Help With A Help File That Won’t Open

After months of messing about wondering why I couldn’t access any of my help files in Windows XP, and never finding an explanation and solution online that didn’t involve smearing myself with axle grease and climbing into my computer, I stumbled on this tool (via PC Answers of the UK): Helpware Downloads’ MJ’s Diagonostics which

is a small utility that reports if all the HTML Help runtime DLLs are installed and registered correctly. If a DLL is not registered then it will ask if you want to register it. It also checks the RoboHelp DLL (HHActiveX.dll) and MS Help 2 DLLs.

In English, this means if you get messages like this:

Cannot open the file: mk:@MSITStore:C:Program FilesEverNoteEverNoteEverNote.chm

or your help file just won’t open, try running MJ’s small, free utility first. It’s simple, elegant, and it gets the job done. As the report file explains

A common problem with HTML Help 1.x is DLLs not correctly registered during installation. This utility checks all components and registers DLLs if required. We also report if the RoboHelp DLL is registered, and if MS Help 2 components are installed and registered.

In other words, the help file, which has a CHM extension, hasn’t properly checked in with the Windows registry. This was certainly the problem in my case, and the utility fixes it without fanfare. There are other aspects of the problem, and if this solution doesn’t work, check out Nic Cubrilovic’s suggestion, and the many comments that follow his post. I don’t know who MJ is by the Helpware Group, which hosts the file, is well worth checking out. Thanks!

Why doesn’t Microsoft award honorary knighthoods to these kind of helpful, selfless people? Without them, would Windows even run?

What Newspapers Should Do: Gist and Juice

I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but there’s so much hand-wringing going on about the future of newspapers in the Second Age of the Internet I thought I would throw in my two cents: Newspapers need to treat print and online as two different audiences, and cater for them accordingly. It’s about getting the word out, not getting a product out.

The rule is a simple one: Newspapers are for people who love to read, and want something in a format and depth they can take with them. They are looking for layout, nuance, photos, details, rich writing and analysis. In short: Storytelling.

Online, meanwhile, is for getting up to speed quickly. It’s information as briefing. Tell me what I need to know so I can get on with my day. In short, it’s short, to the point: for people who don’t like (or don’t have time) to read.

It’s not just about brevity for the sake of speed. People don’t like reading lots of text online, so it’s obvious that writing for the Internet is best done short and to the point. (This, incidentally, is one reason why blogs are so successful: Bite-sized chunks that deliver something that fits nicely on the average computer screen. Sure there are some bloggers who write essays, and write them beautifully, but most blog postings are short and to the point.)

But this doesn’t necessarily mean putting a few paragraphs on the net, or a teaser or two, and then a link to the full-blown story on a subscribe-only website. What is online still needs to be as comprehensive a product as the newspaper would offer its hardcopy readers. It just needs to be shorter, and, as I’ve said elsewhere [WSJ.com link: Subscription only, I’m afraid], formatted in a more imaginative way than merely a vague pastiche of a newspaper with a few HTML tricks thrown in. (Think newsmaps.) It’s intriguing to see newspapers, including my own paymaster The Asian Wall Street Journal, toy with formats; when is the same big thinking about format going to happen online?

Online content needs to be short and sharp. That doesn’t mean dumbing it down to wire service copy or wire service- style writing; it means reducing the amount of text to something manageable in an online format. So, say a piece on Medium being the new Large (something I just read in the still excellent The Guardian) could be delivered online as a briefer piece, the main point summed up in a paragraph with the main examples to back it up. Not necessarily pretty, but just because it’s a feature doesn’t mean it a) isn’t useful information and b) has to be feature-length to convey its meaning.

The newspaper reader is still going to prefer the full length version. There’s something delightful and serendipitous about reading a thoughtful newspaper like The Guardian in its entirety (or the International Herald Tribune, another coffee-time favourite despite, or perhaps because of, its quixotic choice of stories). There’ll still be a market for that, whatever the size of the paper it’s printed on. But how many of us get time to read these papers cover to cover every day?

The Internet needs to be a faster mechanism to get that same rush of interesting fact and insight that reading a newspaper cover to cover offers. The journalists who write the material may baulk at seeing their lovingly crafted 3,000 words reduced to 300, but they shouldn’t grumble. The offline world will still see their 3,000 words and, if the editing is good, the online reader will still get the gist, if not the juice, of their writing. It’s no longer about one product delivered from an ivory tour. It’s about getting the word out.

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part IV: Jeremy Ruston

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Last, but not least, Jeremy Ruston, the man who started it all.

Jeremy Ruston: Hi Jeremy
Loose Wire: hi jeremy, thanks for getting back to me…
Jeremy Ruston: no problem, hope it’s not too late wherever you are
Loose Wire: i’d like to hear from you about the history of this, how it works under the hood, what they’re used for and where it’s going…
Jeremy Ruston: sure, where to start
Jeremy Ruston: i was originally trying to do a personal site
Jeremy Ruston: kind of wanted to blog, but acknowledged that I’m not a great writer
Jeremy Ruston: (being more of a inventor/design/coder type)
Jeremy Ruston: so, wanted something that would let me do a partwork, gradually assembling a coherent picture of the work I’m interested in, and the stuff I’ve done
Jeremy Ruston: but I wanted it to be enough like a blog that people would recognise it as one
Jeremy Ruston: anyway, i started messing around with dhtml, for the first time in years
Jeremy Ruston: and realised that actually it might be a good enough way to implement some of the wiki ideas I’ve been thinking about for a long time
Jeremy Ruston: I did the first version which was very primitive and didn’t allow saving
Jeremy Ruston: which got a bit of attention, but everyone said ‘tsk, if only it allowed saving’
Jeremy Ruston: which of course, I knew was Totally Impossible for a mere HTML file
Jeremy Ruston: which turned out to be wrong…
Jeremy Ruston: oh, and I never did get around to doing the personal site I originally envisaged
Loose Wire: interesting. basically all the code that makes the TW happen is stored in the same file as the content, right? It’s all self-contained?
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, just one file with three main chunks: html to deliver the skeleton of the layout and the content itself; css for the appearance of elements and javascript for the behaviour
Jeremy Ruston: it’s really the opposite of what computer geeks consider conventional wisdom, which would be to separate stuff neatly
Jeremy Ruston: it’s kind of like if every Word document actually incorporated a copy of Microsoft Word itself
Jeremy Ruston: but in the crazy world of the web the application is shorter than the document
Loose Wire: it
Loose Wire: ‘s an interesting twist…
Jeremy Ruston: now there’s a couple of other projects that use the same approach, but I think TiddlyWiki was the first
Loose Wire: which projects are those?
Jeremy Ruston: is the one I was thinking of
Loose Wire: how hard was all this to do?
Jeremy Ruston: Hard, I guess, but it’s the kind of thing I enjoy 🙂
Jeremy Ruston: A lot of it is actually quite routine from a programming perspective, but some bits were ridiculously hard to get right
Jeremy Ruston: for example, getting it to display properly in Internet Explorer — Firefox is easy
Jeremy Ruston: also, the code to actually do the saving was pretty complex, and the code to handle wikification (what I call turning Wiki text into proper displayed text with links etc)
Jeremy Ruston: The great thing about the internet is that it’s a great resource for finding out more about the internet… there’s masses and masses of chunks and slivers of code out there to learn from
Jeremy Ruston: hopefully tiddlywiki is now something that other people are learning from
Loose Wire: i found it interesting, too, that other tiddlywikis sprang up — the GTD one, for example — and now have been folded into the original….
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, I’ve been astounded by the reaction from the developer community
Jeremy Ruston: or rather the way that tiddlywiki has formed it’s own developer community
Jeremy Ruston: there’s something eminently hackable about JavaScript, though
Loose Wire: do you see it as part of this ‘AJAX’ resurgence?
Jeremy Ruston: Slight aside about the previous point: 15 to 20 years ago, all computers came with a BASIC interpreter; the owner was expected to do a bit of programming, or at least tinker with other people’s programs. I felt it was a shame when that era ended, but it seems that the web has ushered in a new era of accessible, hackable, available programming tools
Jeremy Ruston: As to AJAX, yes, absolutely, I think that TiddlyWiki is one of the quintessential AJAX apps. And yet, perversely, it technically fails to meet the original criteria of AJAX because it doesn’t talk to a serverside. But I think that that is a shortcoming in the definition of AJAX…
Loose Wire: have you heard back from people about how they’re using TWs? any surprises?
Jeremy Ruston: yes, astonishment usually
Jeremy Ruston: 🙂
Jeremy Ruston: I’ve heard of people really stretching it: putting about 50 times more data into it than I’d ever bothered to test, for example
Loose Wire: those would be big files, no?
Jeremy Ruston: I think a lot of the people who are actually using TiddlyWiki (as opposed to hacking the code) don’t ever publish their stuff. A key feature of tiddlywiki for them is that it’s utterly private; you don’t have to trust any shady, fly-by-night dotcom with your data
Jeremy Ruston: so there’s a huge mass of ‘dark TiddlyWikis’ that we can’t see
Jeremy Ruston: but of the ones that I can see, I’m thrilled that academics have taken to it so well – have you seen Elise Springer’s site?
Loose Wire: no…
Jeremy Ruston: (yes, putting lots and lots and lots of text into it)
Jeremy Ruston: Jeremy Ruston: there’s also a site about religion:
Jeremy Ruston: which I think is interesting because it’s the sort of densely argued manifesto that works really well in tiddlywiki
Loose Wire: Elise’s site is beautiful…
Jeremy Ruston: Yeah, she’s really dedicated to getting it how she wants it, very impressive
Jeremy Ruston: This one is interesting too: it’s about Bolivian politics
Jeremy Ruston: One thing that was definitely a surprise was the translation activity. Volunteers have gone and done translations into German, French, Dutch, Bulgarian, Chinese (traditional and mandarin), Portuguese
Jeremy Ruston: and probably others I’ve forgotten
Loose Wire: excellent… any idea of the number of folk using TW now?
Jeremy Ruston: I think it’s impossible to measure in any sensible way; people only visit the site once to get a copy, and can then use it as often as they like without me being any the wiser
Jeremy Ruston: but it’s certainly tens of thousands I’d have thought
Loose Wire: one feature that particularly attracted me was the tagging thing. it really helps propel TW into another league…
Jeremy Ruston: Yeah, it was an obvious thing to add, and does really work well
Jeremy Ruston: also a good example of a feature that I’d envisaged but got implemented first by other people
Jeremy Ruston: But I don’t think it yet scratches the surface of what’s possible with tagging
Loose Wire: what do you imagine happening there?
Jeremy Ruston: being able to ‘twist’ on a tag that you’ve used to see things that other people have tagged the same way
Jeremy Ruston: that’s something that flickr and del.icio.us do today
Jeremy Ruston: TiddlyWiki needs multi-user features before it can do that
Loose Wire: yes… but i’ve always felt tags are just as useful to the individual as the group…
Jeremy Ruston: yes indeed
Loose Wire: TW is the first i’ve seen really using that. suddenly you have a very powerful way of organising and accessing stuff.
Loose Wire: it really puts to shame most other data organisers…
Jeremy Ruston: Thanks!
Jeremy Ruston: Well, I’d like to make it easier to navigate by tags
Jeremy Ruston: and search by them
Loose Wire: jonny was saying he is working on being able to select multiple tags…
Jeremy Ruston: oh cool, that will be interesting. I’m interested in extending that to more complex things (give me everything tagged ‘jonny’ and ‘jeremy’ but not tagged ‘football’)
Jeremy Ruston: I think that the challenge with those kinds of features is the ui
Loose Wire: that would be excellent..
Loose Wire: yes…
Jeremy Ruston: I’ve aimed to give tiddlywiki a liquid interface that’s as uncluttered as possible
Loose Wire: i’ve been juggling data for a project using a TW and already the ways to get related data is beyond any other program i’ve used.
Jeremy Ruston: it’s a challenge to keep these complex features out of the way but accessible and discoverable
Jeremy Ruston: hehe that’s excellent
Jeremy Ruston: what do you think of the search? I still find it way too slow, and keep wondering about making the search results popup as a submenu that you can select from
Loose Wire: i also started thinking about how one could turn blogs themselves into databases… many of us blog, but that stuff is not all that accessible once it’s blogged..
Loose Wire: (the search idea, i agree on)
Loose Wire: TW struck me as the intersection of publisher and database.
Loose Wire: i can’t think of any other program that fills that space.
Loose Wire: and yet now we are all publishers, we need it more than ever!
Jeremy Ruston: Yes, indeed, I like the counterpoint with blogging
Jeremy Ruston: blogging seems essentially ephemeral because individual posts are often so meaningless shorn of their context, while using tiddlywiki can lead to the production of a coherent body of work, something of lasting value
Jeremy Ruston: (sorry rambling)
Loose Wire: exactly. and blogging offered us different methods of navigation, and TWs are kind of bringing that home, to one’s own data too. indeed TW is an example of not really distinguishing between public and private, offline and online data.
Loose Wire: at least in the sense of the way it’s edited and collected.
Loose Wire: now i’m rambling too.
Jeremy Ruston: yes, I like that too
Loose Wire: 🙂

Loose Wire: i guess my wishlist would include making it easier to set up a TW — maybe a desktop shortcut — and an easier way to tweak the stylesheet…
Loose Wire: perhaps some tip bubbles…
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, there’s a sizeable percentage of ‘normal people’ who I see sit in front of it: they scroll it up and down, and don’t actually click on anything, and so completely miss the point…. Thought provoking for an interface designer
Loose Wire: anyone who has ever just wanted to save some stuff they found, or keep notes in the same place, would welcome TW…
Jeremy Ruston: you’re right of course. The hackers are very vocal so I tend to neglect the more ease-of-use oriented features…

Loose Wire: finally, where do you think it might go?
Jeremy Ruston: well, I hope that in 12 months time, I’m working on it full time, and offering a really nicely polished, free, version of the current single file thing, along with some probably more commercial expanded version with multiple users, real time collaboration, spell checking and all that good stuff
Jeremy Ruston: but if I’ve learned one thing over the last 12 months, it’s to put stuff out there and see what happens
Jeremy Ruston: so I guess I’ll keep doing that 🙂
Loose Wire: how scalable is it, do you think? does it hit a limit? can you get around that?
Jeremy Ruston: tiddlywiki itself doesn’t have any (serious) inherent limits; it’s just that browsers tend to explode if you push them too far
Jeremy Ruston: so, a 10MB tiddlywiki would probably kill internet explorer
Jeremy Ruston: but yes, these problems are all get-around-able
Jeremy Ruston: fun problems to solve, actually, generally
Loose Wire: cool… well, thanks for this jeremy.

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part III: Alan Hecht

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Third up, Alan Hecht Instructional Design Specialist at Penn State University:

Loose Wire: i’m intrigued by TWs and have enjoyed fiddling with them. i’m wondering whether they might be suitable for casual users, and whether they are likely to grow into something more?
AlanCHecht: I discovered TW because I was looking for a wiki solution that I could load on a local web server.  When I sw TW, I was amazed that I didn’t need a server-side app to handle the wiki DB.  I was so surprised by the ease at which anyone could create a dynamic wiki with search capability that I showed it to several faculty (non-techies) who now want to use it for their university-hosted website.  But to answer your question more directly, I think TW is unique in that it can be used by people with no expereience AND by seasoned web programmers who like the power of the plug-in arch.
Loose Wire: yes, good point. i personally love the tagging thing, the idea that you can organise stuff in such a simple but powerful way…
AlanCHecht: I think you have 3 types of TW use…1) wiki-on-a-stick personal only usage, 2) edit locally then post new file to website, and 3) the server-side TW flavors like PHP-TW and ZiddlyWiki.  So folks can get in at any level and start playing, but the tool can also grow with the user.
Loose Wire: how do you think this kind of tool is going to develop?
AlanCHecht: Technically, we just hit a milestone with the plug-in architecture.  I think this means that JeremyRuston will concentrate less on adding new features and more on providing safe, open hooks to plug-in developers.  So the TWs in use out there could all be different based on the plug-ins that are loaded…
Loose Wire: could you give some examples of how different they could be, what kind of uses they could be put to?
AlanCHecht: 2) Cosmetically, I think you’re going to see a lot happen in terms of tweaking the CSS to give TW new looks.  Several recent stylesheets that have been developed hardly look like TW anymore.  and lastly, 3) in terms of usage, I think your going to see TW springing up all over the place (hint: if you google TiddlyWiki, you’ll see results include any site that uses TW because “TiddlyWiki” is hardcode in the HTML title tag…there’s already a lot out there).
AlanCHecht: DIfferent TW’s…give me a minute to think…

Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Here are some obvious TW uses: a user FAQ (because each FAQ answer is perfect for the microcontent approach), a personal Kilroy-type or family website page (because of the low overhead and ease of use), a blog (with dynamic linking between articles and search capability all in one file),  software manuals (that’s a new one, but it would work as the user could download the latest manual from a software site and have ALL the content in one intuitive file).
Loose Wire: interesting… the files get a bit big, tho, don’t they? that’s the javascript, i guess…
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve even just seen a server-side version of TW that is a full-fledged “free for all” (anyone can post, edit, delete content) version.  This would enable for group collaboration on topics.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): TW is still pretty small (less than 200K on its own).  Add quite a few tiddlers and you’ll easily double that.  But people often wait for a 400K image to download of their sister’s kid…and with broadband you hardly notice the delay.  Plus, once the file is downloaded, there
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): there’s no more wait time
Loose Wire: true…. it makes me wonder whether there aren’t a whole load of things you could do in a TW — outliners, blogging, even editing documents and bits and pieces. it seems the possibilities are plentiful
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I expect to see TW evolve more into these areas.  We’re coming up to TW’s 1-year anniversary in Sept I believe.  I discovered TW back in March or April and it’s grown leaps since even then.  Now that anyone can dev for TW, I expect these new directions to escalate.  Still TW has some limits.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): The beauty of TW is the all-in-one file part.  The pad part is the all-in-one-file part.
Loose Wire: what kind of limits?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve heard of folks with huge TWs (for online gaming groups) that just don’t scale up that high very well.  Maybe there will be a solution.  Another limit (sort of) is we get about a post a week from folks who expect to be able to edit and save to a TW once it’s posted to a web.  We have to tell them that only the local copy can be saved unless you use a server-scripted version
Loose Wire: they think they can edit it online?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): One possibility for scaling could be to have different TWs for each large topic and link to them all from within the existing TW.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Yes, many people think that they should be able to edit and save changes to the web-served version.  I’ve seen this asked about a dozen times in the Google groups.  TW tells you that you can’t, but folks just think TW is so easy that it “should” be able to save online.
Loose Wire: the perils of a simple looking tool, i guess!
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): It only comes up with new users thought
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Anything I didn’t fully answer for you?
Loose Wire: no i think that’s good, thanks a lot. you’re right: 82,000 hits on google for tiddlywiki
Loose Wire: i’ll send you a copy of the piece once it’s done. may i post some of this chat to my blog when the column comes out?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Check back with me if you have any other questions.  I’d be happy to help.  As most TW users are, I’m a BIG fan of this technology and of JeremyRuston.
Loose Wire: thanks for the info…

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part I: Jonny LeRoy

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

First off, an edited chat with Jonny LeRoy, a British tech consultant who offered his view on TiddlyWikis over IM:

Loose Wire: ok, thanks… i’m doing a little piece on tiddlywikis, and was intrigued to hear how you got into them, how you use them, where you think they might be of use, how they might develop etc…
Jonny LeRoy: sure. I first came across them when a colleague sent round a link. The thing that hooked me was the “install software” page which just said – “you’ve already got it”. I’ve been doing web stuff (mainly Java server side development) for quite a while and seeing the immediacy of the tiddlywiki was great. I’ve tried all sorts of tools for managing thoughts and tasks and generally end up going back to pen and paper after a while. tiddlywiki is fast and easy enough for me to keep using it. The micro-content idea is pretty interesting but I’m also pretty interested in how they slot into general progressions in the “Web 2.0”. more and more functionality can now be pushed client side – especially with Ajax and related async javascript technologies. TiddlyWiki takes this to the extreme by pushing *everything* client-side …
That does raise the problem of sharing and syncing the data, but it’s not really in essence a collaborative tool. though there’s no reason why that can’t be added on top of what’s there. Does that make some sense?
Loose Wire: it does. very well put…
Jonny LeRoy: cheers 😉
Loose Wire: 🙂 i particularly like the tagging idea, which you seem to have introduced…

Jonny LeRoy: Yup – for me when I started using tiddlywiki the main thing missing was any kind of classification. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with pretty complicated taxonomies and ontologies – particularly for managing / aggregating / syndicating content on a travel start-up I was involved in. but the simplicity of sites like delicious and flickr started to make me realise that some simple keyword tags gets you nearly everything you need. and also removes half of the issues related to category hierarchies and maintenance. particularly when your dataset isn’t massive. even when the dataset and tag list grows there are ways of “discovering” structure rather than imposing it … see flickr’s new tag clusters for a good example of this. In the good open source fashion I had a quick hack at the TW code and put some basic tagging functionality in place. A few other people were creating tag implementations at the same time, but they were more based around using tiddlers as tags ….. I was fairly keen just to keep the tags as metadata. I’m still yet to see a good online wiki that has tagging built in. for me that’s been an issue with most wikis I’ve used

Loose Wire: i get the impression that tagging is still considered a social thing, rather than tagging for oneself, as a way to commit to hierarchies, a la outliners etc?
Jonny LeRoy: that’s one of the beauties of it – though not so much in TW. the free-association you get by browsing other people’s tags is amazing. comparing what you can find through something like delicious compared to open directory projects – dmoz etc is quite interesting
Loose Wire: it is great, but i feel there’s huge potential in using tags for oneself, too?
Jonny LeRoy: yup – when you’re using them for yourself you can set your own little rules that get round some of the hierarchy problems. overloaded tags – with more than one meaning can get confusing in a social context, but personally it’s much easier to manage how you refer to things. also the ability to add tags together – so you can search on multiple tags creates an ad hoc structure.
Loose Wire: yes. i’d love to see TWs let you choose a selection of tags and then display the matches… oops, think we’re talking the same thing there…
Jonny LeRoy: yeah – I’d been meaning to put that in place, but haven’t had a moment 🙂
Loose Wire: is that going to happen? all the various TWs are now under one roof, is that right?
Jonny LeRoy: Yeah – Jeremy Ruston – who started it all off seems to be managing things reasonably well. and pulling together different versions. there was a bit of a branch with the GTDWiki which got a lot of publicity.
Loose Wire: is that a good way to go, do you think?
Jonny LeRoy: it’s a weird one, because it’s not like a traditional open source project with code checked into CVS. so versioning can be quite hard. but it’s also one of the beauties of it – anyone with a browser and a text editor can have a go.

Loose Wire: i noticed the file sizes get quite big quite quickly?
Jonny LeRoy: a lot of that is the javascript – if you’re just using it locally then you can extract that out into another file. that makes saving and reloading a bit quicker. the file will grow though with the amount of data you put in.
Loose Wire: is that tricky to do?
Jonny LeRoy: no – you just need to cut all the javascript – put it into a new file and put in an HTML tag referencing it
Loose Wire: how much stuff could one store without it getting unwieldy?
Jonny LeRoy: That really depends on your PC / browser combo – how quickly it can parse stuff.  if you were going to want to store really large amounts of data then you might want to look at ways of having “modules” that load separately.

Loose Wire: is it relatively easy to turn a TW into a website/page?
Jonny LeRoy: yeah – couldn’t be simpler – upload the file to a webserver … and er … that’s it. it does rely on people having javascript enabled – but 99% do. one issue is that since all the internal links are javascript search engines like google won’t follow them. but google will read the whole text of the page if it indexes you

Loose Wire: where do you think this TW thing could go? do you see a future for it? or is it going to be overtaken by something else?
Jonny LeRoy: Definitely – the company I’m working at right now (ThoughtWorks) have used it for a major UK company . they used it for a simple handbook for new people
Loose Wire: oh really? excellent!
Jonny LeRoy: really simple to use and quick to navigate – it got pretty good feedback. I see more people being likely to use it personally on their own pcs though. I use it to keep track of things I’ve got to do or have done. the dated history bit is really useful to work out what was going on a couple of weeks ago.
Loose Wire: the timeline thing?
Jonny LeRoy: yup
Jonny LeRoy: I can also see new TW like products coming out for managing tasks better – an equivalent of tadalist on the client side. beyond that it’s a good thought experiment in how datadriven sites can work. the server can push the data in some structured format to the browser and then the browser uses TW like technology to work out how to render it.
Loose Wire: yes. … [however] i feel a lot of people like to keep their stuff on their own pc (or other device, USB drive, whatever). not all of us are always online….
Jonny LeRoy: exactly – the wiki-on-a-stick idea is great. you can stick firefox and your wiki on the usb key and off you go
Loose Wire: yes, very cool…
Jonny LeRoy: The next step is then to have the option to do some background syncing to a server when you end up online
Loose Wire: do you think more complex formatting, layout and other tasks could be done? and could these things be synced with portable devices?
Jonny LeRoy: the portable devices question is interesting – it really depends on how much javascript they’ve got on their browsers. there’s no reason why it’s not possible, but there are more vagaries of how the functionality is handled
Loose Wire: javascript is the key to all this, i guess….
Jonny LeRoy: it’s a bit like the web in the mid 90s where you didn’t have a clue what people’s browsers would support. it’s actually having a bit of a comeback. many people just see it as a little glue language to stick things together or move things around ….. but it’s actually really powerful – I discovered more of it’s dynamic possibilities while playing with TW. the best thing about it for me is that anyone who’s got a modern browser can run javascript – there’s no extra install.

Loose Wire: yes, making the browser an editor is a wonderful thing… what sort of things do you think we might see with it?
Jonny LeRoy: I’m not sure what new thing we’ll see, but we’ll definitely see the things we use the browser for already getting much better and smoother. the user interaction is starting to become more like working on a locally installed application.

Thanks, Jonny.

The Escalating TrackBack Spam Wars

I’ve been noticing what I think is an upgrade in TrackBack Spam on my blog. Uusally they’re pretty easy to spot — a load of links spattered across some gibberish. But the ones I’ve received today seem to be better, like this one:

Trackback1

Looks innocent enough, right? Except the words are actually mine, from another, unrelated post, and the from link is a pharmaeceutical website. It’s the fourth trackback (update while writing this: sixth; update again, 13th) the site has sent me in the last hour, and each one is a little bit different, always using text from one of my postings. The revamped TypePad trackback notifications give one pause for thought, too: could it be legitimate? Like this one:

A new TrackBack has been submitted to your weblog “loose wire,” on the post “The U.S.’ Next Big Thing: SMS-TV.”

TrackBack from:

Source: <a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/cheapest-phentermine/”>J</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/cheap-phentermine/”>e</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/discount-phentermine/”>v</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/order-phentermine/”>y</a>
From Post: http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2068728
Title: Productivity<a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/phentermine-online/”>K</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/purchase-phentermine/”>i</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/”>n</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/buy-phentermine/”>g</a>
IP: 81.8.110.33

Excerpt:

Here you go. Here are some handy links for you to enjoy: 43FoldersWiki – A system that helps you be more productive. Also has also productivity related stuff A Directory of Programs designed for USB Thumbdrives Starting with CSS lifehacke…

Yes, these things are a pain, but you can’t help admiring the spammers’ inventiveness. TypePad, your turn in the TrackBack wars.

Interview With The Guy Behind The Klips

In today’s Asian Wall Street Journal and in WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) I talk about widgets — sometimes called dashboards — as an alternative, or addition, to RSS.

Here is the transcript of an email/IM interview I did with Allan Wille, president and CEO of Serence, the company behind Klips:

The new Folio looks good. what’s the main new feature in this version?

Based on customer feedback, mostly from Content Providers, images and a richer content experience were very key. Much of that had to do with increased branding capabilities as well. So images are likely the BIG feature in KlipFolio 3.0. Enterprise to a lesser extent were also asking for images – charts, graphs that can tie into CRM or other enterprise applications

 

why would someone go for Klips over an RSS reader or similar device?

We are positioning KlipFolio as a dashboard – a personal dashboard for consumers or an digital/business dashboard for enterprise. We are not an RSS reader, and I see our paths moving appart, such that the two products –KlipFolio and an RSS reader– can exist in parallel. Klips are intelligent agents, where the value lies in their ability to inform and alert users of complex data. Klips are very good at allowing personalization of content, and persenting users with alerts to critical data. Of-course Klips can do news feeds, but the differentiation there is less apparent, and in some cases, an RSS reader will do a better job.

 

You seem to have a lot of European users. is that right, and if so, any reason for that?

KlipFolio started to have sucess with a number of key German news outlets – Tagesschau, Heise, Spiegel Online etc … this started back in 2002, when RSS was not quite as hyped as it is today. I believe this gave us significant visibility among other content providers in Germany and Europe, and has led to a very large European userbase, and subsequently a good source of leads and customers. North America was hesitant to try new technologies and as RSS was adopted by more and more content providers in NA, Klips were caught in a difficult differentiation battle. With the features present in 3.0, wer are looking to overcome these challenges in NA.

 

You’ve been doing Klip for a while, and while as you know I’m a fan, it doesn’t seem to have caught on as I might have expected. I don’t see that many Klip buttons on websites. any thoughts on that?

When you compare the visibilty of Klips to RSS, you are quite right – it seems to be taking a back seat. It is important for us to continue to get the Klip buttons out there, as this is a major marketing program for us. Again, it is a question of differentiation, of added value over RSS. 3.0 will be addressing much of this, and we need to aggressively make sure we educate key content providers of the value – a trend we are seeing though is that the major content providers are contacting us not for simple Klip publishing, but more so for the development of branded desktop clients …

 

Related to the last one, where do you see the market for this? it seems to be different fields you’re playing to, from the RSS on a stick audience, to the secure corporate feeds…

Interesting question – our markets are (a) Content Providers (ie: CNET, Kluwer, Penton, Spiegel) for branded versions of KlipFolio (branded KlipFolio, downloadable from their sites, with their Klips bundled), (b) Enterprise (Wells Fargo, Advanded Telcom, Curtiss-Wright, NDR) who license KlipFolio Enterprise as an internal dashboard, and, (c) Application Vendors (Connotate, BizActions) who wish to OEM distribute KlipFolio as their own product, sublicensed to their customers (in other words a channel play). End users are not a market for us – they are a source of leads.

 

Critics might say that because its proprietary software, Klips are a step backwards, locking users and providers into something that’s Old Economy.. any thoughts on that?

It’s not proprietary. Anyone can build and publish Klips. We publish our APIs, and a full SDK free of charge, and with no need to register. We use XML and Javascript. Konfabulator, Apple dashboard, and Macromedia Central (or Adobe now …) are more like Flash (as a mini-application environment). I must say it’s very cool, and I have tried it a number of times, but the inconistency of the interfaces have ultimately gotten in the way. I do think it will attract a number of Content Providers due to it’s brandability.

 

Where do you see this space (Klips, but also RSS, Konfabulator etc) going? Do they at some point move off the desktop?

I see a clear short-term trend where RSS readers are going to be melded into browsers and email-clients. I see them as becoming more capable of rendering html (and soon video, and audio), where their value as an “alerting” tool become less apparent. I also would consider this a very dangerous time to be an RSS reader client company – even for the forerunners, I don’t see competitive advantage, or amongst themselves, competitive differentiation. Longer term, I believe RSS will become an important background technololgy — and enabler — much the same way html is today to the web. RSS will not be a house-hold name among the early majority and on. There will be readers and alerting tools on various platforms and form-factors (and likely powered by xml/rss/whatever), but people won’t be calling it rss.

 

What are the most exciting uses you’ve seen of Klips? How do you use them yourself?

On the consumer front, I find the email watchers (the hotmail, yahoo, gmail and pop3 mail) Klips to be very exciting – they are secure, access complex data and present users with dynamically generated setup options. One the enterprise front, two very interesting ones are a company that is using a Klip to alert their call-center agents of key data from their CRM system, and a bank who uses Klips as part of their work-flow system to increase productivity and review speed. Where the Bank’s internal processes saw documents, policies, forms, and client applications being worked on by many employees and managers, the current work-flow system put the onus of moving forward on the employees and manager’s shoulders and relied on email to notify them when a document was edited, or in need of approval. We improved on this process by working with their work-flow application where each individual user is now alerted to pending documents, policies and applications via KlipFolio – it’s relevant to what the manager or employee is responsible for, and a popup alert ensures they take action, and of-course with a single click from the Klip, they can jump right into the familiar work-flow system.

 

So far there are only a few 3.0 feeds. what else is in the pipeline, feed-wise?

We will be updating all of the email Klips, the stock tracker, eBay monitor Klips and as with Betanews, we are working with a handful of key content providers globally to update their Klips. In general we will be focusing our efforts on more service oriented Klips, and encouraging our community of developers to do the same – part of our efforts to differentiate.

 

How do you make your money from this? And how would you characterise the journey so far? I first wrote about Klips more than 3 years ago, and a lot has happened on the internet since then. Are Klips struggling to keep up with these changes?

The hype of RSS has both helped and distracted our progress. On the one hand, RSS has educated the markets, and generated interest in desktop alerting. On the other, RSS has made our position more difficult to define – educating the market that we are not an RSS reader, but rather an alerting dashboard targeted for commercial purposes. The markets are more conductive – more educated, more financially willing, and more competitively driven. Also, I truly believe that in our space – alerting dashboards – we are positioned as one of the best players.

I’m not sure it’s a matter of keeping up with RSS – we support RSS among other standards. One thing we have found is that real-customer deals are hard to find the closer you get to RSS – it’s a very early adopter marketplace – lots of hype, not much real value or money yet. As we distance ourselves from RSS we find the client conversation is more focused on solving real business needs.

As mentioned in an earlier answer, we target content providers, online retailers and premium content providers as our KlipFolio Branded customers; application vendors, service providers, ISPs as our OEM customers; and corporations as our KlipFolio enterprise customers. We have a solid base of customers in all three areas and (with out venture funding I might add) are profitable.

You are right – lots has happened, but I think the interesting stuff is yet to happen. Same goes for Serence …

 

 

Thanks, Allan.

The Power Of Wikis, The Power Of Tags

I’m really getting into these client-side wikis. This one is especially cool — TiddlyTagWiki – Micro-content with the power of tags … — and is a great example of using tags on one’s own computer to tag one’s private content:

Welcome to TiddlyTagWiki – an adaptation of Jeremy Ruston’s TiddlyWiki. It’s a simple, self-contained, client-side, personal publishing engine. It’s a single web page containing all the content you create and the logic to link it all together. This makes it fast and portable.

The addition of TiddlyTags allows you greater control over how you group together your chunks of MicroContent.

Definitely worth a play.

On News Visualization, Part III

This week’s Loose Wire column in WSJ is about visualizing news. Researching the column I had a chance to interview Marcos Weskamp, the guy behind the very cool newsmap, who is setting up a studio specializing in interface design and information visualization for the web called B2 inc (no website available yet).

Here’s an edited transcript of our chat:

Jeremy: what are you doing in japan at the moment?
marcos weskamp: well Ive just moved back here. I’m setting up a small interaction design office.
Jeremy: i see… why japan?
marcos weskamp: I had been living here for around 7 years before. I’m originally from argentina, I came under a scholarhip from the japanese government to study graphic design. When I finished I stayed working and so I was until november last year when I moved to italy to do a graduate program in interaction design.
Jeremy: ah i see. could you quickly update me on newsmap? why you did it, what you think it offers over other interfaces, whether you have plans to develop it further, etc?
marcos weskamp: sure
marcos weskamp: newsmap was basically born after I saw googlenews. Again, I’m from argentina, so my mother tongue is spanish, I speak english since I was 5 and I’ve learned to read and write japanese when I moved here.
marcos weskamp: so when it comes to reading the news, the web is my main source of information and I often read online newspapers in spanish, english or japanese, sometimes reading about the same story in several languages, trying to find what are the nuances that differ from each point of view
marcos weskamp: when googlenews came up I was dazzled, it was impressive. not only they agregated news from thousands of newspapers online, but also – this is the most impressive part – whenever they find the same story in several newspapers, no matter how different the actual text that makes the story is, they group them all under one single cluster
marcos weskamp: so if there’s 300 newspapers reporting about, say “Insurgent attacks in Irak” they’ll file them all under one group and tell you: theres 1357 articles related to this story now
marcos weskamp: now that particular number was what most interested me. that means if I sumed up the total number of articles, and started making percentages, I could somehow see, which stories where the ones that the media was mostly paying attention to
marcos weskamp: now, in googlenews, today you have a total of 22 countries
marcos weskamp: inside each of them  you’ll find 7 categories: world, national, business, sci/tech, sports, enternatinment and health
marcos weskamp: so when I thought about visualizaing all of the articles inside googlenews, I came into treemaps
marcos weskamp: treemaps is a visual layout algorithm developed by Proffessor Ben Shneiderman from the University  of Maryland
marcos weskamp: Treemaps are used to create space constrained visualizations of quantitative hyerarchical data. Shneiderman originally thought about treemaps to visualize the content of his hard disk. If you think about it In your hard disk you have folders that have folders that have folders that have files
marcos weskamp: that structure is hyerarchical, and those files have a quantitative value; the k size of each of them
marcos weskamp: through a treemap then he could easilly find which where the files or folders that where taking the most space in is hard disk
Jeremy: (i’ve played with a couple such programs, like spacemonger…)
marcos weskamp: in the same way, in googlenews you have countries, that have sections, that have articles. the quantitative value is the ammount of related articles for each news story
marcos weskamp: so I then thought about visualizing the all the content of googlenews in one screen, using a treemap.
marcos weskamp: though I never thought newsmap would replace google news, I simply made it so that I could see, in a quick glance, which where the most important stories at the moment, and also be able then to compare how much attention media in each country gives to each news story
marcos weskamp: what I also found later was well how do different countries look at news. for example if you go to the US, you’ll see that most of the times, the US gives more importance to national news than international news
marcos weskamp: all other countries mostly report about international news
marcos weskamp: except italy where you’ll find that sports news always takes the most space;)
Jeremy: naturally!
marcos weskamp: in a way you can see how much we are all Biased through US centric media

Jeremy: do you plan to develop it further?
marcos weskamp: yes, definitivelly. I’m working on it:)
Jeremy: what kind of plans do you have?
marcos weskamp: well, I have to add all countries now present in the agreggator. from a data perspective that’s no problem. it only means there’s more html to process (I’m  not using the google api)
marcos weskamp: but in the front end I need to change the interface a little bit, and also it’s tough to display asian characters cleanly in flash without a hughe download. I’m looking into alternatives now. there will be other features like being able to reverse the treemap, so that you can find which stories where burried by the big news.
marcos weskamp: there’s also a java version in the works which allows me to display the actual shift of the news throughout the whole week. but well I hope you’ll see it when I publish it sometime later

Jeremy: do you see this kind of thing hitting the big time? replacing the way people view their news online ?
marcos weskamp: not really. again I never pretended to replace the aggregator. this is simply a visualization that gives you a different perspective of what’s inside googlenews.
marcos weskamp: I like to think about it as a complement to googlenews;)

Thanks, Marcos.

On News Visualization, Part II

This week’s Loose Wire column in WSJ is about visualizing news. Researching the column I had a chance to interview Craig Mod, the guy behind the excellent Buzztracker. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat:

Craig Mod: We have over 550,000 articles in the DB now, spanning back to Jan 1st 2004. “Buzztracker” went from 750 hits on google the day before the launch to now … 39,000+ which was suprising
Jeremy: when was the launch?
Craig Mod: About 3 weeks ago
Craig Mod: got slashdotted within 12 hours
Jeremy: could you walk me thro how you think people might use it, or derive benefit from it?
Craig Mod: sure. the project started about 2 years ago as a pure art project .. some of the original output was just the dots, with no map .. but the closer you looked, suddenly land masses began to emerge and you started forming associations
Craig Mod: I’ve obviously tried to make it a lot more pragmatic and functional now
Craig Mod: fundamentally it’s supposed to get people thinking about why these connections exist — why is Shanghai and Canada connected (during the SARS outbreaks)?
Craig Mod: How did the virus spread?
Craig Mod: What sorts of checks can you preform to prevent that sort of spreading?
Craig Mod: Is it possible?
Craig Mod: etc etc
Craig Mod: and from there begin to explore how these events are being covered
Jeremy: interesting.. is there a page for the SARS stuff in the archive?
Craig Mod: clicking on the locations obviously gives you a list of the articles they appear in
Craig Mod: unfortunately the SARS stuff happened when I was building the beta 2 years ago .. so it’s not in the current DB
Craig Mod: but the recent demonstrations in China have popped up a lot
Craig Mod: there’s a China-Tokyo-Jakarta triangle that appeared during the summits
Craig Mod: and you can click the “tomorrow / yesterday” buttons and see just how long these stories linger in the collective media conscience
Craig Mod: which is kind of fun

Jeremy: is there a danger the external links die off?
Craig Mod: There is .. and we orignally had links to our internal cache but .. obvious copyright infringements issues scared us away from keeping the feature on new articles
Craig Mod: although, we still have all the data, of course
Jeremy: yes, the copyright thing is tricky…
Jeremy: how do you plan to deal with that?
Craig Mod: By not publicly offering the articles
Jeremy: right.
Craig Mod: And by keeping advertising off the site .. keeping it as pure an art project / public service project as possible

Jeremy: tell me a bit about you.
Craig Mod: I’m 24
Craig Mod: Born in Hartford, CT
Craig Mod: graduated from UPenn 2 years ago — degree in Digital Media Design (BSE in Comp. Sci with a very strong Fine arts component)
Craig Mod: Came to Tokyo 4 years ago for a year abroad, came back 1 1/2 years ago to run the Tokyo component of a small publishing company I helped start
Craig Mod: So a total of 2 1/2 years in Tokyo
Craig Mod: 2 years of which was spent at Waseda University in the intensive language program
Jeremy: how’s your japanese now?
Craig Mod: Extremely functional but I still can’t “relax” with a novel (although I just finished Murakami Ryu’s Almost Transparent Blue in Japanese)

Jeremy: so what are your plans for buzz?
Craig Mod: Right now I’m working on re-writing the drawing routines in a more power language .. the plan is to produce super-high-resolution prints for gallery display
Craig Mod: but being the only guy working on this + running sales / pr for CMP in Tokyo means it unfortunately takes a while to rewrite components
Jeremy: when you say hi-res prints, you mean of the maps?
Craig Mod: Correct
Craig Mod: There is a lot of information being lost in the low resolution of comp. screens
Craig Mod: especially Buzztracker connections (the thin, light lines get lost)

Jeremy: with thinking gap donned, where do you see this kind of thing going? do you think as people turn more and more to the net for news, these kind of visual displays will catch on?
Craig Mod: I don’t think traditional news delivery will be subverted anytime soon, but I do think that as digitized nformation increases (digital photographs, journals, etc) people are going to need clean, effecient methods to engage with the data / find what they want
Craig Mod: Something like buzztracker is an attempt to both clean up the delivery of a tremendous amount of information while also brining to the surface patterns otherwise invisible — missing the forest for the trees, etc.
Craig Mod: but what I’m hoping … what I had in mind as I was designing and building the information structure of buzztracker was that things need to be as clear and simple as possible
Craig Mod: this isn’t meant to provide an incredibly exhaustive set of news mining features — it’s meant to be highly accessible by anyone
Craig Mod: I haven’t seen any of the other newsmap interfaces but perhaps unlike Marcos’ work or, hopefully, mine, their information architecture wasn’t as transparent
Jeremy: transparent meaning?
Craig Mod: meaning, they innundated the user with superfluous interface elements, cluttered typography, illogical hierarchies .. I don’t want anyone using buzztracker to be concerned with how they engage the software/site .. the focus should, I hope, be engaging the data, the news
Craig Mod: (although I don’t know if they did that since I never saw any of them 🙂 )

Craig Mod: on the tech side of things, there was a point where I was debating between flash and pure html .. in the end, I think going with html made sense for those exact reasons — quick loading, standards based, etc
Craig Mod: There’s also, I suppose (to a small degree) a sense of bias being eliminated in these sorts of ways of navigating the news ..
Jeremy: very true.
Craig Mod: But almost unavoidable .. but those biases are also interesting ..
Craig Mod: buzztracker being completely rooted in anglophone news sources
Craig Mod: you start to see things like .. Africa doesn’t exist in the mind of enlgish speaking sources .. most all news takes place on a thin line just above the center of the map

Craig Mod: Animations are also comming .. along side the high-res output ..
Jeremy: how would the animations work? evolution of a story over a period of time?
Craig Mod: you could follow certain keywords — allowing you to follow certain stories .. You could also map the news on an hourly basis — interpolating the rise and fall of events smoothly ..
Craig Mod: the thing with the animations is that, I believe, by watching repeated time lapses you’ll start to see “news rhythms” erupt ..
Craig Mod: which begs the questions — if you map these animations to sound, can you decern other patterns that you were missing visually?

Jeremy: what about some of the criticisms that you’re leaning towards datelines, and so stuff like the tsunami wasn’t represented properly?
Craig Mod: There are some events (like the tsunami) which appear after the day they happened .. one of the best and worst parts of Buzztracker is that it’s fully automated so if something doesn’t appear when it “should” that’s representative of the media in some ways
Craig Mod: The spain explosions last year are incredibly represented
Craig Mod: I think some — such as false results, or skewed distrobution in the wrong ways — could be corrected by simple human intervention .. Looking for, spotting these “errors” in calculation, and adding rules to fix them
Craig Mod: but at the same time, that takes away from a bit of the purity of the automation of Buzztracker .. it’s always about balance I suppose

Thanks, Craig.