Personal Blogs

Robert Cringely writes about blogs in the context that “[some] technologies found their greatest success being used in ways other than were originally expected.”

All of this came to mind when Joe Reger came by for lunch this week. Joe writes web logging software used by about 5,000 customers around the world, so he thinks about these things. And Joe thinks web logging will become the way we keep track of our lives. We’ll keep our pictures, our thoughts, our schedules, even our work output all set in digital form against a web timeline. Where Joe goes beyond a lot of other thinkers in this space is in his desire to use web logging for more than just keeping track of stuff. Joe hopes to pioneer what essentially comes down to personal data mining. A “Regerized” web log would not only keep track of when you leave for work, but it would analyze past data and estimate how late you’ll be or when would be the best time to depart for the quickest commute.

I give credit to Dave Winer of Userland Software for inventing web logging, and I think the idea then was to publish, to share your thoughts with everyone else. But most people’s thoughts aren’t really worth sharing. Most web logs are little more than lists of annotated bookmarks and the value of those bookmarks can probably be best derived through a web aggregator, in which case people would be writing not to be read but to be counted, which isn’t nearly as much fun.

A lot of this comes down to production values, which is a subject those in the web log world tend to ignore because it is to their advantage to do so. There is a lot of bad television, but its packaging is such that we still seem to sit through the shows. Network TV spends perhaps $500,000 on an hour. How much do you spend on each web log entry? No wonder most web logs are so boring.

But Joe Reger wants us to not think so much about the web log publishing model and instead use the technology — preferably HIS technology — as a personal freeform database with analytical tools to take the measure of our own lives. Here we’ve been thinking about web logs as a way of reaching out to the world when they may be as much or even more useful reaching into ourselves.

I think he is onto something. Personal data mining means that I’d be mining my own data, learning about my own little world. If the FBI wanted to do that (they probably do) then I’d be opposed, but personal data mining offers personal payoffs. Imagine if your web log chirped up one day suggesting out of the blue that maybe, just maybe certain trends in the entries were suggesting that you need a vacation or your business is in peril or your kid is abusing drugs or that you probably have cancer. If such knowledge was hidden in your web log data, wouldn’t you rather know than not?

BEA’s Alchemy

Jon Udell writes about BEA’s Alchemy which “promises mobile users a blend of browser-based ease and rich functionality”:

In the rich vs. reach debate, rich usually means a user interface more responsive and more coherent than a browsers. Prime contenders in the rich-client struggle are Java, .Net, and Flash. All three can be used natively or as renderers for a new breed of tools from Altio, Digital Harbor, Droplets, Laszlo, among others which create GUI applications for these platforms. Meanwhile, developers in the trenches know that rumors of the browsers death are greatly exaggerated. The browser continues to deliver a killer combination of reach plus ease of learning and use, with simplicity of development, no-touch deployment, and continuous update.

In its modern incarnation, the browser can connect to Web services, query and transform local XML data, and dynamically inject results into a live page. Ive long thought we could be getting a lot more mileage out of these capabilities than we do. BEAs chief architect Adam Bosworth thinks so, too, and a project code-named Alchemy (unveiled last week at BEA eWorld 2004) aims to prove it.

Prototyped for Internet Explorer but intended to be open sourced and implemented Bosworth hopes in Mozilla, Safari, and Opera, Alchemy starts by addressing the browsers other Achilles heel: offline capability. A local cache is the obvious answer, as other approaches to the Web-style rich client notably Kenameas have shown. But Alchemys cache is more than a persistent dictionary of name/value pairs.

At the core of each Alchemy application is a data model defined by an XML schema. Programmers interact with that data model using XHTML templates and JavaScript.

BEAs Alchemy relies on a server component for the same reason that Macromedias Flex does. In BEAs case, the server architecture includes a mirror of the client-side cache. However, synchronization between the two caches relies on an HTTP-based protocol that will be open and Bosworth hopes standardized and broadly adopted.

The caching scheme is the heart and soul of Alchemy. Current approaches to taking browsers offline typically queue messages that later update in a server-based data model. An Alchemy application, though, always works with a genuine local data model that it stores as sets of XML fragments and navigates in a relational style. Bosworths hunch is that a Web-style thin client, driven by a rich data model intelligently synchronized with the services cloud, could do most of what we really need both offline and online. Nothing prevents Java, .Net, and Flash clients from adopting the same strategy, by the way. But if Bosworth is right, the universal client that we know and love could get a new lease on life.

More comments on Jon’s blog.

Jobs on Music and Movies

Ninad Mehta points to a WSJ interview with Steve Jobs. Excerpts:

The interesting thing about movies though is that movies are in a very different place than music was. When we introduced the iTunes Music Store there were only two ways to listen to music: One was the radio station and the other was you go out and buy the CD.

Let’s look at how many ways are there to watch movies. I can go to the theater and pay my 10 bucks. I can buy my DVD for 20 bucks. I can get Netflix to rent my DVD to me for a buck or two and deliver it to my doorstep. I can go to Blockbuster and rent my DVD. I can watch my DVD on pay-per-view. I can wait a little longer and watch it on cable. I can wait a little longer and watch it on free TV. I can maybe watch it on an airplane. There are a lot of ways to watch movies, some for as cheap as a buck or two.

And I don’t want to watch my favorite movie a thousand times in my life; I want to watch it five times in my life. But I do want to listen to my favorite song a thousand times in my life.

So they’re really different animals and the movie industry is far more mature in its distribution strategies than the music industry was. So they’re really in very different places.

The other thing is that people are much more attuned to visual quality than audio quality. What was the successor to the CD format? MP3, a lower-quality format but one that provided a convenience of being able to transmit music over the Internet that no other format had.

But that’s not going to be the case with video. With video, people have ratcheted up to the DVD format and no one is going to go back to VHS quality just because they can download it faster over the Internet. It ain’t going to happen. So to download a DVD-quality movie takes hours over most people’s broadband connections.

And therefore the threats to Hollywood are very different than the threats to the music industry, and actually the biggest threat to Hollywood isn’t the Internet. The biggest threat to Hollywood is DVD burners. And likewise the Internet might not be as big of an opportunity.

Bear Stearns RFID Research

Here, via Jeff Nolan. The focus is on supply chain applications. From the summary:

Hardware Standard Could Be Near-Term Catalyst As RFID Investment Levels Have Lagged Expectations

WAL-MART REMAINS PRIME MOVER IN RFID . . . With six months to go before its initial RFID mandates take effect, Wal-Mart recently reiterated its commitment to the January 2005 rollout for its top suppliers. The giant retailer remains the prime mover in this space, setting in motion accelerated product development and standards-making activity, as well as RFID mandates from other early adopters. A growing number of companies are pursuing this growth opportunity, and we have categorized and profiled more than 100 of them in this report. As vendor competition heats up, we believe there will be adequate manufacturing capacity to meet expected demand for RFID solutions.

. . . BUT RECENT INVESTMENT BELOW EXPECTATIONS. We believe the level of investment in RFID hardware and software is tracking below expectations, especially as compliance deadlines approach. Many industry participants we spoke with noted that some firms facing the mandates are reluctant to make
material investments in RFID now because new standards under development could render obsolete previous RFID equipment purchases. A patent infringement lawsuit filed in early June could further impede near-term adoption.

GEN 2 STANDARD COULD BE CATALYST FOR INCREASED SPENDING. That said, we expect consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms and other suppliers facing mandates to step up their hardware and software purchases with resolution of the generation 2 electronic product code (EPC) hardware specification (Gen 2). Ultimately, we anticipate that this will serve as a catalyst for increased spending. The global standard for RFID tag/reader communications should serve as a foundation for broad adoption.

Changing State of Email

Ross Mayfield writes:

Lets consider three aspects [of] attention management : Search, User Control and Network Structure.

Part of the problem is we view email as something we have to consume when we get it. The marginal value of a message exponentially decays because there isnt confidence in retrieval (Bloomba and Gmail are addressing this with deep search and usable metadata). We force ourselves to pay attention to every interruption and live in our Inbox, suffering an interruption tax of 15 minutes to fully recover to the cognitive state we were in before the ping (this is why I believe IM is due for a cultural shift, and we already see signs of it with interrupt flow largely being top-down in organizationsbe careful interrupting your boss, its not convention).

RSS, Atom, Blogs, Wikis and Workspaces represent a Pull Model model of attention management that lets users control what the subscribe to AND when they want to receive it. Email, by contrast, centers on an Inbox beyond your control. Once someone has your address, at least your gateway will be bombarded. You have control over your subscriptions in your client. If someone starts to spam, you loose trust and unsubscribe. Reputation has some value in feed selection, but if it fails you have recourse.

Occupational Spam, email sent out of context characterized by CCs, is 30% of corporate email. You know this problem and are a part of it. You want to keep people informed and you want to be informed. The problem is email wasnt designed and its best use is for one-to-one communication. Enter Workspaces, which in our latest case study dropped group email from 100 messages per day to practically zero. The efficiency for information flow gained is similar to moving network structure from point-to-point to a hubbed architecture. But beyond the network structure, greater transparency allows people to be informed when they have time for peripheral attention. Workspaces are designed for Many-to-Many interaction, where group communication should occur and with the right email integration it doesnt demand up front change in behavior.

In the future, everyone will be Larry Lessig for 1500 messages a day. All addresses will be exposed and everyone has a global constituency that will ping you. You have a choice of declaring Email Bankruptcy or shifting to other modalities. Use Social Networks as your whitelist and a web of trust for new Senders. Use public blogs for open broadcast. Use Workspaces for group communication. It may be interesting to note that Communities Tied to One Technology pattern applies less to strong ties, but social networking services and a public identity as a blog will keep you in touch with weaker ties.

In the end, they are all messages and email and the web are blurring as a platform to give you greater control and choice.

TECH TALK: A Train Journey: The Window

As the train sped through, I let the mind roam free. I couldnt help but think how we consistently fail to create a uniformly good experience. At the Delhi station for example, what would it take to have proper electronic displays to show the train information and also have indicators to display the position of the bogies on the platform. Many stations already have this. Why not Delhi? Why not every station? Why not display train information also the stations it will stop at and the expected arrival times at each station, and so on?

The success of the Internet-based PNR enquiry made me wonder what it would take to make such a system more ubiquitous I could check it because I had access to a connected computer. What about the others? Yes, there are phone numbers they can dial but as I tried that morning, I couldnt get through to them at all. Even the advertised PNR SMS service did not work. This is what I started to think about more as the train made its way through the northern countryside with the setting sun in the distance.

Looking out of the train window and seeing houses and farm fields go by in the distance, I started thinking about how it is that we can transform the lives of the rest of India. Very little has changed for them and very little can change the way things are. And yet, with half the Indian population under the age of 25, we have very little time to lose. If we cannot do something quickly, we will have lost another generation to the past.

India has seen two bottom-up revolutions in the past two decades. The first was launched by Sam Pitroda in the Rajiv Gandhi era in the mid-1980s. The hundreds of thousands of public call offices (PCOs) took voice communications to the masses. The second was launched, inadvertently, by the first Gulf War. Cable television made its appearance, and complemented by entrepreneurs (some with seedy antecedents) and falling TV prices, changed the face of Indian home entertainment.

India needs a third revolution. This should have happened earlier but for various reasons it hasnt. India needs a computing revolution to bridge information and transactions gaps that dot our lives and create myriad pain points. India needs computing as a utility available everywhere, at affordable prices. While some would argue that the computing revolution in India is already underway via cellphones, I dont think that is the case. What we need is a computer in all its glory a reasonable-sized display, a keyboard, access to a vast library of content and the user in control.

Sitting in the train, I couldnt help thinking that access to computing could be that disruptive innovation which transforms lives in the Indian countryside not just in rural India, but also for the middle and bottom of the pyramid in urban and semi-urban India. From education to healthcare, for families and students, from content to commerce, for shopkeepers and enterprises the computer is the digital hand that can potentially remake India. It can provide for efficient operations, create opportunities, increase options and open new windows to the future. How can we make the third revolution happen in the next five years to open windows for hundreds of millions of Indians to the future? That is what occupied my thoughts as dusk turned to night and we made our way to the foothills of Mussoorie.

Tomorrow: Triage

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