Saturday, May 20, 2006

web: it's one social network, not 1000 sites

I just joined MySpace to send my regards to Bill Frisell. I had to join Flickr to comment on a friend's picture. I had to join LinkedIn to say something nice about a co-worker. I had to join Evite to decline an invitation. I had to join LiveJournal to make a registered comment. I think I have a .Mac page, I can't remember if I'm on Google Pages. I have user pages on several Wiki sites. Every week I have to register an avatar on yet another bulletin board just to make a forum post.

All these sites are converging to the same set of features: picture uploads, a blog, commenting or replying to other posts, find like-minded people based on interests, and tagging. Even though they all seem different, you can tell they're the same thing because they all output RSS feeds.

Not only do they keep reinventing the wheel, they make me maintain a set of wheels in 100+ towns across the 'net. The only value is if I want to remain a different person in each town — the sex-crazed female elf, the abusive technogeek, the sober businessman, and only I know they're all me. But if I want to integrate my selves, it's a complete pain. Every time I write something elsewhere, I have to consider whether to repeat it here or link to it (which pushes my readers themselves into joining yetanothersite), or let it slide.

The Web itself is THE social network. You put something on it, I link to it. It's unnatural and unconvincing to restrict social networks within it to a particular site. It's entirely possible and straightforward for my link to indicate the type of relationship: she's my friend, this is a reply, this is a review, etc. and for us both to keep track of the link.

Unfortunately, there's an impetus to own a set of eyeballs, to get and keep users on MySpace or some arcane bulletin board so you can present lots of ads and eventually sell out for millions.

I hope the costs of identity management — dealing with fake users, abusers, lost passwords, etc. — will push sites to trust third party identity services. I should be able to hand "Joe's cellphone php BulletinBoard" my identity and authentication token and an e-mail contact, and not have to sign up for their site. They can trust that identity more than their own membership form because I paid real money to get it. (Wayyyy back in Netscape 3.0 Gold time, I paid $10 for a Verisign class 3 identity and public key, but I haven't used it in 8 years.)

Even with federated identity and single sign-on, that still leaves my thoughts spread out all over. Sites make me to come to them to post, but that's short-sighted. If I'm writing a feverish reply correcting someone's William Gibson bibliography, I'm not going to click on any ads. Instead, sites should pull in responses from all over the net, so readers spend more time on the site. I post on my site about them, they show that content on their site.

One other value to all these social sites is that they're free and in a features war. I pay to have my own place on the Web (skierpage.com), and although monkeybrains are fine people for Web hosting, this dump only has a storage locker and an electrical outlet. There is no picture upload, forum, Web 2.0 animated social tagging, etc. at skierpage.com. But for privacy, control, and copyright issues I don't want to lose my primitive house and join the condo association at Myspace. All software features should trend to $0 cost so eventually I'll have them here.



Friday, May 12, 2006

web: stop gaming Web search

Mother's Day, time to send flowers to the mother country. In the good old days I'd search yahoo.co.uk for florists in her town, find a delightfully amateurish Web site with some blurry photos, call them up, and give a credit card number for delivery. The flower shop gets to keep all the money. It was the vision of the World-Wide web fulfilled, bringing people together, disintermediating low-value go-betweens like FTD and Interflora.

It seems like it still works. Type in any combination of town name and florist and UK, and you get pages from florists in that town.

No. Now it's completely fubared. Take for example http://www.flowerssameday.co.uk/florists/n/florists_newcastle.htm, they have dozens of pages about "your local florist" for every town in the UK. Each page is exactly the same!

And instead of getting actual florist Web sites in search results, you get sites with lists of florists or sites with fake reviews of florists. These parasites aren't providing useful info, they're just collecting ads. One directory service seems to be ThomsonLocal.com, but their info winds up on dozens of other sites like near.co.uk, touchlocal.com, etc., and often in the wrong place. I can't tell if ThomsonLocal is screwing around or the third parties are lifting the content. It's a mess.

The small florist down the road is stuck on the 100th page of Google results, wondering why no one ever calls, and debating whether to spend money to get on a directory site, or whether to pay a slimey search engine optimization consultant to get a higher ranking. It is the vision of the World-Wide web, in tatters.

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Sunday, May 7, 2006

music: F-G-reat

The UI of the music player on the Sanyo MM-9000 multimedia phone is weak, no playlists or organize by artist or genre. But just alphabetical play brings up lovely juxtapositions.
Fifty-Fifty Clown, Cocteau Twins
short and intense, Elizabeth Fraser's unintelligible vocals heighten the mood, the chords are unique
Flying North, Thomas Dolby
I just saw him in solo concert, he's got a white funk vibe underlying all the synth layers that drives this song like a locomotive
Folk Song, The Sundays
"Static and Silence" isn't as good as the earlier, utterly distinctive albums, but this is a lovely song about a sunny day that balances out the title track's nostalgia for the moon landing. It's really reminiscent of XTC's "I Remember the Sun".
For Free, Joni Mitchell
such an impeccable musician
Fotzepolitic, Cocteau Twins
More from "Heaven or Las Vegas"; out of order and without the title track and Iceblink Luck you realize how amazing that album is. Girl and guitar, like The Sundays.
Fretless, R.E.M.
nice rarity from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack
Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires, Cocteau Twins
They liked songs starting with 'F' on "Heaven or Las Vegas"! Bulding steadily, ringing, moving from cold to warmth, extraordinary.
Gaucho, Steely Dan
The title track, probably the best-sounding song I own. The care they lavish over the chorus
Who is the gaucho amigo
Why is he standing
In your spangled leather poncho
And your elevator shoes
makes you burst out laughing. Recorded in seven studios with an early primitive digital sequencer, it proves that the abject failure of recent records to sound great isn't due to digital artefacts, or modern recording techniques, but a lack of will and skill.

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Saturday, May 6, 2006

web: people of the world, it's 2006-05-06 today !

I came across another Web site
  • Screenshot: 8/03/2006
  • Screenshots: 6/02/2006
  • Screenshot: 26/02/2006
I'm not even American, but I've lived here so long that I can't read that first date as anything but August 03, 2006. Then I get to the last one and realize it's not, and I have to reassemble the date in my head. Meanwhile Europeans have the inverse problem with 3/8/2006. The lie is that picking one of mm/dd or dd/mm is friendly to your native readers: even people who read it correctly are off-balance wondering if their reading is correct.

Why do Web sites, blogs, and forums continue to aggressively confuse all their readers with ambiguous dates? The problem was solved 18 years ago with ISO8601 dates.

This simply works for every person on earth, and it has a number of nice technical features. Use it and stop confusing all your readers!

When you go to fix date format, you'll find software packages botch the date problem by offering a locale setting that tries to do the right thing, using mm/dd/yy for people who identify as en-us and dd/mm/yy for en-gb, etc. Again, this is a bad solution as it just preserves ambiguity (unless you put a waving animated American flag icon next to every date to remind people what they're reading!). The W3C still promotes this non-solution.

Technical: the ISO8601 date format is "%Y-%m-%d" in many formatting packages, or "%F" in newer ones based on strftime. E.g. echo date("%Y-%m-%d", $theTime) in PHP, use POSIX qw(strftime); print strftime("%F", $theTime) in Perl, date +%F in bash, etc.

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Thursday, May 4, 2006

comedy: Stephen Colbert at Press Correspondents dinner

I'm not a big Daily Show / Colbert Repohhhrr fan, but friends turned me on to his performance at the White House Press Correspondents dinner, and it's great. Here's a good transcript.
But the rest of you [besides Fox], what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.

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