31 Aug

What Is Tableau Visual Spreadsheet?

Tableau Software:

A Visual Spreadsheet is an interactive canvas that allows you to explore, analyze and create reports from databases. It lets you display, filter, sort, group, drill-into, calculate and summarize data using a “live” interactive window into your databases.&quot

This looks like charts within pivot tables, aka pure porn for data geeks. Tableau, a Stanford spinout, just raised $5M. That’s a reasonable "flip to Microsoft" bet.

23 Aug

Technorati, Socialtext Raise Financing

Joi Ito is an investor in both, as well as in Six Apart. Loic le Meur and Reid Hoffman (of LinkedIn fame) also have a stake in Socialtext and Six Apart. I have a hard time thinking that some if not all of those four companies won’t somehow be merged within the next two years, since they’re all facets of the same thing.
Following its Craig’s List investment, I also believe eBay is the most likely acquirer of that social web editing and identity conglomerate in the making, which should be a piece of cake to set up through the Hoffman and Omidyar connections. Identity and trust are central to eBay, so this could make sense in several ways.
It’s also interesting to see Hoffman and Mark Pincus (Tribe.net) invest in the same company, as the social networking space will of course need to go through a lot of consolidation probably starting next year if not sooner.
Update: Pierre Omidyar: What I’ve been up to.
09/30/04 update: Esther Dyson, Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito invest in Flickr. These people hunt in packs!
12/15/04 update: Feedster Becomes Omidyar Network Partner.
01/17/05 update: omidyar.net FAQ.

23 Aug

Distributed Classification through Self-Interest

Victor Lombardi about a retailer he worked with that implemented "distributed classification":

"[T]hey have many thousands of products that need classifying on a regular basis. The products are relatively inexpensive commodities that change often and are sold through stores, a print catalog, and online. All the information about the products, including classification, is managed in one big content management system. […]
Instead of looking around their own organization for someone to classify (someone who has no interest in getting it done right, other than being paid to do so), they moved classification outside the organization to those who already have a self-interest in getting it done, the manufacturers whose main focus is selling more products. This is a more scalable solution than hiring a team of librarians. The rules of the system keep the manufacturers from abusing it."

You can’t just throw your taxonomy to outsiders and expect it to work as is or else you’ll likely have a GIGO (garbage in garbage out) problem. But if you provide them some kind of training or guidelines, and make sure their input is clean and relevant, then yes this is a good way to go. At our site about fantasy and science fiction books we collect a lot of information provided by readers and writers, and this lets us improve our database faster than doing it all by ourselves.
One of my goals is to use the site itself (rather than email) to collect that kind of metadata more systematically and to cut the number of steps between third-party input and exposure on the site (I don’t plan to go 100% towards a wiki model, so there’s always going to be a validation step in the middle of the workflow rather than after the fact). But most of the data we get from the outside world is of high quality once we’ve established with these contributors what it is we’re looking for (which the public site goes a long way to make explicit already). And the self-interest logic is fully at work for us too, which goes without saying for writers (the additional data will contribute to promoting their works better) but also for readers who simply want to enjoy a better resource about their favorite genre.
01/07/05 update: Louis Rosenberg: Folksonomies? How about Metadata Ecologies?, Clay Shirky’s counter-point.

20 Aug

Erik Benson, Brad Choate on the Move

Erik leaves Amazon.com (but doesn’t tell where to go/what to do) and Brad joins Six Apart to work on PHP dynamic rendering in MT 3.1, a welcome development I and others have been harping about for a while. There are some things you want to do at rendering time while near-static performance can be achieved using templating and caching systems such as Smarty (which Brad showed how to integrate with MT a while ago — this is what I’m using here though I’m far from making full use of it).
While we’re at it, I see Michael McDaniel leaves Amazon.com‘s personalization team too for MSN to work on… personalization. Seems it’s transfer season! Update: Alex Edelman too leaves Amazon.

19 Aug

Anyone Uses Lingo?

Lingo is like Vonage only with better international service. I’m considering switching to it to add a French phone number to our household in order to cut even further into our big Portugal Telecom bill (which is of course already deprived of transatlantic calls thanks to Vonage), and it’s likely a UK number is going to come handy too. I need to research how to switch or possibly combine both services. Informed comments welcome.
Update: you can hook up both ATAs to the same router. Hmm, maybe I’m going to add a second handset to my AT&T 5830 wireless phone… but reviews are mixed, this will need serious homework.

18 Aug

Organizr is Nice, But Not a Web App

Sure, Organizr is great, and the folks at Ludicorp work impressively fast. However, please stop calling it and others like it web applications (I’m not saying its creators do, but others introduce that confusion, starting with Macromedia). This is a Flash application that doesn’t expose its state to its host browser (to the best of my knowledge, by definition). ActiveX didn’t turn COM into a web standard and likewise Flash isn’t part of the fabric of the web. (It’s impossible that you read this weblog and confuse the web for the internet, right?)
No wonder Organizr behaves like a desktop app, that’s basically what it is, because what is Flash but a desktop runtime that happens to be integrated with most browsers? As an aside, it’s funny to think that Microsoft helped Flash get its ubiquitous reach and ultimately become a development platform (rather that just a nice animation player) in order to prevent Netscape from becoming… an ubiquitous development platform. Well done Macromedia!
Back to arguing that you need to support REST to be a web app. For example, if I use Organizer’s nifty widget to select a specific timeframe (which reminds me of Photoshop Album’s smart recognition that time is an intuitive way to access pictures), there’s no way I can share that specific state with you since the URL stays the same. Or maybe using Flash for applications makes you part of the invisible web (Flash content is not invisible to search engines anymore), like all those databases hidden behind POST forms and authentication walls. Can you belong to the web even if your content repository or application state is hidden from it? Anyway, there’s an API for those inclined to complement the Flash interface with a web app, and my architectural comments are not meant to minimize Ludicorp’s achievement.
08/19/04 update: read the comments, Organizr is actually a web app once you put it in the broader Flickr context. It’s just a matter of better exposing the relevant URLs right from the Flash tool. This goes to show Flickr has sound fundamentals and room to grow. Exciting stuff! Also, Anil Dash and Robert Scoble chime in.
08/24/04 update: The Flickr crew not only listens, it follows up fast. Organizr now exposes URLs for selected photos and sets. If you can likewise surface the URLs for search queries, tags and date selections, I’ll be a very happy camper!
11/11/04 update: Jon Udell: The state of rich Web apps.
11/20/04 update: Kevin Lynch: Making Rich Internet Apps Web-Friendly.
05/10/05 update: Flickr moves from Flash to Ajax (now live).
08/18/05 update: An Interview with Flickr’s Eric Costello.

17 Aug

Web Accessibility Toolbar

The Web Accessibility Toolbar:

"has been developed to aid manual examination of web pages for a variety of aspects of accessibility. It consists of a range of functions that:

  • identify components of a web page
  • facilitate the use of 3rd party online applications
  • simulate user experiences
  • provide links to references and additional resources."

This is a must-have that lets you do more with a web page than what a dozen different bookmarklets could offer. IE only.

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14 Aug

Italian Renaissance Jazz!

Gianluigi Trovesi - Around Small Fairy Tales

Gianluigi Trovesi’s Around Small Fairy Tales is an eerie fusion of 16th century Italian music and jazz. If you like both genres, you’ll fall under the spell of this sophisticated breeding, which despite the centuries, sounds uncontrived. When the best of Europe and America meet, the result is Western civilization at its best. Here’s hoping the two continents will keep listening to and learning from each other.

12 Aug

Aggregation Versus Hosting

James Tauber:

"The value of a LinkedIn or Upcoming.org is in the aggregation, not using them as an authoring tool or repository for one’s own data. They should focus on competing on the value-add of their aggregation. I don’t see any disadvantage for them in opening up the input mechanism to pull the source information from external authoritative feeds (or support the information being pushed to them).
I’m not ruling out the need for information hosting services. But I think aggregators and hosting services are different beasts and separating them provides many advantages to both providers and consumers of information."

12 Aug

Amazon, eBay Prepare Updates to their APIs

Note: if you’re involved in ecommerce web services, please read till the end as I’m possibly thinking about creating a business around them and I’ll need partners.
Ebay just announced upcoming updates to their Java and .Net SDKs and the feature list tells me eBay’s involvement in .Net is for real. Meanwhile, Amazon is still working on AWS 4.0 which should go into a broader beta within a few days, with an ETA sometime this fall. Amazon’s current developer kit doesn’t even include .Net code samples at all, but the team has since posted a few VB.Net and C# samples in the forums as well as links to third-party articles, so it’s slowly changing.
I for one welcome the help, as I’m creating a Windows Forms application to retrieve data from Amazon and inject it into my own SQL database, which will be complemented by ASP.NET code on the consumer-facing website. From what I’ve read AWS is too flaky to be fully relied upon in production, so I want to pre-cache everything in my own database and retrieve only time-sensitive data at rendering time (price, availability, sales rank, though the latest is said to fetch inaccurate results so I’ll have to monitor that). And even then I want to be able to fail over to my cache when AWS times out, which seems to happen quite often (at least it used to but the AWS uptime monitor I knew about is 404, you’ll appreciate the irony). The only thing Amazon will have to perform consistently is remote shopping cart calls, but there’s no reason to rely on them for the data layer in a live situation.

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