Firefox’s Billion, Amazon’s Misstep, and Facebook’s Hole

Here’s another appearance on Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club, now called something else, which after a hiatus is back on every Friday—around 1.15 GMT.

Here’s the audio

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(about 10 minutes’ worth).

Here’s what I talked about:

Xoopit, Or Channels vs Trenches

I’ve been a fan of Xoopit so I guess I am a bit surprised that Yahoo! has bought it. Xoopit, for me, was the future of email. Or a part of it.

(For those of you who haven’t used it, or those who didn’t “get” it, Xoopit is a plugin for Gmail—for others, too, but Gmail is the best working one—which extends Gmail’s functionlity: better search for attachments, dovetailing with Facebook so you can see who you’re talking to on Gmail etc.)

Xoopit, for me, was/is a way to push email beyond being one channel of communication to being part of a single channel of communication. In other words, I believe it will make no sense to future generations that we have different applications for communicating with people.

Right now we have SMS, phone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, face time, and then within those we may have several accounts, depending on whether we’re at work etc etc… This does not make sense.

Some of us would argue that it makes sense if we want to keep our work friends in LinkedIn, and our family friends on Facebook. Yes, but those shouldn’t have to be product choices, surely?

We didn’t use separate postal services to communicate with different kinds of people we knew, or different phones for different kinds of friends? (Well, OK, we may have kept a work phone and a personal phone, but I don’t see many people doing that these days.)

What we are really looking for is a way to organize our increasingly complex social, work and family lives into a coherent web that allows us to control how we communicate with them—not dictated by service, device, product, but by our preferences.

For example, I want to communicate with friend A via SMS because that suits me (and her). I should be able to send that SMS through pretty much any device I want—phone, voice, computer (email, twitter, Facebook etc), TV, pigeon, whatever. It shouldn’t matter to me.

Similarly, the method and format that Friend A receives the message in should be her choice. It shouldn’t be an issue that I sent it as an SMS. She should be able to receive however, and wherever she wishes—guided by whatever factor is important to her (priority—’let everything from Jeremy through’—or cost—‘don’t send me anything by SMS because I’m on roaming, but data is free’ or device—“I’m only carrying my no-data cellphone so route all important communications thro via SMS”.)

Right now this is only a dream, for the most part. Why? Because we’re still stuck in a world of platforms, packages and a lack of understanding of why and how people communicate.

We don’t love twitter because it’s twitter. We love it because it opens all sorts of new doors for sharing information and experiences. And because it’s an open platform, which means we can control how we send and receive.

But we’re still some way off.

Some way off a world where I decide who I communicate with and how I communicate with them, instead of being nudged into one or another walled garden. I may want to talk to Friend A about their holiday on Facebook, but about the new project we’re working on via Gmail. I should be able to do that however I want, and from the same place, and she should be able to decide how she receives and reponds to those emails.

Right now we’re stuck in these trenches dug for us by the creators of the services.

A truly open system will be one where we control these channels.

Xoopit was just a small step, but it had potential. Being able to see whether someone I was talking to on email had a Facebook account—and, if they did, being able to see their profile picture—was great for me, as I communicate often with people I’ve not met, and who often have first names that aren’t always gender specific. Always good to know.

Imagine if that service extended to LinkedIn, twitter and others. Gmail would become a console that would enable me to manage and extend my networks more efficiently than occasional trawling through the network services pages themselves.

And finding attachments? Sounds trivial but it made finding stuff easy, and turned Gmail into an online repository of files I could—relatively—easily share and pass on to others.

Small shifts, but in the right direction.

The chatter on TechCrunch is that Google didn’t buy because it’s launching Wave.

Maybe true, but great though Wave sounds it doesn’t, I think, move us in the direction of open channels. Instead, it sounds a lot like Google wasn’t interested in Xoopit because it was taking Gmail in the wrong direction—into the world of open channels—when Wave is designed to keep us in the trenches.

http://www.loosewireblog.com/site/wp-admin/edit.php?s&post_status=all&post_type=post&action=-1&m=0&cat=0&paged=11&mode=list&action2=-1

Today’s twin bombings in Jakarta—their implications for Indonesia aside—should bring home to conventional media that social media is a multifaceted force, one that is evolving so quickly it’s fast becoming the primary channel that users tune in to for urgent news.

Some conclusions to draw from Jakarta (or are reinforced by the sad episode):

  • Social media is not just about issues that concern the kind of things that people think social media type people are going to be interested in. This was a bomb that went off in a hotel in the developing world, not a pop star who died in California. Admittedly at the heart of the wealthy quarter of the country, but still not LA.
  • The two tweets below could not really be faulted for their content. OK, the second one should perhaps be “explosion” until it’s confirmed that it’s a “bom”, but that’s a quibble. The 140 characters of twitter have already converted us—both user and consumer—into the headline/alert shorthand that was once the preserve of conventional media.
  • TV was reporting a third bomb—and casualties—in north Jakarta long after a twitterer and his photo had shown it was not so. (I don’t have a timeline for that. Contributions welcome).

Lastly, friends and colleagues have made the point I’m stressing the timeliness of all this too much. They say who reports something first doesn’t matter. Well, in some ways that’s true. But a lot of conventional media still believe it to be so, indeed make that a key part of their business model. I highlight speed here because of the still prevailing sense that twitter is full of noise. To still think that is to fail to see how quickly the medium is evolving. The rise of hashtags, retweets and tools like tweetdeck has made it easier for anyone interested to monitor and contribute twitter—so much so that for many it’s the best way to:

  • be alerted to the fact that something is going on/has happened
  • update oneself quickly
  • bypass news and newspaper sites that are often slowed down by traffic during a big event
  • share the information with friends and others
  • pursue and confirm/refute unconfirmed information
  • and, perhaps most interestingly, expand one’s network of ‘information sharers’ so that the experience of watching an event becomes a social one. (Not as in cocktail party social, but in terms of sharing shock, grief, outrage etc, as in the case of the Jakarta bombing. We journalists tend to hide our feelings a lot but that’s not the case on Twitter. It helps to remind one that the casualties are real people, and the suffering being felt is by people who may be on the same vast network as yourself and reading your tweets.)

Here’s an initial timeline of how the story broke, from what I can gather (all times Jakarta time, WIB). Claims that eyewitnesses beat traditional media by 20 minutes are a little exaggerated—it was probably closer to 10 or 12.

0751 WIB: @dregar (Andre Siregar) “Something going in Mega Kuningan. Explosion? In Ritz CArlton and felt building shaking. Marriott hotel has some broken glasses”

indonesia bomb first tweet 2

 0752 WIB:@danieltumiwa (Daniel Tumiwa) “Bom @ marriot and ritz Carlton kuningan jakarta”

indonesia bomb -first tweet 0852

These tweets were forwarded extensively.

The first conventional media coverage I can find is by Reuters, quoting local television, 15 minutes later (all timings are from Factiva. There may well be stories and updates missing):

0807 WIB: INDONESIA EXPLOSION HEARD, FELT AT RITZ-CARLTON KUNINGAN HOTEL IN JAKARTA -METRO TV

@BreakingNews put out their alert eight minutes after that:

0814 WIB: BULLETIN — EXPLOSIONS HITS NEAR JAKARTA’S MARRIOT HOTEL

Followed by two more, quoting the Associated Press.

AP itself put out a bulletin at 8.20 am (I couldn’t find the original despatch that BNO was quoting):

0820 WIB: Bombs explode at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott hotels in Indonesian capital; at least 3 injured

The Reuters fullout came out nine minutes after that:

0829: UPDATE 1-Explosions heard at two central Jakarta hotels –TV

Please correct any omissions. Just to stress, I’m not having a go at my colleagues in conventional media here. Just recording the sequence of events for future dissection.

The Heatline of a Story

Google, apparently prodded by the ground covered by twitter news, has introduced a feature on its Google News search results that indicates what one might call the ‘heat’ of a story—how many sources are covering it over time:

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As with Google Search Trends, the stories below the chart are linked to the graph via letters (although one can’t click on the letters.)

The chart appears to the right of any news search:

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I think it’s clever, and a good way of merging two different Google services (and a third: the images in the bottom right hand corner.)

A note at the bottom explains the placement of stories on the graph:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

The time or date displayed (including in the Timeline of Articles feature) reflects when an article was added to or updated in Google News.

The example above, concerning phone tapping in the UK, indicates that things have quietened down a bit, although that could have more to do with it being a weekend than anything else.

I would imagine this kind of thing would be useful, too, for news organisations to let readers navigate big stories. The sheer number of stories on one particular issue make it hard for users to find the most relevant ones, or to be able to see where that story sits in their coverage timeline.

Journalists Citing Wikipedia: Rarely an Option

Reuters has just published its handbook online. A smart move (declaration of interest: I’ve done some training work for Reuters. I’ve got my old dog-eared copy on a shelf nearby.)

I posted (approvingly, but without comment) a retweet from Nieman pointing out that Reuters generally forbids quoting from Wikipedia:

Online information sources which rely on collaborative, voluntary and often anonymous contributions need to be handled with care. Wikipedia, the online “people’s encyclopedia”, can be a good starting point for research, but it should not be used as an attributable source. Do not quote from it or copy from it. The information it contains has not been validated and can change from second to second as contributors add or remove material. Move on to official websites or other sources that are worthy of attribution. Do not link to Wikipedia or similar collaborative encyclopedia sites as a source of background information on any topic. More suitable sites can almost always be found, and indeed are often flagged at the bottom of Wikipedia entries. It is only acceptable to link to an entry on Wikipedia or similar sites when the entry or website itself is the subject of a news story.

This is good policy, but the point could be made more clear. Wikipedia does not encourage the writing of entries that don’t cite existing sources:

Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source.

In other words, if it’s in Wikipedia it should have been somewhere else first, and anyone using the information should go to that original source to check before citing it.

This is true of any journalistic endeavour,  and so it’s no great issue. (“Who told you that?” “What’s your source for that?” “Where did you hear that?”: all questions a journalists asks of someone who tells them something that’s not their own direct experience.)

People should not be offended by Reuters’ polic; indeed, they should be following it already—as writer, as reader, as consumer of Wikipedia.

Confirming is easy enough to do, by the way: just click on the small number that should be next to the information you’re planning to use:

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That will take you to the footnote, highlighted in blue:

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Then click on the link, if any, in that footnote which should take you back to the source:

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If it doesn’t—either because the link no longer works, or the source is an offline one–then you need to do a bit more digging before you’re ready.

Of course, if no footnote exists, then you should be skeptical, or look elsewhere to confirm the information.

An Index Of Blogging Clients

July 2009 Update: added BlogDesk. So far I’ve not been able to find anything apart from Windows Live Writer that works with WordPress page for Windows. (Ecto’s latest release apparently does support it.) 

Blogging clients allow you to prepare posts and then upload them directly. Useful for

  • composing drafts of posts offline
  • easier editing of HTML
  • easier inserting and handling of photos
  • easier editing of existing posts

Here’s a list of the ones I know of. Any additions welcome.

  • Qumana include easy text formatting and image insertion, simple Technorati tagging, and advertising insertion with Q Ads. Make money from your blog content by inserting the ads of your choice with the built-in Q Ads tool. (free: XP/Mac)
  • ecto a feature-rich desktop blogging client for MacOSX and Windows, supporting a wide range of weblog systems, such as Blogger, Blojsom, Drupal, MovableType, Nucleus, TypePad, WordPress, and more. (free; thanks Joost)
  • w.bloggar  The tireless Marcelo Cabral who runs it constantly updates the software to work with new blogging sites. It’s free, but he welcomes donations.
  • Post2Blog handy blog editor with live spell-checking support for pro-bloggers. ($40, Windows only)
  • SharpMT good for MovableType and TypePad. Windows only; free.
  • Windows Live Writer “makes it easier to compose compelling blog posts using Windows Live Spaces or your current blog service.” Free, XP only
  • Zempt Offers a lot of useful features, including assigning more than one category to a post. Zempt is also free but would be happy to get donations. Works with all Movable Type compatible sites. (Windows, Linux, Mac.)
  • BlogJet a new version, 2.0, is out that supports YouTube and Flickr. I used to use this all the time, and plan to try this one. $40, though, is still $40. Windows only
  • BlogWizard allows you to create, edit and publish your blog entries to the server where your weBlog is located. BlogWizard works with all major weBlog services that support the Blogger xml-rpc engine. BlogWizard has an easy to use WysiWyg interface, in which you can manipulate the text anyway you want, make it bold, bigger, smaller, insert images and hyperlinks. Costs: $23
  • Blogger for Word Blogger toolbar will be added to Word allowing you to publish to your blog, save drafts and edit posts (Free; XP and Word required)
  • MacJournal lets you publish your work as a blog to any of the popular blogging services, including your .mac account. Also possible to keep your journal at your fingertips, even when you’re on the road. (Macs only; $35)
  • BlogDesk BlogdDesk BlogDesk is free, works with WordPress, MovableType, Drupal, Serendipity and ExpressionEngine.
  • MarsEdit: Mac only, but very capable, according to Mike Rohde (thanks, Mike)

Also note that Microsoft Office 2007 lets you post to a blog, and include some pretty cool features.  So does Flock. There are also some Firefox extensions:

  • Performancing Heavy duty extension with all the bells and whistles
  • Deepest Sender instead of having to go to the Update page on LiveJournal/WordPress/Blogger/whatever, or loading up a separate client program, all you have to do is hit Ctrl+, or click the button in your toolbar, and you can start posting.

Links

WordPress has a list of blogging clients here. No mention of support for pages.

Another good list here.

Google and History

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I had gotten excited about Google’s timeline search before, but hadn’t seen this: Google is mining not just text for the dates of more recent stuff, but everything, stretching back into the mists of time, culled from Google Books:

The result is an odd but interesting automatically generated history of whatever you’re looking for.

In this case, I was looking for “cleft stick”. This is what appeared:

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And the first few were all about how women found to be disrespectful, swearing, reveling or other forms of subversion had their tongues inserted into a cleft stick—a stick with the end split, and the tongue inserted:

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The sources are varied, revealing a fascinating brutality and harrassment of women which went on for years:

In 1636, Elisabeth Aplegate was proclaimed guilty of the crime of swearing and reveling, and was required to stand in public with her tongue in a cleft stick.

1638 – The calmness with which even cultivated men then viewed the public whipping of women appears from the record by Governor Winthrop of the punishment of Mrs. Oliver in 1638. She was a woman of good character, but differed violently with the magistrates as to religious The calmness with which even cultivated men then viewed the public whipping of women appears from the record by Governor Winthrop of the punishment of Mrs. Oliver in 1638. She was a woman of good character, but differed violently with the magistrates as to religious matters, for which she was reproved, and finally sentenced to have her tongue put in a cleft stick, and then to be whipped.

This is clearly where the term “caught in a cleft stick” comes from. But not, probably, exactly what we mean when we say it.

Facebook Wants to Be Twitter, While Twitter May Have to Be More Like Facebook

Here’s another appearance on Radio Australia’s Breakfast Club which is pretty much every Friday—around 1.15 GMT—and here are some links to the things I talked about this week.

Here’s the audio

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(about 10 minutes’ worth).

  • Facebook’s move to be more like Twitter. As I said on the show, Facebook fears that its network lacks room for growth; when was the last time you added a friend?
  • Marketers find Twitter. Australian company uSocial will go out and get followers for you, for a price. This isn’t underhand, but already twitter is becoming a place for spammers (from Habitat to the sleazeballs who won’t get out of my twitter stream.) As I mentioned on the show, Facebook is going to try to be more like twitter, while twitter may have to be more like Facebook.
  • Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch sees Facebook as a directory, MySpace as a place to share common interests. If that’s the case, then twitter actually trumps them both because it’s a real time search engine for both. (I didn’t have time to talk about this, but it’s an interesting point.)
  • (From last week) Researchers in Italy have been going around nightlcubs in Chieti asking people for cigarettes. Turns out if you ask them in their right ear, you’re more likely to be successful. It’s called the right ear advantage (via the Daily Telegraph.)