November 28, 2007
The Interactive Web, The Future of the Internet or a Bubble That Will Never Get Big Enough to Burst: Others Online, Medium, and Bumpin
Over the past few days and weeks I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with what I’ve come to call the interactive web. Before I get into that, I think its necessary to give a little background on the subject.
In the beginning there was just the internet. One of the most popular, and certainly the most well know, aspects of the internet is the world wide web(Web 1.0). Web 1.0 consisted of largely generic websites that, even when dynamic, were not very interactive, there were bulletin boards in the Web 1.0 world, but they were not the main focal point of the experience. This period of time was very successful, but then a well known event occurred, the .com crash. Silicon Valley was in despair, but all was not lost. Web 2.0 then entered the scene, instead of focusing on people’s individual websites, Web 2.0 is all about sharing and collaboration. This sharing exists in primarily two forms, social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace where users share data about themselves and their habits(some are as limited as for instance BakeSpace a social network for people who enjoy cooking), and those where users share content they have created, sites such as Flickr for pictures and YouTube for videos dominate this segment of the Web 2.0 work(but smaller networks exists such as Flixster where users share movie ratings and reviews).
Beyond these social networks and user created content sharing services there exists a third aspect of Web 2.0. This final aspect involves sharing information that you have found through your travels on the Web. There are several ways in which this sharing occurs. The first way is the traditional way, when a user finds a website they find interesting they copy the URL and paste it to the IM window for their friend in their favourite chat program and that friend clicks on the link and is inundated with the content. This method is very Web 1.0, and so of course there has to be Web 2.0 alternatives. The first Web 2.0 alternative is blogs, blogs are the Web 2.0 equivalent of the personal webspace of the past(Geocities versus Blogger anyone?) but they do not allow for a great way to disseminate a ton of information unless you spam post on your blog, they are more for comment and reflection of interesting things and not on the sharing itself. The Web 2.0 alternative that tries to fill the niche of copy and pasting to friends are sites such as Digg, Reddit, and Del.icio.us. These sites allow users to share content that they find interesting with not only their friends, but with the world at large. The content is rated through popularity on most services and this is how most people on these services discover new and interesting things.
Most of the above information is fairly well known and understood, but is necessary to truly understand where the interactive web fits in. The interactive web exists at the intersection of the Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 worlds(it should not be confused with Web 3.0, which is a different beast entirely, for a good overview of Web 3.0 see this article in PC Magazine).
The premise of the interactive web is simple. Sites such as Digg and Reddit are great if you want to browse a ton of content, and while they have internal comment systems, they don’t provide a great way to see what others think about the website you are visiting without actually returning to the Web 2.0 site.
It is within this context that the interactive web springs. The idea is simple. Allow people to interact with others who are viewing the same web space as them, while the user remains on that webspace. Also based on the type of website in which they are visiting, allow the user to interact with others who browse similar websites.
This idea is far from new, and has existed for as long as the world wide web, but with the prevalence of Web 2.0 and browser plugins, it has been able to take hold like never before. I’ve been using several of these plugins for a bit now, and each has a different approach to how to tackle the interactive web. They are all in early alpha/beta stages so will most likely improve with time, but here’s a brief overview of this exciting area of the interwebs.
The first is Others Online. Others Online is delivered through a browser plugin. It is unique in that it doesn’t actually show you the websites that others are visiting because of privacy concerns, instead it uses both user defined tags and your browsing habits to show you people who are local to your interests, you then have the option to interact with them based on this through either e-mail or IM. This site could therefore be considered the least interactive web method as it only serves as a matching service, and not as a content commenting service. Others Online is in public beta right now, but even regardless of that fact it does not seem to have many users, a fact that makes it far less effective as a matching service.
Here’s a screenshot of Others Online:
The second service is Me.dium. Me.dium is also delivered through a browser plugin. Me.dium always you to see the people who are not only browsing the same site as you, but also sites that are related to the site you are browsing(assuming that they allow themselves to be seen, one of the options is to only be seen by friends, and another is to not be seen at all). Me.dium allows you to start a conversation with everyone on the particular site. Sharing is always disabled in Me.dium when you enter a secure site. You can also see what sites your friends are currently visiting. A tutorial of Me.dium is available here.
A new site that has just entered private alpha is Bumpin. Bumpin is the most no-nonsense of the bunch. It allows you to comment on pages you are viewing through a broadcast window, as well as see who else is at your website, and a list of all the others users online(but not currently where they are browsing unless you chat with them). One of the best features of Bumpin is the ease in which one can minimize it while still having the plugin functional to allow the most of the browser window to be seen(by clicking the orange button visable in the screenshot below). It is still in early development having just entered private alpha, but of all the sites it looks to have the most promise to fill the interactive web niche of communication with people who are browsing the content you are browsing.
Here’s a screenshot of Bumpin:
An honorable mention goes to Clupedia. Clupedia allows you to comment on websites you visit but doesn’t have the benefit of not having to visit the mother site, making it much like Digg and the rest, but for more things that just digg.
Ultimately this is a promising area of development, but with some of these plugins out for months, and with not a ton of users for any of them, one has to wonder if something like this has a market. Social web interaction certainly has a place in the post-Web 2.0 world, but it is largely useless if it goes unused, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months with this side of the web.
November 27, 2007
I started this blog on a Sunday, so the plan is to have weekly story updates every Sunday, unfortunately I was at a wedding all day last Sunday so couldn’t get away to write, so here is the weekly story update, in the future it will come on Sundays(these are the only stories that have updated information).
Review: Ask 500 People: Ask 500 People has been getting a bit more traffic since my blog post with around 100 people on the site as registered users and guests at any given time. The site keeps you logged in, so if you just leave it sitting on on your computer you will still show as online(which is what I do most of the time), so this number could be inflated, but its growth for sure. It has seemed to experience its fair share of growing pains, suffering downtime several times during the week, and the occasional other bug, but the team seems very responsive and hopefully they’ll be getting it sorted out soon.
Printing Your Own Newspaper: Since I wrote the blog post about Google versus FeedJournal, the founder of the program has also written about it, you can find his post here. One of the responders to his blog entry made note of an article written in 1995 entitled “An Interactive, Personalized, Newspaper on the WWW” whose abstract is available here. The founder of FeedJournal has been very responsive, much as the founders of Ask500People inviting me to the private alpha/beta of the reader, and I look forward to blogging about that in the future.
Charlie Wilson’s War: Since I wrote the post people have told me they’ve seen the trailer, it looked about right based on the book, so hopefully it will be a good movie and raise awareness about this part of history. I was listening to my XM last night and stumbled upon a commentary about the decline of box office appeal of war movies. Now, most of the commentary on this issue has been about the box office success of movies about the Iraq War(because people see enough about it on TV in general) and I haven’t seen any statistics on movies about wars in general, so I hope that Charlie Wilson’s War doesn’t suffer the same fate as all these movies about Iraq.
Amazon Kindle: The Kindle sold out in five and a half hours. Of course, as many have stated, this means nothing because Amazon won’t release numbers, for all we know they had something ridiculously low like 100 in stock at the time of release. The fact that they will be restocked on the 29th probably means they are releasing them in a trickle to build hype instead of actually needing that week to create and ship more.
Facebook Drops the ‘is’: Facebook recently announced they would be dropping the ‘is’ and for a time they did, for a very brief time. For some reason it is still there and no new news of it has been reported in several days.
Stem Cell War: The New York Times has a new article today about the future of research in a environment that contains ready access to stem cells. Its worth a read.
November 25, 2007
I thought it only appropriate to kick off the holiday shopping season and make my first entry since Black Friday about the most ridiculously consumerist idea for a social network ever. The site is called Metrofunk.com and the premise is simple, an invite only social network for ‘trendsetters’. The premise raises three questions right off the bat. The first is, why does there need to be yet another social network that has no additional functionality to a Facebook or a MySpace. Second, and peripherally related, don’t the people who this service purports to serve, nightclub promoters, musicians, fashion designers, and film producers, and others already use MySpace to collect their fans and promote themselves? The final question is, why should it be invite only?
Their mission in their owns words is to:
1. give trend-followers a central place to gather information on trends and content pertaining to the world of nightlife events, fashion, music, and film and 2. To empower the trendsetters by providing them with online tools, resources, and a focused networking medium to expose and fulfill their product offerings.
Again, why is this unique? By making it invite only aren’t they just stiffling the promotion mission and alienating potential fans that could more easily be obtained through something like MySpace?
Even their homepage screams, this is a place or people who think they are better than everyone else, to make themselves feel like they are.
I mean take a look at that, it attempts to look vogue and sheik like the exclusive nightclub. While exclusivity may be good in theory to build buzz, its not the idea which the Web 2.0 is based around, openness and virality. By making it closed, how do they think they are going to make money? Ad revenue is measured in CPM, or cost per thousand. Having a necessarily small user base makes the website necessarily small. Now, the argument may be made that these users will be more valuable per CPM because they are the ‘trendy’ ones. But I don’t think that that is the way that advertisers will see it.
Therefore, this project seems doomed to fail, and rightly so, as the title of this post stated, this is exactly what ‘trendy’ people do not need. It seems to amount to nothing more than a clique that makes ‘trendy’ people feel better about themselves, with no real social utility that can’t be found elsewhere, and a user base that won’t expand very much if the site desires to keep itself exclusive.
November 22, 2007
One of the most interesting Startups I’ve come across recently on KillerStartups is Governmentdocs.org. The idea of the site is simple, to provide a database of government docs obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and other sunshine laws. People register for the community and gain access to all the documents in the database and also serve as reviewers of the documents in the database. Reviewers of the documents review it by entering some important data and also by rating its importance. The reason Governmentdocs.org does this is to provide more accountability for government by allowing the general citizen more access to the government accountability process.
Not only can individuals act as reviewers, but every document in the system has a unique URL allowing individuals to easily share the documents in the database with others. Each document also contains the ability to comment on it, even if one is not reviewing the document.
Finally! A Startup with the Web 2.0 politics junkie in mind. This site is great for anyone curious about the inner workings of government and provides access to documents that would otherwise be hard for the general citizen to obtain, even after they had been released through a FOIA request.
True, it doesn’t have the general appeal of a Facebook or a MySpace, but the site does allow people to have the kind of access only available to a handful of non-profit organizations, and also to help those same organizations that don’t have the resources to review all the documents that they request through the FOIA. I encourage anyone interested in politics who has some time to spare to check it out.
That being said, the database is still in its infinacy. The database currently contains 363 documents. That may sound like a lot, but by comparison the federal government received 53,992 in fiscal year 2006 and 52,010 requests in fiscal year 2005. Now it is true that not all requests ultimately result in a document being obtained, but even still, the documents in the database most likely represent a very small fraction of all documents obtained in FOIA requests. Now this may be by design, with only certain documents deemed to be the most important being entered into the database, but that would seem counter to the very idea of the project, which seems review of documents to determine their import. What seems more likely, however, is that this program is in its beginnings and based on the public response will see an upscaling with time. I certainly hope so, as the value of this website is sure to be great.
The New York Times is reporting, just in time for the Holiday Season, that James A. Thomson, and Shinya Yamanaka, leaders of the first two groups to successfully isolate stem cell lines from a human embryo, have both managed, independently, to figure out a way to turn ordinary human skin cells into cells that appear to act the same as embryonic stem cells. This new feat is accomplished without ever using a human embryo! For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last ten years, stem cell research has been one of the most controversial issues in all of political discourse. People on both sides of the issue should be extremely happy at this development, and science and medical research as a whole are sure to benefit. While the new process does involve a certain level of genetic manipulation(four genes are added to the skin cell used to create the stem cell), it will surely prove to be less controversial than it has for the past ten years, despite its relatively minor lingering ethical issues(there are obviously still people who believe genetic manipulation of any kind is wrong). It should be noted that this research is still preliminarily, and both groups of scientists say that they still must confirm that these reprogrammed cells really are the same as embryonic stem cells, but they appear to act the same in all tests conducted thus far.
This research, despite this fact, is very promising and gives me a whole new thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.
November 21, 2007
One of the lesser known candidates running for the Republican nomination for President is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. Whats interesting about Mike Huckabee is not his candidacy in general(both Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton have called him the most likely dark horse Republican candidate). No, whats interesting about Mike Huckabee is the strange admixture of people who have endorsed his presidential bid.
Amongst those who have endorsed Mr. Huckabee are such notables as: Chuck Norris, the man who does not sleep; Ric Flair, the wrestler; and a man by the name of Donald Wildmon. Most people probably won’t be familar with Donald Wildmon, so here’s a little background. It seems Mr. Wildmon is a conservative activist who heads the American Family Association. Sounds fairly innocuous right? Perhaps, but this is what the Associated Press’ Andrew DeMillo had to say about Mr. Wildmon’s activities,
In 1988, Wildmon and his organization accused the Mighty Mouse cartoon of teaching children to use cocaine after a scene that animators said showed the heroic rodent sniffing flowers. CBS and the cartoons producer dismissed the complaint but eventually cut the segment from the show.
In the end, maybe Mike Huckabee is the best hope for the Republican party, but it will probably take more than an actor, a wrestler, and a leader of the Christian Right to pull off his dark horse candidacy. Anything can happen though, afterall, Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani.
This one came to my attention via Legal Anitcs, a blog I subscribe to about legal humour. It seems the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has a comedian sitting on the bench, Judge Boyce Martin. In the dissent of an opinion issued last week, Judge Martin asked the rhetorical question, “Without a signal that she understands that a contract is being made, how is one to know if she has truly accepted?” Alright, nothing unusual there. But then we get to the footnote to this rhetorical question which reads:
Homer Simpson talking to God: “Here’s the deal: you freeze everything as it is, and I won’t ask for anything more. If that is OK, please give me absolutely no sign. [no response] OK, deal. In gratitude, I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, please give me no sign. [no response] Thy will be done.” The Simpsons: And Maggie Makes Three (Fox television broadcast, Jan. 22, 1995).
So it seems we have a Simpsons’ fan on the bench, but it gets better. This isn’t the first time Judge Martin has attempted his hand at humour in his opinions. Judge Martin has practiced his stand up at least twice before. The first occurrence appeared in a footnote of an opinion just like this Simpsons’ quotation, in this concurring opinion he opined,
Instead, counsel spoke of such sophisticated planning that it believes is required under our case law that, in my opinion, only two types of criminals would be able to benefit from it: (1) perhaps a white collar criminal who keeps detailed records of the entire plan or (2) the James Bond movie villain, who prior to carrying out some grand scheme of world domination/annihilation, feels compelled to explain to anyone who will listen and in great detail (with intermittent villainous guffaws), each of the steps necessary to achieve his plan.
What did Judge Boyce use as reference for this statement, why this exchange of course,
See also Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (New Line Cinema 1997).
DR. EVIL: Scott, I want you to meet Daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers.
SCOTT EVIL: Why are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?
DR. EVIL: In due time.
SCOTT EVIL: But what if he escapes? Why don’t you just shoot him? What are you waiting for?
DR. EVIL: I have a better idea. I’m going to put him in an easily-escapable situation involving an
overly-elaborate and exotic death.
SCOTT EVIL: Why don’t you just shoot him now? Here, I’ll get a gun. We’ll just shoot him. Bang! Dead. Done.
DR. EVIL: One more peep out of you and you’re grounded. Let’s begin.
Prior to this exchange and then again following it, Dr. Evil describes in great detail the separate crimes necessary to achieve his plan for world domination. Thus, if our Government ever does find Dr. Evil (or chooses to prosecute him despite his recent decision to be “less evil,” see Austin Powers in Goldmember (New Line Cinema 2002)), he will be one of the few, if any, criminal defendants, able to argue, consistent with this Circuit’s precedent, that all of his various crimes were “related” for purposes of the Guidelines.
Finally, only a few weeks after the Austin Powers quotation appeared, Judge Martin tried his hand again at humour, again in a concurrence in which he stated after quoting the engravings on the Statue of Libety, “instead, in the halls of our immigration courts today, the sentiments all too often are more like ‘don’t let the door hit you on your way out.‘” Not his best work to be sure, but as the Simpsons’ quotation demonstrates, he’s still working hard to earn his judicial salary.
One does have to wonder though, is Judge Martin writing concurrences and dissents instead of agreeing with the majority simply to boost his comedic writing credentials? One this is certain, the Hollywood Writers’ Guild better watch out, they have some fierce competition on their hands.
Thanks to the blog Kentucky Law Review for blogging about the past instances of Judge Boyce’s humour.
So this story is a week old, but its a bit too funny to pass up. Torrent Freak has reported that Steal This Film 2, a documentary, that at the point of the article, had yet to be released, has been leaked on BitTorrent. The ironic part? Steal This Film 2 is a documentary about, yep you guessed it, illegal file sharing.
TorrentFreak itself was at the conference where the screening of the copied film took place, but has denied responsibility for the copying. Maybe the party that produced the screen cam, even if it actually was TorrentFreak, was doing it with irony in mind, or perhaps they were attempting to prove a point about the topic of the film(which I haven’t seen or read about outside of this article). Either way, its pretty funny.
November 20, 2007
Its right around 48 hours since I wrote the first entry in this blog. So basically it took two days for me to cave and write a story about Facebook. But this…this is big news, at long last Facebook will be removing the ‘is’ from Facebook Status messages, according to Mashable. No longer will the masses be constrained by awkward sentence structure when they desire their nearest and dearest friends, and random people they are only friends with on the internet, to know the intimidate details of their day-to-day life. No longer will messages like, “Elliot Smith is has a test today” or “Tom Jones is wants a new bike” plague the denizens of the Book.
Just how big an issue was this you ask? Big enough to spur the creation of a 164,000 member Facebook Group. Thats a lot of pissed off people. Now, however, the world can rest easy with a Facebook free of the requirement that your status contain the word ‘is’. Hooray!