August 2, 2006
@ 02:56 PM

Windows Live Spaces is live. This is pretty sweet since the most visible feature I've worked on while at Microsoft is now available to the general public. On the Windows Live Spaces team blog we get the post Windows Live Spaces - It’s Here! which states

1. Set-up your friends list.  Simply add the new Friends Module to your space, or click here to automatically add it to your space, and start inviting your friends.  Once your friends accept your invitation, they will appear to visitors of your space. You can also explore your contacts’ friends (and their friends too) directly from Windows Live Messenger.  Simply click on your contact’s Messenger icon to view their contact card, and then click on the “View this contact’s Friends list” icon on the bottom right hand corner of the contact card.  This will launch the cool new Friends Explorer feature that will allow you to easily navigate through lists of friends. 

2. Add gadgets.  Jazz up your space by adding cool new gadgets.  All you need to do is click on the “Customize” link in your Space when you are in the editor mode, and then click on the link titled “Add gadgets from Windows Live Gallery” to be taken to the Windows Live Gallery where you can select gadgets you want to add to your space. Check out the “Updated Spaces” gadget we just added to The Spacecraft!  You can add this gadget automatically to your space too by simply clicking here.

The platform behind the Friend's List was one of my features and I'm glad to see it rolling out to the hundreds of millions of Windows Live Spaces and Windows Live Messenger users. You can check out my friend's list to browse my social network which currently consists of Microsoft employees.

Since most features in Windows Live Spaces are integrated with Windows Live Messenger, so also is the Friends List feature. Users of Windows Live Messenger will have three integration points for interacting with the Friends List. The first is that one can right-click on Messenger contacts and select "View->Friends List" to browse their Friends List. Another integration point is that one can respond to pending requests from people to add them to your Friends List directly from Messenger client (this is also the case with other features like Live Contacts). Finally, one can also browse the Friends List from their Contact Card. Below is a screenshot of what happens when a Windows Live Messenger user right-clicks on one of their Messenger contacts and selects "View->Friends List".

friends list in Windows Live Messenger

However it is the announcement about support for gadgets in Windows Live Spaces which I find even cooler than the fact that my feature is finally shipping. With this release, one can add almost any gadget from the Windows Live Gallery to one's space. You'll find some screenshots of gadgets on a space in Mike Arrington's post entitled Windows Live Spaces Launches, Replaces MSN Spaces.

If you are a developer who'd like to build gadgets for Windows Live Spaces you should check out the post in the Windows Live Spaces developer platform blog Gadget devs, come out and play! which provides the following information for developers interested in building gadgets

How do I get started?

1.  Build a Windows Live web gadget according to the SDK available at the Windows Live Dev site
2.  If your gadget has any settings/edit UI that visitors shouldn't see, then use the following code to detect whether Spaces is running the gadget in author mode and show/hide the UI accordingly.  There is a p_args argument outlined in the gadgets SDK and we've added a new method off of that called getMode().  You can do a simple comparison of the value returned from that method call to determine author vs. visitor mode.  
Something like the following:
         foo = function(p_elSource, p_args, p_namespace)
         p_args.module.getMode() ==
3.  Add the gadget to your own space using the following Spaces API: 
Switch between "Edit your space" and "View your space" to see how it behaves in both author and visitor modes.  If your manifest file, Javascript, and CSS are hosted anywhere but Windows Live Gallery (, the gadget can only be added for editing/viewing by the space owner.  It will be hidden to visitors.    
4.  Zip up your manifest file and supporting Javascript/CSS files and submit that gadget package to the Windows Live Gallery so other visitors can add it to their space by going to Customize --> Modules --> "Add gadgets from Windows Live Gallery".

Now that Windows Live Spaces has shipped, I can now write that article I've been talking about for a while on building Windows Live gadgets powered by RSS for You can expect a bunch of gadgets from me over the next few weeks.


Categories: Windows Live

I have some bad news and some good news. RSS Bandit is built using user interface controls that are not provided by default by the .NET Framework to enhance it's look and feel. A common practice among vendors of such user interface controls is to offer them for free to developers to gain mindshare and once these developers are 'hooked on their product' they withdraw the free version. This means that developers of applications that use these user interface controls will end up having to pay the vendors if they want to use newer versions of these controls. This has happened twice to me with RSS Bandit. The first time was when DotNetMagic went from free to being only available for purchase. The second time happened a few months ago when Divelements cancelled the free version of their controls which are used extensively in current versions of RSS Bandit.

We were in a lurch and just as I thought that I'd have to start some sort of blog fundraiser so we could pay for these controls and keep RSS Bandit free to use, Torsten was contacted by the good folks at Infragistics who've donated use of their controls to our project. This means that we'll be replacing some of the user interface controls used by RSS Bandit and adding some new functionality to the UI. See the screenshot below for some of these visual enhancements.

I'd also like to take this time to welcome Ariel Selig to the RSS Bandit development team. He's already made some decent contributions in replacing our old UI components with the new ones.


Categories: RSS Bandit

User interfaces for computers in general and web sites in particular seem to be getting on my nerves these days. It's really hard to browse for what you are looking for on a number of buzzword-complaint websites today. Most of them seem to throw a tag cloud and/or search box at you and call it a day.

Search boxes suck as a navigation interface because they assume I already know what I'm looking for. I went to the Google Code - Project Hosting website and wanted to see the kinds of projects hosted there. Below is a screenshot of the website from a few minutes ago.

Notice that the list of project labels (aka tags) shown below the search box are just 'sample labels' as opposed to a complete classification scheme or hierarchy. They don't even list fairly common programming topics like VisualBasic, Javascript or FreeBSD. If I want to browse any of these project labels, I have to resort to poring over search results pages with minimal information about the projects.

Using tag clouds as a navigation mechanism is even more annoying. I recently visited Yahoo! Gallery to see what the experience was like when downloading new plugins for Yahoo! Messenger. On the main page, there is a link that says Browse Applications which takes me to a page that has the following panel on the right side. So far so good.

I click on the Messenger link and then was taken to the following page.

What I dislike about this page is how much space is taken up by useless crap (i.e. the tag cloud full of uninformative tags) while the actual useful choices for browsing such as 'most popular' and 'highest rated' are given so little screen real estate and actually don't even show up on some screens without scrolling down. The tag cloud provides little to no value on this page except to point out that whoever designed is hip to all the 'Web 2.0' buzzwords.

PS: Before anyone bothers to point this out, I realize a number of Microsoft sites also have similar issues.


Instead of seeing Clerks II last week, I ended up seeing My Super Ex-Girlfriend which turned out to have been a bad choice. I wanted to go catch Clerks II this past weekend but my girlfriend decided that it was her turn to pick movies after My Super Ex-Girlfriend was such a disappointment. So we saw Miami Vice instead. Below are some brief thoughts on both movies

Miami Vice

This was nothing like the TV show. It was more like a darker, grittier version of Bad Boys 2 complete with trips to exotic South American locales to cavort with drug dealers. There wasn't a lot of action but whenever the guns did blaze the scenes were pretty intense.

My only complaint was that Colin Farrell's acting seemed pretty wooden at times.

Rating: **** out of *****

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
The core premise of the movie, what if your crazy ex-girlfriend had super powers, seemed like an interesting premise and I expected good things from a movie starring Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman. The movie started off well enough with a number of funny scenes including a few about sex with super heroes. However the movie peaked somewhere around the halfway mark in the scene where Uma Thurman spies on Luke Wilson and Ana Faris (the girl from the Scary Movie movies) having sex and throws a shark at them through the bedroom window.

It goes downhill pretty fast from there, it's as if the writers only had a few gags involving super-powered revenge pranks without any thought of how to conclude the movie. The last couple of scenes such as the super heroine cat fight and the over-the top obnoxiousness of Rainn Wilson's character left a foul taste in my mouth. It was a promising movie which failed to live up to its promise. 

Another problem I had with the movie was failing to believe that anyone would pick a ditzy Ana Faris over a super-powered Uma Thurman regardless of how 'psycho' of a girlfriend she was. That was a bad casting choice in my book.

Rating: *** out of *****


Categories: Movie Review

Recently I was reading an email and realized that I'd dismissed the content of the email before I'd finished reading it. I wondered why I had done that and after performing some self analysis I realized that the email contained several instances of certain phrases which caused me to flip the bozo bit on the content of the email. Below are my top 5 'bozo bit' phrases which automatically make my eyes glaze over and my mind shut off once I see them in an email I'm reading

  1. synergy: This is usually a synonym for "we've run out of ideas but think integrating our products will give us a shot in the arm". Classic example of synergy at work is the AOL/TimeWarner merger which turned out to be such a bad idea that Steve Case apologized for it last week.

  2. make(s) us more agile: I usually have no problem with this word if it is used by people who write code or at best are one level removed from those who write code. On the other hand, whenever I see a VP or middle management wonk use "make(s) us more agile" they not only show an ignorance of the principles of the agile manifesto but often propose things that make developers less agile not more.

  3. innovative: This one bothers me on multiple levels. The first is that many people fail to realize that new features aren't innovation, every idea you've had has already been had by someone else. You are at best just executing the idea a little differently. Just this weekend, I looked at Digg for the first time and realized that all the hubbub was about a knock-off of Kuro5hin with a more charismatic project leader and accompanying podcast. Another thing that bothers me about 'innovative' is that it is often about using technology for technology's sake instead of providing actual value to one's customers. A classic example of this comes from my first internship at Radiant Systems, when the company announced a partnership with AOL to provide email access at gas pumps. The stock actually jumped for a day or two until people realized what a dumb idea it was. Who's going to spend time logging into a terminal at a gas pump to check their email? People hate spending time at the gas pump. Can you imagine waiting behind a car at a gas station while the person in front of you was spending time deletiong the spam from their inbox at the gas pump? I think not.

  4. web 2.0: I realize this is flogging a dead horse but since this is the phrase that inspired this post I decided to include it. What I hate about this phrase is that it is so imprecise. I have no idea what the fuck people are talking about when they say Web 2.0. Even Tim O'Reilly who coined the term had to use a five page essay just to explain What is Web 2.0 which boiled down to Web 2.0 was a grab-bag of the key features of websites popular among the geek set regardless of whether they'd existed since 'Web 1.0' or were just new fads trends. It gets even better, earlier this month Tim O'Reilly published Levels of the Game: The Hierarchy of Web 2.0 Applications which establishes levels of Web 2.0 compliance. MapQuest is at Compliance Level 0 of Web 2.0 while Flickr is at Compliance Level 2 of Web 2.0 and Wikipedia is at Compliance Level 3. If this all makes sense to you, then I guess I'll see you at the invitation-only-yet-still-costs-thousands-of-dollars-to-attend Web 2.0 conference this year.

  5. super excited: This one may just be a Microsoft thing. The reason I can't stand this phrase is that it is an obvious overexaggeration of how the person feels about what they are talking about since it often is associated with information that is barely interesting let alone super exciting. Do you know what would be super exciting? Getting a phone call from Carmen Electra telling you that she was using StumbleUpon, found your blog and thought you sounded cute and would like to meet you. That's super exciting. Your product just shipped? Your division just had another reorg? You just added a new feature to your product? Those aren't even interesting let alone super exciting.

What are yours?


Categories: Ramblings | Technology

I've been reading some of the links to my previous post on the topic of Jason Calacanis's offer to pay top users of sites like Digg & Reddit to switch to using Netscape's news site. In posts like Anil Dash's Digga Please and Ian McAllister's Do Contributors Want To Turn Their Hobbies Into Jobs? I see an agreement that users should get value for their contributions to the online community. However there also seems to be an undercurrent of disdain towards the idea of financially rewarding users who create popular content. This ignores the reality of how media and content generation works in the world today, both online and offline.

First of all, I think both Anil and Ian are muddying the discussion my making it seem that the argument is that all people generating content on the Web should be motivated by money. I think this is a straw man argument and has little to do with the point that Calacanis is trying to raise. The fact is that the popularity of media/content and creators of content tends to follow a power law or exhibit a long tail effect (depending on which buzzword tickles your fancy). The top tier of musicians, artists, bloggers, authors, etc capture a significant amount of the audience for that market. This is usually described as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. These popular content creators are often professionals even though their fields are full of millions of amateurs and semi-professionals who write, play music, take photos, etc either for their own personal edification or just to share with friends and family.

Take blogging as an example, even though most blogs are focused on describing their personal experiences to a relatively small audience of readers the list of most popular blogs is dominated by professionals who make money from their efforts. Below is the current list of top 10 blogs based on incoming links taken from the Technorati Top 100 Blogs List.

  1. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. Engadget
  4. Daily Kos: State of the Nation
  5. PostSecret
  6. Thought Mechanics
  7. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide
  8. The Huffington Post
  9. Techcrunch
  10. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide

Almost every blog on that list is run by professional bloggers who are either directly paid to blog or make a lot of money from the ads running on their blog. So even though, bloggers are primarily individuals who blog to share thier experiences with friends and family without expectation of financial reward, the most popular bloggers are those who are actually in it for the money. And on the Web, since popularity (i.e. page views) directly correlates to how much money one's online service makes via advertising, it makes sense to court and cultivate the kind of professionals that generate popular content. 

The problem I had with Ian & Anil's posts is that they seem to imply that there is something wrong with getting paid for doing what you love. But the fact is that if you got paid to pursue your hobby then you could do it all the time and would get really good at it. A lot better than those who only find time to do it in between their nine to five jobs. That's the the primary difference between a professional and an amateur; the amount of time and focus one can afford to devote to the task at hand.

The interesting question for me is whether sites like Digg are immune to the 1% rule or not. When I used to participate on Kuro5hin it was clear to me that a small set of users determined the focus of the site even though there were thousands of users who could vote on stories and rate comments. It was also easy to see how the direction and the topics covered by the site would change as certain cliques of users left the site. Digg looks to me to be just like Kuro5hin with a slightly better UI and a different community. I would be surprised if both sites don't face the same kind of issues when it comes to small sets of users dominating the content and focus of the site despite Kevin Rose's protestations that this isn't the case


Categories: Social Software

I just noticed that there is now Project Hosting on Google Code via Slashdot. The Slashdot article has the following rich quote

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier sat down for a talk with Greg Stein and Chris DiBona, who say that the product is very similar to sites like SourceForge but is not intended to compete with them. From the article: "Instead, Stein says that the goal is to see what Google can do with the Google infrastructure, to provide an alternative for open source projects. DiBona says that it's a 'direct result of Greg concentrating on what open source projects need. Most bugtrackers are informed by what corporations' and large projects need, whereas Google's offering is just about what open source developers need. Stein says that Google's hosting has a 'brand new look' at issue tracking that may be of interest to open source projects, and says 'nobody else out there is doing anything close to it.'"

Last year, when I saw Chris DiBona announce Google Code at the O'Reilly ETech conference, he said that that they woild work with SourceForge to improve the service. I wonder what happened. The site seems pretty sparse right now, I doubt I'll be moving RSS Bandit from SourceForge anytime soon.


A few weeks ago, Matt Griffiths wrote a response to my blog post Yahoo! Working on Open Source GFS Clone? entitled Why would Yahoo support an open source version of the Google File System? where he wrote

So why would Yahoo! do this? Why would they create open source versions of tools that could give them a short-term competitive advantage? I think Joel Spolsky said it best:
Smart companies try to commoditize their products' complements. [Joel Spolsky]
Yahoo! is not in the business of selling software. They sell advertising. Software is one of their biggest complements. The best way to commoditize software is to open source it.
I disagree that software is a complement to what Yahoo! sells which is advertising real estate on their online services such as search, email and news sites. Software is more of an input into the production process (i.e. a means to the end) than a complement of the finished product.

A complement is something that is purchased along with your product to make it useful. If you are a vendor of consumer operating systems, then desktop PCs are your product's complement and you want PCs to be as cheap as possible. If you are a manufacturer of gas guzzling SUVs vendor, then gasoline is your product's complement and you want gas prices to be as low as possible. If you are a software consultant, then shrink-wrap software is your product's complement and you want software licenses to be as cheap as possible. None of these examples is analogous to Yahoo! open sourcing a tool that makes it easier and cheaper for them to build online services and thus have more & better real estate to sell to advertisers.

I can see a couple of explanations for Yahoo! making this move. On the one hand, they could believe that distributed software development isn't their core competency and would like to outsource some of the harder bits by Open Sourcing it. The problem with that approach is that as the Mozilla project has shown, it may take years to get a critical mass of external developers working on the project and it would still need significant contributions from Yahoo! to stay afloat. Another justification, could be that Yahoo! realizes that even with technologies like GFS/Hadoop there is still a lot of hardware expenditure, operations expertise and infrastructure software needed to run a megascale service. These are often beyond the resources of most competitors and for the ones that do have those resources (e.g. Google) they already have similar technologies. Thus there is little to fear of a competitor using Hadoop against them. A third option could be that Hadoop may not be considered to be strategic by Yahoo! management which is why it has been allowed to be open sourced. In that case, management may either be underestimating the importance of technologies like Hadoop or may just truly think that their competitive advantage lies elsewhere.

Bah, I should probably get to work instead of engaging in idle speculation on a Thursday morning. :) 


The blog post entitled Our Beta is public! from the Windows Live Mail Desktop team announces that everyone can now get access to the Windows Live Mail Desktop beta. Think of it as the Windows Live version of Outlook Express. Some of the key features are described in the blog post and excerpted below

  • Junk and phishing protection
  • Support for RSS feeds
  • Photo email (share & publish your photos as slideshows to the internet!)
  • Blog it!
  • 3 pane view of email
  • Integration with Windows Live Messenger
  • Active Search
  • Multiple account aggregation
  • Instant Search
  • Free client access to your hotmail account
  • Lots more and with even more to come! 

More details on the various features can be found in blog posts such as Better Together with Active Search, A picture is worth a thousand words and Where did we come from? Where are we going?. I've worked with this team on a a few of their features and it's great to see that folks can now check try out the fruits of our labor.  

Sign up for the beta and let the team know what you think.



July 26, 2006
@ 07:55 PM

Every couple of months, I see a blog post from someone wondering whether websites that traffick in user-generated content should be rewarding their most valuable users financially. A few months ago it was Anil Dash blogging about this in his post The Interesting Economy which wondered whether Flickr users whose photos are determined to be 'interesting' should be financially rewarded. Anil's post elicited a passionate response from Flickr's Caterina Fake entitled Economies of Interest which basically boiled down to "There's more to life than money". Her response rang hollow to me but I didn't really comment on the topic at the time. 

Robert Scoble also wrote about this last month in his blog post The screwing of the Long Tail where he complains that sites that traffick in user generated content such as Digg, photo sharing sites, Craig's List and social bookmarking sites "are gonna take all your content AND take all the money that the advertising generates".

Earlier this month, Jason Calacanis wrote a blog post entitled Paying the top DIGG/REDDIT/Flickr/Newsvine users (or "$1,000 a month for doing what you're already doing where he wrote

Before launching the new Netscape I realized that Reddit, NewsVine, Delicious, and DIGG were all driven by a small number of highly-active users. I wrote a blog post about what drives these folks to do an hour to three hours a day of work for these sites which are not paying them for their time. In other words, they are volunteering their services. The response most of these folks gave back to me were that they enjoyed sharing the links they found and that they got satisfaction out of being an "expert" or "leader" in their communities.

Excellent... excellent (say that in a Darth Vadar/Darth Calacanis voice for extra impact).

That is exactly what bloggers told Brian and I three years ago when we started. Given that, I have an offer to the top 50 users on any of the major social news/bookmarking sites:

We will pay you $1,000 a month for your "social bookmarking" rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we'll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that--a baseline).

Kevin Rose of Digg responded today with a blog post entitled Calacanis where he writes

Ya see users like Digg,, Reddit and Flickr because they are contributing to true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations.  All users on these sites are treated equally, there aren't anchors, navigators, explorers, opera-ers, or editors.  Jason, I know AOL has given you access to their war-chest, but honestly, take that money and invest it into site development.  Listen to your existing community. Think of what your loyal Netscape users must think - you're essentially telling them that they aren't good enough and that you have to buy better users. You can have the best submitters in the world, but if your community doesn't support you it will never work.

Jason Calacanis responds quite nicely in his post entitled Kevin Rose cracks (or "how to know when you've won the debate") where he writes

The top ~50 members on these services are responsible for over 50% of the top stories--that's a straight up fact and Kevin knows it. That seems to scare the heck out of him, and it shouldn't. I've created a market for these users, and others are about to jump in and do that same (I know this for a fact). So, if there is gonna be a market for community leaders, why not just join the party Kevin? You raised a ton of money and you can raise more. You're making money from advertising and you can easily afford to pay the top 12 users $1,000 a month each--share the wealth dude! Why not carve out 10-20% of your revenue for users?

I agree with the spirit of what Jason Calacanis is trying to do, revenue sharing is the way to go. I don't buy arguments from Kevin Rose and Caterina Fake that it's all about charity and generosity especially when there is money to be made [by them but not their users]. After all, the only thing better than doing something you love is doing something you love and getting paid for it. ;)


Categories: Social Software