Menu

Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

What Brightkite could be. What Brightkite should be.

The line between what Brightkite offers and what Twitter offers their respective communities is arguably very thin. Both offer fantastic microblogging features including updates and notifications via SMS, the Web, and APIs.

Until somewhat recently, however, only Brightkite offered another layer ontop of these features that really separated it from Twitter without question. Geolocation.

Brightkite users can “check in” to just about anywhere like restaurants, gas stations, their own homes or just about any real world address. It asks two questions to Twitter’s one: Where are you and what are you doing there?

Twitter is working very hard at bringing geolocation to its own service. It has been rolling out, only through its API at the moment, the ability to geocode each tweet with a specific latitude and longitude. Unlike Brightkite’s check-in based model Twitter’s model isn’t tied down to any address and doesn’t add the extra friction of having to check-in at a place before you’re able to post at it.

There are benefits to both models. For Brightkite some of the benefits include the ability to use SMS commands to find the location you’re currently at, check in, and then post to. This removes the requirement for a GPS-enabled device in order to add metadata to your posts. Also, “Places” having names is very, very important for people figuring out exactly where you are and where something was posted. Being able to view posts on Brightkite from specific locations (rather than specific coordinates) is much more human and fun. I won’t even mention how marketable Places are in contrast to coordinates.

For Twitter some of the benefits include a much more accurate dataset. Each tweet is geocoded individually. Move a foot in any direction and the metadata for your next tweet will reflect that. Again, little or no friction. That lack of friction has always been Twitter’s modus operandi and if they can pull it off with geolocation it will presumably bring more geocoded data to the Web than any other service to date.

Brightkite’s main differentiators, however few there have been, are about to all go away. Save, perhaps, for one. Places. I believe that Twitter’s forthcoming success in this area should be Brightkite’s opportunity to capitalize on what its already learned. There is value a lot of value in Places.

If Brightkite could somehow become the best Twitter client for checking in to, searching for, and viewing the posts at specific Places (even simply addresses) I believe Brightkite could see a huge ramp up in growth and value. Any Twitter account should work at Brightkite, period. Any geocoded tweet that falls within a specific area range around one of Brightkite’s already found Places should be attributed to that Place. Brightkite should no longer consider keeping its own community but rather expand itself into Twitter’s community.

Using Brightkite’s Places dataset, which it has been building and refining for a long time already, it could become the very best way to interact with the new geolocation-enabled Twitter.

That is if they want it to be. Or, they could just keep chasing teenaged girls.

The Brightkite break continues…

I’m still on a Brightkite break. I’m not really sure how to quantify my feelings about Brightkite without sounding pedantic or somehow aloof. The people that work there are, no doubt, extremely concerned with the community that uses it and, from what I’ve seen, go to great lengths to keep the service up and running.

In a nut, I guess I’m just upset with the lack of updates. It started right before SXSW this year. Updates to the service that made any real dent in the ever growing, pie-in-the-sky wish list that I had for the service were all but nonexistent.

If you remember I jotted down what I wanted from Brightkite. Rather than put my biggest wishes out there I shared what I thought they were pretty reasonable things to wish for. Favorites? Preferences for Flickr? Fixing Childs, PA on Brightkite? Hashtag support? And a few others. It has been 5 months since I wrote that post. How many of those updates have come out? None. I don’t expect my wishes to their roadmap but I did get a direct response from several Brightkite team members after writing that post and they said they were working on those things. So I suppose my expectations were a bit high.

A few days ago I asked on Brightkite if anything was new? Chris Tingom, who uses Brightkite every day, succinctly responded with “Nothing new”.

Brightkite was somewhat recently acquired and while I’m sure this has something to do with the amount of work they’ve been able to get done on the service there, I sure hope it doesn’t mean that Brightkite is simply going to go away or be changed into something altogether different. We saw this type of slow down with Pownce right before it was acquired by Six Apart and immediately disbanded. As I’ve said before, Brightkite had a lot more potential than Twitter until Twitter hit the mainstream. I still think that Brightkite has a lot to offer – they just need to address the needs of their ever growing community.

Update: Brady Becker, Founder of Brightkite, has responded to this over on my “is anything new” question on Brightkite with: “@cdevroe new stuff is coming soon, we promise! Your wish list has not been forgotten. (In fact, in the pending release many of your items have been addressed)”.

I’m really happy that I got a response (and such a quick one at that). Mood has shifted back towards optimistic.

Another Brightkite break

Jacob Burke, like me, is taking a Brightkite break. His reasons are very close to my own. He writes:

“There are things about the site that had me hooked for quite a while. But, I am starting to notice that it gets annoying to update my status on Brightkite and then go and check Twitter to see what everyone else is up to.” … “Don’t get me wrong, I think Brightkite is a stellar network and they have a number of features that I really like. It is nice to go back through my history of updates to see where I have sent updates from and where my travels have led me for that week, I am also a fan of being able to comment on posts. But, there are also things that I am still waiting for – a desktop application, more search options, timestamps in my timezone, and less downtime.”

I experienced very little downtime on Brightkite though I didn’t take full advantage of the SMS features, which is where a lot of downtime happens on these services.

By way of update, I’m keeping my current location up-to-date on Brightkite. It appears on the sidebar of my blog and I like keeping track of the places I’ve been. I still don’t know how long this break I am taking will last.

Taking a Brightkite break

I’ve decided to take a short Brightkite break. I have a laundry lost of things that I would love to see Brightkite do (search my site for Brightkite) and it has been a while since they’ve done any updates. Presumably because they’ve been in the middle of a business deal (which is understandable).

I have another reason though. I’m getting tired of typing everything into Brightkite on my iPhone only to open TwitterFon to check Twitter. I’ve been doing it for a long time now.

So, a break. I’ll be using Twitter exclusively (and here in my blog).

Ok Brightkite, this is what I need

Party time is over, so I feel it safe to write a formal, public request for some of the things I really need from Brightkite. I realize that some of the things I’m going to ask for are probably not that high a priority for Brightkite, but I thought that by making a list like this I’d always be able to point back to it should the need arise.

Oh, and I’m serious about most of these. Darn serious. Seriousness level = 10.

Favorites. It is time. Dare I say, past due? I can not even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a post on Brightkite that I’ve wanted to save for later, acknowledge its greatness, or simply file away into a list of great Brightkite objects. Anything and everything should be favoritable. I know one of the new terms on the Webz is “likes” – and you can use that if you’d like too.

Flickr preferences like Twitter preferences. The granularity of the Twitter preferences is one of the reasons I was able to begin using Brightkite painlessly. In The way Brightkite fits I wrote:

“Brightkite will update Twitter with any of your activity on Brightkite, but again, there are layers upon layers of options.  Remember I said that you don’t have to switch away from Twitter if you use Brightkite the way I do?  Here is how I have Brightkite set up to notify Twitter.”

“Layers upon layers of options” is not an understatement. You get to choose precisely which actions on Brightkite will notify Twitter, the way your Twitter messages are crafted, and more. Somehow, I need these types of options for sharing photos on Flickr through Brightkite.

I don’t mind if every single photo I post on Brightkite goes to Flickr. For me, it is more a matter of the metadata saved with the photo on Flickr that is important. I choose my titles carefully on Flickr. If Brightkite has its way it simply saves the current location (no matter how messy) as the title. Sometimes this works, othertimes it doesn’t.

What can I say? I’m picky. But Brightkite, usually, allows me to be my picky-self. So, you’ve spoiled me. Your fault Brightkite. You’ve created this animal.

Messages on the Web site like messages on the iPhone. The way that direct messages work on the iPhone is, in my opinion, a lot nicer than the way they are styled on the Web site.

Fix Childs, PA. This really isn’t a “wish list” type of request – because something is obviously fubar for my hometown of Childs, Pennsylvania on Brightkite. Posts, check-ins, photos, etc. are showing up from all over the world. No idea how this happened but it started a while ago.

Odd request: Move these two check-ins and one post. So now we’re getting really nitty – but my friends and I went to Goal Line Sports Bars (which I’ve now created a location on Brightkite for). I’d like the check-ins and posts found here (by myself and CamouflageNoise) to be moved to this location.  I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m asking to be able to move posts and/or check-ins myself via the Web site. So if this situations arises again, I can do it myself.

Hashtag support. If someone uses a #hashtag make it clickable to a post search for that hashtag.

Automatic wall creation. Walls are awesome. No doubt about it. However, if someone does a search – say for No Reservations – I think that it’d be nice to click 1 button and have it create a wall for you with the results of that search. (This is sort of related to the #hashtag support, because for me if I’m following an event, it would be nice to be able to go from a friend’s post to having a wall created for that event with two clicks).

A desktop application. Right now I’m using Fluid and the iPhone web application for Brightkite. But the iPhone web application is, in a matter of speaking, not a good solution to this problem.  Perhaps there is a Brightkite desktop application that I am not aware of that rivals the likes of Twitterrific or TweetDeck but I do not know about it.

Forward /username URLs.  Ooops!

Viddler video. We’ll talk.

I have said it before, I like Brightkite better than Twitter. But, is the above too much to ask? Thanks Brightkite.

Brightkite launches search

Today Brightkite, the location-based social network, has updated their page layout to, once again, bring search back to the top of the page.  This time, however, they’ve added two new types of search to their original places search; people and posts.

I’m very pleased to see this addition to Brightkite so early-on in their development roadmap.  Search is a challenge for any content company and I think that this first version of their search tool to find posts and people is good enough to appease the masses and have fun playing.

Oh, and the fact that they show a sample search for “sushi” makes it double-plus good.

At least once per day I find myself browsing the first few pages of the Universal tab in “What’s happening” on Brightkite. I find it to be a great way to see what others are doing, what photos their posting, where people are traveling and living, and just a generally good way to waste a few minutes of time.  Like Twitter‘s public timeline this Universal tab allows people to get a glimpse of what others on Brightkite are doing even if they aren’t friends with them.

Adding search to this itch that I scratch each day is going to make me want to use it even more.  I search Twitter all-the-time for things I’m currently experiencing or wondering about.  Now I’ll probably search Brightkite. Some searches I’ve done recently on Twitter, but am now poking around on Brightkite for are cast iron, Viddler (of course), MNF (or Monday Night Football), and making wine.

My list for things I’d like to see on Brightkite is long and varied but I’m happy I can now remove search from this list and look forward to the Brightkite team knocking a few other items off the list in the future.

Get a Brightkite sticker, Viddler Tshirt and sticker!

Brightkite, in their infinite generosity, sent me a few stickers that I could give away here on my site.  When I got them in the mail yesterday I immediately began to think of a fun way to give them away, and I think I’ve come up with an easy and fun way.

Photo credit: Chris Tingom

And I think I can find some Viddler tshirts laying around to give away with the stickers.  These people seem to like them, so maybe you will too!

How to “win” a Brightkite sticker and a Viddler tshirt!

Let’s keep this simple, shall we?

  1. Create a Viddler account.
  2. Friend me on Viddler!
  3. Leave a video comment on this post stating about why you’d like a sticker and a tshirt ((Bonus points if you show where you’d put the sticker. Keep it clean.)).

Pretty simple.  If you have a Brightkite account already, friend me up there as well, but if you don’t your sticker will also come with an invite.

There will be 8 winners!  I will select the winners based on the video.  If you don’t have a video camera attached to your computer, you can upload a video to Viddler first and then select it using the Viddler WordPress plugin (just click the link by the comment box and you should be able to figure out the rest).

You can put in entries until tomorrow at noon.

Update: Rob has some Viddler stickers so we’re going to add those to the mix as well!

A note to Brightkite admins: If you have any invites you can drop into my bucket, please do and I will personally invite anyone that leaves a comment on this post.

Brightkite’s smart “profile not found” pages

For the unaware, a 404 page is a page you typically see when the page you’re trying to reach simply does not exist.  In geek speak, 404 literally means “Page Not Found”.  Here is an example 404 page on my site.

My 404 page consists of a simple message asking you to contact me to let me know that something went wrong.  There are a lot of services that do much more than simply display a typical “Page Not Found” message, and today we’re going to look at Brightkite‘s “smart” “profile not found” pages.

Brightkite knows how their user’s are using the system.  An example of this was brought to my attention by my coworker Kyle Slattery.  He told me about Brightkite’s ability to detect when a user does not exist on Brightkite, but may exist on Twitter.

Brightkite and Twitter share the same prefix for username detection, the @ symbol ((Other services, like Pownce, use the ! exclamation point.)).  Since Brightkite knows that some people use their system as a geo-enabled Twitter client, like I explained the other day, sometimes you’ll find people “talking” to or about people that do not yet have a Brightkite account. Kyle gave me the example of the username @mikemangino.  That username does not exist on Brightkite but it does on Twitter.

Here is what the profile page looks like on Brightkite for this user.

Rather than show their typical 404 error page, Brightkite asks if you are looking for the same username on Twitter, and even gives you the option to invite that person over to Brightkite.  Kyle thought this was “brilliant”, and I do too.  Kyle was wrong about one thing though; Brightkite’s “profile not found” page isn’t as smart as he might have thought.  Here is what Kyle said:

“Brilliant, if you go to a user on BrightKite that exists on Twitter, but not on BK, there’s a link to invite them, not a 404.”

I don’t think Kyle actually meant to say that Brightkite detects the user on Twitter, because they definitely do not.  But I just wanted to be sure it was clearly stated.

Brightkite’s “profile not found” page is smart enough to know that people are probably on that page because they clicked an @username to a Twitter account and not a Brightkite account. And that is indeed brilliant.  It is a great example of how Brightkite is continuously showing themselves to be “in touch” with how people use their system which makes Brightkite a joy to use.

The way Brightkite fits

A few months ago I was invited to join Brightkite.  At the time I wasn’t too keen on giving up my exact location all the time, nor did I want to switch from Twitter to Brightkite and start all over again.  For any of you reading this, the way Brightkite fits into my daily routine means that I don’t have to do either of those things.

Specific, non-specific, and everything in between

One of the beauties of Brightkite is the layers of options you have with just about everything you do on the service.  When I “check in” at any given location, I can be as specific about where I am as I want to be.  For example, when I check in at home I simply check into the city in which I live.  I do not check into my exact address.  When I’m at a cafe, at work, or another public location I generally check in with as specific location details as I have available to me at the time.

Also of note is that if you’re scared to give out your exact address don’t be naive to the fact that if someone really wants to find out where you live, they can – whether you use any of these location based social services or not.

Perhaps you’ll only want to check into Brightkite when your geography changes dramatically.  Maybe going to the grocery store down the road doesn’t warrant you switching your location before you share 140 characters with the world the way you do now.  Perhaps if you went on vacation to an island in the Bahamas, you’d like to check in so that your messages are properly stored based on your current location.

I’m a little more anal than that.  I want my locations to be stored as granularly as possible. Not for everyone else, but for the possibilities that arise because of it. Not only am I able to keep track of where/when/how and what for myself, but you never know when you might meet up with a fellow Brightkite user at a given location.

I’ve been poking around my history on Brightkite and I see that I’ve crossed paths a few times ((Sometimes within only a few miles or even at the same location but only a day or so apart.)) with other Brightkite users.  My friend and follow Viddler team member Brandice (who talked me into really kicking the tires at Brightkite) recently met up with a Brightkite user at her local Panera Bread. I’m hoping, like it has happened on Twitter so many times, that Brightkite makes this even easier for me to experience as well.

Using Brightkite as a Twitter client

Brightkite will update Twitter with any of your activity on Brightkite, but again, there are layers upon layers of options.  Remember I said that you don’t have to switch away from Twitter if you use Brightkite the way I do?  Here is how I have Brightkite set up to notify Twitter.

One of the most annoying things, I thought, about the way that Brightkite updated Twitter was all of the bkite.com/whatever URLs.  Every time you saw a message from a Brightkite user on Twitter you saw this link and I found it irritating.  It turns out that the Brightkite team has already thought of this.  Not only can you specify which activities on Brightkite update your Twitter status (including check ins, note, and photo posts), but you can also specify the information that Brightkite posts to Twitter.  I have customized the output of my notifications to Twitter so that my notes do not contain a link back to Brightkite.  This means that if I use Brightkite to post a note and it updates Twitter, those that follow me on Twitter are none-the-wiser.  However, when I post a photo to Brightkite there is a link from Twitter so that you can see that photo.  There is also a link when I check in at a location, though I’m considering removing this update notification from my list because some on Twitter may find it annoying ((Which I can totally understand.)).

So instead of posting to Twitter I post to Brightkite which, in turn, posts to Twitter for me.  No extra work on my part.  Some of the people I follow use services like Ping.fm to post to every single social network at once.  I’ve not gotten that deep yet but it is certainly an option.

Conclusion

Brightkite is a very promising service being developed by a team that obviously pays close attention to detail.  I like that.  I feel that the teams at both Brightkite and FriendFeed pay far more attention to detail than the team at Twitter, but then again all three services have very different challenges and goals.  When I see a service being as well crafted as Brightkite is, I’m going to stick around and see if I can make it fit.

I have a few invites to Brightkite.  So if you want one drop a comment and use an email address that I can send the invite too.

My personal data sharing policy

I’ve been online since 1994. I’ve shared a lot of information here on my blog, through various social networks, and to different services like Google Maps, Untappd, and many others. That information has often included location, photos, audio and video.

For decades I thought nothing of sharing my current location online. I used check-in services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Gowalla, Swarm and many others. Or I’d share a tweet or a post here on my blog about my current whereabouts.

I’ve noticed, over the last several years, I do less of that. I post photos here on my blog often weeks or months after I’ve returned from where I took them. I share them a bit quicker on Instagram – however my account there is private (supposedly). And I rarely tweet on the go these days.

In fact, I’ve also noticed that I no longer geotag my photos on Instagram or use hashtags that often. Mainly because when I’ve personally tapped on locations or hashtags on Instagram the search results are less than representative of the location I saw and are simply popular selfies taken at the location.

My desire to do a sort of personal data sharing audit has been slowly building. I will read an article about how Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa is constantly listening in, or how our location is being tracked down to the floor we’re on by some apps and I pause, think about what I’m sharing, and sometimes shrug it off because I don’t really care if Google knows where I am. In fact, I like that they know where I am and where I want to go. I hop in my car and Android Auto suggest places it believes I would like to go and how long it will take me to get there. Who wouldn’t want that?

After all, what do I have to hide?

And then I see this ad from DuckDuckGo (which I use) on Twitter (of all places). It talks about the reasons, beyond criminal or mischievous, that I may want to protect my privacy. DDG’s reasons may not exactly be my reasons, but at least they’ve thought about it. So then I began thinking… “Have I thought much about this? Have I really gone through and made sure I have some sort of personal data sharing policy that I follow?”

So that is what I’m doing with this post. I started writing this post without having a personal data sharing policy and I hope by the time I’m ready to publish it I have version 1 of a policy that is right for me. Of course, suggestions are always welcome and perhaps I’ll revisit this topic from time-to-time to keep my personal policy updated.

Here are the main points of my personal data policy as it stands today:

  • Never share my current location publicly. I’m going to be certain my habits do not share my current location in a public way. I’m also going to audit any app or service that attempts to use my location data to be certain it does not share my current location publicly.
  • Download and remove all of my data from services that I haven’t used in over a year. I’ve got quiet an online trail that I’ve blazed over the last several decades. While I’m nostalgic for many of these services, and I hate dead URLs, I think it is best if I remove any of that data if I’m no longer using the service.
  • Evaluate each app on my mobile devices that use location data and read their privacy policies. In other words, make a more informed decision about what apps I share my location data with.
  • Delete any app that I do not use on my mobile devices that could use location or audio data. Believe it or not, many of the small utility apps that exist for free (like, doing fun image editing) have tons of third-party ad network code in them. I have dozens of these but I rarely use them.

Putting this policy in place isn’t paranoia. It is about making more educated decisions about what I’m sharing and with what companies. It is about being less cavalier with my own personal data and how it is used. It is about keeping myself and those around me a little safer – maybe. But overall, it is a gentle push to the companies that would profit off of this data to perhaps be more thoughtful and upfront themselves. And to make it just a bit harder on the scammers.

An interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog

I have fond memories of the very early days of WordPress (when it had just been forked from b2/cafelog), of Twitter, of Brightkite, of App.net, of Mastodon… just to name a few. The early days of any platform or so important to what they will become. They are the most fun to watch.

The early days of any platform can be frustrating too. Services sometimes go down, features aren’t released as quickly as you’d like, and small bugs can hamper your workflow.

I liken it to watching art be created. It can be a bit messy, it can sometimes confuse you, but when you see the final product you have the privilege of knowing how the platform got to that final state.

Yesterday I volleyed back and forth via email with Manton Reece, the founder and creator of Micro.blog. Micro.blog is in that same relatively early stage where new features are released with regularity, where the community is growing steadily, and where the users have the strongest voice.

He kindly answered a few questions. But here are a few highlights that I plucked from his answers:

  • Micro.blog is both an aggregator of blog posts and a blog/site hosting platform
  • Features on Micro.blog are rolled out slowly on purpose, to be sure they won’t disrupt the principles behind the service. And they often come from what users are already doing on the platform.
  • Native support for audio and podcasts are already part of the plan
  • Many users that use the hosting feature use their Micro.blog-powered site as their primary web site
  • Community support members for curation, help, etc. will be the primary area the team will grow, outweighing engineering

Here is the interview and his responses in their entirety.

First, thank you for making Micro.blog. For me personally it is surfacing some excellent independent microbloggers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Now that Micro.blog is open to the public, is there anything that you see happening on the platform, either now or during the beta period, that has surprised or delighted you?

Thanks for being part of the Micro.blog community! I’ve loved how people not only embrace the platform, but in many cases get back to writing at an old blog that they had accidentally neglected, or get inspired to start up a new microblog at their own domain name. So many beautiful photos have been posted, which we like to highlight in the Discover section, and the tone of conversations has remained thoughtful and respectful even as the platform has grown.

I’m also happy to see that many Micro.blog users have warmed up to some of the early decisions we made to not copy every feature from other popular social networks. For example, not showing follower counts or worrying about how many likes a post has received.

People seem to really enjoy the new emoji-based topics we introduced recently, to collect posts about books or music or sports. Little experiments like these are a reaction to what the community is already doing. The best thing we can do is build features that support what people are posting about — to encourage the kind of posts that make Micro.blog a nice place to be — and then see which of those features resonates.

Have you been surprised at all by the number of photos that people are posting? Or, did you always think that Micro.blog would be a great place for people to share photos? And, do you think you’ll see audio or video shared more on Micro.blog in the future?

I’ve always thought photo-blogging would be a perfect fit for Micro.blog, and we’ve tried to build good support for it in the iOS app, such as having built-in photo filters. Many people are frustrated with Twitter and Instagram and want to post photos to their own web site again. But I was still happily surprised to see so many photos. There was also some help from the community, such as Doug Lane running a 7-day photo challenge.

Our plan was to start with photos, with good photo hosting, and then expand to natively support audio and podcasts. After that, video. I think video can quickly become kind of overwhelming and busy when shown in a timeline — especially with auto-playing video, which we don’t want to do. So I’m comfortable expanding this support fairly slowly to make sure we get it right.

I see Micro.blog as two parts: 1. A community of syndicated microblog posts that are populated by people’s independent web sites using RSS or JSON feeds. And, 2. A blogging platform that allows you to create a simple blog (with an emphasis on microblogging). Is this the right way to look at Micro.blog now and into the future? And if so, why tackle both problems rather than simply #1?

That’s the right way to think about it. What I found while developing Micro.blog is that just building a more open social network-like platform wasn’t enough. If we wanted to encourage people to blog more, we needed to make blogging itself much easier. The best way to do that is to also offer to host someone’s blog for them directly on Micro.blog.

Blogs hosted on Micro.blog started with an emphasis on microblogging, but they have improved significantly since we initially launched, and now offer many features competitive with other dedicated blog hosts. There are Micro.blog users who have their full web site hosted by Micro.blog because it’s just more convenient.

This second part of Micro.blog is also very important to grow the service as a business. I want to run Micro.blog for decades to come. The only way to do that — to pay for all the servers and other supporting services — is for Micro.blog to be profitable. Since we never want to show ads, offering paid plans such as blog hosting is a great way to go.

Would you be willing to share any interesting stats? Some that I’d personally be interested in tracking would be the most number of posts in an hour, the greatest number of signups in a day, stats like that.

And as a follow-up: As the platform (meaning the software, hardware, underlying services, backup routines, databases, etc.) become more complex surely you’ll need to expand from being the two-person team Micro.blog is currently. What position do you think the next full or part-time team member of Micro.blog will fill?

I don’t currently have many stats to share. We have been so busy improving the platform that we haven’t built anything to track things like spikes in the number of posts. There is a 500-user limit on new registrations per day. When we opened it up to the public, the limit was just 100 which was reached pretty quickly as people would share a link to their friends.

There are so many areas that we could use a larger team for, like system administration and planning how to scale the platform. As you noted, the first person to join Micro.blog was Jean MacDonald, our community manager. I hope that the community will continue to grow such that we’ll need additional curators to help manage features like the Discover section.

Facebook recently announced they were hiring 10,000 moderators, and I know Twitter has a large staff as well. I expect one mistake that these larger social networks made early on was hiring too many programmers, and not enough curators. For Micro.blog we always want people who can interact with the community and stay ahead of any issues.

Discover has already seen a few iterations. First, it was a simple list of users. Then it expanded to include photos posted by the community. After that, a human-curated list of posts was added. And now, hashtag-like emoji’s allow you to find posts on topics like books, music, and football. Did I miss anything? This must be a fun part of Micro.blog to tweak and see how the community responds. I know I’ve found it to be very fun to have open a few times during the day. Can you share a little about how posts end up in the Discover tab? Who is making those selections and what are the next steps?

I feel like the current iteration of Discover is by far the best yet. There were a couple problems with just featuring a list of users. You can only feature so many users, so we randomly selected users to show from the featured list. Those users would get a lot of attention but unless we continually update the list, it might not be enough people to fill your timeline with interesting posts if you just pick a few people to follow. The list got stale quickly as new people were joining the platform.

Now, throughout the day we skim through posts and replies and put them in Discover. This is a better reflection of the activity on the platform. It’s not all posts, but it’s a good snapshot of the kind of things people are posting about. It looks good and isn’t overwhelming. It’s a great way to find new users who just joined Micro.blog, too.

Emoji topics are a little different. Whenever Micro.blog sees a new post, it checks it for emoji and adds it to a collection. If an inappropriate post shows up, we can just remove it from the collection without effecting anything else about that post or user on Micro.blog. There are a limited number of emoji, which keeps everything simple. I don’t think it will get out of control like Twitter hashtag search results often do.

One aspect I’ve always loved about microblogging was that it could be consumed and participated with in realtime. A few examples that come to mind are backchannels for live TV events like awards shows, or for conferences and meetups, etc. Is this something the Micro.blog team thinks about much? Are there any apps, features, or other considerations that would be made specifically to foster realtime interactions for things like this?

I agree this is a natural fit for indie microblogging. Something like live sports might not appeal to everyone, so it would be useful for both tuning into those feeds or filtering them out. Over the weekend, we put the football emoji in the Discover section for people who were posting about the NFL playoffs, as a simple experiment for making current topics more discoverable.

There are myriad other things we could talk about like Pins, third-party applications, indieweb building blocks like Webmention, and the all new Micro.blog logo and app icon. Is there anything you’d wish to highlight? If so, please do. And lastly, what is something you wished I asked but didn’t that maybe you’d like to make sure people reading this interview know (feel free to allow this to be nothing)?

The third-party ecosystem and larger IndieWeb community are both really important. There are several third-party apps for Micro.blog in development now, for iOS and Android. When I was designing the Micro.blog API, I based it on JSON Feed, Micropub, and other common APIs so that third-party Micro.blog apps could also be adapted for other platforms. And likewise, Micro.blog benefits from many existing IndieWeb tools and open source software like WordPress. The more we can push forward the user experience for indie microblogging, making blogging more approachable, the stronger the open web will be.

Thanks Colin! It was great to have a chance to share some of our thoughts behind Micro.blog.

Thanks to Manton for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. If you haven’t yet given Micro.blog a try head on over to there and give it a whirl. You could very well make an impact on the type of place it becomes.

You can follow Manton on Micro.blog at @manton. And I’m @cdevroe.

Jake Lodwick on PandoDaily – “An acquisition is always a failure”

Jake Lodwick, co-founder of College Humor and Vimeo, writes about how poorly the acquisition process can go and how it seems to happen over and over and over in our industry in An acquisition is always a failure:

The party ended in 2006, when we sold our company to IAC, a conglomerate owned by media mogul Barry Diller. Bit by bit, the youthful energy that created so much value was siphoned off. Whereas we’d once been free to work on whatever seemed interesting, we now found ourselves in vaguely defined middle-management roles, sitting through pointless meetings where older doofuses who didn’t understand the Web challenged our intuitions and trivialized our ambitions.

“Always” is tough to swallow. It is unfortunate how often it seems that acquisitions of products, teams, and entire businesses go poorly. Even taking years to fizzle out.

I think the biggest loss for everyone involved is the potential for what the product would have become, what the team would have done on their own, or what the company would have accomplished if they hadn’t been acquired.

Would Flickr have been better off without Yahoo!? Would Brightkite have beaten Gowalla and Foursquare? Would Pounce have been App.net?

The most interesting stories of recent years has been the companies and teams that have said no to early acquisition offers like Twitter, Facebook, Square. It must be very hard to know when to sell a company and when to hold onto it with both hands.

Why I’m building Nilai

 I’ve got a new nights and weekends project and its name is Nilai. Nilai is a simple bookmarking service and over the last few weeks I’ve been having a lot of fun working on it in my spare time. In fact, I have found it so valuable to me that it is now my homepage on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone.

My father was born in Bandung, Java, Indonesia so I thought it’d be cool to name the service an Indonesian word. Nilai is pronounced (as best as I can tell) Nee’-lie. It is an Indonesian word meaning mark. I think the literal translation is something more akin to “logo” but I’m taking liberty with the word a bit.

I’m building Nilai for the same reason many developers begin working on something new; to scratch my own itch. I was a Delicious user back when the URL still had a few more dots in it. I was a Magnolia user back when OpenID was still a buzzword. I have always needed a place to keep some bookmarks and easily access them later. And, while those needs are slightly different today than they were then, those services would still be useful to me today. If only they were around.

But those services, or at least the services I knew and liked at the time, are gone now. And so are many, many others. Gowalla. Brightkite. Magnolia. Friendfeed. The list of services that I once used that are now gone seems endless. And the pile keeps getting bigger.

The tipping point for me, I suppose, was watching Bret Victor’s excellent presentation Inventing on Principal. If you are someone that builds things I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch his presentation. In it he suggests finding a principal to build by. Well, I’ve found mine.

I’m going to build valuable, reliable, sustainable web services that will last forever.

Nilai is the first service I’ll be building but it won’t be the last. I have several services that I would love to use on a daily basis that I’ve all but stopped using because I’m afraid they’ll be bought out, run into the ground, or shutdown. For now I’ll keep that list under my hat and – for at least the rest of this calendar year – I’ll be working on Nilai when I can find the time.

Yes, I’m charging for Nilai right from the start. I want Nilai to still be up, running, and useful in 2022 and beyond. I hope that others will too and be willing to support that effort. It won’t be a feature-bloated service with apps on every single platform or a few hundred employees – but I think that is actually a good thing. The features that I put into Nilai will have to be valuable enough for me to want to support them for the life of the service. I’ll get more into the features I plan Nilai having in an upcoming post.

One question that will inevitably arise is that of competition. Yes, there are going to be competitors to every single service I build. And some of them will be very good. However, my thoughts on competition are much different than many. For the last 5 years I’ve been very happily employed by Viddler. Viddler is an online video platform with competition from YouTube, Brightcove and other services both free and paid yet we continue to hire people, make money, and grow. The Internet is not a single street in which competition is so fierce that two competing services can only compete on price. Software is so nuanced that any differentiator, no matter how small, is enough to carve out a niche that makes building the service worthwhile.

If you’re looking for a large community with a huge network effect, maybe you could use the new Delicious. If you’re looking for a much more full-featured bookmarking service from the start, perhaps you could try Pinboard. I’ve never used either of these services but both seem to come recommended by their respective communities.

But I’m not trying to build Delicious or Pinboard. I’m building a bookmarking service that I would use and that I plan to use forever. I’m hoping that a few people will want to use it too and make suggestions on how it can improve along the way. If you want to help out by supporting the project and by making suggestions; sign up to Nilai and tell someone else about it too.

The plusses and minuses of Google+

This might get a little long in the tooth so you may want to top-up that beverage.

Google has run me over like a freight train. Over the last few weeks I’ve been living on it instead of Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare. In fact, I made the prediction that Google could replace many of the most popular services.

But before I get into all of that I thought I’d share how Google is different.

Every social networking site was started with a particular purpose in mind. Over time those services typically find their niche (if they survive long enough to do so) whether or not it was the original reason for its inception or not.

Let’s use LinkedIn as an example. LinkedIn was created to be the professional’s social network. A network of people that are connected at some professional, rather than personal or familial, level. This sort of distinction for LinkedIn is completely different to that of Facebook, which tries to connect people that know each other in some way, or Twitter, which doesn’t care if you know anyone, and is an invaluable differentiator in the world of social networking. Heck, it led to LNKD.

Google , however, goes against this “find the niche” convention. Rather than trying to fill a niche like Facebook or LinkedIn they’re taking on every level of human connection; professional, familial, social, voyeur, etc. and combining them all into one service. They do all of this by providing a different relationship model called Circles.

Circles are nondescript buckets of relationships that you create on your own and can change at anytime. For example you can create some typical social Circles for Coworkers, Friends, Family, Ex-Schoolmates, Basketball Friends, etc. Each of these Circles will have specific meaning to you and no one else. They allow you to segregate your relationships into very meaningful categories that help you connect with many different people all in one place.

Why is this a good thing? In my mind the reasons are innumerable. For instance, maintaining profiles and networks in multiple locations, and somehow engaging with those services regularly, can end up being a monumental draw on your time. I won’t say it is a waste of your time because keeping a LinkedIn profile up-to-date and active has meant many professional opportunities for people. However, keeping every single site up-to-date can get cumbersome and, for those that “follow” you in multiple locations, noisy.

Your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook networks could all co-exist and never intersect using Google ‘s Circles.

One more thing to say about Circles… they aren’t just lists. Facebook and Twitter both have lists and Google ‘s Circles are not, and should not be, comparable. On Facebook someone has to confirm that you are their friend before the relationship is created. So if you only want to “follow” what is going on with a particular person you can’t unless they approve the relationship (or if they are a Celebrity and create a “page” for themselves rather than a normal account). Once they have, though, you can then separate them into lists. On Facebook you may use lists to filter your main stream or use them to send messages directly to those within those lists (though not nearly as easily as you can on Google which I’ll get to in the next paragraph). On Twitter, lists are made to keep your main stream cleaner. Rather than “following” Ashton Kutcher, as an example, one can add him to a Celebrities or Entrepreneurs or Investors list. This way Kutcher’s tweets don’t muddy up your main stream but you can check in with him from time-to-time using Twitter’s Lists. At least, that is how I use Lists. Oh, and you can’t specify how you share on Twitter. You’re either public or private and that is it.

Here is where Google ‘s Circles really separate themselves from the pack. Sharing. Anything you share on Google ; a post, a photo, a video, specific information on your profile such as your phone number, etc. can be shared with a limitless subset of your relationships on Google .

Here, I’ll provide some examples. Let’s say that you want to send a message to everyone at work. If you had a Coworkers Circle you can type in your message to them, choose to only share it with your Coworkers, and hit publish. Only people that you’ve put into the Coworkers Circle will see it. But it can get even more granular than that. You can choose to share a bit of information with more than one Circle or a Circle and a specific person and so on. Maybe you want to tell all of your friends that you’re going to see a movie tonight but you also want to tell your family and one guy from work. You can do that. Or maybe you just want to send a message to one particular person, or two or three, you can do that too. Or, better yet, maybe you want to send a message to someone privately that doesn’t even have you in their Circles, you can do that (unlike Twitter’s Direct Message feature).

Privacy and Sharing options on Google are probably the best we’ve ever seen on a social networking service to-date and, believe it or not, they’ve made it pretty easy to understand and use. We all remember the flack Facebook got for making privacy confusing to its hundreds of millions of users. Google ‘s privacy options, by comparison, are very easy to understand.

They even have a “view my profile as” feature that allows you to view your own profile as if you were someone else. You can view your profile as if you were your boss or the public-at-large or your future girlfriend. This makes it simple to edit who can see what.

Hopefully this helps frame where Google could potentially fit for some. It could, in theory, replace Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn’s niche approach to social networking and allow you to combine all of your relationships in one place. And, you can control exactly what you call those relationships rather than being tied down to the world’s nomenclature of relationships.

The Plusses

I’ve described why Circles are, potentially, better at describing relationships and give us the ability to combine all of our social networks in one spot. But that isn’t the only thing Google has going for it.

Ever since the days of Brightkite I’ve been using a secondary service to handle check-ins. Checking into a place, for me, is a better option than simply tweeting “I’m at such-and-such with so-and-so”. Surrounding a check-in is important metadata like location, time, etc. and a tweet is fleeting. Also many check-in services provide you with some sort of context around the location you’re currently in. At the moment my favorite check-in service is Foursquare. However, Google provides you with a nice set of check-in tools (although very young). From the Google iPhone application you can simply check-into a place and provide no other information (ala Foursquare, Gowalla) or you can choose to add additional information or a photo. While it separates out an actual check-in from a normal post it doesn’t make you feel as though the two are not interchangeable. They’ve struck a great balance with this and I can only hope it will get better.

Photo sharing from your computer or mobile-phone on Google is not only simple but also has a rich feature-set. Don’t forget, you can use the power of your Circles to share photos with any subset of your relationships. A photo of your newborn that you only want mom and dad to see? Done. A super-secret-mockup of something you’re building at work that you only want your coworkers and wife to see? Done. A photo of you in front of a landmark for the whole world to see? Done. Oh, and Google allows you to apply some effects to your photos as well. Someday Google could replace Instagram, Flickr, and Facebook photos.

Posts on Google have no character limit. Some consider the 140-character limit of Twitter to be its single greatest strength. As is often
said sometimes your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. There are times when our thoughts span beyond 140-characters (no matter how succinct you are). I’ve found the slightly longer posts of Google to be most enjoyable and the Google team have designed the interface in such a way that longer posts don’t detract from the shorter ones. The vast majority of posts I’ve seen on Google could fit within Twitter’s character limit but every once in a while people have more to say.

Google ‘s Hangout, Huddle, and Sparks features are neat but they don’t yet fit into my plusses list. They aren’t minuses either. Whether you use them or not they do not get in the way. I’ve played around with these features and while I haven’t found a valuable use for them yet I may in the future.

The Minuses

For any social networking service the single biggest reason they fail is lack of adoption. While Google has become the fastest growing site of-all-time that doesn’t mean that people are using it. In my Circles (get it?) Google has not yet been fully adopted. The people that have been most active are very early adopters, people that work at Google, and people that do not have accounts on Twitter or Facebook. Will this change? Will Google somehow convince people, as they did me, to use Google for a few days to see if it sticks? We’ll see.

Keeping up with your stream on Google is fairly impossible and by that I mean making sure you see every single message. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that these realtime services care less and less about people keeping up-to-date with what has happened but care much more about showing them what is happening right now. This is a design choice and one that ultimately we may all have to get used to – but it isn’t one I particularly care for at the moment. Right or wrong I treat these streams like I treat my email inbox. I don’t want to miss messages from my family or friends and on Google this is very difficult. You see, Google ‘s stream shows you the most-recently-updated post on top rather than the most-recently-published post. This distinction is important. A post that was written 5 days ago could resurface to the very top of your stream because someone left a comment in it. From what I’ve heard and read Google is using some complex computation to manage the stream. These guys are extremely good at fiddling with “algorithms” until they’re just right so I’ll withhold judgement on how they do this until they think they’ve got it.

The brevity of tweets makes them very, very easy to consume. Posts on Google can be a little harder to digest and that has caused, in some, a feeling of being overwhelmed. When my mother logs onto Twitter she sees a few messages from friends and family and perhaps a tweet or two from NASA. On Google with links, photos, videos, hangouts, etc. it can be a bit jarring and you feel like you can’t get your feet on the ground. Maybe Google will be able to figure out this problem but maybe not. Those of us that stick with Google may be the type of people that can wade through an enormous amount of information quickly while those that can will be left out in the cold. We’ll see.

At a technical level Google is fairly sound. The growth rate of Google has been nothing short of astounding and the fact that there hasn’t been an interruption in service is commendable. The iPhone application, on the other hand, is another story altogether. It was released fairly soon after Google went into “field testing” mode and its newness shows. It is incredibly slow, poorly designed (for actual use but it looks great), and has major issues with location. These types of frustrations, no doubt, will go away but for now the iPhone application falls squarely at the bottom of my minuses list.

Overall I believe that Google could replace many services for me; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr. Each of these services may still have their place but the majority of what I choose to share could definitely be handled by Google if more people actively used it. Ultimately whether or not I go 100% Google or not will depend on whether or not people adopt it. I don’t know if the 25M people that have created Google accounts will give it enough time to sink in and use it on a daily basis. Selfishly I hope they do because I’m sort of tired with keeping up with multiple streams and services. It’d be very nice to consolidate many of these things into one stream.

Time will tell where we all end up. But if you’d like to add me to your “Really Cool People” Circle I’ve created a special URL for my Google profile: cdevroe.com/

Check-in services need to get much faster and more valuable.

Foursquare is currently winning in the check-in services space but I believe it is still anybody’s game because there is still a lot of work to do.

Even though I “know” people that work at Gowalla and their sense of design is practicallyunparalleledin the check-in service space – Foursquare simply works better and that is why I use Foursquare instead of Gowalla.

“I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve used Gowalla (a location-based checkin service you use on your phone). I’ve found that in most of the cities I visit Foursquare has more users, more tips, is faster, easier to check in, etc.” – Robert Scoble

This has been my experience as well. Check-in services need to be very, very fast and valuable in order for the mass market to use them. Typically check-in services aren’t social streams (that you check many times per day) they are utility apps to help you track locations that you visit, the current location of your friends, and – most of all – information about where you are from other people that have been there. When this entire process isn’t very easy and very fast it becomes a hassle to use the services and so I quickly give up on using them.

Foursquare, while far from perfect, is simply lightyears faster than Gowalla currently is. Checking into a location is quick and easy. For the most part, everywhere that I’d like to check-in is already in Foursquare. On Gowalla I had to add nearly every location I visited. This task is tedious on Gowalla. Here is one gripe, as an example: When you search for a location using Gowalla’s iPhone application and it isn’t in their database (which happened for 85% of my check-ins even in places like Atlantic City, NJ) – you can’t tap an “Add location” button. You have to back out of the location search screen and go back into another screen to find the “Add location” button. This became so annoying that I downloaded the Foursquare application and haven’t looked back since.

I have had high hopes for check-in services ever since my days using Brightkite (man I miss those days). Foursquare has legs (and $50M in the bank). I hope these services continue to improve but they’ll need to innovate very, very quick in order for the mass market to adopt them longterm.

David Karp on Tumblr’s downtime and Tumblr does a 180

I know, my blog is turning into a Tumblr-a-thon. But I’ve done this before when I used to talk about Brightkite, Ma.gnolia, WordPress, Twitter and other services that I become attached to and care about. This is my blog and I can cry if I want to.

Here is how David Karp, founder of Tumblr, recently commented on Tumblr’s downtime to TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfield.

“Karp admits that the company was “unprepared” for that kind of hockey-stick hypergrowth, but with a new $30 million round in the bank, he says his team is working round the clock to keep scaling and catching up with all the sudden demand. Karp says the growth is coming in part from college students, who really took to the service only since September, 2009 or so and, more recently, international growth in Europe, Japan,and Brazil. He also tells me separately that 65 percent of those pageviews come from Tumblr users looking at their Dashboards (which shows the stream of posts from other people on Tumblr they follow).”

Good.

Also I just found this post on Karp’s blog that has this interesting bit.

“Ah, yes – an incredible opportunity and challenge!

The really impressive piece is that our engineers have been keeping up with this surge in traffic while serving fewer and fewer errors every week. It’s been a rough couple of months, but we’re almost there.”

“Opportunity and challenge” is the perfect way to put it. Karp gets it. Now if only Tumblr assigned someone on the staff to do updates and share stats on these “fewer errors every week” via the main Staff blog?Oh wait, they already did.

Tumblr did a 180. Congrats.

Gowalla unifies the check-in

Gowalla went and did exactly what I thought Brightkite should have done. I sincerely hope it works out well for them.

Twitter’s new @mention notifications

A feature that I’ve wanted from Twitter ever since I ditched Brightkite in April 2009 has finally been released – @mention notifications. Huzzah.

Side note: Remember Brightkite? Oh what could have been.

/via Eric Brophy.

Kyle Slattery on geocoding his vacation

Kyle Slattery pulls a bit of a yarn about the current state of geocoding in his world as he experienced it on a recent trip to Chicago. Kyle and I are nearly always on the same page and with this particular subject it isn’t any different.

The good bits are in woven into the fabric of his piece. Essentially Kyle hopes that geocoding continues to improve and, most importantly, becomes much easier to use. I’ve already said that 2010 is the year of location. Location based services are going to explode this year and any content-publishing service that does not somehow include location in 2010 will probably be left to wallow in the dead pool come next year.

That much time, attention, and resources being thrown at a problem will hopefully mean real progress. We’re going to see a lot of change for good and bad over the next 12 months in this area but at the end of it all, as Kyle mentions, it has to get easier and more accurate.

Kyle, a longtime user of Brightkite, also mentioned that he agreed with my What Brightkite Could Be. What Brightkite Should Be. post. Some of which is relavent in this context if you haven’t read it.

A little more mobile friendly

Since I’m posting mobile photos and notes to this site rather than a third-party service I figured I’d make those pages a little more condusive to viewing on a mobile platform. Also, to make my life a little easier, I’ve also set up a few little scripts to do things like Twitter a link to my most recent mobile photo or note.

Here is how I’m doing it. I’m posting both mobile photos and notes with the WordPress iPhone application. If I have something to share that I can’t fit into 140-characters, I will be logging those posts into the mobile notes category. Rather than posting my mobile photos to Flickr or Brightkite I’ll be sharing them in the mobile photos category. The WordPress iPhone application automatically resizes the photos to no more than 640-pixels wide. Both the mobile notes and photos will be linked to from Twitter, automatically, using a similar syntax of “Mobile photo: “Title of photo” – LINK”.

The script I’m using for this is the same one I was using for posting photos, links, etc to Pownce. I’ve since updated it and will be sharing that code here once I’ve licked a few bugs, integrated it with Bit.ly instead of TinyURL, and made it a little easier to configure. I’m using Dreamhost’s fairly simple CRON job panel to run this script every 10 minutes. Stay tuned for that code in the near future.

I’ve also made a slight change to the way the Mobile photos category is displayed. Instead of just showing the title of the mobile photo this page now shows a small thumbnail of the image. Since these images can be in both portrait and landscape modes, I had to do some jiggery pokery to only show a portion of the image, without resizing them. Thanks to Jason Santa Maria for helping me with some of the CSS.

Viewing these pages on a mobile phone with a browser that supports text only will still be a bear, I’m sure, but they should load much faster now on iPhones, iPod touches, Android-powered phones, and the upcoming Palm Pre.

For my next trick, I’ll be changing the way the videos category and posts are displayed.

Always disappearing.

New York is easily one of my favorite cities. The last time I was there I had the privilege of eating some really delicious Thai food, drink at an authentic Irish Pub, and scarf down 4,000 calories worth of White House burgers. Where else can you do that?

The Thai food that we had was at Thai Basil on 9th Ave. and W. 56th St. Thai Basil is, or rather was, what seems to be, a repurposed hallway or stairwell turned restraurant with a few small tables. The decor is clean, simple, and in typical asian style. The service was proper, prompt, and delicate.

Chris and Jon had either never had, or seldom had, Thai food before that day. So we were all in for a treat. Chris got squid and something curried. I can’t even remember, now, what I got. But it was delicious. Although 9th Ave. between West 54th and 56th streets is riddled with what I am sure is excellent Thai food restaurants – I can recommend Thai Basil on Manhattan.

The Irish Pub (which could have been either McGee’s on W. 55th or Connolly’s on E. 47th or maybe even a different pub altogether) all I know is that we walked, and walked, and walked before we stopped here for a couple of appetizers and some beer. Speaking of beer Jon had some sort of light beer. I had to fight off the entire staff to keep them from throwing Jon out by his neck and belt loop. While I was wrestling with the barkeep – I managed to scarf down a bunch of stuff mushrooms. Shhh, do you hear that? Ireland is absolutely screaming for Eliza and I to visit.

And the day was just getting started.

We had a lot more walking to do this day. You see, we’re not from New York City and so this is sort of a novel thing. Walking. Everywhere. To the library (which was closed). To another library (which was lame). To the pub, to a restaurant, through Times Square, back to our hotel, to the parking garage, back to the hotel, and ultimately – late at night – to White Castle.

I know what you might be thinking. Isn’t this post supposed to be about No Reservations? Anthony Bourdain’s show about traveling the world and eating some of the best food ever made by human hands? Yes. But if I know Tony. He digs a late night White Castle burger binge. So, off we went. Twelve blocks to the nearest White Castle. No problem. We had already walked miles and miles that day – why not a few more footsteps? We all ordered the exact same meal. Ten burgers and two fries. We ended up giving some of the food to a beggar sitting outside of White Castle (smart man). But most of us finished our double-portions of the greesy, grimey, and some would say disgusting little burgers that leave a wet spot on any table you set them on. I was sick.

In case you didn’t know the sign that you had a successful visit to White Castle is if you leave feeling like you want to puke.

Overall we had a very good time in New York. I always do. That is why I enjoyed seeing a different side of New York than the one I typically get to see in the latest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Tony’s side. In this week’s episode Anthony shows us a portion of New York City that is slowly disappearing, being replaced, rebuilt, torn down, or put up for sale. Sad? Maybe for people like Tony who grew up in and around New York and have a history there. But for those of us that come into the city on occasion to soak up some of the city life, the culture, the food, the architecture, the noises, and again the food – New York is always changing. Always disappearing, being rebuilt, replaced, torn down, or being sold. It is what makes New York, New York.

Photo credit: Jon Christopher.

Re-reading The Lord of the Rings: Part one – The Fellowship of the Ring

It has been years since I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and so I’ve decided, even though I think I’m a little crazy, to re-read the series. I’ve just finished The Fellowship of the Ring last night, and so hear are some of my thoughts about the first book.

The Fellowship of the Ring cover

I’m no literary scholar by any stretch of the imagination. But I do know that there are only so many ways to tell a story. It is sort of like skinning a cat. There are many ways to do it but there are a few that are the most common. The Lord of the Rings is a “hero’s journey” story arc. It is the story of Frodo and the Ring. It doesn’t hide this, in fact, it states it plainly.

However, I won’t judge the story arc of The Fellowship of the Ring due to it being only the first three parts of a six-part series. In fact, it was never intended to be a book all its own at all. The rather anticlimactic ending shows this to be all too true. Instead I’ll focus on the way that The Fellowship of the Ring slowly unravels itself.

What I mean by that is that, I think, J. R. R. Tolkien does an incredible job at slowly, but not too slowly, revealing the backgrounds of the various characters that appear in the story line. The story progresses while at the same time it goes back and forth through time, mostly through the characters telling stories, so that the reader gets all of the information they need.

There are a number of ways to do this in story telling. Usually this is done by keeping the protagonist, or one of the main character’s in the story, ignorant of all the facts. This gives the other characters in the story many opportunities to fill in the details through dialogue. Many stories have a cast each with their own areas of expertise. An action hero paired with a scientist or scholar so that the “brain” can inform the “muscle” of the facts for the benefit of the audience. Or, this can be done with a narrator. The narrator, whether it be a character in the story or just someone telling the story, usually has all of the information because they are telling a story of times past. The Lord of the Rings has both of these really. Two of the main characters are, in fact, the narrators (and writer’s) of the books while their own characters, in this case the protagonist, is learning all of the details along the way. This leaves ample opportunity for explanation. Frodo is learning the story and telling the story at the same time.

I rather enjoy the way the back stories unfold in The Fellowship of the Ring. The deep history of the lands, characters, peoples, trees, and even mountains in The Lord of the Rings really shows the context of the current story. It shows that this particular story is only a small part, albeit an important part, of the history of the world in which this story is set. Small details are intertwined in dialogue, descriptions, and events that – unless the reader is paying attention – they may altogether miss. A few examples of this come to mind; Aragorn’s approximate age, the lineage of Arwen, and the history of Sauron. These stories are never told flatly but are rather pieced together through bits of information you get along the way. The only history not told in this way is the history of the hobbits which is told in the prologue. The history of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and many of the main characters are all unraveled from within the story itself.

By itself The Fellowship of the Ring is a great opening to a fantastic story. I was going to watch the movie version of this book in between finishing it and starting the next. But I fear that will ruin my mind’s impression of the book’s version of the story (since the movie version is a lot different). I’m looking forward to The Two Towers.

THIS DATE, from Henry David Thoreau’s journal

I just Twittered (well, actually Brightkited) a link to this post on Henry David Thoreau’s journal – the entry from December 20, 1851 that I thought was particularly timely for me.

“Say the thing with which you labor. It is a waste of time for the writer to use his talents merely. Be faithful to your genius. Write in the strain that interests you most. Consult not the popular taste.”

Not that I’m planning on going against the grain just for the sake of doing so, but I like the sentiment to always do what you feel passionate about rather than conforming for audience or peoples.

I recommend adding THIS DATE, from Henry David Thoreau’s Journal to your reading list.

Source: THIS DATE, from Henry David Thoreau’s Journal.

Pownce is closing its doors, team joins Six Apart

You may have heard the news (since both Twitter and Pownce is flooded with links to Leah Culver’s blog post) that Pownce is shutting down on December 15th and that a few of the team members; namely Leah Culver and Mike Malone – are joining Six Apart.

One could sit back and try to analyze why this is happening; with Twitter as Pownce’s main “competitor” (whether justly so or not) and with Pownce having a reasonable amount of uptime problems – you could say this is a result of these two, or many other things.  But I’m less worried about the “why” and more interested in the “what’s next”?

That is why I asked Mike Malone, one of the Pownce team members that is moving to Six Apart, to answer two simple questions (which he was happy to do).

Leah said, in the blog post announcement, that “we’ll come back with something much better in 2009” – Does this mean that Pownce will come back as a better service? Or, something completely different?

“It is going to come back as something “very cool and very different”. […] Whether it will be called “Pownce” is to be determined.”

Pownce seems fairly active still. Is there any direct benefit to shutting the service down within two weeks?

“The benefit is basically that we can concentrate on the new projects we’re working on.”

After asking Mike to elaborate on the second answer, he stated that it is generally tough to keep Pownce up and running and takes up a lot of time.  Shutting the service helps them to free up their time in order to focus their efforts on getting, what they feel, is a really valuable new service up and running quicker than they could have without shutting Pownce down.

Pownce, although I really liked the service, never really made it into my daily stops insomuch as other services like Twitter, Brightkite, and FriendFeed have.  So I can’t say I’m particularly saddened about its being shut down.  However, I do look forward to Six Apart and the ex-Pownce team creating something new and exciting in the New Year that hopefully will be a more focused and stable product to use.

Thanks to Mike for answering my questions.

Fluid 0.9.5 released

Fluid, the site-specific browser that I use for things like Google Reader, Brightkite, Gmail, and also named one of The Best of 2008 on this site, has been updated to version 0.9.5.

Reading the changelog you can see that this is a fairly large release when you weigh it against previous versions. You can also see that it has been one of the longest periods of time between releases. This is most likely due to Todd Ditchendorf, the developer of Fluid, taking on the much more challenging task of creating a full-fledged Web browser called Cruz.

On the Fluid blog Todd mentions that “This release incorporates most of the features and fixes that went into Cruz 0.1…”. That makes me happy, since I’m not a big fan of Cruz, but am a big fan of Fluid. At least the work Todd is doing on Cruz doesn’t mean that Fluid is being left behind. Kudos to him for developing in this manner.

Source: Fluid.

Web applications that I use on my iPhone

“Use on mobile phones and sites you use to keep up to date and others in the loop.”

And I thought the llama suggestion was going to be tough to write?  What the heck does this suggestion actually mean?  It isn’t like I was able to ask who suggested it, because it was suggested anonymously.  What’s worse is that it was voted for 3 times!

I’ll do my best. I’m going to separate this suggestion into two posts. This first one is called “Web applications that I use on my iPhone”. The second will be called “Web applications and sites I use to stay in the loop”. How is that? Good? Good.

I have over 4Gb free on my 8Gb iPhone 2G. So I don’t install a lot of applications, store a lot of music or photos on my phone. Surely I must use a large number of Web applications or sites to get things done on my iPhone? Well, not really.

I have tried a lot of different Web applications on my iPhone.  I always like to see what sticks.  But for me, these are my most frequented URLs on the go.

Brightkite – As I’ve written about so many times in the past, Brightkite is quickly becoming my favorite social network to update while I’m mobile.  It automatically updates Twitter for me, which was what I used to update, so it is a two-fer.  The granular preferences and notification features are gold.

Hahlo – Since there are still a number of people that I follow on Twitter that have yet to make the jump to Brightkite, though I believe they will at some point in the future, I still have to “check” Twitter from time to time.  And, to be honest, that is where most of the conversation is anyway.  When I asked for help via Brightkite, and it updates Twitter, the number of answers I get via Twitter is much higher than on Brightkite.

This isn’t to say that Hahlo isn’t probably the best iPhone Web application I’ve ever used.  It is certainly the best Twitter Web application built for the iPhone. In fact, from the remarks I’ve read and discussed with others, it still beats the native applications without beating a sweat.

Flickr mobile – A site most definitely not built for the iPhone experience, but it works, and I don’t know any alternative.  I’ve tried Exposure and, while I admire the skill of Frasier Spiers, I do not think Exposure is the right approach to a native iPhone Flickr application.  For quick updates, m.flickr.com works for now.

Google Reader – Every now and then I will read a few posts on the Google Reader iPhone interface.  I don’t do this very often, but it is on my home screen and so it is getting a mention here.

Wait, that’s it?  As far as Web applications is concerned, that is it.  That is all I use frequently.

 

What web applications do you use on your iPhone?

Taking another look at my writing procedure

Or, lack thereof. In May 2004 I wrote down my procedure for making sure my email correspondance made sense, didn’t have any spelling or grammar errors, and generally got my point across.

In January of 2005 I quipped that sending email at 4:00am after working all day probably wasn’t the best time to write anything important.

I still try to live by these principles, but sometimes I slip up, especially when I’m typing on my iPhone. Whether it be an email, text message, or a post to Brightkite I find myself making small mistakes that I think I could eliminate if I just slow down a little.

Here is a good, or rather bad, example of what I’m talking about. It is a newsletter from a venue in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania called the Sherman Theatre letting me know what is going on there.

It takes a speical, I mean special person to spell a word wrong in two different places. But I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. Two examples from this morning: my note about cast iron pans (hastily typed on my iPhone), and mymisspelling of Billie Jean (no excuse).

True, it is impossible to go through life without making these types of errors and I will not be losing any sleep over them. But mistakes like this don’t have to happen often.

Which is why I’m now going to change my procedure a little by adding the word ‘slowly’ to a one of the steps in my writing procedure.

  1. Quickly type.
  2. Read.
  3. Edit to make ideas coherent and fit with the overall theme.
  4. Slowly re-read and check spelling and grammar.
  5. Publish.

By doing #4 slowly I’m able to eliminate a few steps of the steps I was putting into practice in 2004. Now, I need to use this procedure on this very post so if you’ll excuse me…

Completely torn over mobile photos

Ironman desktop picture

The above photo was posted to Flickr from my iPhone a few minutes ago.  I wanted to show off, in all its glory, the new desktop picture I’m using on both my Macbook and external monitor courtesy of Mark Bixby.

But this brings up something that I’m completely torn over.  Where should I post my mobile photos?  I have a mobile photos category here on my blog, a Brightkite account that makes it dead-simple to post photos and remember where they were taken an in context, and a Flickr account.

It seems like every time I snap a photo with my iPhone I have a different idea of where I think it should go.  I like having everything I submit to the Web here on my site.  I think photos of what I’m currently eating at a restaurant is best kept on Brightkite for a lot of reasons, and perhaps an artsy mobile photo like this one would be best submitted to Flickr.  Is that the answer?  Should I diversify where I submit my mobile photos?

And better yet, why do I care so much? Should I care?  Does anyone else care?

UGH!

Wine barrel trash can

photo.jpg

Simultaneously testing out cross posting to my site, Flickr, and now Brightkite (just for fun) and showing off my wine barrel trash can.