One of the many gifts of our increasingly networked world is the diminishing boundaries between communities. And the magazine business is about to get hit by a boundary-blurring tidal wave.
It's already started. What's the difference between NBC and Joe Everynerd on MySpace or YouTube? They're all just usernames - each with an equal chance of getting seen. The traditional roles of content creator and consumer have been irrevocably blurred.
Magazines, on the other hand, still have very high walls between their writers and readers. The writers and editors enjoy the illusion that they do something no one else can. The readers, then, have only one job: to consume the product.
But if the internet has taught us anything, it's that the world is full of people who know a lot more than you do about something.
Or: Consumer-Made Media and the Almighty Buck
Jason Calacanis is the P.T. Barnum of the weblog world. Barnum took a hirsute woman and turned her into The Bearded Lady. Calacanis took something as banal as paying writers to write and turned it into An Issue That Must Be Discussed. And I'm glad, because it is.
If you don't know the story, here's a recap. Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc, a network of topical blogs, to AOL for a staggering amount of money. Then he was put in charge of netscape.com, another AOL purchase, which was once the most visited site on the web but had since been micromanaged into a wasted wreck of pointless marketing nonsense. Calacanis announced that he was simply going to clone the tech news darling Digg. And then he did.
The new Netscape differentiated itself from Digg in three key ways: It was uglier, it worked against its own bottoms-up process by pegging stories approved by staffers at the top of the page, and they started paying the top contributors.
Notable insights from the PEW Internet study on blogging:
I knew this and you knew this, but it's nice to see the numbers back it up. What do bloggers write about? Life, baby. Same as it ever was for anyone with a pen and a notepad.
See? Anyone who says there are no (fill in the blank)'s blogging is just not looking hard enough. We're ALL in here. Now can we please get over what color we are and what's in our shorts and focus on what we all have to say?
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 went to Amazon today and was greeted by this thing at the top of the homepage. Apparently it's a "show" hoster by Bill Maher, produced by Amazon, to move product.
Now, I think it's great that Amazon is keeping Bill Maher behind a camera (just imagine the trouble he could get into in the real world). And I'm all for hearing a couple of tracks from the new Dixie Chicks CD (although it's so "adult contemporary" I could just plotz). But what's going on in Amazon's Filthy Lucre Department?
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.
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.
Attention Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
Hire this man immediately.
Don't make me beg.
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.
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?
We released some cool new stuff over at Technorati last night. We now have interactive charty goodness for any keyword search, and we're handing out the code to blog the graphs. For example, here's the last three months of the word, oh, I dunno, how about ... "Powazek".
And with that, Technorati ushers in the age of the Ego Chart. Give it a try! You know you want to.
Today I received two very special surprises in the mail. Inside was the first glimpse of the dream of every Flickr user with more than a few photos online: If only I could order prints. Well, it looks like, very soon now, you'll be able to.
(Full disclosure: My wife, the lovely and talented Heather Powazek Champ is Flickr's community manager. And Flickr was started by Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, who are dear friends of ours. I'm told that none of those things are why I received these surprises. They are, however, several of the reasons I consider myself a lucky, lucky man.)
The first surprise was a huge envelope with a 13x19 print inside. The print is a large grid of thumbnails from a seemingly random assortment of my Flickr photos. It reminded me a lot of the grid of photos I made of the first year of Ephemera, except with more whitespace.
The print quality is good - not as good as the prints I make at home on the Epson 1280, but nearly so. The paper is high quality and it looks great hanging on the wall.
It's been six months since we added Tags to Technorati (where I'm Senior Designer), and as it turns out, it was a pretty big deal. So before we get too far away from it, here's the story of how it came about. From my perspective, anyway.
Firstly and most importantly, Technorati did not invent tagging. We were inspired by the tags that Flickr users were using to describe their photos, and the tags Delicious users were using to describe their bookmarks, and the many tagging adventures that came before them. We thought bloggers should have something similar - an open standard for adding tags to their posts. If there was such a thing, we could display all kinds of different kinds of content on the same page - photos, links, and posts - grouped by tag.
Secondly, it's important to note that many people at Technorati worked on various tagging solutions at different points. So credit goes to the company as a whole. We're a small company now and were even smaller six months ago. Just about everyone had a hand in our tags implementation.
For me, it all started with New Year's resolutions. In Fray, we've always had a New Year's resolutions story, and it was always a big hit with posters. In December 2004, I was in my second month at Technorati, and I had an idea: Why not encourage people to post their resolutions to their own blogs, and then use the power of Technorati to gather them all together on one page?
Over Technorati's winter break, Tantek Çelik, Jason DeFillippo, Bradley Allen and I met at Crepes on Cole and banged out the Resolutions 2005 page with help from Kevin Marks and Aaron Bannert who were there via IM. The page was set up to show any post that contained a link to it - in other words, if you linked to that page, then your post appeared on that page.
The page went up on December 29 and we encouraged people to post their resolutions and include a link to that page. And they did! Hundreds of posts came in. It was great. But the system we'd devised had one critical flaw.
There were two kinds of posts that linked to our resolutions page. The first was what we'd wanted - people posting their resolutions and linking to our page for more. But the second was different - it was just people saying "look at all those resolutions over there." It was not a participation in the theme - it was just a pointer.
What we needed was a simple way to tell one kind of a link from the other. Tantek mentioned the "rel" standard for hrefs that he used in his XFN work. Basically, the rel attribute was a way to describe the relationship implied in a link. With XFN, I could say that Tantek is a friend of mine by putting "rel=friend" in a link to his site. I suggested we just do the same thing here, using "rel=tag" to allow a blogger to say "with this link, I intend to tag my post as being about the subject I'm linking to."
The best part about this technique was we could read the tag from the location in the href. So if someone wanted to tag their post "iPod" they could link to any URL that ended in that text, whether it was our tag page (technorati.com/tag/iPod) or the product page at Apple (apple.com/ipod) or the Wikipedia entry (wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipod). All would result in the post getting tagged as being about iPod.
We were making the taggers do a little bit of work to be included, but it made sense to ask the people who wanted to participate to do the work, instead of the people who just wanted to make a pointer.
In the first week of January 2005, Technorati founder David Sifry and coder Kevin Marks sat down and kicked out a beta version in a weekend. Dave wrote a service that grabbed the feeds from other tag providers, Kevin coded up a spider that would crawl blogs looking for those rel tags. Kevin also added an awareness of categories in RSS and Atom to the spider, so people could use those, too. I designed some templates to encourage fun browsing.
Tagging in Technorati was released on January 14, 2005. And we knew at the time that any search service could read the rel=tag standard. We wanted them to! The success of tags would be good for us, good for bloggers, and good for the web in general.
Since then it's been one of our most beloved features, and not just because it's a browsing experience as I wrote back in January. It's because tags are carefully created visible metadata that, for the most part, you can trust. When a blogger says their post, photo, or link is about iPod, you can generally believe it.
Together we're creating a web that's both more organized and more human. A web where the content creators are in control of how their words are categorized, not some academic in an ivory tower. A web where the difference between a reader and a writer gets blurrier every day.
And I'm so happy I could play some small part in helping it along.
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.
Caroline strips down her old site and relaunches at Each Man. (Aside to Caz: I got the reference.) Tom goes minimal with Plastic Bag. (Aside to Tom: Bold, confident design. Props!) I'd say there was a trend here, except that Matt just took his previously stripped-down A Whole Lotta Nothing and layered on the CSS lovin, complete with girly dropcaps. (Aside to Matt: Don't worry, I know you're all man.)
Anyway, redesigns are in the air. Makes me wish I had the time to give the ol' dotcom a fresh face, but, well, my redesign energy is being directed elsewhere right now. More on that soon.
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.
I'm really enjoying the crappy camera in my Sidekick 2 lately. You can see the results in my Flickr Photos Tagged Hiptop.
Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists
Just a thought from 5 April 2005 about Blogging, Internet, Journalism, Weblogs.
Here's a fun thing to try: Ask your typical blogger what they think of journalists. "Hacks!" They'll scream. "Journalism sucks!"
Then tell them about bloggers being treated differently than journalists. "Unfair!" They scream. "We're journalists, too!"
Try to follow the logic here: Journalism is lame and broken, so bloggers want to be journalists.
With me so far? No? Let's start over.
I went to school for journalism. Got a BA in photojournalism, which just meant I took a lot of photos in my journalism classes. I've worked as a journalist and an editor. I have some experience in this. So let me be clear: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do not turn bloggers into journalists.
Folks, journalism is a craft. It takes a lot of time to learn to do well. There are rules, written and unwritten, that are applied. Laws that matter. Experience that you have to earn. Journalism - good journalism - is really, really hard.
Blogging, like you're reading now, is not hard. It's not supposed to be. A lot of people have worked very hard to make blogging as easy as typing a thought and hitting a button. That's the beauty of blogging - anyone can do it, about anything.
So again I say: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do NOT turn bloggers into journalists!
When Apple sued the proprietors of three rumor sites because they'd revealed trade secrets, bloggers screamed, "but journalists are protected from that! Bloggers should be, too!" Which sounds good and just until you give it more than a minute's thought.
To become a journalist, you have to go to school, go to college, intern at some crap paper, work for crap wages, write whatever dreck the established writers don't want, put up with egomaniacal, power mad, amateur Napoleon editors who will freak out if you put a capital letter in the wroNg place, and do this all for years and years before they let you near a story that matters.
To become a blogger you have to register for a free account, slam your index fingers into a keyboard a few times, and click POST.
Tell me again how those things are the same. Tell me again how they both deserve equal protections. I mean, with a straight face.
People, being a journalist is hard. A lot harder than it looks, in fact. That's why so many of them are so bad at it. But just because you have a Blogger account, don't pretend for a second that makes you a journalist. What that makes you is a source. A potentially interesting source, yes, but no more interesting than a guy on the corner with a bullhorn.
And, remember, that's a good thing. The reason blogs are interesting is because they're not journalism. They're unfiltered personal voices. Raw emotion. They don't have rules to follow, editors and advertisers to keep happy, parent corporations to make rich. They're the real deal.
Here's a secret: Journalists want to be us. It's true! We bloggers have the freedom to be painfully honest. When's the last time you looked up from a newspaper and said, "wow, I can't believe she said that!" I do that just about every time I read Dooce.
If blogs wanted the same rights and protections as newspapers, they'd have to adhere to the same standards, laws, and process. Is that really what you want? An editor breathing down your neck? And if it is, why don't you just go work for a newspaper?
Please, we have newspapers. Let's make something different out of blogging. Let's not make it into something old and dying because they get the cool toys.
Certainly there are some bloggers that are journalistic in tone and approach, but that's the exception. Why force a young, flexible medium into that one dull corner? Because if we apply the same standards to blogging as are applied to journalism, blogs will get boring in a hurry. That's not what I want.
So if you enjoy blogs, then next time some blogger gets their panties in a twist about journalists getting all the breaks, just say: "Damn right! Ain't it great?"
And then go post about it on your blog.
You know what never gets old? Shilling for votes. Really. It's a skill I've nurtured over my 10 years making web stuff. I'm still sore I never got in the Top 5% in the mid-90s. The ballot was totally confusing. Most of my votes wound up going to David Siegel.
Case in point: I'm honored that my humble photo site is nominated for two categories in the Photobloggies: Animal Photography and Photo of the Year.
And The Wife is nominated for two as well: Best American (hah!) and Best Toy Camera.
So, please, if you cherish freedom, mom, and apple crullers, vote Chawazek today! We'd do it for you. And hurry - voting ends March 28.
UPDATE: Heather has recused herself because she wants to see the award go to a site that's not already on the Photoblogs Top 10. Isn't she the best? Answer: Yes. I vote for her every day.
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?
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.
I used to love Tribe. They were the one "social networking" site I could stand. I liked the way users could create their own tribes. It gave us something to do besides compare the sizes of our friend lists. (You can still create tribes, it's just deprioritized in the new design.)
But this change is awful on so many levels. It reeks of desperation (when in doubt, copy a successful site), is poorly executed (strange mishmash of styles), and worse, it comes with no explanation. They just took a site that many people had a investment in and fundamentally changed it for no communicated reason.
Also, the new logo looks like they poured honey over the old one until it was swarmed with fire ants. Makes me itchy.
Good thing we still have Flickr.
At the end of a long story about naked cats, book reviews, therapy, and relationships, Lance repeated something that his therapist told him. He asked why he felt this need to reveal things online. The response blew me away:
Everyone needs to ask the universe a few questions now and again. Some people call that prayer, some people call that meditation, there are different words and different methods but the goal is the same. We come to places we can't figure out on our own, and even our friends and family can't really help. So we ask the universe - the larger power, God, what have you. And I think your web page, that act, that place, that's your larger power. You launch the questions out there and sometimes you get a response, sometimes not. It's the act that's important. You've just chosen a unique and very public God to question.
I have been posting personal stories on the web for 10 years, and I'd never thought of it that way.
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.
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 understand why people are pissed. Six Apart could have done a better job of explaining what was changing and why. Most people's first link was to secure.sixapart.com, which hit them with a pricing table and little explanation. This is a major shock to anyone used to the joy and freedom (emphasis on the "free") of Movable Type.
But I've long been amazed that such a powerful tool was free. All those bloggers pitching fits need to take a step back and look at what they've been getting for free all this time, and the facts about the new licenses.
Something interesting happened this weekend. But it's not interesting for all the reasons it seems interesting at first.
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is a political blogger. He maintains a site called the Daily Kos, where he writes thousands of words a day about Amercian politics, especially Bush and the war in Iraq. His politics are left of center, but not all that radical by San Francisco standards.
On Thursday, April 1, Markos posted a comment on his site: "I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."
The response was swift.
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 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 Internet, including:
Magazine Thinking: A Tale of Three Communities
31 October 2006
Will Post for Money
22 September 2006
10 Insights on Blogs from PEW
1 August 2006
Hey programmers! Wanna work with me?
26 June 2006
4 June 2006
The Importance of Creative Procrastination
22 May 2006
The Wisdom of Browse
20 April 2006
Attention Daily Show
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
Observations from ETech
11 March 2006
What I'm Up To
4 March 2006
14 February 2006
Bring on the Ego Charting!
17 January 2006
I suspect that I am part of a teaser campaign
10 August 2005
How Tags Happened at Technorati
25 July 2005
Ajax, Ajax Everywhere
11 May 2005
19 April 2005
Come here often?
15 April 2005
Ephemera Archive by Base Color
14 April 2005
Heather via Flickr
9 April 2005
21 March 2005
The Big Mirror
16 March 2005
It's About Time
19 January 2005
A turn for the same
29 September 2004
I wanna go to Lance's therapist
1 September 2004
The Real Heroes of the Web
20 August 2004
18 August 2004
How I use Movable Type
18 May 2004
Irony, a definition
13 May 2004
The "Kostroversy" Context
5 April 2004
Google Creates Comment Spam
19 November 2003
2 October 2003
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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 »
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Magazine Thinking: A Tale of Three Communities 31 October 2006
Will Post for Money 22 September 2006
10 Insights on Blogs from PEW 1 August 2006
Hey programmers! Wanna work with me? 26 June 2006