Patently Ridiculous

I had a listen to the second part to This American Life’s excellent two part series on patent trolls (the first part is here) and how the use of weaponized software patents is squashing innovation.

The podcast outlined the plight of entrepreneurs too afraid to start business for fears of being sued out of existence by shell companies that own broadly defined patents for no other purpose than to shake down founders too cash strapped to defend themselves. While listening, I recalled an episode that took place while at Yahoo where we were the victim of exactly this type of attack. Here’s how it went down.

It was late-2007 when Todd Sampson, the co-founder of MyBlogLog, the small social network acquired by Yahoo earlier that year, contacted me to tell me that we (Todd and I worked together at MBL while I was at Yahoo) had been contacted by a small company in Israel called Girafa notifying us that the screenshots used on the site were in violation of a patent owned by Girafa.

It was a classic shakedown. Girafa explained that they were preparing a lawsuit in the amount of $5 million but there was an out. We could avoid litigation if we licensed their software. The price? $5 million.

MyBlogLog thumbnails

You can imagine our surprise. Todd has tied together a couple of open-sourced software packages to create a screenshot process that ran on an old PC that literally sat under one of the engineer’s desks. The software was a bit temperamental and would sometimes fall over. We would get complaints for users that their website needed a refreshed screenshot which was our queue to go over and restart the screenshotter machine. It happened enough times to be a minor pain in the neck so we were open to licensed software or web service that was a bit more stable but $5 million was certainly more than we were willing to pay.

Yahoo legal was on the case and they told us that not only MyBlogLog but also delicious and Yahoo Bookmarks were named in the suit along with Alexa (part of Amazon) as well as a few other companies were also part of the suit. All during the course of the lawsuit, we had to have several meetings with the legal team at Yahoo (who were great) but also had to keep copies of all our correspondence and take care when we eventually moved the machine to a Yahoo data center to ensure the screenshot software was not integrated with any other parts of the Yahoo infrastructure to ensure that other divisions in Yahoo couldn’t get ensnared in the lawsuit. At some point Todd had to give a deposition and he even spent an afternoon over at the Internet Archive looking through the Wayback Machine archives to locate old screenshots from HotWired which we remembered used to take screenshots of sites back in late-90’s.

I left Yahoo before I heard what happened so, after listening to the This American Life podcast, I poked around to find out the rest of the story.

I am not a lawyer but from what I can tell, the lawsuit was initially thrown out in late-2008 but documents and paperwork continued to be filed (in hopes of continuing the suit?) all the way into late 2010.Thge Girafa nonsense tied up the courts for a solid three years. Think of the untold wasted hours!

In June of 2011, Google swooped in and purchased Girafa’s patents, supposedly as insurance against any action against Google’s use of thumbnails in their instant preview search results feature. Let’s hope the Girafa patent will stay dormant where it is and not be unleashed again by its new owners to cause a new round of havoc and hand-wringing.

If you go to there’s a sad notice that the service has been discontinued. A sad final chapter for a service that caused nothing but pain and consternation.

People Discovery Apps, a Cautionary Tale

This was the weekend everyone signed up and joined Highlight or Glancee. TechCrunch has written about it and Robert Scoble has been going on about how viral these location-based services are. No doubt about it, these new apps which run in the background on your phone and let you know when someone you know (or might like to know) in in your proximity, are going to be all the rage at SouthbySouthwest.


If you don’t know the details of how these services work, read Scoble’s review (The Two Hottest Apps You’ll “Run Into” at SXSW) where he goes into depth on both Highlight and Glancee. These “people discovery apps” (Scoble’s term) have been around before (Sonar and Loopt to name a few) but I would agree with Scoble that the timing is right this year for the early-adopter types descending on Austin next week to take these services to the next level.

I’ve been using both apps for a few weeks and can see how they could be useful while travelling and open to meeting new people. They are especially powerful when there is a compelling reason driving you to make new connections. Trade shows and conferences are a prime venue for this behavior. This was what was on my mind when I was with the MyBlogLog team and we developed our own version of the people discovery app to show off our API at an O’Reilly eTech conference in 2008.

You can read about “Meetspace” on TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb. It was a small java app that ran on a Blackberry or laptop. It was tied to your YahooID and would pop-up a little notification that another MyBlogLog user was nearby. As Highlight does today, we added a feature that would compare your  profile interests with the other person’s and give you shared interests (“talking points“)  that you could use to strike up a conversation.


Because Meetspace used bluetooth, not GPS, to detect proximity, the range was shorter compared to Highlight and Glancee. This worked to our advantage because, at the conference where we released the app, it allowed us to track when you were in the same room as someone as opposed to in the same general area. We kept a running log of the total time spend in the proximity of others and let users see who they spend the most time with over the course of the conference which usually meant they were the people attending the same tracks as you. Combined that with basic details of their company and interests and you had quite a powerful social networking tool.

Now for the cautionary tale. Meetspace was launched as an experiment. It was designed to show what you could do with the MyBlogLog API and while we didn’t plan on it being a new feature, we thought it might be an interesting way to bring the virtual social network into the physical world if it caught on.

It never had a chance.

Shortly after the eTech conference I received a call from the legal department at Yahoo. I forgot who was on the phone but he basically opened the call with, “You are going to shut Meetspace down, right?” as if it was beyond debate. I gave him my arguments for why we should let it run, (it was opt-in, it was innovative, it helped demonstrate our API) but all this fell on deaf ears.

The trump argument by legal was that if anyone were to be harmed in any way, and if the police were to require discovery to see if anyone else were around while harm was being done, the police could use the Meetspace app as reason to require Yahoo to turn over their user logs. Yahoo did not want to run the risk of having to turn over these logs to the police. End of story. Game over.

Hopefully it’ll be different for Hightlight and Glancee this time around.

MyBlogLog → OneTrueFan

Remember those subscriber cards you found tucked into magazines that asked questions about your income, education, sports you liked, where you traveled or what newspapers you read? The editors and advertisers of that magazine were trying to find out more about their readers. Except for the folks that took the time to write in, an editor of a print magazine knew very little about the people who read their magazine.

Imagine if Henry Luce had access to a tool which could give him an insight to the readers of Time Magazine? What if he knew not only who was reading his magazine but also which particular articles were hitting a chord? Not only that, what if he knew what else they were reading in other magazines? Which articles did his most faithful readers found elsewhere that his reporters did not cover? This type of data would have been pure gold to the late Mr. Luce.

Click for full screen image

MyBlogLog had some of this data but it was site-specific and the service has been since scuttled by Yahoo.  The team has re-grouped and pulled another rabbit out of their hat launching Live Fan Analytics (aka: Fan-alytics) as a new approach to site metrics. MyBlogLog required site owners to install a widget on their site to reveal users that have opted in to showing up on the MyBlogLog sidebar. OneTrueFan spins that approach around and asks the readers to add an extension to their browser in order to send back their browsing behavior on any site for aggregation and show a bit of extra love for the sites they frequent.

What’s in it for the Fans? Browse the web and have at your disposal an instant view of the last 10 fans who visited the site and articles on that site that have been shared by those readers. Also look at the top fans who visit the site the most often and see what they have shared on the site. As you browse, your history (minus any sites you choose to exclude), is fed into the OneTrueFan “panel” that helps site owners and other OTF users find interesting content. It’s like being a Nielsen family for the modern age. But there’s a bit of fun too as you’ll find yourself on the leaderboard for your favorite sites vying for the title of the OneTrueFan of that site.

What’s in it for the site owners? Real-time reading behavior. If you install the widget, (as I do on this site) the activity of your readers is aggregated from not only browsers hitting your site but also sharing activity on social sites such as twitter and facebook. You get a more complete view of how your content is shared beyond your site and a sample of what your most avid readers like to read, in real-time.

If your site is publishing multiple stories a day and, as editor you are always looking for the next trending story to cover, the OneTrueFan analytics dashboard is an invaluable tool to help drive your daily editorial calendar. Most blog packages allow you to “pin” a story to the top, above the fold. The dashboard will quickly tell you which ones to push to the top and which ones to let slide down on the scroll.

As social sites begin to drive a greater portion of traffic to your site, it is vital to understand which topics resonate with your readers enough to drive them to share via these networks. OneTrueFan gives you not only quantitative stats but also the qualitative insights that you can only get from browsing the names, faces, and twitter & facebook profiles of your most avid readers. Author Kevin Kelly has a theory that any business is sustainable provided it knows how to take care of it’s most avid fans. He calls it the “1,000 True Fans” rule. OneTrueFan is a tool that will help you cultivate your true fans.

MyBlogLog Memorial Screenshot Gallery

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed a bunch of screenshots off of MBL is one of the services on the infamous “sunset” slide and today there is a notice on the site saying that Yahoo will pull the plug on the service on May 24th. I worked on the service before coming to Nokia and much of what I know about Activity Streams and Context Filters is informed by the work done by the excellent team there.

The gallery below is mostly for my personal notes but I figured I’d share it as a walk down memory lane. I’ve annotated the screenshots to explain what’s going on for future reference.

Tired of twirling in stasis while Yahoo re-org’d itself, the team disbanded to go their different ways with me getting lured to Finland by Nokia and the others kicking around on their own projects (Gnip, Zentact, The DJ List to name a few).

The team has now come back together on OneTrueFan, a browser plug-in that is similar to MyBlogLog but turned inside-out. Instead of tracking who visits your site and leaving a trail of avatars in sidebars across the web, OTF tracks which sites you visit and collects other peoples’ avatars into your browser bottom-bar so you can see who else has been to the sites you visit. I owe the guys a post on my thoughts but in the time being, check out Louis Gray’s write-up.

Are you a Hacker or a Hustler?

Micah Baldwin has a great post on what it takes to make a successful startup. One of the first questions you need to ask is if you have both a Hacker and a Hustler.

A Hacker is more than a code monkey, who can quickly build software and find interesting ways to hack together code. Thats a developer. Thats someone who is definitely an important part of a startup, but not critical to its success. A Hacker is someone who looks the problem, and solves it in a unique and special way. A Hacker finds the process of problem solving exciting and interesting, and spends the majority of their time looking at the problem in multiple ways, finding many potential solutions.


A Hustler on the other other hand is a relationship builder. Someone who can build direct relationships with their customers. They arent really promoters, although they do a lot of promotion. They arent salespeople, although they do a lot of selling. They are passion people. They have the ability to articulate their passion clearly and in a way that gets other people equally passionate.

Micah also writes about the current Posterous campaign, releasing a blog import service every few days, building buzz over the weeks. Bold and audacious the campaign has certainly generated its fair share of buzz, shaking a mostly complacent blog platform industry into reaction. The snarky headlines of each announcement are targeted perfectly towards the users of each platform and leave you wondering where they will aim next.

Riffing ideas like two jazz musicians

Todd Sampson and Eric Marcoullier of MyBlogLog fame are a classic Hacker & Hustler pair. It was great working with them and to see how these two childhood friends bounced ideas off of each other. Eric (the Hustler) was brilliant at latching MBL on to the latest meme trending on Techmeme as a way to garner attention and Todd (the Hacker)  never ceased to amaze me with his unique insight on the problems of the day. If you haven’t had the chance to try out their latest idea, definitely check out OneTrueFan, the browser plug-in that talks back.

So which one are you? The Hacker or the Hustler?

How to Export Your Data from MyBlogLog

It was a sad day when I read the ReadWriteWeb post about the rumored shutdown of MyBlogLog. Yahoo has since come out with a vague response that pulling the plug is only one of several “options” but I thought it good to post a few things you can do now just in case they do take MBL out behind the shed.

MyBlogLog Outage Screen
MyBlogLog Outage Screen, we only used it once

Grab your Stats

If you’re a pro user, visit your blog’s stats page and run a report to get your stats. You run reports by clicking on the report tab on the right-hand side of the second row of tabs. There are several options showing the type of data you can get. Run a few reports on just a few days to see what’s there and then go for it. After running a report, you can highlight the data, copy then paste it into Excel or Google Docs as a .csv file and then do things like filter and sort.

If I recall correctly, the report routine would choke if you threw too much data so if it hangs, try to chunk it into smaller timeframes. I’d recommend monthly which you can later aggregate onto a spreadsheet.

Tighten your Connections

Use the Friender feature to find any of your contacts that are on MyBlogLog. The way this works on a high level is that it suggests people that are connected to two or more of your contacts but not connected to you. For more info on Friender, you can read the original post announcing the feature.

Once you’ve found all your friends on MyBlogLog, you can use the Connector feature to see how you’re connected to everyone and fill in the missing blanks. If you follow someone on twitter and are connected to him on MyBlogLog, the Connector will tell you how to find them on flickr, delicious, Pownce (ok, that will no longer work), digg,, and YouTube. You can click each link to their prospective profiles and friend them there or click the uber-arrow on the right and spawn multiple tabs for each service. More on the Connector on this post.

Back up your Contacts

One of the great things about MyBlogLog is that each person’s MyBlogLog profile is a pointer to all their other profiles on the internet. I was going to suggest to manually save those that were important to you but then Manny, one of the old MyBlogLog engineers, whipped up a Python script that uses the MyBlogLog API to archive everything for you. It creates a directory on your hard drive (Windows & Linux only) and creates up to four files for each contact (sites authored, an hcard file, a list of their communities, and a list of services).  Here’s what you need to do.

1. Download the  script (right-click & save as

2. Install a Python interpreter such as Python 2.6.4. Remember, this script only works if you’re on Windows or Linux. Once you’ve installed Python, copy the script into the same directory where you installed Python.

3. Edit the the script with a text editor and replace “foo” with your Yahoo API key. If you don’t have one, you can login to Yahoo and go to the YDN site to request a key.  You only need the Generic key because you do not need to authenticate to read the data you are getting.

4. Run “cmd” to get a DOS window, navigate to the directory then run the code with your MyBlogLog username as the parameter. For example,

cd c:\python26
python iankennedy

The script should then run in the command window (if not, you may need to add your python directory to your path variable). The script will save all your data to the directory where you installed python in a directory the with the same name as your username. Subdirectories will be there for all your contacts.

Subscribe Directly

Another cool things that MyBlogLog did was aggregate all your contacts’ activity into a news feed which we called New in My Neighborhood. We called blogs Communities so it kinda fit. Aggregated feeds of the social activity of your contacts are nothing new and FriendFeed famously went on to build out a service exactly like this. Take a walk down memory lane and have a look at the communities that you follow and use the Subscribe widget on the Community page to subscribe directly to each site’s feed in the RSS reader of your choice. As for social profiles, you can use the Connector described above to directly subscribe to any of your friends’ activity.

Likewise, you might want to message everyone following your blog via using the MyBlogLog messaging feature and remind them that they can subscribe directly to your blog and provide pointers to your other profiles that you want to promote.

That’s it. Now you’re safe with all your contacts backed up should anything happen to the service.

Check out Alternative Widgets

Should the service ever get taken offline, it’s a good idea to have alternatives scoped out should you need to switch over.

Recent Reader Widget – TwitterCounter has a cool little widget that shows the face of recent twitter visitors who have opt-ed into their service. Google Friend Connect is also similar but more about community members, not recent visitors.

New with Me widget – Mark Krynsky has an excellent gallery of different services on his Lifestream Blog.


If you’re reading this post because you were a member of the MyBlogLog community, I hope that this post at least provides you with a way to get your own copy of everything you put into the service. I’ve been assured by someone at Yahoo that the earlier post stands and there is no final decision on the future of MyBlogLog. Until then, as with any hosted service, it’s always good to have your own copy.

It was great working on MBL as the Product Manager, the team was stellar and they are all doing interesting things, albeit now outside of Yahoo. Some of the innovations we launched there are all glimpses of services that now exist as entire businesses.

MyBlogLog does Social Analytics

The MyBlogLog team are back at it again with the release of Topics. This was the last thing I worked on when I was finishing up and it’s great to see a vision realized. As their blog post says, there are almost 650,000 MBL members interacting with the social web and as each person clicks, favs, diggs, etc they are leaving bits and pieces of their intention all across the web.

When we first started to look at the data that was coming through everyone’s aggregated lifestreams, we remained true to the principle that we would not try and archive everything coming through. We wanted to be part of the messaging bus but the sheer cost of trying to archive all this information and try and organize it was something best left to the big search engines.

We did recognize the value of the data and the idea was that we would strip off the meta-data and original links and use the meta-data in interesting ways and point back to the original source. Topics is just that, a first instance, I believe, of something they are calling social analytics. A moving chart showing the “most interesting” phrases being linked to, shared, and discussed among the MyBlogLog community.

MyBlogLog TopicsThe chart above is from today, it shows today’s top topics with Bettie Page (RIP), and WordPress 2.7 topping the charts. You can scroll back into the past to see how these terms fared in the past (curious to see a little blip from Bettie Page back on 11/19 – wonder what that was about?). Then there’s a link to previous days so you can go back and see what was hot yesterday and the respecting histories of those phrases.

There’s a lot of thinking that went into what looks pretty simple. Not only is there a lot of crunching going on to process every tweet, blog post, photo, delicious link, etc that runs through the system, there’s also some text abstraction to make a jumble of words clump together (color = colour, etc).

For those that grumble that MyBlogLog never sends them any traffic, there’s something for you too. Down below each day’s chart is a list of the top headlines around each topic. Remember, these are MyBlogLog members’ so it’s nice and open where anyone really has a shot to get ahead of the news and write something authoritative.

Keep rockin’ it MyBlogLog!

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Wagging your Long Tail with Just for You

What if you could ask each reader that came to your blog what they were interested in and show them a list of posts from your archives that matched those interests? I’ve been blogging for over five years and as posts roll off the front page they fade into the archives to be mostly forgotten,.

Today MyBlogLog published a WordPress plug-in that grew out of a concept that I’ve been playing around with for the past year. Forget contextual matching for relevance and targeting, what if you could match against someone’s stated interests? Blow past trying to parse out meaning from the other text floating around on the current page and reach through the glass and query against the tags that people attach to their MyBlogLog profile. Target the Reader, not the Page. It’s a vision of programming that says, “OK, now that you’re here on this site, did you know there was a series of articles this author wrote about your passion for Harley Davidson motorcycles last year?”

Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb writes,

There are countless companies that have raised millions in venture capital to offer publishers recommendation systems for their readers – commercial publishers pay big money for this functionality. Now bloggers can have the same type of thing for free

The Just for You plug-in works with hosted WordPress and, once installed, looks at each visitor to your site to see if they are a MyBlogLog user. If they are, the plug-in looks up the tags on that user’s profile and searches through your blog’s archives and presents a list of headlines pointing to posts that match those tags in a widget that runs in your blog’s sidebar. For more details and sample screenshots, see my post on the MyBlogLog Blog.

If you look to the right, the Just for You widget is right there, five headlines fresh from my Archives for your reading pleasure. If you’re a MyBlogLog user, let me know in the comments if they match the tags on your profile. If you’re not a MyBlogLog member, what you see is a collection of headlines based on the the tags of the most recent MyBlogLog visitors to the site so hopefully there’s some connection to why you’re there as well. Either way, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Gnip is Ping spelled backward

Congratulations to Eric, Jud, and the crew on the launch of their new service, Gnip. MyBlogLog has been using Gnip for a few weeks now and we’re pleased with what we see. Submit and item to Digg and it’ll move your update to the top of our polling queue and you’ll see your updates on MyBlogLog within a minute or so.

Even more exciting is that Gnip solves the infrastructure problem that each member of the social media ecosystem has struggled to resolve. How to get updates out to their partners and how these partners can read them in efficiently.  With this and other common problems out of the way, we can all focus on high-order benefits. From the Gnip blog:

We’re incredibly excited by the bounty that Web 2.0 has created. We are living with an embarrassment of riches in terms of shared information and experiences. But it’s overwhelming. I personally believe that Web 3.0 will herald a return to the individual — story, picture, friend, experience — because in aggregate, that which has great meaning often becomes meaningless. So it’s up to these awesome new services to take the Web 2.0 bounty and find for each of us those few things that will fundamentally enhance our lives. To give us something meaningful.

Stop Building What Everyone Else is Building