From the Techdirt post Google's Moves Chinese Search Records So They Can Be Subpoenaed By The US we learn

With Yahoo getting slammed for giving up info to the Chinese government, leading to the arrest of some political dissidents, it would appear that Google has begun to rethink where they should keep their Chinese search engine data. It looks like Google has gone with a compromise route, and is moving all of its Chinese search data out of China and into the US -- which still raises some questions. After all, it was just this week that the US Department of Justice claimed that no one should worry when it subpoenas search terms from Google here in the US -- something Google has fought vehemently. Perhaps the next suggestion would be for them to move the US data into China. Then everyone can subpoena whoever they want, and Google can claim the data is out of the country and they can't do anything about it.



After procrastinating for what seems like half a year, I finished my article Seattle Movie Finder: An AJAX and REST-Powered Virtual Earth Mashup which has now been published on O'Reilly The article is a walkthrough of how I built my Seattle Movie Finder application with a few tips on building mapping mashups.

I think the most useful tip from the article is letting people know about the API which provide REST, SOAP and XML-RPC services for converting addresses to latitudes and longitudes. That discovery helped a great deal. The Virtual Earth folks currently advise people who want geocoding to register for the MapPoint SOAP Web services which was too much of a hassle for me. On the other hand, the free and zero hassle got the job done. 

I'm thinking of turning this into a series with the next article explaining how I built my MSN Spaces Photo Album Browser gadget for Let me know what you think of the article. 


Categories: Web Development | Windows Live

A great thing about blogs is that they let you join the conversation when the conversation is about you. Today there were a bunch of rumors about Passport and InfoCard. Trevin Chow of the Passport team addresses them in his post Official word on Infocard and Passport where he writes

Ever since RSA, rumours have been flying aroung the web and blogosphere about Passport's supposed demise at the hands of Infocard:
As much as I hate to disappoint folks like CNet, ZDNet, The Boston Herald, IT Business Edge, etc. but this is absolutely false...Here it is in as easy to understand language as possible, and feel free to quote :)
Today, Passport supports different types of credentials.  A more verbose definition of a "credential" from Wikipedia is:
"A credential is a proof of qualification, competence, or clearance that is attached to a person, and often considered an attribute of that person."
Today, Passport supports email address with either passwords or mobile PINs as credential types.  Infocard will simply be another credential that will be supported by Passport. In other words, Infocard will not replace Passport, but rather Infocard will supplement Passport.  So in a nutshell:
1. Infocard will not be replacing Passport, contrary to the popular belief, rumour and conjecture.
2. Inforcard will be another accepted credential type for the Passport network.  You will be able to link an Infocard to your Passport and use it to access Microsoft, MSN and Windows Live services.
This is not to say that Infocard is not a valuable and worthwhile technology.  I'm extremely excited about the possbility of the proliferation of infocards in the future and putting the control of sharing user information in the hands of the user.  The point being made here is that Passport will not be wholesale replaced by Infocard.

The Infocard hype keeps getting louder and louder each day. One of these days,  I may have to get off my butt and actually find out what exactly it is.  :)


Categories: Windows Live

Steve Kafka of the Windows Live mail team has a blog post entry on their team blog entitled M5 is alive! where he talks about some of the new features. Some of my favorites include

Hotmail Classic View
OK, I know it's a contradiction to name anything with the name “classic” as NEW.  But it is.  We know our customers roam….and that they don't always log in to Windows Live Mail on computers with IE (and many times they aren’t even logging in from a computer at all).  We want to help make sure you guys can get your mail any time you need.  Now for people not using Internet Explorer 6.0 and higher, we have a new view of WL Mail, what we're calling the Hotmail Classic View.
Offline Mail and other good stuff
Announcing Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta!  The next generation of desktop mail is coming.  Check out the team blog for all the details.
Configurable reading pane
Did you know that you can turn the reading pane off?  That's ok, no one else did either.  Now you can configure the reading pane while reading your mail.  No hunting through options, you can change it on the fly.  Even better, we've added an option: the bottom reading pane!  Now you can chose between having the reading pane on the right, bottom, or off.  You pick.  Change it whenever you like.
Outlook-like shortcuts
You can now use the shortcuts menu in the left hand navigation to switch between Mail, Contacts, Calendar and the Today page.  Need more space? Minimize the shortcuts to give yourself the maximum amount of room to view your mail.
Contact picker
I know auto-complete is awesome.  Start typing a name and we complete the address for you. It's perfect for writing a mail to one or two people.  But admit it, sometimes you just want to browse.  You want to peruse your contact list and choose your contacts and groups.  With contact picker you can browse your contacts and groups while composing a mail and choose which addresses you want to add.
Find in contacts
If your contact list is bigger than 20 people, you're probably tired of scrolling through the list looking for the right contact.  Well, hunt no longer. Find in Contacts will actually word wheel through your contact list as you type.  For those of you lucky enough to be on the Windows Live Messenger beta, this will probably look familiar.  Select the contact you are looking for and you'll jump right to that contact. Your contact management just got a whole lot easier.
Spaces integration
Those cool contact cards aren't just for Messenger anymore.  The "contact control" now pulls in the profile picture for your contacts. You can view their contact card, jump to their Space or profile and more. This feature won’t be ready immediately when M5 is released but we were too excited to keep it a secret.
Custom filters
While Windows Live Mail continues to use the custom filters you set up in Hotmail, there hasn't been any way to edit the old rules or create new one.  And boy did our beta testers miss it. Until now.  Custom filters are back, allowing you to have mail sent directly to a folder of your choosing based on the criteria you select.

This release is hot. I finally had to get a Windows Live Mail beta invite for my girlfriend. She likes it, I do too.


Categories: Windows Live

The Windows Live Expo team has a blog post entitled Hello world... which begins

The Expo team is very proud to unveil the Windows Live Expo service today. Our public beta will cater to all users in the every location across the US.
To get started on the service, we've produced a nice Flash product tour (thanks Becky!) that outlines all of our cool features. Head over to the homepage here and you'll find a link for the tour near the bottom of the page.
I wanted to call out a few known issues with the Beta that we've acknowledges and are working on:
  • Spaces integration: The new Spaces module will be activated very soon - hold tight..
  • Firefox niggles: Yes, we know you can't drag and drop the windows and that the rich-text editing has problems. We already have fixes in the pipeline for this so expect to see it patched shortly.

As I've mentioned before, I've been working closely with the Expo team to get their service off the ground and it's been a fun journey. Try it out and tell them what you think.


Categories: Windows Live

From the blog post Virtual Earth Team Launches Street-Side Drive-by we learn

The Virtual Earth team is pleased to launch a preview of a new feature we have been working on – interactive Street-side browsing. You can try it out at Street-side imagery allows you to drive around a city looking at the world around you as if you were in a car. But unlike the real world, you can stop your car anywhere you like and rotate your view around 360degrees. Currently we have street-side imagery for San Francisco and Seattle online, and we are planning to have many more cities added soon.

One of the most interesting features is to put yourself in ‘Street’ view map style. In this mode, all of the street-side images are pasted flat on the map to give you a very unique overview of an area. It takes some getting used to, but once you adjust to it you’ll find it provides a very compelling companion view for our Hybrid maps. Street view helps you orient yourself quickly in an area, while the street side views then show more detail presented as you would see it in the real-world.

This technology preview is just that – a means for us to get a feature we are working on in your hands to play with and provide feedback on, before it is ready for prime time integration into the Windows Live Local site.



Categories: Windows Live

The Window Live Messenger team has a blog post about the newest version of the Windows Live beta. My favorite new feature is described below

Live Contacts are Live! Click the button on the back of your contact card to enter in all your information (phone number, address, job, spouse , etc).

With your permission, friends can see your entered info on your contact card. Anytime you update it (new phone? new job? new wife? ) they'll see it.

Similarly, subscribe to get your friends' Live Contact information by clicking the backs of their contact cards.

Live Contacts is a rather cool feature that our team has been working on for a while. It will be integrated across a number of Windows Live properties and is already available in MSN Spaces.

PS: I have a dozen invites for the Windows Live Messenger beta. Send me an email at my work address if you want one.


Categories: Windows Live

February 28, 2006
@ 06:57 PM

Recently I've been thinking about digital representations of self. Back in the day, when I thought about digitally representing people, I'd think about the MetaVerse which was described in the novel SnowCrash. Below is an excerpt of the novel

As Hiro approaches the Street, he sees two young couples, probably using their parents' computers for a double date in the in the Metaverse, climbing down out of Port Zero, which is the local port of entry and monorail stop.

He is not seeing real people, of course. This is all a part of the moving illustration drawn by his computer according to specifications coming down the fiber-optic cable. The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse. Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too, and if the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see him, just as he's seeing them. They could strike up a conversation: Hiro in the U-Stor-It in L.A. and the four teenagers probably on a couch in a suburb of Chicago, each with their own laptop. But they probably won't talk to each other, any more than they would in Reality. These are nice kids, and they don't want to talk to a solitary crossbreed with a slick custom avatar who's packing a couple of swords.

You can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you're ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you've just gotten out of bed, your avatar can be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse. Spend five minutes walking down the Street and you will see all of these.

The one problem with the MetaVerse is that it primarily focuses on recreating the world with all of its limitiations when it comes to self expression. appearance. The only way people get to tell more about themselves is by how they look or by being spoken to. This isn't much different from the real world. That sucks.

I've come to realize that a new generation of social networking applications are fixing this problem with online representations of our personalities. I went clubbing this weekend and couldn't help but notice that everyone from the DJ at the techno club (DJ Niros) to rappers pimping their next album at the hip hop club (E 40) had a MySpace profile. I was watching TV and discovered that even movies and TV shows have MySpace profiles. I have a member of my household who obsessively hangs out on MySpace while online chatting with her friends.

Things get even more interesting when you factor in how modern social networking tools have changed dating rituals among young adults.  First of all,  there's the eternal wisdon of Jamie Zawinski who in his article Groupware Bad wrote

So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?

That got me a look like I had just sprouted a third head, but bear with me, because I think that it's not only crude but insightful. "How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).

"Social software" is about making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.

Some may laugh but I've met more than one college student who's said that she looks up potential dates in Facebook before going out with them. Or how about this comment from Jim Gilliam where he wrote

All this talk about MySpace lately. As someone who was part of the Los Angeles indie music scene that is now credited with making MySpace cool, I can tell you it was all about hooking up. It started at Friendster, but we broke it cause everyone started using it. So off to MySpace.

That girl you saw at the club? You could probably find her on MySpace even if you didn't know her name.. just by going through your friends and their friends. Then you either started flirting, stalked her, saw she was underage, or hated her musical tastes so much you got over it.

The MetaVerse from SnowCrash could not have enabled this level of insight into people's personalities with the limitations of just focusing on customizing ones appearance. With an online space I can share my thoughts, my music, my friends, my interests and my life with friends, family and strangers. This is a better MetaVerse than what existed in science fiction novels.

The reason I love my day job is that this is the kind of software I get to build. Every day is a holiday.


Categories: Social Software

Last week I saw links to Jason Calcanis's post YouTube is not a real business which I didn't read at the time because I wasn't that familiar with YouTube. However, over the past few days I've been watching a ton of videos on the site including the MySpace movie. I have to say I totally agree with what Jason Calcanis wrote below

4. YouTube is not a real business (or an innovative business). This is my main point. Let's not look at YouTube's page views and claim they are some amazing business. Napster and Kazaa had a ton of traffic too--it just wasn't web-based. If you could do an Alexa graph of Kazaa, BitTorrent, Usenet, and the old Napster they would be number one through four on Alexa!

Watching DIGG, Engadget, and MySpace climb in the rankings? Those are real businesses. If those sites added the ability to distribute stolen video in two clicks they would shoot up to the top 10 sites!

Let me break it down: YouTube and other video hosting sites have made it easy to pirate stuff on the web (which is where piracy started), but they shouldn't be positioned as some revolutionary business.

Like the original Napster, YouTube seems to be primarily about making money off of copyright infringement. A lot of the most popular videos don't seem to be have been uploaded by copyright holders unlike other video services like MSN Video or Google Video.

What I wonder is whether copyright infringement lawsuits will eventually shut them down or they'll end up getting both by a major player before that happens. They definitely have become a good brand and they do have some skills when it comes to scaling a popular service [although the server seems to be giving me HTTP 500 errors this morning]. It would be a shame for them to end up like Napster did.


One of the interesting side effects of blogs is that it tells you more about people than you can ever learn from reading a resume or giving an interview. This is both good and bad. It's good because in a professional context it informs you about the kind of people you may or should want to end up working with. It's bad, for the same reasons.

Blogs Make Me Sad
I find all the "Web 2.0" hype pretty disgusting. Everytime I read a discussion about what makes a company "Web 2.0" or not, I feel like I've lost half a dozen IQ points. Everytime I see someone lay on the "Web 2.0" hype I mentally adjust my estimation of their intelligence downward. The only folks this doesn't apply to are probably Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle because I can see the business reasons why they started this hype storm in the first place. Everyone else comes of as a bunch of sheep or just plain idiots.

Some folks are worse than others. These are the self proclaimed "Web 2.0" pundits like Dion Hinchcliffe who's blessed us with massively vacuous missives like Thinking in Web 2.0: Sixteen Ways and Web 2.0 and the Five Walls of Confusion. Everytime I accidentally stumble on one of his posts by following links from other's posts I feel like I've become dumber by having to read the empty hype-mongering. Russell Beattie's WTF 2.0 shows that I'm not the only person who is disgusted by this crap.

I was recently invited to Microsoft's SPARK workshop and was looking forward to the experience until I found out Dion Hinchcliffe would be attending. Since the event aims to be audience driven, I cringe when I think about being stuck in some conference hall with no way to escape listening to vacuous  "Web 2.0" hype till my ears bleed. If I had any sense I'd just not attend the conference, but who turns down a weekend trip to Vegas?

If not for blogs, I wouldn't know about Dion Hinchcliffe and could attend this workshop with great expectations instead of feelings of mild dread.

Blogs make me sad.

Blogs Make Me Happy
One of the things I loved about working on the XML team at Microsoft was all the smart people I got to shoot the breeze with about geeky topics every day. There were people like Michael Brundage, Derek Denny-Brown, Joshua Allen, and Erik Meijer who I felt made me smarter everytime I left their presence.

With blogs I get this feeling from reading the writings of others without having to even be in their presence. For example, there are so many lessons in Shelley Powers's recent post Babble that a summary doesn't do it justice. Just go and read it. It made me smile.

Blogs make me happy.


Categories: Ramblings