Saturday, December 31, 2005

Being a defensive Web 2.0 data consumer

Proper handling of the inevitable evil of outages/downtime in a Web 2.0 world from a data consuming standpoint is critical. In an evolving environment where access to information is opening up and entire sites are often based exclusively on the data of others, programmers have to take into consideration situations when such assets might not be available.

On a marketing level we can scheme, dream and strategize all we want about the commercial potentials of (re)distributing, using and sharing data in new and creative ways, but tenets we have to solidify from a standpoint of responsible engineering are:
For instance, sites referencing a JavaScript file on a remote server that auto-imports news headlines open themselves up to a potentially catastrophic threat in the event that the host encounters compromised quality of service due to downtime, server reboots, memory leaks, a denial of service attack or general network latency. Headaches can range from simple but annoying JavaScript errors to more critical concerns like page timeouts due to extraordinary waiting. And that's just a simple client-side technique. Server-based applications experiencing outages can more dramatically threaten the stability of a site relying on your data to be there.

Unfortunately as developers we can't normally directly control how a client consumes our data, and we can only hope such is done in ways proactively taking into account possible losses of service. As an example of how to code defensively when bringing in remote data, consider the following C# block, used in a .NET 1.x web client obtaining data from a remote web service:

if(Cache["RemoteData"] == null)
{
// if the Cache object doesn't contain data, call the web service
GetData();
}

// apply the data from the Cache some page-level DIV element
someDIV.Text = (string)Cache["RemoteData"];

private void GetData()
{
string theData = string.Empty;

try

{
// 1. do a data fetch operation by calling a web service (could also be I/O on a remote file, reading-in an RSS feed, etc.)
SomeWebService ws = new SomeWebService();
theData = ws.FetchData();

// 2. place the data in a caching layer relative to the executing application and expire it in a reasonable amount of time
Cache.Insert("RemoteData",theData,null,DateTime.Now.AddHours(3),Cache.NoSlidingExpiration,null,null);
}
catch(Exception e)
{
// in the event of a server error, cache a temporary message that expires quicker, assuming the data source will come back up soon
theData = "The remote source is unavailable. Please try again later!";
Cache.Insert("RemoteData",theData,null,DateTime.Now.AddMinutes(20),Cache.NoSlidingExpiration,null,null);
}
}


But examples such as this from a consumer standpoint are utopian, and I'd dare guess the vast minority. Most people are going to hack away and get at your data, not accounting for possible stoppage of service, and then be very unhappy when outages prevent them from getting at it, or negatively impact their site.

So how do we encourage those who consume our data to program defensively so that performance degradations, including total absence of service, won't bring their entire site down? We establish patterns. We publish formal documentation containing examples from as many languages and platforms - vendor and open source - as we can, to appease the masses and at least recommend a uniform mechanism of access. We release downloadable libraries that perform operations in a best-practices way (Ruby on Rails does this nicely with the Prototype JavaScript library for AJAX functionality). We conduct smart programming overall and evangelize the same for those who grab our stuff. The result is a base level of control.

And we not only educate - we learn from those who are smarter than us, adopting their practices and innovative ways to not only work with, but workaround our data, to ensure quality control and quality of service.

ReverseDOS eliminates need for CAPTCHAs

My pal Chris Frazier was nice enough to point me to a tool to eliminate spam on an ASP.NET blogging app I'd built that's been getting hit with comment spam lately. ReverseDOS by AngryPets apparently goes beyond the normative CAPTCHA and runs as an .NET HttpModule beneath traffic to thwart comment and referer spam.

I've got a couple other uses for this type of utility, so this is really gonna come in handy.

Thanks Chris!

Strange news means clickthroughs

Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times notes how the most-viewed article on the paper's site in 2005 was about a guy who died after having sex with a horse. He says:
As I look back at the year in news, it's clear I should have focused more on people having sex with horses.
Hilarious. What's more, several of the Times' other top-trafficked articles were follow-ups about the same story. Of course they were. People gravitate towards the strange, the unusual, and the misfortune of others.

In similar fashion to Danny's analysis, in 2004 I recapped the 31 most-clicked news articles on my station's site, and right at the top were stories about corruption within the local government and two cousins that got into a knife fight after arguing who could drink more. Basically, people embarrassing themselves. I wrote of the mental interest patterns exhibited by our users, evident in their clickthroughs, noting what kinds of stories drew readership:
It's the same mentality that promotes keywords like "nipple slip" to the top of so many search engine stat reports. While we as journalists strive to produce the best news stories we can with fair, objective coverage, people will always be driven to the odd. Largely because it's not happening to them. It's around this time of year that we're reminded that no matter how compelling our storytelling may be, despite our sincerest editorial skills, regardless of our interviewing savvy or ability as wordsmiths, people are always going to stare at the train wreck.

Auld Lang Syne.

I made my own Top 10 list!

Our list is the Top 12 actually, referring to the most-viewed stories on KUAM.COM for 2005. I ran a query on all page requests earlier in the week and updated it last night for a story I did on the news, coinciding with our obligatory "Top 10 Stories of 2005" series we produced for TV. Of the more than 4,200 stories we published online this year, my rollout announcement of our VOD service came in at #12.

Not bad. It shows that new media is starting to catch on out here in TechnicalNeverNeverLand (the place where tech never wants to grow up). While they didn't make the list, similar news pieces I produced that generated a lot of traffic dealt with our broadband service, our KUAM Search API, RSS feeds, photostreams, podcasts, and our free local music delivery service.

We're finally moving away from the sorely outdated days of people hanging out in chatrooms and forums, using handles, pseudonyms and monikers, still under the delusion that they're truly operating anonymously. This is new media. More local people are starting to blog, and there's even a podcast or two popping up.

Things are starting to look up in my hometown!

Ensuring great audio quality from Skype interviews

Here's another post-production tips & tricks tutorial I did for Windows podcasters, showing you how to balance out sound levels in Audacity before and after placing VoIP calls in Skype.

Optimizing MP3 exporting in Audacity for podcasts

I've been noticing more and more podcasts popping up from technical users running Windows, who surprisingly don't have a knack for producing good-sounding audio. It's hard to enjoy great content behind static ambient sound, and general noise. I'm recycling a tutorial I did several months back to help.

Learn how to get the best quality for your Windows-produced podcasts using Audacity.

User-generated content drives opportunities in online publishing

New media advocate Robin Good gives his predictions on how content development is going to open up next year. "The best is yet to come in 2006," he writes, "as publishers and technology companies vie for the hearts of publishing-savvy users looking for personal and professional content."

He also states: "You'll need real-time tea leaves to keep up with the content deals in 2006."

This is a must-read for amateurs, professionals and DIY'ers alike.

Are perpetual betas really such bad things?

Strangely, a lot of the feedback I'm getting from well-versed technical people about Web 2.0 doesn't fare well for the concept of releasing software in perpetual beta. Is this really such a bad thing?

A canonical example I cite is the dictionary that ships with Microsoft Word. Once MS rolls out a product update, that's that, until the next version on CD comes out or the user downloads add-ons. I've pretty much given up using Shift+F7 to look for meaning and antonyms, now using Dictionary.com and its family of wordsmith sites. Those aren't exactly the first URLs that comes to mind when thinking of Web 2.0, but they do leverage the fact that being web-based, they can make changes to the core application as often as they want and instantly re-release the software, with most users being none the wiser. And they don't have to worry about cross-platform ports.

We can only assume that the Windows dictionary is mirrored on the Mac version of Word.

Maybe developers don't like the label implying products that are eternally unfinished, but the quality control aspect is the key. Flexibility, QA and choice are what make the concept a new driving force in software development. I'm puzzled why so many people are rejecting the theory.

Three programming patterns I'd like to see more of in '06

I'd like to see several programming patterns get a lot of platform-specific and platform-agnostic play in 2006, such that we might all be able to roll our own implementations and really do some cool things in the vein of Web 2.0. If user-generated content is the future of online publishing, we have to embrace new ways of letting people submit stuff to us outside of the browser.

Here are the top three I'd like to see:
What I'm planning on doing is rolling my own implementation of all three patterns, to be released as public APIs into my gallery of services. This way, while encouraging distant-end developers to mash-up and remix our data, we're also passing along some of the core features of the product.

On that note, I enjoy Michael Mahemoff's blog/podcast "Software As She's Developed" for the very reason that he's big into patterns and often discusses their use in more than one major platform.

Google Reader 'Blog This!' popup now supports rich text

I enjoy Google Reader as my primary RSS aggregator, and I was stoked to discover just now that the 'Blog This!' popup window that opens now supports WYSIWYG rich text editing for publishing blog posts to Blogger. It previously displayed only raw HTML, forcing you to do manual coding, but now it's seamless from the UI used in Blogger.

I haven't tried this on my OS X box yet, which doesn't play well with Blogger's UI anyway, but the Windows version is appreciated.

Nice job, and thanks guys!

Book lists open source alternatives to Windows, Office

I may have to pick up a copy of Tony Bove's book inline with my yearlong open source research project. Check out the review of "Open-Source Alternatives To Microsoft Windows Operating Systems and Applications: "Just Say No To Microsoft". It discusses why it's not that hard to break away from Windows and Office.

Some of the Amazon reviews say the book is too overly anti-MS, which I feared, but I'll give it a shot. The accompanying site's not bad, either.

Type "safety" of objects in Ruby

One thing that's surprised me as a newbie Ruby on Rails programmer after nearly a decade of Microsoft DNA and eventually .NET development is the type assignment and "safety" (if you want to call it that) inherent within objects. Truly OOP, everything in Ruby is an object, but consider the following Ruby statement:
"JasonSalas" * 4
This outputs "JasonSalasJasonSalasJasonSalasJasonSalas". In VBScript, where everything is a variant, this would have thrown a type mismatch error, and this would likewise be a big Exception no-no in .NET. Normal string concatenation is preserved, but this impressed me at first, both positively and negatively.

Has Flash supplanted Java?

Here's a compelling argument: has Flash, with its ActionScript becoming more and more powerful as a client-side developmental platform, completely wiped Java out of the picture in that space?
There was a time when anyone expecting to do great things in Web application development was expected to know — or at least, to learn — Java. It promised to be, after all, a truly portable, platform-independent, programming environment that offered security, robust features and an interpreted, easy-to-comprehend, object-oriented language structure. It could even be run within a browser thanks to a ubiquitous plug-in.

In other words, it promised the Web everything that Macromedia Flash delivered.
With so much attention these days devoted to the Flash vs. AJAX debate, has Java already been stepped over as a legitimate platform for creating great Web applications?

In memoriam: Podcast Specification Working Group

I'm waiting for a response to my e-mail request to join the Web 2.0 Workgroup. I hope it works out, with me having a little experience in special interest communities under my belt. While I ponder topics to blog about relative to creating next-gen user experiences, software development and content distribution on the Web, one bittersweet memory I'll take away from 2005 is having worked with Chaim Krause, a great guy, on his Podcast Specification Working Group.

Chaim initially penned the memorable blog post "An Open Letter to the Podcasting Community", in which he put out a casting call for developers, architects, podcasters and online multimedia experts to join him in his interest in furthering podcasting. I did, becoming involved with a very impressive roster that included on the distribution list platform co-founder Adam Curry. This was my first experience in a formal working group dealing with computer issues and subsequently my first foray with BaseCamp, which rules.

The PSWG's mission was to establish, among other things, a universal recommendation for adopting single-click subscription in podcast aggregation clients. The release of iTunes 4.9 in late June consequently wrecked that notion. A near-instantaneous worldwide embrace of the medium from mainstream audiences, new bandwidth and data transfer challenges for content creators and a suddenly heavily Apple-influenced podcastosphere drew much of the attention away from conversations within the PSWG that were making some decent progress.

I remember the liveliness of the discussions within the group - lots of open source gurus and people from LAMP shops. Lots of things to learn. A few expected attitudes, but no real deliberate flamers. I was the first, and if I recall correctly, only one of a handful of .NET developers to join; I was going to make my main contribution translation of the Java and/or Python code to C# for the world's benefit.

The threads started becoming less lively after the post-iTunes fallout, and eventually died out altogther. A last-ditch effort by Chaim to rally his troops and either continue discussions or voluntarily submit to the tidal surge of corporate marketing and developmental push ultimately proved fruitless. The PSWG had dried up. But maybe that was the point - the platform, at thay point having reached its first growth spurt, wasn't ready for formal ratification at that stage in the game.

Of note: single-click subscription, even in a Web with ever-expanding creative uses of Flash and AJAX, still largely hasn't panned out for podcasts. And sadly, the Blogger-based URL used by the PWSG has evidently been relinquished, now belonging to the band "Porn Stars With Guitars". Any historical documentation of the events and people involved are relegated to Google's cache or blogs like this one.

So tip a 40, take a moment of silence, leave a few extra pennies in the tip jar or do whatever you have to do to remember the tragic end to a really great idea. Chaim did what few do - stick his neck out on behalf of the community in the name of progress. He deserves a tip of the cap for his efforts.

History may not remember his contribution as a major milestone in the evolution of podcasting, but I think it's worth merit here.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Test drive Ruby programming in a browser

If you're interested in Ruby programming on a fairweather level but don't want to download/install stuff you'll never use, try out this browser-based tutorial. It's guided, only takes 15 minutes and is powered by AJAX, so you won't aimlessly screw with syntax, endlessly reload pages and wind up going nowhere.

Very helpful!

An academic analysis of bullshit

A great read is Petter Naessan's dissection of the book "On Bullshit" by moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt, specifically the distinct differences between bullshit and lying. Noted is how the BS can actually be more inherently dangerous than lying.

Finally someone supports what I've been saying for years.

NBC affiliates test market new site design

As a software developer I've always been of the mindset of building something really special on your own. We've taken this approach in our own site design. I've got no problem with pre-fab site designs in news sites, I just think the same concept applied over numerous entities gets contrived and makes it harder to establish originality.

NBC-owned & operated stations are test driving a new layout and functional page design. Several CBS affiliates also used a shared concept. Not bad - I'm interested in seeing how this turns out.

NBA All-Star Game: it's all about dunks

The shooting guard is truly the loneliest guy on an NBA all-star team. The early leaders through two rounds of All-Star balloting, and those making waves on the ballots proves a concept everyone's known for years - it's all about the dunks. Those getting big vote support from the fans have big-time skills, at least in part, above the rim.

Make no mistake about it - no one wants to see great defense, pick-and-rolls or timely shooting in all-star games. Take it to the hole and throw the damn thing through with reckless abandon. And not just dunks - half-court alleyoops, T-Mac's backboard self-feeds and rim-rocking gorilla jams in people's grills.

The dunk competition is ridiculous, but better than it's been in recent years. Bring back the format that Jordan, 'Nique and Spud Webb dominated.

You produce my TV sports show

I'm trying something different over the next few weeks. I'm going to give the online community the ability to produce my sportstalk TV show, "JockTalk". You'll be able to pick the topics, submit the questions and determine the flow of each week's show. Basically, I'll be your puppet, ask guests the questions you want, and give my opinion in the only way I know how about anything having to do with sports.

The cool part is that I'm using Writely to manage the ongoing rundown of the show. I put in a template of the segments within my 30-minute show, so just browse to/bookmark this URL: http://www.writely.com/View.aspx?docid=ba286jg6hc4g

...and then signup for a Writely account or e-mail me and I'll add you to the workgroup to edit the rundown document. The neat thing is that you'll be able to continually contribute over the week leading up to the actual show, and subscribe to the RSS feed generated for the document so you can see how your topics develop.

I'll review it and use it as the basis for my show on Monday nights on KUAM-TV8, and streaming on my site. Be creative! Post links to people's blogs, soundbytes, articles, whatever.

Try it out! It'll be fun.

I care less about traditional web traffic these days

My interest as an analyst of online traffic for my site - the aggregate access of my data, not merely web page requests - has changed over the last few months. My larger concern is in RSS traffic. Now that syndication in all its forms has proven to consistently exceed my WWW requests, I not only want to serve my subscribers, but ensure that I retain their subscriptions. And based upon their binding to me, I'm integrating my marketing plan.

RSS consumers are the the prime audience to whom I can expose various forms of ads. Web traffic, like possessions, is fleeting. People come and go, return users tire of content and stop for awhile, but subscribership prevails. Whether they read my stuff or not, I've got them. I want to hit those people who almost religiously check out my gallery of feeds, and push revenue streams onto them. In theory, this connection with the audience is something we've not had in traditional media. You can't force someone to watch a TV program or listen to a radio show outside of a focus group.

But there's still something to be said for a visit to a web site. My sites can still be found through Google, Technorati, del.icio.us, or countless other sites that give open my data up to new eyeballs. And then I can hit them with the subscription option.

So while I'm putting more mental emphasis on working with my RSS userbase, I'm also keeping cranial space available for handling remixing and mash-ups my my company's stuff. That's the next step.

No REST for the ambitious

One thing I've been thinking about lately is why Microsoft doesn't tout REST support in .NET, or if such is even applicable. When I picked up the .NET model for web services development, it was always about SOAP, starting with the Microsoft SOAP Toolkit and moving on through ASMX files. The default response is HTTP-SOAP, but you can also make services callable through HTTP-POST and/or HTTP-GET.

This led me to question whether the latter two protocols were actually REST in disguise, being another instance of Microsoft's insistence to not use industry terminologies.

Sam Ruby explains:
Just because a service is using HTTP GET, doesn't mean that it is REST. If you are encoding parameters on the URL, you are probably making an RPC request of a service, not retrieving the representation of a resource.
So if this isn't the case, are .NET web services capable of supporting REST? Or is this only a client-side concern for consumers?

Intrigued by Daniel Kent's "ASP After Dark"

Despite sounding like a softcore pornography series on Cinemax for nerds, "ASP 2005 After Hours : 10 Projects You'll Never Do At Work" caught my eye...and maybe my credit card, too. Daniel Kent is a fine writer and I've long enjoyed his work with Wrox's "Problem ==> Design ==> Solution" titles. Also, Sams Publishing has some of the heaviest hitters in the tech writing space, so the quality can't be questioned.

What I find most curious is the "ASP" in the title (not ASP.NET?) and the laptop adorning the cover appears to be a Mac laptop. At any rate, grab it from Amazon...you save a ton before it gets released in mid-January.

An addendum to "What Tech Skills Are Hot for 2006?"

Despite a promising title and huge online buzz, I found ComputerWorld's "What Tech Skills Are Hot for 2006?" to be derivative and disappointing. While certainly accurate, it's incomplete. The three major (and only) areas cited that should be attractive were (1) software development, (2) security, (3) project management. I beg to differ.

Far be it for me to rip on the work of a fellow journalist, but I found the article's explanations, while well written, to be too terse. What kind(s) of programming and with what platform(s)? Is Java really on the decline? Can/should/will Ruby on Rails have relevance in enterprise development? Should .NET programmers be valued any more/less higher now that 2.0's out? Security - in what context and with what specific tools? Project management - that's a given for any year.

If I may be so bold as to append items to this list, I'd also add that knowledge workers also need to possess strong multimedia savvy and continually work towards multiplatform content distribution. Knowing how to Wireless application development continued to really take off in '05, so I see no need to stymie this momentum going into '06. Managers, architects and coders need to be aware of emerging platforms, specifically Web 2.0. This is inclusive of being able to pragmatically apply technical concepts like AJAX, RSS/Atom and developing public APIs; as well as distribution theories like serving the Long Tail and fostering network growth.

Additionally, web services - both SOAP and REST - are going to be key with the emerging popularity of companies encouraging application mash-ups and remixing of their core data. Inclusive to this skill set should also lastly be modern scalability planning (hardware growth, app-level caching).

Now more than ever, if we can agree that the Internet was reborn in 2005, platform translation to allow access via the Web and mobile markets, as well as via RSS syndication is key.

So in addition to the generalities that will always be needed for mainstream technical work, I think a more specific set of tools within one's quill are going to come in very handy in 2006.

No DVDs in sight for TV shows with copyrighted music

There's an interesting post on Digg about the chance that many TV shows won't make it to DVD because of cost-prohibitive copyright concerns over music within them. Among those mentioned are "WKRP", which I enjoyed as a kid. A publisher has a tough choice: either sell the DVDs at astronomical prices, or don't do it at all.

It's the same issue I brought up about VH1 unable to release DVDs of its "I Love the [DECADE]" series, because of all the aftermarket licensing for the music, appearances and commercials featured.

It's a damn shame.

2005's top tech transformations

New Media Musings has a neat list from the media perspective of the big trends in the last twelve months. Here's the short version:
1. The edges gain power.
2. Citizens media takes off.
3. The rise of Web 2.0.
4. Google grows into a collossus.
5. Skype hits 50 million users.
6. Social media become a force.
7. Cell phones get smart.
8. Print's decline accelerates.
9. Podcasting becomes a movement.
10. The power of goodwill.
Check the post to drill-down into the explanations. I'd argue that missing from the list would be discussions about the massive explosion in RSS, the growth in the mash-up/remixing market, the rise of blog tracking services like Memeorandum and Blogniscient, and the coming of age of Digg. But the list could be wrapped up around #3 (Web 2.0) on the whole, which would be inclusive of those and other emerging concepts.

Great piece.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

2006: The Year I Ignore Microsoft

Anyone that knows me can pickup on two traits I've had, for better or worse, since I was a kid: I'm very passionate about whatever I do, and I'll crazy/insightful/downright stupid to try anything once. As such, I'm launching a yearlong research project to expand my own talents. 2006 will be a calendar year in which I completely ignore Microsoft.

Before you crack your knuckles and ready a flame comment, consider my reasoning. I'm expanding my skill set and seeing how the other 66% of the world operates, in the interest of becoming a better Microsoft developer. I want to experience new ways of thinking, new technologies and new UIs that MS just doesn't do at the moment for whatever reason. But I can't learn-and-apply the concepts towards my ASP.NET work in parallel - I need full, uninterrupted immersion. Consider this a programmer's platform sabbatical.

Like many reading this, I'm a Microsoft web developer. I rock out to ASP.NET, C#, ADO.NET, SQL Server and a few other tools. I've spent thousands of hours interacting with really cool people in mailing lists, forums, sites, and communities provided for us. And like many of you, I developed the MS myopia, neglecting the rest of the world. I'm also keen on enjoying the Web without worrying about viruses, worms or malware.

I'll still be doing ASP.NET development at work (this I can't avoid with '06 being an election year), but at home it's all open source. I've asked that my MVP status not be renewed, which the coordinator reluctantly agreed to do, not truly understanding why. I've also cancelled my MSDN subscription and my subscription to MSDN Magazine, neither of which I rarely use. I've removed myself from all the listservs, newsgroups and RSS feeds having to do with MIcrosoft development. It's like I'm being reborn.

I'm buying a Mac OS X laptop to be used primarily for the purpose of developing web applications with Ruby on Rails. I'm adopting LAMP stacks in most of my R&D work these days (with Python). Outside of Flash, I'm picking up several new languages and platforms. I've honestly got no reason to implement .NET 2.0.

This shouldn't surprise those of you who know me already...I've been going the open source route for the last few months to ween myself away from what's become my comfort zone. It started earlier this year when I took up podcasting and realized all the cool work that didn't involve the DataGrid. And I was bummed that in many aspects of what made '05 such a great year to be online - Microsoft was sorely out of the picture.

Let me be completely honest and admit that because I began to dabble in open source in 2005, I also got really dejected about Microsoft, which led to my temporary exodus. It had no publicized presence for podcasting, was out of the loop in regards to Web 2.0, had a couple of shining moments with future plans for RSS, and got the snot kicked out of it by Google and Yahoo! For once, the other side looked attractive...and it didn't involved having to be a Java and/or PHP guru to get it done.

I'm going to dive deep into the open source movement and really experience the Web. I'll come back in '07, hopefully stronger, wiser and with a renewed philosophy for development.

Google Web Accelerator vs. FastCache?

Chris Pirillo extolled the virtues of AnalogX's FastCache on a podcast of his show recently, noting how it increments browsing time saved due to caching, which you can check on to see how much aggregate time you've spent bringing to mind the oft-criticized Google Web Accelerator.

I initially downloaded GWA and uninstalled it, not finding it to be too dramatic and having concerns with security issues. The one thing I did like about it was that the program apparently set and drew from a universal cache that worked across all installed browsers on a machine (or at least with IE and Firefox). So regardless of platform, the cache worked.

Both evidently act as DNS proxies, storing content locally longer than a browser normally would. So in cases of pages/sites accessed subsequently, they're pulled from a local cache rather than making a DNS query.

I bring this up because I'd like to use either/or to boost performance, but don't know which is better. And being a web developer, a lot of utilities I write are web-based, so I don't want JavaScript confirmation dialog windows ignored or forms pre-submit just to shave 800 milliseconds off my loading time. Chris gave a good sermon on FastCache, but GWA looks good, too.

Anyone got any hints?

Digg Spy is really cool

Digg Spy is a really cool way to look at stories and how they're being dugg, interacted with and promoted to the site's homepage. It's basically a real-time, AJAX-driven stock ticker view of interesting content.

If you ever tire of RSS Screensaver (and why would you?), this always makes good eye candy in full-screen mode projected on a 50" display.

Very, very slick.

Podcasters overwhelming more male, but more women online

Some interesting gender-related posts I came across in Digg this morning cited that 78% of the people that listen to podcasts are male, but women are starting to outnumber men online.

Live up to the "syndication" in RSS and publish full text

One thing I've always found interesting is emerging technologies named or modeled after existing platforms, and how they deviate from that concept. Specifically, let's look at RSS syndication and how many content producers don't publish the full text of the article, blog post or content they're listing. This is something I've been passionate about for awhile.

The underperforming feeds force the consumer to either deal with a truncated portion of the description, or some brief abstract that rarely goes longer than two sentences. Neither are very helpful. I understand the need to drive users to a public web site in lieu of universally-acceptable and effective ad insertion techniques and technologies for RSS, but give me a break.

Think about it: what if you watched a syndicated episode of "The Jeffersons", and the show just cut out after the thirteenth minute? It would make for a pretty bad viewing experience. Why therefore should online syndication be any different?

Keep this in mind the next time you consider lopping off your content to drive traffic to your site.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Web 2.0 Validator says I'm not down with the movement

I found the Web 2.0 Validator, a cool utility that assesses a URL's political amount of conformity with a given roster of criteria to be officially Web 2.0 or not. Turns out my site doesn't make the cut, despite my earlier assertion about how we've been using Web 2.0 principles for years.

Here's the scorecard:

The score for http://www.kuam.com is 4 out of 40

  • Uses python? No
  • Is in public beta? No
  • Uses inline AJAX ? No
  • Is Shadows-aware ? No
  • Uses the prefix "meta" or "micro"? Yes!
  • Uses Google Maps API? No
  • Has favicon ? No
  • Attempts to be XHTML Strict ? No
  • Mentions Less is More ? No
  • Refers to mash-ups ? No
  • Mentions startup ? No
  • Uses Cascading Style Sheets? Yes!
  • Appears to be web 3.0 ? Yes!
  • Appears to use AJAX ? No
  • Refers to the Web 2.0 Validator's ruleset ? No
  • Mentions Dave Legg ? No
  • Appears to be built using Ruby on Rails ? No
  • Makes reference to Technorati ? No
  • Refers to Flickr ? No
  • Refers to VCs ? No
  • Mentions Nitro ? No
  • Mentions Cool Words ? No
  • Links Slashdot and Digg ? No
  • Creative Commons license ? No
  • Appears to use MonoRail ? No
  • Has prototype.js ? No
  • Use Catalyst ? No
  • Uses Semantic Markup? Yes!
  • Mentions RDF and the Semantic Web? No
  • Actually mentions Web 2.0 ? No
  • Refers to Rocketboom ? No
  • Refers to web2.0validator ? No
  • Uses microformats ? No
  • Refers to del.icio.us ? No
  • Validates as XHTML 1.1 ? No
  • Appears to over-punctuate ? No
  • References isometric.sixsided.org? No
  • Appears to have Adsense ? No
  • Uses the "blink" tag? No
  • Mentions 30 Second Rule and Web 2.0 ? No
This kind of shows how naive the whole Web 2.0 movement can be, with people really believing that it's a defined set of technologies rather than a methodology towards design, development and distribution of data.

This blog, hosted by Blogger, only scored 4/40.

RSS recognition: LINK tags as important as little orange icon

I continue to be surprised at many of the sites that have "openly embraced" syndication of their content through RSS, merely using the little orange icons on their web pages, but tragically neglecting to also reference their feed URL(s) in LINK tags within the page's source.

Modern browsers like Firefox, Opera and Safari have built-in auto-discovery RSS readers that detect the presence of this additional information and allow for single-click subscription to a feed, and assumedly the forthcoming IE 7 will, too. It's a simple addition to a page that shouldn't be overlooked.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Is 'Cold Pizza' getting hotter?

I just heard Dana Jacobsen and Tom Rinaldi say just now that starting January 2 "Cold Pizza" will be broadcast live from 10am-2pm EST, which would mean I'd have to stay up until 1am to catch it. Damn, that sucks for me. First "Rome is Burning" gets tossed around like a rag doll and rescheduled so many times I didn't watch for awhile because I couldn't keep up, and now this. I really need to move to the States.

I've done an ad hoc chroniclization of the evolution of the show, including how ESPN took it from cellar dwellar into a watchable sports show. I hope this change indicates that CP's doing better in the ratings...it's gotten much better with Dana, Woody Paige and Skip Bayless.

NetFlix laying the smack down on Blockbuster

Times aren't faring well for my former employer, as Blockbuster Video Entertainment is apparently getting killed by NetFlix, both in online membership and the fact that NetFlix has no debt, while Big Blue evidently owes a billion.

I knew that "no late fee" policy would be huge, sink or swim. Gosh, I used to work there when rentals were $4 for new releases and good for 2 days, 3 nights, and we still sold - GASP! - laserdiscs and had the free rentals for community service videos like "What's Happening to Me? - A Guide to Puberty" and "Winning Bridge with Omar Sharif".

My behavior these days is to only rent new releases in real life, and get everything else from NetFlix.

"Canon in D" riffing in Google Video

If you're a Google Video addict like me or just peruse the collection of clips every now and then via the site or the blog's RSS feed (or by downloading it as a hard copy) chances are you've come across this rockin' neoclassical electric guitar version of "Canon in D" by Jerry C., some dude who totally shreds (he's also got a mean driving performance).

Not having bookmarked the URL where his clip sits, I did a search on it to run in the background and found a bunch of similar clips from players who've apparently learned Jerry's riffing and fretboard work and made their own videos. The best ones are here and here.

Rock on!

Damn comment spam.

The blogging app I built for my company's been getting hit by comment spam a lot over the last week. I get crap from sexual aide medicinal products and casinos (you know, the way e-mail spam used to be). The messages say crap like this:
casino games wow thanks about the information
...or list URLs for some phrarmacy products. Chalk one up for un-defensive programming, lay one on me for not implementing a Blogger-style comment verification system.

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Internet is for Porn" video is too funny

While the rest of the world extolls the hilarity of SNL's "The Chronic of Narnia" rap skit that's getting so much attention, I found a really funny World of Warcraft-themed musical on Google Video, "Internet is for Porn". (This is not actual porn, but a funny story beneath a creative premise. Any gamer, Internet user or perv will enjoy this.)

It's generally worksafe, so you can share it with others. Check it out!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

NetFlix does RSS in bulk

I really enjoy getting NetFlix's feeds in my aggregator. They keep me on my toes about what's available without having to manually browse and aimlessly search their site. But I don't like the fact that the new releases come to me as RSS en masse, meaning I only get updates once a week, and like 100 at a time. I typically get these on Sunday night Guam time, which is early morning Saturday in the States. I used to work at Blockbuster, so I know videos come out all the time.

I can see the benefit of aggregated aggregation, prompting me to rent more titles because I may see things related that I'd also like, but it doesn;t make for an optimal experience.

Anyone else irked by this?

Looking back: the evolution of KUAM.COM

I'm lucky in that as a devleoper, I've been focused on the same project for six years. My company's site has gone through several aesthetic and functional revisions over the years, including major rewrites of our codebase, brief flirtations with Flash, and an adoption of n-tier architecture with caching layers. We've gone from simple design to elegant software architects in the interest of user demand for content, multimedia and multiplatform accessibility that grows geometrically.

I've done the web shop thing where I work in an environment not only touting the quality of work put out, but also the quantity. I never did like fattening a portfolio and telling people I've done 15 sites in a year. When I took over the reins of KUAM.COM in late 1999, I knew I wanted to commit myself to a single web project and really watch it grow long-term. It's been a fun process watching the site develop from something I knew had potential into the dominant player it is for local news, entertainment and information. It's become the region's most successful and popular online brand, and it's because of the tireless effort my crew and I have put into it - equal parts technical excellence and guerilla marketing.

Using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I'll take you on an interactive tour of some of the major developmental milestones we've gone through at KUAM building our beloved online baby. Hang on for the ride.

Get Guam news on your blog or site from KUAM

I'm running into more Guam bloggers lately after putting out a casting call to expand our collective blogroll and figure out who all's out there. I'm recirculating the free local headlines program I've had running on my site for years, so you can easily get the KUAM News headlines on your blog, site or page absolutely for free.

You've got three ways to do this:
Or you can be really geeky and scrape, remix or mash-up our data in any way you see fit. have fun with it!

KUAM's 50th Anniversary, Katrina pledge drive now on Google Video

In case you need something to sit and digest ham with after a big Christmas meal, or you just miss video from home, I uploaded some more clips of my station's productions to Google Video.
Remember, you can check out all our clips by searching Google Video for "kuam" or "guam", or visiting my del.icio.us bookmarks tagged with "kuamvideo".

Happy streaming!

Downloading clips from Google Video

Lifehacker.org describes how to escape out of URL encoding withn query string parameters to download clips from Google Video instead of streaming them in the embedded Flash player:
  • Go to Google Video and find a video.
  • View the page source code and search for the keyword ‘googleplayer
  • Copy and paste the videoUrl parameter (all of the characters after the keyword ‘videoUrl=’)
  • Press Ctrl-L to go to URL location bar. Type Javascript:unescape(”videoUrl”) where videoUrl should be the last parameter you have copied into the clipboard.
  • It should output the actual URL on the broswer, copy and paste that URL onto your browser location bar again to download the FLV movie.
  • Play it with a FLV Player.
This works in both Firefox and IE, and is hacky enough to be useful from time to time. And Google's safe - being in the source code, the key info's pretty safeguarded from programmatic access, which would turn Google's streaming service into one big download center. And the complexity of searching through source code and mangling the URL is probably complex enough to keep this away from the masses.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Marketer input on Web 2.0 not such a bad thing

Can too many cooks spoil the broth?

The big thing about why tech-savvy people are now dismissing the concept of "Web 2.0" seems to be that they feel the very un-tech marketing/entrepreneurial community has not only uncharacteristically warmed up to the philosophy on a technical front, but subsequently jazzed it up (arguably a bit too much) and have now run with it on their own, starting to turn it into something it shouldn't become. We began to hear too much talk of monetization and business models focused on "flipping" (an operation conceived with the ultimate goal of getting bought by Yahoo!, Microsoft or Google), and losing focus on the key objective of building a better user experience through software distributed via the Web.

This never happened with the initial push of web services, circa 2001. I attribute that platform's nature of mandating knowledge of complex concepts like SOAP, HTTP, XML and RPCs as being too in-depth for marketers to grok. It just wasn't sexy enough. And as such, it didn't get traction with product development in the grand scheme of things, and is still catching on today. Comparatively, RSS took off geometrically in 2005. With Web 2.0, enough buzz got generated around easy-to-grasp, visible, tangible services like Flickr and Google Maps, and it clicked. Forget the behing the scenes XMLHTTP calls, the complexity of persisting stateful data, the underpinnings of a publicly-accessible API. People not possessing MS'es in computer science saw what was possible.

So developers now are angry at the sudden surge of interest in what's become a community movement, irked on by mainstream media coverage. It's not all that bad though. The platform is that much more valuable because now more people contribute to its global awareness. To have community contributions from noted programmers with solid business sense like Dave Winer, Jason Calacanis and the guys at 37Signals is beyond necessary. And to the best of my knowledge (someone correct me if I'm wrong), Om Malik, Mark Cuban, Steve Rubel and Robert Scoble don't write high-end, modern-day distributed code. But their input on the emergence of new opportunities, performance, usability and general issues relative to the evolution of next-gen software has been invaluable.

So the very thing that people lament about Web 2.0 - the unthinkable synergy between programmers and marketers - is what's helping it to grow. Conflicts over the name and buzzwords aplenty will continue. But that so many people "get it" and are passionate about blogging, podcasting, speaking, writing and teaching it, even if on a rudimentary level, is what makes it so special.

Xignite announces new web services for '06

Xignite, a company I've long admired for their vision in producing web services (and who in my opinion have the hands-down coolest UI for a ASP.NET web services test page) announced a new suite of web services it's got planned for 2006. As per the company's e-mail newsletter, they offer at the moment very diversified financial stock info and news data:

While we keep adding new services, we also enhance those you use today based on your requests and feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements include:

...and the hits just keep on coming, as the 2006 suite is has not only web service, but e-mail alerts. Very cool.

Could Google get into the developer tools market?

I'm updating a post I did on my previous blog months ago in which I wondered out loud whether Google would ever get into the developer tools market.
I'm now wondering what the world would be like if Google got into building, marketing and releasing developer tools. They've already made great strides with the public APIs for its search and mapping services, taking a very Web 2.0 approach to connecting with their targeted audiences. So one can expect them to have at least considered becoming very active and eventually dominant in the external programing space and fostering relationships with ISVs.

What if the company started producing its own new programming languages, IDE(s), utilities and more to make building custom Internet-aware applications using their technologies? Now we're talking head-to-head competition with Microsoft on an entirely different level. I think it's a very natural and expected progression as a software giant, and I'm quite sure more than a few of the smart people there have tossed this around at some point.
I'm sure this has come up internally. After thinking this over, and having considered that Google does run its own custom Linux flavor, plus the fact that other dev shops like Disney have developed their own proprietary scripting languages, and coupled with the apparent recent hiring of Python creator Guido van Rossum, would it really make sense for Google to give people a means of writing their own programs? I'm guessing now that maybe a graphical way for non-programers to access their growing list of APIs and programmatic services, like Google Local maps, would be better. A limited IDE, so to speak, centric only to Google's products and services.

Google's heavy into the LAMP stack, and as far as I know, doesn't use custom programming languages. I've read on their jobs page they prefer Python and C++ backgrounds, so I don't know about this anymore. Maybe it's best to really maximize development, without getting into the core fundamentals of frameworks and languages.

Anyone have an opinion on whether this would make sense?

Can Google Video modify submissions?

I'm no lawyer, but I'll play one on my blog.

Imran Anwar commented on my previous post about the updated Terms of Service for Google Video. He also did an excellent post on the matter on his blog. He's got a legitimate concern about the use of the words "REFORMAT" and "MODIFY" - specifically the latter - within the new TOS that one must agree to prior to submitting video clips. While several people that actually take the time to read the TOS (overwhelmingly the minority) will have similar concerns, I don't think there's cause for alarm. Google's just covering its ass.

But Imran's got a point: at what cost creative control?

Apparently, 'perpetual beta' software is accompanied by perpetual legal terms, too. I think, admittedly naively, "REFORMAT" refers to the file conversion of a submitted clip to Flash Video, to account for possible degradation in audio/video quality from the original clip. If a submission isn't as pristine as it was prior to uploading, they're covered. This probably also proactively allows Google to perform additional conversions post mortem to allow clips to stream to mobile devices, and by other means of access not available at the moment. This additionally might give Google the leverage to insert their own promotional clips within your videos, touting Google services or playing localized video ads as teasers in exchange for hosting the video. Which, lest we forget, is free.

As for the use of "MODIFY", I'm assuming (again, without clarification) that such refers to giving Google the right to cut and/or clip a submitted video, or selectively trim off content that's inevitably going to be pornographic. People aren't supposed to be posting adult material anyway as per the TOS, but I've caught a couple already. Google's also covering itself in the unavoidable event that someone posts a clip with remarks and activities that put the company in a disparaging light. Criticism is OK, downright hating isn't.

With the TOS additions that Google Video may start allowing videos to be rented and/or puchased, they may have to perform programmatic modifications on clips to insert claim codes, or cut the video off prematurely in cases of snippets teasing longer-form productions.

Consider the profanity filters so common to chatrooms and web-based forums. Most use "[expletive]" or "****" or "BAD WORD" or other string-replacing convention to modify content posted by a user in order to keep things clean for kids or people objecting to such language. Same concept.

Imran writes:
I ask that because the quote from their new TOS actually use the word REFORMAT to basically cover the kind of changes needed to display the video but the word MODIFY is in addition to the word REFORMAT. That should worry us all. What if your video in support of DEMOCRACY is "modified" and shown to Chinese users making it sound like supporting COMMUNISM, so that Google can keep China's government happy?
I strongly doubt Google would insert harmful or influential information of a political nature into clips. Any rogue staffer that did so would surely get fired immediately.

In terms of intellectual property, anything submitted to Google becomes theirs on a certain level, so they've got the right to play with it. It's like if someone wrote negative comments about a store's clerk on a napkin and then dropped it on the floor on their way out. It becomes the store's.

I do agree with Imran that modification of any kind isn't totally kosher, but it's probably a necessary evil in the interest of keeping things clean, quality control high and the user experience a safe, enjoyable one. And if they can work it into their business model, again, in exchange for free hosting, more power to them.

Maybe it's the fact that I have (blind) faith in the social responsibility of publicly-traded companies, or perhaps I'm a bit more tolerant of this type of contractual verbiage because I work for a video production company and this type of thing is so often implied. (We reserve the right to edit material in the interest of time constraints and preserving acceptable content levels for live TV or rebroadcasts.) I may be buying into the company's "Do No Evil" mantra a little too much, but with Google being a Fortune 1000 company, to deliberately morph clips and infer messages would be a PR nightmare and subsequently stock price suicide.

The expected corporate response for people with major concerns about these clauses, as Imran acknowledges, would be to just use a paid video hosting service. Most people won't mind minor changes. Gmail was initially scrutinized for displaying ads within a member's message, but it's worked out for them. Mostly.

I'll tap a couple sources I've got inside Google and see what the deal is with this. I've got a teleconference with them after New Year's just on Google Video, so I'll bring this up. (See various suggestions I've come up with for improving Google Video here. And here. And here.)

Retaining defensive programming in Web 2.0

What's the use of a gift certificate if you don't know how to use it? My boss was nice enough to give me a Amazon gift certificate after she as unsuccessful at finding a current sports almanac at any of the local bookstores. I jumped on a few minutes ago and ordered copies of a Ruby on Rails programming title and John Battelle's "The Search".

Thinking I was knowing what I was doing (first mistake), I copied the gift cert code to my clipboard and proceeded to checkout. Too fast, evidently, as I whizzed through the process so fast that I didn't change the payment method and charged the whole thing to my credit card. Oops. Fortunately, Im able to go in and edit the order in a few minutes before it gets charged, bringing Thank God for Amazon having the foresight that there would be idiots like me.

That's the kind of defensive programming that needs to not fall by the wayside in Web 2.0 applications. I see more and more developers getting so caught up in the AJAX hype and creating web services to expose public APIs and throwing up RSS feeds en masse that they're neglecting a key and fundamental tenet of any type of software development: don't assume your users will be absolutely coherent in navigating and using your application.

The new functionality brought about by the next evolution of the Web is going to greatly improve the online experience, no doubt, but it's also going to introduce a whole new set of problems due to user confusion.

Or in my case, just basic human stupidity.

How do you tag "Web 2.0"?

Numbers don't lie, but they don't tell the whole truth. The del.icio.us blog features a neat little analysis of how its members use tagging to describe Web 2.0. Not surprisingly, AJAX dominates.
[We took] a look at all the tag data going back to February 2004 (the month of the first use of Web 2.0 as a tag on del.icio.us), and analyzed all the bookmarks and tags related to the term. We can report that as of October 31, 2005 there have been over 230,000 separate bookmarks and over 7,000 unique tags associated with the term “Web 2.0” by del.icio.us users. So for this exercise, we lopped off the really long tail and normalized some similar terms (e.g. combining blog, blogs, and blogging), and came up with this snapshot of what Web 2.0 REALLY is – at least according to del.icio.us users' most popular tags through the end of October 2005:
ajax9.9%
blog6.1%
social4.2%
tools4.1%
software3.3%
tagging3.3%
javascript2.8%
internet2.6%
programming2.5%
rss2.5%

Other notable tags included rubyonrails (1.8%), del.icio.us (1.6%), folksonomy (1.4%), community (1.1%), wiki (.9%), flickr (.8%), free (.7%), trends (.6%), flock (.4%) and googlemaps (.3%).

Keep in mind this is only simple, terse tagging and not more elaborate explanations of what the movement means. And because the data originates from February 2004, there's likely more bookmarks with AJAX tags than any other, so even if the meaning has changed/evolved over time, that tag still has the most weight by being around the longest.

But I'd still say the association with AJAX is highly accurate for the mainstream web user.

I don't get why Microsoft would want to buy Opera

Let's go into the biggest Christian holiday of the year with a little controversy in the blogpsphere, shall we? I step away from the mainline blogging threads for on day, and all of a sudden I get a rush of posts about Microsoft possibly buying Opera. I don't get it.

Maybe I'm just ignorant/myopic/blind to the truth, but I don't see the point in a company already producing a major web browser buying out another.

Technologically, Opera's got more traction in the mobile browsing space - an area of expertise MS surely would be able to eventually incorporate into their producs on their own. The only thing I can think of it that Microsoft would shell out potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to buy a company just to keep rival Google from doing to same.

Opera reportedly denies the rumors that it's selling out to Microsoft. Of course, they did the same for Google. Michael Gartenberg and John C. Dvorak, both way smarter than I, both offer speculation on what the acquisition could mean for MS.

NBC Universal takes control of MSNBC

One of the big concerns I had when I was being courted by MSNBC.com earlier this year was how much credence could be given to rumors about a major organizational change. People buzzed about a possible buyout, shut down, or third-party acquisition. I was "assured" that such wasn't true and wouldn't come to pass, as in "Well, I've been here a full 8 months and I don't think anything like that's coming down the pipe anytime soon..." .

PaidContent.org reports:
"Microsoft and NBC Universal finally have agreed on a resolution for the cable side of their joint venture. NBCU has acquired a controlling interest in MSNBC with an option to acquire 100 percent of the struggling cable news network within two years. The network now will be more fully intergrated with NBC News. The announcement came with an affirmation of the companies' strong commitment to thriving MSNBC.com."
MSNBC.com will contiune to operate as a joint ventiue between NBC News and Microsoft.

The most unproductive day of the year

Guam is 17 hours ahead of EST, so as I write this it's Saturday morning, which is Friday morning for those of you in the States. Today's action around the shopping circuit is going to be nuts, more so because it's Christmas Eve and most places are shutting it down at 6pm. I swear, I've never seen a day where less happened in the non-retail business world than yesterday.

The situation was almost perfect: Christmas on a Sunday, with Friday being a generally lax day for most businesses. Almost every company, special interest group and non-profit displayed the same behavior. Organizations (whose employees hadn't conviniently scheduled holiday vacations) all went out to lunch en masse one more time or having internal pot luck parties, and those that couldn't make it took extra-long meal breaks to cram in some last-minute shopping at malls and outlets that were filled beyond capacity.

And it's like this every year. Being in the media, we're not privvy to such luxuries - we've got to go out and document it. I've got a pretty sizable queue business of e-mail requests I'm waiting on feedback from people local and in the mainland...after the holidays, of course.

Google Video updates TOS agreement

An e-mail from Google today informed me that the Terms of Service legalese statement for Google Video had been modified and that I'd need to re-agree to these terms prior to continuing to use the service. This is one of the rare times I've actually gone through such a document, reading every line.

I'm unaware what the changes were from the previous version to this one, although there is a pretty healthy section on the remittance of payment in the event that a video producer charges a fee for the rental and/or purchase of their submitted clip. There's also the standard clauses about limited liability, indemnification, intellectual property, and a couple other expected areas common to tech services.

If you have an account to upload video, login and check it out.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Which browser is fastest?

Numbers don't lie, but they don't tell the whole truth. Here's a great comparison of the performance levels of the major web browsers on Linux, Windows and Mac. We all know Firefox takes way longer than IE to startup. But once it's running, does it load pages faster? Does Opera really deliver the fastest browsing experience on the planet? And how about Safari?

Have a look.

The return of the Digital Pontification podcast

OK, I'm going to have to invent another hour in the day to produce my show, but after a little hiatus, I'm bringing back the Digital Pontification (sort of). I'll be doing a staggered podcast interview series of people in the web community that have interesting things to say, products to pimp, or theories to share.

I've got a list of companies I'd like to profile and I'm also accepting requests for who you'd like to hear from. So e-mail me about it and let me know who you'd like me to interview. Consider it done.

You can check out back catalog of DP interviews here.

$60 to register my car

I wasn't too pleased after renewing my car's registration this morning...having to fork out $60 for the process. Inquiring about the nature of the hike with the cashier, I remembered a local $40 fee used to care for abandoned vehicles (my company's done a bunch of stories on this). The itemized invoice showed that the actual processing cost to register my ride is a mere $20. Damn.

And this being the holidays, it's not like I've got oodles of cash to just ditch.

And top this off with the fact that DMV apparently now only issues a single sticker for my license plate, even though I've got two plates.

SCREWED! Wayne, Boldin, Galloway snubbed from Pro Bowl

It happens every NFL season: players more than deserving a trip to the Pro Bowl don't get one. This year, I was surprised that Indy's Reggie Wayne, Arizona's Anquan Boldin and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway didn't get the nod for a free February trip to Honolulu. That's a damn shame.

I previously blogged about how I had a feeling Wayne and Galloway would get passed up on the respective AFC and NFC all-star rosters, but Boldin's snub REALLY surprised me. His running partner, Larry Fitzgerald, was selected to his first Pro Bowl but I thought Boldin was a little more productive this year. So maybe the success of one negates the chances of another. Most assuredly that's Wayne's case, playing alongside Marvin Harrison.

Historically, John Taylor was a standout wideout on his own, but was Joe Montana's second option after Jerry Rice. He still made Pro Bowls for the 49ers, but it surely wasn't easy.

At any rate, that's just the first-cut roster. Players will decide not to go, others will be hurt. I just hope these three outstanding receivers get their due recognition as the game's best.

Why no greatest hits album for Metallica?

Someone stopped me recently, inquiring why I thought Metallica never came out with a greatest hits album. I'm honestly not sure. Logic would dictate that for an album to live up to the billing, there would have to be genuine "hits" per se, which would be those songs that reached success with the masses. In terms of mass media success, only the Black Album had chart-topping tracks (many people forget that despite the populatity of the video for "One", the song largely didn't get a lot of mainstream radio airplay).

"Enter Sandman", "Sad But True", "Wherever I May Roam" and "Nothing Else Matters" got the band's music in everyone's hands, but timeless classics preceded that masterpiece, too. "I Disappear" got minor play in the Billboard roster because of its association with the "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack. There's the "Live Shit: Binge and Purge" box set and a couple of cover albums of the band's favorite music, but no official "best of" CD. And that's just the way we like it.

That's the cool thing about being a Metallica fan - there are only a few hits, but enough musical genius to last a lifetime. They've inspired enough other artists who know Kirk Hammett's fretwork better than their own. Those of us who know their greatness get it, even if the mainstream never does. So do the right thing - buy the band's entire discography. There's a memorable winner in every riff, every lick, every solo.

How great is that?

On-Air. Online. On-Demand.

It came to me in a dream. Literally. This morning our new marketing slogan for our multiplatform content delivery strategy just hit me before I got up. I've been working on PowerPoint presentations for the grand rollout and some talks I'll be giving to profile it, but I hadn't narrowed down a simple tagline. Until just now.

The phrase "On-Air. Online. On-Demand." (punctuated be periods and proper capitalization) really sticks out and in its terseness allows us to get the point across about how wide our range of services are. This extends a previous theory I developed about "The Holy Trinity of Winning Internet Radio", using traditional terrestrial broadcasting in conjunction with streaming audio and RSS-based podcasting.

I swear, I could have sat in countless brainstorming sessions and never come up with that on my own. Thank God for subconscious creativity.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

GoogleNet, iTunes 6 rocked my world in 2005

The blogosphere (and World Wide Web in general) is quickly filling up with journalists both professional and citizen perfunctorily posting year-end wrap-up lists documenting the greatest moments of the past twelve months of our collective existence. I'm going to break tradition from publishing such chronology this year and just whittle my personal list down to two, being the number of ideas to have come out that really threw me for a loop.

Call this terse roster my "Great Moments in Thinking, 2005" rundown. Without doubt, the pair of concepts to have arisen in 2005 were GoogleNet and the release of iTunes 6.0. They literally blew me away.

AW asked me to review a Dave and Alex book

I was pleasantly surprised to have been e-mailed today by a marketing rep from Addison-Wesley, asking me if I'd like to be a pre-manuscript reviewer for a programming book. AW's honorarium is one of the best in the business, so it's really worth your while to hammer through hundreds of pages in a very short amount of time. The deal was sweetened when I learned it would be an upcoming title on ASP.NET v.2.0 from Dave Sussman and Alex Homer.

Damn straight.

I'd read/review a Dave and Al book on selected poetry about underwater basketweaving if they did one. I'm pulling the manuscript chapters off AW's FTP server right now.

Podtech interview with Yahoo! on multimedia search

Jeff Karnes, director of multimedia search for Yahoo! was interviewed by Podtech.net, discussing, among other things, the emergence of the Web as media platform. Great read and podcast.

Jeff says:
Part of [Yahoo's strategy] was to align with our vision in search, which is to enable people to find, use, share, and expand all human knowledge. Part of that was to look at the vertical applications. We looked at the query logs and we looked at what the users were doing. We found that whether it was video, audio, or an image, there were a lot of folks that were doing that type of search. What we have recently done is we have started to introduce more discovery. So we do try to help you discover what is on the video Internet at any one time.

Best/worst sports broadcasting of 2005

Even though I just ripped on SI for technical concerns, it's still some of the best reading around. Case in point: Richard Deitsch's awards for 2005's most notable achievements for sports broadcasting.

It's great to see the Boston Globe's sports department get their props on the air and continue to set the bar for great journalism, and I agree with Richard...Sean Salisbury has become a damn fine NFL analyst for ESPN. And I had no idea ratings for "Quite Frankly" were that bad.

Stephen A. Smith's viewership is certainly more favorable than that of my sports show. Dang.

Duplicate items in SI's feeds?

Don't get me wrong...I'm a Sports Illustrated guy for life. As a sportswriter, it's the printed Mecca of publications for our way of life, and as a new media enthusiast it's one of the rare publications I'll still gladly pay for. But I've noted concerns I've had with the magazine's RSS feeds before, and I've now noticed that usually in the afternoon, the main 'Top Stories' news feed seems to republish big items that already ran earlier in the day.

Checking the cached feed in Google Reader just now, I got twin copies of the Jacque Jones and Johnny Damon trade stories, plus several commentaries (oddly, only one such listing was present for Kobe's 62-point night against the Mavs).

Convert e-mail newsletters to RSS feeds

Steve Rubel links to MailFeed.org, which is pretty creative in coverting e-mail newsletters into subscribable RSS feeds. Works for me - I've spent countless hours unsubscribing my Inbox listings in favor of feed-driven information.

Steve also brilliantly calls out MediaPost, noting that the has yet to adopted feeds. With all the great membership-driven content that they produce, it's often a pain referring work their people have put out.

Writely updates page for unsupported browsers

Since being in talks with the development team behind Writely, one thing I mentioned was the lack of support for Safari, which was a popular issue in general a few days ago. I just got an e-mail from one of the team's four developers, who've modified the error page displayed when using a browser that don't fully "support web-based word processing", which I take to mean certain AJAX-driven functions, such as autosave.

(Click the image to full at full size)


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Google Video needs to adopt Flickr-style feeds

Yecch...I just commited Web 2.0 sacrilege. Blogging blasphemy. A social schism. I crossed the 'Y' Word with the 'G' Word. Sorry, folks.

But you can't avoid the problem that Google Video at the moment doesn't generate RSS/Atom feeds for clips that you can subscribe to and get grouped content from; more importantly, the lack of such a facility is inevitably going to be held against the gold standard for multimedia RSS, Flickr. The comparison simply can't be avoided, format notwithstanding. Regardless of the fact Flickr just does still images (for now) and Google Video by its nature does full motion clips, the former trumps the latter in terms of full accessibility.

Hang on...let me quickly browse over to http://video.google.com to see if they've added it in the last 10 minutes so my theory this far isn't disproven and I don't wind up looking like a complete goof...

...nope. Whew.

The key concept behind the (lack of) RSS feeds listing multimedia resources based on keywords is in tagging. An optional part of the process of submitting a video clip to Google for archival, indexing, storage, serving and searching is embedding metadata by way of transcripts, title, credits and other criterion. But no tagging. Since the transcriptions aren't visibly being used at the moment, I'm sure they're being stored to serve a deeper purpose down the road as the library builds.

Both services provide full-text searching of their media, so why GV hasn't done this route yet I don't know. (Google Video's search effectiveness is in my opinion a bit odd, not because of result set inaccuracies in relation to search keyword queries, but more due to an excess of unrelated clips that somehow get thrown into the mix. This is in stark contrast to Google's traditional web search capability, which we've all come to rely on as being spot-on in its relevance.)

Google Video does currently have blogs with corresponding RSS feeds - the Google Video Blog and Google Video of the Day, both of which produce syndicated, subscribable content for new, popular and generally interesting clips in the GV gallery. But with Flickr I can subscribe to an RSS feed that's created on the fly for images tagged with keywords I specify (like "Seattle"). Technically I never have to visit www.flickr.com again, but I'll get their stuff all the time in my aggregator application. This is a phenomenal, necessary shift in the total user experience for receiving multimedia.

And it's one in which Google, I'm sad to say, is trailing.

Hoping to do a podcast interview with Writely team

Earlier this afternoon I e-mailed a list of blog post permalinks with suggestions I've come up with for application expansion to the folks at Writely, the great online word processor. Outside of those Web 2.0 apps that are the result of corporate development such as Google's efforts, or those like Flickr and del.icio.us that have since been acquired, Writely's the leading example of what's happening in the Web 2.0 space.

Two Writely team members were nice enough to write back ultra-fast and discuss some of my thoughts, and even let me know that many of the features I mentioned have already shipped, or are on the way. Too cool.

Being an ASP.NET programmer, I've been inpressed not only with their implementation of many of the features of Microsoft's web development platform, but also of all the extended AJAX functionality they've baked-in. Foremost among these are the auto-save feature, the "last updated" timer, support for publishing via major blogging platforms, and the ability to export stored documents to PDF.

I also asked if the crew would be willing to let me interview them via Skype for a podcast. It's been awhile since I last interviewed an interesting person in IT for my "Digital Pontification Summer Interview Series", so it's time I got back on the horse. (I previously asked Gabe from Memeorandum, who's swamped.) I'm sure the community would dig what the people behind Writely's codebase have to say about the evolution of the product and plans to take it to v.1.0.

Stay subscribed...this may be hitting the blogosphere soon!

Streaming media most popular with mature audiences

According to the Center for Media Research, a recent comScore report, "State of the Consumer Streaming Market", determined that 45% of the core audience for online video in August 2005 was the 35 to 54 year-old demographic.
Erin Hunter, senior vice president of comScore Networks Media and Entertainment Solutions, said "Contrary to public perception, it's not just 'college kids' or 'bleeding edge' Internet users who are streaming videos. Publishers are using innovative approaches to deliver their content, using high-quality video product clips, music videos, movie trailers, (and) full news broadcasts to engage their consumer. This creates a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to capitalize on what is now a mainstream audience."
Also noted in the report:
I'd also like to have seen projections for VOD in relation to how people feel about streaming media as opposed to always-available content, and platform(s) preferred for both distributing and consuming streamed content.

More KUAM videos on Google Video

Some more of the video clips I posted to Google Video are now active:
You can find all of our uploaded clips by searching on "kuam" or "guam", or checking out my del.icio.us bookmarks tagged "kuamvideo". The clips are individual segments from our newscasts and special shows. The last clip is an editorial I did on my sportstalk show based on a previous blog post.

Happy streaming!

Modeling web services: REST vs. SOAP

Richard MacManus has a good primer at the underlying technologies delivering payloads for public APIs. He compares/contrasts REST to SOAP, including mentioning that "Simple Object Access Protocol" (the full name) is no longer used. I had no idea.

A look back & a look inside - recapping 2005 predictions

John Batelle and Tom Hespos both reflect on their previously published lists of trends and technologies that they expected to reallt take off over the past twelve months. While both had distinct visions for the use of the web going into 2005, they share some foresight:
Good reads, both.

Google's concerns for storing video for major producers

One thing Google's working on for Google Video is apparently an upload program specifically for major content producers, like TV affiliates, networks, and production houses. Such isn't available at the moment, perhaps for reasons I'll now discuss.

Storing, archiving and indexing professional productions is a monstrous challenge, seeing as how the content to be uploaded from these resources will likely be of longer format than the 40-second homemade lip synch video or de facto video blogs that are in such great distribution now, making for bandwidth and storage space concerns. Such content will also surely be more time-sensitive, like news reports, and will be uploaded with greater frequency, meaning that the review process will need to be expedited or some sort of trust relationship established between Google and the contenrt producer to ensure legitimacy of content while streamlining the process of making video accessible without an unreasonable wait.

Also, once Google opens up its web search video service to professional production shops, the population of publishers is going to jump exponentially over what it is now. I've made it no secret that even though my company, a TV/radio station and web shop in Guam, does a lot of archival of our own video in our webcast archives, we're planning on strategically having a limited amount of our stuff exposed through Google Video as well so that more people discover our work. But even though we plan to mirror some of the multimedia content we publish to our own site, certainly many companies will forego the traditional approach of self-hosting from their own properties and publish exclusively to Google Video, sacrificing traffic to their own site for greater exposure.

Simply put, once the company makes the service available to those who do video for a living, the floodgates are going to be opened. Google can't reasonably be expected to archive tens of thousands of hours of video from all over the world for free...can it? Such would draw the ire of web hosting companies that support video packages, destroying their economy. I expect some sort of paid membership access for pros to arise, and I'd gladly be willing to fork out the money to be part of it.

But my concerns are merely the assumptions based on current standards and behavior patterns, in lieu of new and creative tools used to manage video content. I've been pleasantly surprised before with the innovations that have come out of Mountain View. I hope to be shocked in similar fashion again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I got a USB aquarium for Christmas

The CEO of the parent company that manages KUAM stopped by the office today and dropped off a nice little holiday present for me, which I appreciated: a USB aquarium (see Engadget's review). It's basically desktop eye candy - you fill it with water and and runs off your PC's power and little plastic fish bob to and fro. Neat.

(Now I've only got to find an open USB port, what with my iPod, iRiver, keyboard, mouse, digital camera card reader and a couple other peripherals fighting for space.)

This goes right next to my Todd McFarlane diorama of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper". During a supertyphoon in 2002 I lost the cool blue lava lamp my mom got me only a year earlier, which sucked. I still have yet to get over that one.

Gmail doesn't use X-Mailer header

Just for honks and giggles (and in dramatic display of what a massive geek I am), I did a little examination of the headers sent when transmitting messages with Gmail. I was basically curious about the specific identification of the web-based mail system, and if there was any variance between the headers used in the desktop platform and the new Gmail Mobile. I was surprised to discover that the X-Mailer header, which not all e-mail clients use anyway, isn't present in Gmail-based messages.

You can, however, programmatically determine the base application of Gmail messages by looking at DomainKey-Signature. For sample messages I sent with the desktop web version of Gmail and Gmail Mobile, I received, in part, "a=rsa-sha1; q=dns; c=nofws;s=beta;d=gmail.com;" as the name/value string.

This is probably going to come in handy for future use.

How the Grok Stole Christmas

I proactively got all of my holiday commitments out of the way early this year. Most of the world is so traditionally preoccupied with matters outside of the spiritual, historical and cultural aspects of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's that the corporate world pretty much slows down dramatically for the period. So I honor my faith, buy gifts for the people I care about, and concentrate on work to get a leg up on the next guy.

My big thing this holiday season, aside from the normal workload and commitments, is Ruby On Rails. I'm really into this stuff, and I plan to have a couple of web apps rolled and deployed by the first week of January. Just some simple data access and presentation layer stuff, without too much emphasis on MVC or n-tier development.

URLs forthcoming!

Google's infrastructure creaking?

I was impressed to read that Google is worried about the massive amount of power and resources it's consuming due to its massive computing requirements. Wasn't the purpose behind the streamlined design of the company's data center infrastructure such that memory, processing power and server space could be added and activated in plug-and-play fashion to its custom Linux build quickly? One would think the same rapid response implementation of resources would apply for bandwidth.

I did surprise me to see that membership access to Google Analytics had to be cut off temporarily due to overwhelming demand:

Google Analytics has experienced extremely strong demand, and as a result, we have temporarily limited the number of new signups as we increase capacity. In the meantime, please submit your name and email address and we will notify you as soon as we are ready to add new accounts. Thank you for your patience.

But it's not just current services - think of the expanded need for processing power when/if they start digitizing books, do more with mapping, expand its mobile offering and continue to innovate search facilities by indexing multimedia? It's a Herculian task to manage.

Resolutions for newspapers in 2006

Steve Outing has an insightful manifesto for newspapers on tactics that *have to* adopted in 2006 if the platform is to stay competitive, or dare I say, alive. We all know how I feel about the print industry, and Steve's got some great thoughts that reinforce the concept that newspapers and magazines are dying. HypergeneMedia discusses some of the ramifications.

Here's a synopsis of Steve's list of strategies newspapers should take:
  1. "I will discuss more, talk less."
  2. "I will dare to wiki."
  3. "I will be more interactive."
  4. "I will seek out 'citizen advertisers."
  5. "I will learn to turn free classifieds into money."
  6. "I will publish where the young people are."
  7. "I will devise a better Web site registration scheme."
  8. "I will become a podcast god."
  9. "I will not become complacent; I will remain alert."
The podcast thing (#8) admittedly surprised me. The suggestion to become and stay proactive in reporting news events (#9) has been a call that's gone unanswered for years.

KUAM Guam videos now available on Google Video

After a brief 4-day wait after submitting a few clips from my station's archive to Google Video, they got converted, index and approved, and are up. This is too sweet!
You can also search Google Video on "Guam" or check out my del.icio.us bookmarks tagged with "kuamvideo" to find the clips. Enjoy...there's more to come!

"Build to flip" model is recipe for disaster

One topic that's getting a lot of attention lately is whether startups in the Web 2.0 economy should be "built to flip", meaning conceived to ultimately be acquired by Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft. This frame of mind, coupled with the misguided fascination with the almighty IPO, is largely the moronic mentality that led to the first .COM boom and is the precept upon which pundits anticipate the Web 2.0 bubble bursting.

Paul Kedrosky's got a great post about this, in which he writes:
If you are building a startup solely with the intent of flipping it to one of the majors then you are playing Russian roulette using a gun with five full cylinders, and one cylinder containing a bullet that flits in and out with 50% probability. It is, in other words, a stupid game, one that ex post looks more rational than it would truly be to have done ex ante.
Jason Calacanis also has great insight on the topic on his appearance on The Web 2.0 Show podcast, frowning on the notion of building a company for the sole purpose of selling it off to a Fortune 50 entity (Jason sold his Weblogs, Inc. to AOL). This was echoed in similar fashion by the 37Signals guys on an OnPodSessions podcast.

It's true that there are several companies that have brought great wealth, fame, power and success to thier founders by through M&A, but they're sorely the minority and can't be used as a models for success. It's a hell of a risk and largely lacks a solid business plan. You create a concern to weather the storm, make money, give people opportunities, and bring new value to the world. If the stock market crashed or the national economy went south (perish the thought) corporate investment would probably dry up, leaving you out in the cold. If a major company bought a competitor (i.e., Gizmo over Skype), you'd again be left out, waiting for consideration. It's just not a smart move to make.

In the post that started all this, Dare Obasanjo writes:

If you are building a Web startup with the intention of flipping it to one of the majors, only three things matter; technology/IP, users and the quality of your technical team. Repeatedly ask yourself: would Microsoft want our users? would Google want our technology? would Yahoo! want our people?

It's as simple as that.

In response, I can see where the majors would go after solid companies have promise. But the "build to flip" model is inherently too reckless. If you happen to be one of the few hundred that have successfully flipped a startup, more power to you.

Bottom line: you don't build a company to flip it. It's asking to fail.

Defending MacManus: is Web 2.0 dead?

Richard MacManus, whose writing I enjoy, has been getting criticism and praise in the aftermath of his assertion that "Web 2.0 is dead" following Russell Shaw's equally important thoughts on Web 2.0's non-existence. Not surprisingly, people aren't taking this well (full coverage) . After posting a bookmarkworthy entry to ReadWriteWeb.com on the state of Web 2.0 amidst community flaming, some have risen to irk him on, to carry on the torch of this fragmented, oft-misunderstood Web 2.0 thing.

Said Shaw:
Most marketers have [a slogan]. The problem I have with this "Web 2.0" slogan is that it is a contrivance, meant to imply a unified movement or wave toward a better Web. [...] Well, Web 2.0 is bunk. Not that the elements of this rebirth aren't there. I write about some of them, and Richard has them nailed. It's just that they cannot be classified under a common umbrella. They are forward lurches of various standards and technologies, some compatible, some not. Some revolutionary, some evolutionary, some impractical. Some are collaborative, others are highly competitive with each other.
...to which Dave Winer, who's monumental accomplishments in this space are respected, said:

Web 2.0 is a way for certain marketing people to claim they invented stuff that they didn't invent, without actually claiming they invented it. It's the kind of double-talk marketing guys love.

In a sense people are right when they say it's another bubble. It's dishonest like the bubble was. Yet the technologies they're hyping are honest.

Yeah, we're getting fleeced again. It sucks.

Richard's terse post vocalized his frustration at reluctantly being one of Web 2.0's champions:

I've had enough of the hype. I've had enough of cynicism. I've had enough of hate blogs. The nail in the coffin was this post on ZDNet, by Russell Shaw. The thing is, I agree with Russell. The term 'Web 2.0' is distracting from the real value going on in the Web right now. Read/WriteWeb will be focusing on more media-related web technology in 2006. Enough Web 2.0.

I told Richard I thought Web 2.0 was very much alive thanks to admittedly naive marketing push, but less so to technical communities. The former are liberated by it, abuzz with ideas about how to monetize applications, flip startups and capitalize on trends; the latter are insulted at the sudden interest in, collective labeling of and crass commoditization of a set of technologies describing revolutionary/evolutionary platforms that in some cases have been in existence for years.

Being a fellow savvy media person, I'm sure despite the exhausting effects criticism has on one's energy levels, Richard knows in the end there's no such thing as bad press. His contributions to date are noted and have helped grow interest. I'm in his corner to altruistically shift his focus towards other emerging platforms, like new media, to not let the interest in the buzzword devalue the real growth of the Web.

If he does pursue other topics on his blog, that's vision on Richard's part. That's progress. That's maturity. That's moving forward, to investigate, help grow and contribute to something bigger and of future importance to those living the digital lifestyle.

How Web 2.0 of him.

Interop between major blogging platforms needed

I agree with Dave's post on the need for interoperability between the major blogging platforms and find that more needs to be done to allow the disparate systems to communicate more seamlessly. Dave favors a mechanism allowing bloggers to move between platforms in the event of extreme downtime or site migration.

Dave Writes:
Of course there will be debate about what the format should be, it wouldn’t be the software industry without such a debate, but this time we should reach closure and interop.
My concern leans more towards allowing for notification via linking facilities within the platforms themselves that inform users using heterogeneous applications (Blogger, MovableType, WordPress, TypePad). Blogger's network is really neat in this respect, letting me know when fellow members of that platform reference any posts I've done on my site. The others also do similar work, but it would be nice to let the systems communicate between each other, as well.

Right now the only way I can track links to my site as through simple Google hacks or claiming my blogs in Technorati. But it would be cool to do this between blogging apps inherently.

Real-World AJAX Seminar in NYC



I wish I could be able to attend the Real-World AJAX Seminar in New York City next March. The speakers are very distinguished and noted for their contributions, and the topics are intriguing. Considering how many similar talks you can get free as podcasts, this is still worth the money.

There's going to be a live broadcast on SYS-CON.TV, so I'll probably catch it then. (On that note, there's a neat power panel video on Web 2.0 AJAX worth checking out.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Analyzing my blog's *real* traffic: measuring RSS

I was thinking this morning on the drive into work about investing in some freeware (har har) blog stats software. Blogger, the app supporting this blog, doesn't come with stat tools right off the bat. So I've got options, as Mark Evans cites: Google Analytics, BlogBeat, SiteMeter, StatCounter and several more.

The ultimate question is if I know how many users access my site, and how often, and where they go. The ultimate truth is that I don't know.

I assume that a few hundred people check out my URL on an erratic basis, but I'm even more certain that people that use RSS-based syndication make up my larger audience. But I'd like to know for sure, so that I can tailor my promotional efforts more towards this end, or shift my activities to draw more attention to my domain. Not surprisingly, I'm not alone. This is important to marketers wanting to make a buck off of all the energy and effort put into blogging.

I'm naturally curious about popularity of my site (or lack thereof), but I'm more interested in my RSS feed's subscribers than traffic generated from conventional web browsing, as the former indicates return viewership. This makes stats tracking the number of subscribers even more valuable if we're to try and generate revenue from as sales from RSS popularity. In the case of my personalo blog, I'm doing this more as a means of knowing just how many people out there are reading my stuff. I don't like flying blind.

We've had this problem with podcasting, too. Since that platform also uses RSS as a delivery mechanism, it's interesting to accurately know how many people out there subscribe to a feed.

Why doesn't Skype include a recording facility?

With recent upgrades to Skype, including enhancements for the VoIP app's mobile access, I'm puzzled why Yahoo! hasn't pushed for a feature to be shipped within the program enabling calls to be recorded. This would effectivelty create the "SkypeCasting" movement everyone's so keen on. Being able to digitally record a placed call and export it to an MP3 is one of the things that makes Gizmo so popular.

But with Skype, we're left with messy, unstandardized unofficial hacks to do things like podcast interviews.

I guess how Skype as the market leader might be prevented from rolling out such innovation in the interest of social responsibility and thus have to shy away from such features. I can see as such behavior by users, if left unpoliced, would be teetering on surveillance, and despite the company's best efforts to stress the rule that you have to make another party aware that they're being recorded, such wouldn't be enforced by the community and get them into all sorts of hot water. Or maybe this is intentionally done to allow an economy of third-party companies supporting after-market products to thrive. I guess I just answered my own question.

But you've gotta think that there could be a workaround for this...an audible alert, the pleasant English lady's voice at the onset letting the receiving party know they're being recorded, etc. This would make the app so much sweeter.

Flickr co-founder comments on future of Web 2.0

Caterina Fake (great name), Flickr's co-founder, rapped with ZDNet in a video interview about going forward with the popular service using the assumed tenets of Web 2.0.
Here's the full, 20-minute talk.

Unexplicable spike in RSS traffic

For reason(s) I'm still trying to idenfity, my site's RSS traffic for our main newsfeed increased by a factor of four on a specific day last week. I don't know what it was. It was a fairly mundane week as far as local news headlines go, and traffic always dips slightly during this time of year anyway due to dutiful shopping, parties, caroling and whatnot.

Just the fact that it was that one newsfeed and one that one day make it rather odd. Good thing I'm caching results.

del.icio.us down...again

"del.icio.us is down for emergency maintenance. we'll be back as soon possible."

Bummer. I finally got with the program and did the social bookmarking thing a few days ago, right before the other major outage in the last few days. I thought I broke the damn thing. Now I'm a big believer in karma, so I'm not one to wish downtime on anyone, partner or rival, but this sucks.


*UPDATE*
New error message:
Due to the power outage earlier in the week, we appear a number of continued hiccups. We've taken everything offline to properly rebuild and restore everything. I apologize and hope to have this resolved as soon as possible. Thank you for your continued patience.

Updates will be posted on our blog as we have them.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Gmail Mobile runs on PSP

Although Gmail Mobile has been promoted virally through the blogosphere as a mobile mail extension exclusively for cell phones, Dirson has a blog post and photostream of Gmail running on a PSP. Nice.


Welcome to the blogosphere...Tim Berners-Lee???

Now this is interesting: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, has only now gotten into blogging. His first post is a great read and has already generated a ton of comments. I'll bet my next paycheck that he's got more subscribers to his RSS feed than most large media organizations. I know I did.

Sir Tim writes:
"In 1989 one of the main objectives of the WWW was to be a space for sharing information. It seemed evident that it should be a space in which anyone could be creative, to which anyone could contribute. The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web if one had access rights. [...] That said, it is nice to have a machine to the administrative work of handling the navigation bars and comment buttons and so on, and it is nice to edit in a mode in which you can to limited damage to the site. So I am going to try this blog thing using blog tools. So this is for all the people who have been saying I ought to have a blog."

They say you always remember your first time (blogging, that is). Richard MacManus does, and so do I.

Holiday NetFlix to-do list

Tom mentions how he's making good on his stack of movie passes (I never even use the unlimited ones I'm comp'ed for being in the media...how sad is that?), which got me thinking about flicks I'd like to catch in between shifts at Camp Happy. I'm trying to avoid the seasonal insanity out on the road, and having done most of my shopping online, I'm homebound after I'm off the air.

I put together my NetFlix wish list for myself, so I'll be doing the movies-by-mail thing this week. If we put in the order on Tuesday, it *usually* gets here about Friday, in time for the weekend. I'm one of those guys who watches a film once, and then it's right in the postbox and back to the source. So forthcoming to my DVD player between now and Valentine's Day, workload permitting, are:
My NetFlix usage behavior pattern is such that I only get older films I've already seen, or hard to find stuff you can't get locally. I figure my one small contribution to brick-and-mortar retailing is renting at Blockbuster for new releases.

Single or multiple newsrooms...should that be the question?

Jeff Jarvis talks about the recent interest in either completely marrying print and online newsrooms in newspaper operations, or leaving them to their own autonomy. I've always maintained that broadcast companies have a more natural synergy with Internet technologies, and so there's an easier adoption barrier to overcome. The risks and sacrifices in terms of publishing, viewership losses, revenue opportunities and integration are less.

But the one constant remains the need to serve a customer, and that most people in the masses aren't ready to give up their papers and magazines just yet. This does make for an interesting challenge in either total merging off your newsroom or running essentially two organizations. The obvious risk in the case of the latter is ensuring that the two don't compete with each other.

Jeff says:
I have argued that newspapers have a choice: Either totally upend newsroom culture and get people to face the strategic imperative of gathering and sharing news in new ways across all platforms … or move most of the staff to online - where the audience is now and revenue growth, if not equivalent revenue, will be - and leave the dinosaurs behind. But if you take the former course, if you take the challenge of exploding the newsroom, then you probably have to give those people control for all the products and hold them accountable for audience growth and satisfaction and for keeping up with all their new competitors, small and smaller.

The big thing about newspapers is that once news publications make their online offering even a single iota more responsive, more interactive or in any way better than their print counterparts, they cannibalize their core competency. When my own company made the big push in 1999 to go all-out online, we decided to hire software developers and web experts to work directly under the news umbrella, as that would be the biggest draw to our site.

It's worked for us - we can stop on a dime, launch new products, report news and integrate coverage way better than if we ran two independent departments.

Invaders rock out on Google Video

I discovered Invaders just now on Google Video, a kick-ass 80's heavy metal cover band from Italy. They've got a few clips up of a performance they did, and nailed several metal mainstays:
They really delivered on all the tracks, with the exception of some odd vocals in the Metallica cut that probably got lost in translation.

Oddly enough, I found the clips when doing a search on "Web 2.0", also finding this cool guitar tribute to the main riff from "Master of Puppets". That's the one thing about Google Video I don't get - the correlation of videos. No matter that I search on I always wind up getting the 4th Annual NAVIGaTR Awards, the Google Factory Tour, and at least one clip from the Archive of American Television interviews?

This is part of the set of suggestions I proposed to Google...I've got a meeting scheduled for mid-January to discuss.

Sites that rock AJAX

The unavoidable response when talking to someone about AJAX is "Where can I see an example?" Well, here's a cool list of apps that have some neat XMLHTTP implementations: http://www.ajaxmatters.com/r/resources?id=2

At least we've got a centralized list from which to draw and forward to others.

OnPodSessions interview about Web 2.0 scalability

I've been doing a lot of thinking about scalability issues in Web 2.0 architectures. Om Malik and Niall Kennedy of OnPodSessions.com have a podcast up in which they interviewed Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals about this topic. They also intertwine the recent release of Ruby On Rails 1.0 with scalability issues.

Realy neat stuff.

MPA shuts pair of guitar tablature sites down

The Music Publisher's Association is launching an offensive against sites that list music in tablature form (expressed as chord patterns and string/fret fingering instead of traditional sheet music). PowerTabs.net and MXTabs.net are reportedly the latest casualties in this salvo that threatens royalties generated from music publishing.

Being that they're community-submitted, unofficial interpretations of an artist's work, the tabs listed are always subject to inaccuracy. Caveat emptor, so to speak. I became a better player by using tab sites in the mid-1990's (there were initially only a few). But, I still bought the sheet music and tab books from reliable sources for the undisputable actual music and a song's full arrangement.

I've been foreseeing this day for years. And this comes right on the heels of the pearLyrics debacle, in which the clever service that searched out song lyrics while a track played in iTunes was ultimately issued an apology by Warner/Chappelle after being issued a cease-and-decist order.

Great moments in marketing: news via "The Boy Band" concept

As a marketer, one thing I like to do is keep tabs on my most outlandish, creative, stupid, or otherwise notable ideas for promoting products. I even draw on my collosal failures just to stay honest and humble. One of my more positive achievements came circa early 2001, when I proposed that due to skinny ad budgets because of a local economy that was in the toilet, my station consider adopting a repackaging strategy for ad investment in our newscasts, based on a popular trend: boy bands.

You know what I'm talking about...and this isn't just a nod at N'Sync, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. This is a classic stroke of marketing genius going all the way back to the Beatles and being brought back into public consciousness in 1980s with New Edition and New Kids On the Block. With the Fab Four, John was insightful, Paul was masterfully creative, Ringo wild & crazy and George quiet. Everyone knew their personalities, and people gravitated towards them. Hell, this is the same precept upon which KISS was fouded - bind yourself to the character with which you most directly identify or would like to be.

This was the same core concept I suggested we take in marketing our newscasts. I felt that each one of our anchorpeople had their own unique characteristcs, idiosyncracies and traits, and that by doing a little rescheduling, a touch of crass self-promotion, and a bit of education, we could more directly sell our various newscasts to advertisers based on who they thought their target audiences would be, and the type of people that would avail of their products and services.

We had fun coming up with the personalities: the smart one, the centerfold model, the distinguished older gentleman, the spriteful and ambitious youngster. We ultimatelty decided not to go such a route, mainly because of the economic, competitive and cultural changes brought on by the terrorist attacks just a few months later on September 11. But we did shelve this strategy for possible use in the future as a media company.

Capitalizing on popular trends can be beneficial; as a case in pint, we're mulling the same thing with reality TV, too.

Hacking "Motherload" playlists, a reverse engineering perspective

I'm on Comedy Central's Motherload all the time. I love the network's broadband channel and the range of clips that it features and the quality. I love the fact that ads run at the beginning of every second or third clip, not each and every video, prompting me to watch more. I used it as the main case study when developing my affiliate station's forthcoming streaming media player for broadband Internet access. But one thing I wish it could do better is manage playlists.

The good thing is that anyone can start using it right now if you've got a fat enough pipe, a fast enough chip and ample RAM (the Flash 8 application on which it's based is quite processor and memory intensive). But this benefit is also a drawback, because you can't easily roam with your selected clips from computer to computer, seamlessly accessing videos you've picked out from the mammoth archive as if you never left machines. I've worked around this by e-mailing myself my playlist from within Motherload, which creates the following URL: http://www.comedycentral.com/motherload/?lnk=p&ml_playlist=19385&source=OD_PLAYLIST.

Launching this in an IE browser on my office workstation (Firefox and Safari not currently supported) brings up the playlist I configured at home. It's an extra step that's admittedly not too laborious for me to do, and it works. And I didn't have to signup for anything, or create any sot of passwords. But, if I add/delete/resort more clips at work, I've got wash, rinse, repeat back to my home PC to get it to work. There isn't a centralized way for me to get at my favorite stuff.

In my own implementation, also based on Flash 8, I support playlists for my station's video archive. To retain the advantage of membership-less access, but persist their selected clips across visits, I considered a few options, dismissing them all: session variables would expire either when the browser was shut down, application variables would cause too much mucky overhead and cookies wouldn't roam. So I came up with my own following architecture of persisting playlist clips across usage sessions and machine transfers.

Basically, I use a database table that's got simple fields representing user sessions and a related table with the total available clips. When a user initially creates a playlist, an XML document is created in server-side code and then inserted into the DB. The nodeset within the XML represents the specific clips selected by the user and their ordering (a user can rearrange the sequential listing of the videos). The XML document essentially reflects any changes made to the playlist (i.e., adding, deleting, resorting) by triggering CRUD operations based on an event (OnPlaylistChanged). When a clip is moved, the event fires and the XML is updated and reposted to the database. A client-side cookie is also set linking a machine with the DB table, reflecting any changes made to the playlist in between sessions, or as my previous example highlighted, between sessions on different computers.

So this hopefully will deliver the same rich user experience as Motherload, while addressing the concern I've got about persisting playlists and playlist modifications without the burden of a membership system.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Matt Groening says "Futurama" might be back

The success of the DVD sales of "Futurama" might bring the show back onto the airwaves, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, and not in syndication on Adult Swim.

If only the same fate could befall "The Critic". Jay Sherman was the best.

Howard Stern signs off until January 9

Howard Stern is on a brief (but too long) hiatus from the terrestrial radio airwaves until he makes his triumphant debut on Sirius on January 9. Many industry pundits see this as being the official moment when satellite radio will really take off.

Guam doesn't get the King of All Media's radio program, but I remember Howard's short-lived late night TV show. It was at the tender age of 11 that I caught the original Kielbasa Queen.

Yahoo's got streaming coverage of the historic sendoff...and the grand introduction into the satellite world by - who else - Martha Stewart!

Stern rules.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Tracking blog comments with del.icio.us

Steve Rubel points to (currently 404'ing) Elisa Camahort's innovative method of using her del.icio.us bookmarks to track blogs she's posted comments on, by simply tagging her comments under a common link. Nice work!

LEGOs aren't even fun anymore

I'm old enough to remember a time when LEGO products, arguably the most fun toy of my childhood, were actually bricks and connectable pieces. I used to toil for hours building stuff, in the hopes of making that one good design to have a bunhc of red square pieces fit with the blue round ones to make something. It was creativity at its best: put a thousand non-descript components at my feet and allow me to amuse myself. That having been said, I don't get the point of today's LEGO products.

Mostly everything comes pre-fabricated, so the only real assembly per se is connecting Slot A into Socket B at setup and you've got yourself a playset. Visually impressive but functionally rigid and limited by their theme orientation. I this light they're more the equivalent of action figures and less building tool. Hell, even the characters are pre-fabbed.

I had other toys, like the first-generation Robotix building system or the erector set my dad got me that to this day remains waaaay over my head. Even Lincoln Logs, which only ever served a single, inflexible purpose, able to construct bu a single design was totally cool. Because the opportunity to build was there. Even when it became not a challenge, the labor was still part of the fun.

Don't get me wrong, I'm blown away with the technology that's been applied in the LEGO space. I just long for the days of endless afternoons trying to make my parents smile as I sought to use the same pieces to recreate a car or a gun or a horse or a house or some flowers.

I'm having a blue Christmas (and blog)

If you're reading this around the date of posting and by directly browsing to JasonSalas.com, you may have noticed the change in page layout, fonts and color schemes - going for somber shades of blue. Marty commented on Scott's site that my blog in the previous template (shown) was really wrecked when viewed in Firefox. I know...it was something with a module I'd included and that template that for some reason threw all the tables and back-end Blogger coding way out of whack.

So I changed it up a bit. Hope this works. Form and function...hope ya like it.

Gmail goes mobile

Gmail is now accessible via wireless phones! And unlike a previous issue with Google Local for Mobile in which my phone can't do OTA provisioning, this works right off the bat. This was easily the biggest story of the day for me.

Just point your phone's browser to http://m.gmail.com.

Also added to the mix are vacation messages and the long-overdue contact groups. One step forward towards total world domination. And really, really cool.

Strategy as marketing gimmick in 2006

In a recent media industry e-mail newsletter I read Cory Treffiletti's prognistications about what concepts will be big in 2006. Here's a synopsis of his excellent list:
  1. User-generated content will be king.
  2. Video-on-demand will start to incorporate advertising.
  3. The topic of "Integration" is not going to go away.
  4. Mobile advertising will come into its own.
  5. In-game advertising is going to explode.
  6. There will be some element of backlash towards product placement from the consumer.
  7. An advertiser will publicly state that its strategic planning will be led by its interactive agency for all media.
I've got one to add, if Cory doesn't mind:

8. Open promotion of multiplatform strategies as competitive tools

For years we've been working in vacuums, trying to shield public dissemination of strategies, sharing them only in vague and limited fashion with the mainstream media. But our most guarded secrets will soon be our most valued promotional tools - openly exposing our battle plans and short- and long-term plans as a means of generating consumer loyalty, investor interest, and building the competitive climate.

I see this as a "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" type of scenario. Social media applications let people find out what you're up to anyway, and with less control than through the mainstream media. So why not accept and embrace the concept of publicizing your strategies for the benefit of your operation? Don't hide or be threatened by rumors, tell the truth.

I've been using this practice for years, admittely against the better wishes of my boss. I don't look at telling select people what we're up to as a means of sacrificing corporate secrecy...I make sure to let the right people in on the knowledge.

Don't worry about platform, just be a journalist

Lost Remote has a quick commentary addressing a problem I'm confronted with every spring: having aspiring journalists wanting to join the pro ranks, but not truly sure where they want to go. Every year a few months before graduation I get asked to speak at numerous classes and seminars about the changing face of professional journalism, asked specifically for my input since I'm involved in new media as well as mainstream communications.

Professors and students seem to be fixated on tailoring their skill set to one news platform - TV, radio, print, or online. But the piece confronts this issue, telling people just getting into the biz to learn about how the game work and sharpen the core skills necessary - interviewing, working with tight deadlines, storytelling. It's true that there are idiosyncracies and nuances between each of the major forms of mass media communications, and field experience will teach them to you.

So to all newbies: forget the platform, worry about the practice. Because soon, you'll be expected to know how to effectively send your message across them all.

Screencast on hacking Memeorandum

Alex Barnett does a masterful job in his screencast of breaking down Memeorandum's algorithm that determines popularity and relevance for web articles, showing how to get placement in the Web's "living paper". He also talks about the chances that the policy could be abused by crackers and people getting banned.

Thanks for the knowledge, Alex!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Guam blogrollcall!

The number of bloggers who hail from Guam, either currently or previously, are limited. Welcome to our world. But we're a proud bunch, supportive of each other's work and willing to share.

In lieu of having web support for cool things like blog maps like major mainland markets do, I'm compiling a list of Guam bloggers - people that actively post to their sites. Toni (who's got me listed in her blogroll as "Jason Salad"...better than "Salsa", I guess) got me thinking about creating a comprehensive listing the web work and thoughts of Guamanians all over the place. Feel free to leave a comment and append your URL of your blog, podcast, photostream...whatever...to the list.

Let's see how big this thing gets.

Hooray for Hollywood! (my stuff on Google Video)

If a still picture is worth a thousand words, the Internet's got a million more conversations thanks to me. I spent the better part of this afternoon at work uploading several of my company's VOD and streaming clips to Google Video. I got the go-ahead from one of their engineers to test it out with some news footage and special productions, so I sent in a pair of 45-minute specials as WMVs and five other segment-y pieces as MP4s.

I'm glad to be contributing to the collection of videos representing Guam. I don't much care for 40-second videos, and the 13-second variety drive me nuts, so I put up some stuff that people can sit and enjoy for a bit. Browsing to the page and waiting for the buffering takes longer than it does to play back the clip. By my calculations I figure I uploaded around 300MB of video makin for a good two and a half hours of content.

I was very impressed with the web-based utility with which I could describe the clips, categorize them and credit those who were involved with its production. But the part I liked best was the ability to include a transcription of the show. Because we're a news organization, all the clips I uploaded have corresponding permalinks and articles, so you've truly got a full story.

I was hoping to be able to do this all from the Google Video Uploader utility I downloaded, but that wouldn't be very Web 2.0 of them. I got an e-mail shortly after posting the first clip, which led me to a command console where I could describe the clips and then wait for them to be posted.

I'll be posting links on my blog when the clips are available, or lookout for my del.icio.us bookmarks tagged with "kuamvideo".

Merci, Google! Translation tool deciphers Opera buyout speculation

What's funny about the whole rumor that Google may be buying Opera (at the moment just that) is the frenetic pace people are running with in getting the facts straight and trying to clarify the speculation of what would happen if it went down. This sort of activity was best exhibited in Google Language Tools translating the French blog post of former Yahoo! Europe chief Pierre Chappaz about the rumored acquisition.
Venez encore!

Google buying Opera?

Some friends and contacts at Google apologized today for the uncharacteristic delay in replying to some ongoing correspondence. They were all quick to point out, unprovoked, that they've all been "working on something really big relative to an announcement in early 2006", but they're diametrically unwavering in not saying anything else about it.

The Rumorville buzz around the blogosphere is that Google's buying Opera. Whoa. That would be huge. Reportedly an Opera official denied the claim, dismissing it as myth. But this would be a very logical progression for Google, giving it core control of the infrastucture with which people access its applications and, subsequently, the World Wide Web. This would also allow Google to also get more involved in the mobile space, which I've stated that it needs to do more of.

But depsite my best journalistic snooping and cyber-sleuthing, I can't lend any more credence to the story, so it's still a RUMOR.

(Read what the mammoth theoretical implications of this acquisition could be.)

Microsoft chooses Firefox's RSS icon for IE7

Microsoft's RSS team announced that they'll be using the RSS icon used in Firefox in IE7. The previous options for icongraphy representing live syndication didn't quite fit the mold, so they went this route.

While they're undoubtedly going to be flamed for the lack of originality, I'm actually happy to see this. It'll be the same thing across platforms.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now...

My boss poked fun at me in a manager's meeting the other day, playfully ripping my staunch opinion that we've got to make ALL of our data freely accessible. I understand the necessity of ad support, banner placement and co-branding, but the larger goal for me is total blanket coverage in terms of accessibility and exposure. Upon launch, I wanted to work with Google Video right away, seeing this is a major advantage if we could get a foot in the door.

I'm bummed that at the moment Google Video won't accept submissions from production houses, so I can't put my station's stuff online in the capacity that I'd like to. However, there's a method to my madness and an ulterior motive to the VOD product offering I've got. I'm assuming that a viral marketing push for the more popular clips we release for public download will make it onto Google Video anyway. If I don't put it up, someone will.

My station's video podcast services put video directly in the hands of users, not streaming clips that can't be saved to disk, copied to other devices and shared with friends. So while Google Video at the moment is planning a platform for professional content producers, we'll rely on good 'ol community assistance to make sure our stuff's exposed.

Enhancements to Web 2.0 apps we need to see

Label me a grinch this time of year, but I've been thinking about the way I use Web 2.0 apps lately, but more about what they're missing. Chalk one up for pessimism in the interest of continuous improvement. I propose the following features within platforms and services avaiable today:
More to come!

I'm "too technical" to blog about Google? Cool!

Christmas came early for me this year, evidently. I got an e-mail back from WebLogs, Inc. that's flattering in a roundabout way about a post I responded to yesterday, looking for bloggers to keep tabs on Google for The Unofficial Google Weblog. I sent a link to my resume in the hopes I'd get considered and maybe make some extra cash on the side doing what I'd do anyway.

I just got a reply e-mail now, stating, in part:

Hi Jason,

Your technical chops are noted. I think your focus would be a little *too* technical for the Google blog, but we are considering moving more specifically into Web 2.0 coverage, at which point there might be a good match. Please stay tuned for future developments.

Woof. I've always taken pride in myself - especially in my writing - in being able to make the complex easy to digest, and be able to explain topics that are relevant to a techie audience, but not too over the head for the neophyte or fairweather reader.

Oddly, this is the same line that Microsoft used on me in 2000 when I applied for a job on the Office team. "Your passion for our techonology is very visible, but we find you to be TOO passionate about technology to be a good fit here." HUH?!?!?

Don't shit a shitter. I can take rejection, but I won't stand for dancing around the issue just to be cordial. If I haven't got the chutzpah, if you're worried about the Guam thing, if my reputation preceeds me, if you don't want someone in new media and mass media simultaneously, just state it. I won't sue for discrimination. Just be honest, dammit.

Don't bother me...I'm learning Ruby on Rails

Well, it looks like DVDs 2 through 4 of the "Spawn - The Ultimate Collection" set I bought last weekend and started are going to have to wait. I've got a new web development platform to play with. Jim says the release of Ruby on Rails 1.0, with the inclusion of Scriptaculous 1.5 for rich controls and Prototype 1.4 as an Ajax library, makes for a more attractive release than .NET 2.0.

I've got some time alone with an OS X machine this weekend, so sorry Todd McFarlane...you're going to have to wait until Monday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Developers no longer jonesing for Java?

An interesting argument is raised by ActiveGrid CEO Peter Yared, postulating that Java might be out of touch with the demands of today's next-gen software. He cites the increase in LAMP and .NET as driving forces for a new evolution of programming, quaifying the theory.

The world's emulation of everything that contributed to the success of Google, an open source friendly towards Python, C++ and Linux; and Yahoo!, which takes a similar architectural approach, certainly don't bode well for Sun's greatest achievement. The BusinessWeek article does note, however, Java's dominance in the corporate world and the tech book market.

Gosh, I've been doing Web 2.0 work all along...

The big thing to remember about Web 2.0 is that it's largely based on existing technologies, concepts and standards, with the real innovation evident in a revamped consciousness about the ultimate use of web applications. Considering my company's portfolio of subsystems within the grand umbrella of KUAM.COM I've been able to architect over the last six years, one can say we've been doing Web 2.0 work the whole time.

Consider the following notable achievements we've pulled off that are now mainstays of the Web 2.0 state of mind:
So I guess when you look at it, it wasn't the fact that we put evolutionary concepts into production, but that we had the right attitude at the right time. The social engineering involved with introducing a new technological platform is always exponentially more difficult to manage than the technical engineering. We've been fortunate to have done it right both internally and with our audience.

Yay us.

Robin Good on podcast hijacking

I'd heard about the concept and initial documented instances of podcast hijacking from around the blogosphere, but didn't really read into it too much outside of skimming headlines. Robin Good tells the story of how the podcast feed for his show on Vegan.com got hijacked and in describes what podjacking's all about. Interesting read and something to think about going forward with the plarform.

Reminds me of the early days of domain name registration and how I almost got sued for cyberqsquatting.

Google Homepage API released

Google announced the free public API for its personalized portal page, the Google Homepage API. The intent is to have distant-end developers write custom modules for its directory using the base service that users can add to their customized page. I'm interested more in reverse engineering the kit to see how it approaches what ASP.NET 2.0 WebParts do for Start.com, and note the differences.

You've got to hand it to Google...they do make their stuff pretty easy to program against. The Google Maps API was a snap.

More on scalability in Web 2.0 architecture

Here's another great post on the concern over application scalability for Web 2.0 architectures. Good thoughts.

Support Safari or lose out

BusinessLogs has a great rant about the need for web application developers to support Safari, at the risk of losing customers. Of course there's the growing concern about various incompatabilities in Firefox, which by virtue of market share is the larger concern, but there's a valid argument for Mac folk, too, and Mike Rundle's post supports it.

I've mentioned that Writely is forthright in not supporting Safari, maybe because of the Ajax concerns. Manning's "Ajax in Action" contains a code snippet useful for any developer's library that shows how to properly return an XMLDocument or XMLHTTPRequest object, taking into account Safari browsers. More people should apply this sort of failsafe programming into their web apps (but we wouldn't have such a problem if standards compliance wasn't such an issue in the first place).

Hey, I love Safari. Its internal RSS reader is beyond cool. And I realize that while it's not the browser used by the majority of surfers, it is increasing daily as platform-agnostic application hosting and Web 2.0 architecture is allowing more people to seamlessly switch from Windows to OS X. So this should be a big concern for all of us.

The philosophy behind "Dead Poets Society"

I'm big into philosophy, owning many of the titles in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series. I was thus jazzed to find a well done, detailed analysis some of the more prevalent themes in one of my favorite movies, "Dead Poets Society" (1989). The authors break the movie down by character and the various philosophical challenges they face and the unfinished arguments in the film, the significance of some of the poems reference, and debates that extend beyond the movie.

Check it out!

MSNBC's un-Firefox savvy

John Walker blogs about a problem I've also noticed when trying to access video through MSNBC.com's video content: it doesn't work in Firefox, leaving me to lament the irritating "This product requires Microsoft© Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft© Media Player 10, and Macromedia Flash 7. To download these free software applications, click the links below and follow the on-screen instructions." Umm...hello?!? I'm running Flash 8 and WMP 10..it's only the damn browser.

I've been viewing the video through MSNBC's player in IE, and it's brilliant. But I agree with John - get with the program, MSNBC. This incompatability nonsense is totally Web 1.0. People like Firefox, too...hop to.

In similar fashion, I couldn't post a comment to John's MSN Spaces blog without a Passport account...a lingering frustration.

Chicago NBC affiliate wins regional Emmy for podcasts

Congrats and props to NBC5.com in Chicago! The station was honored with a regional Emmy for its podcasts (the first for the station's site), which recognized the fist major-market station to successfully launch podcasts. The station produces VOD and audio content for desktop, portable and mobile devices. I've subscribed to their feed since they launched, and it's very impressive.

NBC5.com RSS feed: http://www.nbc5.com/vodcast/topstory.rss

I'm not at all about awards, but I do realize they make a big competitive statement (I've previously won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Site (Small Market)). Man, I hope someone recognizes what my station's doing with multiplatform apps over broadband, too. We're outside of the Emmy selection committee's radar, but it'd be nice to get the press to help propagate the practice and give the distribution of time-shifted media some credence at the affiliate level.

I've been critical of affiliate podcasting, mainly for its lack of quality control or low production value.

Web 2.0 scalability: Digg, del.icio.us traffic overexert site

Yesterday I blogged about the increasing concerns for scalability in a Web 2.0 world, with not only your own traffic taxing your web server(s) , database(s) and bandwidth, but also that from external resources like RSS feeds, application remixes and web service calls. I just now discovered an article off Digg that apparently contained 12 neat CSS tricks, and intrigued, followed the link in the feed. This is what I got, an unfortunate incident proving the need for scalable architecture and caching:

CSS Beauty will return soon

our server was killed by digg.com and del.icio.us/popular/, we are currently looking to switch to a better host

Please visit giron.us for more info.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Alexa moves towards being platform, not destination

Amazon-owned Alexa announced in grand fashion (at least its an impressive blog post) the Alexa Web Search Platform Beta, a series of developer tools that empower distant-end programmers with the ability to create innovative search services.

Now, [the following] infrastructure is yours to use via the Alexa Web Search Platform:
Om Malik analyzes this commoditization of search, and John Battelle speculates on what this means for the future of search. Any developer managing a highly-trafficked site with diversified content in a variety of formats (including me) will tell you that search is always the hardest thing to build properly. Any aspiring hacker can drop a CGI script into a site or implement a FrontPage file-scan utility and get somewhat accurate results, but considering the required full-text searching, indexing, processing, relational concerns, archiving and other issues, this is a daunting task, technologically and economically, for anyone.

Alexa's trying to corner the market - largely by being first to do so with an entire suite of search tools, not just simple APIs that have been criticized like those offered by Yahoo! and Google - of being platform, not destination.

Another wacky idea - evaluating word strength

It must be the Summer Solstice or Equinoix or whatever they call it...I'm abuzz with ideas tonight. While writing a recommendation letter for a colleague seeking a research grant, I was mulling what words would jump out and be stronger on paper - "prestigious" or "coveted"? "Intellectual acuity" or "keen sense of spatial awareness"? Quirky things like that. I wish I had some way of figuring out what worked best in different scenarios...

(Cue light bulb above head)

I'm going to hack out the algorithm later tonight for a web service (I can't deal with UI right now) that will evaluate a word's relative strength in a given context. Think of this as a thesaurus on steroids. Keep an eye out for this...coming soon to a SOAP directory near you!

Was Tom Berenger ever in the military?

Tom Berenger is a tremendous actor, one of my favorites. He's especially effective at his craft when playing military roles, or roles derivative of military experience. This is none more evident than in his fine lead work in "Sniper", "The Substitute", his supporting character in "Platoon", and his minor role in "Born on the Fourth of July". I've run through searches on Wikipedia and IMDB and couldn't find any military experience - perhaps a tribute to his acting talents.

Many will cite "Platoon" as his definitive grunt work, but I've always admired how he nailed the tough-as-nail Marine gunnery sergeant Thomas Beckett in "Sniper".

I salute you, Tom.

Incoming Skype calls and caller ID

I've not used SkypeOut, the VoIP app's ability to place calls to wireless or landline numbers, so I have no input for what I'm about to ask. I'm wondering how an incoming Skype call appears on most caller ID features through cellular service providers or POTS. And now that I think about it, in simialr fashion for Vonage, Gizmo and other VoIP services (and possibly VoIM platforms like Google Talk).

Out here in TechnicalNeverNeverLand (where technology refuses to grow up), non-local calls usually get treated as the unfriendly, uninformative "Incoming Call", "Private Call" or "Unknown Number". I'm assuming that most handset OS'es don't know how to interpret calls originating from VoIP/VoIM devices. But one would hope they'd be working on a way, if not to identify such a call expliticly, then at least differentiate between platforms.

MobiTV going with local ads, but not local content

One nut I've yet to crack as a content partner has been the mobile streaming service MobiTV. Gosh I love this service...I'm on my phone watching FoxSports all the time. But for weeks I've run into walls trying to get e-mail answered or a call back about adding my company's video content.

Now I realize that since my station providing localized news and entertainment content for 155,000 people in the Guam market (and about that same number in expatriates worldwide) isn't the biggest deal. And we're not on the level of many of the current channel partners, but it still would be nice to be able to push this to those who could access video over BREW-enabled phones.

So while I'm lamenting my inability to get a foot in the door at MobiTV, PaidContent.org reports that the company is launching a repurposing advertising platform allowing clients insert localized TV spots within the network stream. That's a helluva idea. Now, if they can only get local content, even in limited distribution amounts, I'd be on Cloud 9.

Until then, I'll be leaving my sale reps my daily voicemails...

CNN's "15 Years of the Web"

I found CNN's listing of the top moments in web history over the last 15 years intriguing, but a bit disappointing, mainly because many of the moments didn't involve the Web, per se. Technically, Skype and Napster, both being desktop P2P apps, doesn't really involve the WWW outside of promotion.

But in terms of the legion of blog posts, online forum contributions, mainstream media articles and HTML-based smack talk they generated, sure, I'd say this is an accurate account of the major storylines.

The muse is upon me (technically speaking)

I don't know what's come over me this morning (probably the twin King Carr Lemon Teas I pounded), but I've been on a technical writing tear. I've been in correspondence with some of the third-party ISVs we're using to develop software for our broadband service, and I've been grilling them on details of the collaborative development.

Here's a snippet of one such e-mail:
One thing I’d like to brainstorm is how we could store & persist selected video clips in a user’s playlist. Session or Application data isn’t the best way to go because it’ll expire or be recycled in the event the server restarts. I’d like to discuss about doing all CRUD operations as XML documents stored in my SQL Server DB.

I can write a SOAP service you can programmatically access via a Flash 8 app to insert or update playlist items, based on a GUID assigned in a cookie set on the user’s machine. (I’d like to promote playlist portability to let me users roam with their favorite clips, but I guess this will have to do for now unless you have any other ideas.) In the event of changes, we’d just read through the existing XML document, make changes to the nodeset and save the changes back to the DB.

Must be the caffeine.

Scalability issues in a Web 2.0 world

I'm a few days late jumping into the game, but I've been thinking about the arguments/suggestions proposed for and against scalability in Web 2.0 architectures. Notably, the contributions of Om Malik and Jeremy Wright on the topic - essential reading for those interested - has brought to light issues that can affect an application's performance and survivability when heavily promoting external use concepts like RSS, remixing, multiplatform distribution, and web services. We're way beyond basic HTML page requests here.

I've noticed such activity dramatically affect my own site's traffic, to the point where requests for my RSS feeds are now exceeding my normal web hits. Putting it into perspective, opening up access to your data, even at an abstracted level, means you need to build your apps with scalability as a critical major Consider the additional imposition that requests outside the controllable scope of your app will mean for your database. If you manage a popular web site, incorporating Web 2.0-style functionality such that people can program against it and use your data creatively within their own implementations, plus accessing your stuff through RSS syndication, you introduce a bandwidth and capacity load requirement that desktop tools like Microsoft Access would never be able to handle.

Thus, designing your apps with enterprise-level tools and technologies and the use of data caching across multiple platforms is critical. Proper memory management through timely object disposal and garbae collection at the mid-tier level is a must. Also, intelligent management of a caching tier is necessary - not to over inundate such a layer with excessive items stored for too long of a period, so as to conserve server RAM. It's probably also a good idea to implement a license policy that limits the number of times a web-callable function can be executed in a given time period, using a limited free an unlimited paid version. This model provides semi-controllable traffic while driving revenue for expansion in the event your service does become extremely popular.

As in most things in life, proper planning, research and testing can mean the difference between a good and great app. And in extreme traffic scenarios, could cost you your uptime.

From Whence We Came: the history of the Nintendo console

Jame Carey documents a very entertaining history about the Nintendo gaming franchise, from the original 16-bit console with R.O.B. (I seemed to be the only kid on my neighborhood who liked Gyromite), through the Super NES (Dig & Spike Volleyball was the coolest game ever), all the way to the Revolution. He notes the successes as well as some of the more forgettable moments and competitive challenges of the gaming system I literally grew up with.

Geez, when I was young everybody had a Nintendo. It was standard issue for the suburbs.

Those "BlueHippo" commercials are strokes of marketing genius

Being a devout follower of ESPN, there are two constants in my life: I've got to make a pilgrimmage to Bristol at least once in my lifetime, and I get exposed to a lot of odd, off-beat commercials during my viewing of the network's various programs. As a marketing guy, I can't help but applaud the genius behind BlueHippo Funding's spots that so often appear in SportsCenter breaks.

The commercial features the company's namesake, an computer animated hippopotamus, doing cute things like embarrasingly holding a sign upside-down, and smiling and interacting with a real-life child. So there's an iconography element of "Hey, this company might not be so bad!" that appeals to the kid in all of us. The hook goes deeper when the commercial states its core compotency: providing credit to be used towards consumer technology for those without it, or with a bad history of it. This also has youth appeal, probably forcing many a young person to ask Mom to call Blue Hippo for help securing that new plasma display. The kicker comes when the company offers a goodie bag of IT-related products - a printer/copier/scanner, a PC, and monitor.

How can anyone not think this is an effective ad? It's got the major psychographic tools nailed and it's running on one of TV's strongest brands. This isn't pulling the wool over anyone's eyes like so many infomercials or televangelism programs, this is a well-crafted marketing message. I'll reserve judgment on the company's survivability, but I'll bet my next paycheck on the effectiveness of its campaign.

Think about it: how many of us knew who Tom Emanski was prior to his video series running every seven minutes on ESPN?

Great sports podcast: "Just Talking Sh** Show"

I recently discovered Lance Williams' "Just Talking Sh** Show" off of MySportsRadio.com, and I've been listening retroactively to his back catalog. Lance is a fine show host and his podcast features his always passionate, often hilarious, occasionally disagreeable opinions on the world of sports and the intermingling athletics has with popular culture. Contrary to the title, Lance's rants always have a point. It's well researched and very entertaining.

MySportsRadio.com is also the home of Alex the Blogging Phenom, the now 13-year-old sports broadcaster, who hosts the "Without A Curse" podcast on his belvd Red Sox and New England area sports.

Both are must-subscribes for true sports fans.

Messing around with Squidoo lenses

I stumbled across Squidoo this morning and initially thought the concept of "lenses" was a bit derivative of Technorati's watchlists or del.icio.us' services. But I've been trying it and it's very different...and that's a good thing.

Some of the best names in tech are lensmaster over some intriguing topics (check out Chris Anderson's Long Tail lens or Joshua Porter's Web 2.0 Introduction lens), and the generated RSS feeds notify you everytime the main topic is updated with new links, not when a new article is published. So there's a quality control element that ensures you only get great stuff from people that really know about the topic.

It's a neat concept, and I'm enjoying it. You will, too - give it a shot.

Monday, December 12, 2005

S5 - great web-based presentation graphics app

I was reviewing the slides of a presentation today via the Web and knew it wasn't done in PowerPoint. I've figured through a little snooping that the program used to develop the slides was Eric Meyer's really cool S5, a web-based alternative to using PPT slide decks. What's neat is noting that it's based entirely on XHTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Check out the live demo and wait for the CSS to kick-in. Nice job, Eric!

The NBA's hideous uniforms this season

A fashionista I'm certainly not, but why is it that in the same NBA season that league commissioner David Stern imposes a dress code policy for all of his players while off the court, various teams are being forced to wear absolutely horrendous unies on it? Did you see the wretched apparel sported during tonight's Washington/Miami game? Good Lord.

(Add to this diametrically opposing mix Stern's stern opinion on the bagginess of shorts, and you've got yourself a good, ol' fashioned hypocrisy a-brewin'.)

Maybe this is Nike's not-so-subtle introduction into the NBA as a major uniform sponsor. That big bold stripe down the left sleeve leads me to wonder if this might be the company's basketball equivalent of the college football "Revolution" jerseys it premiered with Florida, Miami, Virginia Tech and Oregon.

Vidcast teaches you how to shred

Having played guitar for 26 years, I can fully say without hesitation that the two forms of media that positively impacted my playing more than anything were the Online Guitar Archive (for tabs) and the use of countless videos. I nearly wore my VHS tapes clear through rewinding so many times trying to nail that perfect Yngwie sweep arpeggio.

Fortunately, today's players now have the power of time-shifted digital video at their hands to increase their dexterity, speed and picking acccuracy. PlayMusic announced a series of free video guitar lessons as a podcast. This is great and I was waiting for someone to do this.

Rock on!


2006: the year I adopt outsourcing

I shared something just now over e-mail with my good friend Joel Ross: my newfound resolve and embrace for outsourcing. Running a bleeding-edge web shop, I'm naturally victim to many of the organizational pitfalls shared by my marketing/developmental brethren, such as myopia from looking at the same problem set over and over, day after day; limited budget, narrow focus. I've got to rein my consciousness back every few months to make sure I don't start drowning in the pool in which I'm swimming.

One of the largest of these traits is a reluctance to use third-party products in my work as a web developer. That's all about to change in 2006. As part of my hyperdistribution strategy to merge all my company's multiplatform production efforts under a single branded umbrella, delivered through multiple formats across multiple devices, I've got to bring in other people.

Like most devs, I shy away from using other people's components because I'm an arrogant, ignorant SOB. I need to call on the depth of people's expertise in various aspects of development, like Flash and Win32 desktop development and widgets, to keep maintain an optimal user experience. I've always considered it an honor to work with talented, pasionate professionals, so I'm excited for all the work that's going to be done next year, but also bummed that I'll be more project manager than actual coder.

Most of the work will be collaborative outsourcing, so I'll still be designing, programming or testing certain components, but I'm chalking it up as growth. And in the end, we'll have some really neat stuff for our users to play with.

Economies of scale for affiliates/small markets

The common theory about operating at the affiliate level and/or in a small market is that for many industries - especially information technology - volume is low and usership wanes. I disagree to an extent. While we don't have a million subscribers to any of our RSS feeds, my company's VOD podcast gets a lot of traffic, largely because Guam and the couple hundred thousand ex-patriates we've got living in other parts of the world makes for a relatively small community. As such, while apps like iTunes and many RSS aggregators let you select which file(s) to download to your machine, we still get users downloading each and every free video we make available.

Talking to customers has let me know that people often download all our clips because they include shots of people they're related to or know. This comes in contrast to larger markets where an RSS feed may have a huge number of clients banging on it, checking for info updates, but only a few clips downloaded for relevance. We've taken note of this and have factored this into our design & distribution strategies, and it does affect our scalability.

So while total volume is comparatively lower than major markets, the usership remains high because of the inter-connectedness of the community we support. Something to think about.

TV industry conference to concentrate solely on multiplatform expansion

Next April the Television Bureau of Advertising's annual conference for the first time will focus on a single theme - multiplatform expansion. Nice. I'm pondering attending...my marketing side is be intrigued in the fundamental concepts, but the software developer side of me also wants to see hands-on labs and proven examples, and talk in detail about the technology and problem set behind implementing such strategies. I want stuff I can take back with me.

Nevertheless, the outline looks good. I'll probably be out there.

TVB looks at multiplatform
TVB Annual Marketing Conference will, for the first time, be devoted to a single topic: "Television Goes Multiplatform." Sessions will examine everything from cell phones to iPods and who knows what else is down the road? "The media world has truly developed a passion for multiplatform capabilities and opportunities," said TVB President Chris Rohrs. "The fact that TVB has never before devoted its entire conference to one subject is a true measure of just how firmly entrenched multiplatform thinking has become in our industry's business planning." Preliminary agenda sessions include: "Multi-Platform: Expanding Local Broadcast TV Offerings," "Media Mix: Mixing Traditional TV with Multi-Screen Opportunities" and "The Online Opportunity: Dimensioning the Market and Navigating the Process".

Gmail's "View As HTML" is good as advertised

I gotta give it up to Gmail...they rule. I found out about the "View As HTML" addition for PDF or MS Office attachments, and didn't get to try it out until now. I'm was using a Win XP Pro PC, trying to view PDF'ed notes of a Web 2.0 speech by Joshua Porter and PowerPoint slides on emerging media by BubbleGeneration. Adobe Reader isn't installed and I don't have administrative rights, so I can't install it.

I e-mailed the documents to myself to give it a spin, and right off the bat, it formatted both types of content. That's sick.

This is advanced functionality that I'm quite sure won't be the norm for Web 2.0 operations for some time, but this is a great option to having the actual apps installed on a machine. The cheap Network Computer is looking better and better all the time.

Thinking strategically about TV's future

I've been subscribing to BubbleGeneration for a few days, and I'm glad - it's very solid content about emerging media and reactive trends. One such post is How to Think Strategically About TV's Future, which breaks down the discontinuous changes in media, evolving revenue models, value chain opportunities and the mistakes we should learn from the previous demise of newspapers.

Relaly inspiring stuff if you're into new media.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rocketboom does media right

One thing that I do enjoy about Rocketboom is the foresight it had to support multiple platforms, delivering its daily video content to a multitude of devices and environments. Tagged as a footer across each video clip is the following:



I appreciate this because I'm in a similar boat myself with my company's broadband service - supporting WMVs for desktop streaming, MP4s for PSP/iPod downloading, 3G2s for mobile streaming, and FLVs for a custom video push player that supports playlists. And for some formats, I've got to encode clips at variable bit rates to accomodate both dial-up and broadband Internet speeds. I'm naively hoping one day that we'll be able to take advantage of a single file format that can be downloaded or streamed, intelligently adaptive to the client device and network connection.

Wimpy is anything but



Despite the negative connotations implied by its name, the Flash-based Wimpy media player lets web site owners empower their audio and video files by streaming them. I've been wanting to add streaming to KUAM.COM's media files, but haven't been able to afford the servers. It at the moment only plays FLV, SWF and MP3 (I was hoping for MP4, 3G and 3G2 support, too), but hopefully that's in the works.

I'm going to base my web video player on Wimpy to run my broadband service.

OS X download for Google Earth?

Inside Google has a link to a downloadable ZIP archive that apparently contains the rumored Google Earth for Mac OS X. AppleInsider's also got some screenshots of the app running in a mac environment.

Interesting...

I love the Heisman Trophy Presentation special

I really enjoy ESPN's coverage of the Heisman Trophy Presentation ceremony. The pageantry, the legends of college football gathered to welcome a new member into their exclusive fraternity, the best players in the land gathered nervously for thier sport's highest individual honor. It's these latter personalities that feel worst for, with the players having to sit through profiles and interviews up until the big moment.

But more from my broadcasting background, I like the writing, flow of the show and the production quality of ESPN's coverage every year. They do a fantastic job. I like the packaged stories that really let us viewers get to understand the people behind the helmets and the sacrifices and often unbelievable stories of survival that many had to endure just to get to NYC.

ESPN graicously paused on the shot of Reggie Bush accepting his award just long enough to show USC alums Mike Garrett and Charles White offer their extra-special congratulations to their fellow Trojan and new Heisman brother. This year's production was especially impressive this year with only three finalists and all that time to fill.

Great job this year - bravo, ESPN.

I hope the HireMeGoogle.com (guy?) makes it

I found out about HireMeGoogle.com, which disappointingly doesn't reveal the author's true identity, but still shows that someone out there - albeit anonymously, a trait Inside Google has an opinion about - wants inreal bad. I hope the guy/girl gets his/her wish and gets in. Hell, for the effort he/she deserves a shot. Give the kid a break and bring him/her in for an interview.

I'll admit that in one point in my career I considered launching such an initiative, during the years I was interested in working for Microsoft. And I've mulled doing so in recent history for ESPN. Think of what this is going to do for recruiting if the person gets a place at the table and gets hired at Google. People all over the world are doing to throw up "hire me, too!" knockoffs.

But in all, I hope one person who's put their desire to work out for public scrutiny gets thier dram gig. Good luck!

The Website Development Process



Here's a really cute illustration of the modern-day relationship between Programmer, Designer and Client when developing a web product. Neat write-up and imagery.

Adopting web taxonomy with an ASP.NET 1.x tag cloud

I've got some time on my hands what with "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Sports Reporters" not coming on for a couple of hours, and my Christmas shopping all done thanks to Amazon's wish lists. So, I've got the rare opportunity these days to write some code. I'm developing a tag cloud in ASP.NET 1.x in C#, hooking it up to my site's search utility as a data source. Unlike some of the folksonomy apps out there, which are really cool, I won't be searching through RSS feeds, but graphically displaying the popular content being looked up.

I'm planning to develop a hierarchy of the terms center around the dominant search topic of the moment, with the less-popular terms being out on the fringte (see an example). I'm also going to attach a custom profanity filter to rule out displaying the offensive terms that will inevitably pop-up. As users lookup topics & articles in my news archive by keyword, they'll appear and remain resident for a period of time (pushed/popped from an array in the .NET Cache API).

It's just another way for my users to enjoy getting our news as we continue to make our interactives more social in function. I also haven't seen any tag clouds built in ASP.NET, so I figure I'd be the first.

Web 2.0 unites techies and suits all at once

One of the things I find so interesting about the Web 2.0 craze is that it's gaining a lot of traction from the three tiers of businesspeople: developers, marketers and the media. I've always felt slighted as a programmer that the major push behind .NET circa 2001 when it first came on the scene was to empower third parties by sharing information by remote procedure calls using SOAP. It obviously was too technical for the average marketing moron (also like myself) to grasp.

But now Web 2.0's starting to bring them around, too. Lots of people who've never written a line of programming syntax in their lives speak of the need for application mash-ups as if they'ye expert software engineers. And you know what? They make good points and propose business applicability scenarios that many software devs miss.

While the jury's still out on a clear definition of what Web 2.0 is - most agree that concepts like RSS, rich UI via Ajax, remixing, the Long Tail, public APIs, multi-device publishing, social networking, information sharing, network as platform, software as a service, the perpetual beta, data not content, web services - the general consensus is that it's a little of each. That communities are starting to "get it" and work together in coming up with creative ways to implement it, is fostering a brave new world.

Web 2.0 podcasts from d.construct 2005


I hadn't heard much about November's d.construct 2005 conference...possibly because the forum, focusing on giving web developers a primer on AJAX and Web 2.0 concepts and practices, was hosted by several lads across the pond. Thankfully, the good chaps have put up podcasts of all the major presentations, discussing Flash, DOM scripting & AJAX, remixing, Flickr APIs, etc. Most have accompanying PowerPoint slide decks so you can follow along.

This is essential listening and great stuff for anyone looking to get up to speed on the Web 2.0 movement from a programming perspective.

http://www.clearleft.com/dconstruct05/

Low Morale rocks out to "Creep"

If you've ever felt like a corporate shill/cubicle slave/office rat and you just happen to simultaneously be a recovering self-deprecating 90's alternative music junkie, check out a Flash movie of an acoustic version of Radiohead's canonical "Creep" performed by the dildo-like characters from "Low Morale". An instant classic for the "Office Space" generation.

Sidebar: I really dug the "loading..." background graphic, being a series of Flash keyframes. Really clever for those of us who get it.

ReaderRSS: a Flash-y podcast aggregator

ReaderRSS is a neat web-based feed aggregator that's uses a Flash UI to traverse through lots of pre-loaded content (the default OPML). All audio content is streamed to your browser, meaning you've got to sit through an entire show, but is a nice touch if you'd like to sample a podcast before subscribing to it without wasting any of your own diskspace.

There's a "video" category, which has Rocketboom, which I liked. I'm hoping this service will let me eventually load my own OPMLs. Nice job.

Arrington: Writely kicking ass

Michael Arrington sings the praises of Writely, notably the new feature that allows stored documents to be exported as PDFs. I can't say that I disagree. Writely's been good right out of the gate, and with the exceptions of reduced support for Safari browsers and inability to set the user's home time zone to synch document storing, it's been the best Web 2.0 app out there, in my opinion.

One thing I'd like to see is public APIs to access certain Writely features. The RSS feeds for document updates are great, but I'd also like to do things like access my stored documents progrmamatically outside of the environment, and do tagging and editing from other apps.

I'm considering getting the organizational release of Writely for my newsroom to allow field publishing. If APIs did exist, I'd use the service as a front-end and then write a middle-tier business object to save right into my company's back-end, with one-click publishing for web/mobile platforms.

NY Times: Can Ozzie reprogram Microsoft?

The New York Times did a great piece on Ray Ozzie, who's touted to being Microsoft's savior in the Web 2.0 world. I personally think MS should shift J Allard back to enterprise development, seeing as how he was the major force behind MS adopting TCP/IP.

But J's got his hands full running the Xbox division now, which has its own set of concerns.

ASP.NET hack: reading RSS feed into DataSet

I blogged a couple weeks ago about some trouble I had using the DataSet.ReadXml() method to get data from an RSS feed to seamlessly load into a DataSet. The problem was that the initial CATEGORY node screws up the reading-in of the data, as the DataSet gets confused, thinking the node to be a repetitive field in a nested relation.

The first solution I found was Bruce Johnson's XSL transformation to warp RSS data into a DataSet-friendly format. I played with it a bit more and did it within my ASP.NET code directly (below).

Also, since the RSS feed I'm working with is one of my company's podcast feeds, as opposed to a simple blog RSS feed, I need to get at the ENCOSURE node and its attributes, which the .NET DataSet sees as a separate DataTable. I developed a workaround that extracts the values of and puts them in the fourth DataTable in the DataSet's collection, which is the one we need. It's then only a matter of databinding the reworked data to a server control on an ASP.NET page and voila!

private const string path = "http://www.kuam.com/archives/podcasts/news.xml";

protected void Page_Load(object sender,EventArgs e)
{
DataView dv = new DataView();
dv.Table = GetRSSData();
dv.RowFilter = "category = 'VIDCAST'";

rptNowShowing.DataSource = dv;
rptNowShowing.DataBind();
}

private DataTable GetRSSData()
{
XmlTextReader reader = new XmlTextReader(path);
DataSet ds = new DataSet();
ds.ReadXml(reader);

// add new columns from the 5th DataTable (the tag)
ds.Tables[3].Columns.Add("url",typeof(string));
ds.Tables[3].Columns.Add("length",typeof(string));

// read-in the values of the enclosure tag into the 4th DataTable
for(int i=0;i<ds.Tables[3].Rows.Count;i++)
{
ds.Tables[3].Rows[i]["url"] = ds.Tables[4].Rows[i]["url"].ToString();
ds.Tables[3].Rows[i]["length"] = ds.Tables[4].Rows[i]["length"].ToString();
}

ds.AcceptChanges();

return ds.Tables[3];
}


It isn't a truly foolproof hack, notably because to get this to work I had to first comment out the CATEGORY element and then apply the above code. So it does work, but it's certainly not perfect.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Open call for Firefox 1.5 vs. MSIE 6 comparison

Asa Dotzler, from the Firefox team, is soliciting comparisons of Firefox 1.5 to Internet Explorer 6. He mentions that there's been so much hype about the forthcoming MSIE 7 (projected for a late-2006 release, that Firefox is being compared to a product that isn't even out yet.

Good idea. Let's pit apples against apples and weigh things that are available to the masses.

Not quite ready for prime time? Writely's "Beta Meter" polls members on app's status

I just noticed Writely is asking its members if we think the AJAX-enabled web-based word processor is ready for primetime. In the upper-right hand corner of the main document manager window, there's a little link box that opens a new window, which presents a simple poll, gauging if the app is solid enough for a first final release.

Perpetual beta, indeed. I wonder if they're next on Yahoo!'s Christmas acquisition list.

UK newspaper launches branded RSS reader

The Guardian, one of the largest newspapers in the United Kingdom, has launched Guardian Unlimted, its own branded desktop RSS reader application that's preloaded with feeds (below). I've been thinking about doing something like this for KUAM.COM to stimulate acceleration with local RSS usage (which is anemic). The main problem is that I'll have to build it in .NET - and if I can't motivate people to download freeware, I don't even want to think about the headaches involved with getting them to install the .NET Runtime.

I've even thought about doing a custom web-based RSS reader for the local community, which is probably the path I'm going to head down.

I was thinking about doing something like this with the paid version of Juice awhile back when it was still called iPodder. Never panned out. Craig Shoemaker from the Polymorphic Podcast approached me and a couple other .NET podcasters several months ago about collaborating such an aggregator, preloaded with feed URLs.


Stream HDTV to Xbox 360 wirelessly

Kevin Tofel's got a clever post demonstrating how to wirelessly stream high-definition video to an Xbox 360. While I think the MP3 support for the 360 is cool, I'm largely disappointed with the apparent fact that you can't use the device to read RSS feeds for either light reading or downloading of audio/video podcasts.

My money's on the PSP in the after-Christmas sale. I'm having to see my little-used iRiver IFP-799 (my sound-seeing tour device) to finance the transaction, but it'll get the job done. I'm planning to rock out to an eventual LocationFree and SlingBox setup, hacking the latter to PSP compatability.

Big Ten bowl picture

While the Big Ten certainly wasn't the most nationally-competitive conference in college football this year, it's arguably the conference with the best bowl matchups going into the new year. There are some very compelling games for the Big Ten this year, highlighted by Penn State/Florida State in the Orange Bowl, Ohio State/Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and a UCLA/Northwestern contest I'm really looking forward to. I'm not so crazy about Michigan/Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl, as it shapes up to be a classic consolation meeting of storied programs who either didn't live up to their potential (Michigan) or is still rebuilding (Nebraska).

Oh yeah...and Oregon got screwed. Royally.

I for one don't mind Gmail's web clips and ads


I'm a realist, so I'm grateful for the free things I use online. I'm old enough to remember the days when you actually had to pay for Internet access, e-mail and newsgroups. So, I don't call for Google's head when it does things like web clips in Gmail, which can be toggled invisible, or stick a self-promotional banner for Google Talk in my e-mail account, which can be turned off.

I have customized my web clips to only include a handful from the default set (ESPN, Engadget, SI.com, Funny Quote of the Day), and even added some of my own. I'm a little more tolerant, and I guess more accepting of the crass promotional effort to stream more ads at me because I'm a marketing guy who also writes programming code. I'm in the minority third of the population of people who appreciates such innovative thinking, the other two-thirds being those who reject the notion outright and those who are just apathetic to the whole process.

If I want total privacy and want to carry on undisturbed, I'd pay for it.

Headline of the day goes to Tech Dirt

Tech Dirt had without doubt the best, most creative headline of the day, teasing del.icio.us's acquisition by Yahoo!:

So Does That Make Them Del!icio!us!?

Google Earth rumored to be coming for Macs

Not to be undercut by Microsoft's release of Windows Live Local, word is being spread that Google's working on a Mac OS X port of Google Earth. I was blown away when Google Earth first hit the scene, and the social reaction to it, largely by user contributions and update satellite imagery immediately after Hurricane Katrina. It was amazing.

But the big knock was that it was available as a desktop download for the Windows crowd only, forcing map-hungry Apple users to settle with Google Local (formerly Google Maps). This is cool news. It kinda goes against the whole Web 2.0 development model, naturally being a dsktop program, so versioning, bug fixes, updates, cross-platform ports and other enhancements will have to be manually downloaded or pushed to the client.

But it is good news.

Yahoo buys del.icio.us

I appreciate Web 2.0 concepts like tagging and bookmarking and the sharing of either, and I've got a couple of watchlists on Technorati. But I'm not too big of a user into social networking/social media applications and services. I admittedly gravitate more towards Google's end of the pool. I use Memeorandum, Blogniscient and Digg all the time, I've never used Yahoo! stuff, but I am impressed with their acquisition of del.icio.us. That's huge.

"I guess the best way to describe it is that Yahoo now owns an enormous social web, owning two of the three social kings (the other being Skype, which as an eBay property is no longer competitive and Yahoo recently undercut). Look at it this way: Yahoo owns the social web, Google owns the information web, and Microsoft is slowly working to own RSS. The winner will be the one that holds onto their piece and makes it the most important piece on the board.

Well put.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Why bother having codenames for software projects anymore?

I learned of the new plans for Photon, Microsoft's forthcoming mobile operating system, the next-ren evolution of Windows Mobile. I'm wondering...why even bother in this day of rapid-fire new media viral marketing and old media well-connectedness and internal leaks propagating sensitive information for either group, why both using codenames? These bug me.

If everyone figures out at some point - either accidentally or through savvy marketing - what a product is, despite the abstraction of the name, what's the point? If Marketing can't come up with a name sexy enough for the new version of software and you need a generic moniker to buffer the developmental period, OK. But it's getting out of hand.

Further, I find it laughable when companies change codenames in the middle of production (Longhorn begot Vista). This is too weird.

New financial RSS feed announced

PodcastingNews.com reports that a new service from FinancialContent.com has popped up, reporting securities quotes and index data. It's about time. This is going to dramatically change the way people get their valued finnacial data, although I'm curious about the implementation. Will it be like that offered by Google's and Start.com's portal pages? Also, will the delay in data accuracy be the obligatory 20 minutes? Or are we inching closer to real-time trading info?

I've been hoping to see someone jump on this for awhile. I wrote a custom ASP.NET server control a couple years back that acted as a DHTML stock ticker, querying NASDAQ.com for individual securities by including stock symbols directly within the URL's query string. The returned data was an XML feed containing very useful metadata about the security or index. Such data access used to be open to the programming public, but now requires a free license key.

What I'd now like to see get some movement is in people doing RSS feeds for sports scores. This is about the only type of public information that's not been released to the masses...still being available at a premium price from the professional sports leagues so that only broadcasting networks can afford it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Google Reader's caching of RSS feeds

I just noticed when doing a test of my site's main news RSS feed that Google Reader is caching a lot of older items. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, either. My feed at this moment has about 33 items available - the most recent news articles we've posted over the last 48 hours. Google Reader has pre-cached over 240 items, going back as far as 3 weeks.

I also noticed similar persistence of older items in the RSS feed for my site's main photostream.

This is neat! Or is it?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

NBC's iTMS move shows it "gets it"

I was very pleased with the news about NBC doing VOD in the iTunes Music Store. I'm also happy to see that they're not only digitally releasing many of their most popular current shows - but not all, as in the case of "My Name is Earl", combatting AOL's plans to showcase classic TV. The pricing is competitive, being the same as the ABC shows previously released. However, some dispute the $1.99 rate.

On another note, the obligatory caveat emptor verbiage said the service will only work in the US, and Apple's recognition of Guam as a US territory has been notoriously bad. I'm therefore not sure if buying programming will work for us out here, but I'll give it a spin tonight.

'Podcast' is 2005's Word of the Year

Ah, yes. It's that time of the year when we all sart winding down and reflecting on the last twelve months of our collective social exprience. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was tapped as Sports Illustrated's Man of the Year, and now it's been confirmed that "podcast" is the word for 2005.

Cool.

Fox finally breaks the silence on distributing content digitally

I've been a big critic of Fox's reluctance to not follow suit as quickly as the other networks with the VOD craze. Fox got a lot of flack from the podcasting consuming community for very disappointing Simpsons offerings, which were largely terse descriptions of a show's plot, voiced by people who we can assume to be interns. Fox Interactive Media apparently addresses this interest. Several justifiable concerns exist about the clearing rights for digitized content, with plans to move forward with full broadband push.

Monday, December 05, 2005

KISS'ing the product development life cycle

I was reading the Wikipedia entries about the lads who created Image Comics, the Marvel-born offshoot from some of the best minds in the industry in the early 1990's. While at Marvel, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, et al. perhaps stumbled on a novel concept (pun intended), at least for the naming of the comic book lines they'd restore to dominance: simplicity is best. After decades of qualified names like "The Amazing Spider-Man", "The Uncanny X-Men", they found success by stripping down the institutions to their finest elements, working on what became simply "Spider-Man" and "X-Men".

Sometimes I have to remind myself to step back when things in the product development world are getting too convoluted. This runs the gamut from all phases - marketing, engineering, promotion, pricing and reversioning. At KUAM, we've had a history of going overboard with certain aspects of some segments and series we've produced - our most dubious culprit being the (over)use of alliteration. We've found success with "Familiar Faces" but I think went a little overboard with the recent "Flight of the Flu: Preventing the Pandemic - Mapping the Migration". Ouch.

KISS.

Google Reader needs to support clippings

I was reading a blog post within the last two days (sorry, didn't bookmark the URL and my cache already cleared itself) about one person's 10 gripes with Google. He mentioned the fact that one of these was that Google Reader doesn't at the moment support clipping - exporting starred items an RSS feed. I totally agree...this needs to be inserted at some point in Google's now-famous Web 2.0-style "perpetual beta" style of development.

It would be great to be able to export my starred articles so that I can get at them later from another program, or queue them up for - gasp!- tangible printing. I do this at the moment through Litefeeds, which I use as my secondary RSS aggregator. You can subscribe to my clippings feed here: http://www.litefeeds.com/feedclip.jsp?u=jasonsalas

It'd be great to empower Google Reader with this, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sports movies always make me cry

I'm not too much of a man to admit that I cry at movies. And no other genre captivates me and has me pretending I've got something stuck in my eye than powerful sports flicks. I have, do and will continue to let great moments lushly depicted on film having to do with the athletic experience take control over my tear ducts. And I don't care who knows. It's who I am.

Maybe it's the thematic return to one's childhood. Maybe it's the rare chance for even a brief moment to escape whatever chains bind you and become something larger than you are. Perhaps it's the great equalizer in the lopsided society in which we live. More than likely it's that in today's warped world of reality TV, pre-scripted drama and over-reliance on technology, sports cinema is the closest thing we've got left to emulating true human emotion.

Here are the movies and accompanying scenes that, no matter what, get me reaching for a tissue every time:

I'll be spending Christmas searching for memory leaks

I got a note from my web host today letting me know that they've detected some pretty heavy RAM usage in one of the larger sites I manage. Great.

While I've got enough to worry about Christmas shopping, shooting PSAs, 'Seasons Greetings' commercials, blogging, VODcasting, reporting, hosting TV and radio shows, emceeing events and a kajillion other things, I've got to be on the holiday hunt for memory leaks in my web app. Fantastic.

Seriously though, this does concern me, as this has been a traffic-based concern in the past. Hopefully I'll be able to identify what type(s) of user behavior and what specific scripts are dedicating server RAM. Recycling the site's application pool cut the RAM allocation down by more than a half, which implies that it might be an excessive amount of stored cache items. That's easy enough to fix - reduce the CacheDuration for ASP.NET pages using OutputCaching and reduce the expiration/rehydration timespans for those directly inserted in the .NET Cache API.

Hope that does it.

December is college football's loneliest month

If T.S. Eliot was right in his assertion that April is the cruelest month, he forgot to leave out the part about December being the loneliest (as far as college football goes). This is my least favorite sports time of the year, with the exception of the short period when there's only baseball to watch. Texas manhandled Colorado 70-3 in the Big XII Championship today to lay claim to the first 12-0 record in school history, plus a Rose Bowl berth. At the moment USC is taking care of business against UCLA, and later today the ACC and SEC championships ensue.

But that'll be the last game for these teams until January 4, a full four weeks later. Collegiate gridiron warriors traditionally get most of the holiday season off to "concentrate" on fall exams (which in Heisman finalist Matt Leinart's case is cramming for that single ballroom dancing class he's enrolled in with his girlfriend), and prep for the big bowl game. Some teams, like my Michigan Wolverines, will have more than month pass when they make their bowl appearance during the first week of January, having played their last game the final Saturday in November.

I can understand giving the teams a longer break than normal to watch tape, prepare and scheme to compete against teams they'd never normally see. And the extra time off certainly gives players suffering from minor injuries a better chance could come back and compete in a bowl game. But not longer than a week, though. The timespan between periods when players engage in full-speed, full-contact contests is too great. We need to tighten the schedule up.

In addition to my staunch belief that the NCAA needs to adopt a Division I championship tournament, I am steadfast in my support the notion of having the bowl games in December, at a maximum two weeks after the conference championship games. To just lollygag through the last month of the year doing nothing degrades the quality of play - and then ram eight non-BCS contests down our throats on New Year's Day at hyperspeed pace. You always hear commentators during bowl game broadcasts when play isn't immediately as crisp as it should be, "Well, Florida muffed that play, but they have been off the field for a month."

The NCAA schedules Division I basketball all through December - this year Detroit visits Louisville on Christmas Eve. So why not stagger the pigskin skeds? It would make the game so much better. We already have the Lions and Cowboys to look forward to every Thanksgiving and a marquee NBA game on Christmas...why not finish it up with a patterned bowl schedule, leading up to the national championship on New Year's?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The erosion of the American sportswriter

Don't misconstrue the title of this post; having grown up the son of an English professor I like to think I have a deeper appreciation for great writing than most (Mom would have it no other way). Much in the same vein that I respect the practice of journalism but call for the replacement of newspapers and magazines for being inferior platforms when compared to new media concepts (more about this theory here), I have the utmost respect for sportswriting and those who have mastered the craft. But I want a wider breadth of coverage from today's crop.

A great sports article, whether a report on a game, a human interest piece on an athlete or a composition citing the unique cultural effect sports has on larger community issues, is my favorite type of creative writing. That I'm in the biz is a dream come true for me. Having said that, most of today's sportswriters are a dank shell of what our predecessors were in covering all types of sports. I've been saying for years that writing about sports takes a special mind, but the true test of any gifted sportswriter is if they can effectively write about baseball. Sadly for many of today's sports reporters, it doesn't extend much further than that.

But when you think about it, writers themselves can't be solely responsible. Few editorial managers or assignment editors would send talented reporters out to cover unpopular events, and most authors wouldn't want to invest time and effort into topics that won't captivate.

Boxing writer emeritus Bert Sugar cited on SportsBloggersLive this week that at the turn of the 20th century and through at least the 1940's the major forms of popular competitive athletics in America were baseball, boxing, and horseracing. Our national pasttime's obviously still going strong, but the career decline of Mike Tyson has forced boxing into pop culture remission, and with exception of the country's momentary love affair with Smarty Jones in 2004, horseracing's been largely non-existent. It didn't used to be this way. The modern-day sporting world is dominated by highlights and headlines almost exclusively about football, basketball, baseball and hockey - in that order - at both the professional and collegiate levels. How did we get this way?

I attribute the factors for this being equal parts societal, behavioral and technological. The timeless opening theme to ABC's Wide World of Sports - "spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport" - doesn't apply these days, at least not to the writing profession. Long, methodical events are losing favor to timed, short-attention span venues. It's eroding baseball and for years was the bane of golf's existence, and is precisely why indoor volleyball's consistently failed to make it into the mainstream. Technologically, ESPN by its nature is a broadcast operation and is at this point beyond just being a dominant icon. It's THE source. Why would someone in the Age of Information want to read a lushly-depicted recollection of a play or historic achievement when they can see it happening?

Were it not for the Williams Sisters, no one would write about tennis at all. And that's sad, because Andy Roddick becoming the world's #1 player, even if for a brief moment, was a significant achievement for our country. When he hosted Saturday Night Live in November of 2003, most people didn't know who he was. And Roger Federer is a hell of player in his own right.

Next, sportswriters have all but given up their passion for boxing. Being a wordsmith about the Sweet Science has become an outcast art form of sorts, relegated to others in the industry and chalked up as "niche". Mid-level sports guys appreciate it but won't touch it with a 10' pole, and newbies don't know where to start. Why? I blame the degradation of the heavyweight division, coupled with an excess of belts and traditionally God-awful undercards. Plus, many of the big events still are pay-per-view. This I've never gotten: if the NBA Finals, World Series and Super Bowl can all be televised on network TV free of charge, why not a prize fight? There's been a vast reduction in the interest in professional pugilism. Ask any hardcore sports fan younger than 30 who Jack Dempsey is and gauge the disappointing results.

Golf sort of has its place today, thanks to Tiger Woods. One wonders what coverage, if any, the sport would get in his absence. The LPGA doesn't fare very well, even with Annika Sorenstam, and even worse is the fate of the WNBA. So whether she knows it or not, Michelle Wie's carrying a load larger than she knows on her still teenaged shoulders.

Further, most writers who would now be considered "old school" used to cover track and field, gymnastics, bowling, skiing and other events, just because they were sports. And I won't even touch the Olympics. Sure, the world has changed and now we've got new venues like the X-Games, outdoor competitions and a whole array of new events, but it seems like the world used to be more tolerant of other types of competition before. And journalism (largely) was there. I enjoy RealSports, HBO's televised sports magazine so much because of the quality of writing and variation of topics covered. But none of the distinguished cadre of reporters is under 50, I believe. There are extremely talented writers documenting the sports experience - but those writing pieces outside of the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL are becoming fewer and further between. We need to extend the traditional reach to the new generation.

I long for the day when I can again expect my favorite sportswriters to cover the popular beats, plus the out-of-band ones. Being talented writers, they should have no problem capturing my attention. So colleagues, step outside your comfort zones and use your gift to artistically take on new challenges. Editorial managers, dole out new assignments and stretch a bit. You'll be appreciated for it.

Would Microsoft staffers still blog if they didn't have to?

I was reminded after reading a funny post about the "Ten Things DownloadSquad Loves About Microsoft" that a friend within the company told me about a year and a half ago that most staffers in evangelism or developer relations roles are required to fulfill something like ten hours of community involvement per week. Most 'Sofites opt for the blogging path, seeing as how it's the most flexible, is the least directly interactive (affording the employee the ability to avoid sitting through a customer's lecture about things wrong with MS software) and retains the most control from an editorial and publishing perspective. And heck, it's fun.

Nowadays, most Redmond staffers in tech capacities are active members of the blogosphere and Scoble's done a good job of mandating RSS feeds for major departments. (I'm intentionally looking past the vast majority of Microsoft's infamously un-technical HR and marketing staffers we've all come to "love" over the years, although there are some scant examples of good blogging work - props to Heather and Gretchen, respectively.)

But I'm still led to wonder that if such interaction with partners, customers, competitors or just interested passersby - would Microsoft staffers still be as passionate for participating in new media? I'd say they would. Blogging is too ubiquitous and easy to do to ignore. Podcasting efforts from within the very hallowed halls of the Great Northwest is starting to catch on after speculation/criticism, although the "purity" of many MS podcasts - often distributed media as WMAs or WMVs, not MP3s - can be questioned.

At any rate, we're better for having their presence as part of the community.

Congress calls hearing on 'flawed' BCS

As a sports fan, I'm pleased that a congressional hearing will consider testimony for/against the merits of college football's Bowl Championship Series. However, around this time of year I can't help but question the inevitable political motivation9s) behind the timing of such interest in a system that's been screwing over teams since its inception. Aren't there larger issues at hand at the moment? The billions generated by the sport likely push it to the forefront.

The necessity for such discussions by people in high positions of authority is sorely overdue. I'm not sure if the end result of these talks would be that which we in the sportswriting community have been lobbying on our own for years - a championship tournament for NCAA Division I football to determine each season's undispited national champion. Need I remind you that Division I-AA and Division II have successfully used such a system for years? It's proven and it works.

But getting back to the timing of the whole situation, could we possibly discuss such matters during the off-season? Kids get less-than-nutritional public school meals, education overall is bad, troops remain deployed in the Middle East, illeteracy is rampant and qualified people can't find sustained work. Is this really a priority for elected officials?

Only two scripted shows in Top TV programs roster

Let's get one thing straight: I really, really hate reality TV. But I'm obviously of the minority voice, as but a pair of scripted television programs cracked the Top 10 list of product placement for 2005 Q1-Q3, according to MediaPost. Amidst all this chaotic, trendy viewership, I am happy to see that NBC is moving to restore the dominance of its Thursday night comedy lineup, what's historically been the network's strongest viewing night, from lining up "Cheers" and "The Cosby Show", to "Friends" and more recently with - groan, a reality show - "The Apprentice".

I swear, I can't wait for this thing to be over. I'm hoping VH1 will tap me for "I Love the 2000's" in 2015, and let me rail on how forgettable this whole period was.

Top 10 Programs: Product Placement

Jan - Sept 2005


Network

Occurrences

The Contender

NBC

7,514

American Idol

FOX

3,497

What I Like About You

WB

2,544

Extreme Makeover Home Edition

ABC WB

2,480

King Of Queens

CBS

2,139

The Apprentice

NBC

1,996

Amazing Race

CBS

1,898

Rock Star INXS

CBS

1,834

EVE

UPN

1,692

The Road To Stardom

UPN

1,650

Total


27,244

Source: Place*Views, Nielsen Product Placement service.







Friday, December 02, 2005

How much markup is too much markup in an RSS feed?

The feeds I like the best are ones that use "normal" HTML, embedding hyperlinks, displaying images and applying slight inline formatting of the data I crave so badly. I get what I'm after - the basic text, and I don't always have to visit the core site to get at it.

But where do we draw the line when such formatting becomes too much such formatting? Since the content within feeds is usually basic HTML, will people start to embed JavaScript routines to create interactive feeds? Or reference Flash animations? At what point will distributing data via RSS syndication get too overboard?

Why Web 2.0 doesn't cut it for mobile devices

I'm lounging around the Blogosphere waiting for "Cold Pizza" to start on ESPN2 and came across this very insightful post from Michael Mace about Web 3.0, explaining why the goldrush towards Web 2.0 leaves mobile devices out in the cold because of the differences in the developmental model. He states that proper application design and architecture for wireless devices needs to differ than desktop and/or web apps, requiring a local cache and local client in the event the devices they run on are out of signal range for a network connection.

Matt McAlister commented on the need to effectively balance the requests from your data in mashups as opposed your site's normal web traffic (public APIs seem to be under the 3.0 space, in contrast to Tim O'Reilly's theory that they should be part of the Web 2.0 movement). But now we're faced with the challenge of applying business models around the Web 2.0 fundamental concepts as a means of generating revenue. Ad-supported mechanisms seem to be the popular solution

USC could place unprecedented three finalists in Heisman group

The Men of Troy have been dominating the college football landscape for the last three seasons, and now they're on the verge of placing as many candidates as finalists for the Heisman Trophy. And two tailbacks, no less. That Reggie Bush and LenDale White would have prolific seasons, rushing for better than 1,000 yards and scoring at least 13 touchdowns each would be a remarkable feat on its own. That they've done it on the same team is simply unheard of in today's game.

It's an astonishing acheivement any way you slice it. To factor in how dominant Bush has been week in and week out and think that someone with whom he shares the backfield was just as productive - evern more so, in terms of times having reached the end zone - is amazing.

A couple of schools have had teammates join each other on stage on the day of the awards, most recently Ken Dorsey and Willis McGahee representing Miami in 2002, and last year Adrian Peterson and Jason White (then the reigning winner) AND Bush and eventual winner Matt Leinart for USC. But in those cases, a quarterback joined a tailback, stacking his stats with passing and TDs thrown. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown tore up defenses last year at Auburn, but neither was considered for college football's highest individual honor.

The general consensus is that Bush will lay claim to this year's trophy, and that Leinart's just as deserving, so while White won't get the ultimate prize, it will be well earned national recognition for a phenomenal year.

One of the best things I like about ESPN's coverage of the Heisman presentation is showing the finalists all hang out at build friendships with players they'd normally never meet. Last year was significant because one of the subplots was that Bush and Utah's Alex Smith were high school teammates. At least three of the guys this year could share the lifelong camraderie of wearing the same colors.

We should mark this year, because this could be truly historic.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Contemplating subscribing to Jim Rome's podcast

Being an open source/new media guy generally means at least three things: I'm really into innovative ways of getting content, I've got a keen eye out for emerging platforms, and I expect all types of data to be free. I would never normally pay for any podcast, with the 'Net being ripe with content. That is, until I considered the work of someone I consider one of the six finest sports journalists in America, Jim Rome (Keith Olbermann, Tony Kornheiser, Dan Shaughnessy, Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo and the late Dick Schapp being the others).

I'm seriously considering subscribing to The King of Smack's podcast, which is paid. He's got the polemical cynicism I enjoy about the idiocy that surrounds competitive athletics - the Howard Stern of sportstalk. I could have sworn I read something the other day about Disney/ABC/ESPN broadening their podcast offering, a part of which would include Rome's Show. He requires paid STREAMLink membership through some sort of proprietary downstream client.

But for $6.95, it's worth it.

Scott Van Pelt rips hater a new poop chute

I came across a classic piece of judicious customer service that's bookmarkworthy for anyone in the broadcasting game when they need to see how to deal with mindless detractors. While I am a nice guy and do want to make people happy through my work, I'm a realist. The world is filled with jerks who have too much time on their hands and don't hesitate to voice their opposition towards something. I appreciate feedback of any sort and realize there is value in criticism, but there are inevitably going to be haters.

I've always been of the mind that rather than cowering down to the customer being right all the time, when people bitch service-oriented people should actually bitch back and dialectically put people in their place, as a means of helping them see what they're really after. It's reverse psychology quality control.

This is the one thing I don't like about being in the public eye - the unjustifiable scrutiny and the people that rant and rail on you for whatever reason, or just because. I've come to accept it as a necessary evil and just try to manage to have those positively supporting me outweigh those who rip my craft. Most liberal-minded journalism "experts" would advise taking the high road, either not entertaining such activity at all, or doing the empty and perfunctory "thanks for your thoughts, we'll consider your suggestions..." reply.

Sorry, baby. Thumper's "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" rule never really stuck with me. I've always grown up believing that you shouldn't let your mouth start something your ass can't finish. So if someone cast the first stone, they've got it coming to them. Diplomatically, at least.

Scott Van Pelt, a colleague in the sports broadcasting biz and my favorite SportsCenter anchor since Rich Eisen, crafted a gem of a retort towards an online hater, and really annihilated the guy. ESPN not surprisingly gets a lot of this criticism, because they do what everyone wishes they could. He reinforces a de facto rule I've enjoyed telling people for years about dealing with the media: don't screw with the media, especially at the network level. You can watch the news, or you can be the news - your choice.

Bravo, Scott. You the man.

My money's on LT for MVP

I've been getting asked what I think about this year's MVP race in the NFL. I see four players having standout seasons worthy of the honor:
Since we've got two pairs of quarterbacks and running backs, compare achievements. I reject the typical lazy notion of giving more credence to quarterbacks just because they're quarterbacks, and I think either running backs makes a better case than Palmer or Manning in terms of value or productivity.

Palmer's got a better QB rating than Peyton and is also ahead of him in passing yards and touchdowns thrown. But the Colts' captain, who had a subpar first-half of the season before turning on the afterburners of late, is working on the first perfect season since the '72 Dolphins. That puts him ahead of Palmer. Just barely.

LT's got San Diego teetering uncomfortably at 7-4 and in danger of missing the playoffs, but is the consummate weapon. In contrast, Alexander's made the Emerald City shine at 9-2, and leads all backs in rushing and total touchdowns scored (just one more than LT).

In the end, and considering the total value of a player most valuable to any team in the league, I'd pick Tomlinson. He's got the total package and is the most feared offensive threat today. He's equally deadly as a receiver coming out of the backfield as he is poised in it prior to snap. And he's made good on his promise to deliver if Marty Schottenheimer gave him the ball more. Even if the Chargers fail to make the post-season, he's the man. And he should get the nod.

Dictionary.com removed from Firefox 1.5 search engine list

While we can add new search services to Firefox 1.5's search engine list, I was disappointed to see that Dictionary.com was removed from the default collection (and apparently from the extended list of all services altogether), even though Answers.com was added. It's also easy to add more services, so no biggie. Firefox 1.5's new features are pretty nice, although I do admit I enjoyed the previous vertically-reading tabbed panel to get at Options.

Huh - for some reason the new search services I just chose aren't adding in. Damn.

Orange Bowl latest classic stadium in danger of being torn down

My heart sank a little when I read about plans to tear down the Orange Bowl for repairs. The Miami Hurricanes would have to play their games for a couple of seasons elsewhere. I still can't believe the Yankees would move out the House That Ruth Built. It's almost sacriligious. Blasphemy. A schism.

Things get old, and erosion, corporate mega-dollars and civic pressures bring about changes, but this is still disappointing. In this day and age of corporate sponsorship replacing time-honored ballparks, stadiums and courts (cases in point: Candlestick Park, Great Western Forum, the Boston Garden, Jack Murphy Stadium), things like this bum me out as a sports fan. It's part of the allure and mystique to know that the creaky floorboards, weather-worn bleachers and field of battle once housed some of the legends.

At least the Orange Bowl, much like Soldier Field, will be rebuilt on the existing site.

Using mashups to compliment your page views

If you can't beat them, leverage them. Matt McAlister pontificates a phenomenal concept - leveraging mashups/remixes of your core application data and/or logic to compliment your existing page traffic.

He builds on Dick Costolo's seminal writing on the importance of concentrating on a feed's atomicity - capitalizing on the value of each ITEM within an RSS feed, not the feed itself. But getting to this point isn't fast and easy, so Matt suggests, "You need to consider what happens to the page view model as you lose control of your content and your readership."

I foresee the retention of ad exposure revenue within mashups and RSS feeds as a big emerging market within the next three months. There are hacky, manual ways people can include sponsorship consideration in their feeds, and more expensive insertion technologies, but nothing grassroots that satisfies the need to get your data out, visible to the world - either by internal or community-based means.

"If you lose traffic to mashups, then how do you make up for the lost revenue?  How do you estimate performance metrics that determine whether or not your model falls apart?  If you know these things, then you can impose some minimum requirements for your partners."

The first given is that site managers and IT planners who don't properly adopt/embrace/implement Web 2.0 concepts will be inferior competitors, and one of the tenets of such is making data available for reuse. So, the second assumption is that in so doing, we'll increase overall exposure, but lose out on quantifiable traffic to our base sites.

Great thoughts, Matt.

RSS is to Media as TCP/IP was for Computing

John Furrier proposes a clever analogy, likening RSS to media as TCP/IP was to computing. I totally agree. It's got the same flexible, broad effect on mainstream communications as did TCP/IP when it first came on the scene, and has a similar impact on (re)distribution of electronic data.

It's proven to be the most disruptive of the modern-day technologies.

I guess I'll have to update Firefox manually

I was bummed to find out after reading countless posts on the release of Firefox 1.5 (first on Mozilla's FTP servers and then via the Firefox download page) that I apparently can't update my existing copy of Forefox 1.0.7 to the newer version of the web browser:


Technically speaking, this is a minor update so moving from 1.0.7 to 1.5 shouldn't force me to manually have to browse to mozilla.com/firefox and get the newer stuff. No bother, it's a small step, but one I had hoped to avoid.

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