The other day I found myself needing to contact a friend. This friend and I, we're both bleeding edge technology nerds, so it got me thinking about how many ways there are for people like us to contact each other, and what the unspoken rules of etiquette are for each one.
Here were the options, in order of most immediate to least.
These days, I answer the phone with, "Is everything okay?" The phone is so pressing, so overt, so immediate, the only socially appropriate reason to use it is if you're trapped in a fiery building or someone's in the hospital. The phone insists itself upon the user, annoying everyone within earshot, and has to be answered immediately to make the noise stop. A hateful experience for everyone involved.
A small collection of thoughts after attending two conferences in two weeks.
Today I embark on the very exciting 2006 Powazek World Tour. (Well, if you consider Portland and DC the world and two stops to be a tour, anyway.)
This Thursday and Friday I'll be participating in a private conference sponsored by - I swear I'm not making this up - the State Department. It's called the "Conference on Blogs and Democracy" and I'll be on a panel about "The Influence of the Blogosphere" and if I told you any more, I'd probably have to kill you.
But if I see Condoleezza, I promise to say hi for you.
Then, next Thursday and Friday, July 20 and 21, I'll be in Portland to participate in Webvisions 2006. It looks to be a great lineup this year and, unlike the first stop on the Powazek World Tour, this one you can actually attend. And you should!
I'll be speaking on a panel about Business Blogging (free preview: "Don't start a conversation if you're not prepared to have one.") and I'll be reprising my New Community talk (free preview: "You need your community more than they need you.")
Looks to be a good couple of weeks for nerddom.
I know there are programmers out there that might read this site once in a while. And if you have an informed opinion about why Ruby on Rails or PHP is better or worse for a large member-driven website, you might be one of them. And if you live in San Francisco and would like a fulltime gig working on an incredibly cool new thing, then please do email "jobs" at 8020 Publishing dot com.
We'll do lunch.
I may be one of the few people out there who's a member of both the Battlestar Galactica community of nerddom and the Tiki Bar TV support group, but I couldn't help but notice that Galactica's Specialist Cally (aka Nicki Clyne) showed up on the most recent episode of Tiki Bar TV as the adorable Spock-eared girl from space.
I'm 33. That means I'm stuck somewhere in between Generation X and Y. Generation X was stereotyped as lazy postmodernists, too comfy with our liberal arts degrees to get off the couch and do anything. Generation Y was defined by being, um, younger than that.
Frankly, I never saw much connection between myself and those labels. And lately, I've been thinking about what truly defines my generation. Us web geeks, us iPodders and remixers. I think we're Generation M. Here's my loose, entirely unscientific definition in three parts.
The "M" is for Multitask. We like to do two things at a time, minimum. We listen to music while surfing the web and having four IM conversations. We check our email on crackberrys and hiptops under the table during meetings. We don't feel fulfilled unless there's more than one thing going on. The closest thing my parents generation had to this kind of multitasking was reading the paper on the toilet.
Coders and designers, we're from different tribes. Name any issue and we'll neatly divide into sides: form and function, information and experience, oil and water. Of course, no good website happens without both. So it's worth noting when we find a piece of common ground on our own.
Exhibit A: Deane Barker, writing at Gadgetopia. He's firmly planted on the code side of the equation, and recently wrote a post called "Are you procrastinating? Or are you just thinking?" about the importance of procrastination.
Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is start programming right away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is think about the problem - either actively, or just by letting it simmer on the back burner of your mind for a while.
I love what he has to say, and it mirrors my experience with design and writing. The hard part is the thinking that comes first, and that thinking often happens the background.
My first laptop was a black Apple Powerbook G3, aka the WallStreet. I dragged the ten pound sucker across Europe in a backpack. I've had many computers before and since, but this was the one I pecked out stories on while riding trains through the European countryside, the one I fell asleep next to in Amsterdam, the one I jacked into phone lines to dial home to check email. This was the one I loved.
I've longed for a similar computer ever since. Black just seems to be the right color for a computer you're going to be traveling with. And the plastic was just more resilient than the easily dented metal Powerbooks that came after. In short, I've been waiting all this time for the computer that Apple just released.
Meet the new MacBook (formerly iBook). It's half the weight of my old WallStreet, same size screen, and so much faster I can't even imagine. And, yeah, black. So I went to see it in my local Apple store tonight and, frankly, walked away unimpressed.
I've used Apple computers since high school. If it wasn't for the Mac, I probably wouldn't have wound up working for newspapers, getting into the web, moving to San Francisco, and living the life I have now. I've sung the Mac's praises to friends and family for almost twenty years.
And now I know what, or more specifically who, Apple thinks I am.
Apple thinks I am a whiny kid who looks like he sleeps under a bridge. A kid who murmurs snidely to himself. A kid who can't grow a beard to save his life. Specifically, this kid.
Don't get me wrong: I think it's nice that Apple is finally touting its computers again. I just wish they could have done it in a way that didn't make me want to defenstrate my laptop and go buy a computer from that funny guy playing the PC.
There's some drama afoot lately as bloggers pick apart Digg's user-controlled editorial system, looking for evidence of editors lurking in the darkness. But much of the conversation is overlooking a crucial nuance when it comes to authentic media and democratic editorial systems.
For the uninitiated, Digg is a tech news site, where the members post links to interesting stuff, and then the community chooses which links get promoted to the front page. For readers, this means they see stuff that a lot of people think is interesting, which is why the site is so popular.
Digg's members influence which stories get promoted by "digging" those stories. A digg is like a vote, and everybody gets one. How, exactly, a story winds up on the Digg homepage is never explicitly disclosed, but most people have assumed that the front page is simply a collection of the stories with the most votes. And, certainly, Digg has encouraged this view. Their about page simply says, "Once a story has received enough diggs, it is instantly promoted."
But a simple voting system is not necessarily the best way to provide an interesting experience for users. In fact, it might very well be the worst.
In 1996, Paulina Borsook wrote a story that, frankly, really pissed me off. In "Cyberselfish," published in Mother Jones and eventually turned into a book, she wrote about how new have-it-your-way technology was creating a generation of spoiled brats with computers.
I took umbrage. Not only was I a proud member of the generation she was lambasting (a generation that is now oldschool on the internet, for whatever that's worth), but I had personally observed just the opposite. I witnessed people using new digital tools to collaborate. I saw more selflessness and altruism online than off. From the Open Source movement of the nineties to the mashup culture of today, I see a web that plays well with others. If the medium really is the message, I think the internet's core message can be summed up in one word: Share.
Nowadays, people get that a lot more than they used to, and there are a host of new companies built to enable this sharing. But I fear that, in our rush to embrace the contributory culture of the internet, this new crop of startups is forgetting one thing: Paulina Borsook wasn't wrong.
Can I make a suggestion? Let's all stop using the phrase "user-generated content." I'm serious. It's a despicable, terrible term. Let's deconstruct it.
User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.
Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."
So today I found myself at home, sitting on the couch, plugged into my laptop. I was talking to a gentleman in Australia, where it was already the next day, over the internet with Skype. We talked about the web, blogging, and community, while his daughter squealed in the background. He recorded the conversation and has now made it available to his listeners as a Podcast.
Is this what it's like to live in the future?
Thanks for featuring Fray, my humble site, in the lead of your recent story, You Are What You Post. We always appreciate journalists taking the time to use a 5 year-old personal story contributed to our "obscure" literary site as a to peg to hang a fear-mongering, hysterical story on.
But it would have been nice if you had at least linked to the original stuff to let readers judge the threat for themselves. The original story was called Letterman on Drugs and was written by the talented storyteller Lance Anderson.
Young Josh posted his story to the posting area that follows every Fray story. His contribution appears at the top of the second page. As you can see, he's in good company. There are 39 pages of stories like Josh's.
Another one of my favorite sessions at SXSW Interactive 2006 was Zero-Advertising Brands, where we got to watch Maggie Mason talk to the guys from skinnyCorp, the makers of Threadless among other creative commerce/community hybrids.
One of my favorite things about talking to folks that really get the user-generated web, is that when they tell you their secret recipies, it all sounds so easy. Here's George from Flickr in the Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps talk: "We listen to what our users say, and then iterate the design." See? Easy.
So when the guys from skinnyCorp opened their komono in the Zero Advertising panel to share their four steps to success, I took notes and made my own translations. Here goes.
One of the most interesting panels at SXSW Interactive 2006 was The Future of Darknets, moderated by JD Lasica. And while the concept of Darknets - communities using private subnetworks to communicate and collaborate out of view of the larger internet - is indeed fascinating, the panel was not interesting because of the intended topic. In fact, we never actually got to hear much about DarkNets, much to my disappointment, because the panel was hijacked the moment one panelist said, "Hello, my name is Kori Bernards, and I'm from the Motion Picture Association of America."
What followed was an hour-long firing squad as one audience member after another directed angry questions her way. The feeling of pent-up frustrations with the movie biz was palpable, especially as her claims of flexibility and excitement within the MPAA to find "creative new solutions" to the problems raised by the audience rang more and more hollow, the more times she repeated them.
It Has Recently Come to My Attention that I am an Idiot
Just a thought from 14 March 2006 about Geek, Life.
We interrupt this conference-related revelry with an important announcement. It seems that in the haze of my cold medication, I made some adjustments to my email server's settings which resulted in the last few days of mail getting unceremoniously rejected.
So, if you sent me mail in the last week, please resend. I realize this request subtracts a few points from my geek cred, but I'll just have to live with that.
I'm firstname at lastname dot com, as always.
I returned from O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference with a stack of business cards, a nasty case of the sniffles, and a brain stuffed with ideas. It was a fabulous time. Here are a few observations from my days in San Diego.
So I'm starting a design studio. Something small, specializing in participatory interactive projects - sites that do something. It'll just be me and a partner, at first. We've even got a small office space already, and an ever-growing list of clients. There's just one thing we do not have. A name.
I have spent the last month trolling whois every night. A good web company needs a good domain name, and lemme tell you, they're all taken. I mean, all of them. Even the sarcastic ones, the ones you look up even though you hate them. Makes a guy wanna make up a new word like "blog" or something.
So I'm wondering, dear reader, are you the kind of person who's sitting on a cool dotcom that you might be willing to part with? If so, drop me a line. I'm serious. You'll save me from the dysfunctional relationship I'm developing with the Whois Lookup.
More details on the company, whatever it's called, soon. For now, I'm doing what every serious dotcom businessman does to start off his business. I'm speaking at a conference. Hope to see you there.
A small note to all those staring deeply into their navels and fretting about the role of gatekeepers in the blogosphere.
This is a gatekeeper.
Her name is Dana Barrett and she's waiting for the Keymaster to bring about the return of Gozer the Gozerian, who will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, he came as a large and moving Torg. During the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, he came as a giant Slor. (Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!)
So that's a gatekeeper. Fortunately we haven't seen one since 1984, when Ghostbusters came and went.
If you have a website that you post to every day, and you've amassed a sizable readership, good for you. But you are no more a gatekeeper than the New York Times is a homepage.
What you are is a popular nerd, king of your very own soapbox. Congratulations! But being a gatekeeper in the age of the blogosphere is completely meaningless.
After all, how valuable is it to be a gatekeeper in a world of infinite gates?
I have to say, hearing my wife come into the living room and say, "Oh my God, it's so big," gives me a certain manly geek pride I've never quite felt before.
She also told me it was well hung.
I try to be an intellectual. I try to an artist. But it turns out people just come around for the little dog photos.
This is a mosaic of the top 20 photos from my Flickr photostream, as picked by my fellow Flickrinos hitting that "favorite" button. Important stats:
10 little dogs
2 of my beautiful wife
1 famous bicyclist
1 unknown accordionist
1 favorite moment from our wedding (taken by the marvelous Katy Raddatz)
0 big dogs
The audience has spoken. More little dogs in 2006!
Back in May, I installed Movable Type 3 and had some criticisms. Today, with some in-house, on-couch assistance from Jay Allen, my friend and a guy who just happens to know a thing or two about the ol' MT, Heather and I upgraded to Movable Type 3.2. And I gotta say, what a difference half a year makes.
Let's revisit the kvetching.
Surprise 1: As lovely as the new gadget is, it still has the same annoying problem as every other iPod and Walkman ever: headphones. They stick in your ears, catch in your coat, and tangle up miserably. Until they make an iPod with wireless headphones (and oh how I cannot wait for this), it'll remain a problem. But Apple's at least fixed one related annoyance.
On the Cartoon Network there's a brilliant show called Harvey Birdman that recycles old Hanna-Barbera characters into a modern courtroom setting. One of the wilder side characters is Reducto, a little green man with a passion for all things small (voiced by none other than Daily Show's Stephen Colbert). Reducto is known for obsessing over tiny things, shrinking objects and people with his shrink ray, and using phrases like "perfectly tiny" and "wonderfully miniscule" and "magnificently dainty."
Why am I babbling on about a bit part on an obscure show? Because I'm the proud owner of an iPod nano, and this is an iPod Reducto would love. In fact, I'm convinced that it's going to turn perfectly sane people into raving Reductos.
His and Hers iPod nanos. (Mine's the black one, natch.)
It's my little tradition to redesign the ol' dotcom around the new year, just to keep things interesting. And today, I finally got around to it. For those playing along, yes, that's only six months late. A new record!
Being a remedial CSS student, the grey boxy design this site was sporting until about five minutes ago was my first real all-CSS design (for powazek.com, anyway. My clients always got the good stuff - cobber's children and all that). So this time I decided to try redesigning by only modifying the stylesheet. And that's what I did. Mostly. I wound up having to do a little in-template tweaking to achieve my favorite feature: the header and footer images.
In general I just wanted to bust out of the drab boxiness of the old design, and embrace the whitespace. The recent redesign of Plasticbag was an inspiration in this regard. White is the new orange.
There's more I want to do here, but I think I'll call it quits while I'm ahead. Hope you like it!
Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college after six months, gave a commencement speech at Stanford recently. Here are my two favorite bits:
Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.
Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
This is the guy who was the visionary behind the computers I use every day. If it weren't for him, for the Macintosh, I never would have used a computer as a kid. If I never used a computer as a kid, I wouldn't have the job I have now, the wife I have now, the life I have now.
In February 2005, Adaptive Path published an essay called "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications" by Jesse James Garrett. This week I got to participate in an Ajax Summit sponsored by Adaptive Path and O'Reilly. Yes, there were just three months in between the naming and the first conference. That's fast even at internet speeds.
You know how the web works, right? You click a link in a browser and your computer says, "hey server, send me this page." And the server says, "sure, here ya go." And you see the page. Click, rinse, repeat.
Ajax, and the pile of techniques and technologies that get lumped in with it, are all about breaking that page-by-page web experience into smaller chunks. If the traditional web was letter writing, Ajax is instant messaging.
Right about here is when the inevitable example of Google Maps comes up. And for good reason. It's just so darn cool to click and zoom around. But it obscures what Ajax is really about. It's like using a race car to explain what an engine is. It's in there, sure, but wow look at it go!
The more compelling examples are the smaller ones. If you're a Flickr user, and you've ever clicked on a photo title to edit it, that's Ajax. Or explore Dunstan Orchard's fabulous LiveSearch, which presents search results as you type. Or explore any of the new web apps from 37 Signals. Ajax, Ajax everywhere.
Put simply, Ajax lets web pages to go back to the server for updates in between page refreshes. Before, once you got the page, you were done. But now, with Ajax, the page can respond with server smarts as you interact with it.
Perhaps a concrete example would help.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You're signing up for a membership at a website. You enter a username, password, password confirmation, URL, and an email address. Pretty simple, right?
Except the username you picked was taken. What happens? The entire page is submitted to the server, the server says "no way dude" and the entire page is sent back to you with an error statement. All you can do is change the username and submit it again. And again. And again.
And when you finally pick a username that's available, you realize you flubbed your email address. Fix that, but you forgot the email confirmation. Fix that and you realize you forgot the @ in your email address.
Each time you submit the form it goes all the way to the server and all the way back. It's frustrating for you, taxing to the server, clogging for the network. There has to be a better way.
With Ajax, as soon as you enter that username, the page checks with the server to see if it's available. The page can even make the related fields active only when the username comes back okay. It does this with simple, background server requests that send small data fragments back and forth, instead of the whole page. The page can then update to reflect that the data was accepted in real time.
This is just one boring example of the way Ajax can make websites easier to use. Data entry in web forms has always been an especially cruel thing to do to a user and a real point of failure for business applications. By progressively validating form contents as you go, and even adding entire sections only if they're needed, we can finally solve a long-standing interface nightmare.
On its own, Ajax is nothing more than a tool on a workbench. To use it well, it will take a lot of experimenting, a lot of conversation between designers and coders, and a lot of trial and error. There are problems to be solved with the interface (how will a user react to a form with no save button?) and with the technology (how can we support older browsers without a ton of extra work?) and with existing web conventions (how do I bookmark this?).
But none of those questions can get answered unless people sit in a room, or get together online, and ask them. There will be more gatherings and more blog posts. The work is just beginning.
The core takeaway for me is this: Stop thinking about the web in terms of pages that go from a server to a browser, and instead think of pages as collections of chunks that can each go to and from a server as needed. In many ways, it reminds me of the revolutionarily simple lesson from blogs: When you think of the web as posts instead of pages, important things happen. In the same way, thinking of the web as dynamic portions of pages opens up all sorts of user interface opportunities.
We web developers have an opportunity with Ajax to really improve the user experience on the web. And I, for one, can't wait.
So this weekend I upgraded all the Macs in the house to Tiger and I upgraded Ephemera to Movable Type 3. It feels like my geek life has all new clothes. Curious to read what yet another geek thinks of 'em? Read on.
Jeff Veen makes a great comment about intimidating interfaces and I couldn't agree more. My favorite recent example of this was at Tickets.com. Try to buy concert tickets and this is the first thing you see:
Captchas (those annoying "type that crap from the image in the box, you monkey") are annoying enough, but the bold, red time limit is surely the bridge too far. You, there! Jump through this hoop! Now now now!
Back to Jeff's post. If Yahoo 360 really wants to encourage their users to blog, I have an easy two-word suggestion for them: Ask questions.
We've been doing this at Fray for years and it never fails. If you say "tell me a story" to someone, their answer is always the same: "I don't have any stories." But if you tell them a story and then ask them to respond in kind, they will. It's just built in to human nature.
Ben Brown's new dating site, Consumating, does this really well. In addition of the usual boring bio stuff, the site asks an interesting question once a week. Members are rewarded for answering them with more exposure for their pages and "points" they can apply toward special features of the site.
Yahoo 360 should encourage their users to blog the same way you encourage people to talk at a party - ask 'em a question!
I've been posting photos to Ephemera for over 15 months now (666 photos as of today - creepy!). Any content-based site that runs long enough eventually has to solve the how-do-I-find-stuff problem. Blogs do this with archives by date and category. Others increasingly use search, leaving it to the user to figure out what they want (not always a good idea).
But photo sites have a special problem (and opportunity) here. Because the content is visual, simple text search is not a good solution. And tagging is awesome, but only when you've got a community to help you tag (future idea!).
I had a brainstorm while washing dishes last night and whipped this up: Ephemera Archive by Color. It's a page that reduces each photo down to its average color and then displays them all at once. The result is fascinating. A sea of khaki and grey, punctuated by the occasional bright orange or pink.
As a photographer, it's interesting to me to see what colors I tend to photograph in an incredibly general sense. But as an interface designer, I think this is a novel exploratory interface. Sure, if you're looking for puppies, you should just go to the Pets Category. But it's a mistake to think that web surfers always know what they want. Sometimes they just want to pick a theme and be surprised. That's what this is for. Plus it's a great faraway overview of all Ephemera photos, divined down to their base color, in one glance.
Interesting or just silliness? You tell me.
Heather and I are having much fun moblogging today. She has an excuse - she is participating in 24 in 48: A collection of 24 people posting photos for 48 hours for your enjoyment. Me? I just like to follow the cool kids.
Here's a little experiment you can do right now. When you reach the end of this paragraph, turn off your monitor. Really. Turn it off and give your eyes a minute to adjust and then look at the screen. What do you see?
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Back already? Did it work? If the light is right, and your monitor is a nice shiny CRT, what you should have seen is your own reflection.
I bring this up because it explains so much about the way we behave online. That mirror image of ourselves is always there when we stare at the computer. And we see ourselves in whatever we're looking at.
I call this The Big Mirror and it might help explain why Steven Levy, a white guy, looks into his monitor and sees only white guys. At least, it's the only explanation I can think of for how he might have missed all the fantastic blogging women out there. (I could go on and on and on.)
The Big Mirror also explains why pissed off angry people look into the web and see only pissed off angry people. Why sad depressives see sad depressives. And why boundless optimists see through a rose-colored monitor. We see ourselves - our fears and hopes and insecurities - everywhere we go.
That faint reflection of ourselves is always there, both literally and metaphorically. So the next time someone tells you about how everyone online is a freaky child molester, ask yourself, what do they see when they look in the mirror?
Things I saw at Wondercon, a list in no particular order.
Now that I've been working at Technorati long enough for the Kool-Aid to kick in, I decided to trick out my blog a bit with some nifty Technoratiness. Here are the highlights:
1. Search! Google may have this site indexed back to 1997, but it can take weeks for new entries to show up there. If you're looking for something I said in a blog post, Technorati's got my posts indexed within minutes. So I added the Technorati Searchlet to all the index pages.
2. Technorati This! Each post now ends with a "Technorati This" link. Click it to see if there are any other blogs out there talking about (and linking to) the post you're on. It happens!
3. Technorati Tags! This is the one I'm really excited about. I rejiggered the way I use Categories in Movable Type to be more tag-like. Now, after each post, you'll see a list of the tags I applied to that post. Click the quote bubble icon to go to the Technorati Tag page for that word, or click the text to see all my posts tagged with that word. It's the best of both worlds: you can choose whether you want to hear more from me about it, or more from everyone about it.
More tricking out to come.
If you're a blogger (or a blog reader), you're painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites' search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like "Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site." This is called comment spam, we don't like it either, and we've been testing a new tag that blocks it.
Can I have a little told-ya-so moment? I called for Google to own up to the problem they created for bloggers in november of 2003, exactly 14 months ago. It's about time.
Today's the day to watch the Apple madness going on in San Francisco. It's Macworld! I suggest following the fun with this Technorati search for "Macworld". It's sure to get interesting in the afternoon when everyone's blogging the Stevenote and all his one-more-things. Personally, my money's on the smaller-than-mini iPod, and I'm cautiously optimistic about the $500 headless iMac. (Of course, I remember when those were called "Performas"). iHome? Wishful thinking.
Let the games begin!
In a dubious achievement, KnowSpam, the service I use to block email spam from hitting my inbox, has now passed the 1 million spams blocked mark. I started using KnowSpam on 27 June 2003, just over 17 months ago.
One million spams. Just imagine all the special offers I missed.
I'm at DigiFoo. I am DigiFooing. And I am hung over from a killer Litquake party last night. So I can barely put two words together. Go look at Flickr photos instead. Caterina is blogging, too. I'm going to drink some water now.
UPDATE: I'm back! I've posted some photos.
With all the hoopla in the news about the Google IPO, let's take a moment to remember the real heroes: The people who put all that great stuff on the web in the first place.
I love Google, I really do. But I also enjoy a nicely toasted bagel. And when I'm spreading cream cheese on my toasty bagel, I don't say, "Wow, my toaster sure is great."
A toaster is just a tool. It's the stuff you put in it that makes it worth having. The same goes for Google.
Wired News: It's Just the 'internet' Now
"Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the 'I' in internet. At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net."
Say it with me now: Duh. When I was working at HotWired in 1997, and we published the Wired Style book, everyone who actually coded pages for a living already knew that it was internet, not Internet. And web, not Web. Tell me, do you capitalize radio, newspaper, or television?
As long as we're fixing long-standing idiocies, can we all just agree that its email (not, shudder, e-mail)? And drop that dotcom from the name, people, your name is Amazon, not Amazon.com. That's your URL.
Also: You visit a website, you don't log on to one (unless, yaknow, you have to for some reason). And let's all stop saying the following phrases: viral marketing, value add, and monetize.
It's just about two weeks until Heather and I are married. What better way to celebrate than to give away one of my Gmail invites via Gmail Swap to young Jamie Kinder in exchange for "a 4 line rap" about my bride to be. Here's the result, worth every cent:
you look at derek, and put him with heather / you can tell that they derserve to be together / for the rest of their life / man and wife / holdin hands, lovin each other two four seven / hopefully still lovin each other in heaven
I'm thinking of making it part of the ceremony.
Since she asked so nicely, I'm using Movable Type for my personal, nonprofit work on four domains:
Here on Powazek.com, I've got two blogs going: the one you're reading and my sister's site. And, as you might expect, it's just us two posting. That fits into the free license nicely.
Over at Ephemera, it's just me posting to one photoblog. Easy as pie.
I'm a randomizer. Back when my music came on small reflective circles, my favorite thing to do was load up the 5-disc changer with CDs from totally disparate genres and hit the shuffle button. Hours of tunes, bouncing between styles.
Now, admittedly, this is not everyone's cup of tea. I'm sure there are many people that pick an album, play it from top to bottom, and then pick another. But the great strength of digital jukeboxes are the many ways you can mix up your music library.
Apple's iTunes is especially set up for randomizers like me. Which is why one part of the new version released today is so disappointing.
I remember when the web wasn't powered by Movable Type. Those were quaint, sepiatoned days, when we had to walk to the web server in the snow, uphill both ways. Ah, the good ol' days.
No, fuck that. Those were the bad old days. Movable Type has taken over my web work, and I, for one, welcome our new Trott overlords.
As a freelancer in the web before Movable Type, I got paid to make sites for clients. And make, I would. And I'd send them off into the world with a shiny new site made of html and attitude. And they'd come sailing right back every time they wanted to change something.
As you might know from all my previous babblings, I use a service called KnowSpam to filter the spam out of my email. It keeps a tally of how many spam messages it's saved me from seeing. On Monday, it crossed the threshold into 300,000.
What's notable about this, besides the sheer volume of it, is the ever-increasing speed of the rising tide of spam. It took four months for me to hit 100k, three to hit 200k, and just two to hit 300k. At this rate I'll hit 400k spam messages in April, 600k in May. I bet that by 27 June 2004, my one year anniversary of using the service, I'll have hit the 1 million spam mark.
What a dubious achievement.
Top three jokes I keep wanting to make about Flickr:
Attention all you iTunes users! The two original Fray CDs (Fray Day 5 and Fray Cafe 3) are both now available in the Apple iTunes Music Store! Click these if you're among the iTunes-addled: Fray Day 5 and Fray Cafe 3. Buy and enjoy! Just don't tell Apple you can listen to all that and more in the Fray Audio Archive for free.
Having a last name like "Powazek" makes a guy fairly sensitive to personal noun pronunciation difficulties. Still, with all the talk about Orkut going around the last few days, I've found myself trying to pronounce it correctly, just so, yaknow, the pets and the houseplants understand what I'm murmuring about.
Problem is, the word only conjured up one other word in my mind. You know how some words just remind you of other words for no good reason? Well, every time I read "Orkut" my brain said: "Kaput!"
Which led to some amusing internal conversations: Orkut? Kaput! Awooorcooot? Kapoooot!
Then I tried to log in to Orkut this morning, and guess what, it is kaput!
We've taken orkut.com offline as we implement some improvements and upgrades suggested by users. Since orkut is in the very early stages of development, it's likely to be up and down quite a bit during the coming months. None of the information you've entered will be deleted, and none of the connections you've made will be lost. And, if all goes well, you should see some significant improvements when we come back online.
I can't say it's unexpected. When my Orkut mailbox became stuffed with users sending messages to the entire userbase about how there's this bug that allows users to, well, send messages to the entire userbase, I knew that, Houston, we have a problem.
But the real problem with all of these social software services, as many others have said, is there's nothing to do once you've whipped out your friends list and seen who's is bigger. It's yet another variation on the old Gertrude Stein quote: There's no there there. Of course, she was talking about Oakland.
Investing in these services is work. It's work for me, and it's work for my friends who have to make that agonizing decision: Is Derek Powazek your friend? Yes or no, buddy, there is no in between.
And what do I get for all that work? The ability to send email to my friends? Heck, I had that already and I barely use it. The ability to know who my friend's friends are? This is San Francisco, we already know all of our friend's friends, and most of the time we want less connection with them, not more.
In the virtual community biz, there's always a thin line between creating avenues for connection where there's an actual human need, and being that annoying camp counselor with the clipboard and microphone, screaming, "Everybody now! Sing along!"
I used to be a camp song leader, so trust me when I say I know how annoying they are. Until these social software sites can fulfill a need I actually have, instead of one they have to convince me I have, they're just going to be another iteration of the messageboard fad.
This is a geek heavy day, I know, but I had to add one more....
Movable Type 2.66 is out and it adds a few features designed to fight the rising tide of comment spam. (For the non-geeks, "comment spam" refers to evil people who use programs to post ads for their sites in the comments of Movable Type-powered sites. Mostly they do this to increase their page rank in Google, because Google smartly uses incoming links to determine the importance of a page. Anyway....)
A while back, I stepped up onto a soapbox and blamed Google for the plague of comment spam. I still believe it to be true, but I doubt Google will ever see it that way, so it's up to us to fix it. And fix it we shall.
The new version of MT includes some smart ways for the program to stop spammers. For example, how often does a human post 12 times in a second? Never. So why let any poster do so? This new version will put a stop to abusive comment spam bots.
But the feature I'm stoked about is now the links that authors add to their name in comments will not link directly to their sites. Instead, they'll redirect first, effectively eliminating the Google PageRank boost this kind of spam was giving to the spammers.
This shows, once again, that Ben and Mena aren't just making a great product, but they're looking out for the health of weblogs and the web in general. Bravo, guys. Bravo.
If you run a Movable Type-powered site with comments on, I urge you to upgrade now!
It's been under three months since my KnowSpam ticker hit 100k, and sometime last night it hit 200k. Since I hit the first 100k four months after I installed it, this means my spam intake has increased by about 25%. Whee.
Apple showed its classic 1984 Macintosh ad today at MacWorld San Francisco, but with a twist: they digitally grafted an iPod on to the runner. The result is strangely disturbing, both because they're revising their own history, and also because, well, isn't infiltrating a militaristic compound with a huge mallet while listening to music kinda dangerous?
Just for the record, I do not hate Google, nor am I its enemy. Quite the opposite: I'm a fan. I love Google. They've done so much for the web. I use their search and news services daily. And, in most cases, the choices they make are sound.
I criticize them when they make choices I don't like, the same way your family tells you when they don't like your girlfriend. It's out of love and respect, even when it's hard to say.
So it's disappointing to spend 40 minutes on the phone with a journalist, make that love absolutely clear, go to great pains to explain what a great thing the AdSense program is, to even refer him to Matt Haughey for a success story, and, in the end, get a line like this:
AdSense has made Google a lot of friends -- and enemies like Derek Powazek of San Francisco.
No, I am not Google's enemy. I thought I made that clear. I'm disappointed that I was dropped from the AdSense program, sure. That money went to support Fray. But I'm no one's enemy. Not over something so trivial.
That's simply sloppy journalism - going for the dramatic turn of phrase instead of the nuanced truth. And I'm sorry my name got used this way.
Perhaps I should be the Boston Globe's enemy now.
(Looks like Dave is unhappy, too.)
Google is the central motivating force here. Comment spammers are adding their links to thousands of weblogs not because the audiences of those weblogs are particularly valuable, but because the links raise their PageRank with Google.
Now, this is far from the first time some group has tried to game Google's system. Google has evolved over the years to combat it, making it more difficult, perfecting their recipe. The plague of comment spam is just another attempt to game Google's system, and it's up to Google to stop it.
Google's bots could be made smart enough to ignore links that come from comments. Ben and Mena of Movable Type could help facilitate this. How hard would it be? I don't know - I'm not a programmer. But I do know it would fix the problem.
If comment spam stopped raising the spammer's PageRank in Google, how long would they keep doing it? Take away the incentive and we could easily avoid the nightmare scenario Mark is so convinced will happen, not to mention make all the work Jay is doing a nice defense against a nonexistent problem.
I'm not saying it ain't a big deal. I'm not saying it's not complicated. I'm just saying, let's lay the blame at the feet of Google, where it belongs.
I wish Apple and Sony would quit this mating dance and just get a room already. Both companies are all about the digital lifestyle devices now. Sony wishes it had done the iPod, and Apple wishes it had half of Sony's power.
Personally, I've always loved Sony's design - especially the sexy silver-purple VAIOs - but would never buy one because they run the wrong OS. Sony's hardware plus Apple's software would be a dream come true.
C'mon guys. Somebody's gotta make the first move here. The sexual tension is killing me.
Here's a post I've been meaning to make for a while. A new site finally inspired me to write it down. If you've got an iPod, it may be of interest. If not, well, you can just read it to see what a nerd I am.
When I first got my iPod, all was well, but I soon filled up all 10 gigs. I didn't want to manually manage which songs got put on the iPod (whatta pain!) and I didn't want to get a bigger one (well, I wanted to, sure, but c'mon), so I came up with a Smart Playlist to put only the best and most current music on my iPod. Here's how.
First create a new smart playlist. I called mine "For iPod" cause I'm not that clever. The idea here is to make a playlist that includes the music you most want on your iPod. Mine says:
My Rating - is greater than - **
Date Added - is in the last - 2 months
Date Modified - is in the last - 2 months
Last Played - is in the last - 2 months
This includes any song I've rated 2 stars or more and any song I've added or played in the last two months. Depending on my iTunes usage, this winds up being 6 or 7 gigs. Your recipe my vary.
Then connect your iPod. Click the iPod icon at the bottom of iTunes to get the iPod Preferences window. Instead of the default top option, select the second one: "Automatically update selected playlists only."
Then check the "For iPod" Smart Playlist you just made. Feel free to select any other playlists too, if you always want them on your iPod.
Bottom Line: Now my iTunes library can be considerably larger than the size of my iPod, but the latest and greatest will always be with me! Bonus: Since the total amount of stuff on my iPod is less than the total 10 gigs, I can still use it as a hard drive to shuttle other stuff around.
I was also booted from Google for "inappropriate clicks" after an unusually high traffic day. I'm pretty sure my site was spidered (perhaps by Google - hah!) which caused my ad clicks to spike. When I pointed out that I had no way to control such a thing, the Google rep said they would not disclose their evidence, but that they have a proprietary system in place to detect abuse. When I suggested that they simply discount the clicks they think are fraudulent and let me stay in the system, the rep said they had a duty to protect their advertisers. I wish they cared as much about protecting their reputation and good will among the web folk who give them something to index.
The saddest part is knowing that I could boot anyone off their ad system by pointing a spider at their site. I thought Google was more clueful than that. Very disappointing.
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts about Geek, including:
The Etiquette of Modern Communication
29 July 2006
Two Conferences, Two Weeks
25 July 2006
The Powazek World Tour
12 July 2006
Hey programmers! Wanna work with me?
26 June 2006
31 May 2006
The Importance of Creative Procrastination
22 May 2006
Back in Black
18 May 2006
Thanks a lot, Apple
12 May 2006
The Wisdom of Browse
20 April 2006
Design for Selfishness
11 April 2006
Death to User-Generated Content
4 April 2006
I Live in the Future
23 March 2006
Dear Business Week
18 March 2006
Four Themes from skinnyCorp
15 March 2006
SXSW to MPAA: STFU
15 March 2006
It Has Recently Come to My Attention that I am an Idiot
14 March 2006
Observations from ETech
11 March 2006
My Blogger Code
10 March 2006
What I'm Up To
4 March 2006
14 February 2006
"It's So Big!"
12 January 2006
My Flickr Top 20
5 January 2006
Lovin' the MT Goodness
5 November 2005
iPod nano’s Pleasant Surprises
16 September 2005
The iPod nano: So perfectly tiny
8 September 2005
Love in the year 2005
8 September 2005
And only six months late!
2 July 2005
28 June 2005
Ajax, Ajax Everywhere
11 May 2005
3 May 2005
Come here often?
15 April 2005
Ephemera Archive by Base Color
14 April 2005
I am a salty old man
2 April 2005
The Big Mirror
16 March 2005
Things I Saw at Wondercon
21 February 2005
4 February 2005
It's About Time
19 January 2005
Bring on the reality distortion field!
11 January 2005
KnowSpam 1 Million
5 December 2004
16 October 2004
The Real Heroes of the Web
20 August 2004
18 August 2004
D to the H
2 July 2004
How I use Movable Type
18 May 2004
Out of Tune
28 April 2004
21 April 2004
Thank You, Movable Type
1 April 2004
17 March 2004
11 February 2004
Fray CDs in Apple Store
28 January 2004
26 January 2004
Hooray for Movable Type!
15 January 2004
15 January 2004
Apple's Revisionist History
6 January 2004
24 November 2003
Google Creates Comment Spam
19 November 2003
Apple and Sony: Get a room!
12 November 2003
Geeky: iPod Composting
9 October 2003
2 October 2003
23 June 2003
Join the POWlist
Enter your email address here so I can send an occasional note to your inbox. Only good things, I promise. More info »
Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
Join the POWlist to receive the occasional note.
The Etiquette of Modern Communication 29 July 2006
Two Conferences, Two Weeks 25 July 2006
The Powazek World Tour 12 July 2006
Hey programmers! Wanna work with me? 26 June 2006