Tag Archives: Internet culture

Is Kinja The First Community Blogging Tool?

An interesting post from the ever thoughtful Tom Coates of PlasticBag points out that the key selling point of Kinja, the new blogging aggregator I took a brief look at a few days back, may be its ability to group blogs together and then allow other people to view the results easily, in real time. Tom writes:

The “killer app is this sharing of digests, this creation of really user-friendly throw-aroundable clumps of groupness. That’s the the core of the enterprise. That’s where the fun is, that’s the playlist-making, that’s the mix-tape, that’s the place where self-defining groups can make their home and that’s where I think the future development should move (and the marketing effort). Let people make more than one digest – let them make dozens – let it represent their church group or their anthropology class or their social software circle. Let them share them – even badge them prominently so that they seem co-owned. If you do all that, then Kinja might not just be a simple app for the newbies in the audience but a project with surprising and long-lasting power. There could be something really interesting here after all, just in a slightly unexpected direction… “

It’s an important point: While not detracting from the revolution that is blogging, it still tends to be something of a individualistic ‘publishing’ activity, in that the blogger publishes his/her thoughts, and then the only interactive or collaborative activity after that is for readers to post comments. If someone’s already read the post, chances are they won’t go back and see the comments. However many comments a post gets, they tend to trail off a bit like a thread in a newsgroup discussion, never reaching any exciting new synthesis.

But I don’t quite see how Kinja is going to help that. It certainly makes sense for a community of bloggers to share the same space, so that their postings appear inside a Kinja-style group blog, preserving the individuality of each blog (Kinja includes a graphic from the relevant blog, and includes enough to clear identify the source of each post). But unless I’m missing something, the best that will happen is that one post on one person’s blog spawns a response on another blog, and that Kinja allows those two blogs to fuse together, creating a dialog of sorts. But unless there’s some discipline in naming the posts, or cross referencing them, that’s not exactly a collaborative medium.

I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but surely the future of blogging as a medium discussion, rather than an uneven (and unequal) platform for individuals to publish and readers to comment (a bit like a newspaper, I guess), is when the layout of blogs allows easy, visual, linkage between related posts and comments. This calls out for an environment a bit like TheBrain, where spiderweb-like lines can be drawn between posts and comments, preserving the linkage between posts, and discussions of posts.

Until that day, I guess, Kinja is a modest glimmer of hope.

Is Thinking Small The Future Of Software?

Is there a future for small, niche software?

Clay Shirky thinks so, based on his work at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he found that students were ignoring the idea of writing big, scaleable, software for the world (the ‘Web School’) they were developing small, very specific programs — ‘situated software’, as Clay calls it — which is ”designed for use by a specific social group, rather than for a generic set of ‘users’.”

Among the programs they wrote: one to describe and rate professors, one to coordinate group restaurant orders, another to coordinate group purchases of items where discounts could be obtained for bulk orders. Sounds parochial? You bet. That’s the idea.

“This, strangely, is a kind of progress, not because situated software will replace other kinds of applications, but because it mostly won’t. For all the value we get out of the current software ecosystem, it doesn’t include getting an application built for a handful of users to use for a few months. Now, though, I think we’re starting to see a new software niche, where communities get form-fit tools for very particular needs, tools that fail most previous test of design quality or success, but which nevertheless function well, because they are so well situated in the community that uses them.”

I don’t know enough to be able to say whether this is a broader trend, but I’d like to think it is. There’s a dozen things I wish my computer could do, from building chronologies to providing a ‘treemap’-style zoomworld of all the data I’ve collected over the years — which I’m sure very few other people would be interested in, but which would be of great use to a narrow few into that kind of thing. In the future, I’m sure, someone in my position would just sit down and code such programs myself in the evenings, maybe selling a few copies, maybe giving away a few.

Sadly I’m not smart enough to do that, but perhaps the future, as Clay suggests, will be a world full of people who program, rather than programmers, and the software ecosystem will be far, far more diverse than it is now. I hope so.

News: Where Online Chat Is Going

 It’s now pretty clear where this Instant Messaging thing is going, and why Yahoo and Microsoft have suddenly started blocking third parties from piggybacking their services. Microsoft have announced a hook-up with news agency and financial data transporter Reuters allowing users of the Messenger network to chat with the 50,000 members of Reuters own internal network (used mainly by traders).
 
The idea, of course, is that the (alleged; probably much smaller) 100 million MSN users can go straight to their broker through a secure chat window. Or, as ENTnews puts it: “In theory, the combination could allow logged, real-time communications among traders and their clients. What better medium than IM for messages like “Buy!” or “Sell!” that can be immediately acknowledged by a broker?”
 
Expect to see more of this among the big boys. Yahoo are probably next up. This is not going to help ICQ users, for example, to chat with Yahoo Messenger users, but it is likely to make IM software more secure. Companies like Reuters are not going to allow instant messaging near their networks if it also brings viruses, hacking or can be easily eavesdropped.

Update From The IM Wars Front

 Seems like the IM wars aren’t over yet. Further to my postings about Yahoo and Microsoft Messenger apparently blocking third party chat aggregators like Trillian, seems the latter’s patches don’t seem to be enough to keep folk connected. CNET reports that Yahoo has begun blocking Cerulean Studios’ Trillian software from communicating with its own instant messaging software as part of its plan to limit third parties from piggybacking on its service.
 
On Thursday, some Trillian users began reporting an inability to communicate with their Yahoo Messenger contacts. A Yahoo spokeswoman on Friday morning confirmed that Trillian users’ inability to access Yahoo Messenger was the result of recent policies put in place by the Web giant. A day after last week’s Yahoo announcement, Trillian released software patches that were aimed at allowing it to continue accessing Yahoo and MSN buddy lists. But as of this week, CNET says, those patches do not appear to be working.

News: More Bad News For Chat

 Bad news for those of us who use third party programs to collect all our instant messaging accounts. I use Trillian, which does a great job of allowing me to access ICQ, Yahoo, AOL and MSN from one window. Not for long, though: CNET reports that Yahoo is planning an upgrade to its instant messaging software that will block access via such third-party IM applications. The reason: to protect IM users from unwanted spamming from advertisers.
 
Yahoo’s announcement, CNET reports, comes on the heels of similar news from rival IM software maker Microsoft that it plans to bar third-party client software from gaining access to its MSN Messenger IM applications. On Oct. 15 Trillian users will also lose access to the Microsoft IM client.
 
I think the spam argument is specious. I can well understand Yahoo and co not liking folk such as Trillian piggybacking their (free) chat services but to blame spam is just silly. To do in the same breath as suggesting they’re in favour of some general standard that would allow folk from, say, ICQ, to chat with someone from MSN is also pretty pathetic. These services have been around for more than five years now, and that no such standard exists is absurd. That’s why I’ve used Trillian and I’ll continue to do so.

News: Instant Messaging, The Productivity Killer

 A revealing survey by network security company Blue Coat Systems on instant messaging: Three quarters of British workers use it for personal purposes in the office, including abusive language (50%), conspiring against colleagues during conference calls (40%), sexual advances (nearly a third). Americans appear to be better behaved: less than one in five participants said they used IM to comment on senior management or to flirt. One explanation for the disparity, according to Reuters, is the Big Brother notion. Nearly 60 percent of British respondents did not believe or were unsure whether their IM conversations could be monitored by their employer while 71 percent of US respondents believed — correctly — that IM messages could be traced.
 
I’d love to see some good, cheap small network chat programs to replace ICQ and AIM in the workplace, but so far I haven’t found a good one. Chat is a great way to communicate quickly; if users know they can be monitored, they’ll keep their flirting, outrageous language and Byzantine plotting to a minimum.

News: Copyright? What Is That Again?

 Are we all outlaws, or what? A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project from surveys fielded during March – May of 2003 (i.e. before the RIAA started sending out subpoenas) shows that 67% of Internet users who download music say they do not care about whether the music they have downloaded is copyrighted, an increase from a July-August 2000 survey which indicated 61% — of a smaller number of downloaders — said they didn?t care about the copyright status of their music files.
 
 
What does this say? Well on the surface it looks bad — although not particularly newsworthy. But on closer inspection, two things strike me:
  • Of course, these folk who are already downloading music are unlikely to come out and say they consider themselves felons. If they did care about copyright, then what are they doing downloading music? So I think the figures are a bit misleading.
  • I suspect that, all the bluster aside, the number of people downloading music is going to drop off dramatically now the RIAA is getting heavy. Not the result I think should happen, but it’s inevitable. The Net is a mysterious place and most folk (including me) don’t really know what information can be gleaned about their browsing habits, so better safe than sorry. Whether that’s going to have the intended effect of shuffling everyone off to the mall to stock up on CDs is another matter. One likely outcome is small localized clusters of CD-MP3 sharers along the lines of old mixtapes and CD-borrowing. Not that I’m condoning piracy, oh no sireee. But, now the party’s over, who’s going to go back to buying overpriced CDs just for a couple of songs you like? Share your thoughts.

Software: Messenger 6.0 Is Out! Whee….

 The new version of Microsoft’s Instant Messaging program, MSN Messenger, is now officially out. The new version comes with, wait for it, more than 60 new emoticons (smiley faces to you and me), including ones that come alive with animation (o horror of horrors), and the ability to make personal emoticons (even more horrors); dozens of background images and personal display pictures for the IM screen, online games such as Tic Tac Toe and Minesweeper which users can play at IM speed with friends (no wonder companies don’t like their employees using chat programs at work), an integrated, easy-to-use Webcam service to share live video and voice with other users, easy ways to save your favorite IM conversations to a personal hard drive.
 
 
What’s probably more interesting in the long run is MSN Messenger’s closer integration with other devices, including cell phone, personal digital assistants (PDAs), MSN Direct watches or Tablet PCs. Clearly this whole IM thing is going to converge at some point with SMS or text messaging — a mobile phone version of the same thing, really — while the more fancy enhancements are, as Microsoft says, “to help the online network attain its long-term goal of providing broadband users a growing array of communications services”. That’s short for making messaging a serious tool in the work place (presumably with lots of self-designed smileys with it too).
 
I have not used Messenger ever since it tried to automatically load itself every time I use Outlook or Outlook Express. (If you have the same problem, try this). I prefer Trillian, which keeps my desktop free of little IM clients. But then I’m a grouch.

Loose Wire — I Seek

Loose Wire — I Seek Mum, Nick and Sally

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 14 March 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Communication is a funny thing. Living in Southeast Asia in the 1980s I’d type out letters in the enveloping heat, making carbon copies — confident the original would never arrive — and fight my way to the post office past beggars, pickpockets and expat financial-services salesmen, just to stay in touch. Now I have a handphone, e-mail and fax and I can barely talk my thumbs into tapping out a text message home once in a while. It may just be me, but I suspect the harder it is to stay in touch, the better we are at it.

One phenomenon that has bucked this trend is Internet messaging. ICQ was revolutionary when it first popped up in 1996 via an Israeli company called Mirabilis. The first time I used it to send a message to my friend Jim across the South China Sea was mind-blowing.

Now ICQ has been snapped up by AOL and boasts some 127 million users — a sign that people seem to want to stay in touch. For those of us with friends and family in different time zones, such programs are a good way to exchange casual greetings when our on-line sessions happen to coincide.

That said, there’s a downside and it must be fixed before messaging really catches on. While ICQ is by far the most popular chat program or messaging client, Microsoft also has its own, as do AOL and Yahoo. The problem is whether or not to allow users on one service to interact with users on another. So far things haven’t worked out; AOL has blocked most attempts at hooking up to their users, arguing they don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry hacking into their computers.

Fair point, but in reality the issue is money: These programs spread like wildfire because they were free, and so far no one’s making any money. ICQ has started discreetly adding small adverts but it’s not going to make a dent in the cost of hosting tens of millions of chatty messaging folk. Until chat becomes like your mobile-phone service — where you can be assured of reaching someone, whatever network they’re on — it’s going to be a gimmick. Loading a different program for each service gets messy.

But this is where it gets interesting. Some enterprising dudes have started offering software that handles more than one service, meaning that if you have friends with Yahoo, Microsoft and ICQ accounts, for example, you can chat with them via one program. The best of these is Trillian (www.trillian.cc), written by Kevin Kurtz and Scott Werndorfer and already boasting 2 million copies.

As you can imagine, the giants aren’t happy about two whippersnappers piggybacking on all their hard work. The logos of Microsoft’s MSN, AOL and Yahoo are reduced to acne-like splodges inside Trillian’s window and are, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant to users, who are just happy to be able to connect with their chums on other services.

AOL has already made its feelings known by attempting to shut out Trillian, who have spent much of the past few weeks trying to get back in.

Trillian may be small fry, but they’ve opened the door. AT&T launched a new version of their IM Anywhere program in February that connects to all the other services except ICQ. Fending off two guys in a bedsit may be one thing for AOL, but AT&T may be a tougher proposition.

Where is this going to take us? I’d like to see basic text messages to all services offered as a standard, with users deciding which program they use to pull all their contacts together. PalTalk, a small start-up that also connects to AOL, has found there’s money in extra services like voice, video and professional chat groups.

For most, text chat is just a great way of staying in touch with people across the street or planet. Most don’t care which program does it, and aren’t crazy about all the extra hoopla companies try to cram in to lure folk aboard.

So just give us simple Internet messaging for free, and charge for premium services like security, messaging between handphones and Internet, or on-line collaboration for professional use. Who knows? I might even persuade my mum to sign up: It beats picking up a phone.