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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Patents for Standardization?
Quote from Scripting News: 6/30/2005:
"I've been having a back-channel conversation with Larry Lessig about software patents, and why they may be worth the trouble (my position, not his). Here's another reason. If we had a patent on podcasting, one of the terms of the license would be using the same export format we did."

Wow. Really, really can't agree.

My first concern is simply about this sort of use of the patent system: patents, software or otherwise, are not tools to enforce standardization of ideas or technologies. If we want to get old-school about it, patents are tools intended "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries; [...]"

The second is simply practical: what would a "patent on podcasting" be? What exactly would it cover, and how broad would it have to be to encompass "podcasting" as a whole? Would you file suit against any companies that were doing something that looked like podcasting but didn't follow your standards, and cash drain them out of existence? What if their approach were actually interesting and useful?

This sort of issue is why standards bodies exist, not why the USPTO exists.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Nick Bradbury on Microsoft, RSS and Attention
Nick "creator of FeedDemon, the best RSS Reader ever"* Bradbury wrote an excellent post entitled Microsoft, RSS and Attention yesterday.

It actually meshes really nicely with my post yesterday, but Nick's focus is specifically on "attention" data, that being a subset of user generated data that service providers are really, really interested in having. Says Nick:

Your attention data is very valuable to the services that collect it, so there's not a lot of incentive for them to give it back to you. But even though you're paying those services by giving them your attention data, that shouldn't mean that they own it. It's your data, and you should be able to share it with other services so that they can use it to make recommendations for you.

Read Nick's entire post, please, and follow the links he's got in there. These issues surrounding ownership of network-defined identity are only now gelling into something that we can understand and start to work with, and so now is the time that we should start working with them.

* Note that I'm thinking of changing the nickname to "author of FeedDemon, the best RSS reader ever, which should totally be ported to OSX because I'm currently torn between my love of FeedDemon and my love of everything else about my powerbook", but that seems a little unwieldy.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Song Number Two *Is* a Fuck You Song
Update: I'm really impressed -- as of late yesterday, Nike has issued an apology and is attempting to dispose of all of the flyers.

Original Post:
Okay, I don't normally think of myself as anti-commercial, but this is just a little too fucking raw for my taste.

Not content with naming their east coast skateboarding tour the "Major Threat" tour, Nike has appropriated imagery from the band Minor Threat to promote that tour. Compare and contrast:

Minor Threat's Album CoverNike's Tour Poster

According to Pitchfork Media, Nike never mentioned this lookalike ad campaign to Dischord (the label that released the 1984 album):

"No, they stole it and we’re not happy about it. Nike is a giant corporation which is attempting to manipulate the alternative skate culture to create an even wider demand for their already ubiquitous brand. Nike represents just about the antithesis of what Dischord stands for and it makes me sick to my stomach to think they are using this explicit imagery to fool kids into thinking that the general ethos of this label, and Minor Threat in particular, can somehow be linked to Nike’s mission. It’s disgusting."

It's actually hard to pick what's most disgusting about this. Is it Nike's curious about face regarding appropriation of imagery? Maybe -- the company did, after all, sue Sega back in 2002, when Sega started running a commercial that copied the "look and feel" of a successful 1996 Nike tv ad.

Is it the ongoing appropriation of consciously anti-commercial imagery for commercial purposes? That's a good possibility, too. Perhaps the feeling that I have right now is what others felt when they heard Janis Joplin singing over a Mercedes ad. Incredibly, the most appropriate word I can come up with for this is disrespectful, though in straight edge terms that's a pretty powerful condemnation, so I guess it fits.

Did Nike not realize that people who wrote the lyrics...

When we have nothing left to give
There will be no reason for us to live
But when we have nothing left to lose
You'll have nothing left to use

We owe you nothing so
You have no control

Merchandise keeps us in line
Common sense says it's by design
What could the business men ever want more
Than to have us sucking in their stores?

We owe you nothing
You have no control

You are not what you own

...might not want their history stripmined in an effort to build an edgy brand image and thereby sell more sneakers? And yes, I know that's Fugazi rather than Minor Threat. It was also Fugazi that wrote "Song Number One" (which was not a fuck you song). I'm not a big fan of after-the-fact band reunions, but right now I'd totally support a Fugazi reunion that lasted long enough to write Song Number Two, which should absolutely be a big old fuck you song.

As Dischord notes, anyone who is so inclined can email Nike here. And just a side note: if I can keep myself from using the word "fuckers" in my email to Nike, then so can you.
Explicitly Social Software: We Have Met the Network and It Is Us
The Infectious Greed post Data Should be the Intel Outside has been getting a bit of play in the last few days. In it, Paul Kedrosky proposes that the spectre of proprietary data is hovering over the green fields of Web2.0. [Go read the post now if you haven't already.] And, for a number of reasons, I agree with him.

Seems to me that we're now seeing some real movement towards the age of Explicitly Social Software; when people say that "the network is the computer" these days, they're not talking about Sun, nor even about the power that comes from using that network to share and develop open technologies. Rather, people are talking about how their data -- their data, I emphasize -- lives on the network now, not a single computer. That network is made up of data of the people, by the people, and for the people, if you will.

That's a complicated thing, though. If you're providing one of those services out on the network and need to make enough money to keep the lights on, it's a scary thing to remove "data lock in" from your day-to-day toolkit. If you're using those services, how much information do you actually want shared? How do you manage all of that data now that the network is your computer, and then damn thing never shuts down?

At this point I doubt that we'll ever hit the point where all data is open, and believe that there's going to be a fair amount of resistance and bizarre "sorta shared" experiments before we even get to "most data is open." But this is something that matters to us -- the people who make up the network -- and will matter a lot more five years from now; as Paul says, the time to start working on this is now. And unfortunately, we are the network, so there really isn't anybody else to do it for us...
Friday, June 24, 2005
More on Moreover
Every time that I think that Moreover couldn't suck any more, they come up with a way to surprise me. I keep saying that I'm going to kill off my remaining Moreover feeds, but they're such a great source of examples of the wrong way to do pretty much everything related to RSS that I just can't give them up. This week's installment? Further examples of high-quality Moreover ad placement in a technology-focused feed...

Sunday, June 19, 2005
The Long Tail: What the Long Tail isn't
A couple of months ago I was part of a discussion where I ended up feeling like some sort of luddite, mouth-breathing heretic for proposing the idea that the term "the long tail" was suffering from overexposure, and that there were -- perhaps -- cases where it might be inappropriate or irrelevant to apply it. As with "bayesian" in the months following "A Plan for Spam," the fact that many of us were suddenly introduced to a term and concept with broad implications and a dangerously good pop-science accessibility score meant that we all wanted to find a way to use it. A lot.

Happily, though, the correction has started to set in...you should go read Chris Anderson's What the Long Tail isn't post in its entirely, but I'll give you a couple of quotes that made me smile, just to whet your appetite:

"It's time to draw the line. Long Tails are found everywhere, but not, you know, actually everywhere."

"The fact that something isn't popular doesn't mean that it's just a matter of time before it will benefit from all sorts of powerful demand-creation Long Tail effects. More likely, it's just not good enough to be commercially interesting, and probably never will be."
Saturday, June 18, 2005
It's All About the Singing Bass
Moving is frequently a difficult and stressful process; you're in between, having made an irrevokable step out of your familiar and comfortable space, but not yet really settled in to your new space. There are boxes everywhere you look, you can't find anything when you need it, the environment is still anonymous white walls...it's unsettling, in every sense.

In my experience, moving a business is kind of like that, but with a measure of naked terror tossed in to the mix. The last time I was involved with moving a company it was (thankfully) as a monkey: rack the switch, patch everything in, connect the monitor to the PC, insert tab A into slot B...that kind of thing. During that move I had the joy of sitting around at midnight, listening to arguments about who was supposed to have printed out the new network architecture docs, whether it was the network guy or the server guy who should deal with a machine that no one could ping, and who should open up and rummage through the twenty unlabled boxes to find the switches that we needed. I was paid by the hour. That was pretty cool.

So anyway, not to have too subtle a transition, but we -- Return Path -- moved one of our offices yesterday. At 2PM we shut down the old office network, at 4:30 everything was loaded on to a truck, and at 5:30 our stuff started coming up the freight elevator at the new space.

At 7:00 the arguments started.

We argued about whether we should redo the patch cables so that they were color-coded by user function rather than port number. We argued about who should go out on a beer run. We argued about whose fault it was that the godawful singing bass from the old office had accidentally gotten moved to the new office. Important technological questions, all.

Now, there will probably be some small fires to fight Monday morning, and there are still a couple of items on the "it should really be done this way rather than how we did it" list, but...well, it's the same thing that I write every time that anything big happens with the company: I work with really good people.

I'll also take a moment to emphasize my own critically important role as "guy who worries about things and ends up going on the beer and/or coffee runs," since I know that people who are responsible for my continued employment read this. This is a blog, after all -- when push comes to shove, it's all about me.

Thank you, and good night.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Nothing to hide? Nothing to fear.
So remember a couple of months ago when I poked at the question "do you know what the data retention and disclosure policies for your ISP are?"

Well, it appears that our friends at the Justice Department have been pondering that very same question, and have come to the conclusion that they'd be much happier if your ISP was required to retain logs of Web, email, and IM traffic, and required to provide those logs to law enforcement upon request.

The Justice Department would prefer that ISPs do this voluntarily, of course, where voluntary means "bending over for us so that we don't have to go through the hassle of actually getting this requirement written into law," but with the grusome twosome of child porn and terrorism as justification, it seems likely that an attempt at legislation will come if ISPs don't fall into line pretty quick.

Oh, and by the way: remember that you'd better not be encrypting any of that data that you're sending and receiving over that internet connection, either...unless you're a child pornographer or terrorist, of course. And you aren't a child pornographer or terrorist...are you?

Monday, June 13, 2005
Microsoft and Anthropology
Bless the "river of news" -- it brought me these two little snippets one after another.

First, Scoble points to a Fortune.com on Microsoft's "anthropological" study of small business users. Next, Drew McLellan writes about trying to install SQL Server on a Win2003 Web Server Edition box.

Quick tip for the MS anthropologists: having a "Web Server Edition" that makes it quick and easy to get a Web server up and running with none of the unnessary crap -- ahem, services, sorry -- is a nice idea. Makes things simpler for the user. Making it impossible for that user to then install Microsoft database software on that server? Stupid idea. Really, really stupid idea.

Let's say I'm running a small business. I've had my own Web server running for a little while, and now I want to set up a more complex site where my Widget buyers can log in and get custom information. If I'm running Web Server Edition, I've got two choices: buy (and license) another machine to run SQL server, or shut down my current Web site and rebuild the box. Great. Thanks, Microsoft.

This is one of the places that MS has always seemed weakest to me: I believe that Microsoft is legitimately trying to make it easy for users to accomplish their tasks, but the company has an irritating habit of doing so by dictating what tasks the user can accomplish and how those tasks can be performed. As long as your needs and goals are in line with those that MS planned for, you're in good shape...start moving off of those storyboards, however, and MS becomes a lot less interested in where you'd like to go today.
AOL: Hotbed of Innovation
"'Imagine 27 channels that were never available before on the Web, plus email for everyone,' AOL Executive Vice President, Media Networks Kevin Conroy told the Daily News."

I'm sorry -- in the context of the internet, what the fuck does "27 channels" even mean? And "email for everyone?" Great idea there, guys; watch out for copycats, though -- I've got a feeling that this "free email" idea could take off pretty quick. If companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google get wind of this and come up with their own "email for everyone" offerings, you might end up having to fight pretty hard to get new users.

This weekend my mother actually asked to help her "find an internet connection that's less crappy than AOL" (yes, my parents did shape my approach to the English language, and yes, I've been bugging her about getting off of AOL for years). Will 27 channels of choppy video clips pull in enough traffic and ad revenue to offset the steady stream of defectors? Gee, let me think...

The full NY Daily News story on this impending flop is available here, if anyone actually cares.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Playing Chicken
Be careful what you wish for.

Last night, when I was on the phone with the company that had missed (another) "confirmed" appointment to install one of the data lines coming into our new office space, I thought I had a plan.

"Yes, I understand that all of your field crews have already had their schedules set for tomorrow," I said, "but since you were supposed to show up here today, don't you think it makes sense to satisfy the commitments that you have outstanding before you begin work on any others? I don't want someone here to do the work Friday or Monday, I would very much like to have someone here to do the work tomorrow. I can see how scheduling could be difficult, but I'm totally confident that you can find a way to make this work."

As God is my witness, I was just trying to get them to confirm an install date of Friday, rather than pushing it out to next Monday. After the brain-eating clusterfuck that we've enjoyed while trying to get Verizon, Con Ed, and an assortment of other telco ducks in a row for this space, it really never crossed my mind that they would actually agree that getting the line installed today -- whatever was required, however it had to be fit into the schedule -- was something that needed to happen.

So here I sit, in the half-finished machine room of an empty office space, waiting. I played chicken, and...well, I think that I won...
Monday, June 06, 2005
MacRumors.com : WWDC 2005 Keynote Coverage
Ajax-powered WWDC 2005 Keynote Coverage, indended to make manageable the server load created by thousands of obsessive geeks frantically reloading for updates? Sweet!

Appears to be hosed, though. Haven't gotten an update in at least twenty minutes.

Ah...just got an update by manually refreshing. The update confirms that macrumorslive's real-time coverage is, in fact, hosed. Come on, PubSub, give me something to work with here...

So here we go. The theories of Intel making PPC workalikes, or long-term coexistence of the architectures go out the window. The word from on high is that it's Intel all the way by 2007.
Scoble on Casual Software Piracy
Scoble's post last week on Microsoft's rencent marketing campaign is interesting, but I got stuck on one throwaway sentence right at the beginning.

In the list of reasons that people give him for running Windows, number three is: "[m]y friends have Windows and I know I can get support and software from them."

Interesting...I kinda doubt that it's homebrew software or pointers to interesting and useful shareware that these people are talking about. I hadn't thought about it in quite this way before, but there's an interesting theory to spin out here...does software piracy actually support Windows' dominance in an odd way? How many people do have stuck with Windows because their friends could provide a copy of Office, the graphics packages that they want, or a supply of "free" commercial games?

Definitely a B-list issue when compared to something like raw price or OS fear, but an interesting possibility. If this is a factor, then how does the online license activation requirement in more recent MS software affect this cycle?

...still sixteen kinds of busy today, but trying to clear my head (and the blogfodder folder) a little this morning...enjoy...
RSS Ripoff Merchants, Creative Commons, FeedBurner
Read/Write Web's Web 2.0 Weekly Wrap-up, 30 May - 5 June 2005 points to a discussion that I was following last week on what MacManus was calling "RSS Ripoff Merchants" -- companies that offer software or services that exist to ahem find and repackage content pulled from various sources around the Web.

Since I've been seventeen different kinds of busy for the last few weeks, I didn't get around to posing on it (or on any of the other posts that I've been meaning to get to).

The thread did resonate in an interesting way with one thing that's been in my head recently, though, so I wanted to get it out: while copyright is secured automatically as a function of creating something, copyright for...oh, say, blogs, for example...is a slightly odd case. Many people take a "common sense" approach, implicitly allowing significant amounts of re-use and assuming that others will use blog content "appropriately" -- quoting posts, or republishing them with attribution -- because that's the way blogging has worked thus far.

Now, common sense has as its basis community, and what is common sense to the community of bloggers may not be common sense to the larger world. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a mechanism that allowed us to make explicit the terms under which the content that we create may be used?

Yes. Yes, it would. While adding a creative commons license to your Web site or feed doesn't prevent others from using the content that you create in inappropriate ways, it does, at least, make it clear to others how you will allow your content to be used...you're communicating your standards and preventing the honest misunderstandings if not the outright abuse.

And one more side note: thanks, FeedBurner! It took a total of three clicks to add the appropriate CC license to my feed. With the sixteen kinds of busy that I still have to deal with for a few more weeks, I like it when people do work for me.

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