RSS Aggregators

Dave Winer, commenting on a Wired News article on RSS Aggregators, writes: “There are two schools of thought about aggregators. One says that they should work like a mail reader, the other that it should work like a weblog. The former shows you each feed as a separate thing, the latter shows all articles in reverse-chronologic order, grouping them by time. Imho we already have enough mail readers, wire up RSS to email and you’re done. Who needs another piece of software to do what an already-existing category does so well. But the latter, which is the approach I used in Radio’s aggregator, works incredibly well. People who are just using mail-reader style aggregators are really missing something. Articles that only write about mail reader aggregators are also missing something.”

This debate on whether an email client or a one-page browser view is better has been going on for some time. I have a solution which could combine the best of both worlds:

– users should divide the feeds subscribed into two based on the perceived value. High-value feeds should be delivered in email via IMAP into a separate mailbox (like how our Info Aggregator does). This is because it is easier reading these as separate items – also makes it easier to store the item or forward it or simply post it to a blog.

– the second type of feeds consists of these which have items of occasional interest. For example, I subscribe to feeds from The Agonist but it is highly unlikely that I will blog or forward these items. I just need to know what’s happening. These could all come in a single email or be shown on a browser as a one-page aggregator. This makes browsing these items much faster than going through individual items. Here, there is more quantity than quality.

Walmart drives Internet EDI

News.com writes about Walmart’s initiative is reshaping the retail software industry:

Many Wal-Mart suppliers must be equipped to exchange paperwork electronically using Electronic Data Interchange-Internet Integration, or EDI-INT, a protocol for moving data across the Internet that incorporates Extensible Markup Language (XML).

The software is designed to shuttle a daily flow of electronic purchase orders, invoices and shipping notices between companies by using the Internet rather than private networks.

Wal-Mart itself is using a software package from iSoft, a relative unknown in the software industry. Other software companies that specialize in business systems that are designed to handle communication via EDI-INT include bTrade, Cleo Communications, Cyclone Commerce, IPNet and Sterling Commerce.

EDI-INT could also be very useful for SMEs.

Service Oriented Architecture

O’Reilly (Sayad Hashimi) has an explanation of what has become a buzzword in the context of web services.

Even though we have decades of experience in software development, we have yet to solve the mysteries of software complexity. As complexity grows, researchers find more innovative ways to answer the call. SOA, in combination with web services, is the latest answer. Application integration is one of the major issues companies face today; SOA can solve that. System availability, reliability, and scalability continue to bite companies today; SOA addresses these issues. Given today’s requirements, SOA is the best scalable solution for application architecture.

Nutch for Search

News.com reports on an open-source search engine project:

The project is developing open-source software for locating documents online. But unlike major search providers, it won’t cloak its formulas for matching relevant results to visitors’ queries. Rather, it will provide an open window into its calculations with links to explanations on how it determined each result, according to lead architect Doug Cutting.

Nutch has already taken the wraps off its downloadable software for research, which is suitable for testing by other developers but likely too arcane for the average Web surfer. It is aiming to have a public site by October that will allow people to search 100 million documents to be used as a measure against indexes such as Google.

For example, a Web surfer could pull up search results from Nutch with transparency to its mathematical calculations and compare them with those from Google, which does not publicize its formula for calculating search results.

The engine is written in Java and is based on Lucene, a software library that developers can use to add search capabilities to technologies such as e-mail. Nutch builds upon Lucene, also developed in part by Cutting, and uses the technology as its intersearch library and indexing tool.

eBay Economy

eBay’s success continues to amaze. News.com writes about how businesses are using it as a channel for purchasing:

Large corporations are increasingly using it to peddle used or refurbished assets that previously would have been sold to wholesalers. And while the trend has affected many industries, it has been particularly popular in the high-tech market, where it has attracted some of the biggest names in the business.

Technology itself has been a key factor in the proliferation of this online marketplace. Many companies are building internal pipelines that can send inventory data directly and automatically to eBay for listing–essentially turning the auction site into an arm of their operations and purchasing departments.

This year, eBay introduced a special section aimed at this marketplace, saying that business buyers now represent more than $1 billion of annual merchandise sales in the categories of capital equipment, office technology and wholesale lots.

Sellers have responded in kind. Thousands of high-volume operations have signed up to use a new tool designed by eBay and Accenture specifically to help business customers sell idle assets, excess inventory and returned products on the auction site. The adoption rate was nearly double eBay’s expectations, Accenture said.

Email Newsletters to RSS

Chris Pirillo makes the case for switching for content publishers:

If the world was a perfect place, e-mail publishing would still be a viable model for getting the word out. But marketers and morons (two groups that are far from mutually exclusive) have flooded the space with noise. So now, instead of spending our time on crafting quality content, we waste it with endless bickering. We now have to fight with ISPs, begging them to let our messages pass through without being filtered or flagged. We have to go out of our way to educate anti-spam solutions on our product to make sure we don’t get blacklisted. We have to explain to our subscribers how someone between here and there is possibly blocking the transmission, possibly troubleshooting their software, trying to figure out if there’s a utility that’s keeping them from receiving the stuff they asked for. Ugh.

So, how do we surmount these ever-maddening hurdles? By walking around them. Trying to purify a polluted stream is like tilting windmills – so we shouldn’t bother. However, if you look ahead with me, you’ll see that there is a bridge to the other side. “Enough metaphor, already!” We want to put information directly in front of the people who want to see it. Obviously, asking them to visit our site on a regular basis is not enough – which is why we started to push targeted content to them directly in the first place (after asking their permission). The key? The bridge? The solution? The Rosetta Stone of online data.

RSS.

Who is RSS for? That all depends on who you ask. For end users, it’s an easier way to get the information they’re looking for. For bloggers, it’s a better way to keep track of their conversations. For publishers, it’s yet another opportunity to keep their audience in touch. For developers, it’s another way to use and interpret data. For marketers, it’s a way to maximize their business relationships. The publisher still controls the content. The subscriber finally controls the subscription.

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TECH TALK: IT’s Future: Phil Wainewright and Business Week

Loosely Coupled Architectures

Phil Wainewright of LooselyCoupled.com writes:

Carr backs up his assertion that IT’s innovative phase has run its course by referencing the commodotization that set in after the early development of the railroad and electricity industries. But neither of these are accurate antecedents for what we now see happening in the IT industry.

My preferred analogy for the current development of IT is the emergence of personal transportation, led by the invention of the motor vehicle at the turn of the last century. Because the motor vehicle was a form of transportation that operated in a much more loosely coupled way than the highly structured and centrally controlled architectures of the railroad system, it was able to deliver benefits to some early adopters even when the public road infrastructure consisted of little more than country dirt tracks and cobbled city streets.

As time went on, the incremental development of public highways and then a national network of high-speed freeways led to this upstart innovation finally displacing the pre-eminence of the inflexible railroad system. Innovations continued to reinforce and expand the utility of personal transportation, ultimately leading to a complete restructuring of manufacturing industry through the introduction of just-in-time delivery practices, which would never have been feasible without the on-demand flexibility of the distributed personal transportation system.

Loosely coupled architectures enabled by web services are going to bring the same waves of incremental innovation in IT and in business and the only IT that is going to be shown up as not working is the highly structured and centrally controlled architectures of monolithic, enterprise-scale computing systems, whose design philosophy owes more to the values of the industrial era than to the needs of the emerging information era.

Tech Will Bloom Again

Business Week writes:

Tech hasn’t settled down yet. Its days of maturity may be decades away. The IT revolution may share many parallels with previous transformative technologies such as railroads and electricity, but it differs in one key way: The underlying technologies not only aren’t slowing down, they’re accelerating. Computer-chip performance keeps doubling every 18 months, and disk-drive capacity and Internet-connection speeds are improving even faster. That’s spurring new products, from MP3 and DVD players to Web services for corporations, that are disrupting industries from entertainment to health care. Says Intel Corp. Chairman Andrew S. Grove, who has worked in tech for more than 40 years: “The rate of change in technology is as much today as any time in my experience.”

This rapid change also means that the savviest users of technology still have ample means to carve out an edge over laggards. Indeed, the titans of business today, from Dell to Wal-Mart Stores, as well as upstarts such as Amazon.com and JetBlue Airways, owe much of their leadership to using info tech in special ways. Each employs some of the same technologies, whether that’s Linux software or servers based on Intel chips. But it’s their expertise in deploying and customizing those technologies year after year that gives them a continued competitive advantage. “Everybody has always had access to the same technology. There’s nothing new there,” says Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III. “The fact is that some companies have taken technology and used it more effectively than others. And the ones that don’t use technologies effectively fall behind.”

In stark contrast to the boom, nowadays the customer is in the driver’s seat, and tech companies must come to grips with this reality. This suggests a bracing shift in industry economics and company behavior. Partly, it’s that lower prices will give customers more of tech’s benefits — and profits. To accommodate these value-conscious customers, producers must focus even more narrowly on what they do best and outsource the rest to lower-cost providers.

A raft of new technologies hints at the promise. As everything from the transistor radio to the PC to the cell phone has shown, technologies that attract entirely new waves of customers are the key to tech’s renewal. And they do it by making tech not just cheaper but also much easier to use. Wireless networks, for instance, are extending the Web to the wide world by cutting our electronic leashes. Networks of tiny sensors give us a digital view into the physical world, allowing inventory to be tracked precisely and ultimately producing digital products that are much smarter, such as home-security systems that recognize family and friends. And corporate IT wizards are hard at work trying to make software available as Web services. The hope, ultimately, is that they can offer computing like a utility, as easy to tap as power from a socket.

To take advantage of these new opportunities, however, tech companies must reinvent themselves — fast. Instead of applying the advances of silicon, storage, and network economics to hiking performance on existing products for the same old customers, they must turn those forces to making products, existing and new, that are cheaper. That’s a tough transition.

Tomorrow: My View: IT and Developed Markets

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