Updated: 9/21/2006; 6:21:33 AM.
Nick Gall's Weblog
[NOTE: I have moved. My new blog is ironick.typepad.com.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Blog has Moved...
Contrary to popular rumors, I haven't stopped blogging! I've moved my blog from Radio Userland to Typepad and renamed it in the process. The name of my new blog is Ironick. Given that I consider myself an ironist in Richard Rorty's sense of the term, I really like my new handle.

Although Radio Userland was one of, if not the pioneer of blogging, it has failed to sustain a thriving community of users, so less and less innovation went into the service. Worse, the Radio client became more and more of a resource hog on my laptop. It got to the point where I was afraid to start it up. Needless to say, such fear really put a dent in one's ability to blog regularly.

This blog will remain for a while as an archive of previous entries. I've moved all the normal postings over typepad, but with a few glitches. First, links from newer posts to old posts did not get updated, so the newer posts still link to theUserland site. These will become broken links when my old blog is finally shut down. Also, comments on entries (yes, I had a few) were not transfered. If I have time, I plan to read through such comments and find some way to repost them onTypepad. Finally, "story" entries have not yet been transfered. I'll definitely be moving them!

So update your bookmark and redirect your feed reader to my Ironick feed. (Actually, both my Userland and Typepad blogs display an RSS badge for a feed from Feedburner, which splices together my Furl linkblog and my Flickr image blog with feed from both Userland and Typepad. So only those of you who subscribed to my pre-Feedburner raw RSS feed will see any difference.)

See you at Typepad...

5:58:30 AM      

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's not just Light vs. Heavy; It's Dynamic vs. Static.

This entry is my response to an interesting thread spun out of a bet about the future of markup languages. It can be read standalone, but is probably easier to follow if you read the bet and the thread first.

I believe that we will all author in something much closer to XHTML+microformats than we author in DocBooks or WordML or TeX, because the former better enables Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the two-way web: a web whose "interactive content" can be immediately edited using the same basic tools for browsing as for editing. I think the traditional "batch style" of authoring and publishing using "compiled markup languages" is giving way to the "interactive style" of authoring and publishing using "dynamic markup languages". [While "compiled markup language" seems to be in use, there does not yet appear to be any discussion of compiled vs. dynamic markup languages. So this may be the first.]

The batch style is exemplified by the phrase "WYSIWYG": What You See Is What You Get. What has been compiled for rendering is what you get--take it or leave it. To put it more pejoratively "What You See Is What You Are Stuck With." The interactive style is exemplified by WYSIWYE ("What You See Is What You Edit"). [For about five minutes, I was pleased with myself for having of this succinctly insightful term; until I Googled it and got 200+ hits. Oh well, its still a great alternative term for Tim Berners-Lee's read write web.]

So...because I believe that eventually we will be able to edit and annotate and cut and paste everything we SEE on the web, this leads me to believe that the language used to present such information will be the language we use to author it as well. Note that we may still use fancy WYS editors for authoring. But the author's mental model of the underlying representation will be based on a dynamic markup language.

Blogs and wikis are heading in this direction. Few blog or wiki writers author in Word and then publish in XHTML. Instead, they author while thinking in much more HTML-native ways. For example, they use pidgen HTML markup languages (==header==) and viewers that can toggle between cooked (rendered) and raw views. Or go back even further when we used to author in long hand and a WP specialist would reproduce it in electronic format. Now almost all writers are expected to author in electronic format.

So for me, the interesting question is: What will tomorrow's "dynamic markup language" look like? I'm betting it's going to look a lot more like today's XHTML+microformats than today's compiled markup languages", e.g., DocBooks, WordML, Postscript, TeX. (Note: I think a similar dialectic is happening between dynamic programming languages and compiled programming languages for similar reasons, i.e., the transition to WYRIWYE--What You Run Is What You Edit.)

The other interesting question is how quickly will dynamic markup languages and the WYSIWYE interactive document lifecycle displace compiled markup languages and the WYSIWYG batch document lifecycle? Unfortunately, technical writing, which is often expected to be published and not changed much thereafter, e.g., academic journals, is probably the last form of writing to follow this trend. The biggest determinant of the pace of such change will be the change in thinking about academic collaboration. It's already changing with preprint archives like arXiv. The lines between preprint, print, and postprint are blurring because the relationships between the peer review process and the publishing process are in flux. However, given the pace of such cultural changes, I think five years is very optimistic--but still possible.

3:33:34 PM      

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Gee, I didn't think my blog was THAT funny.
I just noticed in my Site Meter Referrals that my weblog shows up in the first ten entries when you Google the words "funny" and  "weblogs". Here is the furled Google listing and here is the flickred Google listing. (No, I'm not obsessing about this.) I think this proves that Google has a deeply ironic sense of humor (perhaps even deeper than mine...).
7:05:30 AM      

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Update on the origin of the term "middleware".
Someone (named simply "Don") saw my entry on the origin of the term middleware and was nice enough to email me a reference to an even earlier citation from 1968! The term middleware was used in the famous report  of the 1968 NATO Software Engineering Conference:

Middleware term in 1968 NATO Report

I'd heard of the famous NATO Software Engineering conf/paper but never seen it. It seems like middleware may be as old as software.

I find it very interesting that in 1968, it was used to refer to software used to adapt generic file system functionality to specific application functionality needs. More generally, I guess you could call middleware "software in the middle of application software and system software."

6:54:05 AM      

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The technology of cooperation.
Via wirearchy , a great chart (or see smaller chart) showing a comprehensive categorization of all the various facets of social software. A great start on the idea of architecting emergence , which hasn't shown up in Google yet (though designing emergence is at least a blip). The chart comes from Howard Rheingold and is part of a report which is part of a project on cooperation .

6:16:48 AM      

Monday, July 18, 2005

Amazing hack--The data: URL Scheme.
In tracking down the documentation on Firefox's about: URI scheme (aka URL scheme), I came across the amazing data: scheme, which is an IETF standard. The data: scheme basically enables you to encode any element of an HTML page, or even the an entire HTML page itself, into a URI. In other words, data: enables you to directly embed a resource into web page, instead of linking to it. (Technically, the resource is embedded in the URI, but since the URI is embedded in the web page, it is for most purposes, the same thing.) Here is an example of a mini web site encoded in a URI. Look at the status bar of your browser to get a hint of what it looks like.

This hack reminds me of the javascript: scheme (aka javascript: protocol) which enables the very useful bookmarklet hacks. However, unlike data:, the javascript: scheme is not standard. One drawback is the limit on URI length, which appears to be about 4000 characters. The Wikipedia entry for data: links to some useful resources including the kitchen, which is how I created my demo encoded/embedded web page.

11:18:54 AM      

The Unitarian Jihad is an amazing example of Web-enabled emergence.
A while ago, I posted an entry on the Unitarian Jihad. Well, this being the Web, it's taken on a life of its own. To see what I mean, check out the comprehensive Wikipedia entry on UJ, which describes the UJ as follows:

Unitarian Jihad is a nascent satirical religious/humanist movement which opposes religious extremism of all kinds through peaceful means.

The concept of the Unitarian Jihad originated in a column by writer Jon Carroll which was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 8, 2005. The column intentionally juxtaposed the Unitarian Universalistfaith and rational discussion with the Islamic concept of (militant) Jihad, and used the conceit of having received an anonymous communique from the then non-existent group.

Note how many different sites mentioned in the entry have sprung up. One of my favorites is the name generator. Here is what it generated for me:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Machine Gun of Quiet Reflection. Get yours.

While the spread of the UJ meme is a humorous example, it is nonetheless a powerful demonstration of how the Web enables the emergence of spontaneous order. Let me walk you through it:
  1. I find out about the UJ article from one of the blogs or newsletters I read (I can't remember which).
  2. I bookmark it in Furl: UJ Bookmark.
  3. Several weeks later, I look at my UJ bookmark (long story having to do with looking into my Furl Religion folder for some other search on Unitarianism).
  4. I notice that someone named number-six has also Furled UJ with the following comment: "See: http://homepage.mac.com/whump/ujname.html to get your uj name. More here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/unitarian_jihad/ .
  5. So I go to the UJ page at livejournal.
  6. I am amazed to find over 300 members listed on the UJ community page. I'm even more amazed to find that the community had apparently been created on the same day as the article, April 8, 2005!
  7. From these pages I discover the name generators and the Wikipedia entry
The point of going through this in detail is to give you a flavor of the serendipity of the emergence process. Imagine, just a few months after an article is published an entire community and an rich set of Web resources emerge into being! This is enabled by two "new" aspects of the 2nd Web Generation (aka Web 2.0):
  1. The ability of individuals to easily create new Web resources: content, groups, tools, bookmarks, etc.
  2. The automatic generation of backlinks, e.g., who also linked this page, what pages contain this phrase
These two capabilities are at the heart of the Web's ability to generate spontaneous order.

6:40:35 AM      

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Using the web to organize collective fundraising.
Via slashdot, an interesting new twist on the decentralization, mass innovation, social software them -- Fundable:

Fundable is a new service that lets groups of people pool money for various purposes in what are called "group actions." Similar to an online auction, a group action has its own page, describing how much money will be collected and what the money will do. No participant takes a risk: if the collection for a group action falls short of its target on deadline, all money is refunded.

Fundable's all-or-nothing approach to collecting money lets you participate in a group purchase or fundraiser without worrying about what other people will do. You will either get what you paid for or get your money back.

According to the slashdot article, Fundable has already succeeded in raising funds for OSS development.

Hmmm... I might use this to organize the next Gall Family Reunion. <grin>

5:31:36 AM      

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