Saturday, January 25, 2003

"MX vs HTML", take 2: During last spring's introduction of Macromedia MX and Rich Internet Applications, there were some arguments that "Macromedia is trying to destroy the web and HTML" (example: Simon St. Laurent at O'Reilly). For me the issue was a non-starter, because we were drawing the distinction between documents and applications -- between looking at stuff and doing stuff. I'm wondering more and more these days how XML/RSS and HTML will co-exist... as more sites and web databases expose their services as XML feeds, people are expressing more vividly how they find XML to be more efficient than HTML for viewing information. I'm guessing that lowest-common-denominator pure-text feeds will complement the richer HTML presentations of the same data... HTML blogs offer commenting, trackbacks, photos and so on and can sustain themselves through ads... RSS is more of an early-warning system for quickly scanning data. But I'm not seeing articles with titles like "RSS destroys the web as we know it!!", even though these two are a much closer match than docs and apps.....
Awasu RSS reader: This is a beta, Windows-only clientside news aggregator. Like the popular NetNewsWire for Mac OS X it offers keyboard navigation of various news feeds. One interesting feature is that it will notify you when particular new content is available on the net. Another interesting addition is a scripting architecture to produce RSS feeds from databases or other applications. I'm still not sold on the efficiency of a purely clientside approach, because each user will need to make many connections in order to remain up-to-date... a server-side component for aggregation, caching and segregation still seems like it would add lots of value when combined with client-side logic.
[via JD Lasica]
Cross-site Tracing vulnerability? ExtremeTech carries an article this week about a way that client-side scripting software (JavaScript, Flash eg) can take advantage of a vulnerability in the rare HTTP Trace request in most web servers. I'm not able to meaningfully evaluate it at the moment... a highly-filtered view at Slashdot still has about half its comments on the Sapphire Worm issue, but some call it claptrap, pointing to an article at SecurityFocus, among others. May be something here, maybe not, I can't tell, but if the article's implications are sound then the issue seems significant.
Chainstore internet cafes: MSNBC describes a 650-seat cafe in Times Square, NYC, and that they'll be branching out widely in a smaller footprint soon: "EasyGroup, having thoroughly field-tested its automated model in London and Manhattan, will now roll out fifteen-computer versions that fit in two hundred square feet-basically 'Internet cafes in a box'-across the US. They’re aiming to put automated Internet access inside existing establishments such as McDonald’s or Burger King, and also to offer it as a franchise opportunity. And they’re looking as well at the developing world, where low-cost public Internet access is increasingly crucial." No mention of how this will interact with wireless personal connectivity in the developed world... I'm guessing that there would be synergetic demand for higher-value services such as color printing or data-synching... if they're inside food establishments, maybe it's some "Blog 'n' Gobble" kind of thing...?
Sapphire worm: Early this morning a worm rapidly propagated and significantly affected internet traffic. The exploited systems run Microsoft SQL Server 2000 pre SP3, but once they're controlled they send out massive amounts of traffic, affecting all connected computers. (This is why we're all at danger from those who willingly execute suspect programming... more info at Google with "zombie malware".) The eEye report above has strong technical details on how the worm executes its mission. Buried down towards the bottom is this cute line: "This worm has been dubbed the "Sapphire Worm" by eEye due to the fact that several engineers had to be pulled away from local bars to begin the investigation/dissection process."

Friday, January 24, 2003

New Flashaganda: A SWF piece by a group called "Take Back The Media" is getting play on the net today. The main rhetorical device seems to be juxtaposing photographs of George Bush and Adolph Hitler. I'm not sure when the anonymous people in this group thought that they owned the media, to enable taking-back -- might be the heirs of W.R. Hearst, I can't tell. What I'm seeing is that mass-publishing abilities have moved steadily down from politicians, to corporations, and now to ad-hoc groups of individuals of whatever level of sanity. I wonder what Spike Jones would think of this use of his work....
[via Andrew Sullivan]
Super Bowl ads going interactive: WIRED notes how commercials this year will increasingly tie in with phone and web input. Links include AdBowl for rating the commercials as they appear, and ABC's "Enhanced TV", a companion site to the broadcast.
ZDNet on consumer robots: Patrick Houston touches on consumer reaction, upcoming research, and upcoming marketing for personal robots. Aibo and Roomba get the majority of the anecdotes, because these are popular among consumers already. "...chips capable of 100 million instructions per second (MIPS), costing a few hundred dollars, can handle the complexity of perception and movement roughly equivalent to that of an insect... we'll have robots capable of mimicking the complexity of a lizard's nervous system by 2005 and a monkey's by 2015."
[via Nick Gaydos]
Super Bowl players wired for audio: Granted this is just two players, and just audio, and the distribution is only to the broadcast booth, but as with the "Referee Cams" in some games I think it's significant step towards richer representations of sporting events. I'd expect some day to have tiny precise GPS chips on each player's limbs, as an exposed public feed, so people at home can choose their camera angles and replays on their own home simulator. We're gradually pulling more and more data from the world, in realtime, and connecting it to controllers used by ordinary people.
MX news by WAP phone: Branden Hall connects flog to his phone. You can now check the latest news found by the MX blogging community anytime, anywhere. (For some reason, I'm visualizing some actor in a trenchcoat going "Can you read me now? Can you read me now?") In the comments, Geoff Bowers notes that FullAsAGoog feeds are aggregated into MX and product feeds and then syndicated out to other news services, and that he has tested this successfully in the new newsgroup RSS reader... if you use the Macromedia forums through the efficient newsreader interface, then you can also pull this distilled and collected blog commentary into your newsreader session too.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Economist on copyright: If you're following the evolution of copyright thought, then The Economist is carrying an op-ed today that appears to be a signficant line in the sand. They propose to go back to a 14-year term, renewable once, for the creator to realize a return-on-investment before the public can use and evolve the expression further.
[via Glenn Reynolds [via Lawrence Lessig]]
Aizai: From what I currently understand, this is a new navigation structure for media types already available on the web. I risk misstating here, but it reminds me of an RSS aggregator which points to richer media instead of just plain text. Sometimes a different interface can point to entirely new uses. An API (in .PDF) is available... I can't scan it quickly because it's a dictionary rather than an overview. There may be something here, maybe not, but I'll be keeping an eye on what type of experience they end up offering to people.
[via Todd Dominey]
Mickey on Eldred: We've heard what the lawyers said. We've heard what the pundits said. But how does Mickey Mouse feel about being locked away and not being able to take interesting roles? Jesse Walker at Reason has the exclusive subterranean interview.
Comments outage: You may see comments here blinking in/out of existence today... I've been having trouble connecting altogether to Haloscan myself.
Viral crayola: The whiteboard demo has gotten very heavy attention in blogs this week. When I examine some of these Blogdex citations I see that a great variety of people were impressed enough with this piece to mention it to friends. I've been thinking of what makes it enticing to recommend to others: (a) looks cool... little waggy 3D shadow is not often seen on web; (b) there's an explicit "tell a friend" that catches you in the heat of the moment; (c) custom expression combines with a unique presentation... you're sending out a little part of yourself too; (d) it's good to be able to show a friend something quick that they haven't seen before... gives a break in their day, gives them something to talk about, raises your own status as a source of interesting ideas.
M&M Monster Movie Maker: Got five minutes? Sequence together a few animation clips, write some dialogue and choose a score, then send the movie to friends. Flash-based. Clean and direct design, some nice visuals, seems like it could get viral distribution.
SBC "frames" patent: Poetic justice? "SBC Communications Inc is enforcing a patent... If your web site uses a frames or a persistent user interface, then you could be in infringement... hundreds of thousands of web sites, including those of many SBC’s own hosting customers, many of the web’s biggest sites, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office itself, could be in infringement." Well, that might get their attention, then.... ;-)
Paying for security: Startling note in CNET article on Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" initaitive: "The company essentially halted product development early last year while about 8,500 developers were trained in secure programming and then vetted the majority of the Windows code. The total price tag reached about $100 million, according to company executives." They also have explicit internal courses on privacy. Stopping development was worth it to increase the overall value of the business... there are natural incentives to do the right thing.
Using CVS? If you're using Concurrent Versions System for code-control, then please update your installation!
Porn piracy: Sex sites have pioneered many web techniques. This WIRED article discusses how some sites are flooding peer-to-peer networks with legitimate for-compensation products, driving out the files of suspect origin First thing I think of is wondering whether Macromedia should flood p2p networks with trial versions of our software. Your thoughts welcome here, thanks..

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Jef Raskin: direct interfaces: This link points to a text editor for Mac classic/native which illustrates interfaces principles from his recent writings. Here's the manual, a review, and the MacCentral column which hipped me to this. I haven't gotten deeply into it yet, but as we move into portable devices we need new approaches to interfaces, and I'm hoping Jef's work may be applicable here.
Phone design which influences behavior: Ideo semi-facetiously explores ways that changes to telephones could change how people actually use them. Hey, the experience matters.... ;-)
[via Cory Doctorow]
Music industry evolution: Good overview by Charles Mann at WIRED. Even if you're not directly involved with music yourself, it's good to track this issue because the relatively small filesize and the wide popularity of popular music has pushed it to the front of the curve for requiring adaption to easy transfer of digitial content. We're on the edge of being able to push sequential visual data around now, and web services mean that pure information without a presentation layer will be available too. Seeing the complete "creative destruction" of the Big5 copyright holders is good prepration for when the same upheaval hits other fields.
Woz & 2600 help Mitnick with Flash: WIRED describes the Rip Van Winkle act of famed hacker Kevin Mitnick, who connected to the net again for the first time since 1995. Steve Wozniak (Apple) and Enanuel Goldstein (2600) helped him to get used to today's browsers, including installing the Macromedia Flash Player so he could view a site he was collaborating on....
350,000 Studio MX sold: That's very good for six months, and it really helped keep the company in the black this year. Big thanks to those out there who compensate creators for the software tools they use! (But those of you who come here looking for macromedia mx crackz and warez, c'mon, start pulling your own weight here! 8)
"Blogs" thread on FlashCoders: This is a good survey of how current blog technologies are perceived in the high-end Flash community. I have a very strong feeling that these folks could help drive the next generation forward, because they have insight into both client-side and server-side technologies, and they personally have lots of news and opinion to share. But we don't see the whole picture yet... as the audiences for web-diaries changes again during the coming year, what exactly will the audience and producers be seeking, and what is the most efficient way for each to get what they want? What is the ideal experience?
General Electric Pen demo: Totally, completely cool... cognitively it's just a whiteboard, but the details of pen motion and playback make it for me... hmm, maybe it's just those little finishing touches which turn an implementation viral...?
[via Chris MacGregor, who notes that it's less than 25K in size]
Russell Beattie on Symbian piracy: I'm not sure whether theft of programming done for pocket computers is actually greater than for other types of programming theft, but he makes a big point about the filesizes possibly contributing. People who create things need to be fairly compensated for their effort, with the "fairness" evaluated by the people who create it or buy it rathert the person who purloins it, or we'll eventually end up with less creation. ("What you subsidize you get more of, what you tax you get less of.") But with the disconnect between freedom and responsibility which has been fostered in the large political and media structures, it makes it tough to count upon the good judgment of all players. I firmly expect to see new and more sustainable business models evolve in response, moving from a goods model to a services model.
libsvgtoswf: This is a library to convert all or part of an SVG file to all or part of a Flash file. It's available under Gnu Public License, and I'm not certain where it can be deployed. It's apparently the first in a series of SWF-writing projects.
[via FreshMeat]
Contribute book available: If you have set up a group with Contribute already, and have some folks in the group who want to get a little deeper into it, then Tom Negrino's book should be hitting the stores this week. Here's more info from Amazon. (This isn't a developer-level book, but is aimed more at ordinary knowledge-workers.)
Music aggregation? I was checking Mitch Radcliffe's blog and noticed a point about "personalized audio". Right now a lot of us are looking at ways to aggregate and personalize news choices -- we find trusted news sites or blogs, get their latest content, sometimes even use keywords or frequency analysis to find things we may be interested from notations by a bunch of trusted editors. I hadn't thought of applying similar procedures to audio feeds instead of just text feeds. Granted, the Big-5 music corporations get in the way with their control over popular audio sources, but if we could use different content, then it might be interesting to each have a customized audio service collecting, analyzing by our prefs, and delivering fresh content to us....
Taxomita: This project isn't 1.0 yet, but it sounds promising. It's a way to exploit the judgment of people online to form taxonomies of web pages which contain desirable information. I've been researching this subject for awhile, but stalled out after saying "hey, OpenCola looks cool" because there are other things to research too. I like how Taxomita will be using bookmarklets, so that a natural gesture can help add structure to the web. This 1.0 has a server component implemented in PHP and MySQL. Could be useful if you're seeking ways to manage information-sorting among a group.
[via Steven Hatch]
Lil' Pimp: Sony's website is up. The Flash-based feature film got
pushed back from March to July but is still in production. Voices include Carmen Electra, William Shatner, and Bernie Mac. There's a discussion board, not yet active, here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The Online Books Page: This isn't directly MX-related, but it's fascinating... they offer navigation services to over 18,000 books which are published on the web for free reading.
Teoma advanced search operators: I haven't tested these yet, and am not sure how reliably web pages and sites themselves expose this info, but the 2.0 version of the Teoma engine offers query terms like "geoloc" for the continent, and various "lastmod" dating mechanisms for finding documents last modified at a particular time.
[via SearchDay]
Tim Bray on client-vs-server aggregation: This column is ostensibly about RSS, but it also applies to other tasks which request services from multiple servers. He points out that client-side aggregators make many calls, and when these get popular, overall traffic will explode. He also notes that he'd like to keep his settings from machine to machine -- keeping preferences out in the cloud can be more useful than keeping them locked on a machine. As more applications start aggregating more info from more servers to help with a single user-oriented task, the task's central server becomes more valuable to request data from each source once, cache it for a bit, and then reformat fairly-fresh copies to-order for each person using the service.
More astroturf: This is another service which can be hired to post opinions in online discussion areas. If someone tells you they believe something "because I read it on the web", then this link could be a good wakeup call for them. We've got to examine things on their own merits rather than be crowded along by peer pressure.
Data-mining discussion: Phil Wainewright comments on John Udell's article about differing opinions in the web-dev world about extracting unexpected information from HTML addresses or documents. This is a big question as we move to net-enabled applications which radically exploit connectivity. Old copyright laws on books or films focused on the work-as-a-whole. Music sampling brought up issues about "how big" an idea has to be. When blogs expose RSS feeds we're often surprised by what happens to them. It's a general feeling that site design should be protected, although we're not sure how to prove inspiration. Sherlock has skinned search engines, but its XML feeds seem to be in (monopoly?) agreement with data providers. But what happens when you put a page up on the web? Can someone automate the integration of your information in their own idea? Can we leave the judgment of such ideas up to the likes of Sonny Bono...?
O'Reilly RIA sessions: I'm not sure whether their use of the "Rich Internet Applications" matches what we set out in March last year... a life of its own? (Does anyone know of a prior use of this term? The first time I saw "RIA" in print was through Jeremy Allaire's whitepaper... it's a hefty PDF file... it seems the term is being used in more ways now...?)
Browsers vs applications: Jason Kottke continues the Sherfari discussion ("why aren't Safari and Sherlock the same application?"). I think the core argument may be: "Web browsers help people find and share information on the web, so these two should be one app." I'm not sure that's logically solid -- you could as easily say that desktop and pocket computers both help people process information, so you should just have a dockable PPC. It's not just the general description of the task, but also the details of usage which are at play here.

I see at least four significant areas of difference between document browsers and applications:

  • Privacy: If I have a personalized application which uses the web to perform tasks for me, then I would want to grant it significantly more permissions than if I'm just hopping from one web site to the next.
  • Security: If I'm bopping from site to site, without first checking who created that site, then I want an application which can do less to my system than I would when running a trusted application.
  • Persistence: The web is set up to serve a document and forget you. A good application is like a set of worn-in shoes, and should conform more and more to your desires.
  • Data vs presentation: The web delivers data along with presentation info (CSS, eg) and interactivity instructions (JavaScript, eg). If you're just seeking networked info it's much more economical to keep UI and logic client-side... XML delivery scales up much better than HTML delivery does.

I see major differences between "serve and forget" hop-scotching between sites of unknown trustworthiness when browsing documents, and the types of repeating personalized tasks which I perform of my own volition, and which I expect to conform to my repeated use. With browsers like Safari I'm examing content others have created... with applications like Sherlock I'm creating the content by using external feeds in personalized ways.

It's "out there" vs "in here", maybe that's it in a nutshell.

But I don't have the final answers here -- 'way too early to scope this out clearly. It's a great topic he brings up, and I'd urge anyone in this area of application design to check out his threads and the discussion they have spawned.
Evan Williams on Contribute, Presedia: He notes how Presedia has joined the group here at Macromedia, and that the audience for both of these two tools is ordinary knowledge workers rather than developers or designers. Contribute is used directly by office workers, but it is an extension of Dreamweaver technologies -- someone who is handy with DW can use Contribute to leverage information out from an entire workgroup. Right now Presedia is sort of standalone from the other Macromedia technologies but I expect we'll see similar synergies in the future. (Sometimes I almost throw the Macromedia Flash Player into the same group, at least with Rich Internet Applications which ordinary people can use, but I might be straining the analogy here.) Guiding theme behind these new "Information Convenience tools: there are ways to distribute technology to consumers to radically increase the power of both themselves and developers.
Pols don't get net: Declan McCullagh writes in CNET of a US presidential candidate who has backed anti-spam bills, yet does not understand the difference between opt-in and opt-out for his own messages: "It is absolutely clear who sent this e-mail, and we specifically provided recipients with an unsubscribe option. This is not spam." I believe that a viable email system is too important to leave to forces which have more power than understanding.