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June 30, 2008

mioNews Brings New Foldered Interface to FriendFeed

Another day brings another interesting new application using FriendFeed's API, attempting to give a new way for active users to sort their stream. Today's entrant, called mioNews, instead of trying to mimic the spartan FriendFeed interface, as many others have, brings an approach more commonly seen in RSS readers like Google Reader, or even e-mail applications, like Microsoft Outlook. The new, professional, look also comes with some new features to help users indicate stories they both "like" and "hate", as well as the option to follow specific topics.


The mioNews Interface: Click for Large version

Since FriendFeed introduced their API in March, we've seen new interfaces developed for mobile phones, iPhones, and the Web, using Ajax. We've seen options to highlight individual stories or users you've said you like, and others that help block individual keywords.

mioNews, authored by Patrick Lightbody, lets you carve up and read the updates in your feed by:

* Selecting topics, which shows the # of stories, and, when clicked, shows the stories in the main pane.
* Grouping friends in specific folders, as you specify.

Like in Google Reader, where you can choose to read full feeds, or just the title, mioNews, lets you show just the titles, or a short summary. Double-clicking on any item takes you to the item itself, be it from Twitter, a blog post, or a share in Google Reader. But more interestingly, you can turn on the site's Reading Pane, and like in Outlook, you can view the entire item, as well as take action on that item, including the ability to share, comment, like, or in a new wrinkle, hate a post. You can even mark all items as read, a feature many on FriendFeed have asked for, so far in vain.


The goal of mioNews, like NoiseRiver and FriendFeedMachine before it, is to help reduce the "noise" problem through giving you more control over selecting what you like and what you don't like. As Patrick writes in the introductory post, "instead of rating people and topics that you like/hate, mioNews asks you to like/hate individual articles. Then, using some autotagging secret sauce, the topics and people are tuned behind the scenes."

Provided you select topics that your friends are talking about in FriendFeed, mioNews will find it. It's no surprise they're often talking about Google, Twitter and FriendFeed. But if you branch out to sports, politics and the day's news, you might find some good gems in that rough.

mioNews' approach to the FriendFeed noise is unique. It might almost get on more desks at corporate, given how closely it approaches the look and feel of standard business applications. And as Patrick says, like NoiseRiver, it too is in alpha and much more is planned. You can keep up on mioNews in their room on FriendFeed here: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/mionews

On the Web, If You're Not Growing, You're Dying

Often, perception of a site or service's momentum can be self-fulfilling.

Even over the last two years of my writing on this blog, the companies I cover have changed, as what used to be relevant has become less so, and new hotshots have come to take their place. But while some niche services are on their way to becoming household names, others that could have done so are fading, when compared to their peaks of 1, 2 or even 5 years ago.

One tool showing the decline of brands relative to one another is Google Trends, which measures how frequently a keyword is searched for as a percentage of the total searches on the Web.

Using Google Trends, you can see the near-death of older Web 1.0 brands, like Netscape, Lycos and Alta Vista, the plateauing of early Web 2.0 brands, like MySpace, and the deflating balloon of weakened brands, such as Technorati, Digg and Microsoft.


Netscape's Downfall... In Graph Form.

And Lycos Follows Suit.

A little more than a week ago, Google Trends made news by introducing the ability to track data on Web sites, but the service's core element helps shed some light on the fact that the interest level in Technorati has been slashed in half in just the last 12 months, that MySpace peaked a year ago, as did Digg.


The Technorati Monster Is Starving.

And Digg Is In a Rut.

MySpace Is Floating in Space.

Meanwhile, as both Google and Yahoo! have continued an upward trajectory of world interest, Microsoft has seen steady decline every year, starting in 2004, when the data was first tracked.


The Only Thing More Depressing is MSFT Stock.

At one time, it was fun to point out that the Technorati monster had escaped, that Technorati wasn't up to challenging Google Blog Search, or to debate whether Digg's relevance was going to decrease with its move away from solely having a tech focus. But Google Trends lays out on the table the tougher news - nobody cares, and the number of people actively looking for news on Digg or Technorati is going down, while many, many other services are rapidly growing.

While the entire market of Web measurements is questionable, from Alexa to Compete.com and all sorts of competitors in between, it'd be interesting to see Google get even more aggressive with their trends, showing the velocity of a term's decline or ascension. Maybe that'd get the point across a little better for those saying their damaged brands aren't in trouble.

And lest you think Google Trends is all bad news, it's not. Take a look at hotter stories, like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook or Google itself to see what an up and to the right arrow looks like. But if these brands aren't careful, like some of those listed above, they too could stagnate and fall. And once you slow, you're really just preparing for the inevitable drop.

June 28, 2008

New NoiseRiver App Adds Interest Filters to FriendFeed Stream

For those looking for FriendFeed Friday Tips #6, consider this post in lieu of the series. Our visits to see Sarah in the hospital prevented Friday posting. I'll look to be back on track next Friday.

As FriendFeed has grown its user base, the number of people to follow and items they add to their personal streams is increasing. Some are finding the resulting noise to be too much in its native form. While I've aggressively approached this issue by using the "Hide" function, others are looking to new services to take the next step, highlighting, in advance, those items that are most likely to draw your attention. NoiseRiver, a new service released yesterday, updates your stream based on instructions you give, including your liked and hated keywords and individuals, helping draw your eye to the best stuff fast.

As the author writes, NoiseRiver is not intended to replace FriendFeed outright, but instead, like FriendFeedMachine, FFToGo and other innovative apps, looks to fill a gap, extending the product with new features.


How NoiseRiver Describes Itself

Upon logging into NoiseRiver, you'll see your plain vanilla FriendFeed stream. But where NoiseRiver excels is in learning from hints you provide, including your giving keywords that you're most interested in, and those you are not, in the "My Interests" section. In fact, if you never want to see specific terms, like "Obama", "McCain" or "Fail Whale" again, all you have to do is make them a keyword, pull the slider to the left as far as it will go, signifying you hate a keyword, and check the box that reads, "Hide entries with a very high hated rank? (-100%)".


I Pick Keywords I Want to See Using Sliders

But more than just acting as a smart filter to hide topics you could care less about, NoiseRiver also lets you select terms you like, be they "Google", "RSS", or the iPhone.

You can also set parallel filters for people. If you have friends whose updates you simply don't want to miss, go to "My Neighborhood", where you can add people's FriendFeed nicknames, and again, move the slider to show how much you care about their entries in FriendFeed.


I Can Choose People's Importance As Well

Having applied updates to both your interests and your neighborhood, the result from NoiseRiver is the same FriendFeed you know, but with a colored overlay which guesses how much you will take interest in an item. If I said I like "duncanriley" and "Twitter", the green bar will be well to the right. If I said I like "scobleizer" or "davewiner" a little less, the bar will only go part of the way. NoiseRiver combines both your interests and your neighborhood, rather than having to choose one over the other.


The End Result Highlights My Anticipated Interests

Back in May, I wrote that Content filters were proving evasive for social media sites. In the ensuing month-plus, both FriendFeedMachine and NoiseRiver have taken aim at the problem, by leveraging FriendFeed's flexible API.

As with both FriendFeedMachine and FFToGo, NoiseRiver is no passive experience. All three applications enable you to make comments and like items from their interface, just as you would in FriendFeed. Making comments via NoiseRiver even adds a tag of "via NoiseRiver" in FriendFeed, helping to advertise the new service, as do the others. So if you already like FriendFeed, but want to find a better way to draw your eye to those things you'll like best, and hide the rest, NoiseRiver is a strong option. It's only been out for about 24 hours, so it should be fun to see what other options come next.

Browzmi Lets You Share Browsing Experience With Friends

You name the online activity, and new services are emerging to find ways to let you share that experience with friends. There are new RSS readers with social aspects. There are any number of ways to answer the proverbial "what are you doing?" and keep friends updated, and seemingly, each day, a new site debuts to try and corral all your online updates. 

Browzmi, a small site that hasn't gotten much attention, has developed an interesting tool that lets you browse the Web together with friends, adding comments and marking favorites along the way. Unlike FriendFeed, which some aspects of Browzmi look much like, you're not adding your likes and comments to external activity, but instead to the browsed sites themselves. Further extending the social aspects of the site, Browzmi also integrates real-time XMPP-based chat, and provides each user with an RSS feed showing their activity, which can be sent to any RSS-enabled application.

Browzmi was founded in 2006 by Travis Parsons, and over time, working with a 5 person engineering team, based in Russia, Parsons has developed a service that lets friends surf the Web together. As the site's overview states, the goals are lofty:
"Browzmi is providing an environment where friends can explore, share and discover the entire web like they are there together. Browzmi is not attempting to replace your favorite websites - it wants to make your experience across your favorite websites more social by allowing you to go anywhere on the web with your friends."
-- Via Google Docs: Browzmi
There are three major parts to Browzmi. The first is "My Stuff", which includes your profile, your friends, your favorites and your updates. The second is the browser window itself. The third is an "Explore More" tool that shows you what sites your friends are viewing, and their history, while offering links to related items on Flickr and YouTube.


Browzmi shows updates from friends.

When signed into Browzmi, in any Web browser, the central portion is like a "browser within a browser". Put in a URL in the location bar of Browzmi, and it fills the center portion, while adding it to your updates and alerting friends of the new site you've found. Depending what you think of the site, you can give it a quick thumb up or thumb down,  make it a favorite, or add a comment. Browzmi de-duplicates by URL, so it's not uncommon for some sites to have dozens of up or down thumbs, and a good number of comments.


Browsing Techmeme in Browzmi's main window.

The "browser within a browser" functionality of Browzmi is surprisingly strong. It's not an emulator by any means, so any site that looks good in your standard browser looks good in Browzmi, including all plug-ins and Flash, as Browzmi leverages its environment well. You will, however, need to login to sites as cookies are not passed directly to Browzmi from your computer. Also, should you opt to keep all three sections of Browzmi open concurrently, be prepared to have a reduced-width browsing experience. Luckily, you can open or close any section at any time to get parts of your screen back.

By going to "Surf with friends", you are treated to seeing the most recent sites visited by friends on Browzmi, as well as your own activity. If they like or favorite an item, you'll see it. You can also visit Browzmi's main feed to see the most active sites, or most recent activity overall, and search by keywords for related items.

But Surfing with Friends is no passive activity. You don't just have to watch. Click on any friend's name and you can hit the "start chat" button, or view their profile. Starting a chat fires up a small window, similar to that found in Google Talk or in Facebook. This way you can, in real time, share the site you're browsing and talk about it with a friend.

There are nearly 300 users of Browzmi today, so the site is very small, but it absolutely works. If you want to do more than share what items you've liked in Google Reader, and you want to do more than show friends, via Toluu, what feeds you read, you can take things up a notch and browse the Web together using Browzmi. For a service that almost nobody has heard of, it works very well, providing a service where you no longer have to browse alone.

June 25, 2008

Smart People, Stupid Tweets. Fake News Spreads Fast on Twitter.

The combination of a rush to publish and a low barrier to entry for microblogging makes posting quick notes to Twitter extremely tempting for people who are trying to break news. In seconds, a rumor can be launched, whether true or not, and hit thousands. If those thousands then, in turn, repost your note, you've got a rapidly snowballing mess to deal with.

Today, that happened, in real time, when a few popular Twitter users, including Kevin Rose of Digg and Adam Ostrow of Mashable posted a link to a parody site, claiming the famous Jared Fogle from Subway's line of commercials had passed away. The "news", which had long been debunked as an urban legend by Snopes, spread like wildfire, catching otherwise well-respected folks like Dave Winer thinking it was true.


Kevin Rose's Tweet Kicked the Rumor In High Gear


Many, Many Others Followed Suit

(See also: FriendFeed: "I'm so gullible I believed it. Oy. - Dave Winer")

Many have claimed Twitter can break news faster than traditional news media. People were buzzing on Tim Russert's passing away on Twitter before it hit NBC, and Twitter has already proven itself a news source for natural disasters, like earthquakes. But the mainstream media largely likes to prove rumors true and get multiple sources before reporting, to this day. When Twitterers run amok and post any old yarn they've heard, there's no stopping it.

When Kevin Rose posted his Tweet, it had the potential to reach his more than 46,000 followers. The trickle-down effect hit Ostrow's 1,300 or so followers, and Summize showed the gullible Twitter crowd re-reporting the bad news multiple times a minute, reaching who knows how many people?


See: Summize: Search for Jared

See: Summize: Search for Subway

Whether you're writing a blog post or entering something on Twitter, it absolutely makes sense to take a cue from traditional media and check your facts. While the Subway Jared parody is more amusing than critical, it highlights a need for people to take a deep breath before repeating everything they hear. Twitter can be a tool for good, but for mischief as well. I would expect people like Kevin, Adam and others, proven to be intelligent in other areas, could act smart here as well.

We're Home, But One Baby Was Left Behind

This afternoon, my wife and our son Matthew were discharged from Lucille Packard Children's Hospital, four days after the arrival of our twins. And while we're excited to be home, in a comfortable environment, we have had the unenviable position of leaving Sarah, our second twin, behind. While she's expected to gain weight and strength to the point she can round out our home by the end of the week, the gap between what we had expected and what has happened is very real - leaving me feeling we're not going to be fully whole until everybody is home where they belong.

On Friday night, as I saw the pediatricians busily tending to our twins just moments after they were extracted via Caesarean section, they called out the weights of the babies. Matthew, born at 9:01, weighed in at 5 pounds even. It was less than I had hoped, but acceptable. When they called out Sarah's weight, at only four pounds, three ounces, my heart sank. She had come into the world more frail than we had hoped, and would need to work extra hard from day one.


Matthew Gray in the crib in his first night home.

I myself was a premature baby, more than 30 years ago, having been born two months ahead of schedule, and weighing in at four pounds, six ounces. A generation ago, such low birthweight was more life-threatening than it is in today's advanced medical world, and I struggled, to gain weight, to gain respiratory strength, and early on, it wasn't clear if I'd ever have full mental or physical capabilities. As my dad often jokes, "We were told you had a 50% chance of being disabled, and a 50% chance of being mentally challenged. We're still waiting to find out which one it is going to be."

When my wife and I found out we were going to have twins, we were ecstatic. Finding we were pregnant by the end of last year, and that we were having twins was amazing. We've been preparing for it as the months drew closer, as our home is fully prepped for pairs of everything - from outfits to swings, to booster chairs, and car seats. But while we knew twins would come before the full gestational period for a singleton, we certainly didn't think about having not just one, but two, lower birthweight, pre-term babies.


Google's calculator helps us know just how small Sarah is.

So far, while Matthew had met the threshold needed to stay with us since his debut, Sarah has not. While he was in the "Wellness Baby Clinic", Sarah lagged behind, in the "Special Care Nursery". Matthew stayed with us 24/7 each of the last few days, while we only could visit Sarah in 15 to 45-minute increments, to pass along milk, or to hold her and remind her she is as much a part of our family as her brother. She stayed behind, not just because of her low weight, but due to concerns she would be unable to keep her temperature regulated. And while she looks to be on the verge of being healthy enough to come home, it will be days yet. Now, we're here in Sunnyvale, and she, with the other children given a less than ideal start, is working hard at Stanford to get that chance.

It's well known that babies in their first week tend to lose as much as 10 percent of their original birthweight, before gaining it back and eventually, starting an upward trajectory, which for most Americans at least, never stops. But every night, we got an update on Sarah's weight. From 4 pounds, 3 ounces, it crept downward, to 4 pounds, 1 ounce, and eventually, to 3 pounds, 15 ounces, where it is today. Sarah has never, at her heaviest, been as big as I was when I was once considered dangerously small. And yet, we have had to put our trust in the doctors, who expect that she'll fight through the slow start and be with us soon.


Matthew only takes up half what the crib was meant to hold.

Nobody has expressed any great concerns about her humble beginnings, and the hospital is notoriously conservative. I also know that the 3 to 4 pound range isn't quite the drama it once was. But to be discharged today, and leave the hospital with just one baby instead of two makes me feel that in some way, we're already failing as parents. Our car ride home had one empty car seat. Our crib, divided for two, has only one occupant. And Sarah, who arguably needs the most help, is the only one we can't get to.

We're still very happy our twins are here, and despite their size, are healthy. I expect Sarah will be with us in just days, and that this part-time adjustment from zero kids to one to two in a week will seem like a small blip in short time, but while we've bonded with Matthew and know him well, we'll be starting almost from scratch with Sarah, and that just doesn't seem fair.

June 23, 2008

Crowdsource Software Payments to Reward Alert Developers

Not all software is free, and not all of it should be. Unless you are the type who can break out your C and Python manuals with ease, the time may come where you have an idea for a great application, and you're going to need someone else to do it. Why not leverage others who have the same need, and combine to provide a bounty, by which, if your solution is delivered to satisfaction, the developer or developers can reap the rewards directly from the end-users who will benefit from their product?

As a visible, active, FriendFeed user, I grew jealous by the success WordPress bloggers were having with Glenn Saven's nifty plug-in to show if items had received comments or "likes" from the popular social lifestreaming service. He had single-handedly developed a tool to unify conversations from disparate sources in an elegant way. But, for me, a long-time Blogger user, I was basically faced with a rock and a hard place. Migrate to WordPress, or keep my conversations separate.


This clearly wouldn't do. So, on May 25th, I said I needed a solution, writing:
Needed: FriendFeed Comments + Likes for Blogger (Old and New)

Thomas Hawk and I need your help. The WordPress bloggers are having way too much fun with getting FriendFeed likes and comments into their blog, and we using Blogger (both the old or new) can't yet do it. I am offering a $250 bounty to the developer of a solution good enough I can integrate into my blog. This would not replace Disqus, but go alongside it, as seen at the Inquisitr. Thomas and others, feel free to add to the bounty...
As much as the WordPress advocates wanted me to just switch blogging platforms (and I respect their views), I was looking for somebody to develop a solution that could help other FriendFeed users in the same predicament I was. After all, what was more likely? That you would see a lot of people make an exodus to a new platform for want of a widget, or that many people on Blogger would find the FriendFeed widget useful? I was willing to pay $250 to make this happen, and I wanted others to pay as well.

By June 16th, Pat Hawks had a solution worth paying money for, and Thomas Hawk agreed. He wrote, "I'm good for a match."


In the space of less than 30 days, I had helped spur an alert developer to create a fantastic solution which I have in place today, and one that continues to improve. Pat, for his efforts, not only gained at least the $500 from Thomas and me, but now has a great deal more awareness and respect across the FriendFeed community and the blogosphere at large. I bet that with platforms like FriendFeed, Twitter and others having direct, immediate, connections to people on the "demand" and "supply" side of the fence, this won't be the last time you see a crowdsourced method for getting software developed.


I am all too happy to give Pat $250, and I'm headed to PayPal now. In this age when you have developers trying to compete with free software and Web services, why not encourage them to build something that you would use, and offer them real cash? If you get enough friends together, you could end up with a serious code competition on your hands.

See also: WinExtra: Crowdsourcing a tech interview

Is Your Web Getting Filtered? What's Blocked or Unlocked?

Entering our third full day here at Lucille Packard Childrens' Hospital with our twins, I have to say I'm impressed with the easy access to high-speed wireless Web. For me, wireless high-speed access is a must, and I don't have much to complain about. Interestingly, the hospital's system, by default, has instituted filters, in theory to protect them legally, and maybe to conserve on bandwidth. This doesn't bother me too much, but as I surf, seemingly with one hand tied behind my back, I find that the sites they've opted to block, and those they've allowed to go through at times have me scratching my head.

I noticed I couldn't log into my Mac Mail via the desktop application right away, but Webmail was fine. I later noticed some sites were blocked when I tried to visit Athletics Nation and follow yesterday's A's game. Safari reported being unable to visit the site. I checked other Sports Blogs Nation sites. Those too, were all down.


A Sample of Approved Sites and Those Blocked


Then, after many on FriendFeed had demanded some early photos of Sarah and Matthew, I tried to take the pictures I had from the last two days and post them to Flickr, feeding the beast. But they were blocked. Then, I tried to log on to my FTP site and upload them to louisgray.com directly. No dice, again.


Sorry, can't upload via FTP!

Luckily, I did find a work-around. By sending the photos via the great Mail2FF program, as attachments, the photos themselves were saved on Amazon's Web Service and archived there. (It's the same way I "cheated" and got FriendFeed to host the graphics in this post for me)

After last night's post on my 10 beliefs in blogging and the Web, I saw someone had posted the story to Hacker News. But I couldn't see who, again, thanks to it being blocked.

IM Blocked: iChat and Google Talk don't get through.

The blocking seems well intended, but random. It makes sense that I shouldn't have access to Fleshbot or AdultFriendFinder (mind you, I just checked them to see if they were filtered), but it makes less sense to have sites like Sports Blogs Nation blocked, when ESPN.com is approved, or to have Hacker News blocked if Techmeme is given a pass.

I'm lucky that I usually don't encounter Web filters. I have free-flowing access at home and at work, and this weekend's experience has been outside the norm. If you are filtered, whether it be at work, at school, or at the library, what sites have you found blocked that you think are wrongly stopped? I'm curious to see if this setup is too aggressive, or in line with your own experience.

June 22, 2008

What I Believe: My 10 Web and Blogging Expectations

Sometimes, when I talk to people about why I blog, and what I set out to accomplish through covering what I do, and engaging where I do, I say that I am trying to help shape the Web, and blogging as a whole, to be what I want it to be - a better community with some strong standards for engagement, ownership, news gathering and innovation. Over time, as the number of posts here has racked up, you can see some of these core elements throughout the site. As an exercise, I thought I'd outline my beliefs, and I'm eager to hear your comments, whether these are shared or we disagree.

1. I Believe You Should Enjoy What You Do

Whether you are are the co-founder of a hot startup, an entry-level programmer at a technology monolith, a blogger, or simply a fan of social networking tools, you should be sure you're doing what you're doing because you enjoy it, and at its core, it brings you happiness. At times, I've seen people succumb to the stress of posting every day, of racing up or down the comparative measures out there, or slog day in and day out at companies because they're too unmotivated to seek an alternative. Even on those days when the work required seems overwhelming, it's worth stepping back and saying, "Are you having fun still?" As Steve Jobs told a graduating class at Stanford University a few years ago, if the answer is no too many times in a row, it's time to think about doing something else.

When you're not having fun, it shows. Your work gets sloppier. Your posts get crankier. You start talking more about how much time it's taking, how much pressure you're feeling. And when that happens... take a deep breath, or take a break. Reevaluate why it is you're doing what you do.

2. I Believe In Supporting and Promoting Innovation

Without an entrepreneurial spirit, change in our technology landscape would be muted. Innovation can be sparked from a single idea, whether creating a new market, or simply improving a new one. When I see potential, I want to highlight it, and work as a partner with the team aiming to deliver a new experience, and fulfilling their dreams.

Often, a rush to call "foul" on a product, to give it a negative label, or call failure, is done more to grab attention than through benevolence. You're not doing the innovator a favor, or their potential users a favor, but seeing the glass half full.

3. I Believe In Trusting First, Looking for Holes Later

For the most part, people don't start businesses or create products with ill intent. New services crop up every day, and the overwhelming number are there to help you learn something new, find something more quickly, or reach peers in a new way. As it can be relatively inexpensive to launch new Web services, or to start blogs, there are, simply put, tons of them out there. Many do very similar things. But at their core, most are well-intended.

For every spammer or troll, content scraper or hacker, there are thousands of others working on the right side of the law. And sometimes, when it looks like a service might be on the border of what's "right" and what's "wrong", I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, so the entrepreneur can explain themselves. I also believe that every service out there, from those a day old, to the market monoliths of Google and Microsoft, has issues. It can be fun to focus on those issues, but unless they completely disrupt the user experience to the point the product is unusable, I feel the product owner is both aware of them, and is working behind the scenes to make the product more robust, faster, and more fully featured.

4. I Believe In Equal Access to Tools and Opportunity

I believe in the availability of free or inexpensive services that enable people to broadcast, share and collaborate. I believe that for-profit institutions should make efforts to spread the availability of the Internet, broadband and wireless access to bring this information spigot to people everywhere, regardless of their financial or geographical status.

5. I Believe In Portability Of Content and Clear Ownership

I believe that products should enable support for open standards, such that data can be simply exported and imported from one service to another. I believe that these open standards should be deployed such that content, be it blog posts, news, comments or other actionable items (be it up/down votes, likes, avatars, etc.) be easily transferred, while retaining clear ownership by the original individual performing the activity. This portability should be developed in such a way that the third-party service, the content creator, and the person reaction to said content, all have the option to approve or disapprove portability or modification.

In those cases where full portability is not yet available, I believe services have an obligation to state their intentions to move toward an API, an open standard, display best intentions, or publicly declare their position to keep data siloed, buyer beware.

6. I Believe In Giving Credit Where It Is Due

I believe in bloggers giving best effort to determining the original source of news, and providing linkage, especially when the alternative is to link internally. I believe in making it clear who the entrepreneurs are behind services, and displaying a human face to what could otherwise be a personless brand.

I believe in displaying clear attribution for the source of quotes, paraphrasing or other use of third-party content, even if it is from what's considered a competitor.

7. I Believe In Supporting The Little Guy, While Not Hating the Leader

I believe in giving a new service or a small company its unfair share of support and coverage, as they make a valid attempt to enter a market. I believe in helping the service clarify their message, their features and benefits to the point they achieve critical mass on par with other market leaders. I believe that this presumed bias can be shown without disparaging leading services, or holding ill will against those already having achieved success.

8. I Believe In Transparency and the Removal of Barriers

I believe that those services who make their intentions, their product plans, and their updates clear to users and partners will achieve a higher level of success and trust than those that do not. I believe that company representatives should be easily accessible through clear methods, and should give best efforts to rapidly respond to feature requests, downtime or other concerns.

I believe that activities or barriers which reduce transparency, reduce access to company representatives and create confusion will be extremely damaging, reducing trust and good will.

Similarly, bloggers should be extremely reachable and should display and pre-existing biases, monetary engagements or sponsorships, be there any.

9. I Believe In The Ability to Disagree Without Ill Will

I believe that it is absolutely possible for multiple people to look at the same data set or service and achieve completely-differing conclusions and perspectives, without meaning either person to be lacking in intellect or experience. In the event that disagreements do occur, I recommend open communication and statement of beliefs will be much more successful at proving a point than labels, one liners or personal attacks.

In parallel, services can expect that not every review will be one they want to print out and send home to mom. If the author's found to not have a conflict of interest, efforts should be made to expose that, but otherwise, it can be assumed there might be some valid points, even in the most vile of screeds.

10. I Believe In Finding New Ways To Find, Share, Manipulate Data

I believe that the creation of data and content is nearing commodity status. New blogs and services debut every minute and die almost as quickly. But each month brings new and exciting ways to manipulate, share or otherwise locate the best data, through the launch of new social networks, aggregators, search engines, or semantic tools. The services we all use today will almost with certainty be different than those we use next year at this time.

It is with these 10 tenets, and likely more, that I look to engage. Through my small voice here, I believe I have been lucky enough to play a role in discussing how blogs give attribution, how they prioritize external links vs. internal links, the growing issue of RSS repurposing and comment fragmentation. I've tried to support the little guys and highlight individuals doing innovation. I've made a small number of negative posts, in contrast to my more supportive posts, and avoided throwing the second stone at times when my views weren't universal. The Web, and our ability in the blogosphere to impact it and play a role, is ever changing and exciting to me.

June 21, 2008

The Gray Family Doubles Overnight. Welcome Matthew and Sarah!

I'll hope you can excuse my not posting anything here yesterday. You see, yesterday we were somewhat busy. Shortly after 9 p.m. yesterday night, my wife, Kristine, and I welcomed two new arrivals into our home - Matthew David Gray and Sarah Elizabeth Gray. After about 35 1/2 weeks of gestation, the pair emerged somewhat early, and definitely on the small side, but all signs point to them both being healthy and strong, even if we start slow.

In what I believe was a Web first, I tried to chronicle the proceedings, as best as I was able, using FriendFeed and Twitter in combination. Robert Scoble famously covered son Milan's arrival via Twitter and others have followed suit. But with FriendFeed offering me the best community and conversational platform, combined with great WiFi here at Lucille Packard Childrens' Hospital, I wanted to take advantage.

Thursday at 10:40 p.m.

Thursday night, the process kicked off when my wife's water broke. Having passed the 32 week mark earlier, when we knew it was "safe" to have our kids, we knew the time was imminent. We had hoped for a July 1 arrival, around 37 weeks, but we were as ready as possible, if any parents are ever ready.

Dog-sitting in Palo Alto, I had to turn around to Sunnyvale, finish packing her hospital bag, grab some things and turn back around. Somehow I did this without breaking any speed limits or running red lights.

Meanwhile, Kristine had started contractions, and was measuring around 10 minutes apart.

Friday at 12:30 a.m.

After coming back to Palo Alto, Kristine and I headed to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital and checked in. She was monitored, and contractions were definitely present. June 20th was going to be the day the twins were coming.

Friday at 12:53 a.m.

I wrote a quick note, using TwitAbit, to Twitter, saying, "For those who are curious... today is going to be the day. The "Schwag Magnet" twins are coming. Don't expect minute by minute updates."

The twins had often been referred to as "Schwag Magnets" by Cyndy of Profy and others, thanks to my call for them to wear Web-branded apparel at the end of March. There's even a FriendFeed room dedicated to "Schwag Magnets" and parents of all types.

My quick Tweet set FriendFeed abuzz, as you can see here. I tried to post updates every once in a while, saying contractions were 4-5 mintues apart, and that we would be there for a while.

Robert Scoble bet the twins would be "here by noon", and reminded us to "Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!"

I later checked in and said contractions were down to 2-3 minutes apart. But as time went forward, and there wasn't too much progression, FriendFeed got antsy, and of course, so did we.

Friday at 1:30 p.m.

After 12+ hours of early labor, things were not progressing as quickly as we had hoped. I updated people on Twitter again, only jokingly saying, "Twins still not here well after @scobleizer's 12 noon expected deadline. www.blamescoble.com"

Fellow FriendFeeders also noticed I'd managed to work in my usual Web activity between contractions.

While Kristine kept pushing, and contractions kept getting measured, the labor wasn't progressing all that much. Every few hours, the nurses and doctor would come in, only to find dilation was extremely slow. What was expected to go at a pace of 1 cm per hour was more like 1 cm per 3 hours, and eventually, no progression at all.

Friday at 3 p.m.

Superstitiously, I got out of my A's shirt, which I'd been wearing all day, and put on a Disqus T-shirt I got from Daniel Ha in our last visit. Given their success, I was hoping something would rub off. (Again, I updated Twitter.)

Friday at 7 p.m.

Kristine and I soon came to the same conclusion the doctors had - trying to continue with a vaginal delivery wasn't going to work. 20 hours after the water had broken, and 19 hours into the labor, we had stalled. The kids were in great shape, showing healthy heartbeats, but it was time to consider having a C-Section. It was something we wanted to avoid, but to avoid infection, and be sure to see our kids well, we agreed to move forward.

This time, I updated FriendFeed only, and not Twitter, saying only: "C-Section Imminent. Won't be Long Now. (Wish us Luck!)"

Friday at 9:01 p.m.

Matthew David Gray arrived, weighing in at 5 pounds even, measuring 47 centimeters.

Friday at 9:03 p.m.

Sarah Elizabeth Gray arrived, weighing in at 4 pounds, 3 ounces, measuring 47 centimeters.

Friday at 11:00 p.m.

After checking Sarah into the NICU, and Matthew into the nursery, I returned to find Kristine in recovery. Getting her approval, I updated Twitter and FriendFeed, saying: "Baby Grays are here! The boy clocked in at 9:01 at 5 pounds, and the girl weighed in at 4 pounds, 3 oz at 9:02. Both healthy.” (Note I was off on the second time by a minute)

After a long day of waiting, FriendFeed erupted with congratulations, and so did Twitter. See the Summize stream!

Now

It's amazing to imagine how much people care, given our interactions are often so virtual, but I have to impress upon you how appreciative we are.

The twins' small size was expected, but not to such a degree. In fact, our latest ultrasound, 10 days prior, had expected Matthew to already be 5 pounds, 1 ounce, and Sarah at 4 pounds, 8 ounces. But we were near the margin of error. While the kids had all their fingers and toes, and responded to stimulation, Sarah's tiny size has guaranteed her a stay in the NICU. Matthew is in the nursery, and spent the night with Kristine and me, as we alternated holding him and catching some sleep.

I promise we will deliver pictures soon. We have only a few already. The twins' arrival was very visible, and we hope to keep you updated, between feedings, diapers and everything else. It's not like we're the first parents ever to have kids, but it's the first time we've ever done it. I'm glad to have been able to share the experience with you. More very soon.

June 19, 2008

RSSmeme Creator Served With Legal Threat Over RSS Shares

The foundation of RSS is in its syndication (the second 'S'). A feed, published from one location, can be read in a different location, whether it be a feed reader, a blog widget, a lifestreaming application or any number of aggregation services. The simplicity in sharing has also led some to worry about where their content goes when they hit "Publish", as, often, they lose control over where it can go.

Today, RSSmeme's Benjamin Golub, who has developed a tracker for the most popular shared items on Google Reader, saw one unhappy publisher threaten him with legal action after she had found her feed included in the service.

The RSSmeme service utilizes Google Reader's shared link blogs as its underlying database. Those items that receive the most shares from Google Reader rise to the top, and Benjamin, over the last few months, has updated the service to sort by categories, by languages, and highlight the most active users and tags. But one thing he doesn't do is hand-select the content displayed. That's done by the thousands and thousands of people using Google Reader every day, and sharing new items. So when he received a takedown request by e-mail, he was a little surprised.

Talking with him by phone this afternoon, he said the complainant's feed had only been shared two times, by a single sharer. But she had essentially penned an e-mail saying to "remove all content, or I will send a lawyer."

Not eager to have legal trouble, Benjamin removed the offending shares, and recommended to the publisher that her feeds be set to broadcast as partial feeds, not full feeds, assuming she was concerned her content was being stolen, or used in a commercial way. Benjamin told me that he anticipated such a threat might happen once he posted ads on the RSSmeme site, but said with rising Web hosting costs, monetizing in some way soon became necessity.

"When I started RSSmeme, it only cost $20 a month, and (due to site growth), it doesn't cost that much any more," he told me. Since launch, costs have more than tripled, and the Google-sourced ads are used to offset any out of pocket expenses.

While Benjamin considers his options, at the time, he has globally altered settings on RSSmeme to show only the excerpts of feeds, removing the ability to read an entire blog post on the site, the same approach taken by Shyftr back in April when similar complaints arose.

The issue of how RSS-enabled content is monetized, where comments lie, and who has full control over blog entries isn't going away any time soon. Even if Benjamin never hears back from the woman threatening to take him to court, it's definitely got him rattled, and once again is stirring up discussion, as you can see on FriendFeed.

June 18, 2008

twitAbit Debuts as New Service to Escape Twitter Downtime

Many Twitter users have a love/hate relationship with the service. They love what it does, helping people communicate in real time, from the Web or their mobile phones, but they hate that it hasn't scaled to meet demand. In its place, a new crop of services is rising to work around the downtime. The latest, debuting today, is called twitAbit, which leverages store and forward capabilities to ensure that Twitter fail doesn't ensure your own fail.

The Twitter "fail whale" is well known and a great number of users are looking for a way out. Some have left Twitter. Some are just using it less. Others have moved on, to Plurk, to FriendFeed, or Pownce. But leaving Twitter comes at a high cost for those who have invested time in building relationships, and in some cases, thousands of followers. Even despite the many outages, the vast majority of Twitter's user base has largely stuck it out, hoping for better times.


But if those better times don't come right away, twitAbit is prepared. The service offers a simple form, asking for your user name and password, what you are doing, and a link. It appears to be a project of betaworks, and was announced on the switchAbit Web site, which RSS and blogging guru Dave Winer announced back in May.

At the time of posting, Winer promised Flickr to Twitter functionality, and a second Twitter application, most likely twitAbit, Although it's not 100% clear, he has spoken of a need for a decentralized Twitter, and this could be the first step.

Also: You can see Winer's first "tweet" from twitAbit back on June 13th.

ReadBurner Revamps Stats Pages, Expanding Shared Items Analysis

The ReadBurner team continues to make enhancements to the popular Web site dedicated to showing the most popular items shared on Google Reader and Netvibes. Tonight, in advance of their weekly podcast, featuring MG Siegler of ParisLemon and VentureBeat as a guest, they are rolling out upgrade statistics showing the most popular sources, displaying the average number of shares per story for a given author or source in the system.

In a change from the service's previous methodology, the new reports are intended to reward consistency, meaning that a site won't gain from one-time spikes around a popular story, and won't get more prominence due to a higher frequency of posting.


The new stats, seen at http://www.readburner.com/stats, come only a week after RSSmeme debuted new sidebar widgets that show the top tags and top users for the day, as well as widgets that can show who are the most frequent sharers of a specific blog. You can see the "Top Sharers" on the right side of this page to see who shares content from louisgray.com, as well as the tags I use the most to describe my posts.

Both sites are making strides to expand away from simply counting the data to helping analyze it. Both sites also gave a nod today to the morning's news that Chris Wetherell, the main architect behind the amazing Google Reader, will be leaving the company. Had it not been for his efforts, and Google Reader's growth, neither site would exist.

These, and other topics, will undoubtedly be part of the night's discussion with MG. You can tune in here.

Fav.or.it Opens Up, Reminds Us of Google News for Blogs

When I first learned of Fav.or.it, I thought the site was going to try and take on the powerhouse Google Reader, as a next-generation RSS reader with social features and integrated commenting back to the site. Not meeting those expectations, I didn't give my beta experience a very favorable review.

Now that Fav.or.it is finally here, the service has tried to make it more clear that it's about trying to reach "the masses" and not the odd early adopter (like me). The result, so far, is a portal-like service that looks a lot like Google News in terms of prioritization of stories and categorization, but utilizing blog content instead of mainstream media.


The top story on Fav.or.it on Wednesday morning

The change in strategy, or at least the change in my understanding the strategy, makes me both less interested in picking them apart, and less interested in making part of my daily consumption, so far. But I'm not exactly the target audience. For what it's worth, I don't read Google News either.

Fav.or.it's front page says it's "Bringing blogging to the masses." Note no mention of RSS or feeds. It has a top story, although it's unclear how that's determined, it features a section of recent posts, called "Brand Spanking New", and highlights many other facets of news and blog categorization you're used to, including "Tags", "Most Commented", and topics, such as Technology, News, Business, and Culture. Clicking through any of those topics leads you to the full copies of stories generated elsewhere, but integrated into Fav.or.it's look and feel.

Duncan Riley of the Inquisitr calls Fav.or.it's new approach "splogging", essentially repurposing other people's content and aiming to make a profit, potentially in violation of copyright. Nick Halstead, the site's creator, responds in the comments there that by blog authors implementing Creative Commons, having the option to feed comments back to the original source, and being able to opt in or opt out of the site, this should reduce any concerns.

I don't share Duncan's concerns in this case. I've always erred on the side of letting RSS readers and sites innovate in new ways to present my feed content, and I expect that as RSS enables full feeds to be displayed, there will be some new and interesting ways they are shown from one site to another. For every reader who sees my full content elsewhere and chooses not to visit my site, there's another who does come in and becomes a regular, so those sites can serve as free advertising.

What Fav.or.it does do well is deliver a clean-looking site, with a strong amount of underlying data, easily findable. There's clearly a robust underlying database of stories and metadata around tags and comments powering the site, but it does a much better job than other sites, like Technorati, who have tried to make blog posts a valid replacement for mainstream media. If, in fact, the common layperson chose to get their news from Fav.or.it instead of say, Google News, it would clearly expose them to a wealth of new sources for stories. It might also get them comfortable with the concepts of comments and tags, things we've long taken for granted.

In fact, Fav.or.it's efforts in the comment portability process should be lauded. At launch, the service claims to support many different commenting engines, meaning comments placed on Fav.or.it flow back to the original blog. They don't support threaded conversations, believing simple threads are preferred, but again, in theory, this might be less complicated for the blogging newbie. (See more in Nick's launch blog post: Bringing Blogging to the Masses)

Talking about Fav.or.it now, as TechCrunch has with their piece, Fav.or.it Finally Opens Beta To Take RSS And Commenting Mainstream, makes me feel wistful, like when you go to the graduation of a son or daughter leaving junior college when they once were offered a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League school. Sure, you're proud of them, I guess, but it's tempting to wonder what might have been, and what they could have been if they'd just taken your advice or gone a different direction, they have so much talent.

Fav.or.it might have a hit on its hands with people who are nothing like me. There sure are a lot of them out there. But for now, it's a destination site displaying content I've either already seen in my RSS reader, or didn't care to see anyway. As a start page, it could work very well, and as a blogging ambassador it works well, and I'll probably just have to accept that maybe this is what they wanted to be when they grew up.