Scripting News for 8/15/07

Reading lists for Twitter? 

I’d like to be able to subscribe to bundles of users.

Use-case #1. Suppose I’m going to a conference, like Gnomedex last week. For the duration of the conference I’d like to be subscribed to every person at the conference. This would form the complete back-channel. I would hear what everyone was saying during the conference. But maybe that would be too much when I got home, if so, I could just wholesale unsub from the lot.

Use-case #2. Say I’d like to see what it’s like to be someone famous for a day or two. So I would say “Subscribe me to all of Steve Jobs’s friends.” Then I’d see what Larry Ellison, Al Gore and Bill Campbell were doing. Then when I wanted to see the world through someone else’s eyes, I’d unsub from Steve’s friends and sub to all their friends.

Use-case #3. Think of “mutual funds” of people, reading lists managed by experts. So I could subscribe to a list of Macintosh experts as we’re approaching an Apple product announcement. Or people in Peru after the earthquake there. Or a U.S. news list that would automatically recalc according to the judgement of an expert when the news shifted from topic to topic. As we approach the New Hampshire primary, news of that state would be heavily represented. After that’s over, we’d move to news of South Carolina.

Obviously this feature would work for any news-oriented social network. Originally I proposed it for RSS, they were called “reading lists,” but I couldn’t get the community of reader developers to implement the feature. I did implement reading lists for the NewsRiver aggregator that’s built into the OPML Editor. Maybe the time is right, in the developing social networks, which are very much like the world of RSS.

I’d like to experiment with this. I wonder if it’s possible to add it using the Twitter API. I’ll have to think about it.

Any thoughts are welcome. Post a comment here.

Finding your own statuses in Facebook 

Bizzle found a Facebook “feed of my own status updates.”

Here’s my own feed, and a screen shot of where it’s located. As you can see I haven’t been using Facebook very much. πŸ™‚

What becomes possible with this? Well, you could write a bridge app that allows you to use Facebook to enter status messages to Twitter, for example. This is the opposite direction from the one Fred Wilson wants.

Jeff Sandquist: How to publish your Facebook status to Twitter.

Atom is not better and users don’t care 

I found myself writing an email to friends at Google about Google’s religion about Atom (these guys came to Google from different companies, relatively recently). At the end I realized that I had written a blog post, so here it is.

Everything would be okay if they didn’t push it so hard.

Remember that users don’t care.

Edit all docs and specs accordingly. Everywhere it says “Atom is better” remember “Users don’t care.”

Facebook is doing the same thing, and I’m pulling back from endorsing them until they take the religion out of their docs. I won’t help propogate the myth that one format is better than the other. Users don’t care.

If you must answer the question “What’s the difference between RSS and Atom?” just say they’re different flavors of the same thing. Even better would be to find a way to avoid raising the question at all. Test your reader against all formats with significant installed bases, and do what you can to keep the number of formats to a minimum. That’s not only my advice, it’s also Jon Postel’s. πŸ™‚

Further: If people want to debate the merits of one flavor over another, fine, but the discussion should be banished from all places that are visible to users (users don’t care). I like chocolate, and someone else likes pistachio or butter pecan. But all are cold and sweet and desserts. The argument should stop when it gets to the qualities of the people who like one flavor over another. “People who like cheddar cheese are inherently better than people who like gouda.” Now that’s obviously silly. But when you look at some of the discsussions, esp things people say about me, that’s what it comes down to. Dave is a bad person because his feed is RSS 2.0. That’s when people tune out any discussions of progress as “syndication wars.” That’s how we get stuck.

Postel’s Law 

The Robustness Principle, also known as Postel’s Law, appears in the spec for Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), edited by Jon Postel in 1981.

There’s a Wikipedia page on Postel’s Law.

Restarting the draft 

Two events happened in Washington politics in the last couple of days that puzzled me: 1. Karl Rove, on his way out at the White House, said Hillary Clinton is a “a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate;” and 2. Douglas Lute, our “war czar,” said the option of restarting the draft was “on the table.”

I figured out why the czar said what he said — it’s the military, sending a message to the President, in clear terms. We can’t keep running the way we’re running, and if you won’t do something about the shortfall of soldiers for the war in Iraq (really an occupation, of course) we’ll take the issue to the people, in a way you’ll feel. No doubt, even talk of a return to the draft changes things. I think it’s a good idea to talk about it, and quite possibly a good idea to reinstate it. That would get us out of this mode of life-as-usual. We are losing in Iraq, pointlessly, and eventually we’re going to have to leave. Yes, cut and run is looking like the right way to go, esp when the cut part could be explained as “cut our losses.”

Why Rove said what he said, though, is a total puzzle. I am uninspired by Clinton as a candidate, I think a vote for her is a vote for another four or eight years of not dealing with our problems, and she’s the most Republican of the Democrats running. But Rove is no idiot, not about things like this, so he must figure that it would serve the Republicans if Hillary was the candidate, because that kind of hype really helps her. I found myself, inside, rallying behind Clinton because I so despise Rove. No kidding. So there must be some reason Rove thinks she’d be easier to beat than Edwards or Obama. Or maybe he’s figured we all understand how his (twisted) mind works, and he’s telling us this so we won’t rally behind Clinton because secretly he knows she’s the strongest Dem, and would much rather run against… Oh fuck it, this is pointless. πŸ™‚

Facebook’s first steps 

While I applaud their first steps at exposing previously trapped data, they still have a long way to go. Fred Wilson, a user of and investor in Twitter, says he’ll feel Facebook is open when he can use Twitter to update his Facebook status. It may require an agent to bridge the two systems, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that they’ll support identical APIs (though it’s not too late for that), and at this time Facebook doesn’t provide enough in the way of APIs to do this (please correct if wrong) while Twitter does.

There would be hope for a lot more compatibility if engineers weren’t such jealous folk, and weren’t so inclined to reinvent what already has been invented. The guys at Twitter do it, as do the guys at Facebook. It’s seems to happen where ever there is expertise, a tendency to lock up power in the hands of the experts and not share it with competitors and smart users. I saw this happen in the medical industry, recently, where a friend who is not a doctor had an absolutely brilliant idea that would save lives, but he couldn’t sell it to the medical profession. Why? It would create more work for them. These are the people we trust with our lives. And having been in the software business for over 30 years, I’m sad to report, we’re no better.

So maybe Facebook is filled with visionaries who want to build on the work of others, but I’m pretty sure there are also people there who would be happy to hold things back so they don’t have to work so hard. But don’t worry, they have them at Google, and Yahoo, and Microsoft and Apple too. It’s just the way things are done in the tech world. Ths isn’t going to make me a lot of friends (something my friend Fred Wilson says he blogs for) but that’s not why I blog. πŸ™‚

44 responses to this post.

  1. Oh my. Back to kindergarten we go. If you say so, we should also remember that companies with a choice of two formats usually tend to pick one and stick with it. I’m sorry your feelings got hurt when so many people started complaining about lack of “spec” in RSS “spec”, but I’m going to venture a crazy guess that companies who chose to use/recommend Atom did it for a reason. Let’s play Jeopardy as to what that might be.


  2. Boris, okay, if that’s your real name, I’m out of kindergarten. Suggest you do the same.

    BTW, that’s the “budget” for powerless immature posts for today. The rest will be deleted, summarily. Use your own blog or someone else’s to be childish. πŸ™‚


  3. Posted by CTown on August 15, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Just a quick note about your confusion about Roves comments. There is one compelling reason why Rove would love to see the Dems put up Hilary. *Nothing* would motivate the base of the republican party like having Hilary up there to hate. Plus with all of Bill’s baggage she would be easy to use the old tactics on. I too don’t think much of her, for the reasons you state, and because I am tired of ‘royal’ family dynasties. I honestly think if Hilary gets the nod, the dems will certainly lose.


  4. Ahhh, CTown, that makes sense.

    Republicans hate Hillary, and would likely overlook Bush’s failures and vote for whoever the Republicans nominate. Probably Rudy and Mitt, both of whom have proven they can win in Hillary’s likely strongholds.

    It’s going to be a weird election, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans win again. Oy.


  5. I don’t see many Atom based podcasts out there – so, imho, RSS is better. πŸ™‚


  6. Kosso, my point is that this discussion should be banished from all places that are visible to users. If people want to debate the merits of one flavor over another, fine. I like chocolate, and someone else likes pistachio or butter pecan. But both are cold and sweet and desserts. The argument should stop when it gets to the qualities of the people who like one flavor over another. “People who like cheddar cheese are inherently better than people who like gouda.” Now that’s obviously silly. But when you look at some of the discsussions, esp things people say about me, that’s what it comes down to. Dave is a bad person because his feed is RSS 2.0. That’s when people tune out any discussions of progress as “syndication wars.” That’s how we got stuck.


  7. Well put CTown.

    As a developer I have found RSS easier to parse, whereas you have to do some song-and-dance to get at some of the Atom. (My experience dev heads… if you’re more L337 than I on handling one or the other that’s beside the point.)

    I totally agree with Dave though, users don’t care and they really shouldn’t be forced to make choices like this. The web has become a powerful medium exactly because all browsers can access the same content. User’s don’t really care if it’s PHP, ColdFusion, ASP or hard-coded HTML that produced the page.


  8. Posted by Raters of the Lost Ark on August 15, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Sorry, this is regarding a few days old post,
    in which you talked about your hallway diuscussion with
    Kevin McEntee of Netflix. Could you elaborate on what
    his response/reaction was to your suggestion of
    opening up the ratings? Thank you.


  9. “be conservative in what you send” is easier if there’s a well agreed to spec.

    “be liberal in what you receive” suggests that you implement both RSS and ATOM in clients (hell, implement everything you possibly can)


  10. Posted by Jake on August 15, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Where are users being forced to make a choice? I have no idea if the “feed” I subscribe is rss, atom, or something else. I have no idea if my blogging system produces either or both. If, in fact, ATOM and RSS are functionally equivalent, then it really shouldn’t matter if Google uses ATOM.

    I Google’d “Atom is better” and no obvious stream of Google documents showed up, so I’m not sure what documents I would be editing to say “Users don’t care”


  11. Posted by Jake on August 15, 2007 at 10:26 am

    A few months back, there was a push for Fred Thompson to join the Republican race. It seemed like this was intended to put up a candidate with enough flaws that the Democrats could beat.

    It will be an interesting race if a moderate Republican wins the nomination. I could see the desire and need to rally the base to come out and vote against somebody rather than vote for somebody. Which, lately, seems like how elections are running.


  12. Rove is correct Re: Hilary being fatally flawed. Out here in regular America most independents plus all republicans hate her with a passion. That’s just plain unfixable.

    The GOPpers are going to nominate Romney. A smarter taller better-looking Bush. The Demos best chance is an Obama-Webb ticket. Risky, mebbe, but their best chance. Webb’d blow the GOP attack machine out of the water, while Obama could unleash his full RFK-ness.

    — stan


  13. Oh, yeah, BTW: the most electable GOP ticket would be McCain/Hagel combo. But that’s not a protein the GOPper DNA can produce.

    — stan


  14. If the Republicans DO win again, per Dave’s fear stated above, we’ll get a Supreme Court that will okay the Bush admin’s berzerker attacks on the Constitution. That’s my major cattle prod for all thought RE 2008.


  15. Whats the difference between Democrats and Republicans now? they’re all for a world war and against the constitution. Its hard to think of a major issue where they differ substantively (in action, not rhetoric).

    They look like good cop / bad cop if you ask me.


  16. Chad, I still think there are some differences that are worth something, but your point is well-taken.

    Stan, I like Jim Webb a lot. I’d vote for him for President, I’d even work for him. He gave an awesome rebuttal to the State of the Union this year, and I loved the way he debated with Lindsay Graham, who was using the typical Republic bullshit about the war, implying that the soldiers support the President, but doing it in a very devious way (without actually saying anything). Webb nailed him, but good. I think he’d make a much better President than any of the current Democratic candidates, but he’s been in the Senate even less time than Obama. Too bad, we need someone like him, imho.


  17. smack down time….

    cool i can play that too…

    i think you’re all retards…

    how original huh.


  18. “What becomes possible with this? Well, you could write a bridge app that allows you to use Facebook to enter status messages to Twitter, for example.”

    Something like ?


  19. I hear ya!! Each to their own. It’s weird that people kill eachother over their religious beliefs. Tiz a kerayzee world we live in for sure. πŸ˜‰

    Live and let live!! Feed and let Feed! πŸ™‚


  20. Richard,

    That’s right. Mario’s Twitterfeed is great! It apparently delivered over one millions tweets on behalf of RSS feeds today see

    Pretty amazing!

    I have a similar system for RSS to Twitter – but without a web site ui to set stuff up. I do the Make:, Hack:, Craft:, zine feeds. Oh, and engadget πŸ˜‰ (unofficially)

    If the Facebook API can go the the other way ie: Twitter -> FB Status, I think that would be better – I dont want to log in to Facebook every time I want to ‘tweet’ my status to it.

    (Not much of a facebook user here, only signed up to check out the developer stuff – but have since connected with MANY old school friends)


  21. Right. If it takes a programmer to tell the difference between A and B, then, very definitely, I don’t care.

    As a firmly ensconced user, and as someone who had spent many professional hours working with developers and dabbled in it a bit myself, all I want to be able to do is subscribe to things called “feeds” that show up in a piece of software called a “feed reader”. Having decisions foisted on me when there will be no perceivable impact of my choice is a complete waste of my time. I don’t care how many lines of code are behind it and I don’t care if someone thinks their algorithim is prettier than someone else’s.


  22. Getting your events from FaceBook!

    I found that the ‘Export Events’ link (top of the events page) exposes a url to your calendar – I have subscribed to this using Apple’s iCal and Google’s Calendar and found that updating a FaceBook event does reflect in the subscribed calendars.

    It is one way (read only) at the moment, but great to see another chunk of data exposed from the silo.


  23. I’m sorry – Senator Clinton gets a lot of undeserved criticism and It’s getting a little old. Clinton started campaigning for Senator in New York with about the same negative rating she has nationwide right now (near 50%). She fought through it, ran a good, smart campaign and enjoys job approval ratings of almost 75% (SurveyUSA)

    I really don’t think there’s any reason she won’t overcome her negatives nationwide just like she did in New York. She has run a good, smart campaign so far for President. She’s obviously (at least in my opinion) passionate about Health Care which is one of the most important issues to me.

    She’s a little to close to corporate interests and entrenched lobbyists for my taste and she probably won’t back the kind of radical health care reforms that I think this country needs. On the other hand she has many allies among those corporate interests and entrenched lobbyists and if anyone can craft a bargain that has a chance of succeeding and offering some modest improvements for health care in the country, it’s probably her.

    Personally, I back Edwards. His values are the closest to mine and I’ll vote for him in the IL primary (even though I’m sure IL will be mostly with Obama.) If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, however, I’d vote for her with no remorse at all. I sure wouldn’t be spreading these stupid “She can’t get elected” and “She’s so divisive” stories which do more harm than good.

    Do Democrats and Progressives a favor: stop talking about this crap. Argue the issues at hand and the strengths of your candidates. We don’t need to be tearing down the very people may vary well be on the national ticket come November 2008. There are plenty of right-wing nutjobs who can write all about how much Hillary Clinton sucks. It makes no sense to do their jobs for them.

    Just my $0.02.



  24. Let me follow up on another point. Specifically Chad’s assertion that there is no difference between the two major parties today.

    There are still some majoy policy differences between the two parties. Can you honestly tell yourself that the world today would be the same if Al Gore won the 2000 election instead of GW Bush?

    And Dave, I would for Webb in a New York Minute. I think he’d make a great VP for Clinton, Edwards or Obama – and a great President as well.


  25. Posted by hank on August 15, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    But Adam – can you say Al Gore wouldn’t have become who George Bush became if he’d won? Everyone thought they were the same in 2000 – and now that seems absurd.

    You elect a character, then you get a person in office.


  26. Posted by Hari Krishnan on August 15, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    U wrote the below. It’s funny u should tell Google what to do…

    Dear Ted

    Your geeks are taking both of us for a ride.

    I was subscribing to your feed, generally reading all your updates, and now I see the feed moved.

    I was going to post a note saying that it would be better if you redirected to the new feed, but then I saw that your new feed isn’t RSS, to which I ask – why??

    Do you want to lose subscribers?

    Because that’s what happened. I can’t read your feed anymore Ted. I’ll survive, but I will miss your posts.


  27. Dave: I think someone already figured out how to do something close to this: When I participated in Railsconf (about two months ago) they had a twitter account and if you started following it, the account automatically started following you. That way you could go to the URL and see everyone’s twitter by using the conference’s twitter “with friends” URL:

    It’s not exactly what you describe – you won’t get notifications from everyone via SMS or IM, but you can go to the page and see everything (which I actually think is better, since you don’t get bombarded).

    They may have written a small app that uses the API to follow people when they follow them.


  28. If Clinton gets the nomination, Bloomberg will run as an independent. And I think he may even have a chance to win, amazingly so.


  29. What would stop you from building an webapp that you could make a group on, say Gnomedex Attendees, where people join and place in their twitter rss feed address, it aggregates them into an RSS feed and then push it back out via Twitterfeed (as you referenced earlier)?

    Sounds like a plausible solution to me.


  30. I’m speculating here, but I think the reason Reading Lists didn’t catch is because feed readers are assumed to be private – like email – not public like a weblog. Default to public, and Reading Lists are a ‘duh’.


  31. Re. RSS feeds coming out of Facebook.

    Dave, I’ve looked in the same place on my Facebook profile as you showed in your screenshot and I’ve got no RSS feed showing up.

    I’d hazard a guess that this is a feature Facebook are slowly rolling out. I’m sure the fact that you are a US user and I’m a UK user is significant – Facebook is still *very* US-centric, at least in its choice of language.

    How ironic that you should be one of the “chosen ones”. Although, if you are going to test an RSS feature who better to test it on! πŸ™‚


  32. Posted by James on August 16, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Jaiku channels.


  33. Posted by James on August 16, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Simon, I am in the UK and see the My Status RSS feed. In fact, all of the recently discussed RSS feeds (except notifications) have been available for a long time. Funny to see the discussion about Facebook ‘just’ opening up.


  34. If I can pose two off topic questions:
    1. How do you aggregate your different posts to one post (like I get to read three different posts in reader where I have subscribed to’s feed, as against one post here) Is it manually done ?
    2. The tiny pictures you put are most often than not, not related to the topic you write on..whats the catch ?


  35. Hi Dave. Good and interesting ideas of use cases for Twitter.

    At Gnomedex I hacked together an idea I had for creating a TwitterGroup for your use case #1.

    I started posting how I did it here, but as it got a bit lengthy I decided to post it to my blog, so more people could learn. )

    So, here’s how I did it:

    Love to hear/discuss ideas for the other use cases with you at some point.

    Hacking and building ‘stuff’ on Twitter is FUN! πŸ™‚


  36. Use case #3 solution:

    Subscribe to :



  37. Sorry, I meant Use case #2 in the above comment.

    Though, the group TwitterBot could solve Use Case #3 using a similar approach to #1


  38. Dave, please, please, check out It’s the answer to many of the questions you’ve been asking. There are two tricks. If there’s an RSS feed that’s just about you, feed it into your own account. If the RSS is about your friends on the other service, feed it into a dummy Twitter account that you follow.

    There’s something interesting going on here. Twitter’s rich API and feeds are making it the agregator to collect all status like systems into one place. So I can read the updates in one place from my Facebook friends’, Jaiku friends, Pownce friends, Plazes friends, Ecademy friends’ etc etc. But very few of the other systems have an external API to allow their status to be updated by an external program. So what’s happening is that my usage is migrating to Twitter and I just plain don’t bother to update the others any more. So an External API that allows you to go away, results in you coming back more often.


  39. Posted by Ed on August 16, 2007 at 2:28 am

    Dave does your iPhone bill look like [url=]this one[url] πŸ™‚


  40. Great conversation.

    The whole concept of reading lists in my opinon hasn’t caught on because the terminology is ambiguous. I’m finding myself explaining it over and over again, and eventually people do grasp the idea, but it takes a lot of one-on-one evangelizing. “Dynamic blog rolling” would have probably appealed to people more.

    That said, if you do some digging, reading lists are really available for all kinds of topics. The ones I created so far: RSS Bloggers, RSS Tool Vendors, Twitter, Plaxo, Todd And’s Marketing Power 150, Yahoo! Pipes and Grazr. Most of these are still current. I’ve got a couple of other more advanced ones in the works to be released in the next few weeks. Typically these apps allow you to browse, search, subscribe and monitor other people’s feed lists. Don’t mean to advertise here, so left out links.

    Check the Grazr website for other people’s reading lists. There are some gems there that are easily overlooked.

    Lots of other, geek and non-geek topic experts have made their reading lists publicly available through the BlogBridge website. I highly recommend people to check these out. In general the people behind BlogBridge and Grazr are of the very rare breed understanding the concept of reading lists.

    On conference registration forms, organizers could prompt participants for their lifestream feed URLs, irrespective of their preferred feed-splicing service. A simple PHP script could then turn these into a conference-wide reading list. Maybe there are even simpler mechanisms that retrieve your feed through your OpenId account or something.

    People like Kosso, Tom Morris, Mark Woodman and Tony Hirst blow me away with their RSS/OPML hacks. A couple of these guys should get their brains together and see what’s already possible. I’m all ears.


  41. I like the idea of Twitter reading lists. There are only so many people with whom I want a constant Twitter mind-meld. But the ability to easily (and temporarily) batch-subscribe would be hugely helpful.

    I still maintain, though, that Twitter needs more-granular settings. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the tipping point will be when there’s “…a Twitter setting that let you adjust notification levels on a feed-by-feed basis. Then few friends’ updates go to your phone, most other twitters go only to your GoogleTalk or AIM account, and a few are essentially on hold — but still there as part of your account, ready to be re-activated the moment you need them…”


  42. Hi Dave,

    We kind of cobbled something together using Grazr that’s roughly in the same vein as what you’re talking about. We call it the Grazr Twitter reader. The idea is to use the hierarchical nature of OPML to allow you to drill down into any one of your friends and see both their timeline (what they would see) as well as recursively drill down into their friends. We really love the twittergram idea too, so we added people’s twittergram feeds as well (if they have one).

    One way I’ve used it is to explore my twitter friends to find new people to follow as well as see where I overlap with others. I also use it if I see a twitter conversation fragment, I’ll look at that user’s friend stream to get the context.

    Here’s the reader with your username at the root.

    It uses the twitter API, some GrazrScript, and a custom Grazr theme to make it look very “twitter-like”.

    Not quite twitter reading lists but I think it’s kind of fun.


  43. Dave: have you tried my google reader app for facebook? Im trying to do something similar to this with google reader shared items using facebook groups and networks


  44. This was being discussed on Satisfaction (

    It’s being described as groups/conference feature there. I personally think that using the “conference” tag is a little limiting. What essentially people are looking for is a way to be temporarily subscribed to an “event” be it a conference or a breaking news story.

    The current limitation with Twitter is that someone has to manually create a new twitter account and people have to specifically follow that user and all the associated work that goes on behind the scene to create the back channel.

    Having thought about it a little more, I think it would make sense if Twitter was able to introduce a different class of users that would represent different events. For such users, it should be easy to create straight from Twitter.

    Imagine the following pseudo flow.

    * twitter to eventbot: c event mn_bridge to create event
    * eventbot to you: event mn_bridge created
    * follow mn_bridge for news updates about mn_bridge collapse
    * anyone can d or @ mn_bridge at this point to send updates
    * stop following mn_bridge if you no longer want to follow this event


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