February 13, 2006
@ 09:19 PM

Harry Pierson has a blog post entitled SPARK is Out of the Bag where he writes

As part of the new job, I'm involved in the planning a workshop called SPARK, which Dion Hinchcliffe blogged about this morning. (Dion also writes a blog here - bringing the total to three - so I created a combined feed just to keep track of all the places he writes). My new boss Mike also mentioned SPARK this morning. In the hopes of sparking futher interest (pun intended), here's the overview of SPARK:

SPARK is the first in a series of high-level forums hosted by Microsoft that use a workshop setting to examine “the issues that matter most” in the practice of strategic architecture and produce guidance for the industry as a whole.

Today, new social movements, advances in technology, and forces within business are overlapping to create a landscape glutted with challenges and opportunities. In many cases, these forces have driven the deployment of new technologies and the adoption of new behaviors, adding multiple layers to an already complex set of issues that must be navigated. Architects are searching for a solution that helps manage this complexity.

SOA, Software as a Service, Web 2.0, and Edge are all elements of the solution, but are they the complete picture? Are they a sufficient answer to the issues?  Can they be used together in a productive and efficient fashion? What matters most?

SPARK is an invite-only event and it looks like I was invited. I'm not sure what to expect. On the one hand it looks like one giant game of buzzword bingo with Web 2.0 hypesters and SOA propaganda-ists trying to outdo each other throwing out spurious buzzwords and grand proclamations. On the other hand some of the invitees have me intrigued and it would be good to compare notes on building services for the World Wide Web in today's world with other folks facing the same kind of issues I do in my day job.

I'll definitely be attending this workshop but not the accompanying MIX '06 conference. However I still plan to flip the bozo bit on any idiot that tries to talk to me about Web 2.0 while at this workshop.


Categories: Web Development

From the USA Today article Bill would keep servers out of China we learn

Now, Congress is stepping in with proposed legislation that could hobble the companies as they plunge deeper into one of the world's hottest economies. This is Round 2 for Congress. Last year, it scrutinized and slowed other business deals with ties to China's government among oil companies and computer makers.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is drafting a bill that would force Internet companies including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to keep vital computer servers out of China and other nations the State Department deems repressive to human rights. Moving servers would keep personal data they house from government reach. But that also could weaken the firms' crucial Internet search engines. (Related: AOL tries to speak Chinese.)
Google last month launched Google.cn, a version of its No. 1 search engine that prevents Chinese residents from seeing, for example, photos of tanks confronting Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989. Also last month, Microsoft acknowledged shutting down a blog run by a Chinese journalist critical of the government.

Last fall, Yahoo acknowledged giving information to Chinese officials that led to a 10-year prison sentence for a journalist accused of divulging state secrets. Last week, Reporters Without Borders, a journalism group critical of Yahoo's cooperation with Chinese officials, accused it of working with the Chinese government in another case that led to a dissident being jailed. Yahoo said it was unaware of the case.

The companies say they are unhappy with the restrictions yet must honor local laws.
Google's site launch came days after it rebuffed a U.S. Justice Department subpoena demanding that it turn over data on how millions of users search the Internet.

In contrast, Yahoo, Microsoft and America Online all cooperated with Justice.

Since this affects my day job I won't comment on it other than to say I find this entire debate very interesting. I will mention that unlike the USA Today reporter who wrote this story I'm not sure that the U.S. government's interest in the IBM/Lenovo or Unocal/CNOOC deals last year is comparable to the current efforts by members of congress.


Categories: Current Affairs

February 13, 2006
@ 04:54 PM

Last month, Dave Winer wrote the following in a post on his blog

Today's been a day for epiphanies, small and large. A small one is that tech.memeorandum.com is not really about technology, it's about the business of technology. Actually it's narrower than that, it's the West Coast-centered technology business. I'd love to see a Memeorandum-like service that focused on technology, the ones and zeroes, and left out the fluff and the bubbles.

I agree a 100% with Dave Winer here. I think the concept and implementation of tech.memeorandum.com is nothing short of fantastic. On the other hand, the content typically leaves much to be desired. For example, this morning's top story is that some analysts are now pessimistic on Google's stock price because they just realized they have competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo. As a technology geek, I couldn't care less about such mindless crap. Like Dave Winer I'm more interested in what programmer types are currently geeking about as opposed to what pundits pontificating on Google vs. Microsoft vs. Yahoo are gabbing about.

I gather that the tech.memeorandum.com algorithm is based on figuring what the current hot topics are among certain A-list bloggers. The problem with this is that most A-list technology bloggers are pundits not technologists. This means they spend most of their time talking about technology companies not technology. There's a big difference between what you'll find on Robert Scoble or John Battelle's blogs versus what you'll see on the blog of Simon Willison or Don Box. I personally would rather see a tech.memeorandum.com that was based on showing me what was hot amongst technology implementers like Simon and Don versus among technology watchers like Scoble and Battelle.  

Ideally, I should be able to customize tech.memeorandum.com so I can treat it as a personal aggregator. I'd love to be able to provide it the OPML for blogs.msdn.com and have it show me what the hot topics were among Microsoft bloggers. From my perspective,  tech.memeorandum.com is a good implementation of a great idea. However it is just the beginning. I wonder who will be first to take it to the next level and enable us to build personalized meme trackers? 


Categories: Technology

Work has been quite hectic the past few weeks so I've gotten behind on checking out the sexy new startups coming out of Silicon Valley. The startup that has recently caught my interest is Edgeio, the brain child of Mike Arrington of TechCrunch.

The most succint post I've found on the company is Edgeio - Mike’s Little eBay Killer by Pete Cashmore where he writes

Essentially, Edgeio is an aggregator for classified listings. You can write a classified ad on your blog, tag it with "listing" and let Edgeio pick it up from your feed. Add a few more tags to describe your ad and Edgeio will grab those too. The service will pick up anything tagged with "listing" and obviously that raises the question of spam. But after speaking to Mike, I’m pretty sure he’s on top of it. For instance, you can claim your blog on Edgeio, just like on Technorati. Claiming your blog means that you are now a "member" and your listings are considered more trustworthy. There are also automated ways to remove the worst of the spam. And then there are the user-powered methods - "report spam" buttons and the like.
Last of all: the business model. Unlike about 90% of the stuff that gets labelled (tagged?) Web 2.0, Edgeio actually has one. Actually it has a few, but the main monetization method appears to be sponsored listings - pay 25 cents a day to get your listing bumped up to the top. I would have been tempted to pursue a transaction-based model (ie. you take a cut from every sale), but I can see why Edgeio isn’t taking that path for now - handling transactions is a huge job and requires a reputation system, among other things. (And if Edgeio did build a reputation system, I’m pretty sure it would be portable).

Calling Edgeio an eBay killer is probably a bit hyperbolic, but I do think it points the way to how decentralization will undermine the centralized business models of old. Your little walled garden will never be as large, rich and varied as the content that exists out on the open web.

As you can expect from a "Web 2.0 blog", Pete Cashmore's post is full of hyperbole and leaps of faith but there are some interesting ideas here nonetheless. From a technology perspective I assume that Edgeio depends on microformats just like other metadata-in-your-blog-post initiatives such as Structured Blogging. This indicates to me that there now seems to be general consensus amongst the Silicon Valley startup crowd that building a company based on searching blogs and screen scraping their HTML such as PubSub and Technorati have done is the new hotness.

The more interesting thing to me is that the folks at Edgeio are implying that there is a market for a 'Make this blog post a classified listing' checkbox in traditional blog posting tools. From my perspective as someone who works closely with the MSN Spaces and Windows Live Expo teams this sounds very interesting. There is already some integration planned between both services but I'm not sure this is one of the options that was considered. I wonder how much user validation of this beilief Mike Arrington and company did before going ahead with launching their startup?

As far as business models go, I find it hard to imagine why anyone would consider this an eBay killer. I'm not going to claim that people posting things for sale on their blog and then having that picked up by classified listing services is inferior to eBay's model. However, I wonder why anyone thinks that services like eBay, Craig's List and Windows Live Expo wouldn't jump into this market if it turned out to be profitable. Since there doesn't seem to be any barrier to entry, ability to write a Web crawler and minor HTML parsing is all that is required, I wouldn't start eulogizing  eBay just yet. 


A couple of folks at work have been commenting on how the blogosphere has been raving about a couple of recent announcements from Google yet seemed to ignore similar functionality when it showed up in competing products. Here are three examples from this week.

  1. In his post entitled I know, cry me a river Reeves Little writes

    Case in point: looks like Google is in some sort of closed beta for a domains service and the digerati are all a-buzz.  Hmmm... turns out some of my colleagues in Redmond launched a new domains service for Windows Live way back in November, it's open to the public AND we have a bunch of folks using it including a slew of universities around the world

    I like that there is a Windows Live @ edu video so people can see what the program is like. But as Reeves points out, you don't have to be an educational institution to bring your own domain to Microsoft and have us host your email. With domains.live.com anyone can do that.

  2. In his post entitled Hotmail & IM Mike Torres writes

    The web is abuzz with talk of Google's new Gmail feature; Gmail Chat. I'm not too happy about giving one of our competitors airplay on my blog for integration that has been available in Hotmail for years... so instead, I'll take this opportunity to discuss the Hotmail features in a little more depth.  Note that I'm talking about the vanilla, standard-issue Hotmail used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide - not the amazing Windows Live Mail currently in limited beta testing.
    If you're already using Hotmail, you may know that Hotmail blended instant messaging with email a while back in a bunch of interesting ways. We started with merging your contact list into a unified list; a project I worked on about three years ago when I first joined MSN. Your Hotmail (or Windows Live Mail) contact list and your MSN Messenger (or Windows Live Messenger) contact list are one and the same - the only difference is that some contacts are "Messenger enabled".  It's fun to see other service providers start to pick up on this concept, as we've always thought this approach made a lot of sense.  A contact is a contact is a contact!

    Now that you've got your unified contact list... from within Hotmail, you can also see online presence information (online/offline/away) next to any email you receive or from within the Contacts tab (provided you have access to that contact's presence).
    Taking this a step further, whenever you receive an email from someone on your contact list, you can "Instant Reply" via IM instead of sending an email. Very handy feature for those of us smitten with IM. The Instant Reply feature immediately pops open a conversation window, complete with voice, video, games, and of course, text chat. No shortage of things to do with your friends here!

    But one of the great (and somewhat unsung) features in Hotmail is its ability to use MSN Web Messenger (http://webmessenger.msn.com) if you don't have the MSN Messenger client running on your PC. This means you don't have to install anything to get this stuff to sing. It just works for you.  When you sign-in to Hotmail, you immediately - without having to run anything else - have the ability to send and receive instant messages and check to see if your contacts are online.  Of course, things get a lot more interesting if you download MSN/Windows Live Messenger (http://messenger.msn.com) but if you're at a friend's house or at a kiosk in Bali, you don't have to.

    The IM integration into all of Microsoft's mail offerings (both Outlook & Hotmail) is something I keep seeing people ignore whenever they talk about IM integration in mail clients.

  3. Last but not least is Brandon Paddock's post entitled Want to search all your PCs from anywhere? Use Windows Desktop Search. where he writes

    Want to search all your PCs from anywhere?

    Don’t want all your personal data stored on an advertising companies’ server?

    Then you should try Windows Desktop Search combined with the free FolderShare application.  With FolderShare your data remains safely on your PCs, but you can search, browse, and access your data from any internet-connected PC.  FolderShare added search integration with WDS last summer.  They were acquired by Microsoft a few months ago and the product was made free at that time.

    Also, here’s more discussion about Google’s new "feature."

And that's just this week. Whew...

Categories: Windows Live

February 8, 2006
@ 03:16 AM

I've mentioned in the past that Microsoft is generally clueless at branding. One of my worries about the entire MSN/Windows Live rebranding effort is that it is needlessly confusing to end users. It seems a bunch of Microsoft watchers have begun to point this out.

In the blog post entitled Is it Live or MSN? Greg Linden writes

I think there is quite a bit of brand confusion here.

With Microsoft slapping the Live label on everything and its mother and promoting the Windows Live brand as the future of Microsoft's web effort, I'm not sure what happens to the existing MSN properties and well-established MSN brand.

Will MSN Search become Windows Live Search? Will MSN.com redirect to Live.com? If not, will Microsoft try to maintain two brands, Windows Live and MSN? Where is the dividing line? What is the difference? Will users understand that difference?

Back in December 2005, I rashly predicted that "Microsoft will abandon Windows Live." After a bit of a ruckus about that, I elaborated by saying that there is "too much confusion between live.com and msn.com" and that "the MSN brand is too valuable to be diluted with an expensive effort to build up a new Windows Live brand."

Perhaps I am overestimating the value of the MSN brand. Perhaps, at the end of the day, it will be Windows Live that is left standing.

Either way, there can be only one. Few outside of the digerati know about Windows Live right now but, when Microsoft tries to promote this to the mainstream, the brand confusion is going to be severe. Something will have to be done.

In a blog post entitled Warning: Massive upcoming consumer confusion one of the creators of LiveSide writes

Over the last few days I've realised just how bloody the battle of Windows Live vs MSN rebranding is going to be.
Wakeup call #1 was when I tried to explain Windows Live to a regular home user. Thirty minutes later and my progress was minimal to say the least, though they had at least grasped that Windows Live Messenger was infact MSN Messenger with a different name. I hadn't even started on Live Favorites, Live Local, Expo and Live.com. Nor had I mentioned that MSN was still going to exist.
Wakeup call #2 was reading the responses to my post yesterday. Notably this and this. The general consensus seems to be one of confusion. These are technology bloggers, they should be getting Windows Live 3 months on from the original announcement and only a few months short of the first wave of launches. No wonder the marketing and advertising people I've spoken to have been commenting on the massive amounts of money that are being pumped into this transition.
Windows Live Sessions has been a good start in educating the early adopters, however much more needs to be done and quickly too.

I personally think that MSN is a pretty strong brand especially when it came to its communication assets (MSN Spaces, Hotmail and MSN Messenger) and we shouldn't be trying to replace it. On the other hand, I can see the need to reinvigorate the Windows brand especially in a world where "Web 2.0" and "AJAX" are the only buzzwords that seem to get analysts excited. The way I see it, the die is already cast and we now have to stay the course. It will likely be confusing for end users but at the end of the day they'll have a bunch of compelling online services which improve their Web experience. At that point, who really cares what they are named?


Categories: Windows Live

From the press release Microsoft Announces Pricing and Licensing Details for Windows OneCare Live we learn

Microsoft Corp. today announced final licensing and pricing information for its soon-to-be-released Windows OneCare™ Live, the all-in-one, automatic and self-updating PC care service aimed at helping consumers more easily protect and maintain their PCs to keep them running well. Now available free to new beta testers in the United States, at http://ideas.live.com, Microsoft® Windows OneCare Live will be available in June from retailers and via the Web for an annual subscription of $49.95 MSRP for up to three personal computers. To thank its valuable beta customers and offer an easy transition to the paid service, Microsoft also announced today a promotional deal offering the first year of Windows OneCare Live service for $19.95 to beta customers who become subscribers between April 1 and April 30, 2006.
Designed to Fit Customer Needs

Microsoft research showed that most people’s computers are insufficiently protected from threats such as viruses because users find the protection process confusing and frustrating, and even if they once had protection services on their computers, they are often out of date. Many others have rarely, if ever, backed up the important data on their PCs or regularly run the performance maintenance tasks needed to keep their computers running well — which is risky in a digital age when consumers rely more and more on their PCs in their daily lives. As a part of Microsoft’s overarching efforts to deliver software and services that better protect customers, Windows OneCare Live provides a “just take care of it for me” service that keeps consumers’ needs at the center of the experience. When available as a paid subscription service in June, Windows OneCare Live will include the following features:

Protection Plus includes anti-virus and firewall protection and automatic updates, as well as anti-spyware functionality powered by Windows® Defender, to help protect the PC and the customer.

Performance Plus delivers regular PC tuneups to help maintain computer performance and reliability.

Backup and Restore delivers easy-to-use backup and restore functionality for the full PC.

Help and Support provides effective help when needed through a variety of modes — e-mail, phone and chat — with all service support coming from PC care experts at Microsoft for no additional charge.

Those who want to participate in the free beta test of Windows OneCare Live until April 30 should visit http://ideas.live.com.

I've been surprised to find out that Windows OneCare Live seems to be the one service that seems to resonate with end users the most when I talk to them about Windows Live. I can't tell if that is a good thing or a bad thing. :)


Categories: Windows Live

February 7, 2006
@ 12:35 AM
I've recently been thinking about the overlap and differences between applications for reading email and applications for reading RSS. I started thinking more about this topic after reading the following excerpted blog posts.

In his blog post The RSS Experience in IE7 Joshua Allen wrote

Dare says as much; IE7 was not intended to replace tools like RSS Bandit, NewsGator, or Outlook 12. It's not a matter of trying to keep small ISVs in business, as much as a decision to put the RSS-Bandit style reading experience in the products where it belongs; namely Outlook and OE. IE7 doesn't read NNTP feeds either; that's what OE is for.

In his blog post Email is Abused Omar Shahine wrote

I firmly believe that email is a fantastic tool, and that it’s also heavily abused in the work place. More often than not, what you hear when you send an email is deafening silence or a flurry of incomprehensible replies breaking threading and screwing up the conversation flow.

It is my firm belief that many folks don’t have any system for dealing with their email. They get overwhelmed by the amount of mail that they have, and as a result are unpredictable in getting back to you (if they do).

What this means is that not only do you have to manage your inbox, but you have to manage their inbox. I’ve started to write things down that I want to talk to people about, and every so often, walk into their offices and talk about the issues. It’s weird as this is what I used to do long before email got crazy.

On the one hand, Joshua Allen argues that consuming RSS feeds should be the purvey of traditional mail readers. On the other, Omar Shahine points out that traditional mail readers do a poor job of enabling people to manage information overload in environments with high rates of information flow. I agree 100% with the implications of Omar's post. Traditional 3-pane mail readers do a very poor job of enabling people keep on top of the information they consume. Thus, I think it's a bad idea to add yet another fire hose of information into the mix (i.e. making a traditional mail reader like Outlook my primary RSS reader).

I've not always been of this opinion. A few years ago I wrote a blog post entitled RSS, WinFS and Building a Universal Information Client where I discussed the concept of a universal information aggregator and argued that Outlook was the closest application to what I envisioned. Since then I've become familiar with the term digital lifestyle aggregator (DLA) which is similar to and better defined than my idea of a universal information aggregator. I believe that the DLA concept gives a clear idea of what information aggregators such as personal information managers and RSS readers should evolve into.

Why did I change my mind about Outlook being the ideal DLA? Well, the longer I worked on RSS Bandit, the more I felt that mimicing Outlook in its entirety wasn't the right approach for approaching building an RSS reader. I mentioned some of the problems I have with the Outlook model in my post The Problem With RSS Readers Inspired By Outlook where I wrote

The major problem is that the Outlook mail reading paradigm has a fundamental assumption which turns out to be flawed. It assumes you want to read every item you get in your inbox. This flawed assumption leads to the kind of information overload that hampers the productivity of lots of people I know at work. I've met several people who seem to always have hundreds unread items in their email inbox. For this reason I always have to learn who's easier to reach via IM or swinging by their office in person than sending them mail.

Most people I know get four classes of messages in their information aggregators (I am lumping reading email, reading news and reading RSS/Atom feeds into a single category). These are

1. notifications (checkin mails, comments to my blog, etc)
2. headlines (email newsletters, feeds from news sites, etc)
3. messages sent directly to me or that is similarly relevant
4. messages sent to an interest group I am a part of (XML-DEV mailing list, comp.text.xml newsgroup, etc)

The problem is that the typical Outlook inspired information aggregator treats all of the above as being of equal relevance. Even though Outlook does provide mechanisms for managing assigning relevance to incoming messages, they are either hard to find or cumbersome to use.

This is definitely one of the areas that needs to be improved in the world of information aggregators in general and RSS/Atom readers in particular.

The bottom line is that I think that traditional mail readers do a poor job of enabling people to manage the amount of information they consume today. With RSS, we've had the opportunity to experiment with different models of presenting information to users from "river of news" style aggregators to personalized portal pages instead of sticking to the traditional 2  or 3 pane readers which dominate email and news readers.

Unfortunately, the major browser vendors haven't gotten in on the act. Instead of using RSS as an opportunity to explore new ways of presenting information to users we've seen rather lame attempts at RSS integration into the browser such as Firefox's Live Bookmarks feature and the upcoming integration of RSS into IE 7 which is just slightly better.

So where are we? The major browsers have punted on solving the information overload problem caused by RSS while integrating it into their products. Similarly, mail readers already suck at dealing with email information overload let alone when RSS feeds are added to the mix. As it stands, I'm not sure where we're going to from here. In the meantime, I'm going to start exploring alternative Web browsers like Flock. Perhaps they'll be bolder in re-imagining how to improve the overall experience of people using the World Wide Web today.


February 6, 2006
@ 11:00 AM
I just spent 35 minutes working on a post on RSS and Email only to lose it because Firefox crashed. The main reason I started composing my blog posts in Firefox was because I had lost some posts due to crashes in Internet Explorer. I guess it's back to writing my blog posts in Emacs.



Categories: Ramblings

Nick Bradbury has a post entitled Feedback on IE7 Beta 2 from the Developer of FeedDemon where he gives a lot of good feedback on the recently released IE 7 beta from his perspective as the developer of an RSS reader. Although I've given some feedback on the RSS reading functionality of  the IE 7 beta, I realize it would be more valuable to give my thoughts on the Winows RSS platform since this is supposed to make the job of people like me who've built RSS readers better. Below is a smattering of feedback divided into pros and cons of using the Windows RSS platform versus using the version we've built for RSS Bandit. Note that as Nick says in his post given that I've already written a lot of the ugly code needed to handle feed downloading, caching, parsing, etc. actually switching to use the Windows RSS platform is a load of unnecessary work for me. My feedback is based on the kind of support I'd need from the platform to implement the scenarios currently supported by RSS Bandit .


  • COM API  was very straightforward to interact with from  .NET applications
  • Built-in support for downloading enclosures in the background is nice
  • Good support for asynchronously downloading feeds. This means application developers don't need to write a bunch of multithreaded/asynchronous code themselves. That is definitely a godsend.
  • One can serialize feed objects to  XML


  • No support for application specific feeds. The Common Feed List assumes that user needs to use the same list of feeds in the various applications used for subscribing to feeds. I think this assumption is fundamentally flawed. I might use one application for downloading podcasts (e.g. iTunes), another for reading blogs (e.g. RSS Bandit), and yet another for browsing photo feeds. Since it doesn't make sense for my blogs to show up in iTunes, it would be cool if I could identify either the type of feed (podcast, text-based, etc) or the favored application for reading the feed via the API.
  • No support for password protected feeds. The number of password protected feeds on the Web continues to grow, Web sites such as GMail and LiveJournal provide authenticated feeds for users today. As the usage of syndication technologies like RSS continues to grow, the need to support authentication by feed readers will also grow as well. I can imagine a day when I can subscribe to a password protected feed from my bank or credit card company. Not having support for this today is a non-starter.
  • Support for obtaining XML elements which aren't supported by the API. It would be nice if there was a property for obtaining extension elements in a feed that didn't involve having to convert the feed object to XML then using XPath. Being able to perform a call like  Feed.GetItem("http://wellformedweb.org/CommentAPI/ ", "commentRss") to get an element which isn't mapped to a property in the Feed object is a lot more desirable than writing DOM or XPath code to extract that element from the results of calling Feed.Xml
  • No ability to append application specific metadata to feeds. RSS Bandit supports notions like flagging items and we'd need some way to indicate that items are flagged if we are using the API.

Most of this is just based on reading the Using the Microsoft Feeds API document on MSDN. I'm sure I'd have more feedback if I took a pass at replacing all the feed processing code in RSS Bandit with the Windows RSS platform. However I don't think I'll have time to do that anytime soon.