The History of an Article

The Guardian is adding some great features to its website. I’m not crazy about the betting stuff, coming from puritanical stock, and I’m not quite sure how the paper is making money from all this, but I do like the “article history” feature. It’s below the byline and before the text. Click on the link and a window appears explaining where the article originally appeared offline and when it was last updated:  image

There’s a similar link at the bottom of each story although for now the link doesn’t seem to work:

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This stuff is good for several reasons:

  • It helps to create a relationship between the offline and the online, especially where the paper has two distinct offline products (Observer and Guardian).
  • Giving a ‘last updated’ time/date gives the reader a sense of how recently journalists/editors added to the story. I’m not quite sure whether this means the Guardian is going to update the story in the journalistic sense of adding a lead if the situation requires it. But it’s helpful to the reader to know when the piece was last touched.
  • This would also work well for corrections. Correcting a story and explaining what it was corrected from is an important part of journalistic transparency (this Wired story, for example, corrected Clueless Manifesto to Cluetrain Manifesto after BuzzMachine pointed out the error, but didn’t indicate what the original error was; ironic, given the subject matter.)

Of course, this could go further. Perhaps the Guardian could share with readers when work started on the story, who edited it and for how long, as well as a history of comments on the piece (I never quite understand why comments are allowed on blog-type articles on the Guardian website, but not on stories.)

And a minor quibble: I’d like to see the time tagged as GMT, or British Summer Time, or whatever, given the Guardian’s huge foreign readership. We’re a big global family now, but we’re not all in the same timezone.

Anyway, kudos to the Guardian/Observer for an impressive site.

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The Way Chat Should Be

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Great to see that Google Talk is adding improvements. I just noticed this one, for example: Drag a photo into a chat window and it appears in the chat itself. Click on the picture and a little progress bar lights up on the right as the recipient accepts the picture.

Resize the window and the picture resizes:

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This is good stuff, especially when you compare it with Skype, which for some reason no longer allows dragging of files or links into a chat.

Chat, in short, needs to fit the conversation. And conversation involves sharing things, looking at things together, and generally connecting to each other.

Switch to Google Talk. Skype, get your act together.

The Book Will Outlive Us All

A wonderful post by an old friend and former colleague, Martin Latham, on why the book will outlast the e-reader:

Printed books are palimpsests of our lives. They bear our imprint: we press in them the mountain-holiday flower, we spill wine, bath water, suntan lotion and even tears on them. As babies, we chew them; as adults, we curl up with them. We crack their spines for pleasure: they are unbreakable. Tibetans wind them, mummy-style, in cloth (the unwrapping itself is a prefatory meditation).

Conversely, the great travel writer Wilfred Thesiger hated book jackets and had a post-purchase ritual of removing the garish cover to expose the tactile buckram. Others cannot resist writing in books, and there are now several works on “marginalia” through the ages. To a historian or anthropologist, the book, at 500 years old, is a new-born baby. It has a long life ahead of it.

The whole piece is worth a read. E-books will be good for “providing a channel for all those low-margin reference texts, siphoning off some of our overpublishing glut in an eco-friendly way.” But books are much, much more: “an all-round psycho-sensory experience. Every reader has a few books which they love because they represent a transformation time in their lives.”

Amen to all this. My friend is a bookseller, running a store in Canterbury, UK. We used to work in a bookshop together in the King’s Road, a very happy episode of my life, despite the fact that the store itself was going bust. Being around books, and people who loved books, was a very nice way to earn a living.

It’s unnerving to think I spend more time among bits and bytes than musty papyrus these days. I can’t help thinking that the end of books as learning (as opposed to enjoyment) is on the way out. Watching today’s students with their ubiquitous laptops and ready access to massive silos of information, where libraries are just places to plug in their MacBooks and Questia is the database of choice, one wonders where the serendipidity of wandering the aisles, thumbing through books that aren’t on the reading list and spotting an interesting tome in the returned books stack, has gone.

Anyway, read Martin’s piece.

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What Price Tranquility?

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It struck me, as I lay on a chaise longue at the Conrad Bali trying to filter out the drone of the jetskis, that hotels are selling a complicated product. My wife, for example, loves the clean, crisp white sheets and thick feather pillows of a king-size bed. Others go for the food, some for the ambience, some for the adventure, others for the sun, some for the service.

But in this stressful age, money increasingly buys and hotels sell tranquility: a chance to relax, zone out, be pampered, wander around in a bubble of soft footfalls, bubbling little fountains, soft tinkling music and the absence of intrusion. Of course, there are different grades of tranquility: If you want total silence, you go to an Aman resort; if you want tranquility plus active night life you go to Seminyak or Kuta. Tranquility is actually quite a sophisticated product. You don’t actually sell it directly, but it’s implicit in every photo and description of your hotel: But it’s also, it struck me, more or less the one thing that hotels can’t guarantee.

Tranquility is the result of effort and a complex management of logistics behind the scenes: You can train staff to keep voices low, to not intrude upon guests, to keep the sound of crockery being piled high to a minimum. But there are events you can’t really control. Like, in the case of the Conrad Bali, jetskis swarming the beach in front of the hotel like Sioux around a wagon train.

“It’s beyond our control,” I Wayan Sumadi, the assistant manager, told me. Although the Conrad has a cooperation agreement with some of the jetskis operators–you can rent one from one of the poolside booths or from a guy on the beach sporting a Conrad-logoed ID card–the hotel, Wayan says, can’t prevent them from dominating the seafront. The result is that no guests venture into the water and a drone that can be heard from the hotel lobby.

I’ve seen this problem before in Bali, but usually the hotel is smart enough to find out a peaceful coexistence that doesn’t annoy the guests (Wayan says I’m by no means the first to complain.) Of course, public spaces are public spaces, but clearly the jetski owners rely on guests from the hotel, otherwise they wouldn’t parade in front of them all day.

I feel for the guests who have come thousands of miles to buy some peace and quiet, and have to retreat to their hotel rooms to find it. I feel, in a way, for the hotel management who don’t seem to have figured out that–despite an otherwise beautiful hotel and good service–the jetskis undermine the very product they’ve tried so hard to create: tranquility.

If I was the Conrad I would put this to the top of my agenda on Monday morning, and not rest until the situation is resolved. For more than a few guests, I suspect, tranquility is non-negotiable.

Whaling in Singapore?

Singapore appears to be the source of a virus cleverly designed to hoodwink U.S. executives by appearing to be an emailed subpoena which mentions them by name, as well as their title.

The SANS Storm Center said three days ago that

We’ve gotten a few reports that some CEOs have received what purports to be a federal subpoena via e-mail ordering their testimony in a case. It then asks them to click a link and download the case history and associated information.

One problem, it’s total bogus. It’s a “click-the-link-for-malware” typical spammer stunt. So, first and foremost, don’t click on such links. An interesting component of this scam was that it did properly identify the CEO and send it to his e-mail directly. It’s very highly targeted that way.

The report says that the server that the trojan reports back to is “hard-coded to an ISP in Singapore at this time,” from where, according to Ars Technica, it “steals copies of any security certificates installed on the system.”

(This, by the way, is calling whaling, since it is like phishing but is more targeted, and going for bigger phish, so to speak.)

The Inquirer says that the web servers delivering the emails are based in China, and, in language too loose to take seriously, “the cyber ruffians who later nefariously take control of the victims’ computers, based in Singapore.”

There’s no evidence the “cyber ruffians” are based in Singapore, as far as I can work out. The only possible connection could be the English and errors in the emails, which, John Markoff of the NYT reports, “led several researchers to believe that the attackers were not familiar with the United States court system and that the group might be based in a place that used a British variant of English, such as Hong Kong.”

That said, just because an ISP may have been compromised doesn’t mean that those involved are physically located in Singapore. Indeed, it would seem very unlikely they are; if they’re smart enough to launch an attack like this, you’d have to bet against them being anywhere near the ‘command and control’ center itself.

Still, it’s unsettling that an ISP may have been compromised. So far we don’t know much more, though I’ve put in requests for more information. (The source of the information about Singapore appears to have come from someone at Verisign, whose Asian PR address bounces. So don’t expect something anytime soon.)

Facebook is Dead. I’m Not Being Facetious

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Either there’s a glitch in Facebook, or else it’s dead. Well, not dead, exactly, but I noticed that, at nearly 10 pm, none of my friends have done anything today to merit appearing on the News Feed of stuff (see above).

(The News Feed, for those of you with real lives, lists recent activity by your friends in adding little widgets, updating their photos, tagging other photos, and all that sort of thing that merits an evening at home.)

(And no, I’m not filtering my News Feed at all:)

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(And yes, I do have some friends. Well, Facebook friends. They’re like fairweather friends except they don’t even hang around when the weather’s good:)

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Now, this could be a glitch. A glance at one of my most active Facebook chums indicated she’s accepted flowers, a caveman and a fire in the past hour.)

And we should distinguish between activities and updates. Status updates are still going fine: 22 of my chums have updated their status in the last six hours. But none, as far as I can work out, have added an application, tagged photos or done anything that merits being put into the News Feed (indeed a lot of the activity in the News Feed seems to be a couple of days old.)

To me that’s kind of significant. If my friends have tired of Facebook as a place to hang out and do stuff, then how long has it got left?

Facebook is Dead. I’m Not Being Facetious

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Either there’s a glitch in Facebook, or else it’s dead. Well, not dead, exactly, but I noticed that, at nearly 10 pm, none of my friends have done anything today to merit appearing on the News Feed of stuff (see above).

(The News Feed, for those of you with real lives, lists recent activity by your friends in adding little widgets, updating their photos, tagging other photos, and all that sort of thing that merits an evening at home.)

(And no, I’m not filtering my News Feed at all:)

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(And yes, I do have some friends. Well, Facebook friends. They’re like fairweather friends except they don’t even hang around when the weather’s good:)

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Now, this could be a glitch. A glance at one of my most active Facebook chums indicated she’s accepted flowers, a caveman and a fire in the past hour.)

And we should distinguish between activities and updates. Status updates are still going fine: 22 of my chums have updated their status in the last six hours. But none, as far as I can work out, have added an application, tagged photos or done anything that merits being put into the News Feed (indeed a lot of the activity in the News Feed seems to be a couple of days old.)

To me that’s kind of significant. If my friends have tired of Facebook as a place to hang out and do stuff, then how long has it got left?

Filtering Communications So They Don’t Drive Us Mad

A dear friend was supposed to drop something off around 11 pm last night. I turn in around that time, so I just nodded off. Luckily I didn’t hear her SMS come in around 1 am. But I could have. I consider the phone the primary communications device–if someone has an emergency, that’s how they’re going to reach me–and so you can’t really close it off. But how do you filter out stuff like my ditzy friend SMS-ing me at 1 am to tell me that after all she’s not going to drop something off?

In short, how can we set up filters on our communications channels so they don’t drive us mad?

One is not to give out your phone number. I keep a second prepaid phone around and I give that number, and that number only, to people I do business with. That phone gets turned off on weekends and evenings. I often don’t answer a cellphone call if I don’t recognise the number; if it’s important enough, I figure they’ll SMS me first, or else they’ll already be on my contact list.

Another is to confine and contain online. I don’t accept contacts on Facebook unless I’ve met them in person (and like them.) Everyone else I point to LinkedIn. I’ve noticed a lot of people are now following me (and everyone else, it seems; I’m not special) on Twitter so I’ve scaled that back to ‘public’ observations.

Indeed, Web 2.0 hasn’t quite resolved this issue: We’ve been campaigning to bring down those walled gardens, but we’ve failed to understand that garden walls (ok, fences) make good neighbors.

Email is still a burden: I’m still getting a ton of stuff I didn’t ask for, including press releases from UPS, just because I once complained to them about something, and stuff from a PR agency touting posts on a client’s blog (that’s pretty lame, I reckon. What would one call that? “My-Client-Just-Blogged Spam”?)

One way I’ve tried to limit incoming stuff is through a page dedicated to PR professionals. I then point anyone interested in pitching to me to that page. I’m amazed by how few people who bother to read it, but I’m also amazed at how good the pitches are by those that do. (And of course, I then feel bad that I don’t use their painstakingly presented material.)

I like this from Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government, who gives out his email address but says If you put the word “duck” in your subject (e.g. “[duck] Why you’re an idiot”), it’s less likely to be accidentally junked. What a great idea.

Then there’s simple things that help to keep the noise level down: Subscribe to twitter on clients like Google Talk and you can turn it on and off just by typing, well, on or off. (You can also turn on and off individuals, so if scoble is getting a bit too much for you, just type ‘off scoble’. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that.)

I’d like to see more and better filtering so we don’t have to succumb to the babble.

Stuff I’d like to see:

  • Phones that change ringtone or volume after a certain time unless they’re from some key numbers.
  • SMS autoreturns, that say “The person you sent this message to is asleep. If you need to wake him/her, please enter this code and resend. Be aware that if the message is not urgent or an offer of money/fame/sexual favors you may face disembowelment by the recipient.”
  • Oh, and while I’m at it, the ability to opt out of Facebook threads if they lose your interest.

And, finally, a way to turn down friends and contacts from my communication channels without them knowing. A great service, in my view, would be one that appeared to authorise their requests to be your buddies, but didn’t. Call it faux-thorising.

The Revolution That Keeps, Well, Revolving

It’s interesting to watch how quickly our Web 2.0 tools are changing, changing us, changing the way we communicate, and being changed by us. And how each step feels like a revolution, and yet, usually, isn’t.

The latest thing is Twitter 2.0, as I would call it. Nothing has actually changed in the software, but the way people are using it has. What was originally a presence and status tool has become a communication, networking, information delivery and spamming tool. And it’s creating its own unique problems–which probably aren’t that unique, if you stand back from them–and now, its own rules.

Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, is the first I’ve noticed who is trying to wrestle with the new realities.

He starts out:

I’m a passionate about Twitter.  I spend more time in on it than in any other social media venue.  Twitter has been good to me.  It is the source of leads for my text and video blogs, not to mention several very nice consulting and speaking offers.

This has created what Shel calls “the most up close and personal of social media”. Shel uses Twitter as a place to communicate with fellow twitterers and meet new people within a “small neighborhood, one where it’s safe to speak out, where strangers are scrutinized by locals this all happens at a certain easygoing pace.”

But then he goes on to talk about the “new wave of adopters coming in”. I suspect we’ve all noticed this: legions of “followers” who add your twitter feed (“tweets”) to their list. The worry is that now the conversation Shel was having with his small neighborhood is being listened to by a legion of outsiders who may or may not be anonymous.

Twitter, it should be pointed out, allows various options: You can be private, or you can allow anyone to follow your tweets, or you can vet who follows you. If someone follows you, it kind of behoves you to check out their tweets, if not to actually follow them, then at least to get a sense about whether the person following you is the sort of person you want to have following you.

Shel has come up with what he calls his “Twitter Follow Policy:”

  • If I do not know who you are, or what you look like, or where you are coming from I will not follow you.
  • With very few exceptions, I will not follow brands, candidates, causes or company names. I wish to talk with humans, not brand icons, neither surveys nor bots. If you are a real person & you are passionate about your work, then I embrace you. If you are a Direct Marketer using Twitter to push you brand into my forehead, I will block you.
  • Even if you are a real person, I may not follow you. I need to see that you are talking either about topics or people I care about.
  • If you disagree with me, do it under your own name and I will respect you. If you personally insult me, I will block you. If you are consistently unpleasant or just boring, I will unfollow or block you.
  • With extremely rare exception, I will not follow anonymous Tweeters.

Wise stuff. But as some of the commenters on his blog post point out, people use Twitter for different reasons. Not everyone follows Shel (or to a much more modest extent, me) because they want a conversation with me. I don’t follow others for the conversation, necessarily. Many people don’t want to be followed, just like many people read blogs but don’t necessarily blog.

The problem here is that Twitter is a great tool that has already broken out of the constraints of its creators’ imagination. But now it’s created uses that may conflict with each other and create fresh problems, such as those experienced by Shel who see the informal networks with fuzzy but distinct ‘village limits’ undermined by outsiders who don’t know the ‘rules.’

I applaud the new lease of life that Twitter has been given with this new kind of usage. In some ways it is a striking counterbalance to what I believe is the failure of Facebook to evolve beyond the huge surge of a few months back; I’ve noticed that usage in my little world have fallen off quite dramatically since the beginning of the year. Facebook will eventually become a sort of ‘profile cemetry’ unless these users are convinced it represents more than a novelty ‘old friend discovery’ tool.

Twitter has stepped into the gap left here by the declining appeal, and lack of direct communication that presence tools offer (Jaiku et al) and the walled-garden, asynchronoous web page to web page/email world of Facebook. Twitter, via delivery mechanisms like Google Talk, have colonised a space that is “instant messaging with social characteristics.”

Shel’s approach is a smart one. Though I wonder how many of these kinds of policies we’ll have to come up with as the landscape continues to evolve.

Global Neighbourhoods: My Twitter Follow Policy