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Thursday, September 29, 2005
User Agent Spam?
Okay, this is kind of weird. Electronic me just mailed me some stats on blog visitors, and electronic me had barfed while parsing user agent strings from my access logs. Now maybe it's common and I just don't spend enough time perusing access logs these days, but I have never before seen user agent spam:

XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX - - [29/Sep/2005:10:00:42 -0400] "GET /~whitney/images/rss_full.gif HTTP/1.1" 200 1025 "-" "At [a known comment spammer's site] you will get an interest free line of credit of upto 100,000,000.00 just for signing up and you can pay back what you owe whenever you want. (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; At [a known comment spammer's site] you will get an interest free line of credit of upto 100,000,000.00 just for signing up and you can pay back what you owe whenever you want.)"

This is just weird as shit. Given that the audience you're targeting by putting spam into a user agent string is one that's pretty likely to get pissed off by finding spam in a user agent string, it also seems a tad unwise as a marketing tactic.
A True Geek Definition of Web 2.0?
There's a post entitled Web 2.0 Elevator Pitch over on Read/Write Web, which collects a variety of different people's working definitions for "Web 2.0". (In case you've been living under a rock for the last few days, the topic has heated up again following Tim O'Reilly's recent posting of a Web 2.0 meme map. And yes, that would be an image posted to Flickr, very 2.0.)

The R/WW post is interesting enough in itself, but it's too bad that Dave Winer's Web 2.0 musings yesterday weren't included:

"What if Web 2.0 is actually about sex? What if you could choose -- a bubble in which some VCs get rich, or a bubble in which we all get laid? Come on, seriously now. Given a choice would you rather hang around a party listening to some idiot talk about target markets and business models or have wild sex with the partner(s) of your dreams?"

Seems as good a theory to start from as any...I know a fair number of geeks working on "Web 2.0" stuff that would be pretty happy if it all turned out to be about sex rather than stock options this time around.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Searchfox Beta Report: Day 1.5
It's a bit of an overstatement to say that I've had an actual half day to play with Searchfox since the last update, but there is one item that I wanted to get down here.

Dave Winer's River of News approach appeals to me, even though it's not the way that I currently consume. Searchfox seems like a nice step in that direction, as the personalization seems to provide some pretty decent shape to the flow...in general stuff that is interesting to me does tend to move towards the top of the list.

With the good, however, comes the bad: the items that I've read or clicked through within a given day generally get very high scores for a little while, which means that as the day progresses more and more of the top items are things that I've already checked out:

So while I'm liking the personalization so far, seems like there are a variety of productive tweaking opportunities. Having an "unread items only" view would take care of the concern above pretty easily. The other intriguing direction is giving me some direct control over the personalization factors: I'm guessing that it's some sort of bayesian magic happening in the background, so why not give me the option of manually entering and ranking terms that I haven't yet come across in posts but would like to see?

More anon.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Searchfox Beta Report: Day 1
So the first big change for day one's report is that I'm giving up on the whole scoring thing. You see, the whole login failure issue discussed in day zero came down to my not realizing that the Searchfox RSS reader login page is at http://rss.searchfox.com, and it's the Searchfox favorites login page is at http://www.searchfox.com. I've been thinking about trying to shunt some of the blame off to Searchfox, but that's a little tough to do; while one could make the argument that the layout at www.searchfox.com suggests that the username/password fields there apply to Searchfox RSS...well, it's a stretch.

In the end, that whole experience meant that I had to assign myself something like -5,000 points for being a dumbass, and +5,000 to Esteban Kozak of Searchfox for not sending me a final email along the lines of "thanks, dumbass -- that's two hours of my life that I'm never going to get back." At that point the scoring process just gets a little demoralizing for me, so out it goes.

On to the actual day one:

Getting Data In There
Exported OPML file from FeedDemon (the best RSS reader in existence). Started import into Searchfox. Waited...but not nearly as long as I'd expected, inasmuch as I'm subscribed to something like 350 feeds. Searchfox also gave me a nice message thereafter, listing the feeds that it couldn't locate or validate; since I didn't even recognize any of them, I shrugged and moved on. Very smooth.

It may just be due to the beta status, but it's worth noting that this is clearly aimed at people who have already drunk the kool aid: the subscribe/import section of the interface assumes that you've already got a stock of feeds you want to import, or that you'll add feeds manually -- none of this "here are some feeds to get you started" stuff here. There's a placeholder in the navigation for "suggested feeds," but not yet live.

The Interface
(Screenshot below)
Nice and clean, but a few personal gripes: first, while I'm not a big fan of frames, there are cases where they (or similar magic) just make sense. For me, a Web-based RSS aggregator is one of those cases. Since I have my 350 feeds roughly grouped into four folders, I only have about 100 feeds listed at any given time...but that's still a lot of scrolling up and down if I'm checking out items from feeds at the bottom of the list: scroll down, click on Scobelizer, pop back to the top of the page, read items, scroll down again to Techdirt, pop pack to top of the page, read items...you get the idea. While there's stuff I don't like about Bloglines, they're implemented so that my list of feeds and my list of items from the active feed scroll independently, which is a godsend.

Second gripe: feed items end up looking like headline-only summaries, and I hate headline only summaries. Clicking the little twistie next to the headline opens the item content, but I'd be much, much happier if I got something like 25 words of the post displayed by default. Headlines don't necessarily tell me whether I want to read an item. This seems like a potentially big issue for Searchfox, since it's deciding how to score feed items based on my interaction with those items. Just clicking the twistie and leaving the item text open seems to bump up its affility score pretty significantly...haven't yet tested how/whether I can train Searchfox to ignore or downgrade items that I read but don't particularly care about (short of using the delete function, which I'd like to avoid).

So far, so good: generally like Searchfox, and feeling like the personalization has really interesting potential. Some irritations, but still trying to figure out how much is just due to "that's not how I do things right now." More in a couple of days.

Friday, September 16, 2005
Gedankenexperiment #37: Bad Judgment Theater
Okay, let's say that you were a "technology marketing and product launch specialist experienced in the management of integrated marketing programs ranging from brand identity development, product management, customer acquisition campaigns and Web application development," and you lived in California.

Do you think that it would be a good idea to submit your resume and a stock cover letter -- containing no mention of any software development skills or experience -- for a job opening as a Java developer in New York City?

Take your time. Put as much thought into it as you need.

No, of course you don't think it would be a good idea. Because if you did such a thing you'd be a dumbass, and you would be the reason that "the marketing guys" are on the receiving end of so much mockery and derision in many technical organizations.

Holy shit, this kind of crap just drains me. If you're a good Java developer with some Perl and PHP, and live in NYC (or if you know such a person), drop me a note. Please.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Searchfox Beta Report: Day 0.5
I knew that I liked FeedDemon, the best RSS reader in existence, but I didn't fully realize how much it would throw me to try to use another reader as my primary. So far I've found a number of things that I like about Searchfox, but I still keep wanting it to be FeedDemon...just because.

Anyway, I've been taking notes but not yet had the time to write up anything coherent; just so you all have something to mull over, though, I've come up with this little item...

One of the key elements of Searchfox is personalization, scoring feed items based on your behavior and using that data in a variety of ways. One of those ways is a little display box of "topics I like," pretty clearly gathered by some sort of word frequency counts on highly-ranked items. This is still beta, folks, so there's some tuning to do there: while the list is a little eccentric, the list of words does make for some excellent found poetry.

Topics I Like
By Whitney McNamara and Searchfox
Voice, path, partner:
return it! Skype me!
patent things, rss,
sell gene law tracking.
You think we be building?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Searchfox Beta Report: Day 0
After reading a fair amount about the new Searchfox Web-based RSS reader, I submitted a request to participate in the beta. Shortly after submitting my request I received a login and password; I poked around for a few minutes, found it intriguing, and decided to put together a few posts on the process of getting to know Searchfox.

And so it begins...

Day Zero
Return to the www.searchfox.com, type in username and password.

Hmmm...login failed. Must have used a different password.

Try another of my commonly used passwords. And another. No joy.

Okay, maybe I didn't remember to change the autogenerated password?

Find email, copy and paste password.

D'oh. Must have gotten all security-minded and used a different password. Bad Whitney. D'oh, d'oh, d'oh. Okay, where's the "I'm an idot, send me my password" function hidden?

Poke around the site. "Help" page totally unhelpful. Still no "I'm an idiot" button anywhere. Bad Searchfox. Send email to support, imagine recipient giving a deep sigh and muttering "what is this guy, an idiot or something?" under his breath as he reads the email.

Day 0 Score
Whitney: -1 for stupidity
Searchfox: -1 for not anticipating Whitney's stupidity

Cumulative Score
Whitney: -1
Searchfox: -1
Monday, September 12, 2005
Roberts Confirmation Hearings
Just a little reminder: the first Supreme Court appointment in 11 years is imminent. Roberts' confirmation hearings will be broadcast live on WNYC (radio or online), and I'm sure a variety of other outlets.

These are lifetime appointments, kids, might be worth a listen...

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