For the Prankster’s Toolkit

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How would you like to edit any web page as if it were a wiki?

Here’s a little Javascript trick that has helped me mock up prototypes as well as spice up the odd presentation with improbable news headlines for dramatic effect.

Copy and paste the following line into the address bar of your browser,

javascript:document.body.contentEditable='true'; document.designMode='on'; void 0

hit <enter> and edit away. Yet another reason not to believe everything you read online.

<thanks to Lady Banana for the tip>

$100 off Blog Business Summit in Chicago

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Robyn reminded me that MyBlogLog is sponsoring the Blog Business Summit in Chicago in mid-September. I attended one a few years ago when I was first getting into blogging and it was a great place to meet other corporate bloggers and swap best practices. If you’re a blogging for your company or thinking about starting a corporate blog, this is a great conference. Lots of discussion around measuring effectiveness and opportunity to learn from kindred spirits. Good stuff.

Click here for $100 off conference registration and use the discount code P56CHI at checkout.

Eric leaving MyBlogLog

I’m really sorry to see Eric go. Being the "Tom of MyBlogLog" he was not only your first friend after signing up for MyBlogLog, his personality defined the community as only a co-founder can. I’ve only worked with Eric for a couple of months but it’s been a blast. Some things I’ll miss:

  • whiteboard sessions, the man can’t think without a marker in his hand
  • pointers to some internet meme that you’d never heard of (I’ll never be able to listen to Fallout Boy without laughing)
  • random interjections of "dude" and "rock on" just to keep the serious types on their toes
  • shorts & combat boots in the office, why not?
  • that aging orange and black "They Might Be Giants" t-shirt

Robyn’s stepping into the "First Friend" role and while she’s a bit nervous, I know she’s going to do just fine. I’ll be posting more as the voice of the product along with Todd. I’m not Eric but hopefully I can keep things just as interesting in my own way.

UPDATE: Eric’s blogging over at www.marcoullier.com

Andrew Keen as Linkbait?

Unusually passionate post on the YPN Blog about Andrew Keen’s book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” which represents the latest backlash against the internet and social media in particular.

Today’s internet is certainly changing our culture. But killing it? Hardly. In fact, I’d argue that the Gutenberg press, which ushered in a new era of print media in the 15th century, was far more disruptive. Then, more efficient printing led to a more rapid dissemination of information that in turn spawned revolutions (social, religious, scientific) that we’re still feeling the effects of half a millennium later.

Killing it from the perspective of someone who is stuck with a fixed definition of culture. To me, culture is dynamic and evolving, not something you can hold up and compare as if you had some kind of cultural slide rule against which to compare everything.

Lawrene Lessig skewers Keen’s arguments with an excellent post which holds up Keen as, “our generation’s greatest self-parodist.”

the real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors. Keen’s obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn’t primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true.

I have to confess, I missed Keen when he spoke most recently at Yahoo. He also spoke to a room of skeptical engineers at Google. I further confess that I have not read his book so I am only looking at the ongoing debate as a bemused spectator.

What do you think – is the internet killing our culture or is Keen just stirring the pot to get some airtime?

Nielsen/NetRatings Total Minutes metric. Sounds nice, how does it work?

magnifying-glass.jpgMaybe I’m missing something. In all the breathless, “the pageview is dead” stories that came out last week surrounding Nielsen/NetRatings’ press release that they will include “Total Minutes” as part of their ranking methodology, I couldn’t find any information on how the measurement would work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of trying to nail down a metric to succeed the Page View which (rewards poor site design and discourages linking away) but I want to make sure that we don’t replace it with something worse. I often have multiple browser tabs open at any time and if I’m working on something like email, the whole browser goes into the background. Surely any urls that are “out of focus” are not being counted towards any kind of total time spent right?

The Nielsen/NetRatings site is almost useless with only two page marketing .pdf about the NetView product which will carry the new metric. I could ask our metrics gurus at Yahoo but I want to call this omission out publically so others can benefit from the answer.

I left a couple of comments out there pleading with someone with more time to call up Nielsen to find out more but nothing yet.

ReadWriteWeb : Tyranny of the Page View Nearly Over?

AllThingsD : Fun with Numbers

I’ve also emailed Nielsen PR and will post what I find out.

Here’s a list of FAQs forwarded to me by Netratings PR:

Is time spent a new metric for NetView?

No. We have reported Time per Person for several years. The only change is that we now report Total Minutes in addition to Time per Person.

How do you measure time spent?

Time spent tracking for a URL or application begins at the same instant where Unique Audience is credited. For a site, it is when the user-requested page call (text/html) loads. For an application, it is whenever an application is in focus on the browser.

Time is credited to the URL or application as long as either the browser/browser tab including this site or the web application itself remains ‘in focus’ and there is no more than a 30 minute break in activity. If there is a 30 minute break in activity, we end the internet session and dial back the time spent for the last page or application to 1 minute.

What does ‘in focus’ mean?

‘In focus’ refers to an application’s status on a user’s desktop. By application, this could include anything from a web browser to a Microsoft Office product to a web application like Instant Messenger.

An ‘in focus’ application is in the foreground of the desktop. While other browsers and applications may be visible to the user, the ‘in focus’ application is the application that the computer knows to direct any keyboard or mouse activity. Therefore, only one application can be in focus at a time.

What if a panelist has multiple browser tabs open?

Only one browser tab can be in focus at a time for the same reason that one application can be in focus at a time. So it does not matter how many tabs are open, we only credit the tab that is in focus.

If another application besides the browser is in focus (IM, Microsoft Word, etc.), none of the URL in the browser tabs are being credited for time.

How do you measure this ‘in focus’ status?

Our patented desktop meter resides on the panelist’s desktop so it is able to detect what application is in focus and appropriately credit time. Other metering methods – like a web proxy or site tagging – are generally only able to detect web calls and need to make assumptions on visibility/in focus status based on these calls

What if someone leaves their computer?

If a panelist is inactive for less than 30 minutes, the last site or web application in focus would receive credit for the accrued time. If more than 30 minutes elapse, the time would be dialed back to 1 minute.

Identity Management , it’s a public service

I met Jeremiah Owyang last night and he sent me a link to a post he did a couple weeks ago on the future of Facebook. It’s an excellent post which maps out a future that may very well come to pass. To sum it up, he predicts that the current Facebook platform will eventually open up and offer itself up as an authentication service.

Facebook will launch an Identity widget that I can embed on my blog. This allows only those who have registered to Facebook to leave a comment, many high profile blogs will do this, to avoid nasty anonymous comments, thus reducing the incident of Kathy Sierra type events.

If this happened, Facebook’s authentication service would start down the long, bumpy road that others are travelling (Microsoft Passport, Six Apart’s TypeKey, OpenID). Extending Facebook’s authentication as a service is the next logical thing for them to do once they have established their platform. Authentication is a basic building block for anyone that calls themselves a platform so if you wish to extend the influence of your "social graph," then you need to distribute your authentication methods as well.

Whichever service steps forward to take on the mantle of distributed identity management will also take on a responsibility to remain open, extensible, and free. The issue is, anyone with the scale to support such a broad and distributed service is most likely going to be a business which will need to turn a profit. The trick is how to remain impartial while also extracting revenues to satisfy your investors. Think iTunes/iPod lock-in or the whole net neutrality them my pipes debate.

It may be possible for Facebook to crack this nut and figure how to remain profitable and open at the same time. The real trick is to do it not just for a few years but over the long term. Will Facebook continue to be open if they get acquired? If they get a new CEO?

The debate is not unlike the tension between advertising and editorial in a media company. Above all, running a media business requires absolute editorial independence. It’s a public service. Reuters used to have something called a "Golden Share" and Wall Street Journal had the Bancroft family. Both held the public trust above all else and were protected by short term, profit-motivated demands. Thompson recently bought Reuters and it looks like Fox may buy Dow Jones.

Like a moth to a flame, internet platforms are drawn to management of a global identity.  But just as the tycoons of the last age stepped up to publish a newspapers, you need to realize what you’re getting into and do it to give something back to society, not for the money.

— 

PS. I’m committing a big no-no because I’m posting something just as I step out the door for a few days of camping. I’ll get to any comment or other feedback when I return so don’t take my silence as a snub! 

MyBlogLog: DNS for People

Many moons ago I took a job managing the Sun Sparc workstations on the Fixed Income trading floor at the Tokyo branch of Lehman Brothers. TIt was a time when a 486 Compaq computer cost $5,000 (just the CPU!) and a 28.8 Supra modem would run you a couple hundred bucks. With these economics in mind, you’ll understand why a job with an investment bank that gave me access to dual T1 lines was attractive. When things were quiet on the help desk I would spend time browsing through newsgroups and playing around with first generation browsers like Mosaic and Navigator. The web was a small place back then. Yahoo lived on akebono.stanford.edu and my little guide to Tokyo was awarded the “Cool Site of the Day” sunglasses.

The excitement around social networks today reminds me of the early web. Closed networks such as Facebook carve out a small slice of the internet and make it familiar. Bumping into names we recognize, the wilds of the internet take on the feel of a small town or village. We mediate our experience through the lens of these virtual hamlets, relying on our friends to point out things to see, our “mini-feed” tells us who is doing what, we can trust their judgement.

In the past, broadcast models were sufficient. The portals were the first phase. Crafted by editors, they delighted us by shining a spotlight on items of interest (those sunglasses again). Search engines took over as our interests splintered and we each sought out something unique, outside of the generic categories of the portals. Social bookmarks and blogs took over from email as a way to share knowledge but each blog had to rely on it’s ability to draw an audience to get a point across. RSS feeds were a way to channel influence but the flow has since grown weaker as more a more blogs compete for attention, watering down the signal to what is now a broad river of random chatter.

Social Networks entered the scene as a way to channel the signal back into a strong and meaningful flow. The latest updates from our friends and contacts are a way to filter what we read and where we focus our attention. If we pick our friends carefully, we can again surface something of value. There are now social networks for Anglers, Bakers, and even Dead People.

So where do we go from here? I predict (as others) there will be another swing of the pendulum. As we splinter into smaller and smaller communities we’ll come to the realization that we’re missing something. Joining multiple networks will not help. Managing multiple identities across multiple social networks creates confusion and stress. How many networks can you manage? How many accounts and friends lists can you keep in your head. Want to share a link? Post a thought? Which network is appropriate? Do you post an update to Vox, Twitter, Facebook, Pownce, or all four? The demand to consolidate will poke holes into the walls of social networks. Right now you can push things into Facebook but into that black hole there is no escape. Where’s the RSS out? Consumers will force the walls to come down.

When these walls crumble, we’re going to be back out in the wild again. All of us are going to be holding onto our various masks. Which one to use? My LinkedIn profile? My ClaimID? My Yahoo Answers profile? Shards of our identity will exist across multiple systems and without a service to bring it all together, it will be impossible to interact with people in any meaningful way.

History serves us well here. Attempts to centralize have failed in the past. Remember Microsoft Passport? No one wanted to throw their lot in with a single vendor, especially when it was Microsoft. I predict the same will happen should anyone else try to solve this problem with brute force, not Yahoo, not Google, not even the iPhone. No one wants to put all their eggs into one basket. What we need is a pointer to all the pages that make up your collective, virtual, self.

The solution is in a distributed service. The distributed model the internet uses to locate nodes is instructive. When you type “yahoo.com” into your browser, your computer translates that into and IP address. Somewhere along the way that IP address, say, 209.109.112.135, is sent to a Domain Name Server (DNS) which has a lookup table that will determine the best way to route your packet to that IP address which is also known as yahoo.com. You don’t need to know the IP address or the best way to get there, the DNS servers and routing tables handle that. They exist at a level below the hostnames that we use.

Some companies recognize this opportuntiy and are building solutions to meet the need. Spock is a people search engine but it’s approach to brute force indexing is no different than the Yahoo Directory of old – a top down, editorial approach that will ultimately not scale. Freebase is slightly better as it can accept updates but again, this is not much different from a modern search engine, an index of dynamic content with a single, shared view for everyone.

The trick of DNS is that it adapts itself and can be edited to meet the needs of the community it serves. Routing tables are updated dynamically to seek out the most efficient route from point A to point B. The combination of a dynamic routing table and an “editorialized” DNS table can build a view of the world that is optimized for the individuals that use it. In this same way, a modern solution for locating people, discovering what they are about, and tracking their interests is through a loose combination of lookup tables and community-based profiles. People are not fixed objects, their interests change from day-to-day, they have schedules, they produce metadata that has a half-life.

On to the shameless plug portion of this post; a vision for what we’re trying to build at MyBlogLog. What you see today are the beginnings of a service that not only helps you learn about people reading a site and learn more about them, it also directs you to sites these people publish and communiites that they belong to. The recent addition of tags to MyBlogLog, which can be applied by any MyBlogLog member on any person or site profile, further defines what you’re looking at. It’s a little messy but there is structure underneath it all which ties it together. The community is helping build out the structure, tag clusters are giving form to communities and relationships where before none existed.

One of the most interesting (and undiscussed gems) of the service is the “Hot in My Communities” module which surfaces the posts that are most interesting to readers of sites that you follow. Imagine it as a virtual version of Amazon’s Best Sellers in your zip code. It’s likely that you’ll recognize some of the links there but if there’s something in there that you don’t, chances are good that you’ll find it of value because others like you also found it compelling.

The web is a collection of digital artifacts. Text, photos, sound files are by-products that are digitized and indexed. We use search engines to locate these artifacts but no one has built a way to tie all these artifacts back to their owner. Until you tie the collective digital artifacts of a person together in a unified way and follow it over time, you don’t really know that person. We want to build a platform which allows you to get to know someone through what they produce and share, collectively, across all networks and the internet. Only then can connections made online approach the fidelity and meaning of a face-to-face meeting. That is what we hope to accomplish with MyBlogLog, that is what keeps us thinking of better ways of doing things.

Further Reading:

It’s time to open up networking, again : Dave Winer on the coming explosion of social networks

Beyond Silos : Doc Searls outlines the shortcomings of categories of organization

Dave on open social networking : Dave Weinberger suggests the need for metadata miscellany

Open Labeling of Social Network Relationships : Marc Canter riffs on elements of Winer’s post

BBC, The Tech Lab : Bradley Horowitz talks about DNS for objects

MyBlogLog Personal Gestalt : Lord Matt, a MyBlogLog member, ponders the concept of a collection of personal actions as a definition of self