Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Toys

Well Christmas (and more specifically, my wife) brought another wonderful toy for me this year. A new Canon Digital Rebel XT digital SLR camera. Suffice it to say that there will likely be more photo related info posted to the blog in the coming months. However I also got 8 rolls of 35mm film in my stocking from my mother in law so the film SLR (also a Canon naturally) will not be shelved for a while yet either!

Magnatune has it right...

Dave Winer writes that he likes everything about Magnatune in response to this Techcrunch article about their business model. Sure they might not have any big artists in their stable, but I'm not sure they will have to. I found out about Magnatune months ago and have browsed it several times mostly looking for soundtrack music for my home video projects. There are quite a few really good artists there and their whole licensing structure is modern. Check out the music of Rob Costlow or Heavy Mellow for an indication of how good music doesn't always have to be big name music.

They have non-commercial licenses that allow you to either download 128kbps mp3 files or email in for higher quality audio files for no charge. As long as you are not charging any money with your project they don't expect you to pay them fees for the music. They use the Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike Creative Commons license for this.

Incidentally, I picked up on Rob Costlow's music via P.W. Fenton's wonderful Digital Flotsam podcast (interestingly, P.W. is now working with Adam Curry at Podshow - likely a competitor to Magnatune in terms of new music artists). Recently PW switched to only playing podsafe music on his podcast. I'm not sure if this means only music from the Podsafe Music Network or 'podsafe' music in general.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Python Creator Guido van Rossum now working at Google

Well here I was thinking that the inventor of Python wouldn't necessarily need any extra income... of course was he really the inventor...maybe I should be checking the edit history of his wikipedia page.. ;)


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Humility - Look it up on Wikipedia!

This whole wikipedia self-auto-bio-egotistical editing thing is really getting annoying. People are editing their own bio pages (gasp!). People are blogging about how they would never edit their own bio pages (double-gasp!) My gawd, how the hell is 12yr old Johnny supposed to use Wikipedia to complete his science project on dinosaurs if it's so tainted by scandal??!! Improper credit given to the inventor of podcasting?...whats next...Einstein's entire contribution to science edited out of existence??

Get a grip! You're taking the piss out of something genuinely useful to the vast majority of people. I don't think you, you, or you realize that no one really cares if Wikipedia's creator edited his own bio or if Adam Curry edited his own bio page or if Dave Winer would never do such a thing. I think you're really missing the point of the whole thing: the open and free access to, and sharing of, knowledge. Whether or not Jimmy Wales created it all by himself or was too busy running a porn site I really don't care. The site is useful to me. Shallow as it is to say, I really don't care who invented it. Sure it's nice piece of information to know, but it doesn't affect whether or not I find the site useful.

This posting by Rogers Cadenhead is a piece of tripe and reads like something out of the National Enquirer, only with much less relevance to society as a whole... Get your faces out from in front of your vanity mirrors and get on with something more important.

Oh's a word that fewer and fewer people seem to know: humility

Friday, December 16, 2005

Is this cool or what...

This ascii movie is

NewsGator Online - Please tell me there's a better way...

I'm experimenting with NewsGator Online right now. Currently I use Bloglines for the bulk of my blog reading. However I am not averse to switching. I've imported my Bloglines OPML file no problem, however NewsGator shows all the posts for each feed as being unread - which is correct. However, I can't seem to find a way to mark all of them as 'read' in one fell swoop. I can mark them page by page however with 980 unread blogposts and 779 unread podcast posts it seems that it might take a while to clear them page by page. There must be a better way....right??

Firefox woes Resolved (well almost..)

So I've got my bookmarks back. I've got my bookmarks toolbar folder back in working condition (there was an empty dummy copy of this folder somehow created which screwed things up.) However I'm still puzzled as to why the changes I make to my toolbar buttons do not take. So if I add the 'Add New Tab' button to the toolbar it plunks it up there, but if I shut down and relaunch firefox it disappears?? It seems that themes will take hold and stay but the toolbar modifications still won't. I've re-installed a fresh v1.5 to no avail. Oh well, maybe better to learn the keyboard shortcuts than keep dicking around with it.

Blogger Web Comments for Firefox

Evan Williams points out the new Firefox extension from Google that uses blogsearch to show you the latest things other people are writing about what it is you're currently reading. I'm giving it a try (even as I type this in fact!) and it seems pretty useful in letting me dig deeper into a given subject if I want to. Although the slide-up comment window might get a bit annoying after some time. We'll see...


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Firefox woes - Part Two

Okay, I've managed to import a bookmarks folder that I saved a month or so ago. But what seems weird is that I can't seem to add anything to my bookmarks toolbar folder. When I open up the bookmark manager there is a duplicate entry for 'Bookmark Toolbar Folder' that I can't seem to delete. I've attached a screenshot above. I'm not sure what's going on here...

All My Firefox Customizations Have Vanished

What a wonderful morning. I come in to work and fire up Firefox and lo and behold all my customizations are gone!! No bookmarks, no live bookmarks, no bookmark toolbar visible and when I make the toolbar visible it is, of course, empty. All my bookmark keyword customizations are gone! The funny thing is that my history is still intact and the droplist that appears when I am about to enter my login ID for a site still contains my ID. What is going on here?

Also, since it's been so long since I set up all these customizations, I'm having trouble re-creating them. I had set up a keyword for which was 'gg'. So that when I typed 'gg' plus some terms into the address bar, it would run a google search on these terms and show me the results. This doesn't seem to work anymore. Sure the 'gg' will take me to but if I add terms in the address bar I get taken to various different pages which are definitely not Google!

I've ran a couple of spyware scans to no avail. It's like someone came in an uninstalled Firefox and then reinstalled it. Only I thought that this practice would usually leave all the customizations intact. No one's been on the PC since I left yesterday, and besides, no one here would be able to erase all those customizations in one fell swoop (would they?). I've also noticed that all the themes are gone (I only had a few since upgrading to 1.5) other than the base theme, and the couple of buttons I added (for creating a new tab etc.) are gone from the toolbar.

I guess I could look at it positively as a 'fresh start' but for now I'm pissed off.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Is this really what Wikipedia is for?

So it seems Adam Curry has found himself in trouble for some half-finished Wikipedia editing. And no sooner had this all come to the fore than Dave Winer weighed in on the concept of Wikipedia itself,
-- the bigger problem is that Wikipedia is so often considered authoritative. That must stop now, surely. Every fact in there must be considered partisan, written by someone with a confict of interest.
It's a difficult thing to settle on a single agreeable view of something so recent and so publicly debated. Does this mean it shouldn't be documented at all? Maybe. Would having some third party historian necessarily make things right? Surely the final interpretation of events would not sit equally well with everybody. Be glad you have a way of documenting history yourself and be glad you don't have to wait and hope that some third party organization sees things the way you do.

Anyway, isn't Wikipedia really about sharing knowledge? Isn't it about society educating itself? Collecting mankind's knowledge for all to share is probably one of the most noble things we could do with the internet (infinitely more noble than podcasting). Is it imperfect? Of course it is. The textbooks (history or otherwise) that I read throughout my education were not all accurate either. Were they still useful to me? Of course.

It is not just interesting but absolutely vital that this warehouse of knowledge be flexible. That's it's power. Hindsight is 20/20. So lets have a system that lets us use this fact to our advantage.
Let's not think of Wikipedia as a chronicler of recent history (that's what bloggers do effectively already), but as a tool for people to educate themselves collectively.

To devalue 1.5 million articles in one fell swoop because of a debate about personal recognition is not only shallow, it's just plain dumb.

Oh, and a note to Adam Curry in his suggestion of a definitive history of podcasting. Do you really think that a two year old technology really deserves a definitive history already?

An Amateur Web (or How I Don't Read Ads)

There are certain words or phrases, spoken or written so frequently and over such a short period of time, that they transcend mere annoyance and quickly become grating. "Monetization" is one of those words. More specifically, "Monetization of the Web". This phrase is in a dead heat with "what's the business model in that" and "web two-point-oh" for top honours in the grating category.

My writing this is a direct result of listening to Steve Gillmor's AttentionTech three part podcast with guests Dan Farber and Dave Winer. The specific point that sent me away thinking about all of this was Dave saying something to the effect of 'maybe the days of writers getting paid for writing is over'. If you want to hear some passionate discussion about the web and where it might go, this is really required listening.

A large part of the discussion focused on Google, advertising, and how businesses will make, and are making money on the web. Surely Google is making large amounts of money from their Adsense program. Of course people are making money from website ads and ads in RSS feeds. They wouldn't be doing it if they weren't. But how long can it last? Google is definitely NOT making money from me. Let's look at my situation specifically.

I'm a 30-something male. I have a decent career. I have a reasonable amount of disposable income. I am not rich by any -and I mean ANY- stretch of the imagination. I'm relatively savvy when it comes to technical things like utilizing the web. I would think I am smack dab in the middle of Google's demographic. One small problem however. I don't pay attention to Google ads. Or any web ads for that matter. I never have and likely never will. (I have been tainted by years of penis enlargement and erectile dysfunction solutions I guess) If I want to buy something like a new printer (which I just bought) or a new monitor (which I just bought) or a book, or a pair of pants, I don't go clicking on text ads. I try to find valuable information on what to buy. That might come from my co-workers, or it might come from the blogosphere or some other personal means. But in the vast majority of cases - no scratch that - in all cases, it doesn't come from web ads no matter how well targeted they are. I want personal recommendations from people who've built influence with me.

So let's take stock of my situation. I use Blogger (Google owned) to voice my opinion to whoever wants to read it. I use Google Maps almost every day to find places I need to go. I use GMail for most of my non-work email activities. And of course I use the Google search engine to find information I need many times every day. And what am I paying for these extremely useful services? Nothing out of my pocket, but I am giving them information about my search habits, my interests, my attention and where it's focused. This lets them create ads better targeted at me. I'm paying them with my personal information. They make money from companies who want to be able to target those ads at me. But they don't realize that the thing I'm NOT throwing my attention at is those very same ads! Am I the only one NOT paying attention to them? I would love to think I'm extremely unique. But I don't think I am.

Are they getting returns on all this targeted advertising? They're not getting any returns on ads placed in front of me, but just due to the fact that there are seemingly successful businesses built on it, I'd have to say some companies must find it useful. But how far can this go? Won't there come a time when either companies will say to Google 'this isn't effective enough' or Google will say 'we need to start charging for all this stuff people are using'. It doesn't matter how many people use Gmail if only a tiny percentage of them are giving the ads even one bit of attention.

I personally can't see Google extending the Adsense model much further. Are they just going to keep trying to focus those ads more sharply at me as they build up their data store? Or will they do something else with this data? Reading their privacy policy a few times makes good sense. They say that when requested to remove a person's data they will honour this, however they also state the following:
"we may decline to process requests that are unreasonably repetitive or systematic, require disproportionate technical effort, jeopardize the privacy of others, or would be extremely impractical (for instance, requests concerning information residing on backup tapes)"

So who decides whether it's unreasonable? Not a very definitive policy. Watch these guys! But I digress..

Will it be very long before companies find out that their ads can't compete with the sway of people who've built their own influence through blogs and podcasting? It's the influence that people have that becomes the valuable thing, not the ads they show on their pages or their feeds. Doc Searls had it right (and Dave Winer pulled it up painfully in front of everyone to see, or hear, in the podcast) when he said that the key is to be successful because of your blog, not with your blog. Dave stated quite frankly - as Dave inevitably does - that his blog is what let him make the big deals that made him the bulk of his money, it wasn't 'nickel and dime' ads on his website.

So how do you build influence then? Well in my mind, running ads on your website will neither hurt nor help it (remember? I don't read 'em). Running ads on your RSS feed however will definitely not help build it. You're throwing things up in front of me that I don't want to read. That will not build influence, if anything it will diminish it. And remember, you may not care about me personally, but I'm Joe Average. I'm not unique. There are many others like me. You want to influence me, but ads won't do it.

This is the conundrum. If you want to make money with - as in, directly from - your blog (or podcast or whatever) then you will have to put ads in there. You have no choice but to do it (unless you're unusually lucky in being employed to blog or podcast or whatever). But you don't build influence by doing it. You actually degrade your influence (on me) by doing it. So maybe Dave is right in saying that the old model of writers getting paid to write will wither.

So who will be left writing, or podcasting? A bunch of amateurs. People who are doing these things because they love doing them. Then my buying habits will be influenced and swayed by a group of people writing and podcasting about these things solely because of their passion for them. What a shame. ;)