Scripting News for 1/20/2007

Tim Berners-Lee: “Anyone can build a new application on the Web, without asking me, or Vint Cerf, or their ISP, or their cable company, or their operating system provider, or their government, or their hardware vendor.” 

Mark Cuban: “Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner, Charter, Insight, Cox, any cable or satellite provider could easily offer a website that allows users to upload content the same way they upload to Youtube.” 

Most RSS readers are wrong 

Read this piece for a clue as to what’s wrong with RSS readers.

One of the first rules of software design is also the primary rule of business — “The user is always right.”

Most RSS readers remind the user, all the time, how wrong he or she is. Or inadequate or lazy or behind in their work.

Who needs that. I sure don’t. And if I’m designing software that I’m using myself, and it’s always telling me how I’m fucking up, you can be sure I’m going to want to change the software, not the user.

Think about it this way. Suppose you read the paper every day. What if at the top of the paper it told you how many articles from previous issues you hadn’t read. Whoa. When you subscribed to the paper did you mean to imply that you would read all the articles?

Emphatically: News is not email.

Unlike email, every article is not necessarily something you should read, or even look at.

I read so few articles that I want my software to work differently, I want it to make it easy for me to give a fraction of a glance to every new article and if I’m not interested, or too busy — too bad. No need to count the number of articles that didn’t get my attention. It’s a useless piece of data.

The author comes within an inch of getting the answer. “Here’s a simple trick to handle this load — goto the root folder and select ‘Mark All Items as Read.’ Now open the Techmeme River of News website and read the important stories that you might have missed while on vacation.”

Good idea! Now have the software do all that for you.

And not just when you come back from vacation, every day, rain or shine.

And then you’ll find you can subscribe to even more feeds. :-)

9/20/05: “Let the news flow by you and relax like someone sitting on the bank of a river looking for something interesting as you while away the time. That’s how news works, and RSS is, emphatically, for news.”

Try this one out. Imagine you’re fishing, and there was some nerd on the other side of the river, shouting at you, the number of fish that went by that you didn’t catch. How long before you’d want to kill the nerd??

I don’t disagree 

Jeremy Toeman asks if I agree with his piece about the Apple iPhone and how its appeal is dropping daily. My response.

I don’t disagree, but that’s not the same as agreeing. I didn’t like the iPod at first, now I’ve owned three and use my current one and leave the others at home for various reasons. (The Sansa is broken, the Archos is too big, the others aren’t even worth mentioning). My original problem with the iPod was its dependence on the Mac (I didn’t even have one then) but they cured that, and now I use Macs only.

Now back to the iPhone. Apple is likely in it for the long haul, and we’ve only seen their first product.

On the other hand, I thought you were right about the launch souring over time, which is something I see too, and I think it’s important to observe, so maybe it’ll dampen the peak a little next time around (fat chance).

Now ask me what I think about Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. Yummm!

A scary (probably patentable) vision! 

I had some errands to run yesterday after writing the piece about mapping software, the subject was fresh on my mind and I realized something that scared the shit out of me, and also made me want to run down the USPTO and claim an idea that’s sure to be worth billions. I decided to blog it and worry about the patent later. :-)

Okay here’s the scenario. I program a destination into the GPS and start driving. I notice that it tells me to cut over to Solano Ave from Marin Ave about 20 blocks before reaching the destination. This is odd, I think, because Marin is the faster street, it’s primarily residential and wide, where Solano is heavily commercial, with lots of cars entering and exiting, stopping and starting. Lots of pedestrians too, and in California we like to stop for them (at least this driver does).

How curious, I thought. Why make me go this way. I decided to check it out. When I got to Solano, there’s a convenience store right there. I practically have to turn into its parking lot. How convenient, I thought, a perfect opportunity see if they have Black Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke (I’m getting single-minded about this, in kind of the same way NakedJen is about being naked). Later I realized something, the scary vision, the patentable scary vision.

There’s no way the GPS knew there was a convenience store there (a national brand, btw), but in five or ten years, I’m sure they will. And further, Toyota will make a deal with the chain to direct traffic by their store, as opposed to their competition. Remember in a lot of businesses it’s all about location. What if someday everyone has GPS, like everyone has automatic transmission now (they didn’t used to, believe it or not). That could be much more valuable than advertising. It’s not about impressions, it’s about delivering customers. Literally!

You can be sure, if we survive Iraq and nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and the Chinese shooting down our satellites, if we’re still driving ten years from now, our cars will be sending us on errands on behalf of the auto manufacturers. Maybe someday they’ll just give us the car, the GPS will be so profitable.

SXSW is not for me 

Yeah Marc, SXSW is promotes certain people, and if they don’t like you, there’s no way in. This year they have some kind of fig leaf that allows them to deflect criticism, but I’m not going to run the gauntlet after years of being snubbed, damn I’m one of the founders of the industry they cover, and I’ve never been invited to speak. I know lots of people who have been asked, many of them are users of stuff I created (hey, modesty aside, they all are users of stuff I created). They ought to roll out the red carpet for guys like you and me Marc, but something is wrong there, so don’t let it get to you man. I’ve asked, three times now, for an invite. That’s enough. Fuck em.

Aside: I remember listening to the podcast of their podcasting panel while I was still working on podcasting, thinking how it would have been cool if I could have told the people at SXSW where I saw it going (and ultimately where it did go).

Google Trend map comparing Podcast vs SXSW.

RSS plotted against SXSW is even more lopsided. :-)

Marc created Director and many other miracles. If it weren’t for Director, you wouldn’t be using Flash. Marc also gave me a lot of the ideas that made it into Manila, which was, in 1999, one of the first blogging tools, widely copied, not respected by the SXSW crowd, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean it’s not respected. A couple of weeks ago, for example, Peter Rojas of Engadget told me his first blog was a Manila site. And Marc’s vision for the People Aggregator is a good one, and different, and well worth listening to.

Marc doesn’t take himself too seriously, I think that’s why a lot of people don’t take his ideas seriously, but that’s a mistake. It really hurts me personally to see such disrespect for a man who has given so much, and wants to give so much more. You all ought to send emails to Hugh Forrest saying if they don’t show respect for Marc, then we won’t show respect for SXSW. This is one place where you all can make a difference, so how about it.

Crisis averted? 

It’s nice to see the Bush Administration starting to obey the law in foreign surveillance. Recall, when they said they weren’t going to get the warrants required by FISA, it caused an outraged and scared response among advocates of the Constitution, myself included.

Well, the good news is that they say they’re going to start obeying the law. The Attorney General says that times have changed, they’re not as worried now as they were after 9-11, but we suspect the real reason is that there’s now a Democratic Congress, that might ask some questions that the old Republican one didn’t, ones the Bush guys don’t want to have raised, or if they are raised, now they have an answer: “That was a time of emergency.”

But why should a new Congress make a difference? After all, if they were willing to break one law, why not break them all? Which raised the really ugly question, which as far as I’m concerned, is still out there — will Bush actually leave office at the end of 2008? Now it seems more likely he will. If so, what a relief it will be when that happens. Hope we make it.

22 responses to this post.

  1. Jeremy is right, but short-sighted. Does a sine wave go up or go down? Does the tide come in or go out?

    We’re going to see oscillations here in the way people look at iPhone. The first blast from the Reality Distortion Field was bound to dissipate and invoke a backlash.

    Trust the first impressions more than the carping. Read Bruce Tognazzini, Andy Ihnatko, Chris Pirillo, Om Malik.

    The iPhone represents a watershed in user-interface paradigms. Expect a range of successful products — and they won’t all be phones — to follow using the iPhone multi-touch paradigm.

    BTW: The moaning about it’s being a closed-system reminds me of Seinfeld’s joke about the difference between the way men and women treat the remote while watching TV: Women care about what’s on TV. Men care about about what else,/> is on TV. There will be enough folks thrilled with what the iPhone can do to keep the shareholders happy. As for those who care about what else it can do… they’ll have a shot. It won’t stay closed forever.

    Reply

  2. enhancement request: (gosh i wish you had a preview feature so I could catch my ill-made tags)

    Reply

  3. You’ve mentioned before that you think Bush might not leave office when he’s supposed to. Care to say how you think that might come about? I wouldn’t put anything past him, or doubt that he’d be up for trying most any outrage. Just wondering what scenario you have in your head.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Steve on January 20, 2007 at 7:59 am

    If Busch leaves Office in 2008, does it really matter, what is really needed Dave is a law that states that any one who runs or is active in the govement must fully diclose his or hers financial dealings with any company or foreign state to the public on national TV, not going to happen.

    I think that three quarters of the senate and congress would resign than reveal who has influenced their voting.

    P.J. O’Rourke released a wonderfull book many years ago titled Parlement of whores, never have truer words been spoken.

    Reply

  5. Michael, that’s doubly insulting and sexist all in one shot. Moaning? That’s the kind of technique Rush Limbaugh likes. How about this, I don’t want iPhone or iPod to be open. Let Apple go on its own path only using ideas they invented. And please remove the RSS stuff from iTunes while you’re at it. And from Safari.

    If the Internet had been designed according to Michael Markman’s developer guidelines — there would be no Internet, we’d still be waiting for Apple to figure out how to do backlinking.

    I expect so much more from you.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Steve on January 20, 2007 at 8:11 am

    January 20, 2007 at 7:43 am

    “You’ve mentioned before that you think Bush might not leave office when he’s supposed to. Care to say how you think that might come about? I wouldn’t put anything past him, or doubt that he’d be up for trying most any outrage. Just wondering what scenario you have in your head.”
    Amylou.

    My guess is that Busch and company are planning to eventually declare a national emergency and declare marshall law, which then would allow the current administration to stay in office Indefinitely .

    The scary part is, what would have to happen for this to be feasible.

    Reply

  7. Dave, re: GPS, my in-car system (a year old, Honda Accord hybrid) knows where gas stations, restaurants and stores are, including name. I can ask it (verbally) to find a class of businesses (“Find nearest gas station”), and it will. So that part is already working.

    A deal to route drivers by a particular business is pretty easy.

    What’s more interesting — if that’s the right word — is figuring out how to tie knowledge about you, specifically, to routes. You had just posted a few paragraphs about your soda preferences. Likely that 7-11 store (yeah, I know the one!) would pay a premium to have you drive by if they carried that variety. And, of course, they’d pay even more for an in-car announcement that there was some to be had, just as you drove by.

    When it’s that precisely targeted, maybe it’s not advertising anymore — maybe it’s information.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Jake on January 20, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    The paid search model applied to GPS nav systems and route finding.

    May not be too hard to find out who you are – say the factory installed model knows the VIN, the portable model has probably been plugged into your computer, many pair with your cellphone, or simply look at the address of where you park/set up as “home”

    Yeah, I think the Nav system probably knows who you are…

    Reply

  9. Posted by Jake on January 20, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Marshall law? Presidential coup? Come on, be real.

    The President is not going to reach down to every county and halt the election in 2008. Besides all of the offices other than president, the parties will have spent $1B in running campaigns at that point. There will be an election and a change in power.

    What other presidents have stayed on beyond their term in office?

    Reply

  10. Posted by Jake on January 20, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Who will be surprised when Steve Jobs has the last laugh on the iPhone?

    These doubting pundits opinions are worth exactly what you pay for them.

    Reply

  11. Re: mark Cuban’s comment – you’re darn right I can. And I have! ;) Text/Images/Audio and Video. Why just build a YouTube clone, when it’s just as easy to build a WordPress/Flickr/Odeo/YouTube site all in one!! ;) – All optimised for mobile publishing to boot!

    howzat?!

    Reply

  12. The coolest thing about it, is it’s like an inverted funnel – single point of distribution – upload and publish once, then automatically crosspost to your own blog (it is supports XMLRPC or email sending) – also sends your images TO your flickr account and your videos TO your YouTube account. Full of RSS feeds and OPML directories.

    but I doubt you’re interested, are ye? ;)

    Citizen journalists and media organisations who want to jump into OUR socical media networks – take note ;)

    full announcement and beta accounts coming….

    Reply

  13. To illustrate ‘Fishing via RSS': http://readerss.com/ ;)

    Reply

  14. RE Crisis Averted: I think folks are jumping the gun on feeling saved. This is one wiggly group of authoritarian legalistas working in the admin. My sniff is that they bamboozled one FISA judge into setting up a blanket boilerplate that covers via big chunks the huge numbers of calls and emails that their data mining is sampling. E.g., no warrant required for each individual tap. Anyone who watched the sad fascist who’s our current AG testifying before the Senate committee this last week might want to comment on any diminution of hubris they observed; I failed to see it.

    — stan

    Reply

  15. Posted by Jeffrey Jones on January 20, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke?

    Dave, you’ve gotta stop drinking this stuff!

    Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzoate (to protect taste), potassium citrate, acesulfame ptoassium, caffeine.

    IMHO This is pretty much poison to the human body. It will make your system acidic. Who knows whether the high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn. Have some filtered water! I want you to live as long as possible.

    Reply

  16. Posted by John Rotheray on January 20, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    GPS proximity info:

    I thought about this idea a couple months ago and revisited the thought again twice today!

    First, when I went to four different stores where I expected to find “hot glue gun replacement sticks”, but didn’t and second, when you mentioned your hard to find “Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke”.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just ask our GPS where the closest “X” product was and it would tell us?

    Reply

  17. RE dangers of diet coke-like products:

    I offer my body to science. Have imbibed approx. 2 liters/day of this stuff for yikes 40 years. Health great. Methinks each human should eat/drink what feels good to them, and let others do the same.

    — stan

    Reply

  18. How true about RSS stress, though you get used to it fairly quickly. I wish google reader would get rid of the stressful ‘unread’ number at the end of every feed.

    Reply

  19. Posted by billg on January 21, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Here’s what I’d like in an RSS reader:

    I’d like to have a big button to click on that would alternate between displaying stories based on source and stories based on topic. The source of a news item is at least as important to me as the content. You can’t read news out of context, and the source provides much of that context.

    I’d like the option of looking at stories from one source, or a group of sources I’ve defined based on topic.

    I’d like to be able to say “Always display stories from these sources first, in this order”. Ditto for topics.

    I don’t want to teach the reader the semantics of all this, or search by keyword, or whatever. But, I do want to be able to say “This story is about this topic. Associate future stories like it with that topic.

    That’s off the top of my head.

    Reply

  20. Ackkkkkk …. I like the GPS idea (really like it) but for goodness’ sake … Did they end up having Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke?? ;->

    Reply

  21. on RSS:
    Ok, I think you’re right blaming the number of unread items as a useless piece of data. As an aggregator developer, I may consider giving it up.
    Anyway, a bit of it is not totally useless for everyone: do you feel the same for the simple highlighting of a source label when there is new content? This may still be useful in order to be awared of changes in unfrequently updated feed sources.

    @billg
    A feed reader commonly maps sources, not topics. This is especially true (and hardly reversible) when it manages just the newest content (what’s inside the current RSS feed). There is a lot of good social software here around currently doing (well) that job.
    A topic-based filter on sources is another story, easier to implement.
    Anyway, good suggestions.

    Reply

  22. Posted by Tony on January 27, 2007 at 5:37 am

    Dave,
    Your post on Rss Feed Control was timely as our Nintendo Wii started pulsing as if it had its own agenda. Then Bam! the News Channel was live on the Wii but alas not a river of news. A world of content where I could fly around the globe and choose my news, or slideshow the current top articles and the globe would zoom to the article.

    Think Different – Yes Nintendo you aspire to this principle or Opera :)

    Love your work Dave

    Reply

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