Archive for June 2006

On Joining The Male Butt-Crack Flickr Group

I don’t use Flickr a lot and every single message I’ve ever received through it has been something along the lines of:

“Person-You-Sort-Of-Know has added you as a contact!”

This morning, however, I received this message from susan1975 inquiring about a photo I (or Scrivs) took of Valleywag Chief Snarkology Officer Nick Douglas at SXSW:

“Hi there. Could you please add your photo called “CIMG0170.jpg” to my Male Butt-Crack Group? Thanks, Susan.”

Man, I totally would, but that would require me to actually join the Male Butt-Crack Group.

This is clearly another situation that Flickr is ill-equipped to handle. I would like to add my photo but am unwilling to join said butt-crack enthusiast group. Until this situation is resolved, the Male Butt-Crack Group shall be without my esteemed submission.

Are there any other unusual Flickr groups out there I should be aware of?

Reputations, Trust, and Atomic Publishing

It seems like the question comes up at every conference, interview, or personal publishing powwow: Can you trust bloggers as much as you can trust journalists?

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< ?php $mikePoll = new Poll('2006-06-26-journalists'); $mikePoll->render(); ?>

I always answer the question the same way: If you look at it in terms of “averages”, then no, you cannot trust bloggers as much as you can trust journalists. Looking at the averages, however, is the wrong way to answer the question. That would be like trying to answer the question of whether Italy or France makes better wine by dumping all the wine from each country into a vat, stirring it up, and then taking a sip from each.

Who cares about averages? What I really want is a few bottles of the best from each country plus maybe a sample of what one would consider “good table wine”. Armed with the best and the “typically good”, I can make a judgement as to who makes the better wine.

The same is true in the world of blogging vs. journalism. Since no one is going to settle for reading average journalism or average blogging once aggregation gets more intelligent, the real question to answer is “are the really good bloggers as trustable as the really good journalists?”

To answer this question, I always use three examples:

Om Malik

Om is a blogger and a journalist. The journalistic standards he upholds while writing for Business 2.0 are no different than those he applies to his blog, GigaOm. The man was a journalist before WordPress was even an apple in Matt Mullenweg’s eye. Om’s style varies a bit between his online and offline writings, and it is up to you to decide which you like better, but the unit you are deciding whether or not to trust in both cases is an atomic one: Om himself.

Walt Mossberg

Walt is a longtime personal technology writer for the Wall Street Journal and his column is often a catalyst for new products entering the mainstream. He doesn’t have a blog but the opinions and research he pens for the Journal are entirely his. The question to answer with Walt is “Would you trust him any less if he were to quit the Journal and start his own blog?” I believe most people would say no.

Rafat Ali

Rafat is the founder of PaidContent.org, MocoNews, and the ContentNext network which acts as parent to these and other emerging properties. I’ve been reading PaidContent since before they had a proper RSS feed and I’ve found they break more stories than almost any traditional media outlet. Rafat is an example of someone who could quite easily have a plum job as a journalist for the New York Times but chooses not to because he prefers the rapid-fire format of blogging.

So in all of these cases, we have writers who are perfectly trained in the art and science of journalism but would (and in some cases do) succeed by being great bloggers instead. This is not to say that what Om and Rafat do is not journalism… it is. It just follows the format of blogging a lot closer. It’s much more atomic, and much more timely.
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Cash Machine Parallax

It seems like the percentage of cash machines which still suffer from button/screen parallax is still pretty damned high. This design problem has already been solved in at least three ways (touch screen, angled display, and low-profile screen bezel) and yet it seems like 90% of all ATM machines still look like this:

Kind of annoying.

Netscape Now!

(This article cross-posted on the Newsvine Blog)

You remember 1996. You had e-mail. Your friends didn’t. You could Yahoo. Your friends couldn’t. It was a time when most of the world spent less time online than they did eating breakfast. Two of the standout successes during this early stage of internet adoption were America Online and Netscape Communications. America Online’s strategy was to sell dial-up internet access for a monthly fee and provide users with a walled garden of content they couldn’t get anywhere else at the time. Netscape’s strategy was to own the piece of software that sat between the consumer and the internet and ultimately make money from both sales of that software and other endeavors created by “browser lock-in”.

Both companies saw tremendous initial success only to eventually see their fortunes turn sour as they were beaten down by competitors and the general move towards openness on the internet.

It is with curious anticipation then that we watch today the relaunch of the Netscape brand by parent company AOL as a “new generation of news portal” (beta site is here). Comparisons have already been made to Newsvine and Digg by media outlets like Red Herring and InformationWeek, but I’m not going to call them copycats as many others will. Everything’s been done before in one fashion or another and to accuse a new player of just ripping off an existing idea is to discount any and all creativity they may bring to the table.

Developing a new genre of news site is all about creativity, and as much as don’t always find myself agreeing with Netscape’s leader Jason Calacanis, I certainly respect his prowess as a dealmaker and his ability to get creative with the tools he’s given. Regardless of what you think of the guy, he’s good for AOL and he’s probably good for this particular product.

So the big question everyone’s going to be asking is, how does this affect Newsvine, Digg, or any of the other sites in this same general movement to modernize the news? If you ask me, I’d say it helps and helps a lot. The fact of the matter is that probably less than 1 out of 100 people in the world have ever even heard of Digg and even less have heard of Newsvine. This axiom is supported by common sense as well as observations like Ethan Kaplan’s in which he found that only 5 college students (all male) out of 100 in a particular lecture hall had heard of Digg. And these are college students! It’s really easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking the rest of the world is even 50% as tech-savvy as you are, but the reality is the exact opposite.

So what’s the point here? The point is that most of the world is completely unaware that they are beginning to have power over the news. We see this every day at Newsvine. People use the site to read the news just like they would at, say, CNN.com, and not until they *really* dig in do they find out they can write, seed, and influence the news mix by interacting with it. Part of this is that our interface is probably a little too subtle and demure for newcomers, but the other part is that people just aren’t expecting it.

With Netscape and AOL helping to spread the word about the democratized news movement, it increases the amount of people who are even ready for a site like Netscape, Digg, or Newsvine. It gets people thinking about getting more from their news and we like that very, very much.

In the end, there will be multiple successful news-writing, news-gathering, and news-sharing communities on the web. Most people will be members of more than one. The community which endears itself most to you is the one you’ll probably spend the most time in. And with that, I gladly welcome Netscape to the “social news” fold. Just for kicks, I’m going to fire up a copy of Communicator 4.72 and see if the site renders. :)

(Sorry, I had to get at least one retro-Netscape snark in)

Fighting Cancer at The Vine

In the spirit of giving, some of our favorite Newsviners have banded together to create the Team Newsvine Relay For Life. For those who aren’t familiar with Relay For Life, it’s a worldwide program to raise donations for the fight against cancer. Teams self-organize in different cities and run, walk, or jog around a track or a field from sundown to sunup to raise awareness of this fatal disease.

Several days ago, Corey Spring, Mykola Bilokonsky, Top Jedi, Prompt, and several other Viners organized such a group for an Ohio relay and they’ve already raised almost $1500 for the cause! If you’re interested in making a donation to help fight cancer, I recommend heading over to the Team Newsvine Relay For Life page and checking it out. You can donate under the “General Team Donation” umbrella or specify your name if you’d like. 100% goes directly to the American Cancer Society, of course, and the donation is tax-deductible.

It’s gratifying to see the spirit of sharing and altruism that has developed at Newsvine expand to areas of the offline world. While Newsvine itself had no part in the creation of this event, we fully support our members’ efforts to spread awareness about the fight against cancer.

On Live TV Today...

Just a quick note that I’ll be appearing live on G4TV’s “Attack of the Show” today at 7pm EDT. The subject is “bloggers as journalists” and I’ll be appearing on behalf of Newsvine — via satellite — with a couple of guests, including Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek who was recently quoted in Forbes magazine as saying:

“Bloggers are more of a threat than people realize, and they are only going to get more toxic. This is the new reality.”

Hmm. Intoxicating.

Anybody have anything they want me to say on the air? Feel free to post your thoughts on this subject so I can present them as my own. :)

Long Time No sIFR

It’s been almost two years since we originally released sIFR, and predictably, the world is still not a tangible step closer to a real custom typography solution for the web. Sure there are people bringing the subject up again in W3C mailing lists and companies waxing philosophical about the typographical ecosystem, but nobody is actually doing anything measurable about it. Talking is good, and I’d hate to suppress any constructive discussions that may be going on right now, but until I see something more than a “recommendation” or a “working spec”, I will continue to shake my head and wonder when we’ll see any execution.

We had a feeling this sort of stagnation would continue when we first released sIFR, and therefore, we haven’t stopped development on it since version 1.0. Version 2.0 was the big release and current defacto “sIFR standard” in place on most sIFR-ized web sites today. The list of sites employing this solution is long and impressive. From MSNBC, to Nike, to The U.S. Navy, we estimate the number of sIFR-sized sites to be in the thousands, spanning across hundreds of countries, and serving up billions of pages views annually.

For those running sIFR 2.0 or 2.0.1, we have a minor update for you: version 2.0.2. This update fixes a bug related to the Microsoft IE Eolas update and also degrades sIFR text gracefully to HTML/CSS in the presence of the Firefox AdBlock extension. On a tiny percentage of machines running the new IE (mostly Media Centers, I believe), sometimes sIFR text would show up as a broken image. This is now fixed. Additionally, the AdBlock fix removes the biggest of what I’d consider “material” downsides to using sIFR as a typography solution. Now even your AdBlocking visitors won’t miss a beat.

Version 2.0.2 is probably the last in the 2.0 series and is available at the standard sIFR landing page: mikeindustries.com/sifr.

Version 3!

The much bigger news, however, is the release of the sIFR 3 Alpha builds by lead developer Mark Wubben (“The Dutch Wolf“). Mark was the javascript genius behind version 2 and he’s now taking over lead development in this new version. I will still be involved as “spiritual advisor” (and tester, of course), but given duties at Newsvine, I’m pulling back a bit on the development side.

Some of my favorite features implemented so far are:

  • Consistent font sizing, kerning, and leading, without the need for manual tuning
  • Sizing through CSS
  • Much better looking type, due to better anti-aliasing
  • Flash 8 text effects such as shadows
  • Easier configuration

So head on over to the first sIFR 3 Alpha article and let Mark know what you think. Or, if you’re really adventurous, you can download the nightlies.

A true solution for custom web typography will come eventually, but until that time, we will keep pushing forward with the tools we have.

Top 10 custom JavaScript functions of all time

Dustin's list of JS functions he can't do without.

Treo 700P: I Love My Phone Again

After two happy years with a Treo 600 and a couple of false starts with a Nokia N70 and a Blackberry 8700g, I have finally upgraded to a brand spankin’ new Treo 700P. I had to switch from T-Mobile to Sprint in order to use it — which wasn’t a thrilling idea — but we’ll get to that later.

Following is a mini-review for anyone considering a Treo, as well as a custom skin to make the device a bit more Mac-like:

Interface, interface, interface

The single most important thing to me in a phone is its interface. Not just how the buttons are arranged but how the device interacts with me. Many Palm detractors complain how about little Palm’s interface and operating system have changed over the last several years, and they are right… but in my view, that’s a good thing. There simply isn’t much that needs changing. I loved my Treo 600 interface, and the 700P isn’t much different. Faster and more powerful, yes. Confusing and more complicated, no.

The 700P’s keyboard is a slight upgrade from the 600′s and virtually the same as the 650′s. If you aren’t very good with T9 typing and you want the best QWERTY keyboard in the business, this is it.

The phone interface itself is typical Palm simplicity. While the iconography and typography could use an update, the navigation is easy as ever. Nothing is more than one-level deep, the menuing works much like it does on a Mac, and most functions are available by using either the touchscreen or key commands.

Since the built-in interface widgets and dialpad appearance looked a little dated to me, I used a combination of two programs and a little Photoshop love to fix the situation.

First off, grab yourself a copy of Palm Revolt and choose the “Aqua Skin” to decrappify the interface widgets a bit. Then, to complete the transformation into a more Mac-like interface, download a copy of Skinner and install this custom dialpad I designed:

Voila! You’ve got Mac!

* Note, the above copy of Skinner is a beta for the 700P. It appears to work fine. If you have a 650, you can download the official release here.
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Running list of AJAX quirks

Alex Bosworth's rundown of various browser peculiarities in XML-HTTP implementation.

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)