David Gerlernter, David Gerlernter on Flow
Time is the new space.
David Gerlernter, David Gerlernter on Flow
Time is the new space.
The simple solution to Tumblr’s messy approach to reblogging chains is to reuse the logic and UX of Chat posts.
Currently, Tumblr turns a series of reblogs into a text glob like this:
To say the least, this gets confusing.
The solution would be to adopt the convention of Tumblr’s own chat posts, and sequester that in a new field associated with the post, and it would look llike this:
oneshakingfinger: pretty good
carlos: I agree
I am adopting this approach now, manually, but it leads to a lot of editing overhead.
Brian Eno, Wired interview, 2008
via John Borthwick
Brian Eno, Wired interview, 1995
Officials formally presented their Transparent Metro Data Sets initiative to the WMATA Board yesterday [July 8 2010], and will be presenting at a public meeting organized by the RAC on July 19.
We’d reported on this effort a month ago, when it appeared on the Board agenda but was then deferred.
On August 11, WMATA will release rail data including the paths of lines, real-time predictions for train arrivals, service disruptions, and escalator and elevator outages. Bus data will follow by the end of 2010.
Bus data will take longer because, according to IT head Suzanne Peck, all bus stop inventory has heretofore been spread among four different, incompatible systems. WMATA is integrating that into a single system, which will improve the usability of this data for external developers and internally as well.
Chris Zimmerman also asked about the Google agreement. Peck said that WMATA has completed their end of some steps before signing the agreement, but she and General Manager Sarles couldn’t give specifics on when anything would happen. Zimmerman noted that WMATA seems to be “asymptotically approaching” completion on this issue.
Peck said that WMATA is contracting with Mashery to actually serve the open data to third party developers. Mashery will host the data itself on their servers, and can manage load so that one application doesn’t overwhelm systems and shut it down for everyone else.
Users and developers will be able to accept the terms and conditions with a single click, but Peck did not specify what the terms and conditions will be. If they’re still too restrictive, many open source developers won’t be able to use the data. I’ve asked for more clarification.
If you want to talk about this further with WMATA officials, the RAC is holding a public meeting to get a briefing on this initiative on Monday, July 19th at 6:30 pm. It’ll be at the lobby level committee room at WMATA HQ, 600 5th Street, NW.
Will be interesting to see what cool apps people build based on the data. I wonder if Google Maps will start tapping into realtime data about trains?
via Jamie Harvey
A few weeks ago I decided that I really wanted to move the /Message blog off of Squarespace, which I had been using since early 2010 as my blogging platform.
I have been using Tumblr for several years for my other blog, Underpaid Genius (formerly Ambivalence), and I had become sold on the Tumblr model of social blogging (see WordPress Releases ‘Like’ And ‘Reblog’: We Need TumbleBacks, People). As a result, I decided to push ahead with porting to Tumblr, even though there is no automated way to do it. These are a few comments about the experience.
Tumblr does allow mapping a domain name to a Tumblr hosted blog, and that simply works as advertised. In this case I mapped ‘www.stoweboyd.com’ to ‘stoweboyd.tumblr.com’ and was off and running.
Tumblr does not allow someone porting to their platform any sort of automated help, and in particular this means that simply cutting and pasting entires from Suqarespace and posting them to Tumblr would work for the contents of the posts, but all the links that people in the outside world might have pointing to my writings would be broken. For example, if the old URL of an entry posted on Squarespace was
and the new Tumblr URL would be
and there isn’t anyway in Tumblr to create the former over again.
Since I was going to potentially break everything, I decided this would be the best possible time to change the name of my blog from /Message (www.stoweboyd.com/message) to Stowe Boyd (www.stoweboyd.com), which is something i have wanted to do for a year or so.
It turns out that Tumblr does support a redirection capability, however, which is buried in the mechanism for creating Tumblr ‘pages’. So I was able to use that to map the old Squarespace URLs to the new Tumblr URLs:
And this redirection, like the reposting, has to be done manually. But at least it is possible. There seems to be no way to automate this at present: I was informed by a friend that there are no API calls in Tumblr for creating redirect pages.
This is also made more complex by the archival URLs in Squarespace. A single post can be referred to by several URLs:
and a link from the outside world might be any of these. In general, I settled for just the first, except in a few instance where someone like the NY Times had used an archival URL.
You might wonder at this point if I had lost my mind, taking on so much manual work. But the truth is I outsourced it to a college student, Blake Harrison, once I had figured out how to do it.
There were several other major pains in the porting.
One pain is links that I have in my posts to other /Message posts. The redirection approach works in general, but we are only creating redirects for 2010 posts, or a selection of popular posts from earlier years. I expect I will be fixing those links for months — if not years — to come.
Another has to do with images. On Squarespace, I had often uploaded images onto their server, so the references to those were local. And I plan to shut down that account as soon as the porting is finished, in the next few weeks. So we had to download the images and then reupload them to Tumblr. This also helped a great deal with image presentation, since Tumblr scales photos to one of several dimensions, which match the Tumblr template model much better than a stray link to an image hosted elsewhere. I am sure we missed some. (I also discovered a nasty bug in Squarespace during this. Apparently, uploading an image file called ‘slide 1’ when there is an existing ‘slide 1’ did not lead to renaming of the second file to, for instance, ‘slide 1-1’: it led to a replacement of the image. So whenever I had uploaded images from presentations, I was inadvertently overwriting all previous presentation images.)
Both systems support tags, and we simply retyped them.
Tumblr supports setting a date for a post in the past, which we did, trying to conserve the sequence of posts. However, since Tumblr does not provide a link to the post in the editor or dashboard views, there is no simple way to browse to the page after saving to see the actual layout and to capture the actual URL (necessary for redirects). The editor preview mode doesn’t show the actual URL anywhere. Therefore, after saving a post, we would have to use the Tumblr archival URL for the date, like
which browses to a page of posts from March 3, 2010. Then we click on the specific post permalink to get the actual URL. A lot of work.
All this postdating of posts led to the discovery of a pernicious bug in Tumblr. It seems that when templates take advantage of Tumblr capabilities for moving from a given page to a previous or next page, the determination of the ordering is based on when the pages are created, not the date set in the date field. As a result, I have to avoid the use of next or previous page navigation. Hopefully, Tumblr will fix this bug in the future.
On Squarespace, I had relied on the company’s inbuilt commenting system. On Tumblr I am using Disqus, so we have cut and pasted the old comments into Disqus.
I haven’t said much about Tumblr templates, but the flexibility they offer — in comparison with Squarespace — is one of the reasons I wanted to move. I am now using Lynx created by Andrew Stichbury, and had fooled with a number of others, too.
Status And Conclusions
Blake originally was working from the past to the present, but I stopped him somewhere in 2009 to work on 2010. He’s now working backwards from the present, and is working on April posts at present. I hope he will have moved everything in the next few weeks, before going back to college.
If you have a link that doesn’t resolve, let me know in the comments to this post, and we will fix it.
The process has turned out to be workable, even with thousands of posts, although very time consuming. The redirect capability is a godsend, and solves a mazillion headaches, such as serving up RSS feeds.
I am extremely happy with using Tumblr for both of my principle blogs, and an upcoming blog project called 20onetwenty, a site that will be dedicated to my search for a place to live within 120 minutes by train of New York City.
Having multiple Tumblr blogs causes some headaches, though. Tumblr supports multiple blogs on a single account, but certain capabilities are restricted to the main (initial) blog created in that account. So I now have two Tumblr accounts, one for stoweboyd.com and the other for underpaidgenius.com (and soon, another for 20onetwenty.com). This means I have to logout and login many times a day, and this complicates the use of Tumblr’s bookmarklet. I have created a bookmark on my Firefox toolbar that links to the logout page at Tumblr, and that resolves to a login page, so the result is more or less like selecting which blog I would like to start posting to. However, it would be better if that could be integrated into the Tumblr bookmarklet, itself.
I love stories that debunk conventional wisdom, especially cobwebby corporate wish fulfillment. In this case, a wholesale frontal assault on creativity training:
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Forget Brainstorming
Brainstorming in a group became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination. But it’s been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team’s creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together. In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact. As for most commercially available creativity training, Mumford doesn’t mince words: it’s “garbage.” Whether for adults or kids, the worst of these programs focus solely on imagination exercises, expression of feelings, or imagery. They pander to an easy, unchallenging notion that all you have to do is let your natural creativity out of its shell.
Bronson and Merryman do go on to make some concrete recommendations and observations:
But the one I found most compelling is that multitasking seems to support creativity:
Take a break.
Those who study multi-tasking report that you can’t work on two projects simultaneously, but the dynamic is different when you have more than one creative project to complete. In that situation, more projects get completed on time when you allow yourself to switch between them if solutions don’t come immediately. This corroborates surveys showing that professors who set papers aside to incubate ultimately publish more papers. Similarly, preeminent mathematicians usually work on more than one proof at a time.
Perhaps my bias toward multitasking is based on the nature of the work I do, and that I think is central to most professionals: it’s creative work. So putting something down when you have come to a halt, and turning your mind to something else for a while actually increases our capacity for creative thought.
Again, proof that we aren’t chairs, we are people.
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Flipboard burst on the scene this week like a Rodriguez movie trailer, or a new diet drug, and everyone rushed to download (following Scoble’s recommendation). Now that the dust has settled, and the controversy about Flipboard being unready to handle the surge of signups has started to abate, some larger issues are starting to arise from Flipboard’s modus vivendi:
Joel Johnson, Is Flipboard Legal?
Social news app Flipboard was yesterday’s hot new app, despite—or perhaps because of—technical problems that prevented some features from working. But there might be a bigger snag: Is Flipboard scraping content it doesn’t have the rights to?
Flipboard, the new iPad app that renders links from your Twitter feed and favorite sites in a beautiful, magazine-style layout, has a problem: it scrapes websites directly rather than using public RSS feeds, opening it to claims of copyright infringement.
Unlike some similar news apps like Pulse, Flipboard appears to eschew the older syndication standby RSS to instead grab URLs from Twitter and Facebook feeds. While news sources that maintain their own automatic Twitter feeds tend to link the same stories as they do in their RSS feeds, there’s one critical difference: RSS also allows content to be included in the feed, whereas Twitter provides only the URLs that link back to the full website. (Unless, of course, the site only writes 140 character news stories.)
Back in the ancient days of the mid-aughts, there was a healthy debate online about whether or not news outlets should provide full content feeds or simply headlines and excerpts. Rather than rehash that debate—one that’s still ongoing—just remember this: whether a company chose to publish “full feeds” or excerpts, the choice remained theirs.
The fact that publishers have some explicit means of controlling the use of their published materials through RSS (as well as devices like the robot.txt files used to control indexing by search engine robots) has not actually always provided strong enough controls for publishers. Said differently, publisher have still blocked or threatened services like Pulse and Flipboard even when they are only serving up what has been published in their RSS feeds. Murdoch has made the case that search engines ‘bots don’t have the right to index his sites even when robot.txt files indicate that those sites are open for indexing.
This suggests the need for some other mechanism to define what sort of reuse or aggregation rights that publishers care to allow. Creative Commons suggests an example, but it is likely to be considered too coarsely grained, and it doesn’t delve deeply enough into the nuts and bolts of actual reuse.
The rise of tools like Flipboard may represent a new day. Tools that intentionally sidestep RSS, and instead reach through the URL and spider the websites themselves, like search engines do. Search engines build indexes and return snippets clipped from the myriad sites they have visited based on the search queries users enter. But Flipboard is tapping into our social networks — like those that I follow on Twitter — by reaching through the URLs in the Twitter stream, and aggregating what they point to, and rendering it in a magazine-like UX.
But the presentation in Flipboard poses some real business problems. Where’s the ads? Publishers make their money on ads (and pay walls), and so they are going to start to howl if people are viewing their stories with all the ads parsed out.
Perhaps even more contentious will be the response of Facebook and other social services like Twitter. To the extent that Flipboard replaces their UX, they may lose revenue as well. Twitter recently has moved into the realm of building its own clients and does so with the explicit goal of making ad revenue. These social network giants could block access to Flipboard and other tools of this sort, simply because they will resist being treated as a dumb pipe of social messages. Facebook will certainly move aggressively if Flipboard ‘dumbs down’ what Facebook does for users, treating it just as a messaging bus with URLs, pictures, and social gestures embedded in it.
It is relatively simple to extrapolate to a near future in which Flipboard, or some other entrant with similar aspirations, has ginned up a superior user experience, one that involves its own layers of sociality. Imagine that Flipboard can offer its users greater benefits by communicating directly through Flipboard, and not through underlying services like Twitter or Facebook — for example, being able to share Tumblr like reblog capabilities, or some other dimension of sociality that naturally falls out of the iPad experience.
I am certain that Twitter and Facebook would consider this course of events — however hypothetical — with some alarm.I believe that these companies must retain control of their user experience, and they must resist being commoditized by a richer layer of sociality superimposed above their offerings.
Jeffrey Rosen has a recent piece in the NY Times Magazine, which exposes the natural conservatism of our theoretically open and liberal society. Every action that has been recorded on the web — that party where you drank too much and put on a tutu, your espousing socialist rhetoric, or calling a college buddy a racial epithet — and someone someday is going to dredge it up and use it against you.
Jeffrey Rosen, The Web Means the End of Forgetting
According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants — including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online, like photos and discussion-board conversations and membership in controversial groups.[emphasis mine.]
It’s often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances — no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.
Jorge Luis Borges, in his short story “Funes, the Memorious,” describes a young man who, as a result of a riding accident, has lost his ability to forget. Funes has a tremendous memory, but he is so lost in the details of everything he knows that he is unable to convert the information into knowledge and unable, as a result, to grow in wisdom. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, in “Delete,” uses the Borges story as an emblem for the personal and social costs of being so shackled by our digital past that we are unable to evolve and learn from our mistakes. After reviewing the various possible legal solutions to this problem, Mayer-Schönberger says he is more convinced by a technological fix: namely, mimicking human forgetting with built-in expiration dates for data. He imagines a world in which digital-storage devices could be programmed to delete photos or blog posts or other data that have reached their expiration dates, and he suggests that users could be prompted to select an expiration date before saving any data.
This is not an entirely fanciful vision. Google not long ago decided to render all search queries anonymous after nine months (by deleting part of each Internet protocol address), and the upstart search engine Cuil has announced that it won’t keep any personally identifiable information at all, a privacy feature that distinguishes it from Google. And there are already small-scale privacy apps that offer disappearing data. An app called TigerText allows text-message senders to set a time limit from one minute to 30 days after which the text disappears from the company’s servers on which it is stored and therefore from the senders’ and recipients’ phones. (The founder of TigerText, Jeffrey Evans, has said he chose the name before the scandal involving Tiger Woods’s supposed texts to a mistress.)
Expiration dates could be implemented more broadly in various ways. Researchers at the University of Washington, for example, are developing a technology called Vanish that makes electronic data “self-destruct” after a specified period of time. Instead of relying on Google, Facebook or Hotmail to delete the data that is stored “in the cloud” — in other words, on their distributed servers — Vanish encrypts the data and then “shatters” the encryption key. To read the data, your computer has to put the pieces of the key back together, but they “erode” or “rust” as time passes, and after a certain point the document can no longer be read. Tadayoshi Kohno, a designer of Vanish, told me that the system could provide expiration dates not only for e-mail but also for any data stored in the cloud, including photos or text or anything posted on Facebook, Google or blogs. The technology doesn’t promise perfect control — you can’t stop someone from copying your photos or Facebook chats during the period in which they are not encrypted. But as Vanish improves, it could bring us much closer to a world where our data didn’t linger forever.
I am intrigued with the notion of digital forgetting, and in a world dominated by a few apps like Facebook and MySpace it would be straightforward to have such features implemented, by government dictate if needed.