Updated: 5/08/2003; 9:05:46 p.m..
Read/Write Web
Richard MacManus' weblog about the Two-Way Web.

Tuesday, 5 August 2003

I'm about to move into my very own domain name. It's like owning your first house, very exciting. I'm a bit nervous about the Radio software playing funny games with me during the shift. Already I've met my old friend the blogroll bug, but I'll let him pass. I've got my shifting process all written down (which I'll share with you later). So, right, *deep breath*. I'll see you on the other side!

ps: My new domain name is http://readwriteweb.com

pps: Don't worry, I'm still using Radio. I won't abandon you, Radio :-)

8:36:12 PM    comment []

Monday, 4 August 2003

Dave Winer says there are 2 ways to approach XML:

"...people who think of XML as a programming space, and people who think of it as a literary space."

The first group "love XML for its technical intricacy". The literary people however "use XML because it is a convenient way to move info between apps".

XML-as-literature is a romantic notion. While most programming languages (C++, Java, etc) are incomprehensible to the average person, XML is written in plain english. Both humans and computers can 'read' it. Actually XML, if we treat it as a form of literature, is less difficult to read than James Joyce! If you don't believe me, check out this sample from Joyce's Ulysses:

"Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies."

People in the "programming space" would probably love James Joyce. Consider RDF, probably the most popular XML syntax for people inclined to technical intricacy. RDF syntax is similar to James Joyce's writing, except it's way more difficult to read! It's so hard to read that people have to draw diagrams in order to write it. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, because RDF has many attributes (pardon the bad XML pun). As Shelley Powers wrote at xml.com:

"...the RDF model, and its associated syntax, brings with it the ability to define statements about data, rather than to just record pieces of data."

But the trade-off between using RDF or simple data-recording XML, is similar to the trade-off between reading James Joyce's Ulysses or Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. RDF/Joyce is complex and hard to get your head around. But potentially they both offer great semantic rewards. Straight XML/Hemingway is simple to understand, but capable of sublime poetry too.

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm in the literary group of XML people. I happen to like Hemingway's novels and I never did finish Ulysses :-) Maybe one day I may pick up Ulysses again, as one day I may tackle RDF. But right now I think Hemingway said it best:

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use."

9:30:15 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Dave Winer | literature | RDF | Semantic Web | XML 

Thursday, 31 July 2003

Lawrence Lessig on US Presidential candidate Howard Dean's blogging efforts:

"Neutrality aside, though, Governor Dean has earned a special respect. Of course there are issues on which I would disagree with anyone. But I have been struck in reading these posts, and the passion they inspired. They revive a feeling I had as a kid that ideas could matter, and that there could be people who would make them matter."
(emphasis and font colour mine)

I'm from New Zealand, so I haven't been following American politics. But that last sentence struck a chord with me, because it's a universal concept. Ideas do matter. 

One of the Web's great strengths is it allows ideas to flow freely, because it is a Two-Way communications medium. Television is just one-way, books are one-way, newspapers are one-way. The Web allows ideas to be more than dead words on a page or flickering images on a screen. On the Web, an idea can travel across thousands of nodes on the Internet and take on a life of its own. The Web makes ideas come alive!

Not unrelated, Adam Bosworth has just started a blog. He used to work at Microsoft, where he played a key role in the development of Internet Explorer. So it's great to be able to read his ideas on how the web browser should evolve. He has a concept of a "web service browser", which he defines as:

"...a browser that can access information published as XML messages by services, let the user interact in a rich and graceful way with this information or these services, but can run well in terms of interaction whether the user is online or offline. "

I will be keenly following Adam Bosworth's weblog as he explores this fascinating idea. There have already been some interesting comments from readers. I'm looking forward to what Scoble has to say ;-)

As for my own much more humble contribution to the Web of Ideas, I've started to note down some thoughts for an ideas/topics web application. I'm currently investigating XTM Topic Maps. I'll talk more about this later...

10:02:19 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Ideas | Topic Mapping | Two-Way Web | Web Browsers | Weblogs 

Monday, 28 July 2003

The problem with blogging is it's easy to get distracted by ideas you can't do anything about. My previous post illustrates this. In it I railed against Microsoft for wanting to build its own proprietory platform for Web applications. I wrote about it because I'm concerned about the future of the World Wide Web, in particular the Web browser.

But I've come to this conclusion: there's nothing I can do to influence Microsoft's ideas, or Google's ideas, or anyone else's ideas. Why should I worry my geeky little head about something I have little or no control over? Why not do something positive with my time and build my own ideas for the Web.

I look around and I see lots of people designing and building new stuff for the Web. Today Don Park came up with a possible micro-content solution called "Blog Brix". Marc Canter is developing "Laszlo Blogging Widgets" (amongst other things). Paulo and Matt are busy preparing for the public release of k-collector. Elwyn Jenkins is defining and promoting nano publishing. Simon Carstensen is building a browser-based RSS Aggregator. So is Mark Fletcher with his Bloglines service. Lots and lots of people are building new things. As a certain Australian cricket commentator would say: "It's all happening!"

Robert Scoble responded to the comments I posted on his weblog (which I copied from my own weblog post below) and what he said was an apt conclusion to our blogging discussion:

"Richard, problem is, how do we build on the web? Design by committee is not gonna take us there."

That could mean a number of things and he may've been referring to the W3C. But a positive spin on it is: hey, go out and create things yourself! 

In a totally separate conversation, one of my programmer colleagues said today (I'm paraphrasing): "As a programmer I'll be able to look back on my life and and say 'this is what I've built'". It's not just programmers who can relate to that. My strengths are in design, writing, analysis. So those are the areas I'll focus on when I build for the Web.

Just to be artsy, I'll finish with a lyric from my Uncle Elvis Costello. The song is called Shipbuilding:

"It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls"

9:08:28 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Design | Ideas | Laszlo | micro-content | platforms 

Sunday, 27 July 2003

Robert Scoble has written a couple of posts recently about Microsoft products being a platform:

1. Robert quoting Kevin Warbach: "The Internet companies that have thrived while AOL faltered -- Microsoft, Amazon.com, eBay, Google -- have two things in commons. They are deeply technology-driven, but they see technology not as an end in itself but as a platform."

And a day later...

2. "Well, the Web is what the Web is. I can see tons of places that Amazon could be tons better, if the platform underneath was better. But, yeah, the Web is awesome. So was the Model T, in its time."

The implication clearly is that the Web is past its prime and should be sent to the glue factory like a spent racehorse. To which I reply, well maybe the Web has some deficiencies as a platform for 2003-era Internet applications. But the Web still has one thing going for it which beats everything - it's FREE. Yes the World Wide Web is FREE, as in both speech and beer. That's gotta count for something, right?


Robert responds: "It certainly does! The Model T was the first affordable car, too. But, can we move beyond that?"

Sure but can't we build on the platform we already have - the Web - rather than create new ones? No one company - not Microsoft, not Google - owns the Web. The Web is decentralized and it operates on a few basic open standards - URI's, HTTP and HTML. The Web is more like a road than a car. Not that I want to resurrect the "Information Superhighway" metaphor from the 90's! But my point is the Web is the de-facto platform, built on a few universal protocols. Let's build on what is already free and usable.

Right, I'll get off my soapbox now...

12:05:57 AM    comment [] - See Also:  Microsoft | platforms 

Thursday, 24 July 2003

A lot of people are getting pretty excited about "social software". Bloggers like Joi Ito and Marc Canter are writing with gusto about social software. I'm hearing lots of trendy new acronyms and phrases - FOAF, MetaBlogs, Reputation systems, "web of trust", "moblogging", "micro-content", etc etc. It's all getting to be a blur. But these are heady times and everyone is out there hunting that White Whale, the Semantic Web.

I'm going to add my own trendy phrase to the mix: Web of Ideas.

Yes I know, Web of Ideas isn't a particularly original phrase. When I googled it, I found a number of old newspaper articles and school assignments that used it. But still I want to use it myself, because it succinctly states what I have always believed the World Wide Web is all about: dissemination of ideas.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American writer, once said: "The ideas in every man's mind make him what he is." We're lucky to live in the 21st century. We have Web technologies such as weblogs and RSS to help us discover, create and share ideas.

I'll write more about the Web of Ideas later. For now (it's getting late and I'm starting to ramble), I want to point to an interesting development at Erik Benson's weblog. Erik is developing an idea database. Hey, good idea Erik ;-)

10:14:28 PM    comment [] - See Also:  micro-content | Semantic Web | Social Software | Technology and Society | Two-Way Web 

Monday, 21 July 2003

Tim O'Reilly writes in Dan Gillmor's comments: "Simplicity and extensibility should not be orthogonal. And any technology that sets them up as opposed, instead of complements, has clearly done something wrong."

Note: orthogonal means "independent or well separated".

Tim O'Reilly is talking about RSS2.0 (simple) and RSS1.0 (extensible). Lately I've been thinking and reading about weblog topics. There seems to be the same issues of simplicity vs extensibility in this space too, although nowhere near as much mud-flinging.

XTM stands for XML Topic Maps. For a general introduction, check out the Cover Pages:

"A topic map is a kind of index or information overlay which can be constructed separate from a set of resources, identifying instances of subjects and relationships within the set of resources."

The key things to note are that topic maps are separate from the actual content and they are used to organise content into topics or categories. Although XTM was created only in 2001, topic mapping dates back to 1993 and has its roots in SGML. Right there is a giveaway that this spec is a complex beast. SGML is like the queen ant of XML (to borrow Scoble's ant metaphor) and it has given birth to many XML ants

The XTM spec is a bulky insect, weighing in at 100 pages long. But being heavy gives it the advantage of extensibility. Using XTM, you can define not only topics but also associations, occurances, characteristics, hierarchies, mergers - the list goes on.

XTM even has a fancy term for creating a topic: reification. The spec defines this as:

"The act of creating a topic. When anything is reified it becomes the subject of the topic thus created; to reify something is therefore to create a topic of which that thing is the subject."

Riiiiiight. Now I understand why they used Shakespeare as an example topic in the spec :-) But it also illustrates that XTM has a lot of scope and you can define topics for Africa.

Compare this to the ENT specification. ENT stands for Easy News Topics and it was built as an add-on to RSS2.0. The authors, Matt Mower and Paulo Valdemarin, make a point of emphasizing the simplicity of ENT:

"ENT is intended to be a very simple standard for describing how topic information can be introduced into an RSS2.0 news feed."

ENT is a lightweight ant, weighing in at only 8 pages. It has only two main concepts: the "topic" and the "cloud", which is like a map of topics. ENT necessarily doesn't have the same extensibility, or breadth of functionality, that XTM has. But, here's the kicker. ENT can reference XTM. ENT topics can be linked to an XTM topic map (as well as RDF), via a URI within a cloud. Whoa, lotta acronyms in that last sentence. But the point is, using ENT along with XTM means you get both simplicity and extensibility.

And all this can be done in RSS2.0, and no doubt in RSS1.0 and Atom too. Tim O'Reilly is right, simplicity and extensibility don't have to be orthogonal. You can have your cake and eat it too. That is, as long as the ants don't eat it first ;-)

9:06:21 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Atom | ENT 1.0 | RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Topic Mapping | XML 

Thursday, 17 July 2003

I'm not usually one to quote long passages of other people's writing, but I can't resist quoting Scoble's post today about ants. In Robert's vision, the ants represent Microsoft employees and the bees are third-party developers like Marc Canter. I love it when people use literary devices, such as metaphor, in a technical or business context. It encourages new ideas and makes us see things in a new light. It also reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously :-) Now, take it away Scoble:

"I started having a dream that I was in an ant hill, and it was raining honey from above. The ants were harvesting the honey, and storing it away to use on future expansion projects.

The ants couldn't see where the honey was coming from, but they knew it was "raining" regularly, so they were able to plan. Then I had a vision of the honey dripping from a bee hive up on a tree branch that was overhead of the ant hill.

What are the bee hives? Third party developers. In my vision, Marc was a bee. I was an ant. Now, in Marc's post, he says that the ants figured out where the bee hives were, and they killed all the bees.

My vision is that it's far better for the ants to leave the bees alone. Why?

Ever see an ant colony try to develop its own honey?"

9:53:59 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Hymenoptera | Microsoft | Robert Scoble 

Tuesday, 15 July 2003

The subject of topics for weblogs is getting some traction in the blogosphere. There are some promising apps for topics, including k-collector and Topic Exchange. Recently I wrote a post, in response to one by Clay Shirky, to say that weblog posts should be organized by topics in the blogosphere rather than organized by author. Clay Shirky pointed back to me and some interesting discussion came out of that.

One thing I'm not convinced there is a need for is a "reputation system". Marc Canter linked to a post by Bill Kearney, who had some interesting things to say about syndicating topics (btw Marc also got it spot on when he advised Bill to stick to the topic and lay off the personal abuse of Dave Winer). Bill says this about preventing "pollution" of topic spaces:

"Here we run into the need for some sort of reputation system. One that seeks to differentiate the valuable material from those just trying to incorrectly grab attention."

I don't think ideas should be judged based on who is the author. This is the point I was making in response to Clay's post mentioned above. Sure I want to be able to subscribe to individual authors that I enjoy reading and who I value as an authority. But when it comes to subscribing to topics that I'm interested in, I don't wish to pre-judge what people may contribute on a topic. The best ideas sometimes come out of left field.

The Web is fundamentally a free space. That's the beauty of weblogs, these tools make it easy for anyone to publish on the Web. If everyone has a right to write, then everyone has a right to be read. Even if they're wrong :-)

10:58:44 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Reputation-Trust | Two-Way Web | Weblogs 

Sunday, 13 July 2003

Don Park reckons that weblogs and websites will converge within the next 2 years time:

"People [will] take it for granted that webpages can be edited using their browser. People will also take it for granted that any webpages can be subscribed to with a single-click. Web browsers will be changed to support all this and more like highlighting of changes."

Don is basically talking about browser/editors, which Tim Berners-Lee has always promoted and which is one of my pet topics. The W3C has one of the few WYSIWYG browser/editors around, called Amaya. But in order to write and edit content using Amaya, you need to publish with the HTTP PUT method which most web hosts won't support.

I'd love to see a mainstream web browser/editor on the Web. But as I talked about in yesterday's post, it looks like "Smart Clients" are about to usurp the browser in terms of providing interactive functionality. Smart Clients may be where all the writing/editing action is in 2 years time.

Jon Udell is exploring ways to write semantic content for the Web, which in the short term means XHTML. Microsoft is leaning towards Office tools for that type of writing - e.g. InfoPath and the next version of Word. I'd be surprised if Microsoft changed tack and moved XML writing functionality into the browser (which will be embedded in the OS in future).

So Don, I share your enthusiasm for a true web browser/editor. But I don't think it's even a glint in the milkman's eye for Microsoft.

9:11:28 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Web Browsers | Weblogs 

Saturday, 12 July 2003

Robert Scoble: "...at Microsoft we call Internet apps that aren't in the browser 'Smart Clients'".

The web browser is at a crossroads. Microsoft announced in 2003 that it would not release any further "standalone" versions of Internet Explorer - instead it will be embedded in the Operating System (codenamed Longhorn). But along with obsoleting the web browser as a standalone product, Microsoft is also transforming its definition of a web browser.

IE will no longer be used as a central application from which to run other web applications. Applications will increasingly be non-browser, they will be "Smart Clients" requiring separate installation on a user's PC or other Internet-able device.

The other day I came across a new RSS Aggregator product that is currently in beta, called Lucmo. It is unusual for an RSS Aggregator because it is a browser-based application. Most other products of its kind are software apps that require installation on your PC - eg NetNewsWire and Feedreader.

Lucmo decided to build a browser-based application for these reasons:

"We believe that there are significant benefits to a centralized model. Users will not have to install any software. We can build collaborative filtering more easily. Like webmail, users can access it anywhere without sitting in front of their own computer."

The first and third reasons - no installation and access anywhere - are standard and powerful benefits of the browser-based model. But it's the second reason that interests me most. Lucmo believes that they can achieve "collaborative filtering" more easily in the browser than in a standalone app. Lucmo are hunting the Great White, the Semantic Web. The Lucmo blog explains:

"The killer feature, though, will be the implementation of what you might call a reverse bayesian filter: the user's interests are determined by analyzing every incoming news bit and at the other end recently changed weblogs are aggregated and feeds that comply with the user's interest are suggested. Next step is the implementation of watches: the user creates a watch by specifying a list of keywords, which are then used to filter either news bits from subscribed feeds or all recently changed weblogs."

Simon Carstensen, one of the Lucmo developers, has further information on his weblog. From what I understand, Lucmo aims to personalise RSS feeds by 1) guessing a user's interests and delivering matching feeds to her; and 2) allowing the user to manually specify her interests (what Lucmo calls a "watch") and the system automatically collects and delivers feeds that match those interests. This level of automation is what will drive the Semantic Web to reality. But it's interesting that Lucmo plans to do this in the browser...rather than a 'Smart Client'. 

Are Microsoft selling the web browser short? The browser is still a powerful tool that, as Lucmo will hopefully demonstrate, is a more than capable platform for personalised, automated Web applications.

No Microsoft aren't selling the browser short - but they are sweeping it under the carpet. You see Microsoft is in a privileged position. It doesn't need to build its web applications for the browser anymore, it can tack them onto its OS or otherwise add it into one of its ubiquitous software packages (e.g. Microsoft Office).

Let's return to the 3 reasons Lucmo has for building its app in the browser rather than as a standalone product, and see how Microsoft's non-browser Smart Clients compare:

1) Users don't have to install a new piece of software. Microsoft's Smart Clients won't have to be installed either. They'll be pre-installed, either in the OS or as part of a package like Office. The user doesn't need to worry about installing something new, it's all part of the Microsoft experience.

2) Collaborative filtering. Microsoft has the best of both worlds. Smart Clients will have the increased functionality of a desktop app, while at the same time they can 'hook into' the browser (conveniently sitting on the same OS) in order to network with the World Wide Web. Smart Clients may even share some of their components with IE.

3) Access anywhere. The browser still holds the advantage here, because it (mostly) adheres to universal Web standards. But Microsoft has such a large worldwide market share of desktops, that access from anywhere is an attainable goal for them.

In summary, Smart Clients (non-browser Internet applications) will have most if not all of the functionality enjoyed by browser-based applications. At least they will for Microsoft - because their Smart Clients won't need to be installed, they will have access to browser components on the OS, and they may even have universal access due to Microsoft's market position. Independent companies and individuals will have to work harder to get their Smart Clients installed on user desktops. 

Meanwhile maybe Lucmo can prove that there is life in the browser-based model of web applications. I've already signed up and will be following its development with interest. 

5:06:48 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Internet Explorer | Longhorn | Microsoft | RSS aggregators | Semantic Web | Web Browsers 

Tuesday, 8 July 2003

News today that Userland CEO John Robb has left the company. Dave Winer says about Userland's future direction:

"We're going to try to do something fun, unique, and powerful with UserLand's position in the weblog and content tools market, and we're going to try to include the community in the business, i.e. people will make money."

Sounds fascinating. Best of luck to the staff at Userland. I like the Radio Userland product and its community of users - lots of forward motion! I'm keen to see what strategy Userland pursues, in order to keep pace with the likes of Six Apart and Blogger/Google. People are already offering their support.

Regarding John Robb, interesting to note that his Radio weblog is no longer on the air. Here's a link to someone who appears to have recorded John Robb's last post (I couldn't help being curious about it). This is the tantalizing last sentence:

"There is a huge amount of forward motion in the weblog world from organizations that will pay real money (this answers Scoble's question) ;->


Onward indeed. Look forward to positive news ahead for both Userland and John Robb.

11:35:32 PM    comment [] - See Also:  John Robb | UserLand Software | Weblogs 

Monday, 7 July 2003

Couple of interesting comments to my last post. Harvey Kirkpatrick from itopik wrote:

"I would argue that all the efforts are complementary and can be automated by some and humanified by others. We are choosing to humanify a bit the process hoping to be a bit more intelligent in our organization as Yahoo was in the beginning. Seeing linkages that perhaps software might miss. Granted slower, but in the end a lower signal to noise ratio we think."

It's a good point - we humans have a marvelous ability to 'think outside the square' and see linkages where computers can't (right now). But I think computers are at their most useful when they automate tasks, which frees up the human brain for more creative things.

I am day-dreaming though. In practical terms itopik is successfully 'doing the business' promoting weblog topics, as are k-collector and Topic Exchange. The developers are out there taking risks and building stuff. All I can do is applaud and support those efforts in my weblog. As Harvey says:

"It is my hope that we can build a village of good efforts and be mutually supportive."

The other interesting comment on my previous post was from Prometheus 6, who linked to me out of blogging courtesy (or charity?). But I'm glad he did because it made me realise I need to clarify one thing. When I said that "Topics can and should be 'exactly the size of one idea'", I meant to make it clear that each weblog post can be associated with more than one topic. Prometheus 6 said it well:

"Really good, really informative writing can draw of diverse conceptual roots, and the "topic" can be "these multiple things correlate in this fashion," but it might not be...Good writing just kind of flows."

Speaking of "flow", I read Rogers Cadenhead's post the other night about the Russian positivity guru Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He wrote a book called 'Flow'. Rogers quoted this gem, which I'll end my post with ('cause it's so darn positive):

"Problems are solved only when we devote a great deal of attention to them and in a creative way."

10:16:44 PM    comment [] - See Also:  k-collector | Topic Mapping | Weblogs 

Friday, 4 July 2003

My post in response to Clay Shirky's article on Corante generated some interesting discussion. The time is ripe to discuss weblog topics, thanks to innovative new tools such as k-collector, Phillip Pearson's Topic Exchange, and itopik. I want to address a few points about organizing weblog posts by topic.

1) I still believe authorship is important. I have favourite bloggers who I will read no matter what topic they write on. They are authoritative voices and I trust them to inform and/or entertain me. But I also believe the blogosphere should allow for the emergence of new and alternative voices. One way to achieve this is to have a system that organizes information via topics. Otherwise A List bloggers will continue to dominate the blogosphere, like A List actors dominate Hollywood. Do the rest of us really want to be waiting tables the rest of our lives, looking for our big break in the blogosphere? Hmmm maybe the majority of us are better suited to acting in local plays, than on the big screen ;-) But either way, organising weblog posts by topics potentially gives more people a chance to be read in the blogosphere. And the more bloggers that are 'in the mix', the better the chance of finding new and unique ideas.

2) Topic generation should be automated. I've seen a few comments along the lines of: "Oh I wouldn't know what topic to choose, and anyway who's to say my definition of a certain topic will match other peoples definition?" This is a fair point and as I've been using k-collector, I've often wondered if I'm choosing the correct topics for my posts. There have also been instances of duplication or overlap of topics - e.g. there have been two topics about the new Matrix movie on the same k-collector cloud.

The answer (easier said than done) is to automate creation and management of topics, so us humans don't have to worry our pretty little heads about it. k-collector and Topic Exchange are on the right track, as they already automate some functions. For example when you need to choose a topic for your post using k-collector, the software automatically presents you with a list of potential topics to select from. Matt Mower has previously suggested there may be ways to fully automate topic assignation, which in a past entry I likened to an automated Yahoo!.

I'd like to imagine also that topics can someday be managed in a decentralized way, like the World Wide Web itself. Currently k-collector and Topic Exchange both maintain topics on a central server. Perhaps there is a peer-to-peer way to manage topics?

And my final point for now:

3) Topics are different than categories. I use Radio Userland as my weblog authoring tool and I have the option of dividing my posts into 'categories'. However I choose not to, because categories are too broad and they aren't flexible. Anil Dash posted an entry today about posts being the "atomic element" of weblogs:

"When I first wrote up the idea that had been percolating in my mind for the microcontent client, the one element that kept popping up was "meme-sized chunks [are] the natural idiom of the Internet". A post is that memetic chunk, exactly the size of one idea. Not coincidentally, a lot of emails are that size, as are a lot of instant messaging conversations."

Topics can and should be "exactly the size of one idea", whereas categories usually encompass a number of similar ideas. For example if I have a category called ".NET", then I may use it to file links to information about ASP.NET, my thoughts on how .NET can be used to build a Universal Canvas, how Microsoft is using .NET as the base for their next Operating System, etc. Many topics, but just one category.


Here are some trackbacks from my original post...manually tracked mind you. Bring on the Radio trackback Matt :-)










11:03:57 PM    comment [] - See Also:  k-collector | Semantic Web | Topic Mapping | Weblogs 

Wednesday, 2 July 2003

Clay Shirky (via Ross Mayfield):

"The weblog world has taken the 4 elements of organization from mailing lists and usenet -- overall topic, time of post, post title, author -- and rearranged them in order of importance as author, time, and title, dispensing with topics altogether."

This is something that makes me a little queezy about weblogs. If I had my way, I'd rank the importance of topics as number 1. I would like my RSS Aggregator to deliver RSS feeds to me based on topics that I subscribe to, rather than by author. Don't get me wrong, an author's 'voice' is what makes a weblog unique and interesting. But I don't believe the blogosphere should rank the importance of a weblog post based on who the author is. Google ranks on topic relevance, why shouldn't the blogosphere?

For example, I am very interested in reading weblog posts about Longhorn. But I actually don't care who writes them. I'm curious about everyone's opinion - and I will make up my own mind about how relevant the information is. Right now I rely on Robert Scoble's weblog to deliver me new posts about Longhorn. Robert Scoble has a fantastic policy of giving everyone "one free link" and I enjoy the wide variety of weblogs he links to. It gives his weblog a feeling of openness and freedom. Everybody - A, B and C List bloggers alike - feels welcome to respond in writing via his Comments. It's no coincidence that Scoble's comments system is one of the liveliest and interesting on the Web (even though it is a bit funky - ie the software deletes stuff every now and then!).

Clay Shirky goes on to say:

"This "author-first" organization gives the weblog world a huge boost, as the "Who said what" reputation system we all carry around in our head is a fantastic tool for organizing what we read, as well as acting as a kind of latent bozo filter."

I couldn't disagree more with that statement - organizing what we read according to who wrote it is plain elitist. I'd much rather organize what I read based on topics - then decide for myself if it has any value. This is the beauty of a system such as k-collector, which Paulo and Matt have developed as a means to track and connect peoples weblog posts by topic. It's still in development, but so far I like what I see. I can browse topic pages and read through what various bloggers have to say on the same topic. It's a good way of discovering new voices - rather than simply reading the A List Bloggers.

To be fair, Clay does point out the one major downside of the "author-first" model of weblogs - the blogosphere becomes riven with personality clashes. This is particularly so amongst the A List Bloggers, who because of their high profile in the blogosphere have reputations to uphold and so frequently challenge each other. They engage in epic pissing contests and unfortunately the rest of us get sprayed too. It's not particularly fun to read and, as Rogers can testify, it's no fun to be on the receiving end. 

Watching the Echo project unfold in the blogosphere is like watching the WWF's Royal Rumble - we see each A List Blogger climb into the ring, until about 30 of them are in there slugging it out. Who will be left in the ring at the end? Who knows, and I don't care. I'd rather just read and write about topics that are of interest to me, thanks. Leave the Web-wrestling to the pros (it's all fake anyway).

How can we improve the weblog world, so that it does take into account topics? Well I'd like to see new versions of RSS Aggregators give us some more options to filter weblog posts by topic. And Paulo and Matt, I look forward to the next version of k-collector. Keep up the good work!

10:37:29 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Echo | k-collector | Social Software | Topic Mapping | Weblogs 

Tuesday, 1 July 2003

Some quotes on the theme of content management (CM)...

Gerry McGovern: "The Web may have been the almost exclusive domain of techies. Today, it is increasingly the domain of communicators."

Bill Gates: "Whether it's handling a classified ad or handling editorials, the authoring tools for these things no longer require an IT department to be involved. The actual tools that the reporters, the managers are working with can understand XML."

Matthew Berk: "In five years, content management functionality will move in two directions: out to the desktop in the form of software like Office 11, and down to the infrastructure in the form of file systems that implement the essentials now seen in content management packages."


The quote below from Dan Gillmor doesn't obviously seem to fit under the topic of "content management". But think about why Google bought Blogger:

Google = Read; Blogger = Write.

Read + Write (seamlessly) = the future of Content Management

Dan Gillmor, writing about Blogger and Google: "The first order of business for Evan Williams and his team was to upgrade the blog-posting software, and to put the Blogger-hosted weblogs on Google's more reliable server computers. But Williams said the team is also looking hard at the element of the read-write Web that Google does so well -- finding stuff."

10:45:04 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Content Management | Google | Two-Way Web | Weblogs | XML 

Monday, 30 June 2003

I've been following all the hullaballoo about the Echo Project. Unfortunately there's been more flaming than at a dragons convention. But one of the few calm voices amongst all the hot air is Jon Udell, who today wrote a brilliant essay that got right to the heart of what RSS means. 

Jon reminded us that technologies such as RSS are all about helping ordinary people "communicate more easily and more effectively". That's what web technology can achieve...although perhaps in the Echo debate we're not eating our own dogfood :-)

The challenge for web technologists in 2003 is to develop tools that enable people to write structured content for the Web. Once non-technical people can easily do this, we've taken a major step towards the Semantic Web. As Udell puts it:

"Ideally XML, not raw ASCII text, would be the stuff that was written, and refactored, and then mined to produce coherent views. We have no tools that come close to enabling that to happen.

Such tools, combining the power of XML with the flexibility of freeform text, and operating on a universal canvas, are what will really drive mainstream adoption of a two-way Web."

Dave Winer has done an awful lot of work to get us to the cusp of the two-way web. He created a weblog authoring tool and he co-invented personal publishing standards like RSS and XML-RPC. But most of all, it's Dave's ideas and his vision for a two-way web that I value. He is carrying on what Tim Berners-Lee started. As Dave wrote earlier this year:

"Like a lot of technologies people told big stories about something called hypertext, but until Tim Berners-Lee came along there really wasn't something for ordinary people to use. He pushed aside a lot of hairy technical issues, didn't even try to solve them, and cobbled together something that was brain-dead simple and incredibly ugly, and it worked and it was wonderful."

Tim Berners-Lee always wanted a read/write Web and Dave Winer has done more than most to help make this dream a reality. So I hope people lay off Dave and let him do what he does best - create solutions for real people to use.

Jon Udell is also doing a great job in elucidating what we really need in order to achieve a Semantic, two-way Web. Regular people don't want to hear lots of flap about formats and APIs. What we want are easy-to-use XML-based writing tools, and applications to manage our information and subscriptions. Now that would make Mr Safe real happy!

8:01:15 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Dave Winer | Echo | Jon Udell | Two-Way Web | Universal Canvas | XML 

Sunday, 29 June 2003

One thing that is definitely "funky" is the blogroll in Radio Userland. I updated my blogroll.opml file last night but - no matter what trickery I do - the changes won't publish. That is why my external links look a bit odd right now.

John Robb recently announced that Radio will soon release a new version, which is exciting news for us Radio fans. I look forward to the new features. But I also hope they address the little things, like the continuing blogroll funkiness. 

Radio is a wonderful product and I like playing around with it. But there are some kinks in the publishing process which need to be ironed out, pleeeease :-) 

postscript: ha ha, typically as soon as I published this I discovered how to force my blogroll to publish. In my browser, I browsed to the location of my blogroll: http://radio.weblogs.com/0105304/gems/blogroll.opml. I noticed it was still displaying the old version of my blogroll. Hmmm, so I refreshed the browser and it updated to the new version. I thought well maybe that will finally update my weblog. Nothing else had worked and I had tried everything - including deleting the blogroll.opml file from my gems folder and its reference from my homepage template, clicking 'Radio --> Publish --> Entire Website', adding the opml file back in, re-publishing, etc.

So anyway after refreshing the blogroll.opml page in my browser, I re-published this post and - lo and behold - my blogroll had finally updated on my homepage. Praise be. I can go and enjoy my Sunday now :-)

9:43:06 AM    comment [] - See Also:  Radio Userland 

Saturday, 28 June 2003

Jon Udell on RSS: "It's about a new way of communicating, one that's defined by personal publishing and subscribing, and that empowers writers and readers as never before."

Amen to that, brother.

People are trying to change RSS into something called Echo. If you want to know why, then I recommend you check out Jon Udell's conversation with Mr Safe. But also read Dave Winer's post in reply. And if you really have to, browse the Echo Wiki.

10:37:45 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Echo | RSS 2.0 

Tuesday, 24 June 2003

I admit it. I regularly check my stats at Technorati and Blogshares, plus I do some search engine checks now and then. Everyone does it. I have to say I'm not exactly setting the world on fire in terms of popularity. I'm probably a 'C List' blogger at most :-)

But I am noticing my Google popularity is increasing for the phrase "Read/Write Web". I'm now at number 2 (as of this writing) and only Dan Gillmor's weblog post titled "The Read-Write Web" is ahead of me. I haven't been officially tracking this, but I do recall I was at number 5 a week or so ago, and buried in the back pages a month ago. So I'm moving up the charts.

I also found a directory of Google API tools. I like GoogleDuel, which pits two words or phrases against each other. I discovered that "two-way web" is 6 times more popular than the phrase "read/write web". That is due to Mr Winer's influence. Also "browser/editor" is 6 times more popular than "universal canvas"...

10:59:25 PM    comment []

Monday, 23 June 2003

In my recent articles I've explored the concept of the Universal Canvas, a term made popular by Microsoft when it launched .NET in 2000. But things just got interesting, with the news that Microsoft will phase out its Internet Explorer browser as a standalone product. Internet Explorer will be integrated it into Microsoft's next-generation Operating System codenamed Longhorn.

But what does that mean exactly? How will the Internet Explorer web browser be integrated into the OS and what effect will this have?

In a nutshell, it means IE components will be converted into CLR components. CLR stands for "Common Language Runtime" and it is the engine that drives the .NET platform. The CLR sits on top of the Operating System and provides developers with a set of services.

Ahmet Zorlu speculates that CLR components such as Web Services clients and P2P applications will be introduced into the browser, and current IE components such as the plug-ins and Active-X controls (e.g. Flash Player) will be converted to .NET.

Frans Bouma also thinks the CLR is where IE will end up. He says that HTML or other markup "will be rendered by components embedded in other applications, like helpviewer, blog readers and other tools. Such a component can be embedded in winforms as well, as a control."

But whoa, before we get starry-eyed for the future, let's step back for a moment and review Internet Explorer in its current form. Basically it is made up of a number of components. The two main components are called the WebBrowser control and MSHTML. I won't go into gory details, you can read Microsoft's documentation for that. Suffice to say that Internet Explorer is based on a component architecture - and what's more,  as of version 4.0 this became "an integrated part of the Windows shell". Version 5.5 added lots of new functionality, including editing capability using e.g. behaviours and the "contenteditable=true" declaration. IE 6 is the latest version and it looks like we're stuck with it for a while - until Longhorn is released.

.NET is also a component-based architecture, but on a larger scale. Internet Explorer is like a small fish about to be fed to a larger fish called .NET.

This is what it comes down to - IE will become JAFWC (Just Another F*cking Windows Component). It will no longer be a standalone product that can be plugged in to any OS - it will only run on the Windows platform.

So what are the benefits of having Internet Explorer subsumed within the OS? It will have a much cleaner architecture - no more plug-ins and add-ons. And we'll finally get a decent edit control, which will enable the browser to once again be editable as Tim Berners-Lee originally intended it to be. The Universal Canvas may finally become reality, albeit in a Microsoft world.

9:29:42 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Microsoft | Two-Way Web | Universal Canvas | Web Browsers 

Sunday, 22 June 2003

Mark Pilgrim: "I take in a lot of raw data, synthesize it, and spit it back out in ways that many people can understand."

Mark Pilgrim and Neil Deakin are two very smart web developers, but more importantly they both have the ability to document complex web technology in laymans language - so that wannabes can learn it too. This is different to technical writing, which means documenting a piece of software for its end users.

One of the best ways to learn something is to document it. The beauty of the read/write web is that it makes it easy to do this, and easy for everyone to contribute.

Revision 24/7/03: I struck out the sentence about technical writing, because tech writing as a discipline actually covers writing for both wannabes and end users - and many other types of audiences too.

12:41:28 AM    comment []

Thursday, 19 June 2003

Dave Winer posts a link to a DaveNet from 2 years ago:

"If it were not possible to read my words without annotation, we'd have to invent a medium that allowed that. But in 2001 we already have such a medium, it's called the Web.

We have tools and servers and all kinds of runtimes on all kinds of operating systems.

We don't need or want another medium. So let's not screw it up.

I think that's what the writers are saying to the geeks."

Those words don't need any annotation ;-)

11:30:27 PM    comment []

Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Micah Alpern asked via my Comments form: "Wasn't this term [universal canvas] first popularized by Apple with their failed OpenDoc program?" Only one way to find out and that's pay a visit to Google. I found a definition of OpenDoc, but I didn't see anything that had OpenDoc and Universal Canvas in the same sentence. Anyone know of a link?

Looking for more info, I took a ride on The Wayback Machine and travelled back to 1996 - the Apple OpenDoc website. This snippet from 1996-era Apple is a good summary of what I discovered about OpenDoc:

"You can combine features from your favorite soft-ware applications - including tools to handle text, graphics, photography, spreadsheets, video - even live data links and Internet connections - and use them in a single, simple work environment. The result: a work environment that's truly integrated."

I have to admit, it does sound similar to the universal canvas concept - in a mid-90's sort of way. OpenDoc was all about bringing different software components together into a single application. The Microsoft vision is about bringing together data from different applications, using XML - very post-2000 :-)

Also check out Apple's former product called Cyberdog - does this blurb remind you of something:

"Because Cyberdog uses OpenDoc component technology, it's completely integrated into the operating system and can be extended with other OpenDoc components."

Integrated into the OS, sounds familiar eh. On that topic, this 3-year old Macworld article also seems very prescient now. It was written by Wes George, soon after Microsoft announced its .NET strategy in 2000. Wes said this:

"The thrust of Microsoft.Net is to Vulcan mindmeld the operating system to centralized Microsoft servers by making the browser and the OS one piece of software. All access to information, services, or other applications are controlled from this "universal canvas." And the universal canvas is directly linked to Microsoft at all times."

I don't share the view that Microsoft wants to control us all via centralized servers. But still it is worth considering both the pros and cons of the "universal canvas" - particularly if it does end up integrated into the OS along with the browser.

11:37:18 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Apple | Richard MacManus | Two-Way Web | Universal Canvas | Web Browsers 

Monday, 16 June 2003

Last night I wrote about the Universal Canvas. Today in my RSS newsreader, what should appear but a great post from Steve Gillmor on the same topic. Of course being a pro, Steve made his point way better than me. Microsoft has all the pieces, says Steve, to "create a browser-hosted read-write tool for sharing and routing information."

But the pieces are being fitted together to reveal a jigsaw puzzle that looks suspiciously like the Windows Operating System. As Steve puts it: "We'll get the long-promised Universal Canvas, but sorry folks it will have to be Windows end to end."

Steve also wrote in an earlier post that "Office is now a System, BizTalk is now a System (Jupiter) and IE is part of the Operating System."

All this talk (including from me) about the universal canvas moving away from the browser and into the Office/Operating system, is a little scary. The World Wide Web was originally meant to be a decentralized network of information where people could read and write freely, as in both free beer and free speech.

Sure the browser market has been largely controlled by Microsoft these last few years, but at least browsers run on the World Wide Web - and the Web is as universal as it gets in the digital domain. So where does it leave us if the future canvas for our browsing and creating is embedded in a "system", owned by one company, rather than on a universal network owned by no one? Is the Universal Canvas going to bypass the Web?

10:18:35 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Microsoft | Richard MacManus | Two-Way Web | Universal Canvas | Web Browsers 

I've been Scobleized. Now I really am part of the blogosphere...yay :-)

9:46:32 PM    comment []

Sunday, 15 June 2003

I've become very interested in the "Universal Canvas", a term popularized by Microsoft and subsequently analyzed by Jon Udell. First of all, here are two definitions of the Universal Canvas:

a) From a Microsoft White Paper dated June 2000, entitled Microsoft .NET: Realizing the Next Generation Internet:

"The universal canvas builds upon XML schema to transform the Internet from a read-only environment into a read/write platform, enabling users to interactively create, browse, edit, annotate and analyze information."

b) Jon Udell's definition, from his June 2001 article entitled The universal canvas:

"...a surface on which we view, but also create and edit, words and tables and charts and pictures."

Udell also wrote a follow-up article in August 2001. Recently he's begun to write further on the subject - describing some tools and methods to produce structured, semantic web writing. In particular see his OSCOM keynote.

But lets go back to the beginning, or at least the beginning of when the term 'Universal Canvas' started to be bandied about by Microsoft as part of its .NET push. The 2000 white paper I referred to above described how "Microsoft .NET will take computing and communications far beyond the one-way Web to a rich, collaborative, interactive environment". The web browser was seen as a key component to this vision. In 2000 the web browser was only a "glorified read-only dumb terminal", but Microsoft's goal was to provide a "unified browsing, editing and authoring environment".

However fast forward to 2003 and the web browser is less prevalant in the .NET vision. So what's the focal point for the Universal Canvas now? Well a clue or two was given in a 2002 InfoWorld interview with Microsoft exec Jeff Raikes. He explained the universal canvas means the ability to have "data structures...converge around XML". He said that it "...really revolves around getting to that data structure layer." And when it comes to data, Microsoft has a whole range of Office products that collect and record it. Plus Microsoft's Office products - for example Word and Excel - are all now XML-ized. They can all convert their data into the XML format (although some conversions are uglier than others). Add to this Microsoft's new Office product, InfoPath, which is touted as an XML-based forms tool for writing and editing. And you can see that, rather than the universal canvas being built around the web browser, it is now an Office concept...at least for Microsoft.

The universal canvas is at the heart of what the two-way web is, and what it will become. For that reason I will continue to explore the concept over the coming weeks...

9:51:50 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Microsoft | Richard MacManus | Two-Way Web | Universal Canvas | Web Browsers | XML 

Thursday, 12 June 2003

Asterisk: "...the one thing every Web professional needs, regardless of their main job function, be that IA, Design, Development, what-have-you is adaptability. You know, the ability to wing it."

In New Zealand we have a similar concept called No. 8 Wire mentality, or "kiwi ingenuity" - based on the architypal New Zealand farmer who can invent or fix anything with a trusty piece of no. 8 gauge fencing wire!

It also reminds me of the Web's "View Source" principle. To see how a webpage was created, wanna-be developers can click on "View Source" in their web browser, copy and paste the code into their own editing environment, and modify it to create something new. In other words, adapt an existing thing to your own unique requirements.

Hmmm, back to the kiwi connection. Recently New Zealand celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt Everest. In a tv interview this year, Hillary spoke about some characteristics that he identifies with as a person and as a New Zealander: determination, innovation, competitiveness, and being "not smooth" (in terms of suaveness). Sir Edmund's advice to young people today: learn from older people, look at what they achieved, build on that, and "do your own thing". Adapt and create.

10:51:39 PM    comment []

Tuesday, 10 June 2003

RWW Word of the Day: triangulation

Dave Winer (via Denise Howell's weblog): "...Question about journalism always having to be the sophisticated big stuff? Dave says know (sic), importance of triangulation, getting news on an event from many sources."

10:29:52 PM    comment []

Saturday, 7 June 2003

Ever listen to The Velvet Underground's 9 minute live version of 'What goes on', from their 1969 Live album Volume 1? The first couple of minutes feature Lou Reed singing verse and chorus. The rest of the song is an extended instrumental and this is where it gets interesting. Each of the 4 instruments has a unique voice, but by collaborating and feeding off one another they produce a sum greater than the parts. There are two rhythm guitars counterpointing each other, an organ noodling - sometimes pushing melody, sometimes following - and a metronomic drumbeat holding it all together.

You can listen to each melodic line - isolate one of the guitars, hum along with the organ, nod your head to the drum beat, urge along with the other guitar. But the beauty, the real music in all this, is the combination - the collaboration - of these instruments, into a glorious harmony....a musical web.

That's a roundabout way of introducing a topic that caught my attention today - generalism vs specialisation, particularly in the field of web technology. I'm a web generalist -  in that I don't specialise in programming, or web design, or information architecture, or website management, etc. I do all those things and more, mainly because I get bored if I try to specialise in one thing. Or as a collegue described me today - "you get things done". But still I like to think I have a particular talent for writing and analysis, which are specialist skills.

The truth is, being a web generalist is neither fashionable nor glamourous. Jeffrey Zeldman didn't get where he is today without specialising in one field of web technology (design). But I take heart in a couple of articles I found on the Web today. Ross Mayfield wote a weblog entry a few months ago on the topic of generalism vs specialisation, in response to a post by Azeem Azhar, who picked up the theme from an essay by Paul Saffo written 14 years ago.

Ross puts it nicely: "Convergence of disciplines is where real innovation and discovery occurs." ...like how I experience the Velvet Underground song I mentioned above - substitute "disciplines" for "instruments" :-)

Azeem wrote: "The specialists provide deep insight into specific issues (basically, they teach me), the generalists give a great, evolving overview of the system. They provide new ways of visualising and presenting problems. They provide the narrative. The combination works."

There is a two-way web angle to this. Weblogs in particular have made it easy and fun for individuals to write to the Web. Now collaborative tools are beginning to come into play to enhance weblogs - for example the k-collector tool makes it easy to create and share topics. This is all bringing about convergence of writing and ideas on the Web, and new and interesting things are happening because of it.

ps I knew there was a way to mention The Velvet Underground in my weblog. Hope I haven't broken any blogging rules ;-)

12:02:13 AM    comment [] - See Also:  Collaboration | Music | Richard MacManus 

Thursday, 5 June 2003

I read with interest Jon Udell's OSCOM keynote slides. The main subject is how to write the web "in a rich way" - and by "rich" he means semantic. Udell talks about there being a lack of easy-to-use XML writing tools for the Web. Weblog tools are user-friendly and they are the killer app for web writing, but they lack the ability to create structured XML information. Content Management Systems on the other hand have become bloated with features, making it difficult for non-technical people to use them.

Udell suggests that simple doses of metadata, added consistently to common markup such as titles or class attributes, will help weblogs and CMSs alike bring semantic structure to Web writing.

I did a search around the Web on this topic. There seems to be some confusing terminology out there. Firstly regarding rich text editors - the word "rich" in these products refers to presentational markup. For example: bold, italics, underline, bullet, indent, font type. These products basically emulate what popular word-processing software does. Similarly when Macromedia talk about a Rich Internet Application, they mean a Flash-based browser application. I believe when Udell talks about writing "rich" Web content, he is talking about adding structure and meaning.

Writing to the Web is what weblogs and CMSs are all about. Being able to add metadata to Web content, without having to handcode XML or feed a CMS monster, is the holy grail for these tools. As a Davenet from 2000 stated: "...simplicity is the single biggest thing that's in the way of the Web as an easy writing environment". RSS2.0 is a good example of a simple and easy to understand XML format, which still has rich functionality. We need the same simplicity and richness in the tools we use to write to the Web.

11:42:17 PM    comment [] - See Also:  Richard MacManus | Semantic Web | XML 

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