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 Jun

Microsoft Lost the API War? Not So Fast

Joel Spolsky is getting a lot of mileage for his essay, How Microsoft Lost the API War, and it’s deserved because there are a lot of good things in there. For instance, the fact that you (mostly) don’t have an install process to run web apps (or console games for that matter) is definitely something Microsoft should think long and hard about (and I’m sure they do). I’m just fed up with installing and configuring apps, and it’s even worse when you want them available across 3 or 4 home PCs.
However, Joel’s whole argument relies on a premise that he never bothers to back up: “[the web as a platform] is Good Enough for most people and it’s certainly good enough for developers, who have voted to develop almost every significant new application as a web application.”
That’s quite a radical assertion but it isn’t reflected by facts. From digital audio, photography and video to gaming, whole software categories have grown strongly those last years, on Windows primarily but also on the Mac and consoles. Nothing more convicing than amusing demos and gizmos exist on the (HTML) web in those areas, which, by the way, happen to be the fast-expanding frontier of digital lifestyles, so that’s what matters in terms of consumer adoption and developer interest (and just look at what software people buy and use). The fact is, developers kept targeting Windows and other non-web platforms all along, and users have asked for more. Even online there’s been an explosion of desktop applications. Don’t bother telling Joel Spolsky about the many developers who create instant messaging or file sharing applications or newsreaders (many of them on Windows) and the dozens of millions of users who download and install them, he’s busy making an important point. After reading Joel’s memo, no doubt Epic Games will surely stop using DirectX (gasp, the latest version even) and commit to creating Unreal Tournament 2005 in the browser.
The platform switch challenge for Microsoft is well known and Joel may yet be proved right in the long run, but the game is far from over and his calling the score is quite premature. Remember that he said .NET was vaporware four years ago only to say now that ASP.NET is the best web dev platform. In this week’s essay, where’s the acknowledgement that at the time he got excited by a vague whitepaper but his sanguine statements were since then proved wholly incorrect? You’re right, there’s none. We’ve heard this kind of hubris about the end of the Microsoft API from the Java guys for years and look where it got them: definitely somewhere, but even more definitely, far from everywhere, and certainly in less computers than Microsoft.

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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

30 Apr

MT3 perspective

Tim Appnel, one of the developers most familiar with Movable Type, provides some interesting perspective about MT 3 (Tim helped us architect and develop some of the things done at MarketingVox, where by the way I’m not active on a day-to-day basis anymore):

"Perhaps 3.0 isn’t deserving of the dot 0 label, but I could argue otherwise so its a grey area. The real problem is that the lack of updates to MT has created an anticipation that did not forsee or properly address through their communications in order to manage these expectations. It is here were the radio silence has been so damaging. I can only hope they see how damn important this is going forward and make it a priority and not an after thought as they have. They make a tool of collaboration and communication after all!"

(Emphasis mine.)
I’m not an insider like him, but I think I can reverse-engineer what happened and not miss the mark entirely (feel free to contradict me):

  • Sometime last year Six Apart, seeing the success of its largerly self-organized developer community, decided to focus on growing the platform side of MT, as opposed to its product side. I gather that decision took some time to be internalized and formalized, and in the meantime everyone was left hanging dry with the expectation of an MT Pro feature-driven release. This longer-term bet makes sense, especially for a multiple-seeking VC-funded business, plus it’s harder to catch up with an established platform as opposed to blogging software (yes, barriers to entry — new blogging tools seems to pop up every other week, and they’re rather competitive as it’s always easier from a clean slate, and it’s not like a blog CMS is rocket science).
  • Scalability, availability and security are features. Just ask Microsoft, or closer to Six Apart, Blogger, which almost didn’t add any visible feature in two years (i.e. forever) but at the same time added hundreds of thousands of users. Typepad doesn’t have a free product so the numbers are an order of magnitude smaller, but still the service is successful which means you need to ramp it up. The benefit to the end-user is invisible until things break down (my girlfriend uses Typepad on a daily basis, so I’m aware of uptime or lack of). On that record Typepad has been running well, but there’s no doubt this required resources. Add a couple of roadbumps such as comment spamming, and you’re basically recoding the same software again and again to keep it working properly.
  • Typepad was the main focus for a while, as it can generate cashflow more quickly. There was simply not much attention span available for MT.
  • Hiring and ramping people up is very time consuming, and adding more developers to a project doesn’t shorten time to delivery.

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10 Mar

MS Outlook Keeps Growing as a Platform — What Portals Should Do

Here’s a recap of the Outlook plugins/add-ins I’ve heard about so far:

But there are in fact a lot more, for instance from Sperry Software (to save attachments off your inbox, remove duplicates and more), Mapi Labs (to send volume email to people as if it was personal, instead of using blind copy), OutlookConnect (synch with any ODBC-compatible RDBMS), or 4Team. All of this makes sense considering the huge installed base.
Now remember many people browser and shop online at work, where Outlook is typically used. Instead of just competing through its browser toolbar like everyone else (starting with Google), Yahoo should leverage its MyYahoo advantage. It’s silly that I have to launch a separate application (Intellisync for Yahoo) to synchronize the two. Why isn’t Yahoo co-opting features such as Outlook Today? That would contribute to kicking Google’s ass, in a space where it didn’t even start playing. (It will be fun to see how Google will choose to compete in email or IM, though I’m not holding my breath.)
Of course it would be the obvious thing for MSN to do, but I’ve stopped trying to figure out what these guys are up to and decided to write off the whole division as crap. Sure, this division is making money (I’m told they have good ad sales reps), but from a product perspective they’re right up there with AOL in the boring and useless department. Take MyMSN for instance. With all its drag-and-drop glitz (at least in IE, don’t bother in modern browsers), it’s still weak as far as features are concerned, and can’t even copy MyYahoo properly on the most basic stuff (like a weather module with temperatures in celcius). OK, it’s not all bad (they’ve got traffic reports, although only in the US, and eBay auctions, because who cares about Yahoo auctions anyway), but still, where’s the software integration with the rest of the company?
06/17/04 update: Niobe is "a prototype project that allows managed, smart client add-ins to be developed for Microsoft Office Outlook 2003."
08/29/05 update: PlanPlus: "task, plan, and information management."

19 Sep

Show me some intersection

I’d like to easily know whether some musicians I admire ever collaborated, when I think the combination of their talents would be a good match. Say, did Maceo Parker ever play with Ray Anderson, or Stanley Clarke with Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham, or what about the five jamming together for chrissakes? If they did, what did they do together?
So I wish Allmusic were as smart as Imdb. Allmusic does have a "worked with" option under its related artists section, but it doesn’t show you what songs/records the artists worked together on. (Though I suspect it doesn’t list all collaborationss by far.)
Contrast that with Imdb and its "look up joint ventures" feature, which makes it easier to play "six degrees of" (you know whom). Too bad Allmusic uses a dll for its search engine while Imdb gets its "joint ventures" through POST forms. If only they used REST (i.e. GET forms), we could link to specific search results (i.e. I can’t point to the result page for, say, Kevin Bacon and Denise Richards.) By the way, these are typical questions *not* to ask Google if you value your time at all. Structured databases still have their place.
Intersection is where things get interesting. I love early 70’s fusion, where Jazz and Funk happily copulated and bore beautiful children. There’s nothing like the sexual humping of Funk mixed with the more cerebral Jazz. Good Jazz-funk gets your brain *and* your body into motion. Brawn and Brains. Earth and Air. Find the allegory that fits you best to celebrate the wholeness of being Human. And to these islamofascists bent on denying us the right to be sensual as well as rational, rot in hell.

17 Jun

What can you create on your website that only exists in finite quantities (and why people should care)?

I just read a post on I-Sales about bidding wars on search engine keywords, and it occured to me that Overture’s model is great because there are only so many words in the English language (or any language for that matter), whereas advertising models based on banner inventory have the laws of supply and demand working against them.
With an increasing number of online users spending more hours online on more numerous and bigger web sites, page views and ad impressions derived from them are fighting an uphill battle just to find a buyer, as the quantity of auto-promotion and banner barter proved even before the advertising market bust.
What is it that you can create on your online properties that doesn’t exist elsewhere in almost infinite quantities (we mortal humans have trouble telling the difference between "infinite" and "huge" anyway)? I’m not sure maintream portals

30 Dec

A guide to MP3 tools

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to managing and growing an MP3 collection, based on software suggestions and tips. Your mileage may vary, and I’m still learning, but this should help newbies get started, and teach a thing or two to more advanced users. More related information can be found at sites such as CD-RW.org and CD Freaks.
Most of these programs are often updated, so I removed version numbers to prevent rapid obsolescence of this post. Generally speaking, just use the latest (non beta) releases.

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25 Sep

After the tragedy: a tale of two dot coms, and how they relate to WWI

See how Priceline and Webex compare: PCLN lost all of their partial recovery, while WEBX has been bouncing quite strongly. And did you notice people are now starting to make fun of the Sept. 11 events (like the fake picture of a tourist posing on top of the WTC, unaware of the plane coming behind him – 29/11/01 update: here’s the true guy)? I guess it takes two weeks before folks believe it’s ok to do so.
As memories fade and people get back to work, I’m wondering whether businesses will change their practices so much that they’ll trade travel for videoconferencing. (08/23/02 update: I didn’t take pseudo-security hassle into account.) No matter how much some think life will never be the same, it’s not the first time in history people felt that way.
My family on the side of my mother is from Lorraine, in eastern France. My mum was born in Metz in 1947, a city annexed by the Germans from 1870 to 1914 and from 1940 to 1944. My uncle Andr