25 May

Is Fragmentation Going to Kill Syndication?

Dick Costolo:

"[E]ven if we can all get along and agree on a common base syndication format and the number of different clients dwindles to a powerful few, the entire syndication space will simultaneously witness a growing sophistication and accompanied level of fragmentation through conflicting namespaces and specialty clients.
We are already seeing the emergence of one such example. Apple has begun syndicating genre lists and top songs via RSS for their iTunes service. If you look at the xml behind an iTunes RSS feed, you will see that Apple has created an RSS extension for “what it means to be a song”; the namespace is identified by http://phobos.apple.com/rss/1.0/modules/itms/. It contains extensions like and to name just a couple. This extensibility is precisely what enables the syndication of rich media. Current RSS readers may not do anything with the itms namespace, but that’s ok, because Apple also reuses existing base RSS tags to display things like the name of the band and song and a link to the song at iTunes.
Will such a fragmented set of namespaces on top of a base format or perhaps even fragmented namespaces on top of conflicting base syndication formats cause the promise of syndication to collapse? It need not. The beauty of syndication is that it’s still all xml underneath, and where there’s an underlying structure, there’s a general ability to reconcile conflicting structures."

24 May

How to Share a Taxonomy with Other Photoshop Album Users?

Photoshop Album is one of those rare applications that make meta tagging so easy that even "normal people" can use it. Now, let’s say I want to create a taxonomy and share it with other users, is there a way to do it so that a) they don’t need to re-create those tags, and b) they’re going to use my controlled vocabulary in order to avoid alternate spellings and other discrepancies? I could even throw in some fun such as nice, well chosen thumbnails for all those tags. (Don’t you love an app than lets you choose your own thumbnails to visualize metatags? And you should see the feature in action, it’s very graceful.)
The goal is to keep everyone on the same page to feed a common database. Is there an explicit intersection between desktop photo management tools and the semantic web (say, an ontology created with Prot

19 May

Involving Customers in Your Product Design: What a Difference a Decade Makes

Back in the summer of 1993 I was an intern at Microsoft (a couple of years before I got back there for a real job), and I have a vivid recollection of a conversation I had with a product manager. When I expressed my frustration about the product design being process driven by focus groups, as opposed to the collection of real feedback from the field (i.e. from real users outside of the marketing lab), the guy sneered back at me that Microsoft didn’t need me (i.e. Joe Plain User) to improve Excel, which I believe was the specific program I had ideas about. I was shocked by his reaction not only for its self-congratulating smugness but also because it felt so out of touch in the face of obvious shortcomings in the products. And the worse is, this is actually a good marketer I’m talking about, not some completely clueless jerk.
Well, guess what, a decade later here’s the Windows Server Feedback site, created for the very purpose of involving customers in the spec process:

"Help us improve Windows Server by providing us with your suggestions and ideas. All feedback submitted will be sent to the Windows Server Development Team for review and analysis. Your ideas can impact Windows Server in many ways, and might even be incorporated into new Service Packs, Feature Packs, or the next Windows Server release."

Of course a company still needs to own its roadmap with proper prioritization based on an assessment of cost/opportunity that individual users or companies can’t possibly do (and, believe it or not, the proclaimed interest of your customers is not always aligned with your business, just because customers tend to want everything for free). But as far as tapping your users’ mind for real world feedback and ideas, I was right, and I was right, which feels good once in a while! Some people at Microsoft have for a long time been impressed by the flexibility and openness of smaller, more nimble players who have been solliciting and acting on feedback all along. It’s nice to see the "we know better" attitude is fading away. Warm fuzzy feelings of community aside, acknowledging that you can’t possibly have all the good ideas and that you can get great suggestions for free, is the pragmatic and sound thing to do from a business perspective.
Here’s hoping this initiative is not lip service and will be replicated to other product lines. Success will be measured by actual features and improvements that Microsoft will be able to point to and say: this came from real people out there.

19 May

Freakingly Detailed Survey of a Single NYC Block

One Block Radius is fascinating:

"One Block Radius, a project of Brooklyn artists Christina Ray and Dave Mandl [known collaboratively as Glowlab], is an extensive psychogeographic survey of the block where New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art will build a new 60,000 square foot facility beginning in late 2004. […]
While the block is bit-size in relation to the surrounding metropolis, the changes it is about to undergo are massive. One Block Radius plays with this idea of scale, aiming to zoom in and physically data-mine the tiny area for the amount of information one would normally find in a guide book for an entire city. This feature-rich urban record will include personal perspectives from diverse sources such as city workers, children, street performers, artists and architectural historians. Engaging a variety of tools and media such as blogs, video documentation, maps, field recordings and interviews, Glowlab will create a multi-layered portrait of the block as it has never been seen before (and will never be seen again)."

19 May

Movable Type, Meet the Enterprise

Ari Paparo just ran into the IT wall while implementing MT to support an intranet project. Here are the features he suggests developers should work on: version Control and archiving (there’s already a plugin for that but I don’t think it works for deleted entries), posting administration, username and password synching (ah, single sign-in!) and file upload filtering. Basically, more security and administration.

14 May

Google Turns Usenet into “My Groups”

The new Google interface to Usenet has Atom feeds for every newsgroup (add /feeds to a group URL) and features membership more prominently, with shortcuts such as favorites groups and bookmarked threads. Some of the display modes work better than others, but where did the ability to sort search results by date rather than (dubious) relevancy go? This just after the new, very consumer-friendly (as opposed to power-user oriented) Blogger. Waiting for Froogle’s facelift…
Update: I missed the most important: it’s not just Usenet, and you can create your own groups.
06/05/04: I had forgotten or missed the Neotonic acquisition in April last year, which is relevant to this (and possibly Gmail?). Brandon Long and David Jeske worked for Egroups (which became Yahoo Groups) then Neotonic and now Google. I also just learnt that Mark Fletcher who founded ONElist/eGroups is the founder and CEO of the company behind Bloglines. And I don’t think I knew about the templating system Clearsilver (used by Techdirt among others) either.

06 May

Office Clippy — What Were They Thinking?

Chris Pratley worked on MS Word at the time, and tells us Clippy’s story, if not from the very inside (the dreaded assistant wasn’t specific to Word but rather a feature common to several Office apps), at least from close enough. Yes, they were actually thinking, it’s just that not all features end up working as intended, and some work for some people but are rejected by others.

05 May

Orkut, an ASP.NET Application Using Squid?

A few minutes ago I was getting an error while trying to logon at Orkut. Ain’t it strange that Login.aspx spits out this:
"Generated Wed, 05 May 2004 21:15:34 GMT by www.orkut.com (squid)"
Squid on NT? Well, actually, yes. But isn’t .NET good enough to handle caching? It gets more tricky because apparently Orkut runs on Linux. This has been discussed in a few places, but I’d like more meat. Is Orkut using Mono? Is there some tiering at work between application logic running on Windows servers and web server/proxy running on Linux (after all Ebay runs Windows frontend servers and a Unix backbone)? Or is the aspx extension a red herring to keep us guessing? I’m out of my league, please enlighten me.
Speaking of Orkut, for some reason it’s big in Brazil (where blogging is popular too) and Japan. Funny to see big countries from Continental Europe being under-represented. But the Californian roots are still quite visible.

05 May

Web Services Create Consistency


"Huntington Bank’s customers have noticed a welcome service change in the past few months. When they use an ATM or use their cards at a merchant, the resulting change in balance shows up in their online banking accounts in real time. […] The way in which Hungtington Bank has gotten consistency across its platforms (including ATM, online banking, and mainframe) has been a result of the company’s desire to set up an infrastructure in which "one change effects multiple channels," […] For Huntington Bank, as for ING, getting information under control has been primarily an integration project."

04 May

The anatomy of a new feature

Jason Fried:

"We recently added a new feature to Basecamp that people have been asking for since we launched back in February. It’s a simple little feature called comment editing (people have always been able to edit their posts, just not their comments on a post). Yep, now people can edit their comments after they post them. Big whoop, right? Well, it was. Here’s the process dissected."