Blog Directory

Dave Winer has a suggestion for what Google should do with blogs for the community: “Give me an accurate list of all the librarian weblogs, and all the lawyer weblogs, and all the weblogs of people who have implemented an XML-RPC stack. You get the idea. They have been able to do this with news stories, it seems they should also be able to do it with weblogs. This is the biggest unsolved problem I see in this world, and I don’t know how to solve it, it’s not what I do.”

Tom Matrullo adds his wish: “Ease of directory assistance for bloggers. E.g., say you want to find bloggers who know all about Matisse’s childhood, or Indonesian cuisine, or Ponca City, OK – how, at present, do you find them?”

We need a blogger’s directory…its something we’d like to do with BlogStreet. Have been thinking about it for some time. It has to be based on people and their expertise areas, since unlike other web pages, blogs are inherently about people, who aren’t easy to segment and classify.

Classifieds via RSS

John Robb has an interesting idea with an example on how RSS can make for more useful classified ads: “I would love it if the NYTimes classifieds (as well as the Boston Globe for me) were available as keyword sorted RSS feeds. Just put in your search terms: automobile, BMW, X5, 2001, 200 mi (the distance between me and seller) and get all new entries on that topic automatically. It’s clear that newspapers could reinvent their business models by making long term connections in this way.”

Google Rankings

As Google becomes the Web’s hub, being high up in its search listings is important for traffic. (That’s an importand reason to blog and blog early in life.) WSJ writes about what people do to climb up in Google’s rankings.

Google’s site has become the prime battleground because of its unprecedented power over the Web. Barely four years old, Google has grown largely by word of mouth to become the place where most people start to look for something on the Internet. Three-quarters of all online searches use Google or sites that use Google’s search results, according to WebSideStory Inc.

Because of its importance, Google can make or break businesses that sell over the Web. It’s the new “location, location, location” for online retailers, for whom ranking at the top of a Google search is the Web equivalent of landing a choice corner on Miracle Mile or Fifth Avenue.

As of now, this site (Emergic.org) is the first link which shows up when someone searches for “rajesh” (great for the ego). I moved to #1 some time after I added “Rajesh” in the title of the page. The Google PageRank, a measure of a page’s importance, for Emergic.org is 6/10, which I think is decent for a blog.

Desktop as a Meeting Place

If we were to rethink the desktop, what should it be? This is a question I have often pondered about. NYTimes writes about Robb Beal’s Spring “to unite a broad range of Internet information and services behind a single interface” and “replaces icons for software applications and Web sites with representations of people, places, and things that can be connected.”

Mr. Beal sees Spring not as an all-inclusive computing environment, but as an interface for basic and frequent Internet activities like communication and shopping. On the screen, a Spring canvas, as the display is called, looks much like Apple’s current desktop, filled with large, cheery icons. Yet there are no icons for Mail or Microsoft Word. Instead, the icons (“objects” in Spring parlance) are small databases of hypertext information that describe people, places (New York City, say, or a favorite local bar) or things (most obviously, products and services for sale).

Objects can be created by the user or downloaded. To accomplish most tasks, the Spring user places a cursor over an icon, clicks a mouse button, then draws a line from one object to another. For example, to invite Todd and Ellen to the Monkey Club after work, one would draw a line from icons of their faces to one representing the club. Once a line is drawn to connect them, Spring offers a pop-up menu of options: do you want to invite them, send them directions, or create a new custom function?

Mr. Beal said that the initial onscreen action – connecting the people to the place – was an important conceptual change in the interface between human and computer.

With a desktop, he said, “your mind is thinking about which application to launch, whereas it should be thinking about the person you want to communicate with.”

For now, Spring runs on OS X. Another reason to buy an Apple.

Valuing One’s Own Time

An interesting article in WSJ discusses how we use and value time when it comes to doing household chores. The articles begins with a story of a Manhattan executive who bills at USD 200 an hour and spent 10 hours battling Sprint for USD 9 in late charges!

In an economy of convenience, where time can be purchased in everything from bags of prewashed lettuce to dog-walking services, these studies aim to help answer dozens of questions Americans wrestle with daily: Who can afford a babysitter? A lawn service? A personal shopper? “The household is a little firm,” says Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor the University of Texas. “It employs labor, it buys technology, it makes decisions about what services to outsource.”

But it is a firm that could use some management consultants. Americans often make drastic miscalculations about the value of their time, taking a do-it-yourself approach to tasks that might be less costly in time and money to hire out. A simple oil change, for example, costs $24.99 at some Jiffy Lube locations. But the supplies to do it yourself can run about $21. Yet about 43 million U.S. residents say they change their own oil.

In the past, economists looked strictly at your income to put a price on your leisure hours. Now, the study of off-the-clock time — or “household production,” as it is formally known — is getting a fresh look, even beginning to take into account intangible factors such as satisfaction and pleasure.

Am wondering about how this applies to blogging. I think I am spending 30 minutes a day on blogging, and 30 minutes on average a day for the Tech Talk columns. So, that’s an hour a day reading, thinking and writing for myself and others. It is a significant time investment. And as I have written here in the past, it is definitely well worth the time spent, though I couldn’t possibly put a tangible financial value on the activity.

Blogger’s News Aggregator

Seeing this News Aggregator for Weblogs At Harvard gives me an idea – perhaps we could look at a service in BlogStreet which takes the blogroll or neighbourhood of bloggers (which we have identified) and then make a public page which creates a news aggregator page for each of the bloggers. What this does is shows me (and others) the updates happening on the bloggers of interest to me – it takes information filtering one-level deeper.

So, if I like Kevin Werbach and his blog, then I can now see not just his neighbourhood which comprises his blogroll and related blogs, one can also find the updates being done in the aggregate set of these blogs. These way, one can find a wider perspective on topics we know the blogger is interested in.

I think we should do this as part of BlogStreet.

Online Gaming and Grid Computing

Sony, IBm and Butterfly.net are planning to use grid computing to create massively large multi-player games, according to NYTimes:

Games with great numbers of players present daunting computing challenges. The market is just beginning to emerge, and the game environments are frequently bedeviled by technical glitches sluggish graphics and long delays for users who want to play. For online game enthusiasts, grid technology could deliver the ideal of letting thousands of simultaneous users enjoy fast, realistic graphics, and letting them play either alone or with friends in teams without having to wait.

Grid technology allows many clusters of computers to be linked together as if they were a single machine, making it easier for players to roam widely within a game’s virtual environment.

The other thing Sony and its technology partners hope to do with the grid model is reduce the costs for developers to make and support multiplayer games for PlayStation 2, the leading game console. Such games have been costly, bespoke projects. The game developer or publisher has had to set up and support expensive computer server and host systems for each game.

Bhopal and Bangalore

4 days of hetcic travelling. 2 days in Bhopal, to look at how IT can play a role in rural India and eGovernance, and then 2 days in Bangalore, part of which was spent participating in an open-source conference organised by MAIT.

The Bhopal trip was very interesting and a good learning experience. I am convinced more than ever that we can and should technology as a utility to the people, so as to provide a platform for improving quality of life in the villages. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was seeing school students working in foursomes on computers in Amoda village, and seeing them interact with technology as if they were born to use it.

Imagine if every village can have 4-5 computers as part of a telecentre (or a tele-info-entertainment centre), which bridges the digital divide in terms of information, knowledge and services. Will post a presentation I had made on the blog shortly. The underlying vision remains the same: “A connected computer accessible for every employee and family”.

To make technology a mass-market utility will require a number of innovations. The two biggest challenges (besides ofcourse the cost) are power and connectivity. On power, one could look at pedal power or solar energy or even adapting the power supply of the computer to directly take in 12 volts. Connectivity is also a problem – phoe lies are not necessarily there, and even if present, sometimes don’t work too well. We need solutions like WiFi used as a wide area network, with amplifiers allowing it to be used over larger distances. Need some creative thinking here.

At the MAIT conference, I was on a panel, wherein I made the following points on what government and industry can do. The government should:
– reduce duties and taxes to make computers more affordable. Specifically, all sub-Rs 10,000 computers should be exempt from all levies.
– not mention by brand what hardware or software they need. The focus should be what they want done.
– consider setting up telecentres in every Indian village, to take computing to the villages across India.
– focus on intelligent, real-time governance.

The industry should:
– focus on the next users at the bottom of pyramid. See what disruptive innovations we can to solve problems like cost of computing, and the power and connectivity issues mentioned above.
– build out an ecosystem using engineering college students for open-source projects, creating a talent pool which can then become a resource for enterprises when they join the workforce.
– become practioners with open-source software, rather than just talking about it. See if some projects can be initiated in our companies, consider using Linux desktops, and use OpenOffice on Linux (rather than MS-Office) for presentations at open-source conferences!

TECH TALK: RSS, Blogs and Beyond: Blogs (Part 2)

Blogs are not yet quite organized, and theres plenty of work happening to do so. There have been a number of initiatives to map blogspace. Blogdex and Daypop provide information to whats hot right now in the world of blogs. They do so by analysing what bloggers are linking to and discussing. The problem I see is that this is too generic what I care about is whats hot in my microcommunity. Id like to know whats hot among the bloggers that I track, and what they are reading. This is not yet available.

Technorati and our own BlogStreet track the top blogs, based on whos linking to whom. BlogStreet also has a blog neighbourhood analyzer, which lets you find related blogs. Nick Denton is coming up with his project, codenamed Lafayette, later this year, which aims to turn the weblog network into accessible media, and help readers browse weblogs when they don’t know what they’re looking for.

These are still early days. Clay Shirky had a more in-depth analysis of the world of blogs and concluded: Though there are more new bloggers and more new readers every day, most of the new readers are adding to the traffic of the top few blogs, while most new blogs are getting below average traffic, a gap that will grow as the weblog world does. It’s not impossible to launch a good new blog and become widely read, but it’s harder than it was last year, and it will be harder still next year. At some point (probably one we’ve already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity. The term ‘blog’ will fall into the middle distance, as ‘home page’ and ‘portal’ have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning.

The world of RSS and Blogs is a world of microcontent. Well end this week with a comment by Anil Dash, in his essay on the Microcontent Client, elaborates:

Microcontent is information published in short form, with its length dictated by the constraint of a single main topic and by the physical and technical limitations of the software and devices that we use to view digital content today. We’ve discovered in the last few years that navigating the web in meme-sized chunks is the natural idiom of the Internet.

Microcontent is being used as a more general term indicating content that conveys one primary idea or concept, is accessible through a single definitive URL or permalink, and is appropriately written and formatted for presentation in email clients, web browsers, or on handheld devices as needed. A day’s weather forcast, the arrival and departure times for an airplane flight, an abstract from a long publication, or a single instant message can all be examples of microcontent.

Anil Dash identifies three key activities that we do that are at the heart of microcontent: Searching, Aggregating and Authoring. Microcontent is at the heart of much of what well be discussing next week, as we look beyond RSS and Blogs.

Next Week: RSS, Blogs and Beyond (continued)

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50 Years of DNA’s Discovery

A NYTimes article on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick.

Research is a slow process, often with years between each eureka, and even today the DNA revolution remains largely behind laboratory doors, in the form of biologists’ ever intensifying understanding of the mechanisms of life. But a few powerful inventions forensic DNA, a new wave of DNA-based drugs have already had considerable effect, and many researchers believe they are just a foretaste.

They expect new medical treatments and diagnostic tests, based on a thorough understanding of DNA, for cancer, heart disease and other long intractable maladies. Yet like any powerful technology, DNA will doubtless bring vexing choices: whether to modify the human genome with inheritable genes that will eliminate disease and enhance desired qualities, for one.

And there are outright dangers, like the possibility that DNA techniques will be used to make novel biological weapons.

RFIDs in Consumer Products

The dream of tracking everything is coming closer to reality. NYTimes writes about how RFID technology is now making possible the ability to put a radio in every consumer product.

Beyond Gillette and Procter & Gamble, companies as diverse as International Paper and Canon USA are teaming up with retailers and customers to apply R.F.I.D., as it is known, to tracking products from the time they leave an assembly line to the time they leave the store.

The companies are tagging clothes, drugs, auto parts, copy machines and even mail with chips laden with information about content, origin and destination. They are also equipping shelves, doors and walls with sensors that can record that data when the products are near.

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TECH TALK: RSS, Blogs and Beyond: Blogs

Weblogs have been growing in popularity and importance over the past year. The recent decision by Google to buy Pyra Labs is a manifestation of this, along with Tripods decision to offer blogging. Tools like Radios Userland and MovableType have made it easy to publish weblogs. Also, the increasing variety of content on the web and the desire for fresh insights has created a large group of people (in the tens of thousands) who link and analyse whats out there.

Weblogs are diaries, or personal journals. They are organized chronologically, and are typically written by a single individual. They are laced with links, analysis and commentaries. They thrive on the world of content outside both from news sites and from other bloggers. Blogs reflect the personality and personality of their author.

The popularity of blogs in recent times has been driven by tools that have made publishing easier for the individual. Blogspot, Radio or MovableType let you get started with a blog in a matter of minutes. After that, its only a question of the time investment that one is willing to make in blogging.

Blogging is also about sharing ones knowledge, ones ideas. It is about creating a flow, a conversation. On a personal basis, as a blogger for the past 10 months, I have seen first-hand this flow being created. Many of my new ideas and reading is driven by comments made by bloggers, as compared to a year ago, when the various news sites and magazines were pretty much the only sources. Now, one can get to the experts in the form of bloggers get a piece of their brains and thinking sitting tens of thousands of miles away.

As new bloggers join the fray, I expect that there will be two types of bloggers: one who blog for their immediate neighbourhood (friends, family, co-workers), and another which will become more broadcast-oriented, an alternative to some of the media sites. The second category of bloggers will be the hubs for the formation of micro-communities around what the blogger writes about. Being on the blogroll of these blogs will be critical for a new blogger to gain traffic and flow, and later, acceptance.

Blogs will also extend to enterprises and communities. Within the enterprise, knowledge blogs will help extract and institutionalize tacit knowledge that today lies hidden within people. Blogs could also be formed around communities of practice. Two forays of interest here are Slashdot, the community weblog for techies, which has been around for many years and AlwaysOn, a recentl started blog for business geeks.

The new hot theme is Nano-publishing, which according to Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News, is an emerging brand of Internet-based journalism that is helping shape the future of news. Sites like Corante, Gawker and Gimzodo are commercial ventures built around microcontent. Corante has a collection vertical weblogs across a diverse set of areas. Gawker is about Manhattan, and Gizmodo is about electronic gadgets.

Tomorrow: Blogs (continued)

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Google-Pyra Deal

NYTimes has an interesting article on the Google-Pyra deal, stating that one of the objectives may be to ensure Google’s links get updated faster, increasing their “freshness”.

In fact, Google could set up a simple service wherein, like weblogs.com, sites ping it when they are updated, thus notifying Google when to do its botting.

One thing the deal has done is to push blogging into a bit more mainstream consciousness, which can only be good for the bloggers.

Another interesting discussion is by Ross Mayfield, who writes about “Bloogle’s Annotated Web”.

Browsers on Cellphones

Rafe Needleman writes about Opera in his article aboutthe new generation of web browsers. He provides the wider perspective of how the action is moving to devices like cellphones.

The PC was where the action was in 1996, but it’s not where it is today. Today the most interesting technological developments are happening in game consoles, handhelds, and cell phones. That’s also where the money is: Some 400 million cell phones are sold worldwide each year, yet only 137 million PCs will be sold in 2003, according to Gartner. What’s more, only a miniscule percentage of the cellular-capable devices currently available (mobile phones and cellular PDAs) run a Microsoft operating system.

It’s true that, at the moment, a Web browser isn’t critical software for a cell phone — not the way it is for a PC. People talk on their phones, send text messages, and, increasingly, retrieve e-mail, play games, and take pictures. None of these applications requires a Web browser. Yet the browser opened the door to a new kind of commerce on PCs, and it could do the same on mobile devices.

The game here is also more interesting than it was on the PC, because of the way cell-phone software is distributed. Wireless carriers ship their phones with pre-installed software, for the most part, and support software can be downloaded only from their own cellular portals, which means that users are unlikely to seek out new browser programs for their handsets.

BlogStreet Top Books

Continuing with our new features addition on BlogStreet, we now have Top Books.

Imagine if you could walk around the world unobserved and snoop into what people are reading and talking about…Now you can. BlogStreet’s Top Books features the Top 20 books in the blog world for the week gone by. Rank and popularity is based on the number of links to the Amazon online bookstore.

The current top 5 books:
1. Pattern Recognition
2. The Threatening Storm
3. Fast-Food Nation
4. What Liberal Media?
5. Smart Mobs

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Blogging and Journalism

Dave Winer, as quoted in a News.com interview on the impact blogs are having on journalism and how we get news:

People now get the information from each other and for each other using Web logs. There are still professional journalists writing, but a lot less. Web logs are journalism. Have they had a big impact? Absolutely. When a big story hits, I don’t necessarily trust the professional journalists to tell me what’s going on. If I can get the Web logs from the people who were actually involved, I’ll take that.

The typical news article consists of quotes from interviews and a little bit of connective stuff and some facts, or whatever. Mostly it’s quotes from people. If I can get the quotes with no middleman in between–what exactly did CNN add to all the pictures? Maybe they earned their salaries a little bit, but Web logs have become journalism, and it’s much richer. Journalism is a high calling, but it’s really no more than points of view on what’s taking place. I think the pros are going to use this tech, and they are doing it more and more.

TECH TALK: RSS, Blogs and Beyond: RSS and News Readers (Part 2)

JD Lasica has more on RSS and News Readers:

Instead of the hunt and peck of Web surfing, you can download or buy a small program that turns your computer into a voracious media hub, letting you snag headlines and news updates as if you were commanding the anchor desk at CNN.

The programs, which are just now moving out of the techie world into the mainstream, come in a variety of shapes and flavors: Newzcrawler (PC), AmphetaDesk (cross-platform), Radio Userland (PC or Mac), NetNewsWire (Mac), and others. Look beneath the hood and they’re all powered by XML, a souped-up form of HTML. The programs check each site to see if they contain RSS tags, a set of HTML-like instructions for sharing news.

Here’s how it works. You fire up one of the news readers (also called news aggregators), subscribe to certain sites from a directory of thousands of choices say, BBC Online, ESPN, Salon, the Chippewa (Wis.) Herald and Bangkok News and bingo, you’re in business. Whenever you sign on, a directory pane lets you see the most recent updates for each channel you’ve subscribed to. Within each channel you’ll typically see a half dozen headlines and perhaps a summary, the entire item, and occasionally an accompanying photo. Want to dive in further? Click on a link and you’re transported directly to the source’s Web site. Some programs run through a Web browser, others through a standalone program. Most are free.

From the same article comes a quote on the future of RSS:

Shayne Bowman, a freelance journalist and designer, makes two predictions: “I think that RSS feeds will start replacing e-mail newsletters because they do a better job of providing structure and a more efficient means of parsing through data.” And he sees revenue possibilities here. “RSS could be a great way of distributing and reading classified ad information, customized to the user’s preferences.”

RSS and News Readers are not restricted to just news sites and weblogs. Any information that can be represented using the RSS format can be made available as a feed for subscription. For example, consider stock quotes and cricket scores. Both have rapidly changing information. Today, to just check a few bytes of information we download 100-1000 times the useful content (the page graphics and ads). In fact, when cricket matches are on like now, with the World Cup it is very difficult to access most websites because of the huge volume of traffic. This is where having an RSS feed could make a difference – users could subscribe to it to get the latest information, saving bandwidth for everyone.

Another area where RSS could be extended is for enterprise events. Databases could provide updates in the form of an RSS feed. Users could subscribe to feeds which provide alerts on inventory levels, accounting information or customer support calls.

I believe that RSS and News Readers can be disruptive when it comes to accessing information. Ponder this comment by Jon Udell: Inbound RSS feeds needn’t be only internal or external weblogs. They can also deliver customer feedback, system status reports, business intelligence — you name it. And the output needn’t be a weblog….Think of it, instead, as an internal [knowledge blog, or k-log] that selectively exposes team activity to the larger organization.

Tomorrow: Blogs

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Stata’s Email Client

Writes News.com:

Stata Labs announced e-mail software and a spam-filtering program that aim to make in-box searches easier and less time-consuming. The e-mail program, called Bloomba, is available in a test version.

“We’re targeting those 40 million workers who spend more than two hours a day on e-mail,” said Raymie Stata, chief technology officer of Stata Labs. “Our long-term goal is to kill off folders as the dominant (means) for organization.”

I have already killed off folders and most of spam. Here’s what I have done:

– server-side filters split email into 3 incoming folders, based on whether one of the email addresses I use is mentioned in the From or To field, and in some cases the sender’s email domain. Spam mostly ends up in one of the other folders. Has cut spam by 95% or so. [I also make sure I don’t put my email ID on any web page.] Time to setup: 10 minutes (including filters thinking time!)

– Have just kept one folder now, where I save all messages that I need. No thinking about which folder I need to file a message into (and later, trying to figure out where I filed that message). So, when I am searching for a message, I scan only 2 folders – the one where I “keep” all the messages, and the other which is the “Sent” folder (where all my outgoing email goes into). Time to setup: 1 min.

– All of this is done on the server, since I am using a Linux thin client. My email client is Evolution, but all processing and storage happens on the server. Searching for a message is blazingly fast.

More on XDocs

Jon Udell writes on the 10 things we need to know about Microsoft’s InfoPath (formerly called XDocs):

1. You use it to gather and view semi-structured information.
2. Users create and maintain high-quality data.
3. It is aggressively standards-based.
4. It connects people to business processes.
5. It embraces both centralized and peer-to-peer workflow.
6. You can use it online or offline.
7. It helps you visualize your XML data.
8. It breaks the XSLT bottleneck.
9. Users and IT can jointly prototype new data structures.
10. It represents a paradigm shift.

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