I noticed that the top headline on Techmeme this afternoon is a couple of posts from Robert Scoble complaining that not enough people link to his blog. at first, I was scratching my head at this given that Robert's blog still manages to rank in the top 50 most linked blogs according to the Technorati Top 100 then I saw a post by Jeff Sandquist that made things clearer.

In his post entitled Scoble Intel LinkGate 2007 - Bootstrapping a new business via blogs Jeff Sandquist writes

I can empathize with Robert to a point on this.  I am well aware of how damn hard it is to build an audience.   Robert is tasked with doing this for PodTech a relatively new business and the stakes are high.   Exclusive content like Robert's Intel piece took time and money to produce (flight to Portland, cameras, bandwidth, a crew and more) and needs to show a return.  I can imagine that PodTech looked at a piece like this as a bootstrap for their network.  The hope being that the exclusive piece will get Slashdotted, Digged or high profile tech blogs (Engagdget / Gizmodo) will also follow suit.   The hope is that a few of those viewers will stick around, view other PodTech content and maybe others will subscribe to the feed to return another day.  Building an audience, inch by incch is hard work.  This all takes persistance and time all while you are justifying to your sponsors and leaders your content style and tone.  So when the Intel piece doesn't result in a lot of flow (guess we're still in the eyeball game <img alt=" src="http://www.jeffsandquist.com/smilies/wink.gif">) from the big sites Robert flew off the handle in frustration. 

I believe as this business grows, it is going to get even harder to bootstrap the businesses soley through traditional grass roots/link based marketing.  With the number of blogs and media sites continuing to grow, it will get harder and harder to get links to even exclusive the most content.

From that perspective it now makes sense to me. PodTech hired an A-list blogger in the hopes that he'd bring in lots of traffic due to the popularity of his blog but it looks like that isn't working as much as they like and now Robert is beginning to feel the pressure. I tend to agree with Jeff that perhaps PodTech should look to more than the blog of their A-list blogging employee as their primary source of traffic and buzz. 

This also explains why Robert felt obligated to give a shout out to PodTech when he got listed as one of the Web's Top 25 celebrities instead of basking in the glow of getting such props from the mainstream media. There's probably a lesson here for folks who plan to parlay their blog fame into an endeavor that requires driving eyeballs and capturing an audience.


I like the concept of online Q&A sites and I have to say that I've been quite impressed at how successful Yahoo! has been with Yahoo! Answers. Not only did they build a good end user experience but they followed up with heavy cross promotion on their other services, TV ads and getting lots of real-world celebrities to use the service. My favorite questions asked by real-world celebrities thus far

Based on your own family's experience, what do you think we should do to improve health care in America? asked by Hillary Clinton (U.S. Senator and Presidential Candidate)

What should we do to free our planet from terrorism? asked by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (President of India)

That's pretty freaking cool. Kudos to the Yahoo! Answers for being able to pull off such a great promotion and build such a successful service in such a short time. 


January 26, 2007
@ 02:13 AM

Interesting, it seems Flickr have formalized the notion of partitioning tags into namespaces with their introduction of Machine Tags which are described as

# What are machine tags?

Machine tags are tags that use a special syntax to define extra information
about a tag.

Machine tags have a namespace, a predicate and a value. The namespace defines a class or a facet that a tag belongs to ('geo', 'flickr', etc.) The predicate is name of the property for a namespace ('latitude', 'user', etc.) The value is, well, the value.

Like tags, there are no rules for machine tags beyond the syntax to specify the parts of a machine tag. For example, you could tag a photo with :

* flickr:user=straup

* flora:tree=coniferous

* medium:paint=oil

The XML geek in me can't help but squint at the term "namespaces" and wonder how they plan to avoid naming collisions in a global namespace (e.g. if multiple people choose the same name for a namespace they create) . I guess this is no different from people using the same word to tag an item while meaning totally different things (e.g. "apple", "glass", "light", etc) and folksonomies like Flickr seem to handle this just fine.

Creating facets in tags like this isn't new, del.icio.us has had this for a while and it it looks like a good way to create ways to create hidden tags that the system can use for performing special operations without it being in the user's face.

Now that the two granddaddies of tagging both provide this functionality, I wonder how long it takes for machine tags to wind it's way through all the tagging systems in the various copycat Web 2.0 sites on the Web.


OPTION A: Samurai X - Complete

Vote in the comments below. Bonus points if you justify your vote.


Categories: Personal

From the blog post entitled Check out what we just added to Windows Live Spaces! on the Windows Live Spaces team's blog we learn

Videos, videos and more videos

You asked for it, we created it!  We’ve built more rich media capabilities into Windows Live Spaces so it’s easier for you to display your favorite videos on Spaces.  You can now embed videos directly into your Spaces blog entries.  Adding a visual element to your blogs can help you tell your story.  

For a long time, Windows Live Spaces has prevented users from embedding videos from video sharing sites like YouTube and MSN Soapbox because it didn't allow users to use object tags in their blog content. However it is now commonplace for users to embed Flash objects in their blog posts and even though there were security concerns, user demand has trumped them and the blogging landscape has changed.

I'm glad Windows Live Spaces now enables this but it does point to an interesting problem for me as a developer on RSS Bandit. Currently, we disable displaying embedded objects in content by default. Has the time come to change that rule? I know I changed my security settings in RSS Bandit so I can watch embedded YouTube on blogs months ago and even had to fix some bugs where it seems were a bit overzealous in blocking ActiveX controls.

It seems enabling ActiveX/Flash and Javascript in your browser are becoming mandatory if you actually want to browse the Web thanks to "Web 2.0".


Categories: Windows Live

Earlier this week, Tim Bray wrote a blog post entitled On Linking where he pointed out that it has become quite common place for him to link to the Wikipedia entry for a subject even if there is an official site. He also realizes this is a problem when he writes

Why Not Wikipedia? · But this makes me nervous. I feel like I’m breaking the rules; being able to link to original content, without benefit of intermediaries, is one of the things that defines the Web. More practically, when I and a lot of other people start linking to Wikipedia by default, we boost its search-engine mojo and thus drive a positive-feedback loop, to some extent creating a single point of failure; another of the things that the Web isn’t supposed to have.

I’d be astonished if the Wikipedia suddenly went away. But I wouldn’t be very surprised if it went off the rails somehow: Commercial rapacity, legal issues, or (especially) bad community dynamics, we’ve seen that happen to a whole bunch of once-wonderful Internet resources. If and when it did, all those Wikipedia links I’ve used (396 so far, starting in June 2004) become part of a big problem.

As if on cue, a little bit of hubbub broke out on the Web after Rick Jellife blogged that he'd been approached by Microsoft to help keep some articles about its technology neutral. Lots of folks in the press have jumped all over this and called it an attempt by Microsoft to "astroturf" Wikipedia from the usual suspects on Slashdot to more mainstream news sources like USA Today.

Let's dig a little deeper into the issue and look at the facts as opposed to the sensational headlines. Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch has a good collection of links to the relevant online occurences in his post entitled Battleground Wikipedia which contains the following excerpts

Doug Mahugh at Microsoft freely admitted to doing this in a comment to a Slashdot article on the matter. According to another source, a Microsoft spokesperson also chimed in, saying that they believed the article were heavily written by people at IBM, a rival standard supporter, and that Microsoft had gotten nowhere flagging mistakes to Wikipedia’s volunteer editors. However, the discussion area of the Wikipedia page in question does not show any Microsoft involvement.

Microsoft clearly didn’t feel comfortable making direct changes to article about their technology, and frankly they can’t really be blamed for that. Editing an article about yourself is considered a conflict of interest by many in the Wikipedia community, and people are routinely trashed for doing so.
In the words of Deep Jive Interests “if you’re going to astroturf [Wikipedia], do it right!”

I'm trying to figure out how we go from Microsoft having problems flagging mistakes to Wikipedia editors and trying to get the relevant entry updated while not violating Wikipedia's conflict of interest rules to Microsoft is trying to astroturf Wikipedia.

Given that the Wikipedia entry is the first or second result on Google searches for "ooxml" and Office Open XML yet has contained misinformation and outright fabrications about the technology, shouldn't Microsoft be trying to get the article corrected while staying within the rules of Wikipedia?

As an experiment I've updated the Wikipedia entry for TechCrunch with a mention of some of the claims about Mike Arrington's conflicts of interest on the site and references to negative  blog posts but no link to his side of the story. TechCrunch is big enough for Mike not to care about this but what should be his course of action? According to Jimmy Wales and the pundits it seems (i) he can't edit the entry  himself nor (ii) can he solicit others to do so. Instead he needs to write a white paper about his position on conflicts of AND then link to it from the talkback page for his entry.Yeah, I'm sure that's going to get read as much as the Wikipedia entry.

It's sad that if Microsoft had just done what other companies do and had a bunch of employees policing its brand on Wikipedia (see the Forbes article Shillipedia), this would never have made the news. It's unfortunate that this is the reward Microsoft gets for being transparent and open instead of taking the low road. 


Categories: Social Software

In response to my recent post entitled ODF vs. OOXML on Wikipedia one of my readers pointed out

Well, many of Weir's points are not about OOXML being a "second", and therefore unnecessary, standard. Many of them, I think, are about how crappy the standard actually is.

Since I don't regularly read Rob Weir's blog this was interesting to me. I wondered why someone who identifies himself as working for IBM on various ODF technical topics would be spending a lot of his time attacking a related standard as opposed to talking about the technology he worked. I assumed my reader was mistaken and decided to subscribe to his feed and see how many of his recent posts were about OOXML. Below is a screenshot of what his feed looks like when I subscribed to it in RSS Bandit a few minutes ago

Of his 24 most recent posts, 16 of them are explicitly about OOXML while 7 of them are about ODF.

Interesting. I wonder why a senior technical guy at IBM is spending more time attacking a technology whose proponents have claimed is not competitive with it instead of talking about the technology he works on? Reading the blogs of Microsoft folks like Raymond Chen, Jensen Harris or Brian Jones you don't see them dedicating two thirds of their blog postings to bash rival products or technologies.

From my perspective as an outsider in this debate it seems to me that OOXML is an overspecified description of an open XML document format that is backwards compatible with the billions of documents produced in Microsoft Office formats over the past decade. On the other hand, ODF is an open XML document format that aims to be a generic format for storing business documents that isn't tied to any one product which still needs some work to do in beefing up the specification in certain areas if interoperability is key.

In an ideal world both of these efforts would be trying to learn from each other. However it seems that for whatever reasons IBM has decided that it would rather that Microsoft failed at its attempt to open up the XML formats behind the most popular office productivity software in the world. How this is a good thing for Microsoft's customers or IBM's is lost on me.

Having a family member who is in politics, I've learned that whenever you see what seems like a religious fundamentalism there usually is a quest for money and/or power behind it. Reading articles such as Reader Beware as ODF News Coverage Increases it seems clear that IBM has a lot of money riding on being first to market with ODF-enabled products while simultaneously encouraging governments to only mandate ODF. The fly in the ointment is that the requirement of most governments is that the document format is open, not that it is ODF. Which explains IBM's unfortunate FUD campaign. 

Usually, I wouldn't care about something like this since this is Big Business and Politics 101, but there was something that Rick Jellife wrote in his post An interesting offer: get paid to contribute to Wikipedia which is excerpted below

So I think there are distinguishing features for OOXML, and one of the more political issues is do we want to encourage and reward MS for taking the step of opening up their file formats, at last?

The last thing I'd personally hate is for this experience to have soured Microsoft from opening up its technologies so I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring at least this once.

PS: It's pretty impressive that a Google search for "ooxml" pulls up a bunch of negative blog posts and the wikipedia article as the first couple of hits. It seems the folks on the Microsoft Office team need to do some SEO to fix that pronto.


Categories: Competitors/Web Companies | XML

From the blog post entitled Use Live Search and We'll Donate to Team Seattle and Ninemillion.org on the Live Search team's blog we learn

The Live Search team recently launched two new programs to help children in need, and we would love you to help us out. The good news is that all you have to do to help us is try Live Search on one of our “click for the cause” sites, and each search you do will add more money to Microsoft’s donation.

The two organizations we are working with in these programs are  ninemillion.org and Team Seattle. Ninemillion.org is a United Nations led campaign providing education and sports programs for nine million refugee youth around the world


Ninemillion.org - click4thecause.live.com

ninemillion.org kids

Live Search is a global business, so we wanted a way to help kids all over the world who are in need. Supporting Ninemillion.org and their mission to help 9 million refugees really stood out as a great way to make a impact.  Each search at click4thecause.live.com results in a financial donation from Microsoft to provide help with education programs to the refugee kids around the globe. More info on ninemillion.org’s work with these youth can be found at their Windows Live Spaces blog.

In addition to the money raised from the searches, Microsoft is also donating online advertising and editorial space across MSN and microsoft.com to raise awareness of the relief effort.

I'm not one to ask my readers to use our services but in this case I'm making an exception. Please check out http://click4thecause.live.com to learn more about ninemillion.org and perform some searches.

Thanks for your time.


Categories: Windows Live

Apple's tech support is a real clusterfuck. What is amazing to me is that I know how bad their tech support is yet their products have been so much better than the competition's that I keep buying Apple devices. Yesterday I was at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Tukwila to report a problem with my video iPod. For some reason, my iPod no longer plays sound out of the right side of any headphones plugged into it.

Before complaining about the experience, I should probably point out the one positive thing about the experience was that I could make an appointment online instead of waiting around in the store for a "genius" to become available. I got there a little early and got to marvel at the all-in-one design of the iMacs which blew my mind as someone who spends all his time on Dell PCs and laptops. Now that I can run Windows on a Mac, I may end up buying one of these the next time I have to buy a computer. 

Anyway, back to my tech support woes. When my turn came up, I told the "genius" my problem and he gave me two options.

  1. I can get a used refurbished iPod as a replacement from Apple which would either cost me $200 or $0 (if mine was still under warranty)
  2. I could go online and try an iPod repair sites like iPodResQ which aren't affiliated with Apple at all.

Since my iPod was no longer under warranty and I didn't feel like paying $200 for a used iPod, I decided to go with iPodResQ . While the iPod "genius" was helping me I noticed that the Mac "genius" was also answering some questions from a customer about Apple Boot Camp. The Mac "genius" told the customer to go to Google and search for "Apple Boot Camp" to get information about it.

At this point it seemed to me that Apple Inc. can save itself a lot of money and its customers a lot of time by replacing its Genius Bars with the following FAQ

Q: I have a question about ...
A: Go to Google and type your question.

Q: I have a problem with my iPod
A: Go to iPodResQ

Q: I have a problem with my iMac/Mac Pro/Mac Mini/MacBook
A: Go to MacResQ

It's really a sad testament to the PC industry that despite these negative tech support experiences with Apple products I'd still get a 20-inch iMac in a heartbeat.


Categories: Rants

January 22, 2007
@ 09:44 PM

This morning I stumbled upon an interestingly titled post by Rick Jellife which piqued my interest entitled An interesting offer: get paid to contribute to Wikipedia where he writes

I’m not a Microsoft hater at all, its just that I’ve swum in a different stream. Readers of this blog will know that I have differing views on standards to some Microsoft people at least.
So I was a little surprised to receive email a couple of days ago from Microsoft saying they wanted to contract someone independent but friendly (me) for a couple of days to provide more balance on Wikipedia concerning ODF/OOXML. I am hardly the poster boy of Microsoft partisanship! Apparently they are frustrated at the amount of spin from some ODF stakeholders on Wikipedia and blogs.

I think I’ll accept it: FUD enrages me and MS certainly are not hiring me to add any pro-MS FUD, just to correct any errors I see.
Just scanning quickly the Wikipedia entry I see one example straight away:
The OOXML specification requires conforming implementations to accept and understand various legacy office applications . But the conformance section to the ISO standard (which is only about page four) specifies conformance in terms of being able to accept the grammar, use the standard semantics for the bits you implement, and document where you do something different. The bits you don’t implement are no-one’s business. So that entry is simply wrong. The same myth comes up in the form “You have to implement all 6000 pages or Microsoft will sue you.” Are we idiots?

Now I certainly think there are some good issues to consider with ODF versus OOXML, and it is good that they come out an get discussed. For example, the proposition that “ODF and OOXML are both office document formats: why should there be two standards?” is one that should be discussed. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I think OOXML has attributes that distinguish it: ODF has simply not been designed with the goal of being able to represent all the information possible in an MS Office document; this makes it poorer for archiving but paradoxically may make it better for level-playing-field, inter-organization document interchange. But the archiving community deserves support just as much as the document distribution community. And XHTML is better than both for simple documents. And PDF still has a role. And specific markup trumps all of them, where it is possible. So I think there are distinguishing features for OOXML, and one of the more political issues is do we want to encourage and reward MS for taking the step of opening up their file formats, at last?

I'm glad to hear that Rick Jellife is considering taking this contract. Protecting your brand on Wikipedia, especially against well-funded or organized detractors is unfortunately a full time job and one that really should be performed by an impartial party not a biased one. It's great to see that Microsoft isn't only savvy enough to realize that keeping an eye on Wikipedia entries about itself is important but also is seeking objective 3rd parties to do the policing.

It looks to me that online discussion around XML formats for business documents has significantly detoriorated. When I read posts like Rob Weir's A Foolish Inconsistency and The Vast Blue-Wing Conspiracy or Brian Jones's Passing the OpenXML standard over to ISO it seems clear that rational technical discussion is out the windows and the parties involved are in full mud slinging mode. It reminds me of watching TV during U.S. election years. I'm probably a biased party but I think the "why should we have two XML formats for business documents" line that is being thrown around by IBM is crap. The entire reason for XML's existence is so that we can build different formats that satisfy different needs. After all, no one asks them why the ODF folks had to invent their own format when PDF and [X]HTML already exist. The fact that ODF and OOXML exist yet have different goals is fine. What is important is that they both are non-proprietary, open standards which prevents customers from being locked-in which is what people really want.

And I thought the RSS vs. Atom wars were pointless.

PS: On the issue of Wikipedia now using nofollow links, I kinda prefer Shelley Powers's idea in her post Wikipedia and nofollow that search engines treat Wikipedia specially as an 'instant answer' (MSN speak) or OneBox result (Google speak) instead of including it in the organic search results page. It has earned its place on the Web and should be treated specially including the placement of disclaimers warning Web n00bs that it's information should be taken with a grain of salt.


Categories: XML