Scripting News for 1/23/2007

NY Times: “Mr. Schwab views the spread of Web logs as more evidence of the changing power equation. He said he might have to rethink guidelines for reporting events, which put many of the sessions off the record.” 

I watched tonight’s State of the Union: tepid, weak, more of the same. The Democratic response was powerful, resolute, inspiring, a tour de force.  

Passionate and lucid essay by Briar Dudley on why it’s so urgent that we define “blog.” Once thought, by some, to be an unimportant academic discussion, the lack of a clear idea of what is and isn’t a blog is standing in the way of meaningful campaign finanance rules.  

Valleywag lists five reasons to fear for the future of Steve Jobs. 

People’s Daily: “U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was deeply involved in the leak of a former CIA agent’s identity in the summer of 2003, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Tuesday.” 

Steve Rubel: “Someone should commission a study on bloggers who choose to syndicate the full text of their posts in RSS feeds vs. those who abstain. Something tells me they’re read more.” 

The new governor of Masschusetts is podcasting. Pioneered at Harvard just a few years ago, podcasting has been growing at an amazing rate.  

Jeff Walsh on invention and discovery 

Jeff Walsh: “Who wants a CEO that gets mired in nuance and grey areas?”

Please read all of what Jeff says, and consider it carefully. It is flattering to me, and like everyone else I like to be appreciated. But his point is right on. Columbus popularized America and deserves credit for its discovery even though Vikings had arrived here, by accident, centuries earlier, and did nothing with the discovery.

To me, I’d like credit for discovery of some cool stuff, invention of software that makes it work and content that makes it compelling, all of which are neccessary but not sufficient, because the new stuff also has to be demystified, and it has to stay easy to understand, so that rather than intimidate, it should invite discovery by everyone else.

I don’t make credit an issue, other people do. When I said I want to celebrate not just ten years of Scripting News, but ten years of blogging, I got a pile of “who does he think he is,” as I knew I would. Well, something started with Scripting News in 1997, whatever you want to call it, I call it blogging. If you think I’m wrong, blog it. :-)

That’s how blogging started by the way. I had a discussion group here, and people would write there how wrong I was about this and that, to which I said — you need to start a blog. I must have said that to hundreds of people. By giving them something to respond to, Scripting News played the role that a shipwreck plays to a coral reef. You can quote me on that.

I learned from the Frontier community that people will always do what I do, even when I did what I always wished other platform vendors would do — telegraph the roadmap, clearly. When I would do that, other people would start to do what I was going to do, and then scream loudly when I did it. That taught me that if I wanted people to do something, I had to do it first. The Pied Piper effect drives adoption and builds communities. It’s not surprising that the generation of bloggers that came after the the first generation said they hated me and were trying to steal my thunder. That’s human nature. But they were doing exactly what I hoped they would. They blogged their discontent, and as a result built something much larger than one person can build, and then they spawned communities that eventually hated them, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I also know that discovery comes in layers, as did the blogging world. There are many levels of early adopters. Today there are people who are discovering new applications of blogging in new contexts. Davos, this year will have more blogging than it had in 2000, when Lance and I were (probably) the only two people blogging there. I can’t claim credit for bringing blogging to Davos though, because my efforts didn’t gain traction and grow. If blogging was meant to happen there, it didn’t happen in 2000. Maybe it’ll happen in 2007.

Still diggin!

More advice for RSS developers 

My last piece about RSS aggregators was well received, so let’s try some more advice.

From time to time I get emails from readers saying the feed for Scripting News doesn’t display well in apps like Netvibes or Google’s customizable home page because some of my items don’t have titles. Some have even said I am wrong to have items without titles, but I don’t agree, and the spec backs me up on that. The item-level title is optional.

The reason titles are optional is that there have always been blogs that had items that don’t have titles and those items had to be expressable in RSS, as did ones with titles. There are some aggregators (such as the ones I wrote) that deal perfectly well with either kind of item, so I know it can be done. Two of the earliest blogs, Scripting News and Robot Wisdom, both had title-less items. I admit they’re not common, but it’s good way to blog, and right now I’m not going to change, especially when the developers who are reading these feeds could easily adapt (and since they all came after RSS had this feature, it seems to me that they must).

Anyway, that’s the historic preamble. Now here are two ways to deal with titleless items.

Choice #1: The simplest way is to ignore items with no titles. Pretend they don’t exist. This is so much better than displaying a blank line, which is what some do.

Choice #2: Synthesize a title. Here’s a way to do that. Take the description text, strip the markup, take the first fifty characters (or whatever works for you) and add an ellipsis (two or three dots). If you really want to be cool, back up to the last space, delete everything after that, and then add the ellipsis.

BTW, there are likely to be some condescending and fairly nasty comments about this, and that sometimes has the effect of reflecting negatively on me. That’s how those people stop me from helping, or at least how they have in the past, and it’s one of the reason blogging doesn’t work so well these days. If you take the way they express their opinons as reflecting only on them, then we can go somewhere. You have a lot more power than you realize. Me, I’m just trying to make things work better. Really. :-)

Why some items don’t have titles 

Scripting News has long posts, like this one, and very short ones, that are basically links to off-site articles that I think an informed person would want to be aware of, but about which I don’t have anything to say. Here’s a screen shot of a few of those from the Jan 10 SN. Those items are just links to articles, but each one should be its own item because they came online at different times in the day. To give each of them titles not only would waste screen space, it would create intellectual clutter, something that I’d like to reduce, not increase. Esp when it’s so easy for software to handle the case.

42 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Dave if a major news outlet makes a factual error you ask them to correct it. You said that it is the tenth anniversery of Scripting News and therefore the tenth anniversery of blogging. A few readers of your site proved that bloggers existed long before you. Yet, you have not corrected the error on your blog.

    Reply

  2. The main Perl lib for RSS would not cope with title-less RSS feeds until a couple of months ago, when some wise soul submitted a bug report (cough ;->):

    http://rt.cpan.org/Public/Bug/Display.html?id=18817

    In the meantime I just had my code assume a default title of “-untitled-” which worked well. Not sure why this is so hard for aggregator developers to do — if a title has been built into one’s software system, and there is no time to fix, just make “-untitled-” the defalt title. It’s less than a line of code — “|| ‘-untitled’”.

    Reply

  3. PS I actually prefer blog items without titles, as a reader. They just get in the way, especially these days when everyone tends to use them as a vehicle for snark, i.e. to show off how smart the author is at the expense of the reader.

    Disclaimer, I am guilty of this myself these days.

    I used to blog without titles, however. Blogger even has an option to hide the Title field in the compose page, so if you don’t believe Dave that it’s OK to omit the title, then maybe you’ll believe Google …

    Reply

  4. I didn’t know that Blogger had that option.

    I think that “Untitled” is super-ugly. I’d rather they choose #1 (omit the item) than display something so ugly (and irrelevant, who cares if its titled or untitled, the user wants info, only the programmer cares if it’s titled).

    Reply

  5. Nick Irelen, I considered that and I don’t agree with your position. I’ve responded respectfully, so that should close this issue, but of course I doubt if it will. :-(

    Reply

  6. If you go to your blogger blog, click “Settings” then “Formatting,” there’s an option “Show title field” with a yes/no popup.

    Reply

  7. Posted by John on January 23, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Nick, this is unfortunately a battle that will go nowhere (although I respect your persistence — your comments do not go unread). You and Dave will continue to talk past each other, since you have different definitions of what constitutes a blog. People like Ann Morgan (where did she blog, btw?) may have been the true proto-bloggers according to a broad definition of blogging (i.e.,a regularly-updated personal website that frequently links elsewhere), but Dave Winer seems to adhere to a definition that includes a fairly strict format criterion (i.e., publishing in reverse-chronological order, using some sort of CMS or another that allows the writer to avoid nasty HTML editing). This ‘strict’ definition is actually hard to define, but refers to the style of website easily identified as a blog today based on the high degree of commonality (blandness) exhibited by 99% of what you’ll find in any typical search on Technorati.

    I’ll concede that Dave may in fact be a father of the blog esthetic that predominates today. His software may also have been the first blogging platform (I’ll take him at his word on that, until someone provides a counter-example). This software most likely would have evolved from someone else around the same time, as the multitudes started coming online — of this I am sure — and I think this is the key to standardizing a format that is so popular today. I think it’s obvious that he was not the first to publish a journal-type website with frequent updates — plenty of pre-1997 examples exist that demonstrate this. I don’t know if these constitute blogs or not. The dividing line — when exactly the primordial blogform crawled out of the websoup of the 1990s — is not entirely clear to me.

    Reply

  8. PS yes I agree untitled is ugly but as a reader I’d rather to be able to read the item with aesthetic flaws that not have it available over RSS, after all I can always unsub the feed if it’s too awful. And some systems get built with the wrong assmption that all items will have a title, so the programmer(s) can’t always fix things right away, it’s good to have a workaround until it can be properly fixed.

    Reply

  9. Dave Winer seems to adhere to a definition that includes a fairly strict format criterion

    That’s not true. I’ve written about this many times, including right here in this thread. I wish people wouldn’t treat comments as a write-only medium.

    Debating when blogging started is pointless.

    For the umpteenth time, TBL’s first website was a blog.

    He was blogging before any of us knew what the WWW was.

    But Scripting News definitely started something, and rather than belabor the point, I said it broadly and generally so we have something inclusive to party about.

    I don’t want to have a debate, I want to have a celebration.

    So y’all quit being such goddam party poopers!! :-)

    PS: I could have done it a wholly different way, like other people do, and make it invite only and only invite my “friends” and then where would you guys be complaining. I want everyone to have a party, not just me. I’m only going to be at one of the places. There will be parties all over the world if I have my way.

    Reply

  10. We’ve chosen a third way to display untitled items in Excite MIX: giving them a title “item 1″ and so on. More accessible than the “#1″ solution.

    Reply

  11. I like to use the pubDate in lieu of a title for items without a title. At least it’s informative of something. Of course, pubDate is not a required element either, so I still need a backup…

    Then again, what works depends on the display mode, too. In the Google homepage example pointed to above, Dave’s suggestion is certainly ideal as it gives the best clue to the reader about whether they want to click on the link. A list of “untitled” or “item {n}” or timestamps doesn’t really do the trick.

    However, if the display includes the item description beneath a heading where the title usually is, then I like my timestamps best. :razz: An excerpt of the description followed by the entire description annoys me in that kind of presentation.

    Reply

  12. Ah, the untitled blog entry issue. I love the looks of utter bewilderment that appears when I mention to people that I write blog posts that often don’t have titles.

    Yeah, they don’t have titles. It’s not required in the specification. There’s no cosmic blogging contract I signed which said that titles are required.

    And it’s unnecessary. These are blog posts, not feature-length articles for the bloody Times Literary Supplement.

    Most blogging software tells me I need a title for everything. I beg to differ.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Rex Hammock on January 23, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    re: Dave Winer as Christopher Columbus…

    I’ve thought that myself before.

    Reply

  14. I don’t mind the untitled blog entries. What does annoy me minutely is the ordering of items in the Scripting News feed, which appears not to be strictly by time. This regularly confuses NetVibes into thinking all of today’s items are new again.

    As I said, it only annoys me minutely but it does annoy me. :D

    Reply

  15. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    John, I don’t have a different deffinition of what constitutes a blog. I have a problem with someone abusing the respect that is given to employees of a major university like Harvard to imply they created something that they merely just used. I would like Dave to admit that he did not create or play any part in the creation of RSS, blogging, outliners, or podcasting.

    Dave I have listed your wikipedia entry as an article proposed for deletion. You got an audience by implying that you either created or played an important role in the development of the technologies I listed. However, many people can show that you did not.

    For example, today you implied that podcasting has some connection to Harvard when it clearly does not. You have been trying to tie yourself to that technology since Adam Curry invented it.

    Reply

  16. I really really hope Google Reader changes what they do with untitled posts. Especially on their mobile version, which doesn’t include the descriptions.

    Reply

  17. Paul: That’s because it’s looking at the RSS file which is rendered directly from the OPML source. You can shift entries around in OPML. What the aggregator needs to do is follow the timestamps, not follow the order. The specification (and any schema which are/should be written) says nothing about RSS feeds being ordered. Infer the order from the times and dates rather than from how the file is ordered.

    Reply

  18. Posted by Who Is Nick Irelan? on January 23, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Nick, you are SO close to achieving high comedy. Just imaging the poor schmuck who would “[list Dave's] wikipedia entry as an article proposed for deletion” conjures up this guy in my mind. I see that you’ve been honing your craft all over the web. You’re almost there, buddy!

    Reply

  19. Dave, I hope you are able to ignore the grumpier grumperheads.

    You mentioned starting a mail lsit and wiki. What about making a network for the party in Canter’s People Aggregator that could also hold together related pictures, chats, etc. Might be a good example site to help him give people an idea of what it can do. I’d help. Maybe.

    Reply

  20. I think I’m going to delete that obnoxious post by Nick Irelan.

    Any objections?

    Reply

  21. Amyloo, I’ll send a pointer to your comment to Marc. I’m sure he’d be happy to set you up with a PeopleAggregator, and I’m sure you’d be an incredible asset to his community.

    Reply

  22. Posted by Who The Hell Is Nick Irelan?! on January 23, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I’m torn about deleting his comment. It reflects so poorly on him. I’m hoping that it’s his real name and that a future prospective employer will stumble across that comment and learn his true nature.

    Reply

  23. Posted by Who The Hell Is Nick Irelan?! on January 23, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    But it IS really obnoxious. I couldn’t fault you for deleting it.

    Reply

  24. Having said it is obnoxious is enough. I’ll leave it here. You know it wouldn’t really bother me if they deleted my Wikipedia page. :-)

    Also…

    http://images.scripting.com/archiveScriptingCom/2007/01/23/fyi.gif

    On the off chance that there really is a person named Nick Irelan.

    Reply

  25. While I agree that not *all* rss feed items should have a title – especially in a blog like Scipting News. But I DO think that your Morning Coffee Notes Podcast feed should have. They are more ‘episodic’.

    However, i found the best practice to be :

    - Take the title of the feed itself, then appnd the word ‘Item’ to it when rendering the feed.

    eg: MCN : http://podcast.com/show/672

    Reply

  26. Also, I take the items in the feed and order by time (reverse chronological) first before rendering it. The only problem you’ll see with some of the MCN podcasts, is when people use a Flash player embedded in a webpage to listen to it. The sample rate you have your recorder set at, is incompatible – which makes you sound like Chip ‘n’ Dale ;)

    To avoid this, mp3 recording sample rates need to be divisible by 11.025khz – with 44.1khz being the most common.

    Or, if you still use your Archos PMA400 to record, set it to ‘Medium’ quality in the Audio Recorder. (The most recent episode you did seemed to be fine, btw)

    Reply

  27. ‘Nick Irelan’ should also know that Adam Curry did not invent podcasting. He created the first AppleScript to enable automatic downloading and syncing to iTunes, after talking to Kevin Marks at Bloggercon 2003.

    He and Dave certainly popularised it with their entertaining ‘TradeSecrets’ podcasts. And Dave did add the enclosure element to the RSS 2.0 spec to enable it.

    The first live demo of podcasting/catching was by Kevin Marks.
    Go and see it here: http://epeus.blogspot.com/2005/12/of-bloggercon-and-podcasting.html

    Reply

  28. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Dave if I’m wrong then tell me blogging started.

    Reply

  29. Kosso, we were doing podcasting/catching way before that.

    Nick, no thanks.

    Reply

  30. You mean before TradeSecrets? or bloggercon 03?

    Sorry, I forgot to mention the great work on ‘audioblogging’ by Christopher Lydon and Harold Gilchrist. :)

    I love the fact that the first time you did it on SN was with a Grateful Dead track. We actually started producing an official podcast for them, but unfortunatley the record company (rhino) just doesn’t ‘get it’.

    It was a collection of interviews with the late Dick Latvala, a big fan who was finally given the keys to the GD archives. He eventually produced some GD rarity CDs called ‘Dicks Picks’.

    Visitors to the podcast.com HQ in Second Life can hear the unreleased episode 1 when they enter the building ;)

    Reply

  31. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Kosso, thank you for correcting me. I found one of the links from that man’s website very interesting.

    “Because Dave Winer is campaigning to be thought of as the creator of podcasting, there is a lot of detail about the pre-podcasting period, and the amount of detail obscures the one really crucial fact about that time: virtually nobody had any interest in audio blogging.”http://gonze.com/weblog/story/12-3-5

    Dave, I thank you for telling people to be interested in technology. You have been a good evangelist, but you did not invent anything. Blogs, Syndication, and Podcasting were being adopted before you were involved in any of them.

    Reply

  32. My, my … Al Jazeera and now the People’s Daily.

    Reply

  33. hey!! Dave invented ‘The Church of Murphy’!! ;)

    Oh, and the ‘ScoblePhone’ : A phone with one big button, with an ‘S’ on it, which only calls Scoble ;)

    Reply

  34. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Kosso I checked the Userland site and I can not find the ScoblePhone, but it looks like I don’t need one
    http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/03/07.html#a6898 ;).

    Reply

  35. The incredible ‘ScoblePhone’ with it’s amazing simple one-button-touch UI interface was invented by Dave while recording a podcast we did ages ago. Though the term ‘ScoblePhone’ had been previously coined by many before to describe a phone which Robert had which ran Windows Mobile.

    But hey, Dave’s invention was way cooler. And shinier.

    Did you also know that actually Dave also invented the collapsable folder/branch as seen in outliners, ftp apps and the like?

    We have alot to thank him for. Try to imagine a world without Dave. It certainly wouldn’t be as hairy. And i think we’d probably be spending lot more time in our email inboxes rifling through mailling list subscriptions.

    Reply

  36. Good Dudley post, thanks for the link.

    Reply

  37. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 23, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Kosso did you know that dave didnt invent the outline.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliner

    Reply

  38. I don’t believe I said he did.

    Aaaaaanywayy. What have you done? ;p

    On second thoughts. Dont worry. I’m bored of this thread. There are many places to go. Things to click…. busy.. busy…. things to build… things to be proud of.. petty squabbles to ignore ;) see ya

    Reply

  39. It’s funny, I had to deal with this exact situation of titles / no titles when I was building RSS2.com (see Dave’s feed here: http://rss2.com/feeds/Scripting-News).

    Interestingly, Scripting News is one of the only sites (out of over 690 ones added so far) that regularly doesn’t use titles for posts. That being said, it was important to me to have that feed look good (was one of my testing ones in addition to being a daily reader) and I think it turned out pretty nice — using the date to indicate the beginning of an entry for both titled and non-titled entries, including a “Go to site and view this entry” link to make sure readers have a way to going to the permalink for an entry even if it doesn’t have a title.

    Keep up the good work Dave.

    Reply

  40. I think we are all forgetting that blogging really started because of Quake!
    http://tetlaw.id.au/view/blog/how-blogging-really-started/

    Reply

  41. Dave -

    When blogs started (like when I started mine in 1999) it wasn’t as important to have good titles for posts because the search engines hadn’t gotten set up as quite such a dominant force for pushing traffic around.

    I find that when I have a really well written, descriptive title (that reads like a good Google search phrase) that I get traffic from Google for that query. My “How to jump start a car” post I’m convinced gets more Google-based traffic because of that title vs. if I had called it “Juicing up the battery when it’s flat”.

    That suggests that the importance of good titles varies depending if you’re on the A-list (where you get a lot of referral and direct traffic) vs. if you’re on the B,C, or Z (or in my case the A2) list, where the proportion of search traffic is higher.

    I will say though based on my experience using the OPML Editor to post is that it’s way, way faster not to give every paragraph a pithy title.

    Reply

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