Tinfinger    

Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Really Simple Memeorandum

This is probably what my last post should have been called, since I wasn't talking about Memeorandum's API much at all, but instead about the complexity of ranking algorithms. Robert Scoble read that entry and then compared me to Tim Bray (reproachingly) on his blog, to which I replied in the comments. The Bray reference is made clear in an earlier Scoble post in which he makes fun of Bray asking for base compatibility between Open Document Format and Office 12 XML File Formats. The connection is that Tim and I are both assuming that something is easier to do than is the case in reality.

I'm no expert on what Bray and Scoble are arguing over, but I can see the parallels. In their discussion, Bray is arguing that the competing formats are very easily made compatible because they are both XML schema using the same syntax, so how hard can it be to standardise the most common tag functions?

Microsoft wants there to be an office-document XML format that covers their billions of legacy documents, and they want it to be open. Fair enough; I approve. But why do we have to re-invent all the basic stuff, and have two ways to express “This paragraph is in 12-point Arial with 1.2em leading and ragged-right justification” or “K37 is the average of B37 through H37”?

My argument echoes this one, though in a different context. What I am saying is that some ranking algorithms, like Google's PageRank or the neural networks behind MSN Search, or even Memeorandum's clustering and ranking algorithms (if Scoble's read is true), are very complex and thus are not suited to being hacked at by amateurs. Just like Office proprietary features. However, it is possible to mimic many of the most important basic functions of these labyrinthine equations to produce something that may be looked down upon by the Google math majors of this world, but will nevertheless create something worthwhile to people, because they can understand it and play with it.

Does that remind you of anything? I'm talking about RSS. Really Simple Syndication is not nearly as complex or feature-rich as its antecedents or competitors, but that has proved to be its greatest strength. Thus the title of this blog entry. What I, and many other people, have been wanting is a Memeorandum/Blogniscient/* where I can open up the hood and start tweaking. That can only happen if the algorithms behind the ranking and/or clustering are opened up to user influence in some way, be that via sliders or forms or attention data or whatever. Most importantly, it can only happen if people can understand what is going on when they are tweaking those knobs. It doesn't have to be as bare-faced as shopping versus research, but that's a start.

Whatever else people say about him, Dave Winer created RSS to purposely dumb down syndication to a level where it was usable by non-geeks, and has succeeded in helping to create a whole new community of people with wildly divergent amounts of technical knowledge. I would like to see a world where we turn our brain inferiority towards Google into a positive by building something that is powerful despite its simplicity, and because of its simplicity. Maybe I'm too stupid to see that concept's stupidity. If it worked for syndicating content, why can't it work for searching content?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Clone the Memeorandum API

Yes, I'm being flippant, mainly because Memeorandum doesn't even have an API yet. As founder Gabe Rivera says in the comments of a Scobleizer thread in cheerful response to a call for an open API:

Still, it’s not like I can just flip a switch to activate it. It will cost man-years of development to make it work well, and for various technical reasons, I think it will benefit a smaller number of people than most believe. I expect to make gradual progress toward that capabilty, but I don’t see the business justification for jumping in headfirst…

Man-years? How complex is the Memeorandum algorithm, anyway? I was looking over an old Larry Page PowerPoint linked by Ben Barren the other day and came across the original PageRank equation. Now that's some math, right there. Hoo boy. Does Gabe's algorithm similarly involve matrices, eigenvectors and differential equations? My feeling is no (although I expect Gabe will pop up in the comments to put me straight).

At this stage, I don't think Tinfinger's search result ranking algorithms will be anything near as complex. You might say that would mean Google's algorithms will be inherently better than ours, and I wouldn't argue. However, I think that there is a market for a search engine with not just an open API, but an open algorithm. For that algorithm to be accessible to a majority of people, it can't be anything more complex than addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Or, if calculus is unavoidable for some reason, build it so that users of your service can adjust a bunch of easily understandable sliders to influence your equation.

This is what I don't understand about the clamour for Gabe to open up his API. It shouldn't be that hard to rebuild what he built, especially for those open source hackers. Hell, I'm not even a trained programmer and I can see how simple it should be (although maybe that tells me I'm too stupid to foresee the complexity in practice). We're doing something similar for Tinfinger, focused on a different set of assumptions, but the principles are the same. This is in no way to denigrate what Gabe has achieved, for to devise the system in the first place is a far greater feat than to copy it.

On the subject of algorithmic complexity, I've been reading Paul Graham's essays a lot lately (highly recommended for budding startups), and his piece on Undergraduation contains this interesting snippet:

When I was in college, a lot of the professors believed (or at least wished) that computer science was a branch of math. This idea was strongest at Harvard, where there wasn't even a CS major till the 1980s; till then one had to major in applied math. But it was nearly as bad at Cornell. Whn I told the fearsome Professor Conway that I was interested in AI (a hot topic then), he told me I should major in math. I'm still not sure whether he thought AI required math, or whether he thought AI was nonsense and that majoring in something rigorous would cure me of such stupid ambitions.

In fact, the amount of math you need as a hacker is a lot less than most university departments like to admit. I don't think you need much more than high school math plus a few concepts from the theory of computation. (You have to know what an n^2 algorithm is if you want to avoid writing them.) Unless you're planning to write math applications, of course.


That is interesting in the context of the Google guys' Stanford background, and what I've been reading recently over at Xooglers about Google's obsession with hiring the smartest. Hit the back button on that PageRank slide and you come to Larry Page's word for the echo chamber: the Cyclotron. I don't pretend to know much of anything going on in that PageRank equation - I'm way too stupid to qualify to get hired by Google - but I do know that that equation's complexity is an attempt to the problem of the Cyclotron, among other things. One of the unsolved mysteries of Tinfinger, for me, will be seeing just how true Paul Graham's words are for my business. Are search engines just "math applications"? They certainly can be pure math, but does the math have to be so impenetrably difficult that they can't be opened up in an accessible interface to the general public to play with as they see fit?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

m0ntycast I: The Startening

Be gentle, this is my first podcast. If I ever start singing along to MIDIs you'll know I have jumped the shark. I am calling them m0ntycasts (m0nty is my usual online nick - that's with a zero).

Links for subjects of discussion:
  • O'Reilly Radar
  • The first of the Burn In series (there are 13 so far)
  • A condensed version of my Hounded story is on an old PlanetCrap thread.
  • The Aussie developer of Hounded was Kelvin King. If you know anything about him, please contact me because I wish to shake his hand vigorously, and converse with him at length on many subjects of great import.
  • Note the message at the bottom of the C64.org listing - "Only part 1 of Hounded 2 work Please upload a new version!"... judging from that I guess I'm one of the very few who actually got to play Hounded II!
  • Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, the old Catalyst Web site for which I was Webmaster in 1995/6. Phear the ugly Netscape grey! Cringe at the animated GIF!
  • The first of my Internet columns for Catalyst. Phear the eyebleed-inducing communist red background! Note how one of the newsreading progs is called tin... damn, I had forgotten that. Phear my subconscious mind! Also note the "hotlist"... what would now be implemented as an OPML reading list. Also, note the mention of the Usenet newsgroup aus.flame.usa - I created that! :D Well, I got the RMIT sysadmin to make the submission, but I wrote the submission and charter. And it still exists!
  • Melbourne Long Tail Camp

Can Seth Godin be wrong?

Via Ben Barren, Seth Godin on a blind taste test of search engine results:

About 65% of those tested said that Yahoo or MSN was the most relevant.

Um, Seth... no. The graphs clearly show Google on 42% with a 10-point lead over Yahoo!, with MSN bringing up the rear. It's not as if Seth can claim to have been referring to an earlier data set either, as he mentions 12,000 as the sample size, and the numbers I just quoted are based on 12,085 searches. So where did 65% come from? I'd say Google is doing pretty well in that graph.

10 companies I'd like never to exist (but probably will)

In the spirit of Mike Arrington at TechCrunch posting Companies I’d like to Profile (but don’t exist), here's a list of companies I don't ever want to see ever.

1. OPP.MIL

An organisation to be created by the US military (hence .mil) to track adulterous infidelities (hence OPP) conducted via email and IM over the Internet, so as to pass on the information to other interested parties in the US government such as the CIA, FBI and IRS. Rumour has it that the technology used to sniff out the lecherous missives will involve a macabre mashup of OPML and the number π.

2. amideadornot.com

Branching out from AbeVigoda.com, this flagship Web 2.0 venture will incorporate tagging, folksonomies, RSS, OPML, AJAX, pastel colours and rounded corners into a one-stop-shop for those wishing to ascertain the health or otherwise of any person on the Internet.

3. yetanotherkeyword-basedrssaggregator.com

Enough already!

4. Open Snark Media

There are already more than enough providers of low-grade Web 2.0 sniper blogs in the form of Go Flock Yourself, Supr.c.ilio.us and I'm Not Dave, amongst many others. But oh no, in 2006 they all decide to amalgamate Voltron-style to present a united front of petty jealousy and lame gags. Due to their religious intolerance of monetisation, the principals' only communal activities involve ignoring each others' IMs.

5. whitepowerlist.com

An "innovative provider of niche content services to non-alternative communities", according to the PR blurb on its future about page, this site will employ OPML to create the definitive whitelist: a reading list of approved sites for the Internet's burgeoning population of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, containing no content at all about any people other than purebred Aryans.

6. thebloggies.com

A Web site to be created to support the industry's annual night of nights, the Weblog Awards, known colloquially as the Bloggies. Award categories will include Most Outstanding Use Of Manual Trackbacks, Most Appearances on Memeorandum, Most Consecutive Blog Entries Without Mentioning GYM, and Best Dave Winer Suck-up.

7. infinimash.com

The ultimate mashup venture. The code on this site will not only mash up the traditional sources (Google Maps, del.icio.us, Technorati), but it will also mash up the mashup sites. In an attempt to always stay one step ahead of the highest step on the ladder, infinimash will crawl the Web incessantly looking for more and more meta-mashup sites to scrape their results. Of course, infinimash itself will never publish an API to its database. Or have any revenue streams.

8. siliconpally.com

This robot manufacturing firm will specialise in designing toy robots for young, impressionable children. While it would look and sound like a harmless little playfriend when parents and nannies are around, when the child is alone with the toy, it will turn into a propaganda machine for the Silicon Valley way of looking at the world. Speech snippets will include: "Information wants to be free so warez that content, dude."; "I'm the Flickr of robots. You're the Flickr of suckrs!"; "Memeorandum is changing the Web, man."; "What's wrong with putting Google ads everywhere, anyway?".

9. clickscream.com

This site will ride the mounting craze for attention data by installing an app on your PC to monitor your clickstreams and send all of it back to a central server for monetisation. "Clickscream skims the scum off the top of the pool of Internet data and churns it to produce a rich, creamery butter," according to the forthcoming press release. Details on exactly how much of these monetised monies are returned to the user will be less than clear, nor will any indication be given of any kind of benefit for the user. (Oops, this one may already exist, if you don't count Gator.)

10. A site that competes directly with Tinfinger

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Omnidrive: another Aussie startup

I had heard Nik Cubrilovic's name mentioned elsewhere as one of the few independent entrepreneurs currently working in the Web space in Australia, and noted that he was thinking about Web 2.0 as well. Today Nik posted about his new venture in the comments to a TechCrunch article about unfulfilled startup ideas. #1 on Mike Arrington's wishlist was "Better and Cheaper Online File Storage" and Nik posted this in reply:

Hi Mike. My stealth-mode startup is about to commercialise what I believe is what you are asking for with #1. A lot of the comments here have pointed to other providers but every one of these is a ‘me too’ of xdrive - which is a technology and business model that is over 5 years old. Our offering (currently in early alpha) covers what you have mentioned and the client software goes beyond what flickr uploader does by being tightly integrated with the host operating system. We will also be supporting windows, mobile, mac and web from day 1 with public beta due around christmas.

Only problem with your comments is the pricing - no provider can afford 500GB for $20 and build a business out of it, 2GB for free is much more reasonable but it would be bandwidth limited (as the flickr free account is). I will get in touch with you and give you more details if you are interested in hearing more, otherwise there is some basic information and a beta signup form at www.omnidrive.com.au

Nik also appears to be the front man for Pleech, a "web-based news aggregator" that is currently in alpha. I wish Nik the best of luck with his ventures. Maybe we'll see him at a barbeque!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Web 2.0 vs open source?

The angry young men over at Go Flock Yourself flirt occasionally with posting serious, thoughtful critiques of Web 2.0 memes, although usually the red mist descends and the result is a series of entertaining insults. Droid resisted the urge long enough today to post Web2.0 is the anti-open source, which discusses the dichotomy of trying to build capitalist businesses using open source software distributed under the GPL by using big words like "proprietarization". In the comments, Ross Karchner links to a ZDNet story which provides some background and is based itself on an interview with Richard Stallman.

I don't pretend to know which Web 2.0 companies are abusing the GPL in practice, but I don't see any problem with small companies building "closed" software on top of the LAMP platform. If every software developer who builds on top of free software has to give up their source code, that discourages innovation by small companies because you severely limit your options to derive financial benefit from that code, given that larger competitors can out-execute your code. I guess that's Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman lead the open source movement and free software movement respectively, as they are distinctly different concepts.

Startup entrepreneurs are eternally grateful to the people who developed the free software which comprises the LAMP platform, as that platform is going to enable many new industries which they want to help build. LAMP is lighting the way forward for small innovators to use their innovations to bootstrap themselves not just to profitability, but to critical mass so that they can become the next GEMAYAs. I would hate to see that highly positive effect ruined by an attempt to bring down the Googles of this world with a strategy that also hurts the little guy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sequel to Melbourne Long Tail Camp

We're not quite sure what we're calling the ongoing thingumabob - my favourite is Red Cordial Camp - but plans for the sequel to the Melbourne Long Tail Camp are very close to being finalised. Advance warning will be made this time, so you'll have weeks to prepare and no excuse not to attend if you live within 1000km of Melbourne and want to be in on the emerging Web 2.0 scene. Expect to see more presentations this time, possibly even from Ben Barren himself (Tai and I might have some Tinfinger tech to show off too), and I'm sure Cameron Reilly will rock the mic like a vandal for the virtual audience. This will be the last one before Christmas. Watch this space (and also Ben Barren).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

We'll all be rooted, said Hanrahan

ROOT! Aussies everywhere are cacking themselves laughing. For non-locals, it's like calling your company Screw or Bang or Shag. Head Rooter Seth Goldstein has just published his Root manifesto. Seems to be a lot of that about these days.

Steve Gillmor roots for Root (sans disclosure), which I guess would make him a Square Rooter. He and the Gillmor Gang spent a good 70 minutes dancing around the real topics. Someone (is it just me, or is it hard to figure out who's talking in the Gang podcasts) mentioned price a few times - meaning "what economic value does this system have for the consumer" - but Seth kept parrying the questions like he was Mark Schwarzer.

Here's what I think is going on. The Rooters are confusing two issues, whether on purpose or not I don't know. One issue is how individuals manage their precious time in a media-saturated world. Another issue is how suppliers manage behavioural data for "consumers" navigating through this world. The apparent strategy of the Rootery so far is to attract users by promising a solution to the first problem, and attract advertisers by promising a solution to the second problem. The carrot is an application that will act like a personal information manager, the stick is customer relationship data that is only of economic use to huge corporations when collated in large quantities. Where developers fit in there is anybody's guess, since Seth is strictly an ideas man.

Goldstein's strategy for our Root-centric future is revealed towards the end of his piece, where he talks about how the home loan market was revolutionised by securitisation. In what I think is the key passage, he applies this arbitrage model to the Internet advertising market by saying cost-per-click advertising is still too risky for advertisers.

Just to be clear, the fact that the risk now resides with the advertiser and not the publisher does not a pure market make. Advertisers are companies in the business of selling things to consumers and other companies. Their business is not buying advertising space. And so this remains the final obstacle to a liquid, efficient Media Futures market; namely that advertisers and their agencies continue to look for customers online when in fact they have no pure business doing so.

He's talking about outsourcing sales. Dude, that never works. It's been tried countless times before, and companies eventually realise that while they're not strictly in the business of selling things, they are in the business of selling THEIR things. Selling your own products is so fundamental to the success of a company that it should never be outsourced to a third party who doesn't care as much about their company as the company's own employees.

How would Root outsource sales? They would analyse the attention data of their participants, and deliver advertisements from Root clients based on what Root thinks the consumers want. Remind you of anyone? Yep, Root's main target is Google. Root is aiming to disrupt Google by drilling down further than just what you search for one site, but anything you do online. AttentionTrust's main antecedent is Google Desktop.

Oh, but Seth doesn't want to stop there. He wants to sell insurance too.

So if advertisers don’t advertise online, how will the market survive, much less prosper? In the same way that the mortgage security market transferred credit risk away from the balance sheet of operators and into the portfolios of professional investors, a media futures market will enable non-advertisers (aka speculators) to take on the risk from the balance sheets of publishers. Publishers will be happy to hedge out their inventory, limit earnings volatility, and focus entirely on creating value-added programming; rather than spending their time speculating whether CPMs are going up or down.

Similarly, companies (ie the buy-side) can concentrate entirely on developing better products and service. Their marketing groups can focus on creating and communicating their brand images, while their sales organizations can simply specify the kinds of customers they are looking for and the prices they are willing to pay; the Media Futures market will take care of the rest.


What a wondrous image, a company that doesn't care what its sales are because it bought insurance, which is an everyday word for "hedging risk" and "limiting volatility". I can't wait until I see Wall Street brokers trading futures for The Podcast Network alongside pork belly rinds. As the stock analyst on Landline often says, pigs are flying!

I'm no drinker of the Cluetrain red cordial, but the "markets are conversations" meme does have some potency. The Internet collapses the gap of understanding between big companies and the everyday J. Sixpacks who buy their products. Buyers can have closer relationships with suppliers by interacting with them directly, rather than through intermediaries. Instead of the highly desirable effect of disintermediation, the roto-Rooters want to stop all this conversation nonsense and put a middleman in between the buyers and sellers.

Seth, companies don't want to "concentrate entirely on developing better products and service". They want to concentrate entirely on finding out what the consumer wants and then giving it to them how they want it. That function is not something that smart companies outsource.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sony is the new Martians

Dan Kaminski does a fine job equating Sony's rootkit scandal to the blood-red Martian weeds which spring up in the wake of the invaders in War Of The Worlds, in the infection map reproduced opposite. Who knew Celine Dion and Cyndi Lauper were still that popular? I thought Celine was Canadian, not Martian. Same difference to Americans, I guess.

Seriously though, are any of the people who bought those CDs - likely from remainder bins - likely to play them in their PCs? The bewrinkled target audience for those artists are lucky to have graduated past the phonograph, let alone be a hardcore Winamp user.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Deconstructing Doc Searls

Doc Searls, card-carrying commons-ista of the Cluetrain Cabal, published his magnum opus today entitled Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes, with some auxiliary notes as well (for some reason the first 10 times I tried to load Saving The Net I got an access denied message, but it came through eventually so YMMV). In the essay, Doc commits the same mistakes he has made consistently throughout his Cluetrain career.

No Doc, the Internet is not (just) a market.
Despite his many attacks on bad metaphors in his contributions to the Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc doesn't seem to know any other words for describing the Net than "market" or "marketplace". How about a "park" where people come to relax, chat and play in the sunshine? How about a "club" where people go to find like-minded people to discuss worthy issues over a glass of something cold? How about a "school" where people who want to learn congregate to get answers to life's questions from experts? How about a "theatre" where artists can show off their content to appreciative audiences? Or God forbid, how about a "commons" where people come to listen to inflammatory speeches about the burning themes of public discourse? No, that last one sounds too much like communism to Doc. Of course there is that buzzphrase of "letting developers and users party together", but the conversation topic of the "party" is focused squarely on improving the software developed by the developer, which inevitably benefits the developer's bottom line. That leads me to the next point...

No Doc, software is not the only thing of value in the stack.
Doc paints himself as part of the "technical community", and he spends most of the essay complaining about telcos wanting to get return on investment. He references the NEA Principle - "Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it" - as if the telcos didn't actually spend money to build the pipes in the first place. Saying "anybody" can improve the pipes he talks about is ludicrous unless that "anybody" has billions of dollars to spend laying fibre. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of the last people who would defend telcos - having spent most of my career butting up against the orifice-monster Telstra - but denying that telcos provide anything of value is couter-productive and undermines your argument, particularly in a document that is supposed to be a positioning statement for the technical community in their dealings with the US government. Oh, and on Washington...

No Doc, you're ignoring the bigger enemy.
Doc mentions ICANN once, in reference to .com registry pricing. He ignores the much more important issue which is being fought over as we speak, and its most recent battle was not fought in the Beltway or in the Valley, but in Tunisia, where the US government managed to thrash out a shaky compromise with the EU on retaining control over ICANN. Libertarians like to say the Internet was shaped out of nothing by its users, but the truth is that it was devised by governmental institutions (the military), propagated by governmental institutions (universities), popularised through software developed at governmental institutions (NCSA et al) and is still operational only through the benevolent activities of governmental institutions (ICANN, US Department of Commerce et al). If the EU wins in its battle for control over ICANN, the Internet in repressive regimes such as China and Cuba will be a lot more centrally controlled and censored, without the groundswell of educated local hackers to subvert the system like the First World has. Does that matter more to Doc than instantly-obsolete US-centric legislation which the Internet will treat as damage and route around, as it always has? It doesn't seem to matter to him at all, he'd prefer going after his pet hate. On that topic...

No Doc, it's not all about big corporations versus you and the people.
Mitch Ratcliffe linked a fine piece on anti-authoritarianism by Todd Gitlin which speaks to another of Doc's hangups: he always has to frame his own arguments in opposition to big business.
Analytically, it might be possible to disentangle two strands of anti-authoritarianism: the questioning of authority in order to put authority on a stronger foundation, and the challenging of authority as a tropism of disrespect. The first is a matter of questioning authority in order to get answers. The second is a matter of punky naysaying.
Doc has shown recently in the fight over Audible, and in this essay, that he's not interested in any type of authority at all, even if it's the minuscule authority of a random guy or gal straight outta the zeitgeist on a podcast who wants to be paid for their content. He'd much rather wear his underpants on the outside and fight the forces of evil through punky naysaying, even if the "evil" could enable the little guy to fight the corporations (like legions of small podcasters fighting the MSM by creating a viable industry). That's why when he read quotes from Edward Whiteacre, CEO of major telco SBC, Doc must have experienced a little death. O frabjous day, an authority figure to rebel against! Never mind that Whiteacre's comments are wholly unsupported by any actual activities on the part of SBC, Doc has his smoking gun and he's going to ride it. Tim Lee does a fine job puncturing Doc's central argument that US telcos could ever close the Internet.

Doc's faults are largely shared by all American libertarian hackers, he's just one of the more articulate and famous of them. If this is his self-described "most important" post ever, I hope there's another one some time soon which is even more important, and less flawed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Murdoch: forget GYM or GEMAYA, it's GAY

A snippet buried in the Hollywood Reporter interview with Rupert Murdoch, fellow Australian ex-journalist:

THR: You said the Internet is more revolutionary than writing. What do you see when you look ahead 10 years? How do think the next generation will affect your company?
Murdoch: There are three very large Internet companies: America Online, which delivers data, which is really what's keeping them very strong; everyone in the world goes to Yahoo! to do their e-mail, and search with Google. I think online, it's the search for groupings, identifying search for groupings and providing sites for that -- to meet, talk, discuss. These are very interesting; there are huge numbers of people. (We're going to be) learning a lot about them and then selling advertising to them. Not too obtrusively, but when you target, there's no waste: 50,000 people over here or 5 million people over there.


There were some very smart questions asked in that interview, but I would have loved them to follow up about how he viewed Microsoft.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Save Dave

The latest Morning Coffee Notes podcast from Dave Winer contains a passage about the ongoing Audible podcasting flamewar. He starts the podcast with a warning against wrongly summarising other people's arguments, so I transcribed his words here (with "you know"s and "okay"s excised, starting about 11:15 in). One bit of setup needed is that he talks for five minutes before this extract about how American car drivers won't stop for pedestrians, and he relates a recent experience on a road called Shattock Avenue (or something like that) where he helped a wheelchair-bound person to cross safely by stopping the traffic himself. Oh, and he mentioned his recent heart bypass surgery.

So that gets me to my point. Now, a guy like Mitch Ratcliffe. Does he not know that three years ago I had open heart surgery? I mean, come on. Give me a fucking break. I am like that handicapped guy out there in the middle of the street. I'm lucky to be alive, I don't know if you get that, but I am. And if you like what I do, then you're lucky I'm alive too. I just thought I would mention that. I could put a little handicapped thing up there on my site that would say: "You've got to really be nice to this guy and not get him all excited, because if you do, it could shorten his life." I'm dead serious. Stress is definitely one of the risk factors in heart disease and I take on a fair amount of stress because I love what I do and I love the people I work with, I love what they're doing for the most part.

And then there are some super selfish people out there who just want to extract their pound of flesh. They've got to work with you the way they want to work with you, like Mitch Ratcliffe. Mitch Radcliffe, I don't know what the fuck Mitch Ratcliffe wants. He's a consultant working for Audible. Audible is a vendor, they're trying to get something launched in this space. Is this a tactic on the part of Audible, to have a guy flaming all these people in the community the way Mitch Ratcliffe is flaming us, okay? If it's a tactic, it's a pretty shitty tactic. This is a publicly-held company. I would think that by now, at some point, they kinda want to look at it. They're kinda like those cars on Shattock Avenue, and they're just zooming by, and they're not even noticing that there are people on the crosswalk there. The people on the crosswalk are their employees and their shareholders. These people are depending on them to do a good job. And their customers, how about that? What about their customers?

Maybe there is something to what Audible is doing. Maybe there is a way for them to fit in. I was looking for a basically factual argument, one that stuck to the merits of the technology that they're advancing, and the pros and cons. It's long past the time when you can obfuscate a discussion by inflaming it. It just doesn't work any more. There used to be a time when you could get the reporter - like Ratcliffe used to be a reporter - to cover it from your point of view, then people who disagreed with you, if you gave them any voice at all they would be relegated, they would run the quotes from them you would want to run. You could make them look the way you wanted them to look, but now they've got their own blogs and they've got their own podcasts. You can communicate directly, you don't need to go through those filters. Nobody can really control what you say.

So, it's really hard to say what this guy is trying to do. It's really confusing, and it's probably not a good idea.


Dave continues with the Shattock Avenue metaphor in much the same vein for another four minutes and I couldn't be arsed transcribing the rest, but you get the idea.

I wish Dave a healthy life, as I'm sure everyone would. I hope he lives on to a outdo Peter Drucker's lifespan. It would be disrespectful of me to comment on the above, so I merely present it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Talent and the Short Rump

Nice demolition job by Ethan Stock of Zvents of a Jeff Jarvis post lauding Robin Good's post which itself is based on three Wall Street Journal articles. Phew, this Memeorandum-gaming linkrolling is time-consuming.

Anyway, the gist of it is that Ethan criticises the Jeff/Robin cheerleading for amateur media by pointing out that talent will still rise to the top.
Whenever anyone starts talking about new democracy in media, just remember that for the past 100 years, any normal person with about $50 to their name has been able to buy a typewriter and a sheaf of paper, sit down, and create a novel. For the past 100 years, being a successful novelist has been a well-paying, respected position. The fact that so few have managed to do this, despite the legions who have tried out of the near-totality of all who could have tried, indicates that there's something slightly more fundamental going on than big mean corporations holding back the little guy.

That something is the rarity of talent, the social network clustering effects of production values, and the reality that all of our time is limited, and brands are a great way to short-circuit searching costs.

This discussion, and the recent one on podcasting, highlights a flaw in the Cluetrain Cabal: that they are so absorbed in the worth of their own theories that they refuse to acknowledge that any other mode of thought is valid. No one is questioning that the Long Tail and associated memes are not worthwhile, but don't forget that for a Long Tail to exist, you have to have a Short Rump too. The Long Tail does not assume a completely flat graph.

Saying "the demand side supplies itself", as Doc Searls does, is ridiculous. What he's saying is that there is no money involved in the activity, thus it is not a market in any meaningful sense, thus the term "demand side" has no meaning. It's like saying a schoolyard game of soccer is a market. No, it's a recreational activity, which is just what podcasting is.

What I don't understand is the vehemence of the opposition to anyone doing something different. Even if Audible is successful with its .aa format, no one is going to bust in through Dave Winer's roof, confiscate his computers and delete all MP3 files and codecs. Dave will be able to keep on singing along with MIDIs to his heart's content. Many blogs have advertisements on them (Steve Gillmor's has twenty) but Dave is not forced at gunpoint to include them on his multitudinous sites. That schoolyard soccer game can coexist with the billion-pound English Premier League, even though they're playing the same game. It's just that Thierry Henry wears sponsored clothing and kicks a better-quality ball on a better-manicured pitch.

As Mr Long Tail himself Chris Anderson says:
Small sites make up the bulk of the internet's content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet's the possible applications. Therefore: Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

Note he said "not just" the centre or the head. He did not say to ignore them, or that they did not exist, or that they should be prevented from growing in the first place. If Doc and the rest of the Cluetrain Cabal concentrated their arguments on the question of whether these new media options were available to small publishers (i.e. the Long Tail of suppliers) to enable them to survive against the corporate machine - in other words, that if there were going to be "hits" making up the Short Rump then they would be produced from below, rather than forced from above - then I would support them wholeheartedly. Instead, they seem fixated on no one ever producing hits at all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This is getting ridiculous

The ongoing flame war about commercial uses of podcasting just went into the twilight zone. Steve Gillmor posted a screed on ZDNet quoting what I thought was a perfectly reasonable post by Nick Carr and saying the following:

What a bunch of baloney, Nick. Money comes, regardless of whether it's one or all of your incentives. Competition itself encourages experimentation of business models, and attempting to assert a difference between amateurs and professionals is a ridiculous exercise akin to second generation Americans locking the doors to immigration. We're all amateurs, Nick, particularly when we hide behind the skirts of DRM models in an age where producers and publishers had better get used to paying us to pay attention to them, and find their profit in the margin in the marketplace of gestures.


Steve posts this on ZDNet. The page on which it is posted has four picture ads, five links to sponsored corporate blogs, five links to sponsored corporate white papers, three keyword-based text ads and another three sponsored links under ZDNet's Powercenter program. That is TWENTY advertisements on one page. And you can bet Ziff-Davis employs DRM-like tracking software to keep tabs on what each "customer" is looking at and clicking on. And he has the gall to be criticising the commercialisation of podcasting? How about the commercialisation of blogs, why aren't you railing against that Steve? Is it perhaps because you think, quite rightly, that you deserve to be paid to produce content? Why should podcasting remain the rarified preserve of Olympic amateurs, while you and millions of other bloggers benefit from advertising revenue? What's the difference?

I have nothing against Ziff-Davis, I got my start in journalism on a ZD-licensed publication and I think it's a fine company. I think Steve should be paid for his efforts, just as Keith & The Girl should have the option of getting some monetary compensation from being in the top 10 podcasters worldwide.

And before people like Dave Winer protest that they don't support advertising, give me a break. It's easy for Dave, he can support his podcasting amateurism because he makes millions of dollars selling his software. Not everyone is that blessed. Some people would like to be able to make better podcasts by being compensated for doing it. Steve says "we are all amateurs", but that is not true. He is a professional at his chosen profession, just as Dave is a professional at his profession. That they can afford to remain podcasting amateurs is nice for them, but some people would like to be podcasting "professionals" (by which I mean treat it as their full time job).

It's easy to be libertarian when you're rich and established. If that's character assassination, then I guess I'm the guy in the book depository holding the rifle (or to use an Australian example, I'm the shark with bits of Prime Minister stuck on his teeth). That doesn't mean it's not true.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The personal boundaries of censorship

Something Paul Waide said during my Tinfinger presentation last Friday at Melbourne Long Tail Camp has got me thinking. I was discussing how Tinfinger was a human search engine, but he asked: what if someone doesn't want their name to be searchable? Paul said he had "clients" who paid good money to have their name removed from Web sites and search engines, one of whom had reduced the number of mentions of their name on the Internet down to one. He joked that it could be a good revenue opportunity, although I shot back cheerfully that we weren't in the business of blackmail.

This is a sensitive issue. Of course any search engine worth their salt will respect the robots.txt system and there are other content control tricks for Google, but what about if someone wants content from a third party site not to be indexed? There are some heavyweights who are active in this area, such as the Scientologists and the Chinese, people whom it would be folly to mess with.

My gut reaction is to say no to censorship. If a person is mentioned somewhere on the Internet, I want it to be indexable on Tinfinger. If the site on which the name is mentioned is not censored, why should Tinfinger be censored? Of course, the reason the search engines are attacked in this manner is because they are an easy target, a weak point in the network.

Paul's point did remind me that some of what Tinfinger seeks to do - which is, in essence, to be the Internet's first living biography site - will seem creepy to some people. We will have to make sure to communicate that unlike the White Pages, we will not be hosting personal information - or at least nothing that you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing in a local newspaper about yourself. Some people have more sensitive personal boundaries than others, of course, so this is something we'll have to keep in focus. It's a constant battle we'll have to fight. However, I hope the positive effect the site will have will outweigh any misunderstandings along the way.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Web 2.0 Acrotard

Okay, much talk recently about how people talk too much about GYM or GEMAYA. So how about we try to think up some different Axis powers, this time not the usual suspects but companies who are actually innovating? Priority given, of course, to companies whose name starts with a vowel.

News/blog aggregators
Topix.net + Inform + Memeorandum + Blogniscient + AmphetaDesk + Rocketinfo = TIMBAR
Blogdex + Rojo + Aggreg8 + NewsGator + Daypop + Radio Userland = BRANDR

Tagging
Tagalag + Wink + Etsy + Delicious + Gada.be = TWEDG

Podcasting/audio
YackPack + Audacity + Fruitcast + Odeo + Orb = YAFOO

Video
DailyMotion + OurMedia + vSocial + ClipShack + Revver + YouTube = DOVsCRY

Please note my solitary motivation in determining groupings was finding funny-sounding acronyms. I'm sure you could suggest serious alternatives. Please do!

Drinking the red cordial

Mate, I've got one of those red cordial hangovers, like when I was 7 years old running around at a birthday party hyped up on Cottee's Raspberry and fairy cake with hundreds and thousands dotted around my cakehole. Melbourne Long Tail Camp has been and gone. We managed to get about half a dozen in-person attendees (not three as Cameron kept claiming), plus a couple of Skypers. The winner of the beer wars was Cascade, which I see as a fantastic metric of our imminent success. Thylacine FTW!

That turned out to be the perfect number for my presentation, which went well (I think). For the half-dozen interested, here's the PowerPoint of the Tinfinger presentation, separated into four short slides: itch, pitch, rich and bitch. Ben in particular did a good job of positively attacking the thing from all sides, with help from the peanut gallery, but I think we survived the assault. I recommend the experience to any other Aussie entrepreneur, as it helps focus your own thoughts on what is important in your business plan. If the MLTC has no other positive effect in future iterations, it will certainly shine as a sounding board for any of you who have half-formed ideas you want help shaping into world-beating killer concepts. It's better to have your first presentation among friends who have your best interests at heart, as it is excellent practice if you ever have to do the same thing for people from whom you want real cash money.

Cameron Reilly managed to podcast interviews with every other red cordial fanatic there, but he got scared of me early and refused to give me the microphone after one early excursion into a crazed fantasy world of a legion of Winer Gremlins springing forth just after midnight from some beer-soaked Mogwai-substitute (ben barren is hairy enough). Can't say I blame the poor grey-haired old bugger. Paying homage to the Father of Web 2.0 was fun, I even managed to insert a few words of the Lord's Prayer in at one point.
O Web 2.0 Father who art in Gondor
Hallowed be thy blog

Michael Leone put on a beaut spread of various types of finely cooked meat, with the burgers being of particular quality - thanks Consiglieri! There was perhaps too much salad given the demographics of the attendant eaters (Feedcorp coder Kevin O'Neill was there at the start, and Michael's brother hung about as well). Overall, the ambience was perfectly befitting the evening, and Michael and Ben are to be congratulated. More to the point, there was more than enough room for 10 times as many to stand around and gasbag, a growth curve I fully expect to see realised in the near future.

Speaking of which, the question of the next event raises its head. Ben seems to think a low-key BBQ might become a fortnightly event at that location for red cordial drinkers, with the occasional upgrade to presentation nights every so often when someone feels the need to use the gathered talents to help them sharpen their attack on the outside world. That sounds good enough to me.

The most important thing is that we have started something here that is going to last, so that people interested in building Internet-based businesses using new technologies and techniques have something they can belong to that isn't American. People who want to join in can do so without having to sign forms or disclaimer or any of that shit. I'll certainly be watching what other attendees are going to do in the industry, and I'll be pimping their projects whenever possible. In the absence of a local Techcrunch, we can all do the same for each other for Australian audiences. (If you've got a local 2.0ish project you want some free publicity for, contact me!) We've taken the first step in building a front for a coherent local industry. It's going to be a hoot.

MLTC breaks camp

The photos from Melbourne Long Tail Camp don't do it justice. Somehow Cameron managed to miss the conga line of naked Neighbours starlets, the cockfighting ring in the backyard and the Lachie M vs. Jimmy P cage match game of 500.

More tomorrow, but I would like to highlight the fact that ben barren failed to give his promised presentation, for which I have only three words: "weak as piss".

Friday, November 11, 2005

Geoff Huston preaches version control

Good to see an Australian story creeping up the rankings at Memeorandum, in this case a Computerworld yarn about IPv6 built around comments by Geoff Huston, ex-Telstra and now APNIC technical guru, generally credited as being one of the forefathers of the Australian part of the Internet.

Despite the respect I have for him, I locked horns with Geoff many a time back when he was at Telstra banging on about ATM over Frame Relay being the saviour of the Internet and other such historical oddities. It does not surprise me that he has decided to go flat-earth on this issue. What does raise my eyebrow is the brazenness of his contention that because ISPs have built business lines around IP scarcity, this should be the way things are forever more. This is a very Telstra way of looking at the world or, in the current vernacular, an orifice-centric view. The availability of IP numbers should not be an orifice. One might have thought that after leaving Telstra and working for a non-profit that Geoff would learn a thing or two about open networks, but I guess a thylacine doesn't lose his stripes.

On the aggregator issue, I happen to know there is an Australian-only news aggregator being built as we speak, which no doubt would have had that CW story front and centre this morning. No, it's not Tinfinger. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

MS blogger turns on Eric Wilson

Frank Arrigo provided today a non-Scoble demonstration of Microsoft employees' full licence to defend their company against negative reportage by attacking Eric Wilson for an article entitled J2EE, .NET in slugfest in AustralianIT, the Web shovelpoint for the country's most-read business technology newspaper section. The natives were restless in the comments to Frank's rant, one of which was expanded upon in a separate blog entry at The Spoke. The debate went on this morning at ITJourno, an invite-only site for Australian technology journos and PR wonks which includes a daily blog roundup of local tech stories called Epitome. Today's Epitome from Phil Sim (founder of ITJ) and Ian Yates (ex-Industry Standard) led with the above events, concluding thusly:

The scary part of this is that Eric Wilson is actually a developer and has always been one of Australia's most respected technical journalists. If he can write a piece on a subject he knows pretty well and get this kind of vitriolic feedback, it should be seen as a wake-up call to every journalist who strays into the technical realm. Let's face it, there are many, many readers who know a lot more than 99 per cent of IT journalists and they're going to become more and more vocal about technically inaccurate stories.

Almost every tech journalist will have at one time or another, bluffed their way through a tech-laden story. Those days are all but over.
Having met Eric on the odd occasion in my days as an IT journo I can vouch for the breadth of his knowledge and the sentiment of "there but for the grace of God go I". I'm sure an inquiry is being held at News Ltd's Surry Hills offices now, figuring out whether Eric, the Oz's sub-editors or whoever else is to blame for the inaccuracies. I can say that Sun's Laurie Wong is partially culpable for that silly quote about .NET, but it's not Eric's fault for including it in his story. Eric's a journalist, he can't be gainsaying every single quote or otherwise every 15-word quote would require 150 words of background.

More to the point, Eric is one of those journalists who is a programmer first and a journalist second. I mean that in no pejorative sense, as the journalist community needs people like Eric to balance out the concentration of aspirational hacks who slum it (begrudgingly) in the tech sections while they wait to get cherrypicked by the editor to fulfill their life's dream to work on the TV guide or some other lifestyle nonsense part of the rag. The reason Eric has that respect amongst other journos that the Epitome article affords him is that technical articles are hard. Not just because of the difficulty in getting your head around the concepts and nailing the details, but because it's far harder to find a hook for your reader in a stuffy story about competing acronyms than it is for a puff piece on the latest hip CTO's new motorbike. Writing that article must have been like pulling teeth, I don't envy him.

The criticisms of Eric's piece also touch on a common theme of anti-journalist rhetoric these days, which is usually thrown by partisans on either side of a hot ideological debate. Political bloggers love to sink the slipper into journalists for not calling the other side on their flimsy arguments. Obviously some readers who read Eric's piece contrasting quotes from Arrigo and Wong were left with a feeling of something missing in the middle, but it's not his job to impose his own opinions in the piece. That's the bloggers' job, and they seem to be doing it alright.

Rank is the new hits

I sincerely hope the little snippet entitled
Digg is (almost) as big as Slashdot posted at Techcrunch (attributed by Mike Arrington to Brian Benziger, though Brian didn't blog about it himself) and linked by O'Reilly Radar with only an "Uh, wow" does not start a trend. Web site metrics are slippery suckers at the best of times, and they will bite you in the arse if you don't watch them.

Specifically in this instance, the graph Mike links to is highly misleading. Alexa's data is spurious to begin with due to its methodology, as is detailed in the comments on TechCrunch following the post. Ignoring the Linux/Windows and IE/Firefox battles for a minute, the whole concept of a ranking graph has big problems.

To put it in language that Web 2.0 adherents understand, think of the Alexa ranking as a Long Tail graph. Slashdot is already way up there on the rump of "hit" sites, whereas Digg is gradually making its way up the tail from obscurity. How much more of an achievement is it for Slashdot to rise one place in the Alexa rankings? If you believe in the Long Tail, then you know that Digg's achievement in creeping closer to Slashdot is not impressive enough to justify a claim that "Digg is (almost) as big as Slashdot". A more revealing graph can be found on Alexa itself: the daily reach. Well looky here, it seems Slashdot is matching Digg pound for pound in audience growth! However could that be? The answer lies in the page views, which shows the two sites' lines converging, to Digg's credit. So Digg is not catching up to Slashdot in numbers of users, but instead is merely getting more sticky? That's a story worth telling, but it's not the story Mike wrote.

One other trap for new players is revealed when going back and looking at the vertical axis of the rank graph. Ruh-roh, why are those markers spaced differently? Why are the markers near the Slashdot line bunched up together while the markers near the Digg line are spaced out? Anyone who has a cursory knowledge of statistical analysis would call bullshit on that, because it has the effect of making the lines look closer than would otherwise be the case for a straight graph. Give us the raw numbers in a consistent format please Alexa, don't come the raw prawn. And why do you distort the rank graph but leave the other two pristine?

We went though this in the first dot com boom, people. I'm old enough to have been working in the industry back when PR for your company's shovelware site consisted of blaring out how many million hits you had per month. Never mind that with all the images on each page, including infinitely-repeated single-pixel-GIF hacks, that each page view generated hundreds of hits. Oh no. How long did it take for page views to take over as the key metric? Years, wasn't it? Let's not go through that again. Ban ranking from any and all future metric discussions, please, or at least put a big-arse disclaimer wherever it is mentioned.

Note: it seems like I'm picking on Mike here, but there have been many pieces written about the Digg vs Slashdot comparison in the blogosphere lately, none of which have drilled down into the numbers to find the real story.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Highway to Elsternwick: the MLTC album



Highway To The Club - Dsico (a capella by J-Kwon, instrumental by AC/DC)
Princejet - DJ Zebra (pella by Prince, instrumental by Jet)
Love's Torn Theme - fuTuRo (pella by Natalie Imbruglia, instrumental by Love Unlimited Orchestra)
Mysterious Tweet - DJ Cheezi (pella by Tweet, instrumental by Peter Andre)
slowkittin
- Dirtyoldman (pella by Kylie Minogue, instrumental by Miss Kittin)
Compton Magic - Dsico (pella by Olivia Newton-John, instrumental by NWA)
Right Said Bed - DJ Mike W (pella by Right Said Fred, instrumental by Midnight Oil)
Dirrty Girl - Soundhog (pella by Christina Aguilera, instrumental by Jet)
Return Of The Weather Episode - Go Home Productions (pella by Snoop Dogg, instrumental by Crowded House)
Songs For My Yobbo - DJ Stu (medley of Aussie bands including Diesel, Barnesy, Big Pig, Kylie, INXS et al)
Can't Get You Out Of Blue Monday Live - Kylie Minogue (pella by Kylie Minogue, instrumental by Joy Division, performed live @ the Brits 2002 - with voiceover, excerpted from "Raiding the 20th Century" by DJ Food)

Sorry that some of the files are hosted elsewhere behind hoops, but that's the price of free mp3 hosting.

Topix rates Tinfinger #8 for beer

I couldn't be more proud. It's going to be hard getting up in the morning after my life's dream was fulfilled like that. What more could I possibly achieve in life?

For future attendees of Melbourne Long Tail Camp

If you can't attend the camp this Friday, but you want to attend future editions you can now add your name to the wiki page under the List of future attendees heading. The more interest, the better!

Thorno, mate, come drown your sorrows

Evan Thornley, now there's a bloke we would welcome at Melbourne Long-Tail Camp. He must be feeling a bit sorry for himself after getting knocked from pillar to post by the blogosphere about his new vertical strategy for Looksmart. The critique getting the most buzz is by the mutual funds expert at About.com, entitled Looksmart Fund Site A Failure. Um, isn't About.com a competitor of these verticals? The most cutting analysis is probably the one by Peter Adams, ex Looksmart CTO.
This strategy seems like it’s more product development for Wall Street and not actual consumers - as the user experience of these template sites leaves something to be desired.

I wonder if they thought it was going to somehow increase their rankings in search engines by cross-linking all the sites like they do. Sinse all the sites appear to come from the same IP address they might actually get penalized by Google because they look a lot like a link farm.

Ouch, Evan. Evo. Ev. Apparently you're still burning cash, although the CFA has it down to a small brush fire at this late stage. We think you're all right, even if you did go to Melbourne Uni. If you've got one of those ex-Boeing private jets that all search engine CEOs seem to have idling on runways these days, pop over to Tulla and drop in for some chit-chat this Friday. Bring the missus.

GEMAYA's priority #1: hack Memeorandum

Despite the valiant efforts of Pete Cashmore et al to hack Memeorandum on behalf of HUAR: Humans United Against Robots, they never even managed to get their hack onto the main body of the site's stories, instead being relegated to the also-rans down the bottom. Top billing these days is the near-exclusive domain of GEMAYA, the collective noun for the Google/eBay/Microsoft/Amazon/Yahoo/AOL hegemony. Check the subject of the top story for each of the last 10 days at noon ET:
Nov 8: Grokster
Nov 7: Yahoo
Nov 6: Google
Nov 5: Microsoft
Nov 4: wireless (with Amazon/Google at #2)
Nov 3: Yahoo/Google/Microsoft
Nov 2: Microsoft
Nov 1: Microsoft
Oct 31: SBC
Oct 30: Google

It remains for a PhD student to do a more exhaustive analysis, but the message is clear, to me at least: too much focus on what the followers are doing, and not enough on the leaders. That's part of the reason I want the Melbourne Long (Roo) Tail Camp to work: I think people should realise that innovation is not going to come from the huge rump, it's the long tail of little guys & gals toiling away in their tiny quantum of suburbia. Some of whom I hope to meet on this Friday and future, similar events.

Anarchy in the .au

It's coming some time: Friday. At the Melbourne Long-Tail Camp. (That name again is Mr Plow.)

So anyway, one of my personal highlights from yesterday's pre-camp pow-wow with ben barren was when he accused me of being a communist and wanting to turn the event into a collective. I admit to having run with the communists at university in my time co-editing Catalyst. I participated in my fair share of collective meetings chaired by green-dreadlocked anarcho-syndicalists and radical hairy-legged buzzcut "feminazis". I was never accepted into their inner sanctum back then, but I guess ben was correct in identifying that I was subconsciously projecting those internalised mental freedoms onto this new new thing.

I suspect something different will surface when we all actually sit around in the dappled light of an Elsternwick evening and shoot the shit until said shit is well and truly shotten. My early favourite for a name for the movement is Red Cordial. We're not in the business of lyrebirding American trends, but I'm sick of hearing Kool-Aid mentioned when we have a perfectly good local example. Oops, red is another commie ref! Oh well. If you want a manifesto, here's a 1996 outtake from my callow youth which will do for now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Orlando... I mean Melbourne ahoy, campers


So............. as benbarren has already mentioned, he and I met F2F today to thrash out further details of the event which for its initial run will go under the name of Melbourne Long Tail Camp. This conversation lasted even longer than our Skype-off, running to around 2½ hours by my watch. I felt it had to run that long to wait for ben to tire so I could get a word in edgeways past the torrent of packets streaming out of his prolific brain. I wish we had had a recording of the conversation as it would have made a sensational podcast, if a little blue (although only a foretaste of Friday, of course). It made me think of John Williamson's song Dad's Flowers, which in one of the verses details a domestic comprising drunken Dad arguing with designated driver Mum:
The language was unreal
Then Dad said: 'Carn, move over Mum, whodja think's gunna take the wheel?'
On the hour-long drive back to Geelong, I had a chance to mull over exactly what it is that we're building here. The best analogy I could come up with was the rise of cyberpunk, which would make BB and I a kind of Gibbo/Sterlo double act (bonus NRL ref for you sports nuts). Ben's certainly got the Sterlo mullet happening, and we share the same ambivalence towards the buzzword that will define the new movement. The Cameron/Cameron duopoly suggested by that analogy is pleasing, at least.

That would mean someone has to come up with Neuromancer, which is certainly a tall order. I'd be happy with something as powerful as The Gernsback Continuum - Cluetrain Manifesto notwithstanding, I'd prefer something local. These are the people whose world I want to destroy.

They were blond. They were standing beside their car, an aluminum avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jutting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child's toy. He had his arm around her waist and was gesturing toward the city. They were both in white: loose clothing, bare legs, spotless white sun shoes. Neither of them seemed aware of the beams of my headlights. He was saying something wise and strong, and she was nodding, and suddenly I was frightened, frightened in an entirely different way. Sanity had ceased to be an issue; I knew, somehow, that the city behind me was Tucson - a dream Tucson thrown up out of the collective yearning of an era. That it was real, entirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in it, and they frightened me.

They were the children of Dialta Downes's '80- that-wasn't; they were Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. They were American. Dialta had said that the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.

Anyone like that turns up at MLTC, they get the shit kicked out of them.

Logo for Melbourne Long Tail Camp

You don't know how long it took me to find a picture of a big red kangaroo in just the right pose. For further iterations of the camp, I expect to use other native Australian fauna with suitably lengthy tails. Thankfully, there are plenty of such marsupials.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Melbourne Long Tail Camp

Ben Barren took my virginity today. My Skype virginity, that is. After reading so much of hig blog I was a bit worried about what it would be like talking to him, since it was so hard to figure out what he was saying when he wrote it down. Not to worry, he spoke actual English during our 75-minute call... it's just that he spoke so damn much of it. It's like someone gave Hunter S. Thompson an Australian accent, too much speed (given it's Hunter S., that means a SHITLOAD of speed) and a Matrix-style Web 2.0 "upgrade" to the prefrontal cortex. Not that I can make any great claims to verbal lucidity: I have a face for radio and a voice for print. I think it's safe to say we're both far better communicators in the written word. Which doesn't bode well for a face-to-face event, but there you have it.

In amongst the echolalia, we thrashed out details of what we are calling the Melbourne Long Tail Camp, although it is only a prequel to something that will go under a different, more localised name. I managed to verbally hold him down and squeeze out some actual facts, which I will recreate here since Ben's post on the subject was typically dense.

Where: 33 Regent Street, Elsternwick.
When: Late arvo for helping set up and start cooking, very soon afterwards for when the first beer is opened, 7pm for when the first round of tucker will be cooked, and then 7.30pm for when the first presentation begins.
Who: Entrepreneurs, coders, investors, journos, university/high school prodigies, Old Media salarimen, ASIO spooks, and probably some clapped-out old bore who everyone ignores.
What to bring: A plate (in the Australian meaning of the word, meaning put something edible on the plate), grog (and beware, ye shalt be judged upon thy choice of beverage), laptop, ALL of your startup's employees (not just the marketing dude or the CEO), sleeping bag/change of underpants/toiletries if needed, candid pics of hot celebs to keep Ben happy.
What NOT to bring: World-weary cynicism, sneering attitude, holier-than-thou 1.0 haughtiness, list of buyout candidates for your startup, jellied fruit.
What will be provided: Free wireless Internet, white board, digital projector, textas, A1 paper which participants MUST use to record collaborative discussions, phat mashup beats, snags, dead horse, blowies, dunny.
How long for: Ostensibly just for the Friday evening, but if a bunch of coders all get excited about a group project or whatever, could stretch into a weekend-long collaborative project sleepover dealie. It's a house, so there will be bits of carpet rented out FREE for which to kip on (BYO sleeping bag).
How many will give presentations: Two confirmed at the moment (me and Ben), others TBC. If you are coming, and you have something you could talk about, please register your presentation.
Why: Because we think that despite all the bullshit, there is something worth building on in this Web 2.0 thingumabob. And it's worth getting a bunch of Aussies together to figure out how we can actually make a long-term local contribution this time, as opposed to last time where (apart from Evan Thornley) we all got screwed and the usual suspects ended up mopping up everything and everyone for a song.

Topix the latest to blend blogs with news

Topix.net has thrown its hat in the blog search engine ring by announcing "blogs and news are now on equal footing" in its keyword search results. This is in contrast to Yahoo putting blogs on the right side of their news results in a little box, and Google keeping news and blog results separate from each other on different pages. Topix's strategy looks most like Blogniscient's default view, but Topix does not do clustering like Memeorandum or Blogniscient do (the former clusters by default, the latter's clustered view is a secondary option).

One incidental point in all of this is the still-evolving unofficial standard for visual representations of blog and news content side-by-side. We all know the blue/black/green standard for Web search results, but how to differentiate blog and news results (and whatever else comes along?)? Topix's solution is to put a beige background behind blog results. No two sites are alike in this regard, so a new standard is up for grabs. Personally, I would prefer a specific colour-coding for blogs. Tinfinger will use a tongue colour (#f66 for those playing at home). Why tongue? Well, I would have liked a skin colour but there are so many varieties (some of which are represented in the finger part of the Tinfinger logo). Once everyone opens their mouth, though, their tongues are pretty much all the same colour. And blogs are just digitised tonguewagging.

So, given all these large and small companies are already in the news/blog indexing market and innovating in real time, how could a freshly minted startup (like Tinfinger) hope to gain any traction? Our take is a little different. Instead of a straight keyword-based site - the sort of thing robots do best - we focus on what humans understand best: other people. We will enable keyword searches of our content index, of course, but our main focus will be on a directory structure of groups of people. The effect will be somewhat similar in that the directory headings will be a bunch of keywords, but we're confident that the resulting site will give users a significantly different experience to the other aforementioned sites.

Tai has been reading Sun Tzu so we know not to be too confident. We're kind of like the starting Settler in Civilization IV, surrounded by the fog of war but with fertile ground all around us. Here's hoping we find the best spot to build something that will stand the test of time.

Come on mate and grab a plate

Let's have a barbeque. Specifically a leg of the Long Tail Camp, this Friday at an as-yet-undisclosed location in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick, which is where benbarren works on Feedtagger. It's difficult to figure out what ben's saying at the best of times, but in this case we're going to have to wait for exact location and time. UPDATE: Details have been released here, and the wiki is now open for registrations of attendees and presenters here. I'll be presenting there in any case. I'm keen to see who turns up, what is presented, and who wins the Alpha Male battle to control the burning cooking of the meat.

More importantly, I'll be fascinated to see who is still there on Sunday morning, reheating dessicated snags and polishing off the last of the flat VB. Or maybe VB won't be the drink of choice? The most popular beer at the event will be a key metric for the eventual fate of Web 2.0 in Australia. VB: not good, a sign of it being dull and low key. Stella: not the best either, indicates too many dilettantes. Heineken: cripes mate, stick to Aussie beers ya galah. Foster's: stop pandering to American stereotypes of Australia, no one drinks Foster's here. Carlton Draught, Cooper's Pale Ale or Cascade Premium: now you're talking, champ... dot com 2.0 millions await!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Windows Live

Following the blogging of today's Microsoft announcement by Mike Arrington (with photos), Dave Winer, Dan Farber and Todd Bishop, the Windows Live home page is apparently live.com. Like Inform.com, I expect Windows Live will get criticism from the blogosphere for lack of Firefox support.

It looks suspiciously like a portal to me at first glance, but a bit of clicking makes it look more like an RSS aggregator. The RSS aggregator market is already over-saturated with competitors, Bill! Oh, and why call it Windows Live? It has nothing to do with Windows, nothing at all.

A quick View Source reveals a lot of Javascript, so it looks like it's AJAX all the way on this one, complete with "Loading" whenever you click on a link. I'd love to know how much .NET they actually have on the back end, if any.

The search function reveals a three-pronged attack of Web, News and Feed results, although you can only view them one at a time. Gabe from Memeorandum can sigh with relief at the lack of clustering, but Google News and Topix.net have a new competitor. Interesting to note that the site retains the blue/black/green paradigm, if a bit more washed out than the norm, but adds an orange Subscribe text link for feeds instead of the white-on-orange XML gif favoured by Dave Winer.

I tried doing a vanity search on Tinfinger, and got 944 results, which is a damn sight more than any other engine has returned. Maybe Google has a competitor after all. Whatever else it is, this announcement makes that Sun/Google hoo-hah look like chopped liver.

UPDATE: Bitingly accurate comment over at CrunchNotes:
Why aren’t they using start.com? On the face of it both Live and Start look like they are seperated at birth…
Paul Mooney links to Windows Live Ideas, which annoys me even further by branding everything as Windows Live this and that. Hey, we're back in 1989 with everything being WinAppName. Speaking of old school, a Jupiter analyst spooges over everything WinLive.
It's a nice collection of some old MSN stuff re-branded and some new offerings incorporating a lot of things users have been asking for and in some cases, have been getting from others.
Talk about daming with faint praise! So it's bubble and squeak, a stew of leftovers reheated to lukewarm? Sign me up!

The economics of robot algorithms

My post HUAR: Humans United Against Robots has engendered some interesting followups, which caused it to be featured on tech.memeorandum, which no doubt has had a further network effect. Pete Cashmore started it with his Who Should Edit Web 2.0 post, and it was continued in Robots v. Mankind: Who's in charge? by Mitch Radcliffe. Dion Hinchcliffe took the discussion in another interesting direction, citing Cashmore but not me, in The Unintentional Vehicle for Secret Formulas.

It's that last one that has got me thinking. Back in the dim dark ages of 1991 when I first went to university at the age of 17¾, I foolishly enrolled in the Economics & Commerce course at the University of Melbourne. I soon began to question the basic economic theory being spouted at me by the soft-fleshed intellectuals standing at the podiums of the faculty's lecture theatres. After a while, I started to voice these concerns in the tutorials and sometimes even in the lectures. A typical exchange would go something like this:
Professor: blah blah blah... and we use these assumptions X and Y, and feed them into the graph like so. Thus the suppliers do J and K, leading to the market price fluctuating like so, and the demand curve bends this way...
Me (suffering cramps in his arm from holding it up so long): But J would never happen in the real world!
Professor: What do you mean, it wouldn't happen? Given assumptions X and Y, J is a natural consequence...
Me: No it's not! A real person would never act that way, it's stupid.
Professor: You have to wait until we go all the way through the model, you can't change things in the middle.
Me (subsiding in a fit of fuming frustration): ...

It got to the stage where I was accosting the professors in hallways after classes and trying to browbeat them into seeing the unreality of their pretty little economic models, few of which it seemed to me to be at all relevant to the way the world actually worked. Needless to say, I failed economics.

I have retained this distrust of algorithmic solutions to the world's problems to this day. I remain convinced that humans have to be present during the operation of an algorithm to weed out results which actively militate against reality for the result set to be of any worth.

Hinchcliffe raises an interesting corollary point:
The Long Tail is the most famous example of Web 2.0-style monetization; the mass servicing of micromarkets has led to eBay and Amazon becoming worth billions. But it's the other big technique that is probably the one that is the shortest route to the biggest success. This is the development of secret algorithms that provide services so good that they are a powerful and ultimately irresistable draw to users in vast numbers. Then, flush with almost monopolistic power, one can make substantial financial withdrawals from the international bank of crowd wisdom. This seems to be the business model that will be the most successful in the large, certainly Google has proven it through its incredible success story. And it all lies in having a big secret that you don't share. It really is of some concern. I am however, an optimist that believes it will work out in the end.

I certainly agree, as Hinchcliffe notes, that it appears worthwhile to keep such algorithms secret to follow Anil Dash's dictum that economies are things that get gamed. However, after a period of success, PageRank has been gamed already and it may prove to be the weakness that causes Google to be toppled by the inevitable Next Big Thing in search, Wink notwithstanding. I am sure Memeorandum et al will get gamed as people realise that all you need to do is link to certain popular blogs a lot. You could game the front page of Topix.net right now by including the words "kill", "death" and "explosion" in the first paragraph of your news story, even if the story is about knitting (hi Rich!).

My point is that robot algorithms exist in a lifeless vacuum, and humans will always find ways around them. Algorithms are driven by static point releases, where humans are continuously upgrading. No matter how much secrecy these companies use to shroud the actual variables and operands within their algorithms, humans will reverse engineer them eventually and game them anyway. We're just too damn sneaky. Viva the human rebellion!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bong territory

A gem buried at the end of an O'Reilly Radar post today:

Of course, once you talk about reforming the music industry's business models and doing away with traditional hit-maker labels, you end up harumphing "long tail" and you rapidly sound like you've been to Battelle's house for joints after midnight. No old school software company liked the open source and Internet changes, but the software industry is bigger and better for them. Is there a bigger and better future for the music industry? We're not out of bong territority yet, but the netlabels are a promising glimpse at what could be.

Emphasis his, not mine or benbarren's. Visiting my uncle's place as I do every week or so, I am familiar second-hand with bong territory and know of its stench of unreality. But hey, everything's funny when you're stoned.