles and they need to be fixed, but they will not be fixed if you do not ask. The other reason titles are broken is because somebody who does not understand the web want only to have their ego stroked, but they made their information less valuable by doing so.



October 31, 2004

Ninth Anniversary for My Personal Site

At some point nine years ago I began my first personal site. It was November 1995 and CompuServ opened up space for their users to publish their own site. This trek began with creating a page using a text browser and some prefab components from CompuServ. The computer this adventure began with is long gone. But, the remnants of the site remain, mostly in the links page, which became my bookmarks that I could access from anywhere. I never really went back to using browser based bookmarks after this point.

My personal site has changed over the years, from a site that was named the "Growing Place" that housed poetry, links, a snippet about consulting work I was doing, and a homepage. Version 2 was a move off of CompuServ to Clark.net hosting (which became Verio and was never the same after) came with frames and FrontPage buttons (the buttons never worked right after they were edited) and the links page grew and the consulting page moved from active to "under construction". V.2 also had some CGI form pages, mostly for mail and a guestbook that was not linked.

Version 3 (about 1998) was a move to vanderwal.net and had a black background with electric green and electric blue text. V.3 provided more links and had a small page of annotated links that was updated infrequently, and was mostly short notes to myself and was not linked to by anything but referrer logs. V.3 began using ColdFusion and then ASP, as that was what I was playing with at the time. This version was hosted at Interland, which was not a favorite ISP as I was doing bug fixing for them and their poor system administration.

Version 4 (November 2000) was moved to an ISP with PHP. This was just after our wedding and a photo gallery was born. The site stayed in black with blue and green for a short while, until it moved to a blue and orange theme (April 2001) inspired by the trip to the mother country Holland on our honeymoon. The annotated links were still being kept by hand, but were linked to finally. December 2000 I started using Blogger, which made the annotated links easier and provided a spark to post other information.

We are still in Version 4, possibly in version 5 as the graphic design morphed in November 2003 to its current state. This design validated to XHTML and made maintenance much easier. Off the Top weblog was converted to PHP in October 2001 after leaving Blogger and hand maintaining this section for months. The hosting has remained the same and has been steady.

There are many things in the works, but other outside commitments have been putting things on hold. The markup and CSS need to be cleaned up for greater ease. There are some hosting modifications coming, which could trigger some more changes on the back end programming side. There are some design and presentational structure changes that are being played with as there are a few things that really bug me. I really want the comments back online and I have plan for this, but it needs some time to work out the details. There are some changes external to this site that could be coming also, which will make things much easier in the long run. Maybe these revisions will be done by the 10th anniversary.



October 8, 2004

Web 2.0: Source, Container, Presentation

At Web 2.0 Jeff Bezos, of Amazon stated, "Web 2.0 is different. It's about AWS (Amazon Web Services). It's not on the web site for users to see. It's about making the internet useful for computers.". This is very appropriate today as it breaks the information model into at least three pieces: source, container, and presentation. Web 1.0 often had these three elements in one place, which really made it difficult to reuse the information, but even use it at times.

The source is the raw information or content from the creator or main distributor. The container is the means of transporting the information or content. The container can be XML, CSV, text, XHTML, etc. The presentation is what is used to make the information or content human consumable. The presentation can be HTML with CSS, Flash, PDF, feed reader, mobile application, desktop application, etc.

The importance of the three components is they most valuable when they stand alone. Many problems and frustrations for people trying to get information and reuse it off the web has been there has not been a separation of the components. Take most Flash files, which tie the container and the presentation in one object that is proprietary and can be extremely difficult to extract the information for reuse. The same also applies to PDF files as they too are less than optimal for sharing information for anything other than reading, if the PDF can be read on the device. As mobile use of the internet increases the separation is much more valuable. The separation has always been the smart thing to do.

Today Google launched a beta of their Google SMS for mobile devices. The service takes advantage of the Google web services (source) and allows mobile users to send a text message with a query (asking "pizza" and providing the zip code) and Google responds with a text message with information (local pizzerias with their address and phone numbers). The other day Tantek demonstrated Semantic XHTML as an API, which provides openly accessible information that is aggregated and reused with a new presentation layer, Flash.

More will follow on this topic at some point in the not too distant future, once I get sleep.



October 3, 2004

Feed On This

The "My" portal hype died for all but a few central "MyX" portals, like my.yahoo. Two to three years ago "My" was hot and everybody and their brother spent a ton of money building a personal portal to their site. Many newspapers had their own news portals, such as the my.washingtonpost.com and others. Building this personalization was expensive and there were very few takers. Companies fell down this same rabbit hole offering a personalized view to their sites and so some degree this made sense and to a for a few companies this works well for their paying customers. Many large organizations have moved in this direction with their corporate intranets, which does work rather well.

Where Do Personalization Portals Work Well

The places where personalization works points where information aggregation makes sense. The my.yahoo's work because it is the one place for a person to do their one-stop information aggregation. People that use personalized portals often have one for work and one for Personal life. People using personalized portals are used because they provide one place to look for information they need.

The corporate Intranet one place having one centralized portal works well. These interfaces to a centralized resource that has information each of the people wants according to their needs and desires can be found to be very helpful. Having more than one portal often leads to quick failure as their is no centralized point that is easy to work from to get to what is desired. The user uses these tools as part of their Personal InfoCloud, which has information aggregated as they need it and it is categorized and labeled in a manner that is easiest for them to understand (some organizations use portals as a means of enculturation the users to the common vocabulary that is desired for use in the organization - this top-down approach can work over time, but also leads to users not finding what they need). People in organizations often want information about the organization's changes, employee information, calendars, discussion areas, etc. to be easily found.

Think of personalized portals as very large umbrellas. If you can think of logical umbrellas above your organization then you probably are in the wrong place to build a personalized portal and your time and effort will be far better spent providing information in a format that can be easily used in a portal or information aggregator. Sites like the Washington Post's personalized portal did not last because of the cost's to keep the software running and the relatively small group of users that wanted or used that service. Was the Post wrong to move in this direction? No, not at the time, but now that there is an abundance of lesson's learned in this area it would be extremely foolish to move in this direction.

You ask about Amazon? Amazon does an incredible job at providing personalization, but like your local stores that is part of their customer service. In San Francisco I used to frequent a video store near my house on Arguello. I loved that neighborhood video store because the owner knew me and my preferences and off the top of his head he remembered what I had rented and what would be a great suggestion for me. The store was still set up for me to use just like it was for those that were not regulars, but he provided a wonderful service for me, which kept me from going to the large chains that recorded everything about me, but offered no service that helped me enjoy their offerings. Amazon does a similar thing and it does it behind the scenes as part of what it does.

How does Amazon differ from a personalized portal? Aggregation of the information. A personalized portal aggregates what you want and that is its main purpose. Amazon allows its information to be aggregated using its API. Amazon's goal is to help you buy from them. A personalized portal has as its goal to provide one-stop information access. Yes, my.yahoo does have advertising, but its goal is to aggregate information in an interface helps the users find out the information they want easily.

Should government agencies provide personalized portals? It makes the most sense to provide this at the government-wide level. Similar to First.gov a portal that allows tracking of government info would be very helpful. Why not the agency level? Cost and effort! If you believe in government running efficiently it makes sense to centralize a service such as a personalized portal. The U.S. Federal Government has very strong restriction on privacy, which greatly limits the login for a personalized service. The U.S. Government's e-gov initiatives could be other places to provide these services as their is information aggregation at these points also. The downside is having many login names and password to remember to get to the various aggregation points, which is one of the large downfalls of the MyX players of the past few years.

What Should We Provide

The best solution for many is to provide information that can be aggregated. The centralized personalized portals have been moving toward allowing the inclusion of any syndicated information feed. Yahoo has been moving in this direction for some time and in its new beta version of my.yahoo that was released in the past week it allows the users to select the feeds they would like in their portal, even from non-Yahoo resources. In the new my.yahoo any information that has a feed can be pulled into that information aggregator. Many of us have been doing this for some time with RSS Feeds and it has greatly changed the way we consume information, but making information consumption fore efficient.

There are at least three layers in this syndication model. The first is the information syndication layer, where information (or its abstraction and related metadata) are put into a feed. These feeds can then be aggregated with other feeds (similar to what del.icio.us provides (del.icio.us also provides a social software and sharing tool that can be helpful to share out personal tagged information and aggregations based on this bottom-up categorization (folksonomy). The next layer is the information aggregator or personalized portals, which is where people consume the information and choose whether they want to follow the links in the syndication to get more information.

There is little need to provide another personalized portal, but there is great need for information syndication. Just as people have learned with internet search, the information has to be structured properly. The model of information consumption relies on the information being found. Today information is often found through search and information aggregators and these trends seem to be the foundation of information use of tomorrow.



August 20, 2004

Fixing Permalink to Mean Something

This has been a very busy week and this weekend it continues with the same. But, I took two minutes to see if I could solve a tiny problem bugging me. I get links to the main blog, Off the Top, from outside search engines and aggregators (Technorati, etc.) that are referencing content in specific entries, but not all of those entries live on the ever-changing blog home page. All of the entries had the same link to their permanant location. The dumb thing was every link to their permanant home was named the same damn thing, "permalink". Google and other search engines use the information in the link name to give value to the page being linked to. Did I help the cause? No.

So now every permanent link states "permalink for: incert entry title". I am hoping this will help solve the problem. I will modify the other pages most likely next week sometime (it is only a two minute fix) as I am toast.



July 17, 2004

Now Delicious

Time has been very thin of late. In the past six months or so started noticing an increasing number of links from del.icio.us and started pulling the feeds of some folks I like to follow their reading list into my site feed aggregator. I had about four or five del.icio.us feeds in my aggregator (meta aggregation of other's meta aggregations - MetaAg MetaAg). This past week I was taking medicine that tweaked by sleep patterns so I had some free awake time after midnight and I finally set up my own vanderwal del.icio.us feed.

I like having the ability to pull [meta] tags aggregations that others have used, like security, which is a great help during the day at work. I can also track some topics I keep finding myself at the periphery and ever more interested in as they tie to some personal projects.

I did consider something similar with Feedster, but it was down for updating recently when I had the tiny bit of time to fiddle with setting something up. By the way, Feedster is now Standards-based (not fully valid, but rather close) and it loads very quickly (most of the time).



July 16, 2004

Web Standards and IA Process Married

Nate Koechley posts his WebVision 2004 presentation on Web Standards and IA. This flat out rocks as it echos what I have been doing and refining for the last three years or more. The development team at work has been using this nearly exclusively for about couple years now on redesigns and new designs. This process makes things very easy to draft in simple wireframe. Then move to functional wireframes with named content objects in the CSS as well as clickable. The next step is building the visual presentation with colors and images.

This process has eased the lack of content problem (no content no site no matter how pretty one thinks it is) often held up by "more purple and make it bigger" contingents. This practice has cut down development and design time in more than half and greatly decreases maintenance time. One of the best attributes is the decreased documentation time as using the Web Developer Extension toolbar in Firefox exposes the class and id attributes that provide semantic structure (among many other things this great tool provides). When the structure is exposed documentation becomes a breeze. I can not think of how or why we ever did anything differently.



Best Web Development Practices

Those of you looking for a relatively short article or essay on current best Web practices should look no further than the Best Web Development Practices provided by Apple. Yes, this focusses on web standards, but what best practice does not as it is the cornerstone of accessibility as well as makes the same content usable on mobile devices (one caveat the article will not print on 8.5 by 11 inch paper).



May 30, 2004

Make My Link the P-link

Simon hit on plinks as an echo to Tim Bray's comments and variation on Purple Numbers (Purple Numbers as a reference). As I have mentioned before, page numbers fail us and these steps are a good means to move forward.

Simom has also posted in more plinks and in there points to Chris Dent's Big Day for Purple Numbers.

I have been thinking for quite some time about using an id attribute in each paragraph tag that includes the site permalink as well as the paragraph with in that entry. This would look like: <p id="1224p7">. This signifies permanent entry 1224 and paragraph 7 with in that entry. What I had not sorted out was an unobtrusive means of displaying this. I am now thinking about Simon's javascript as a means of doing this. The identifier and plink would be generated by PHP for the paragraph tag, which would be scraped by the javascript to generate the plink.

The downside I see is only making edits at the end of the entry using the "Update" method of providing edits and editorial comments. The other downside is the JavaScript is not usable on all mobile devices, nor was the speed of scrolling down Simon's page that fluid in Safari on my TiBook with 16MB of video RAM.



May 3, 2004

GEL Conference Overview

Heath Row, of Fast Company, has captured the GEL Conference write-ups on one page. I was traveling this past week and was bummed to have missed this conference. I am already planning to fit in next year's conference as it seems to be a great conference that gathers great ideas that help share how to improve the Web for the user's experience.



April 11, 2004

Using Section 508 to Improve Access to Information for Everybody

I will be speaking at STC in Baltimore (STC conference listed in Upcoming.org) on the subject of Using Section 508 to Improve Internet Access to Information for Everybody. It has been wild to watch people spend far more time and energy trying to shirk accessibility requirements than do what is needed. Meeting Section 508 (accessibility) requirements is rather easy, well for those that are even partially competent. One great benefit of accessible sites is the breadth of users that benefit from the steps taken to meet accessiblility requirements.

Oddly, there are those that are against meeting accessibility requirement. The only logical explanation is these people are not interested in getting their information into the hands of those that can use the information. Or another possible explaination is the producers of the information love irony.

Ironically, the FCC posts nearly all of its documents in PDF. Most of these documents are not even remotely accessible (accessibility is not fungible for 508 complient, as an item can be defined as accessible but still not meet Section 508 compliance, as accessibility is a very widely defined term). The irony is the organization that is behind pushing for mobile connectivity provides document that 95 percent of mobile users can not use on a mobile device. It seems the FCC just does not care (I would certainly hope they know better).



February 16, 2004


February 6, 2004

Web Content for Mobile Browsers

Creating Web Content for Mobile Phone Browsers is a good overview for marking-up for small screens.



January 29, 2004

Doing this how long

I realized today that I have been marking-up and posting to my own personal Web pages since November 1995. I have been trying to figure out when all this started. The pages started as "The Growing Place", which included the links page along with a handful of other pages on CompuServe's initial hosting of personal pages. I moved from there to Clark Net in late 1996 so I could get CGI access and have my own e-mail (well not really my own). In late 1997 I bought vanderwal.net and finally moved it to a couple hosting homes in 1998 and 1999. Then has been with its current host since 2000, which has provided great service and resources since then (I actually had an other personal site with this host much earlier and ran not so personal site the host for a short while.

Why all of this today? Don't know. It could be that I finally found when Compuserve started hosting member's pages. It does not seem like that long ago until I think that I have been building a presence on the Web for coming on nine years. I have been doing this professionally since 1996. I have been working professionally as a geek since 1988, either as my full-time role or just one of the hats I wore. I have learned a lot about application development and Web development in all these years. It is still about getting the information into the hands of people that are looking for it when they need it.



January 23, 2004

Keeping the Found Things Found

This weeks New York Times Circuits article: Now Where Was I? New Ways to Revisit Web Sites, which covers the Keep the Found Things Found research project at University of Washington. The program is summarized:

The classic problem of information retrieval, simply put, is to help people find the relatively small number of things they are looking for (books, articles, web pages, CDs, etc.) from a very large set of possibilities. This classic problem has been studied in many variations and has been addressed through a rich diversity of information retrieval tools and techniques.

This topic is at the heart of the Personal Information Cloud. How does a person keep the information they found attracted to themselves once they found that information. Keeping the found information at hand to use when the case to use the information arises is a regular struggle. The Personal Information Cloud is the rough cloud of information that follows the user. Users have spent much time and effort to draw information they desire close to themselves (Model of Attraction). Once they have the information, is the information in a format that is easy for the user or consumer of the information to use or even reuse.



January 18, 2004

Music for Real People

The Internet, particularly the Web, has become a solid replacement for traditional radio, which most people believe only provides a service for background noise. Traditional radio in the U.S. fails the listener as a medium for finding new music, be they bands, artists, or labels that insight the users to want to own the music. (I am using ownership in a broad sense of the term, which can entail purchasing CDs or downloads as well as downloading free music offerings as defined and offered by the creator of the music.)

The Internet provides a great platform for finding new music. One means of finding new music is from others sharing what they are listening to. The sharing can be done on Macs using iChat and iTunes where iChat shows others what your are currently listening to. Others share music on their personal sites, like Dan Hill does on City of Sound in his year end review or Jeffrey Veen does in his sidebar offering of "heavy iPod rotation". People also share in their finds in their weblogs, which are more difficult to track. Other options are to peruse Amazon wishlists.

Other Internet options are listening to Internet radio broadcasts. There are many options, like Radio Paradise, that offer broadcasts of genre specific music. These stations also usually provide metadata that helps the listener know the creator of the music and the title.

Many people want to consume music, but traditional radio and even record labels have forgotten that people want to consume music, if only they could find music they want to consume. Apple's iTunes has expanded the offerings for purchasing music and also does a decent job (though not great, Amazon does a much better job suggesting related music and provides a means to store music of interest) of suggesting other music that would be of interest.



January 17, 2004

Ah Treo 600 Arrives

I took the plunge and ordered a Treo 600 with Sprint PCS service. Since adding a solid portable music player to my menagerie of gadgets, I was having to attend to four devices each morning. Yes, four. My normal cell phone with very good connectivity, but horrible customer service (a the customer is always wrong mentality). My HipTop, which got me hooked on mobile e-mail, Web, and IM, but did not have great connectivity and the PIM applications did not synch (only import and overwrite). My Palm which was my true PDA/mobile PIM and all information on it truly synched, but it did not have mobile connectivity. Lastly my iPod, which has been a great addition to the daily workweek commute and will soon be nice on longer drives and with great expanse of mobile memory.

The only things that may bug me are the smaller screen and the lack of bluetooth. The bluetooth may bug me the most as I have also had it with wires running every where. I chose Sprint for two reasons, great rebates when purchasing from Amazon and the faster connectivity.

One device will now replace three (Palm, cellphone, and HipTop) devices. I have already added the AOL IM (using the UK version as it is free, thanks to Real's tip on MobileWhack). I am feeling lighter already. I will be keeping this topic running for a while, I do believe.

The customer service from Sprint has been a little slow, but insanely courteous and helpful when you do get somebody on the phone (even "Kevin" who had a hint of an Indian accent).



January 11, 2004

AvantGo Synch for Mac OS X

I am now able to synch my Palm with AvantGo from my Mac. AvantGo USB Sync for Mac OS X is the key to getting this working. AvantGo has not supplied a Mac OS X interface. This worked exceptionally well. This was one of my last tethers to my PC. The PC has been very flakey with Palm hot synchs the past month or two, which is bad as one leaves for work with out of date info. Yes, in one day things can be horribly out of date.



Blogs highlighted on Meet the Press

While I am not a huge blog-for-blog-sake person, Meet the Press has a relatively long roundtable discussion on blog and the Democratic presidential campaigns. The talk about how Joe Trippi not only uses the blog to communicate with potential Dean supporters, but how he and others cull ideas from the blogs.

This highlight how new innovative ideas can quickly get posted by individuals, culled, and directly or with modification get implemented to better an endeavor. One clever idea that was culled from a weblog was the ability to have individuals share their unused weekend cell phone minutes and have the campaign use these minutes to call voters in Iowa. A rather clever idea and even smarter use of culling the Internet's vast cacophony of voices to find good helpful ideas to run a business/organization better and smarter.



January 8, 2004

Lake Effect Snow in Washington DC

Lake effect snow warning or not, for Washington, DC. Yesterday, I had a handful of severe weather warnings popping into my mobile devices and my desktop. I read the alerts, which were for "lake effect snow" and blizzards in the next four to 12 hours. The area impacted were the counties around Washington, DC, including Washington. From there I checked a couple weather forecasts and live weather stats, 39 percent humidity and no clouds on the eastern seaboard.

A couple hours later a retraction was made by NOAA and the National Weather Service. It seems they were testing software alert messages and the tests were dumped in the live system database. Oops. Somebody got the lesson of a lifetime and a lesson on how to verify what system is being tested.



December 9, 2003

NY Times everlink

For those about to blog the NY Times use NY Times ever link. [hat tip Dori



December 3, 2003

Testing the Three Click Rule

Josh Porter of UIE test the Myth of the Three Click Rule. Josh finds out that users will continue seeking what the want to find after three clicks as long as they feel they are on the right track and getting closer. Most users will not abandon their quest after three clicks as had been suggested.

Oddly I remember this three click rule from four to five years ago and when we tested it we found the users we tested did not give up. There were other studies at that time that backed up what we were finding. Now in the last couple of years folks that are new to the Web are pontificating the three click rule again.

As always it is always best to test and just follow blindly.



November 6, 2003

Interdependance of structure, information, and presentation

Peter J. Bogaards explains The Document Triangle: The interdependence of the structure, information and presentation dimensions. This troika is very important clear information consumption, but also information reuse. Structure is extremely important to transmitting information, but also important to information reuse. Information lacking structure nearly as reusable as a newspaper article printed on paper.

One great location to explore the ease of information reuse and the affect the presentation layer has should look no farther than, CSS Zen Garden, where nearly all the content is identical in the various layouts and designs. The structure of the content provides a solid framework to rework the presentation layer. The presentation layer can add to or detract from the clarity of the message as well as the attraction a user may have to the message.



Choose your candidate by their Web server

In an effort to get in to the swing of things political, what is your candidate running Web site on? The up time of the RNC and DNC is very telling.



November 1, 2003

Why page numbers fail us

I keep running into a deep information habit that has never worked well for its intended purpose, the page number has been an information curse. Printed documents use page numbers, which are intended as a reference point (not bragging rights often referenced in Harry Potter and Neal Stephenson books - I am on page 674 and you are on page 233). All of us are familiar with this problem from high school and college if you happened to have a different printed copy of a classic text. Page 75 of Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea was not the same in everybody's copy.

Even modern books fail when trying to reference pages, just look at the mass market edition of Crypnomicon with 1168 pages and the hardcopy version of Crypnomicon with 928 pages of the same text. Trying to use a page number as a reference does absolutely no good.

Now we try and reference information on the Web, which should not be chunked up by page count, but by logical information breaks. These breaks are often done by chapter or headings and rightly so as it most often helps the reader with context. Documents that are placed on the Internet, many times for two purposes - the ability to print and to keep the page numbers. Having information that is broken logically for a print presentation makes some sense if it is going to be printed and read in that manner, but more and more electronic information is being read on electronic devices and not printed. The Adobe reader does not easily flow from page to page, which is a complaint I often hear when readers are trying to read page delimited PDF files.

So if page numbers fail us in the printed world and are even more abysmal in the realm of the electronic medium, what do we use? One option is to use natural information breaks, which are chapters, headers, and paragraphs. These breaks in the information occur in every medium and would cause problems for readers and the information's structure if they are missing.

If we use remove page numbers, essentially going native as books and documents did not havepage numbers originally (Gutenberg's Bible did not rely on page numbers, actually page numbers in any Bible are almost never used Biblical reference), then we can easily place small paragraph numbers in the margins to the left and right. In books, journals, and periodicals with tables of contents the page or article jumps the page numbers can remain as the documents self-reference. The external reference could have a solid means of reference that actually worked.

Electronic media do not necessarily needs the page numbers for self-references within the document as the medium uses hyper-linking to perform the same task appropriately. To reference externally from a document one would use the chapter, header, and paragraph to point the reader to the exact location of text or microcontent. In (X)HTML each paragraph tag could use an incremented "id" attribute. This could be scripted to display in the presentation as well as be used as hyperlink directly to the content using the "id" as an anchor.

I guess the next question is what to do about "blockquote" and "table" tags, etc., which are block level elements? One option is to not use an id attributes in these tags as they are not paragraphs and may be placed in different locations in various presentation mediums the document is published in. The other option is to include the id tag, but then the ease of creating the reference information for each document type is eliminated.

We need references in our documents that are not failures from the beginning.

Other ideas?



October 30, 2003

CSS Tabs part 2

Doug Bowman provides Sliding Doors 2 for ALA. The sliding doors rounded tabs done with CSS, meaning the text is not in a graphic and the tabs have rollover effects with out having to build rollover images and deal with JavaScript. Doug's version 2 of sliding doors provides those with pages in CMS or other non-hand built pages. This beats the JavaScript sniffing the URL to set the local tab setting.



October 29, 2003

Time to step in to the present

There are days when you realize you are working in an environment that is the equivalent of one that switched from horse and buggy to the automobile a few years prior and is still trying to feed the car oats. There are some that see others putting a liquid in the autos tank so they boil the oats, strain the liquid, and put that in the tank. They have problems seeing why things do not run right.

Changing your environment from printing on paper to electronic information dissemination requires process change and formulating the information for easing the transfer into various presentation layers. Easily save into a PDF for distributing to those users that want to print and for information where layout is actually important to the information. Equally important is saving for Web presentation in valid (X)HTML. The (X)HTML is extremely valuable as it is a the a great means for users to consume the information on a wide variety of devices and provides the user the ability to reuse the information as the need and see fit.

When preparing information one must consider the the media used for presenting the message. It would also be wise to provide a great benefit to the user by considering information reuse. Preparing information for print, but not providing the data behind charts, alternate text for images, and other items that are required for accessibility (Section 508 compliance).



October 18, 2003

Links to artists and songs in iTunes

Do you have a song you want to share? Apple now offers a tool to link to any artist and song in the Apple Music Store - iTunes



Info Cloud and Personal Info Cloud weblogs setup

We have set up a couple new sites using TypePad to focus on Info Clouds and more directly, the Personal Info Cloud. The Info Cloud and Personal Info Cloud are extensions of ideas that came out of the Model of Attraction work.

The information posted on the TypePad sites will most likely be syndicated here, or vis versa. The use of TypePad is easing the need to have a separate location for these ideas and works in progress. Off the Top will not be changing, it will still be a melting pot of ideas and information. Direct access to more focussed information on topic or categories are still available by clicking on the category below each entry or using the category list.

The information cloud work ties directly to standards, information architecture, content management, and general Web development passions that drive me.



October 8, 2003

Why and how the Web beats television

BBCi's Ashley Highfield speach TV's Tipping Point: Why The Digital Revolution Is Only Just Beginning highlights what is coming in the future, hopefully not too distant future.



October 7, 2003

Building Web pages for crippled IE browser

Microsoft and others are posting the work arounds needed for the Web pages you build if they require plug-ins. Java and Active Script seem to been the focus at this point. Here we go: Microsoft guide for building to the new neutered IE browser, Apple developer guide for post EOLA development, Real Networks guide for embedded, and Macromedia guide. [hat tip Craig Salia]



August 27, 2003

Kottke and others on standards and semanticsk

Kottke provides a good overview of Web standards and semantically correct site development. Jason points out, as many have, that just because a site validates to the W3C does not mean that it is semantically correct. Actually there are those that take umbrage with the use of the term semantically for (X)HTML, when many consider it structural tagging of the content instead, but I digress. A "valid" site could use a div tag where it should not have, for example where it should have been a paragraph tag instead. Proper structural markup is just important as valid markup. The two are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are very good partners.

One means to marking-up a page is to begin with NO tags on the page in a text editor then markup the content items based on what type of content they are. A paragraph gets a "p" tag, tabular data is placed in a table, a long quote is put in a "blockquote" tag, an ordered list gets "ol" tags surrounding them with items in the list getting wrapped with "li" tags, and so forth. Using list tags to indent content can be avoided in using this method. Once the structure has been properly added to the document it is time to work with the CSS to add presentation flair. This is not rocket science and the benefits are very helpful in transitioning the content to handheld devices and other uses. The information can more easily scraped for automated purposes too if needed.

It is unfortunate that many manufacturers of information tools do not follow this framework when transforming information in to HTML from their proprietary mirth. A MS Word document creates horrible garbage that is both non-structural and not valid. The Web is a wonderful means to share content, but mangled markup and no structure can render information inconsistent at best, if not useless.

While proper development is not rocket science, it does take somebody who knows what they are doing, and not guessing, to get it right.

Others are posting on Jason's post, like Doug Bowman and Dave Shea and have opened up comments. The feedback in Doug's comments is pretty good.



August 24, 2003

Beeb to open archives to the Web

The Beeb is open its program archives to the Web. This is a deep and broad repository and will be a great addition to the public around the globe.



August 17, 2003

10 year anniversary but still not home

Today was the 10th anniversary of my arrival in the Washington, DC area to live. I moved to this area from San Francisco, which I was ready to leave but always ready to return to, to go to Georgetown University for a Masters in Public Policy. I initially planned to get my masters in two years then give Washington up to two more years then move on.

Well it has been a lot more than the initial three or four years I planned on. Actually this is the longest I have lived in any one geographic area. I like and have liked where I live and have lived, the streets and areas, but the Washington Area as a whole has never felt like home. (Oddly I have New York and San Francisco categories for the weblog, but no Washington.)

I have great friends in Washington, well those that are left, but I also have kept friends from previous homes via the Internet and have made friends that I think of as close in mind and focus thanks to the Internet. Actually the Internet is what made Washington a place to live for 10 years. I guess most any place could be livable with the Internet keeping a community I know and trust close by.

Another asset of the Washington area is its proximity to other cities that do feel a little more like they could be home. Baltimore, Philly, New York, and Boston are all a relatively short trip away. Europe is about as far a the West Coast and that has made the experience here enjoyable too.

I am not sure if it will be another 10 years in Washington, but who knows. We enjoy our house, even in its disruptive state of updating and repair. We really like our neighbors and neighborhood (as much as I did living in Arlington, VA too). I guess it is all up to jobs, winds, and other powers that drive us and blow us as to where the next 10 years will take me.



Streaming motion icons in iChat

Rael explains about the streaming iChat icons from the iSight. I noticed Matt had this going on the other night. It was very cool to see live movement in the chat icon in my buddy list. At first I thought it was an animated image with one insanely long loop, but soon realized that the mannerisms of Matt were not perpetuating in the same order.

I was very close to picking up the iSight today, but am holding off for just a little longer. A digital video camera is also on my purchase list, for parental reasons (also some of the reason behind iSight).



August 3, 2003

Understanding the Web Medium

Joe Gillespie has posted a current feature Factor-X about understanding the medium of the Web and digital information. Joe explains many that come from the print work of graphic and information design will create the information in graphics and slice and post that information. The Web is not only for reading information, but also reusing information. HTML pages can, if marked-up properly (which is not difficult at all), be read by audible site readers for those with visual impairments or for those that are doing other activities like driving. HTML pages, if built to the standards can also easily be used in mobile devices with nothing more than a browser.

Understanding the medium is where Joe is taking the readers of this article. One of the advantages of the Web is having the ability to structure the information easily and modifying the presentation as needed or wanted. There are standard interface conventions that are easily understood with HTML that get broken in Flash (the hand pointer on for all content, including that which is not clickable). The great advantage of HTML is having access to the information directly so one can quote and have an easy means of attributing quotes through linking to the source.

Go read Joe's article, actually bookmark Web Page Design for Designers and go read monthly, you will be happy you did.



August 1, 2003

NNG Usability ROI debunked and Web Traffic Analytics at B and A

Boxes and Arrows is currently running two wonderful articles. Report Review: Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability Return on Investment by Peter Merholz and Scott Hirsch. The second article is Web Traffic Analytics and User Experience by Fran Diamond.

Go read, I will be back shortly.



July 27, 2003

New music written and recorded before your eyes in 24 hours

This morning I caught-up with Scott and Shannon's blogathon, which is 24 hours of postings on their site. The donations go to a great cause and they also did an amazing thing. The two of them wrote and recorded two new songs.

The wonderful parts of this are they are 3,000 miles apart, the collaboration was on line in the blog for this purpose, their auditory updates were posted throughout the 24 hours, and their two voices and guitar tracks and other instrument tracks were all pulled together for two wonderful songs. I have been humming Southdown all day. I want to spend more time reviewing each of the steps to this transparent adventure.

This may be the coolest things I have seen on the Web in quite some time.



July 20, 2003

Jeffrey Veen on the State of the Web

Digital Web interviews Jeffrey Veen who discusses the current state of Web development. This is must read to understand, to not only understand where we are today, but also how Web teams are comprised today.

Remember when Web sites used to have huge home pages constructed entirely out of images so that designers could have control over typefaces? Thankfully, thatĂ­s mostly a thing of the past now. We all understand that speed is crucial in usability and, therefore, success. The designers who are left nowĂłthe ones who have succeededĂłare the ones with an aesthetic that is based on what the Web is capable of, and not some antiquated notion of graphic art applied as decoration to some obscure technical requirements.
Also, specialization is creeping into our industry and thatís a great thing. Weíre seeing Web design split into disciplines like interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design, front-end coders, and more. Even information architecture is subdividing into content strategists, taxonomists, and others. I think we can safely say that there is no such thing as a ìWebmasterî anymore.

There are many more gems in this interview, including the state of Web standards and poor job Microsoft is doing to allow the Web move forward. (Jeffrey Veen's observations can regularly be found at Jeffrey Veen's online home.



June 14, 2003

Trackback hype debunked

Joshua picks up on the trackback conversation, but there are many problems with the comparisons of trackbacks and referrer tracking (I am posting this for clarity not to poke at my friend Joshua and comments are not turned on for his entry or I would post there). It sounds like referrer logs are not set properly in what Joshua is using for a comparison to trackback. It may be that Movable Type is not set to take full advantage of referrers, which is sad. Joshua and the posts he links to explain trackbacks properly.

Of the three comparisons of trackbacks to referrer only one is correct, trackbacks do not require an actual hyperlink to the article to work properly (why one would not have a link to what they are discussing is odd as it is the Web). The other two comments are not correct if referrer logs are setup properly. In my last 100 referrers page I can see exactly what page a link came from (I used Charles Johnson's referrer as a base for mine). If the hyperlink is clicked from a permalink page I can see the exact page the link came from and if it links to my permalinked entry I can have categorical sorting also.

I have not seen a need for trackback on my site my referrer log (real-time) and access log show me exactly what is going on. Oddly there is always a lot of talk about trackback on blogs, but very rarely are they ever used. This may point to a usability problem with trackback. Referrer and access logs on the other hand do not need this extra step for the site owner to get the information.

Once I get unburried with paper work for work and have a clear head that the completion will bring I may implement a referrer version of trackback for public consumption, unless the lazy web does it first.



June 13, 2003

Zeldman's DWwS is a can't put down book for many

Today in my short drive to the Metro (about a mile) I saw two folks walking with Jeffery Zeldman's Designing With Web Standard in hand. One of these folks was walking and reading it. I wanted to reach into my backseat and get my copy to hold up and honk (not a good safety move so I held back by show of oneness).

I personally think this book rocks. This book helps prove I am sane as there are many discussions at work that this book will easily help support the decisions we made to incorporate standards-based Web development. We do not have a user base that permits the use of full XHTML and CSS2, like this site, but it has made maintenance of pages (45,000 to 55,000 pages in all with 8,000 or more done while moving to standards based validation or actually validating).

Jeffery does a wonderful job writing about the whys and hows of Standards based development and design. He also make understanding the benefits very easy to grasp.

This may be the one starter book for Web developers to help them sell Standards-based development or to learn why they should be embracing it and moving forward with learning and using it.



June 6, 2003

Testing HTML validation of output of tools

Knopf offers a componarison of how well Help Authoring Tools create HTML. The testing includes compactness of code, but even better is validating the output against the W3C. Dreamweaver MX does quite well in the testing. It would be good to expand the testing to some of the other tools, like FrontPage and GoLive.



May 14, 2003

Building with Web Standards or how Zeldman got the future now

I awaiting Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which is available for order from Amazon (Designing with Web Standards). I have been a believer in designing with Web Standards for years, but it was Jeffrey that pushed me over the edge to evangelist for Web standards. One of the best things going for Web standards is it make validation of markup easy, which is one of the first steps in making a Web site accessible.

I work in an environment that requires Web standard compliance as it provides information to the public as a public good. Taxpayers have coughed up their hard earned dollars to pay for research and services, which are delivered to them on the Web. The public may access information from a kiosk in an underfunded library with a donated computer on a dial-up connection, but they can get to information that they are seeking. The user may be disabled and relying on assistive technology to read the public information. The user may be tracking down information from a mobile device as they are travelling across country on their family vacation. Each of these users can easily get the public information they are seeking from one source, a standard compliant Web page.

Every new page that is developed by the team I am on validates to HTML 4.01 transitional. Why 4.01 transitional and not XHTML? We support older browsers and 4.01 transitional seems to have pretty good access to information no matter the browser or device. We are not on the cutting edge, but we know nearly everybody can get the information their tax dollars have paid for. I dream of a day job building XHTML with full CSS layout, but with the clients I work for we still aim at the public good first.

I am very happy that Jeffrey has his book coming out as it should bring to light to more developers what it means to build to Web standards. Every contract that is signed buy the agency I work for must validate to HTML 4.01 transitional, but very few of the sites do when they come through the door to be posted. We provide a lot of guidance to help other developers understand, but finding a solid foundation to work upon is tough. When hiring folks many claim to have experience building valid sites, but most soon realize they never have to the degree to getting a W3C validation.

Building our pages to 4.01 does not mean we are going to stick with 4.01 forever. We plan for XHTML by closing all tags and stay away from tags deprecated in 4.01 strict. Much of what we create only needs a few scripts run to convert the pages from HTML to XHTML 1.1 transitional. Having the closing tags makes scripting to find information and search and replace much easier. (Enough for now, buy the book, we will have more later).



May 10, 2003

IE blows up with valid HTML

Mark Pilgrim discusses human readable HTML and fatal IE browser bugs. The more bugs that are found in current versions of the Microsoft IE browser on Windows, the more I believe that IE is the current incarnation of Netscape 4. Netscape 4 was known for its lack of playing nicely with Web standards. IE 6 does horribly with valid CSS and now seem like it blows up with valid HTML. Nearly all other modern browsers play more nicely with valid CSS and do not have the problems with valid HTML. (Apple's Safari is not perfect yet, but Apple states their browser is beta.)



April 16, 2003

Using HTML tags properly to help external search results

There are some essentials to building Web pages that get found with external search engines. Understanding the tags in HTML and how they are (rather should be) used is important. The main tags for most popular search engines are the title, heading (h1, h2, etc), paragraph (p), and anchor (a). Different search engines have given some weight in their ranking to metatags, but most do not use them or have decreased their value.

Google gives a lot of weight to the title tag, which is often what shows in the link Google gives its user to click for the entry. In the title tag the wording is important too, as the most specific information should be toward the front. A user searching for news may find a weblog toward the top of the search ahead of CNN, as CNN puts its name ahead of the title of the article. A title should echo the contents of the page as that will help the ranking of the pages, titles that are not repeated can get flagged for removal from search engines.

The headings help echo what is in the title and provide breaking points in the document. Headings not only help the user scan the page easily, but also are used by search engines to ensure the page is what it states it is. The echoing of terms are used to move an entry to the top of the rankings as the mechanical search engines get reinforcement that the information is on target for what its users may be seeking.

The paragraph tags also are used to help reinforce the text within them.

The anchor tags are used for links and this is what the search engines use to scrape and find other Web pages. The text used for the links is used by the search engines to weight their rankings also. If you want users to find information deep in your site put a short clear description between the anchor tags. The W3C standards include the ability to use a title attribute which some search tools also use. The title attribute is also used by some site readers (used by those with visual difficulties and those who want their information read aloud to them, because they may be driving or have their hands otherwise occupied) to replace the information between the anchor tags or to augment that information.

Example

The application I built to manage this weblog section is build to use each of these elements. This often results in high rankings in Google (and relatedly Yahoo), but this is not the intent, I am just a like fussy in that area. It gets to be very odd when my posting weblog posting review of a meal at Ten Penh is at the top or near the top of a Google Ten Penh search. The link for the Ten Penh restaurant is near the bottom of the first page.

Why is the restaurant not the top link? There are a few possible reasons. The restaurant page has its name at "tenpenh" in the title tag, which is very odd or sloppy. The page does not contain a heading tag nor a paragraph tag as the site is built with Flash. The semantic structure in Flash, for those search engines that scrape Flash. Equally the internal page links are not read by a search engine as they are in Flash also. A norm for many sites is having the logo of the site in the upper left corner clickable to the home page of the site, which with the use of the alt attribute in a image tag within an anchor link allow for each page to add value to the home page rant (if the alt attritute would have "Ten Penh Home" for example).

Not only does Flash hinder the scapeing of information the use of JavaScript links wipes out those as means to increase search rankings. Pages with dynamic links that are often believed to ease browsing (which may or may not prove the case depending on the site's users and the site goals in actual user testing) hurt the information in the site for being found by external search engines. JavaScript is not scrapable for links or text written out by JavaScript.



April 10, 2003

Boxes and Arrows up for a Webby

I must mention Boxes and Arrows is up for a Webbie Award. Congrats to all the other alumni staff who helped get this wonderful resource off the ground and to the current staff that keep this great gift running and being so wonderful. Most of all to Christina Wodtke for having this crazy idea.



April 7, 2003

Meet the Makers chats with Steve Champeon

Meet the Makers chats up Steve Champeon. Steve is one of the founders of WaSP, has written and edited many tech books, and just flat out rocks. You are still saying who? Go read.



April 4, 2003

Animatrix - The Detective

The third Animatrix has been posted, The Detective and it is my favorite so far. The first release is a very close second.



April 2, 2003

Matt Jones looses faith in navigation

Matt picks up on the failure of navigation and points to similar conversations to ones I had with Stewart that turned me to look for something other than navigation as a means to build information structures. Each user approaches information with two of their own receptors, cognitive and sensory receptors. The cognitive elements include vocabulary and rhetoric (essentially writing style). The sensory include visual elements, which include color, texture, and layout. Layout includes the visual structure and context given through proximity. These two seem to have paralells to Andrew Dillon's semantic spatial model, but I want to know more about his model.

Matt discusses the problems with navigation consistancy at the BBC sites. Here is where navigation gets in the way, as browsing structures is a better term and less restrictive. The user needs a means to find other information that is related or provides context to the information the see on their screens. If there is some attraction to the information infront of the user they often believe what which they seek will be close by if the information is grouped by like information. Much like a market where produce is grouped together, as they are like products.



March 30, 2003

Shopshifting using a Rough Cloud of Information

Shopshifting, is a well coined term I picked up from Mike Lee and something I am doing more and more with my Hiptop. In the Model of Attraction I discuss the a "rough cloud of information" that the user has following them. The mobile device can allow the user to have access to their desired information and make well informed decisions. I often use my Amazon Wishlist to find books or media I am interested in to physically see it and verify my interest in it, or to enter a new found item in the wish list. I entered one book into my wishlist while at Powells as it was full price and a large book I did not want to carry back. I did buy it yesterday with my Barnes and Noble discount and take it home. I also use IMDB while in the video store or Blockbuster to find DVD names or other movies with actors or actresses I like.

The "rough cloud of information" does take thinking about as not all information is accessible from mobile devices, it is not easy to drop into mobile devices, nor is some of the information called what I think it should be. Users often add metadata or change the descriptors for the information. I do this often as I am not attracted to what some want to call items or information chunks.



March 29, 2003

Number 6

Just when you think everything may not be on the Web... Sonny Sixkiller's jersey pops up. Who? Sonny was was my first collegiate hero, he is a Native American who was the starting quarterback for the Washington Husky's in 1970. If I remember correctly my parents took me to my first college football game to see him play. He also had a role in The Longest Yard. Mush.



March 14, 2003

Molly wants to discuss SXSW and flow of ideas

Molly asks what one gets from SXSW? I did not make it this year as I am somewhat burried with work, reviews for a great conference in June, and preparing for Portland. I get a great amout from SXSW Interactive infact part of why I am burried is because of a confluence at SXSW last year. The Model of Attraction solution to the failure of navigation as our metaphor of building interfaces to information on the Web. I have been whittling down over 5 pages of single spaced outline on MoA for the last 6 weeks trying to fit a solid understanding of it into 30 to 45 minutes.

Much of what can make SXSW great is the bright passionate people it draws in. The inspiration and spark from SXSW can last a year. I do agree there is a need for a higher level conference as a place to think and bounce ideas around to keep the growth horomones for design, research, and technology fresh. Some of that may come and I really want to be there. This is not to say that SXSW does not offer this, it does as follow on conversations after the panels. It would be great to have these discussions as small groups or as the panels.



Centrino poor WiFi functionality says Mosberg

WSJ's Walt Mossberg offers his insite on Pentium M and Centrino. The Centrino portion of the Intel solution seems to be a sham marketing ploy. If device makers use a real WiFi card with full capabilities the device makers can not use the Centrino or Pentium M monikers that are tied to all the hype.





The Web, information use, and the failure of the spacial metaphor

Francis Cairncross' book title Death of Distance is a wonderful understanding of the world around us in many way and should now apply to spacial relationships on the Web. The idea of spacial relationships on the Web have been a stretch of the truth for a long time. Initially the idea of a person going out and "navigating" other spaces helped those new to the prospect of what the Web held grasp the Web concept.

The problem with spacial explanations of the Web is they do not work very well. The truth is we go nowhere on the Web, information is brought to us. The Web user is ego-centric and rightfully so, as the world of information and commerce on the Web revolves around the user. The Web is truly omnipresent. Information is everywhere at once. The Web can even follow the user on mobile devices. The user does not go out and explore different places, the artifacts of the places come to the user's screen based on what is of interest to the user.

I was reading David Weinberger's book Small Pieces Loosely Joined and it was painful to watch him twist and turn to get the spacial metaphor to work. A whole chapter in the book is devoted to Space [on the Web] (the book as a whole is very enjoyable and worth the time to read). Weinberger first discusses how we use the Web, using surf, browse, and go to a site. This is wrapped with an analogy explaining the Web is like a library where the user does not have access to the stacks of books, but a librarian (or clerk) goes and retrieves the book, based on the request the user made, and brings it to the user. He also states:

... this is perhaps the most significant change the Web brings to the world of documents: the Web has created a weird amalgam of documents and buildings. With normal paper documents, we read them, file them, throw them out, or sent them to someone else. We do not go to them. We don't visit them. Web documents are different. They're places on the Web. We go to them as we might go to the Washington Monument or the old Endicott Building. They're there, we're here, and if we want to see them, we've got to travel.

.... the odd thing is that, of course, we're not really going any place, and we know it.

This is just painful to follow. We keep bringing up this bloodied and battered spacial metaphor trying to make it work to explain more than the very tiny bit it did explain well. The spacial metaphor has long overstayed its welcome and it now hinders us as we try to build the future information interfaces, which include mobile information access and internationalization of information.

Yes, I am saying mobile information use is hindered by a spacial metaphor. It is more than hindered it is crippled by it. When prepare information now location is largely irrelevant, but access, device, application, and information form and highly relevant. Before we prepared information on paper and sent that information to people (which can be done today) and we largely knew how that information was going to be used. Today, with digital information the ease of information reuse and the user's ego-centric view of the information world, we must think of the user and how the information will be used. The proximity of the information to the user through access, storage, or personalization is what is paramount. Proximity is the only spacial element that has significance. This equally applies to internationalization as language and culture are the barriers to the information not space. A Brazilian may be sitting on the T in Boston and want to read the most recent information on rollout of WiFi in Rio. The user should not need to find the Brazilian neighborhood in Boston to get the information in the proper language (Portuguese) with familiar cultural inflections. The user can attract that information form easily, which can be brought to the user if that information and access have been prepared and enabled. The user may have come across a resource for this information while looking for a client's most recent press release and the user forwarded the link to her mobile device to read later. Access to information can and should be based on the users actions and choices.

The user can (and has been able to for some time) create their own metadata and retrieval structures. Communication with live people or machines that can and will convey useful information at the user's desire is not only the reality of the wired world, but what mobile use is all about. The user can set their proximity to information they have come across and connectivity conduits are enablers of that information they have yet to discover.

Up to this point the spacial metaphor only provided us with the navigation, but flat out failed us with what the user could do once they found what they were seeking. The user can browse, search, receive in e-mail (based on list subscriptions), read an information feed that brings to the user new information from sites the user likes or from aggregators, or a variety of other means. Once the user comes across information they have an interest in they want to keep that information attracted to themselves, via storage, putting it on a page that is accessible to a mobile or stationary device, and/or have the information delivered at a time that will be more convenient (getting a text message on your phone with the address and time of a party at an art gallery). Proximity also plays a role in location based services, such as bringing up restaurant listing and reviews when the GPS in our mobile device indicates we are near these establishments. The user should be able to identify favorites or preferences that can help provide "best options".

The realization of the failure of the navigation metaphor to provide for much other than a nice name for the grouped set of links that provide browsing options pushed me to investigate the Model of Attraction (MoA). The MoA is not perfect, but does provide a framework to think about information use and reuse as users currently interact with it. The MoA offers a method for us to work through how we allow the user to easily reuse information they found. The devices are just conduits for the attraction interaction to take place. MoA offers a framework that is also easy to understand, but is a literal description, which helps us see building, structuring, and preparing information and applications for the future.

Navigation -- R.I.P.



March 11, 2003

Tanya Raybourn finds Spirit of SXSW Interactive and her observations of the David Weinberge keynote glean the wonderful wonders of the Web.



March 3, 2003

Veen crankin' with OS X

Jeffrey Veen offers his views on Web development on Mac OS X. He discusses using PHP, MySQL, Perl 5.8, CVS, and BBEdit, which in my opinion are excellent choices and some of the reasons I moved over. Jeffrey offers some great links also... (the version control with Mac OS X is a new favorite as is the blog Forwarding Address: OS X



March 2, 2003

Me with Japanese characters and others

I have wild and adventurous dreams, but my subconscious did not consider seeing my name on a page of Japanese characters. I have had The Vapor's Turning Japanese running through my head since I saw this.



March 1, 2003

Depressed about not going to SXSW

I am a very bummed as I will not be going to SXSW Interactive this year. Things were not working out as there were too many things here going on and I will be away speaking at the ASIS IA Summit and attending the IA Leadership Summit

I am upset about SXSW as it is a wonderful learning experience and reassuring experience. SXSW has always provided the confirmation that I am on the right track as well as show where I can improve. SXSW provides a great social environment to not only learn in the sessions, but hang out with folks like yourself. The panels, which have just recently been fully fleshed out, seem to be some of the best in years (had this been out even a week ago I would have said screw it and gone).

I will greatly miss my frieds that I usually only see at SXSW and learn immense amounts.



February 24, 2003

Information Accessing and Browsing book

I am really enjoying Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication by Rice, McReadie, and Chang from MIT Press. I am less than 100 pages into this academic review and assessment of how people approach, find, assess, and retain information. The book is wonderful as it takes an cross section of academic disciplines and the research from them on browsing information and information use. The book is uncovering new pools of information in the library sciences, organizational communication, and knowledge management fields that help one better understand how people find and process information. There is a lot of information that is echoing the Model of Attraction approach to user and information relationships as well as helping to better refine the approach (there are some updates to the MoA that I have clarified in the last three weeks, and this reading is helping gell).

I may write a full review when I finish the book. I am reading the book on the train to and from work at the moment. I may need to read at home so I can check information that is being referenced.



February 19, 2003

WaSP Buzzing

The current Buzz is that the Web Standards Project is growing and offering a new perspective and as is noted in the WaSP press release I am now a member of the WaSP clan. This takes advantage of what I already do in my free time, try to build a better Web and work on structuring information for use and reuse. This is smart group dovetails very nicely with the smart group of information architects that absorb another chunk of my free time.



February 3, 2003

Hiptop helps show extending the model of attraction

I am already enjoying my Hiptop for much of the reason that I picked it up. I wanted access to information. More importantly I wanted information to be able to follow me. I found information or thought of information I really have been wanting to have access to that information from where ever I am. I wanted the ability to share the information from where I was and have others be able to use that information to better their understanding.

Yes, I have had cellphones and have called others, but the information is not that useable in voice form. The information needed to be convered to data elements that could easily be used and reused. Voice only (at the current time) allows us to hear then act upon the information and not store that information in a searchable repository or to easily share that information back out.

Yes, I have PDAs (Palm-based handhelds), but they need to synch with other devices to share information and the e-mail capabilities were not the best around. The 3rd party applications on the Palm and the fantastic operating system that is fast and small are great features that will be hard to beat by anybody.

I have been looking for a solution to have the information I wanted when I want or need it in my hands. The Hiptop gets me much closer to that goal. I tend to use e-mail to share ideas with myself and others. This weblog is another method of doing the same. Being able to search for an address and get a map is a solid tool to have at all times.

This is a personal quest to have the Model of Attraction (MoA) extend back to myself. The MoA not only helps us think about the attration between the user and information during the finding tasks, to help improve findability, but in phase where the user wants information to stay attracted to them. My Hiptop is my information attraction device. I can push an e-mail to myself that has the name, address, time, and phone number needed to do to a party with friends that have come in from out of town. I can access my Amazon Wishlist when I am in a store to help remember the author or title of a book, CD, or DVD I have been seeking. This bookstore amnesia (or musicstore amnesia) can be a thing of the past. The Hiptop provides me the information in my hand and gives me the access to the information I do not have at hand wirelessly.

There will be some experiments to see if I can improve on the information attraction to keep the information closer to me. Am I getting rid of my Palm? No, as there is information in it that I prefer in the format it is in. I will be keeping my cell phone as it has great reception and is CDMA (I found having a non-dominant cell phone technology is an advantage during emergency times, like being in San Francisco during September 11, 2001, which is a TDMA and GSM dominant city. I was one of a few that had no problem getting a signal to call out). It is rather awkward having three devices with through out the day. We will see how it goes.



January 23, 2003

Perl site scraper

Screen scraping with Perl www::mechanize will come in handy for many tasks. The information reuse possibilities are wonderful. This does seem to require somewhat valid HTML/XHTML to function properly.



January 16, 2003

Web Techniques / New Architect says Buh-Bye

R.I.P. Web Techniques / New Architect. Amit and Maggie shared the news.

This is a sad note, but also one that seems to show how things have changed. How many of us were excited when the new issues of Web Techniques arrived or were anxious when it was late? The publication changed over time as did the market for the magazine. The need for a printed magazine changed over time, but having a printed article to show clients or superiors was a great help as they discounted the information printed from the Web (I don't know how much this has changed). There are many Web based outlets for similar information and similar quality of information, Boxes and Arrows, Digital Web, A List Apart, and O'Reilly Network to name a few. None the less, we morn this day and get back to building a better Web.



January 14, 2003

Zeldman discusses XHTML 2

Zeldman provides insight into XHTML 2, which provides a response and agreement with Mark Pilgrim's Semantic Obsolescence rant.



January 10, 2003

Ticketstub memory shares lives

Matt shares a little bit of what the Web can provide, a resting place for open memories. This medium provides a place for connecting people through common understanding and interests as well as shared moments.



January 8, 2003


January 6, 2003

Dumbing down of computer and information design books

My trip to bookstores in Florida had me seeing what the person on the street sees as computer books, "Dummies" guides. There were eight shelves of Dummies computer books with a handful of Microsoft publisher books thrown in for color variation.

When I returned home I took a trip to Barnes and Noble and found the computer Web section filled with GUI tool books (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, GoLive, etc.) where there were shelves of HTML, DHTML, CSS, Perl, proper design (by Zeldman and Veen), or Information Architecture books. This trend worried me more than what I saw in Florida. The GUI books did not get into proper markup or understanding of information. The books were concerned with how to make better use of more bandwidth. Not one place in the many books I pulled off the shelf did I see any mention of the user or information use (let alone information reuse). The beauty of learning how to develop properly is knowing when the GUI tools are wrong, but better is knowing what is built properly will work well on broadband and on mobile devices. If the information is important and cared about it should be made available, accessible, and usable.



January 5, 2003

Ticketstubs launches

Tickstubs is launched by Matt. This site is a story repository based on ticket stubs. I have many ticket stubs that serve as reminders of past events, travels, and adventures. I am glad to see there are others that have the same interest and are sharing them. I look forward to following along.


December 9, 2002

RSS and interconnections

Since I added the vanderwal.net RSS feed I have been picking up other RSS and RDF feeds. I have been using Ranchero's NetNewsWire Lite to pull many feeds of sites I read on a regular basis. I have become a convert to RSS/RDF extracts. They are a time saver for seeing only updated sites. I have read feeds of many of the news sites from MacReporter for quite sometime, but having personal content and blogs pulled in is quite a timesaver and allows me to get through more information.

I do see a downside of the XML feeds, in the disconnection of the creator from the users. The Web has given us the ability to have digital ghosts that we know come to our sites and possibly read content. This is much like Plato's cave shadow people, in that we do not see the actual people that come to the sites, but we surmise what these visitors are like and what they come to read. Occasionally we receive comments on the site, e-mails from visitors, or best meet folks in person that read/experience your work. It is very much a disconnected work that is built from guesses, for those that try and care (some just build for themselves resources to be used remotely and all others are welcome "free riders", like here). The XML feeds seem to take away another level of the "interaction" between the creator and the users. This relationship is important in communication as the feedback helps shape the message as well as offer paths for both parties to learn and grow.

The XML feeds offer the consumers of the information easier and more efficient means of getting, filtering, and digesting information, but the return path to the creator is diminished. The feeds are a consumer oriented communication channel and not so much an interactive communiction channel. The down side is a lack of true interactive communication, which becomes more of a consuming produced products, much like frozen dinners that get popped in the microwave. The interaction provides the creator with an understanding of how the user consumes the information and what the consumer of the information is finding usable and how the consumer is being drawn to the information. When one cooks their own meals or is being cooked for the meal can be spiced and seasoned appropriately for consumption. The presentation of the food can be modified to enhance pleasure. The live cooking process allows for feedback and modification. Much like the interaction of information in a communication scenario the creator and the consumer have a relationship, as the creator finds the structure and the preferred means of consuming the information the presentation and structure of the information can be altered appropriately.

In a sense the XML feed could be seen as one type of information structure of presentation. There are other options available that can be used to bring back the interaction between the creator and consumer. Relationships and connections are built over this expansive medium of the Web through information and experience. These connections should be respected and provided a place to survive.



NPR finds music gems

Running errands this past weekend I heard a snippet on NPR about the All Songs Considered 2 CD. There were a few songs played and discussed that really intrigued me. This meant Saturday night I spent nearly three hours digging through the All Songs Considered site listening to the archives. I found many obscure bands that I new really want to listen to more. I often have caught bits and pieces of ASC while in the car, but never can remember who it was that piqued my interest.

This site, like many others on NPR really augments the radio experience, bringing it into an explorative medium with memory, which has been my complaint with radio for years. Radio is transitory and fleeting. Remembering a song or discussion while changing lanes, answering the phone, draining the pasta, etc inhibits structured listening that augments aural memory.

I was once embarrassed that I picked up much of my new music finds from NPR, but with much of the commercial radio market serving up untalented pablum (or perhaps misproduced talent) I have an outlet. I have found John Mayer before many others I considered to be well plugged in. There is a depth of music talent and spectrum that is missing in the overly corporate regulated airways.

A few finds from this weekends digging are The Frames who gave up the over produced song and started their own record label. Metaphor, Damien Gough/Badly Drawn Boy reminding me of Prefab Sprout, and Lanterna. Lanterna is a rather unknown band that is from Champaign, Illinois and one of the members works as a sound engineer for an NPR station, unknown to the folks at ASC.

Following this thread to music that I really enjoy from a relatively unknown... It is rumored that The Walkingbirds have received air play on an NPR site in Pennsylvania. This is great news if it is true. I have really enjoyed Scott's music that he contributes to Walkingbirds. It seems that NPR finds the gems in the rough terrain that great music is forced to walk in by the corporations that produce musical mediocrity. I am happy that NPR has blessed the gem of Walkingbirds. This has been a good few days for finding music.



December 5, 2002

Snowday and lessons on not caching and using static pages

It is a personal snowday as the U.S. Federal Government is open (so far), but on unscheduled leave. Oddly enough the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) status site does not have a no-cache setting in the header. This means you browsers, even your modern browser, will cache the page and require you the user to manually refresh the page. These pages may even be cached locally by ISPs and connectivity providers, meaning the information is not up to date. The page is rather light, with few graphics, but it is not a static page, meaning each page is generated dynamically, which requires more horsepower to serve the page. One days like today every Washington, DC area federal employee and contractor is hitting this page, as well as many DC area private sector employees (most DC companies are open if the Federal Government is open).

I thought most IT folks learned their lesson with the need for "dynamic" pages a year or two ago, but I guess not. Many previously dynamic pages are not dynamic on the back end with content management systems doing the same work they always have done, but building static pages. If the content on the pages is not changing often (this is a subjective term and can roughly defined as content changing ever few hours with heavy site loads are usually candidates for static pages) or are not serving parsable datapoints (tables of data that can have subsets of data selected for viewing). Much of the "dynamic page" hype was generated by marketing folks to non-technical types who made decisions on cool or manly mindsets. Many folks started actually thinking about the need for dynamic pages a couple years ago. Those that decided they did not need dynamic pages for all or even most of their site began to realize they could save on the heavier hardware needed to churn out everypage. These static output folks also found they could withstand much higher hit rates with ease. I have been in meetings with folks that were asking about stress testing site that were static running on boxes that were formerly running dynamic sites. Those of us that understood the processor savings knew this was a foreign concept and they did not understand the server would be able to handle twice to eight times the load previously handled.



November 21, 2002

GUI vs Hand Coding for HTML

Dori posts a matrix explaining how well GUI Web mark-up tools perform and it is not suprising that most do poorly. Dreamweaver MX does admirably, but the JavaScript is not up to par. The best coding is still hand coding. If you do not know how to hand code your job will never be done, it will not be right either. The tools have come a long way, but they are nto there yet.


October 31, 2002

Zoom Zoom

Ahhhh.... This past month has been horrible to be with out my own e-mail accounts and or broadband. I have more than a handful of digital friends I keep up with, e-mail, and chat with on-line and not really having access was no fun to say the least. I am behind on e-mail and other things I had taken on, accept heartfelt appologies and know I am doing what I can to catch-up.

I am really not understanding how folks use dial-up, particularly with Yahoo offering a $29 per month offering and Covad offering about the same price or less. I can understand not being DSL accessable, but if you are it is well worth the effort. Trying to read even CNN on line was painful. With broadband I can check local movie listings in Watson and see a clip (oh what a wonderful idea, I have not done this in months).



August 25, 2002

Apache 2.0 builds for OS X

Hmmm... Yesterday I was looking at Apache and the other two pieces of the triumvirate PHP and MySQL. Today I ran across what could be an improved option, Server Logistics' Apache 2.0 along with Perl, PHP, MySQL, and Postgres. Apache 2.0 provides multithreading and other improvements to the incredibly stable and supreme Web server All of this is set to build and run on Mac OX 10.


August 15, 2002

Found it in the paper

I learned another thing on vacation, The New York Times is a great paper. Yes, the NYTimes.com offers great news and all the content, but the actual paper is a great asset. I spent this past week reading the paper version of the Times and found great stories that informed and even entertained in each day's paper. I never see this in the digital version as it is not as easy to flip through the digital pages as it is the paper version. The Web version groups the information by like kind, but finding the nuggets is not as easy. I usually read the highlights using AvantGo, which may limit my closeness ot the nuggets I found I really miss. I subscribed to the paper version for years, but thought I found the digital version more streamlined, but now I realize what would make my morning coffee better.


July 24, 2002

Microsoft embraces Apache Web server

CNet News discusses Microsoft's .Net set to link to Apache, which is a great step as the Microsoft IIS web server is increasingly being dropped as a viable option because of never ending security problems. This would literally doom Microsoft's .Net initiative as it would not be usable on the Internet without their Microsoft Internet server. By moving the ability to run the .Net framework on an Apache server Microsoft not only extends their ability to run their services on a superior Web server with far fewer security problems, but Apache is now recognized as a viable Web server by Microsoft. Apache owns the majority share of the Web server business and those of use that have had the ability to use it prefer it hands down to Microsoft's IIS.


July 14, 2002

Film Strip Art

Film Strip art provided a great diversion. [hat tip Eric]


July 10, 2002

Baking versus frying CMS

Aaron discusses baking versus frying with content management and updates bake and fry CMS ideas. The idea is to bake content, which is using your content management system to produce static pages. The alternative is to fry from the CMS by providing truely dynamic content. There are a few reasons why one should choose the frying method:

  • Frequent (hourly or semi-daily) updates of informaiton
  • Multiple dependancies (information linking to and from many points)
  • Unlimited resources
  • Many variation of presentation of the data
  • Providing user slicing and dicing of informaiton capabilities
  • Many external content providers

This list does not capture everything, but also provides maleable guidelines. There are many advantages to baking (publishing static content pages) from a CMS:

  • Speed of delivery
  • Archievable version
  • Ease of troubleshooting and maintenance
  • Editable output pages
  • Use templates to generate valid mark-up and perfect 508 compliant pages
  • Using reusable content pieces that provide consistancy and accuracy of information on all presentation layers
  • Keeping various application elements well maintained

Aaron provides good links for further discovery of your own.



Gold Box provides

The Amazon Gold Box provides a goodie to get. After watching the Gold Box for weeks, and wondering where it went for a week or so, the Gold Box had a solid offering. I found Memento on DVD popped up. I did not see the movie in the theater, but have had an interest. The 10 dollar plus price made it less than a movie out for two and the fancy tiles are not available at the rental joints. One thing I did not realize about the Gold Box is that if you select an item to buy before the final item you do not get the opportunity to see the remaining items.


July 9, 2002

Usability review of online mapping sites

The Wall Street Journal provides a review of online mapping directions and lists how helpful each of them were with regards to mapping, accuracy, and written directions. These applications are one service that blossomed on the Internet, but the usefullness of the sites and the usability of the sites varies. Reviewed are: AAA.com, MapBlast.com, MapQuest.com, RandMcNally.com, and Hertz NeverLost II GPS. The usability and accuracy of the online maps and their printout versions are key to how well the site gets you to where you are going. One of the items this review required was finding an exact restaurant by name, which there are other methods of finding a restaurant's address to look up on a map. Over all the review is a good read.


July 3, 2002


June 25, 2002

Digital Web needs your help

Are you looking for a great project to volunteer your time? Digital Web Magazine is still looking for people with the following skills to help with the redesign and weekly publication:


June 20, 2002


June 17, 2002

Meetup launches

I am very intrigued with Meetup, a new company/organization to bring people together face to face (f2f).


June 7, 2002

IIS on XP Home

Those who have XP Home and want to run IIS (perhaps to build and test ASP) should read 15 seconds IIS on XP Home hack. This is an inexpensive solution to Microsoft not stating anywhere in their marketing materials for XP Home, or in their early tech papers, there is no official way to run an IIS server on the box.


May 29, 2002

Domain follies

The move of vanderwal.net off of NetSol (Verisign) seems to have gone over with very few bumps, if any. Verisign sent a nice parting note, which stated they would love to have me back at any point in the future. We shall see over the next few days if the bumps stay away.

In the transition I picked up a couple other domain names, which I will work with in the coming months. One may possibly replace v-biz.net, which I do not have any of the valid contact information for it to tranfer that domain. I may have to say good bye to that one when it expires. One of the others is somethings I wished existed.



NYC bloggers by subway station

NY City bloggers by subway station is a great idea. This greatly adds depth to some of the sites I read regularly. This brings to mind I really need another trip to the great City soon.


May 16, 2002

5k Contest is live again

Yes, it is that time of the year for the 5k Contest. Yes, 5kb of wholesome goodness with which to work. That is graphics, HTML, scripting, and all the the ones and zeros you can pack in.


May 3, 2002

Verisign

Begin learning about Verisign before you go to them and their domain name provider Network Solutions to get a domain name. It may not be yours for long.


May 1, 2002

Removing the www

Jeff Lash writes Removing the Ws from URLs over at Web Word. Jeff has some good reasons behind not needing the "Ws", but you must really understand your user's browser use before removing the Ws. You see some browsers do not respond to "vanderwal.net", they need the "www". Microsoft IE 5 and above and Netscape 6 and above understand that a person is most often trying to find a Website if they type a link into their Web browser. Older browsers do not make this assumption and the user must type the "www" and often also type the "http://" to get to the site. This is much more confusing. The administrator for the site must also ensure their DNS tables that route URLs to the site, do not require the "www". I personally find the lack of the "www" problematic as many browsers now also can handle FTP services and become the default viewer for the file structures when FTPing. This requires typing "ftp" rather than "www" in front of the "www". (I have used my rationing of " marks so I must stop)


April 25, 2002

WYSIWYG in browser part two

The second part to theWYSIWYG editor in a Web browser is available. This section gets into implementing the HTML portion from the first section into the storage components of this article.


April 24, 2002

Blosxom offers RSS aggregation with perl

Blosxom is a Perl RSS blog aggregator that works well on Mac OS X.


April 19, 2002

Intelligent gripes about AOL

WSJ's Kara Swisher, in her last Boom Town Exchange, posts readers comments about AOL. Many of the comments are critical, but it is a good look at how users interact with services. Many of these folks writing in have been AOL users for years. Services is important and keeping a broad user group happy is really tough, as you will see if you read.


April 16, 2002

Related to using the proper URL in the doctype, IE 6 renders table content as centered when wrapping the table with center tag. The article explains when this happens and how to work around the problem. One option is not using centering (either in a div align or in the deprecated center tag). It seems setting the CSS is the best work around. We have found using the center tag to be far more problematic than the div align usage of center. (Yes, we have to support "older" browsers at work).


Zeldman explains proper Doctype usage to have the browser use the Doctype you intend it to use. Many Web development applications leave off the URL from the Doctype statement, which renders the lowest common denominator in many browsers.


April 7, 2002

Of conference interest for Web and mobile types: 9th International World Wide Web Conference in Amsterdam, NL; Thunder Lizard's Web Design World 2002. These look to be interesting, particularly the International WWW Conference, which offers the mobile perspective.


April 2, 2002

Stephen Voss on digital photography magic

Digital Web has a fantastic article by Stephen Voss On Digital Photography and making digital photographs come to life. This is of great help for scanned or original digital form.


April 1, 2002

Great irony from the ever ironic Microsoft. It turns out the servers MS is using to serve anti-UNIX propoganda are UNIX-based servers. Essentially MS is telling us, if you really need to rely on your servers don't use Microsoft. Most of us already knew that, it is good to know Microsoft understands that now.


March 31, 2002

Web robots

Want to explore Web robots? The Database of Web Robots is a great starting place. This is also a good place to find information about those robots you find in your access logs. [hat tip Cam]


March 28, 2002

Web no fun

The NY Times claims what I feared, As the Web Matures, Fun Is Hard to Find. Not exactly my fear as the Web has brought the boring and mundane to my browser, you see I love the geeky stuff. The article points out the Web brought us the bizarre and eclectic, but the Web has also made this stuff the mundane.


March 24, 2002

Metaphor of Attraction

Beginning with a discussion with Stewart on Peterme and the encouragement of Lane in another discussion to look for a metaphor other than navigation that could better explain what we do on the Web. Seeing Stewart walk by at SXSW after I had seen some of Josh Davis visual plays I combined the discussion with Stewart with the magnetic attraction Josh showed, which began my thinking about a metaphor of attraction. Magnetism seems like what happens when we put a search term in Google, it attracts information that is draw to the term on to your screen.

Come see where else this metaphor can go in this poorly written for draft of the metaphor of attraction. This is posted to begin a collaboration to dig back and move forward, if that is where this is to go. The writing will improve and the ideas will jell into a better presentation over the next few weeks.



March 13, 2002

O'Reilly Net continues its Apache on OS X series with integration of MySQL. This is one element I have not set-up as of yet and one that will make development of this site much easier and also make the development portable.


I am sitting in the Austin Airport using an 802.11b wireless connection to collect and read e-mail and to post here. The world of wireless connectivity has been kick ass this trip. The SXSWi guerilla wireless efforts by Cory (boingboing) Doctorow were greatly appreciated and widely used and many of us would offer our first child or at least a beer for his fine efforts.

Another observation of this trip is the insanely wide use of Apple laptops. They were everywhere at the conference, it was almost as if they were in the conference bag of goodies. Those of us on Mac had little problem grabbing wireless connections and were showing our pictures to others we had taken. By the end of the conference many of the Windows folks were cursing their non-compliant and non-easy to adopt laptops. Not only were the graphic folks using Apple, but the tech geeks were too (this is where I fit in, believe me). Even Doc Searls was Mac'n around. In the land of Dell, Apple proved to be king.

I am somewhat saddend to be heading home and leaving old and many new friends behind. SXSW is a place were passion for the Internet rules and sharing our passion, knowledge, and experience is what it is all about. Hair color, age, gender, skin color, or location is not important as the passion binds us together. We are all out to make the Web and Internet a better place to be. To a person we all have become much better people because of the free sharing and passion. Jack Vallenti and his trying to label us terrorists is not only poor sighted but a fat lie. We share to grow and learn. Jack only want to play his Anderson card and shred our reality. (There will be more later to clarify and to help you understand what I mean by these comments.) Liars and fear mongers are trying to steal the truth, but Austin let truth ring out. You bet your sweet bippy, I'll be back.

I love all those I met and whose paths I crossed and wish all safe journies home. Keep the passion alive.



March 7, 2002

I am feeling marginally better, thanks for asking. My head really is not properly attached as of yet. None-the-less I am packing so to head out to Austin for SXSW tomorrow. I will be in Austin tomorrow evening and most likely abstaining from Shiner and other forms of adult beverages, so conversation, caffine, and food will have to do. Please say hello if you see me (probably wearing blue and orange proudly). Those of you I miss I may see at the IA Summit in Baltimore the following weekend.


March 2, 2002

I keep finding Metastatic in my access log. I am loving the app as I find it very cool.


February 28, 2002

A note about choosing the new phone. I enjoyed my Motorola Startac flip phone for the last two and a half years, but the battery life was killing me and the keys, well had some minor issues. I really wanted a phone that would vibrate (I hate hearing other people's phone ring, so I want my phone to have the ability to be courteous). I also wanted a hands free phone for the car, so speakerphone was a need (some folks only seem to call when I am in the car and the headset is problematic at times when the cord wraps around the gear shift, particularly when shifting to 5th and your headset is ripped right off your noggin). I am interested in text messaging so friends can send quick notes to say when they are leaving work, etc. I also wanted a phone that would easily fit in my pants pocket (this feature is in no way tied to the vibrate function). These desires quickly narrowed down my choices. I am very happy with the size and weight, as it is not a great amount bigger than the Startac. It does give me web capability, which is good for testing wireless page builds (more on that in a future post) and the bizarre ability to plug in an FM stereo adapter so listen to the radio using the phone. I was very impressed with the Verizon sales guy as he was very helpful and knew their products and capabilities quite well.


February 11, 2002

Shirley Chan offers Web Site Management-Policy and Standards, which provide a great way to move toward consistancy on a large site.


February 5, 2002

Welcome folks venturing here from Digital Web. Information about last years SXSW Interactive Festival can be found in my March and April Off the Top entries. You will also want to check out the SXSWBaby group blog to help you make up your mind to go. You will have a great time and meet others that are passionate about the Web (you came here from Digital Web right?).

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