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August 23 2008

Strands Lifestreaming Beta High On Potential and Filters
There's no question the lifestreaming space has just exploded over the last year, with services like Plaxo Pulse and FriendFeed leading the way, accompanied by MyBlogLog, SocialThing, Profilactic and others. Practically all services aggregate your social activity across networks and let you display it in one area, with the option to follow friends and interact with their activity. One of the newest in this space is Strands, which bills itself as a destination site for people to discover new recommended items around the Web from friends. The service, currently in private beta, has some very interesting features, but also has a lot of room to go to supplant one of the bigger names.

As with the many other alternatives out there, you start your activity on Strands by adding your many services around the Web, starting with the most well-known services, like Twitter, Google Reader and Delicious, but the service also supports several other sites not commonly found elsewhere, including Webshots, BlockBuster, Hype Machine and Meneame.

When you add these services, as with other competitors, Strands creates a feed for you, which can then be subscribed to by other users.

As you currently can only get into Strands by being invited, you will start out with at least one friend, but you can find more users by seeing who your friends follow, or by clicking the people button at the top of the page. Strands, as far as I know, has the best array of ways to discover new followers, showing you who is the most followed, who's new to the site, or who is the top by a specific category, like Blogs, Images, Music or Bookmarks. Each person's profile is displayed with their avatar, gender, age and location. You can also search by name or e-mail.

Once you have subscribed to a few people, you can see their activity on Strands' Home screen, which displays, chronologically, the item posted, who added it, the service it originated from. You can then take action on those items with a simple Like or Dislike, indicated by thumbs up or thumbs down, you can comment on the item, click a pushpin to indicate an item is saved, or click an arrow to forward the item to those who follow you. (The equivalent of resharing on FriendFeed)

The interface for Strands if both cluttered and spartan at the same time, if that makes any sense.

Unlike FriendFeed, which offers a clean white background, soft gray text for comments, but little else, except a top navigation bar, Strands offers a wide array of ways to sift through the noise and find specific items. You can filter your feed by people who just follow you, you can show your own feed, or show subgroups of your friends. For example, I started a group called "Digerati", that includes Chris Brogan, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Corvida and others on the site.

You can also filter by category, including Blogs & Notes, Images, Music, Movies & TV, Bookmarks and others. FriendFeed offers this functionality by service by clicking on the service icon, but it's not spelled out, nor does it group similar services (like Delicious and Magnolia for instance). On top of filters, you also have "Hot Posts" which show items popular with your friends, marked by likes and comments, and the ability to have granularity, so you don't share all services with all people. For example, you may want to share some items with friends, but not family or coworkers.

The many different options on Strands make it useful to find things fast, but it also shoehorns the Home feed into a small center position. Arguably, this is the most important part of the site, so its power is greatly diminished. Strands also doesn't auto-refresh, asking you to click a refresh icon on the page, or in your browser. This gives the site more of a static feeling than other sites which do autorefresh, where it seems new data is constantly coming in.

Also, like most good services today, Strands offers a desktop alternative to the Web site with an Adobe AIR application, which keeps you updated on your friends' activity and watches your iTunes to capture what you're listening to, as well as a bookmarklet.

Does the world need another lifestreaming service? With so many on the market, it's interesting to see what aspects one site will get right or what they'll miss. Strands doesn't have the feeling of community today that FriendFeed does, given its newness and obscurity. And like many engineering-driven services, it can be seen at times to have sacrificed the user experience for more features. I've said previously that "the feature war is the wrong war" for social media, which needs to find new ways to connect people, their likes and their activity. Strands does a good job letting me drill down into specific areas, or in helping find new folks, but I'm hoping they can reduce some of the site clutter, and make the site really come to life.

As the service is in private beta, I have a very small number of invites, so leave your e-mail in the comments if you are interested, and I'll see what I can do.
DISCLOSURE: I was introduced to Strands by Drew Olanoff, the Community Manager at Strands, who started there in July. Drew is also the CTO of ReadBurner, where I am an advisor, and hold a small equity position. While Drew gave me an account to test Strands, he did not request an article, nor review this in any way.
More: louisgray.com | RSS | FriendFeed | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759

August 22 2008

Ads are the new online tip jar

"I never click on ads."

It's almost a badge of honor to say that. The subtext is, "I'm too smart/busy to waste my time doing that," or perhaps, "I don't want someone to sell my attention."

But the real effect is that you're starving great content.

I can say this because there are no ads here but,

If you like what you're reading, click an ad to say thanks.

Pretty simple, but not an accepted online protocol, at least not yet.

If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don't have to buy anything (though it's fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.

You still get what you pay for, even if you pay with attention.

August 21 2008

An Easy Way To Retrieve The Entire MobileMe User Email List

Creating email spam lists is a multi-billion dollar business. Most webmail providers long ago closed a number of the more obvious methods spammers used to put together their lists in an automated way. One example - you don’t get bounced email messages from webmail services for emails to address that don’t exist. That way spammers can’t verify if an email address is good unless they get a response (clicking the opt out link is one sinister method to verify an email is good) or include a tracking pixel.

Apple, however, has created a dead simple way for spammers to easily spider their idisk property to retrieve the entire MobileMe user name list. And each of those usernames can be converted to an email address by adding @me.com or @mac.com to the end of it.

Here’s how it works. Every MobileMe user gets a public idisk file sharing site where they can post files for their public or private use. It’s simple to set the page to private, but it still shows the username if you to to the page. An example of a bad username: idisk.mac.com/mehmehmeh-Public. Here’s a good one: idisk.mac.com/steve-Public (That’s Steve Jobs’ account). There is no way as a user to hide or delete your public folder. If you are a MobileMe customer, you have one.

Gathering the entire MobileMe username list, and therefore email list, via a simple dictionary attack is trivial.

Apple knows about the problem but insists it isn’t an issue because no one has complained publicly. An Apple representative said to one of our readers: “We’ve never had a complaint from a customer about people spamming them because of their iDisk public folder name. There is no way to remove your account name from the iDisk folders. I’m very sorry.”

So here’s our public complaint. The bad guys already know about this. Your engineers shouldn’t have designed the product without thinking this through. Please fix it.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Crunch Network: CrunchGear drool over the sexiest new gadgets and hardware.

“Demo of the year” of 2006 released by Microsoft

If you go to Google and search for “demo of the year” you’ll find my 2006 post about Microsoft’s Photosynth. It was that good. The demo is still among my favorite I’ve ever seen (and I’ve sat through thousands of demos).

A few minutes ago Microsoft released Photosynth for all of us to use.

What does Photosynth do? You take a bunch of photos of something, like the outside of your house. Shoot a bunch from different locations. It’s best to have between 20 and 300 photos, the Photosynth team tells me. Then it creates a 3D mesh of all the photos that you can “walk” through. There are several demo Photosynths on the site.

I am uploading some of my family room right now, will let you know how that works later tonight. Just wanted to let you know you can play with it too.

UPDATE: My images are now uploaded so you can see a Photosynth of my family room (can you find baby Milan?) and O’Reilly has a nice writeup on the release.

UPDATE2: There’s even more on TechMeme.

August 20 2008

WP Super Cache 0.6.7

WP Super Cache is a plugin for WordPress that creates cached copies of your blog posts and pages, making your site much faster to serve. It’s also ideal for coping with sudden surges of traffic.

I released a new version of the plugin this morning. This is a bugfix release:

  • Mike Beggs contributed a number of changes:
    1. Better support for Win32 NTFS
    2. Better use of the “Vary” header so proxy servers won’t cache the wrong page. If you see leakage of comment details on posts this will fix that problem.
    3. WP-Cron handles cleanup of expired cache files in the background now.
    4. Disable mod_deflate if it’s running as it sometimes tries to compress gzipped files. Remove wp-content/cache/.htaccess for that file to be updated.
  • Lazy and Otto both recommended using get_comment() instead of the depreciated get_commentdata()
  • A basic “uninstall” function has been added to remove some of the files the plugin creates. It’s called when you deactivate the plugin.
  • PHP running as a CGI doesn’t support apache_request_headers() so that’s been added too.
  • And I almost forgot, the admin page received a slight makeover.

Get the plugin from the download page!

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Science should be exactly as cool as the headlines sound. Like the 'RUSSIANS CUT APART AND REASSEMBLE DOGS' thing.

August 14 2008

August 09 2008

August 9, 1938

Caught a large snake in the herbaceous border beside the drive. About 2’ 6” long, grey colour, black markings on belly but none on back except, on the neck, a mark resembling an arrow head (ñ) all down the back. Did not care to handle it too recklessly, so only picked it up by extreme tip of tail. Held thus it could nearly turn far enough to bite my hand, but not quite. Marx¹ interested at first, but after smelling it was frightened & ran away. The people here normally kill all snakes. As usual, the tongue referred to as “fangs”².


Notes by Peter Davison, from the Complete Works:

¹The Orwells’ dog.

²It was an ancient belief that a poisonous snake injects its poison by means of a forked tongue and not, as is the case, through two fangs. So Shakespeare in Richard II, 3.20 – 22.

            Guard it, I pray thee, with a lurking adder

            Whose double tongue may with a mortal touch

            Throw death upon thy sovereign’s enemies.

See also 11.8.38.

August 08 2008

Tabula rasa

Il est grand temps d’effectuer une réinitialisation sur Almaren.

Au début des années ‘90, je prenais mon courage à deux mains et bricolais mon premier fichier html, afin d’y recueillir annotations diverses, liens et ressources découverts au fil de ce que l’on appelait alors le surf sur le web. Ce fut la première naissance d’Almaren, alors hébergée sur un serveur de l’Université.

Naturellement, ce fichier évolua, fut perdu, recréé, re-perdu… Dans la deuxième moitié des années ‘90, à peu près, je déplaçait ces annotations en vrac sur un serveur gratuit, puis un autre… Finalement, en 1998 j’officialisais la naissance de ce que je devais désormais appeler mon “site perso” avec l’achat d’un nom de domaine. La pratique devenait courante, j’étais même plutôt en retard sur la “vague”.

Entre-temps, j’avais admiré la vision de certains qui, comme Bruno Giussani, avaient réalisé qu’un nouveau média était en train d’évoluer à la vitesse grand V. Je lisais ses chroniques avec assiduité sur l’Hebdo, puis, plus tard, sur le webdo naissant. Ma passion pour ce média, ainsi que pour toutes les formes de communication, prenait forme. Il faut dire que le pas de la communication animale (j’étais encore dans les sciences naturelles à l’époque) à la communication humaine n’était pas si grand que cela…

Mais, puisque j’en suis à parler d’influences, ce sont les feu Chroniques de Cybérie de Jean-Pierre Cloutier qui m’ont véritablement poussé à passer de la simple page personnelle (essentiellement une plate-forme de liens, comme elle était conçue à l’époque, pas tellement éloignée des blogs et micro-blogs contemporains) à un site où pouvoir véritablement s’exprimer. D’ailleurs, le slogan d’Almaren (”Imprimé sur des électrons 100% recyclés”) a été pompé sans honte sur celui repéré au bas des Chroniques de Jean-Pierre Cloutier. J’ai toujours espéré qu’il ne m’en veuille pas trop…

Bon, les plans établis alors n’ont pas toujours fait long feu… Les bonnes résolutions d’écriture se sont souvent heurtées à une passion pour l’aspect technique de la chose, à cette soif d’apprendre toujours de nouvelles choses que j’ai encore la chance de posséder aujourd’hui. De plus, entre 18 et 38 ans on a le temps d’évoluer…

Bref, de récolte de notes à page perso, de page à site plus ou moins abouti, de récolte de liens à écriture personnelle (rien à voir avec Luisa Carrada, que j’admirais aussi beaucoup à l’époque pour ses conseils avisés), Almaren a eu sa dose de hauts et de bas. Mais je ne m’en souciait pas trop, cela restait (et reste toujours) un jouet personnel, une expérimentation et un dialogue avec ce média.

Mais d’une part, les choses ont bien changé sur le web. Ce qui pouvait alors être une expérimentation toute personnelle et privée (bon, à part les 2-3 amis qui lisaient par curiosité ces, disons, textes), servira aujourd’hui non seulement pour vous juger et vous jauger, mais pourra avoir une influence jusque sur votre travail et votre vie privée. Ce n’est pas un reni, ni une gène (j’ai toujours été trop réservé pour véritablement m’épancher en ligne, et le regretter ensuite), et je ne crains pas ce genre de situation. Mais ayant fini par ne plus me reconnaître moi-même dans mon propre site, je regrettais l’idée que d’autres puissent essayer de m’apercevoir à travers ce miroir déformant.

De plus, parti de pages codées mains, passé par l’emploi de divers scripts automatisés de publication (on ne parlait encore ni de blogs, ni de CMS), passé par divers hébergeurs, mis entre parenthèses pour un passage sur Blogger (avant même son rachat par Google), puis réanimé suite à la découverte de Movable Type… Almaren en a vu des vertes et des pas mûres. Je suis passé très rapidement sous WordPress (à la sortie de la première version rendue publique par Matt, la 0.7 sauf erreur), mais déjà je n’écrivais plus vraiment: récolter un lien par-ci, partager un tuyaux par-là… Les différents versions de WordPress se sont succédées. Elles se sont même alternées, lors d’une longue valse-hésitation, avec le troisième larron qu’est Textpattern…

Enfin, tout ceci pour dire que le site, et surtout sa base de données, est devenu gentiment plus difficilement gérable, puis les petits détritus se sont cumulés jusqu’à devenir ce gros tas de poussières que tout le monde voit dans un coin du salon mais dont personne, tacitement, n’ose parler…  Il était grand temps d’y donner un grand coup de balai!

Surtout, surtout, contrairement à ma meilleure moitié, je n’avais désormais plus plaisir à écrire et maintenir ce site.

Alors voilà, Opération Tabula Rasa. À partir d’aujourd’hui, 08.08.08 (à 08h08, évidemment), je recommence à zéro. Afin de retrouver le plaisir de créér un site véritablement personnel. Après tout, je suis le principal lecteur et utilisateur d’Almaren, et si moi je n’y trouve plus de plaisir, tout ce que j’en obtiens c’est un trou de deux ans dans ses mises à jour.

Un jour, peut-être, je remettrai en ligne l’ancien contenu dans une sorte de grenier électronique, plus pour ma curiosité personnelle que pour une véritable utilité publique (je doute qu’il y en ait une). Mais je ne promets rien.

En attendant, si votre site personnel, votre ancienne passion, votre passe-temps favori a fini par vous lasser quelque peu, essayez vous aussi de faire table rase: ça aère les neurones, ça fait un bien fou! Et ça ouvre de nouveaux horizons. Après tout, il ne s’agit que d’électrons…

Post from: Almaren

August 07 2008

This Week in HTML 5 - Episode 1

This Week in HTML 5—Episode 1. It looks like the most controversial aspect of the HTML 5 spec has been addressed—now, instead of omitting the alt attribute for user generated content that has no relevant information available, sites are advised to provide an indication of the kind of image expected surrounded by braces, for example alt=“{uploaded photo}”.

August 05 2008

Cloudmark Kills Spam On The (gs) Grid-Service

Cloudmark Logo
Hopefully you’ve noticed the decrease in spam in your (gs) Grid-Service account and its MailProtect system. The fine folks over at Cloudmark have an impressive spam killer that Nokia, Virgin Mobile, Vodaphone, Sprint/Nextel, Earthlink, Comcast and now (mt) Media Temple use.

Originally we looked into Cloudmark for our Grid successor, the (cs) Cluster-Server, but after an impressive evaluation showing better catch rates and decreased false positives, our CEO ordered its immediate deployment into our existing MailProtect system. One (gs)/(cs) engineer had it installed and running in 9 hours with zero down time for (gs) Grid-Service users.

That’s one of the many benefits of not buying a technology but building a system, like the (gs), in our own (mt) Labs. Our team has the unique ability to rapidly improve services, like MailProtect, with Cloudmark’s Spam killer.

Facelift Image Replacement

Facelift Image Replacement. Like sIFR but with JavaScript and a PHP text rendering component. I question the need for the JavaScript if you’re already generating the images on the server, but the actual generation script is nicely done—it makes smart use of ImageMagick and caches the generated images.

August 04 2008

Delicious 2.0 is more than a pretty new face

I'm no longer at Yahoo! and I no longer work on Delicious, but I'm still a huge supporter. And, since I'm pretty sure everyone over there is either burnt out or still insanely busy at the moment, it might be awhile before anyone tells the full story of what this relaunch offers. As it is, even I only know a bit of what all went into this effort.

So, off the top of my head, I thought I might point out just a few of the easily-missed improvements the new site offers beyond the great new love-it-or-hate-it visual redesign that seems to have occupied most of the discussion I've seen so far:

Search works and is incredibly fast. In fact, search may really be the real star of the redesign show here—especially since del.icio.us often took 30 seconds or more for a simple search, rendering it all but useless. Today, though, it's at ludicrous speed in comparison—and so finally, the real power of search applied to social bookmarking might start to shine with the critical mass of content found by real people using Delicious.

To scratch my own itch, I've created an unofficial OpenSearch search engine plugin for Delicious on Mycroft. Though I think it comes along with the browser extensions, I've yet to find this for autodiscovery from the site itself.

The notes field in bookmarks has been expanded from 255 to 1000 characters. Yes, this means that you can now include long running quotes from pages, or complete paragraphs of rambling discourse.

The feeds have all been overhauled and reorganized. An attempt at backward compatibility was made, but the old feed URLs are all deprecated. Replacing these, there's now a common and consistent URL namespace for feeds across formats.

Almost all RSS feeds have JSONP counterparts, and further feed formats could be considered. Additionally, the old mix of RSS 1.0 and 2.0 has been dropped in favor of RSS 2.0 format across the board to support podcast and media enclosure elements consistently. The linkrolls, tagrolls, network badges, and tagometers now all use the new JSONP feeds—and the widgets can be examined as example code in using the feeds.

Tag bundles can now be viewed as combined bookmark views, complete with feeds. This augments bundles from a simple visual organization tool to a more powerful content aggregation function. Personally, I never had much use for tag bundles until now, but since they can actually be used to partition tags and bookmarks I might actually take the time to use them. Check out these example URLs:

Bundles now work for tags, network contacts, and subscriptions. This means, for example, that you can partition your network contacts into topical groups. From there, you can subscribe to those partitioned bookmarks in different folders in readers, or use the bundled bookmark views in mashups through JSON feeds. Check out these example URLs:

Network member and fan feeds now include the date when the contact was added. Pro tip: Subscribe to fan feeds to see when new people have started following your bookmarks.

Several previously undocumented parts of the V1 API have now been documented. In particular, the following new parameter combinations have been used with the browser extensions for primitive bookmark sync:

The posts/all API URL works again for users with large collections. With my 11k+ bookmarks, del.icio.us was keeling over with the attempt to assemble and deliver my entire collection with a posts/all call. Now, however, Delicious 2.0 appears able to handle this call for my account.

Easter eggs have been rotated and recalibrated. No, I'm not going to tell you what or where or how many they are.

July 27 2008

July 21 2008

Every day something new...

I've had a number of people ask me if I could put together a blog posting describing what I'm doing at the moment, and what plans there are for Pegasus Mail and Mercury in the short-to-medium term.

Well, the first thing I'll tell you is that my current priority is to get Pegasus Mail v4.5 out the door. On the face of it, it won't look like much has happened, and I suspect many people will be rather disappointed by v4.5, but in reality, more than 50% of the entire codebase of the program has been modified in some way during the shift from Borland C++ to Visual C++; it's been a huge, largely unrewarding job that simply had to be done. In the process, though, we've caught and fixed literally hundreds of small and medium-sized bugs that have been present in the program for periods ranging from recent history to more than a decade.

A huge amount of effort this year has gone into releasing Mercury/32 v4.6 - once again, there was a lot of code modernization going on that doesn't yield obvious visible benefits, but which simply had to be done.

But not everything is porting code and fixing bugs. I've also been spending a lot of time familiarizing myself with new technologies that will have significant bearing on both Mercury and Pegasus Mail:
  • For Mercury, I've been spending a lot of time learning about CSS and XHTML, because the future of Mercury is clearly heavily web-oriented.
  • I've been spending a lot of time learning about SQL and particularly SQLite, because it's clear that both Pegasus Mail and Mercury are going to need robust database facilities in future.
  • I've developed my own object programming interface for both programs: this is a key technology that will have a huge bearing on future development by making it easier to extend the programs' capabilities without side-effects.
  • I'm well into developing a complete replacement for the fundamental message store used by both Pegasus Mail and Mercury. This new component, called MailStore,  is easily the single most important development in either product in more than a decade, and should be in a working state towards the end of this year.
  • I've spent a lot of time this year working on documentation - the bane of all programmers... The Mercury/32 Daemon Developer Kit in particular was a huge amount of work that was vastly overdue, and I do hope to start seeing new Mercury Daemons appearing before much longer.
  • Finally, I've spent a lot of time developing tools - either because I was forced to do so (as in the case of the new help system, which I was forced to do by Microsoft), or because I believe they'll be important in upcoming releases of either program.
I realize I'm not being quite as specific as I'm sure many of you would like: I'm not saying that "X feature will be working by August", or that "Y feature is now operational": I promise that as I get to a position where I can make reasonable statements about new developments I will do so, but in truth, the last two years have been a gigantic, painful, tedious process of modernization and tooling up for new capabilities, rather than actually working on those capabilities per se.

I also realize that I've been somewhat of a stranger to the forums this year: I apologize for that, and will say honestly that my absence has largely been a result of tech-support burnout... Doing technical support is a very soul-destroying process, because you're typically seeing people at their worst and most stressed, and nobody really likes spending all of their time dealing with the bad aspects of their work. As a result, spending too long doing technical support is a recipe for depression and loss of motivation, and I've been doing technical support at some level for nearly two decades now. It's my aim to become a more regular participant in the forums, although I will be consciously and actively trying to resist the self-destructive urge to solve every problem I see posted. I'd like to get back into the forums so I can enjoy interacting with the people who use my work without always burning myself out trying to fix all their problems.

So, there you have it - a slightly longer, and maybe slightly more candid posting than I intended, but I hope it serves to give you a little insight into where I am at the moment.

Cheers to you all!

-- David --

July 20 2008

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