Archives for May 2002

Village shops in BlogSpace

As I mentioned in my previous posting I have been asked to explain what the idea I am advocating is going to be useful to people.  At first it seems an easy question to answer, but it quickly gets complicated.  Here is a digest of some of my thoughts.

I guess that like most people who have just come to weblogging I am not part of the weblogging establishment.  More importantly to me, I am also not part of an established community.  Although I have found lots of people talking about lots of interesting things, I do not perceive them as the coherent community that I am looking to participate in.

This is a big problem for me and, I guess, a lot of other people too.  My evidence for this comes from the enthusiam to build and existence of tools such as BlogDex and from the work of people such as DJ Adams (using Blogdex to connect blogs), Mark Pilgrim (using Google to do same) and others.   So far as I can tell these proto-tools are addressing the problem of how to find existing communities.  I am also interested in how to form new communities as well.

I think these are two important factors in the development of a community:

  • a shared set of interests
  • a common identity

At the moment I read a number of blogs from people such as Dave Winer, Jon Udell, Adam Curry and so on.  At one level I could consider these people to be the community of webloggers.  However, as I mention above, this seems to me to be too big and fuzzy a grouping to be usefully considered my community.

This is because our interests do not align strongly enough and I do not identify with them as a whole.  As an example:  I read Dave Winer's blog and follow up many of his links however I do not identify with him any more than I identify with, say, Bob Lewis (an InfoWorld columnist whose opinion's I respect & enjoy).

Clearly in forming the notion of community there is a sense of how strongly related our interests are and how closely we identify with one another and the group as a whole.  I think it is interesting that many of the tools being proposed at the moment invoke the concept of neighbourhood even as the idea of neighbours is an ever fainter one in real life.  However this brings up another point which I'll illustrate with two examples.

A recent BBC Radio 4 program detailed the efforts of one small village in England to save their local village shop which was closing because it was unprofitable.   If villagers only saw the shop as a convenient place to pick up a can of beans then they probably wouldn't have protested too much, I suspect that many of the shops inherent problems were caused by the migration of its customers to supermarkets.  So why did they find thousands of pounds of their own money and fight for thousands more from the government?

They realised that beyond being a convenient facility the shop provided a focal point for the community.  A convenient meeting place where villagers could catch up with each other and share gossip.  They realised that without this focal point their community would be damaged in ways that were unacceptable to them.

On the web bulletin boards often serve this purpose although the very thing that makes them powerful (removing geography as a barrier to membership) is also, too often, their downfall as they become overcrowded and diluted.  However in a democratised publishing environment it is inevitable that there is not going to be a single source on any topic.  People are going to disagree, or just want to say it there way.  That's as it should be.

One way the web has found to cope with this problem in general it to create web rings.  A web ring is a way of linking up a number of web sites that are related by a common theme or interest.  Any visitor to one of these sites can follow the ring to see other related sites.  By joining the ring a site is explicitly making itself part of a community.

Powerful as web rings are they have these problems:

  • as a consumer how do I find sites that aren't in the ring
  • as a publisher do I know there is a ring / have I done what is necessary to join it

Any procedure that requires strong manual intervention on the part of either party is never going to be effective for wide spread use.  Is webring usage still growing?

One thing that these examples demonstrate to me is the value of focus to a community.  Interestly this ties back to my original problem.  I do not have a home community because I have not yet found (or formed if it doesn't exist) the focus for the community I think I would like to be a member of.

So one way of tackling this problem is to make it easier for people to define and/or find a community focal point.  In this case a weblog focal point.

One way would be to simply create web-rings for blogs.  I'm interested in Java so I create a javablog webring and invite others to join in.  This might be interesting but it misses an essential part of weblogging.  Specifically it misses the timely nature of blogs.  It also requires me to say that my blog is about... when in fact no such simple categorization is possible.  So then, what we are talking about is a dynamic ontology.

I would coin the term BlogRing for this, but it's already been coined.  Although in the context in which I am talking, they are misnamed since these are just a directory of plain 'ol web rings ala webring.org.   Instead I will call what I am suggesting a BlogPlex.

It is my belief that people online, as in daily life, naturally want to form communities and that, where they do not/can not, it is because of a failure of available tools to help them.  Therefore any tool that seeks to address this problem must be:

  • as invisible as possible
  • capable of producing relevant results in a timely fashion

This last point is a little bit obvious but I raise it because it is interesting to understand how we make results relevant.  At the moment the focus seems to be on either:

  1. keywords
  2. key phrases
  3. common links

Whilst keywords/phrases are better than nothing they will suffer from the general problem of the internet: too much content.  Even key phrase searches on Google can produce a morass of information much of which may be irrelevant and daunting.

The analysis of common links whilst interesting unfortunately does not address the central problem of finding your community since, if you are already linking to the same sites, it is quite likely that you are already homing in on the community.  This may be just telling you what you already know!

Your membership of a BlogPlex should be implied by posting something, anything.  The semantic content of your posting defines the BlogPlex that you create (or joins it if it already exists) and new members of a BlogPlex can be automagically hooked up (based on the preferences of each user).

In order to achieve this we must move beyond simple keywords and links and onto an understanding of the meaning (in context) of what people talk about in their weblogs (about which, more later).

If we can achieve this goal.  If we can make it possible for people to build communities from thin air then we will have achieved something powerful and simple:

Village shops in space!

 

31/05/2002 15:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Why a community builder?

This posting is a bit of a work-in-progress since (a) it's thrown up new issues that I don't have a better home for yet and (b) I don't expect to get it right first time!

<%myNote( "Note: From this perspective, Community Builder actually does nothing to foster new communities only to grow existing ones, however small",notealign:"right")%>

I've been challenged to think Community builder (still looking for a better name) idea not from a technical perspective, but from a user perspective.  I think I've made an interesting case for the technology, but I agree that I probably haven't said anything yet that would persuade my mother that this was of interest to her (Downloaded Radio yet Mom?)What I am suggesting is a tool, or a service, that would help you to find existing individuals or communities of people who are discussing things that you have expressed an interest in.   You express an interest in something by posting about it in your blog.

The upshot is that by writing about something, you will automatically be notified about other people who are writing about, or have written about the same or similar things.

<%myNote( "There is a temporal perspective here, you may only be interested in people who are currently writing about these topics.  Additionally you may not want to be notified about people who start writing about something you wrote months ago")%>

 

30/05/2002 22:20 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Digging in to publishing

Someone was asking on the Radio discussion group about how to publish a file to the cloud.  Since I'm having problems with upstreaming I have a need to understand some of this as well and decided to take a quick peek under the hood.

If you want to understand how Radio publishing works, check out:

system.verbs.builtins.radio.menu.Publish

you can see the scripts that are invoked to publish & upstream various parts of your blog.

These seem to either delete entries in user.radio.settings.files, or use the function radio.weblog.publish() to publish individual files.

 

30/05/2002 16:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Nurturing existing communities

In most of my musings so far I have been mainly concerned with the development of new communities online.  It's been brought to my attention that this is a very narrow viewpoint.  In particular Mike Cannon-Brookes has turned me on to NYCbloggers which aims to be a directory of every blogger in New York City.

I've not had a chance to really delve into it but it blew me away immediately by being such a powerful idea.

Just recently I listened to a radio (I mean real FM radio!) article about how people are more interested in live lives of soap actors and celebreties than they are about the people around them.   How people bemoan news about old people shut in their homes, but do not acknowledge that those same people live in their street.  I'm definitely guilty of this.

I know very little about my local community.  I know almost nothing about my neighbours.  I've been that way more or less since I moved to London.  It sucks.  It shouldn't be this way.

The idea of a directory of bloggers in my area is a cool one, an easy, passive way of getting to know people around my area who may be interested in similar things to me, or things I might want to become interested in.  A way of reconnecting and maybe meeting some of these people.

That would be cool.

It would be even cooler if we could figure out how to get all those people who don't have computers and don't identify themselves as people who are users or consumers of technology involved in this.

 

29/05/2002 10:41 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Social networking in Radiospace

Jon Udell has written a very thoughtful piece on social networking.  I especially liked his point about the difference between blogging and more established forms of collaborative communication.  Jon recognizes the need for tools to help clusters of people form around shared ideas, but not at the cost of jeopardizing what makes blogging a new and unique form of expression.

28/05/2002 21:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Ed Cone on DaveNet

As Ed Cone writes in his guest DaveNet appearance:

"At some level, though, not linking to other bloggers negates a certain part of the essence of blogging. Maybe those pages are less “blogs” than just frequently-updated personal Web pages, if such a distinction exists. Sullivan writes that he disdains the concept of “community,” but the blogging community and its subcultures are real. And on a practical level, links between bloggers are a critical way of getting readership for blogs. Blogging is more than the sum of its parts."

» This really speaks to me -- a desire to be part of a wider community is a compelling reason for me to be a blogger.

And on Sullivan's disdain for the concept of "community", well here's what Ryan Ireland has to say:

"Sullivan then begins to poo poo the idea of the bloggers functioning as a community. He insists that his reasons for blogging are fueled by his individualistic nature, wanting to publish without the hinderance of an editorial staff and press politics.

Actually, blogging, in it's current and most successful form is indeed a community activity. One blog cannot stand alone. Without the support and conversation of a community the single lone blog is just another homepage with blinking icons and pinwheels. But Andrew wants to "have a great interaction with readers in real time." That sounds pretty much a like a community effort. You see Andrew, perhaps your naiveté has caused you to miss the fact that we bloggers do have "great interaction" with our readers, through links and comments. This is how we communicate. "

» I dont want my blog to be a personal page with blinking icons and pinwheels!

 

28/05/2002 16:21 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

on add( s )

Okay there has to be a better way than this...

In my experience if you look inside most Radio macros that are generating HTML you will see something like:

  • local( htmlText = "", indentLevel = 0 )
  • on add( s )
    • htmlText = htmlText + string.filledString( "\t", indentLevel ) + s + cr

as a way of generating indented HTML on seperate lines.

I hate it.

There has to be a better way than this.

 

28/05/2002 15:21 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Community Builder

Going on with the idea of the Blog community builder (I'd love someone to suggest a cool name) here are some more thoughts:

  • This should be a tool that plugs in to Radio Userland like the Radio Community Server.
  • The tool allows people (including yourself) to register their blog.
  • Each registered blog is indexed on a regular basis (this might include indexing an incoming RSS feed rather than the site itself)
  • Each index creates a set of likely keywords.
  • The blog owner is notified that their blog has been indexed (email?).  They can then sign in and modify the keywords that have been suggested and then rank them in order of importance.
  • Some weighting algorithm is then applied to the keywords for the blog to try and match it up with likely candidates.
  • The candidate list is filtered against a list of already generated candidates as well as those to which the blog already links.
  • This candidate list is then provided back to the blog owner.  Options: email, web page or RSS feed.

The reason I think this should be a Radio tool is that it can then be run by many people.  Some attempt should be made to allow these to tools to federate and share index information.  The index will need good algorithms for matching blogs up.

It seems to me that there is also a temporal issue here.  If my blog is all about, for example, Scuba diving and then I happen to post one day about my Dell Inspiron laptop what do I want to happen?  I suppose this may be solved by repeated keyword filtering (i.e. I don't allow 'dell laptop' to become attached to my blog) but I guess I would rather the system have some clever way of evolving its representation of your interests.

Indeed, is there some way around having to know about and rank keywords in the first place?

 

28/05/2002 12:14 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Build communities by categories

Ian Bruk wants to build communities as well, he has a simple but powerful idea for using categories to do this.

Although I don't think categories are discriminatory enough for my taste I think these ideas are all complementary.

[Ian: Do you have a Blog?]

 

28/05/2002 10:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Creating communities from thin air #2

I've had some interesting comments about my previous post on creating communities.  It seems like it is, at least, not a stinker!

One simple thing that came up was that we should be able to attach meta-data to our postings.  I had already been wondering about the idea of adding a keywords field to the posting box backed up with some simple UserTalk to automatically grok the new posting for suitable keywords for you.  I'm no RSS expert but I'm sure somebody said that new tags could be added without breaking existing applications.  This means we could introduce meta-data and let the applications catch up.

Another idea that came up was that this should not be a centralized service, that it should be democratized.  I think it's a good point, but wonder how it can be achieved?  The value of the service would be in making good recommendations and so would lie in the index.  Distributed systems that don't hold the full index won't be able to make many recommendations (unless we come up with some kind of brokering service, or a distributed search or something like that).  I'd love to hear suggestions on how this problem could be solved.

Since the basic idea doesn't sound like a dud I'm going to start working on it.  I'd love to hear from anyone who would like to collaborate with me.

 

 

28/05/2002 10:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Doing a Backflip.

It's basically an online bookmarking service.  You add a button to your browser tool bar which you click when you want to grab a page.  You can then describe and categorize the page in your BackFlip directory (kind of like your own Yahoo directory).

Wow - how the world turns full circle. I was one of the two founders of The BookmarkBox which I would like to say pioneered the online bookmarking space. Backflip came on the scene later, as one of our largest competitors - before we sold out to Blink.com (which used to be good, sadly now it is popup-riddled and unusable). [Curiouser and curiouser!] [rebelutionary]

»Mike's right, Blink is ruined.  Pop-ad's are the pits.  And do they even work?  I know that I tend to find it offensive enough to be 'popped at' that I will avoid the products on principle...

They also seem to have lost the plot with a points and prizes mentality.  I think there are many reasons to share stuff and the good ones have nothing to do with points.

Hopefully BackFlip will not fall into this trap.

I've also sent the BackFlip guys some suggestions which I think have gotten lost in their web self-service autoresponder:

  • Allow you to create Weekly and Monthly routines as well as the Daily Routine.  This would be great for regularly visiting news sites that don't update so often.
  • A Routine is really nothing more than a tour.  In this case it's a very personal thing.  But if you let people create any number of tours with a useful name and perhaps some categorization you could then let them share their tours with each.  I think this has the potential to be much more interesting that just sharing a folder of bookmarks.

 

28/05/2002 09:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Thought provoking

From BigEmpty via the rebelutionary.

"I read something seth castleman wrote, "in the holocaust no one was there to bear witness. people either oppressed or were oppressed, helped or turned their eyes away. what would happen if people opened their hearts and truly watched in jerusalem? can we deeply accept tragedy with an open heart, then move to heal and help from the seat of witness? in quantum physics, the act of observing inherently affects the observed. perhaps this applies to humanity as well. the atoms that change when watched, become the world that has been transformed... will the heart open or close? will we take our sadness and let it harden or let it melt?"

I wanted to post some viewpoints but I was unable (with a quick wave of Google) to come up with a balance...

 

28/05/2002 09:36 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Creating communities from thin air

Since I don't yet feel part of a blogging community (I've only really been at it for a couple of weeks - I have no idea how long it takes.  Or perhaps I have nothing interesting to say??) my thoughts are very much on how you become part of a community and how you can encourage communities to form around shared ideas and values.  I think there is a role for technology to play here.

What I have in mind is a program, I haven't thought of a name so lets just call it blog connector (BC for short), that you can register your blog with.  BC then indexes your blog and creates a list of key words that it thinks are relevant to the content on your site.  You are then asked to prune, extend and rank the keywords.

Then BC takes a look through all the other blogs it has indexed looking for blogs whose keywords have similar rankings.  It checks to see whether you are already linking to those blogs and if not it sends you a suggestion that you might want to check out that blog and/or link to it.  It also applies the same criteria to the other blogs, optionally sending them similar information about your blog.

I imagine this last step maybe working as an RSS feed (with web pages and email as other options) and having many controls to adjust the flow of information, block unwanted intrusions, and so on.  It would also need to be clever enough not to keep recommending things it has already sent you.  I think all these caveats could be addressed.

I'd welcome any thoughts, insights or criticisms concerning this idea.  Maybe someone already thought of it and is doing it?

 

27/05/2002 16:36 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Playing with the aggregator / transBlogging

The Aggregator is the piece of Radio that downloads news items from RSS feeds on a regular basis.  I have an idea for something I'm calling the 'transBlogger' which will automatically syndicate content from the Aggregator.

Here's the idea, silly as it may be:

There may be blogs/bloggers that you respect and, whilst you may not agree 100% with every post, you think they are worthwhile and should be widely disseminated.  You are probably subscribed to their RSS feed but may not want to have to approve/comment on every item.

The transBlogger will allow you to choose to automatically syndicate their content to your own blog.  It will take the latest story or stories (you choose how many) and put them in a special area on your weblog home page.  This will be controlled by a macro so you decide where and how they should look (within certain boundaries).

Important: Each story will be clearly identified by source and will be linked back to the source.  You aren't appropriating their content, just pushing it to a wider audience.

Of course nothing stops you from also posting items from news with your own comments.  Indeed you'll still want to do this as the transBlogged content will change quite quickly as new stories pile up in the aggregator.

I very, very loosely based this idea on Tedd Nelson's concept of transpublishing.  In fact probably only in so much as I was thinking about transpublishing the other day when I also thought of this. 

But there ya go.

 

24/05/2002 19:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

School Blogging

SchoolBlogs is a weblog about using weblogs in schools to give students and children a means of expressing themselves.  It also aims to be an excellent way of handling collaborative projects and introducing discussion.  It is co-sponsored by Peter Ford and Adam Curry.

The SchoolBlogs site is even more interesting in the light of the fact that, in just a few years, every UK undergraduate will be required to create a profile of themselves and what they do.  My first thought on seeing a blog was that this would be a fantastic thing for students to have.  So much better than the rigid profiling / record of achievement packages that were being developed back when I was directly involved with all of this.

New students at University should be taught how to use a browser and how to post to their shiny new blog (along with some guidance about the use of personal information and the unnacceptability of hate material).  They should be encourage to blog early and blog often.

In parrallel Universities should be indexing all the blogs their students create.  One simple application of this might be to suggest links to people to help build communities.  Example:

Indexing reveals two or more blogs that mention Death and the Penguin, for example, and detects that they do not currently link to each other.  The application could generate an email to each blogger pointing at the other blogs and recommending that they may have similar interests and should take a look.

I think this could have powerful effects.  I could imagine that, in the future, you could link this to something like Cyc and create a system for automatically cataloguing and relating information that is not explicitly linked together...

More on this later I'm sure...

24/05/2002 19:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Better safe than sorry

Today Radio went into a tail spin crashing over and over.  I'm not quite sure what went wrong either one of the tools I installed went wrong or I poked something I shouldn't have.  That's the beauty of a wide open system like Radio, it gives you all the rope you need.

Luckily I have Second Copy doing regular backups of my Radio folder and I also trying and shut Radio down to let it get at all the open files from time to time as well.  This mean't I had a good copy of webLogData.root, aggregatorData.root and my www directory to fall back on after I'd reinstalled.

I can't imagine how pained I would feel now if I hadn't been able to re-install safe in the knowledge that I would lose no work...

 

24/05/2002 18:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Jump tip

If you see an address in a value that you want to explore.  Double-click to select it then hit Ctrl+J.  The dialog will be populated with the name (sans @).  Click enter and you're there.
24/05/2002 18:36 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Use logging early and often

Although you can use dialog.notify() and msg() to log what's happening in your Radio code, a much better way is to use Radio's built in Event logging system.  This allows you to put messages into the event log accessible from the Editor's menu of the desktop home page.

To do this you use:

  • radio.log.add( type, htmlMessage, startTicks )

Where:

  • type - is the first column and indicates what sort of message it is.  For example I am using "transBlogger" the name of my tool.
  • htmlMessage - is a HTML code for the actual message describing the event
  • startTicks - is the value of clock.ticks() when your event began.  The logging code uses this to show an elapsed time for the event.

 

24/05/2002 18:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

How long is a piece of string?

In the 'today programme' on Radio 4 this morning Ed Sterton spoke to a NY physicist this morning about a paper she had published on string theory and it's implications for the multi-dimensionality of space.  Despite explanations her explanations, which I would love to have a transcript of, Ed bravely soldiered on asking "what does string theory mean?"

Next up was a British chap who had pretty much the same things to say (along with plugging his new book).  Again Ed valiantly perserved with this quest to understand.  'm with you Ed.  I didn't understand a word of it.

However one thing the last guy had to say was very interesting.  In describing space he called it our "cosmic habitat."  He also asked the question of whether we could ever understand it.  He likened this to the problem a fish has in understanding the water in which it exists.

Hmmm....

 

24/05/2002 09:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Some questions

Current questions:

  • How do I get the instant outliner to notify me of changes to subscribed outlines automatically?
  • How do I make the aggregator display news items in a new window?
  • How do I change the Radio keybindings?
  • How do I modify the Radio system tray icon?

Small steps...

 

23/05/2002 18:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Some info about Tools

Useful basic information about Radio Tools.

 

23/05/2002 17:42 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Programming pointers

More useful information about Radio programming to be found here.
23/05/2002 17:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Why is it called Radio?

A software product name must make sense when the product is first released, but it's also important that the name make sense as it evolves. This is especially important for a product such as Radio, which is a programming platform with lots of communication ability. It will do lots of new things as it evolves, perhaps things we don't understand or envision now.

Think about when radio, as a medium, was young. It didn't mean just talk and music. TV hadn't been invented. Radio was a way for a person, or group of people, to use new technology to radiate their ideas. It's in that spirit we named the product Radio. It's a perfect tool for expressing and organizing ideas, plans, project notes, presentations, writing, and reports; and it's got built-in features that make it totally simple to communicate your work. So Radio is the perfect name.

As it goes forward, Radio will hook into more communication channels, we believe it will actually define new channels, because never before has there been an easy to use tool that was so good at communicating.

[I'm really getting into Radio in a big way and I thought it was worth reposting this item]

 

23/05/2002 16:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Don't forget radio-dev

Don't forget.  If you plan to do any Radio programming at all you have to subscribe to radio-dev@yahoogroups.com.  It is the best source of advice and wisdom on Radio and UserTalk.

 

23/05/2002 16:45 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

How localFixup works

Here's what it does.

In order to make a URL contains the upstreamed cloud prefix work locally we have to fool Radio into ignoring the prefix and treating the URL as if it was relative to the root.

This is achieved by installing a filter in

  • user.webserver.preFilters

Originally I tried doing this by patching directly in radio.webserver.responder().  Although this worked I quickly came unstuck when I updated my Radio.root one day after Userland also modified this function.   Installing the filter in the user table is much safer since Userland are much less likely to muck with this.

The filter looks in the parameters passed to it (which describe the HTTP request made by the browser) for a URL path containing a specified prefix (which we store in a tool-local data table).  If the prefix is found the URL path is re-written minus the prefix.  Then the request is allowed to be serviced as normal.

I haven't done anything clever to install the filter (I'm not detecting that I've just been installed -- if indeed you can do that).  My tool's index page includes a checkbox that you click to enable.  This copies the filter from the tool into the user table space, i.e.

  • user.webserver.preFitlers.localFixupFilter = localFixupSuite.localFixupFilter

This does open a problem if the user should delete the tool before disabling it.  Using disable removes the filter from the preFilters table.  I guess that if you don't do this step first then the Radio web server may break down (because it won't be able to find the prefs in the tools data area).  We could work around this by putting the prefs in the scratchpad or workspace areas instead...

It's all incredibly simple -- once you know how...

23/05/2002 16:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

ANN: localFixup tool v0.1 for Radio

I've just released version 0.1 of my localFixup tool for Radio.  This tools makes Radio understand URL's prefixed by your usernum (i.e. URLs that will work when a file has been upstreamed) so that they work locally as well.

I had lots of help from Sam D, Jake S and Roger from the radio-dev email list for which I am very grateful.

 

 

23/05/2002 15:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The Object Database

This article describes the object database that lives at the heart of Radio.  The article refers to Frontier but a lot of it will be good for Radio.

Remember you can use Ctrl+J to jump to these tables and explore.

23/05/2002 12:05 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Doing a Backflip

Just started playing with BackFlip (mentioned in http://radio.userland.com/discuss/msgReader$14982?mode=topic&y=2002&m=5&d=23) and it looks very cool.

It's basically an online bookmarking service.  You add a button to your browser tool bar which you click when you want to grab a page.  You can then describe and categorize the page in your BackFlip directory (kind of like your own Yahoo directory).

BackFlip allows you to create a "daily routine" for pages you want to visit every day (which I have made my home page now) as well as showing you your favourite and newest bookmarks.

Then you can start sharing.  You can exchange bookmarks with other users and, based on aggregate anonymous data, BackFlip can start recommending other shared bookmarks based on your own browsing preferences.

If I have complaints they are that:

  • the site is a little bit slow in fully rendering its pages
  • the tools for managing links could be better

The form is understandable since BackFlip is without corporate funding and run by a committed group who believe in the service.  The latter is fixable with a bit of Java or JavaScript.

Powerful stuff.

 

23/05/2002 09:13 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Back into real time

I was just emailing someone and used the term blog years meaning the "new internet time" when I realised that blogging isn't speeding things up - it's slowing them down.

Reading blog postings means that suddenly I get things at the speed of minutes, hours, days.  Real, human, quantities that I understand.

 

 

22/05/2002 15:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A survey of community-oriented technologies

Etienne Wenger is publishing in Shareware form a report on community supporting technologies.

One downside is that it doesn't seem to have been republished since March 2001 so glosses over Wiki (although noting it is an interesting technology) and misses blogging altogether.

Nevertheless it makes for interesting reading.

 

22/05/2002 13:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Drupal

This looks like an interesting collaborative content management system for creating a blogging community "out of the box", especially suitable for HE and corporations perhaps?

A couple of sample sites

Worth checking out.

22/05/2002 12:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Reed's Law

Dan Gillmor reports on David. P. Reed's ideas about opening up the Radio spectrum.  These idea's are interesting enough to warrant reading both the article and Reed directly.

What caught my eye though was the paragraph describing Reed:

"He's been involved in Internet technical details for several decades, and even has a ``law'' named after him. ``Reed's Law'' isn't as famous as Moore's Law, but it's a big one. The importance of the Internet, under Reed's Law, is at least as much about the formation of groups that communicate and collaborate as about person-to-person contact."

You can relate this to a previous article written by Reed which discusses among other things where the value is in a network, showing a transition from Sarnoff's Law (the value of a network is proportional to the number of viewers -- formulated for TV) through Metcalfe's Law (the value of a network is proportional to the number of people on the network) to the Group-Forming Law.

The Group-Forming law predicts that the value of a network is proportional to the number of 2-person grouping, 3-person groups, ..., n-person groupings which, when added up, means proportional to 2^n.  To quote from that article:

"The value in a Group-Forming network is constructed jointly, whether through discussion groups, through joint plans to buy something in bulk at low prices, or through some other means. "

 

22/05/2002 11:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Hossein Derakhshan: "There are about 1000 Persian weblogs."  [Scripting News]

Wow!

 

22/05/2002 09:35 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Keith Teare received a letter from Microsoft, which he published on his weblog, which among other things, demands that he stop publishing his weblog.   [Scripting News]

Yet another reason why we should all hope that alternatives to IE can be found and made popular.

 

22/05/2002 09:28 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

I'll take the Empire

[From the Daily Standard via BlogDex]

I always new I liked The Empire best, now I know why!

 

21/05/2002 15:03 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

First impressions of Groove

Okay so I've installed the Groove preview edition.  It looks very pretty but boy is this going to be more complicated than Wiki.  I know there's a load of power here but how easy is it going to be to leverage?  How hard is it going to be to train people to use this enough that they can be self supporting?  Maybe the tools for this are part of Groove itself.

Now I need to find someone to share with...

 

21/05/2002 13:40 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Satire

This Modern World. A Republican's guide to debating the Enron scandal. [Salon.com]

I've always had a soft spot for political satire.  Tom Tomorrows are good.

 

21/05/2002 10:49 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Google unwraps new applications

Picked up from Scripting News, information about new applications being developed by Google labs.

Google: Glossary, Sets, Voice Search, Keyboard Shortcuts [Scripting News]

The keyboard shortcuts are such a simple idea, but surprisingly neat.  The other apps are pretty cool too.  You can join in a discussion of these apps with the folks from Google and help to shape them before they go public.

 

21/05/2002 09:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Social Network Explorer

I'm not even quite sure what this is yet, but I know it's cool.

 

20/05/2002 14:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Silly tool for Radio

<%myNote( QuoteBoxSuite.quoteBox(), "yellow", "right" )%>

I've just released my first UserLand Radio tool.  It's very silly but has taught me a bit about tools, Radio and UserTalk programming.

Called 'QuoteBox' what it does is to download the days quotes from QuotationsPage.com and allow you to embed a quotation in one of your HTML pages using the macro <%QuoteBoxSuite.quoteBox()%>.

 

It only downloads the quotations once each day (in accordance with QuotationsPage instructions) and dishes up a random quote each time it is called.

Installation instructions.  Download the QuoteBox.root file into the Tools sub folder of your Radio installation, then add the macro to a template page.

Some simple configuration of the macro can be done using the parameters:

  • width
  • borderColour
  • bgColour

e.g. <%QuoteBoxSuite.quoteBox( "100%", "black", "white" )%>

The example in this posting has been wrapped inside Paolo Valdemarin's myNote() macro which creates a very nice highlight effect.  Thank you Paolo!

 

15/05/2002 16:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Problems facing new employees

Data dyspepsia blights the workforce. One of the biggest challenges facing an organisation today is filtering the good from the bad information. It's the classic signal/noise equation. We all like to get the right signals--and all hate the noise. But for each and every employee these are highly debatable categories. Gartner found, quite surprisingly, that the most useful information employees receive comes from personal networks, contact with friends and colleagues, and emails--rather than the finely tuned information source that is supposed to be the Intranet. But how do you manage that?  The other option is some kind of sophisticated knowledge management solution--but no one has even figured out what this is yet so don't expect that one to solve your woes. [The RegisterThe solution isn't a sophisticated KM solution, it is K-Logs.  A well authored K-Log provides a filtered knowledge stream based on the Intranet.  It is simple, elegant, and leverages the Intranet -- the perfect way to improve the signal to noise ratio. [John Robb's Radio Weblog]

I too believe that sophisticated KM tools are not the answer.  I think the clue lies in the word 'community.'   -- But then I would, wouldn't I?

It seems to me that new employees should be members of two Communities of Practice.  The first is the CoP that best fits what they do.  The second is the CoP of new starters.

In a way being new is what someone does.  Many of the questions and frustrations will be the same and the opportunity to share the answers to one and the feeling of the other seems to me what CoP is all about.

As people integrate into the company they grow out of the new starters CoP but until then they will be the valuable community leaders who help the rest.

 

15/05/2002 14:51 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

JSB on 'Screen Language'

I really like John Seely Brown (JSB).  In this article he talks about screen language which is not a term that I was familiar with but means "the vernacular of digital culture."  So much clearer!

In the language of mortals he is referring to how people are learning to communicate using the shorthands of the new media, instant messenging, and so on.

His point is that educators are not yet equipped to understand screen language and so cannot communicate effectively with learners.  He sees a widening digial divide between students who "arrive nicely fluent in digital technology and the virtues of hyperspeed," and faculty who are still in the antiquated analog world.  It's perhaps not as simple as that -- I know from experience that many faculty are bringing their warp drives on line.  But it's still a fair point in most cases.

I can also see, from first hand experience, another emerging divide.  Between those students who are at Hyperspeed and those who are not.  Spend some time at a non-redbrick English university and you will see the problems of students for whom English may not be their first language or where there wasn't alwasy a PC back home or a mobile phone in the pocket.  These students have a big jump to make if they are going to join in.  We should not forget, when we are designing courses and approaches, that not all students think or learn the same, or start from the same place.

Where I am wholy with JSB is in his analysis of the divide between context and content.  He relates a good anecdote:

"...one of the great ideas that fell flat was to invite well-known individuals to address a PARC forum every Thursday afternoon. The speeches were to be Webcast throughout the premises so 300 PARC employees could follow them at their workstations."

"'Efficiency is not the same as effectiveness,' Seely Brown said to the HBS participants.  It was disconcerting for speakers to arrive at the huge auditorium, he said, find only four or five people sitting there and be told, 'It's okay, you've got X number of eyeballs on the Webcast. So you can feel good now.'

"No one enjoys talking into thin air; a good speaker, like an actor, is always engaged in conversation with the audience during the performance. That sense of unleashing a dialogue between the speaker and the audience was lost with Webcasting, said Seely Brown. "

 

15/05/2002 14:21 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A little example of tacit knowledge

Jon Udell: "As technologists, we hold all sorts of knowledge that is tacit. We ourselves don't realize that we possess it, and we don't realize that others (most others) don't. Radio does a remarkable job of delivering an out-of-the-box experience that doesn't depend on too much tacit knowledge. When you try to go further, you're on a slippery slope, but this is true of all software." Amen.  [Scripting News]
14/05/2002 15:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Global Village Idiocy

This article shows some of the dangers inherent in the development of our online community. 

Particularly significant to me is:

"If there's one thing I learned from this trip to Israel, Jordan, Dubai and Indonesia, it's this: thanks to the Internet and satellite TV, the world is being wired together technologically, but not socially, politically or culturally. We are now seeing and hearing one another faster and better, but with no corresponding improvement in our ability to learn from, or understand, one another."

14/05/2002 12:52 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Honoring Wired's Patron Saint

Honoring Wired's Patron Saint. The life of intellectual icon Marshall McLuhan is celebrated in a new documentary that profiles the colorful life and prescient ideas of the 'oracle of the electric age.' A review by Noah Shachtman. [Wired News]

Quoting from the above...

"McLuhan begins with the premise that the tools people create in turn shape us. The most powerful tools are those that help convey ideas, like language. To McLuhan, modern life was like a "global village," where everyone becomes aware of all news at once."

----

I think that the emergence of blogging tools is going to change the way in which we use and relate to the web.  As other people have commented the web is largely a read-only medium today.  Few people have the power to publish what they think.  The simplicity of tools such as Radio and Blogger combined with the enthusiam they seem to generate is going to change all that.  In revolutionary terms, I see blogging to the web as XML/SOAP is to EDI.

But that's not the end of the story.  If a blog was just a way for everyone to decrease the signal to noise ratio of the web it wouldn't be so exciting.

What turns blogging from another fad into a real tool for building and changing communities is that you can let people comment on your postings (as I have done on mine).  I think this will be a very powerful concept and it will be interesting to see how people will deal with it -- but I believe this is the key to enabling communities to form around shared ideas.

One reminaing problem though is how people are going to come together to form these communities.  I am still not sure...  how do we find each other in this brave new electronic world?

"...the tools people create in turn shape us." 

I look forward to receiving my first comment, good or bad...

13/05/2002 12:30 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Test Story

This is a new story.
11/05/2002 21:33 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Communities of Practice defined

Are you looking for a succinct definition of a Community of Practice?  Click the title of this posting.
11/05/2002 10:56 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Brain tools

This is a capsule review of a few tools for mapping information that I am using at the moment.  They are:

PersonalBrain is a tool for visually organizing information into a network of related thoughts. Thoughts have a title and optionally either text or can attach to a web page.  From within the plex you can see all the thoughts that are related to the current thought and navigate the links between them.  Much like Ted Nelson's original concept for hyperlinking, thoughts in PersonalBrain are linked bi-directionally and support the concept of sibling relationships as well as parent/child.

PersonalBrain has good searching capability and an innovative interface but like all information management tools it begins to break down a little once the number of thoughts and links grows large.  Whilst this can be managed, PersonalBrain provides few tools to assist with this and requires a pro-active housekeeping style.  I would like to see this area of the product improved.

Also lacking is what I consider a key feature to enable creation of new pathways through information and that is, associative linking, the ability to of the software to dynamically create links between related thoughts based on keywords and attributes.  This is a Wiki like quality that I think would add greatly to the power of this software.

MindManager is a tool for creating and working with Buzan MindMaps ®  Again this is a powerful visual way of relating information.  MindManager is aimed more at the professional worker and recent versions are adding collaborative abilities.  Although untrained I have found MindMaps are, with a little thought, easy to get started with.  However I think the power of a simple uncluttered map is not necessarily an easy thing to achieve.

There is the ability to link maps together and to export maps to powerpoint as a presentation.  I haven't really had much use for either of these yet but they could be powerful features.

<%myNote( "Axon is another information manager/mapper that I'm hoping to try out soon", "yellow", "right" )%>

Q: Does anyone have any other Brain Tools that they want to share?

11/05/2002 10:38 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Veepers

I've just been shown a demo of Veepers from a company called Pulse.  The best way of describing a Veeper is that it is like a streaming video.  In this case it was of a person speaking, but they also have text-to-speech capability as well.  So far, nothing new.  However the Veeper uses a 3D model generated from a set of still photographs to achieve very low bandwidth use.  The effect is remarkable and I recommend seeing the demo.

Source Louise Kehoe of the FT

 

10/05/2002 09:43 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Flash: Blogging Goes Corporate. Weblogs being the trend du jour, Macromedia attempts what may be a new type of marketing strategy: getting bloggers to push its products. By Farhad Manjoo. [Wired News]

Interesting article both about what Macromedia are doing (having their product community manager's create blogs on 3rd party sites) and also in what it says about product support.

It seemed to me that these managers are attempting to establish communities of practice with these products using the blog as a means to start the process.

 

09/05/2002 12:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The Wiki application I have chosen to start with is JSPWiki.  I chose this because it is, as the name implies, implemented as a Java Server Pages application.  Whilst I can still recall a little perl, I would much rather get involved in a Java project.

JSPWiki already provides an XMLRPC interface allowing other applications to interact with it.  SOAP may follow in the future.  It also provides some basic RSS capabilities so might be compatible with weblogging tools...

 

09/05/2002 11:56 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Here is an article about the new requirements for agents in multi-function contact centres.  It correctly identifies that new media such as text chat and email require greater skills on the part of agents (as well as offering more rewards for the dynamic and easily bored).

However the analysis concludes that training is the answer.  I wonder.

I'm not at all convinced about the value of training, especially in the case of contact centre agents (where scripting of responses is increasingly becoming impossible).  It is my belief that tacit knowledge is going to be important.

[Ref: Myers, C. & Davids, K, (1992). Knowing and doing: Tacit skill at work. Personnel Management, 24, 45-47] -- Does anyone have an online reference for this article?

CoP for Agents?  Do they exist in any organizations yet?

 

09/05/2002 11:43 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Here is an article I read recently (originally published 1995), written by JSB and Estee Solomon Gray.  This excellent paper is cited just about anywhere people discuss Communities of Practice (CoP) and rightly so.

It makes a number of key points:

  • You can't build processes without the practices to implement them
  • The most effective practices grow from the grassroots
  • With groups, tacit knowledge exists in the distinct practices and relationships that emerge from working together over time
  • Learning is less about absorbing information than it is about becoming part of a community
  • Organisations are webs of participation
  • You cannot compel enthusiam and commitment from knowledge workers

and critically,

"Only workers who choose to opt in -- who voluntarily make a committment to their colleagues -- can create a winning company.  When a company acknowledges the power of community, and adopts elegantly minimal processes that allow communities to emerge, it is taking a giant step towards the 21st century."

 

09/05/2002 10:05 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

I'm interested in how communities work, what their lifecycles look like and in tools that facilitate them.  Especially I am interested in online communities.  At the moment I am looking at blogging tools such as Blogger and Radio, but I am also very interested in Wiki.

I think it will be interesting to see how these kinds of tools will fuse with the P2P world of Groove and PeerMetrics, learning management systems and the more formalized world of Knowledge management.

As a very quick and informal way of enabling communities to form I think Wiki takes some beating.  The low barrier to entry and "everyone can edit" philosophy seem, in my experience, very condusive to collaboration. However I have some concerns about the longterm viability of structures which grow in this fashion. 

The idea of page refactoring (re-editing pages to simplify them as the ideas and arguments expressed move towards agreement) as a means of keeping a Wiki fresh and relevant is a good one, but I have yet to be convinced that it actually works.

It's too early to say what I think about tools such as Radio for myself.  I'm not at sure who would read this, or why.  Hmmm...

 

09/05/2002 08:33 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Boxes and Arrows. A wonderful online magazine and discussion forum for information architecture, designed for practitioners interested in the vital issues of the craft. [SearchTools News for 2002]
07/05/2002 17:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

JProfiler 1.2 [freshmeat.net]
07/05/2002 17:49 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good." [Motivational Quotes of the Day]
07/05/2002 17:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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