DJB

Finding Adventure...

"You don't use bookmarks?!?"

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I got this question tonight after a friend asked me about syncing such things like bookmarks and contacts and email and finding out I don't actually use bookmarks. Apparently this wasn't considered normal. Worse is I had to admit I haven't used bookmarks in at least 12 years.

But how could this be? How does one live without bookmarks?

Well, it's no great secret that I'm lazy. But strangely, it's my laziness that causes me to not use bookmarks. Back when I did use them I remember being constantly annoyed at having to file them into usable groups and then remember or figure out which group I had put them in. Then I needed to cull the no-longer-necessary ones or things still got out of hand. So ultimately they did get out of hand and I just stopped using them.

But how? Well, mostly because of Yahoo! search, and then Google once it got better and faster (and, coincidentally, it was around this time that my old company, Red Hat, actually had meetings and attempted to buy Google long before they went public). If I couldn't remember the URL I needed, I just did a quick search and clicked on the result. These days it's even easier, as your browser caches the places you visit and can do "auto-complete" for you if you type any small part of the URL. Now, I don't often go places where I can't remember some word in the URL, so this makes life easy. For example, if I'm looking for the twitter page for the Warrior Creek race:


Then I just click the down arrow twice and hit enter. Boom. No muss, no fuss.

But do I do that for all the pages I visit multiple times per day? Nope. I simply leave those open in my browser all the time. Firefox (and Safari and probably other browsers) now do tabbed browsing as well as session management. This means that you can open multiple web sites in different "tabs" in your browser. And if you quit your browser those sites come right back into the same places when you start it again. And now Firefox even has what they call "application tabs", which let you make certain sites use tiny tabs with no words. It is even smart enough to highlight things like the Twitter tab when there are unseen tweets. Check this out:

To explain further, from left to right, we see a Twitter tab (with unseen messages), a Facebook tab (no new notifications), a Tarheel Sports Car Club forum tab, another useless racing forum, then a "page not found" tab, etc. So I actually do generally have anywhere from ten to thirty different tabs open across different Firefox windows.

So, to ease my "no bookmarks" pain, I simply leave everything open I use often, use the cache to type part of a URL that I've visited before, or failing those, a quick Google usually gets it in a click or two. So the only real pain is when I'm using a new device for the first time, but that's not terribly often, and definitely not enough to go back to the pain of maintaining bookmarks.
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Hello, Apple, time to wake up!

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Dear Apple,

Your anti-Google policies are alienating users fast. Last week it was reported that the Google Latitude application was rejected because it might confuse people with the native Maps application. Confuse who? The people that CHOOSE to download and install it? Please. Give me a break. So now we have to use a somewhat crippled version over the browser. But the point here is that the latitude functionality is something the native Maps application DOESN'T EVEN HAVE. Plus, the native Maps application is based on the maps from Google anyway. Just let us have our latitude without having to run it in the browser for crying out loud.

The bigger complaint here is Google Voice. This has been rejected completely and it's not likely it can be done as a web-only service. Sure, we'll be able to get to parts of it via the web, but you likely won't be able to make a voice call that way. You've already seen fit to allow for VOIP applications in the App Store as long as they don't use the cell data connection, just wifi. Okay, fine, but Google Voice is no different than this (well, except for being BETTER). Come on, let us have Google Voice. You really can't say this is a threat to AT&T service. If people would consider dumping their cell coverage altogether on an iPhone, well, they can already do that with an iPod Touch (yes, you need a headset currently, but rumors seem to indicate you won't need to do that any longer with the next Touch generation).

Come on, get with it, and let customers have the full funcationality provided by the hardware. Locking things up like this is playing silly corporate games at the expense of the end user and could only serve to make Android devices that much more compelling to us down the road. Don't go there. It's gonna bite you.
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If I were the King of the Internets...

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So, why does social networking "work"? Lots of reasons, but I think it mostly boils down to we all love keeping up with our friends, and our friend networks are large webs. We're all getting used to navigating a "web" on the 'net, and applying that to our lives in this manner is natural since our friend networks are really very web-like, too.

Twitter and MySpace are networks that default to a very open manner of publishing info. Unless you lock things, the default is for everyone to see what you post. Facebook, OTOH, defaults everything to locked unless you want to open everything up. I think that's why MySpace appeals to a younger crowd and Facebook a slightly older crowd. But both are similar outside of that, but the open nature of MySpace tends to lend itself to those who want to use it for self-promotion, such as bands that want to get music out there.

Okay, great. That's the state of things currently. What's next? My big problem with all the current social networks is that they own your data. What? How could that be? It's true. There's no way for you to mine what you've posted for info, no way for you to download the information about all your friends, etc. The reason for that? It's simple, really. If someone wanted to build a Facebook clone that was better and that info was available, well, it would be easy for them to write an application that made it easy for you to switch and invite all your friends to do the same!

As it stands now you have to sign up somewhere new and re-enter all your personal information. You have to manually upload any pictures and videos you want. Etc. It would be a huge pain.

Some social networks have embraced others. For example, there is a Facebook application you can install that will let you link Twitter to Facebook. So if you "tweet" something it also appears as a Facebook status update. That's nice, but I'm not sure there's any way to go the other direction (and if you could, and you did both, well, you could create a serious feedback loop!).

Twitter is a huge sub-set of Facebook and MySpace with one exception, the txt-message gateway. With that you can "follow" your friends via txt-message if you like. That is an incredibly handy way to "chat" with friends about their status. For example, if you "follow" your brother via txt and he posts a status update, you get it immediately as a txt-message to your cellphone. If you have the capability on your phone (and most do), you can respond in public or private right from your phone through the normal txt-messaging interface. No need for special applications or clients or browsers or even fast network. Facebook does not have this, and I'm pretty sure MySpace doesn't, either.

Another cool application out there is Google Latitude. With this, you can "publish" your location in real time via your cellphone (if you have a compatible smart-phone such as a Blackberry or iPhone) and your friends can "follow" you with the same application on their phones (or via the web) and know where you are at any given time. This is cool, but not seeming to take off in any serious way yet. The limitation for needing a smart-phone is one problem while the other is the security angle of people not necessarily wanting everyone to know where they are at all times. I think the latter is less of an issue, however, as most people probably don't care if their actual "friends" know where they are and given that the client can be told to stop publishing (or even lie!) at any time.

Another big reason it isn't happening is that Google has no social networking base of customers built (at least not yet) and as such people aren't looking to go have to sign everyone up they know via some other new service. I think if you could do it via Facebook then you'd see a MUCH larger adoption rate.

But on to the "If I were the King of the Internets..." What would I do? I'd create an open source based social networking site. I'd figure out a way to fund it, but it would be owned and governed by the users. The user would own his/her own data. The user interface would be fully configurable. It would include most of the functionality of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google Latitude all in one. It would be fast, easy, and fun! It might still be funded by advertising, but I remain convinced that advertising done properly isn't evil. Not only is it not evil, but it CAN be done so well that users might, oh, like it! Seriously. I think this model could pull that off, and it would have to as just because users own and govern everything, it still would require a good bit of real money to keep running. It would require serious server hardware, storage, txt-message gateway, and bandwidth...all of which cost real money. Oh, if only I were King...
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Twitter

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Well, I succumbed to the twitter thing. Again. I'm not really sure why because I don't really need yet another social network, but we'll see. My big problem is that right now there aren't a ton of people I know on twitter. So if any of you are considering dabbling in social networking, give twitter a try. It's not terribly intense like Facebook or MySpace, but it's still sort of cool. Plus you can be among the group of people that knew within SECONDS of Lance Armstrong's latest crash that he had a broken collar bone but otherwise was fine. Which is kind of cool.

So if you try twitter and want to "follow" me, I'm "djb_rh". Look me up. I'm in the book.
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Ah-ha!

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Some people were wondering how I could have posted everything I ate in a day by 4pm. At first I thought it was just that I had my timezone set improperly when I setup the new blog, so I fixed that. Then I noticed that today's entry did the same thing. Huh?

I figured it out. I actually started the post at 4:42pm to go ahead and list what I had eaten thus far and just left it sitting there to finish tonight. Finished it and posted it. Blogger defaults to use the time you STARTED the post, not the time you finished it. There is a "Post Options" link under the edit window of new posts, and you can change your posting time that way to reflect current time if you like.

Very odd that you can't set that to do publish-time instead of "started typing" time.
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Facebook Rant

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Okay, I admit it. I love Facebook. One thing that helps make it great is the fact that Facebook provides programmers with an interface to let them write their own interface applications. And the Facebook folks have even written a few interfaces other than just the standard browser interface. So here are all the ways I use Facebook:


  • Firefox web browser on the Mac
  • Opera Mini web browser on the Blackberry
  • Facebook for Blackberry application
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, iPhone version
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, mobile version
  • Safari web browser on the iPod Touch, full version
  • Facebook for Chumby
Now, there are a TON more Facebook clients out there for different platforms. These are just the ones I use. And I'm glad I can use Facebook on different devices, but note that I use it on my iPod three different ways and on my Blackberry two different ways. Why? Because all five clients are basically broken in some way. The only one that doesn't seem to be is the full web version on Safari, but even that is hard to use thanks to the tiny screen. All the others are broken in some way...they won't let you comment on statuses, or see status comments at all, or let you click links posted in statuses, etc. Same goes for the Chumby client (which is really just my alarm clock, but it's cool to be able to see status updates by the bed...okay, it's not cool, it's a wee bit obsessive).

Part of this is because of mobile device limitations, but most of it is just the application developers are doing a poor job of keeping up with the new features the Facebook folks are adding. The Blackberry folks author the Blackberry specific application, and it hasn't been updated in many months, for example.

So if you try to use Facebook on another device and find features missing, it's probably not you. For now, anyway, sometimes you just have to go to the computer and use the full version.
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OpenID and image and video tagging

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For those of you who use Facebook (and I'd guess MySpace and others), you know about image tagging. For those that don't, well, let me explain it briefly. If you post a picture to your Facebook account that has people in it also on Facebook, you can opt to "tag" the image. A simple editor opens and lets you click an area around their face and then you select them from your Facebook friend list. Then Facebook keeps that data in a database and if you want to look for pictures of your friends, you can find them easily. It's very cool.

But it's also very Facebook specific. Why? Well, because Facebook has no other way to do it. Generally, people don't have any kind of Internet-wide identity (other than your email address, which is not something you want to "tag" based on since it gives your email address to anyone who can view said picture). OpenID has been formed to let people have Internet-wide identities, but it is gaining momentum VERY slowly. Google is moving to support it, as is Yahoo, but even those guys have been slow to do it (though if you have a Blogger account, you do already have an OpenID!).

I'm not going to explain it other than to say basically your "ID" gets tied to a web address. It can be one you own or you can sign up for one (like your blogger web page) and you can then use that as your "ID" to create forum accounts in other places, etc. They simply authenticate you against the Blogger ID instead of you having to create YET ANOTHER stupid forum identity. (You can still create a handle type identity on the forum for people to call you by, rather than them calling you by your web address.)

Okay, great. I'm not just Donnie Barnes, I'm also www.carefreeway.com. Nice. But until more sites support OpenID, it doesn't get me much. Hopefully soon more forum administrators will add support for it. If you want it, ask your administrators politely.

But what I want to talk about now is another way to put acceptance of OpenID, and that's to get support directly into image and video files to "tag" people with their OpenID. Then YouTube and the like could let you search for videos containing certain people. I'd also love to see support in video files (and video editing software like iMovie) so that you could "export" any of the text you add via text overlay (think titles, credits, subtitles, etc) as keywords that could be searched by search engines. Currently you can only do that by hand depending on the video hosting site. This should be IN the video/image file, not some proprietary attachment.

I think we're headed in this direction, but people need to start asking their software providers for these things!
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Life is Good.

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It's no secret to those who see me on a regular basis that I like Life is Good clothing. But that's not what this is about, even though I stole the title and logo for this post. This post is about technical stuff, but technical stuff for everyone. Ever visit a web page (particularly maybe an eBay product page) and want to email a link to the page you're on to someone? You can drag and drop or cut and paste the URL directly into an email, but you end up with a really ugly long mess sometimes.

There are several sites that reduce URLs for you, but my favorite is http://is.gd (and it's easy to remember once you know the creators think of it as "is good"). You copy the URL you want to send to your clipboard, visit http://is.gd, and paste it in the box. You'll have a new tiny URL returned to your clipboard. Paste that URL in your email and when someone clicks it, they'll get your intended page. Seem like a pain? Well, it is a little. So if you use Firefox, streamline it the process using this plugin. Now when you're in Firefox viewing a page you want to make a shorter link to, you just click the "is" button to the left of the URL in the top of your window. You'll have a new shorter URL put in your clipboard automatically that you can just "paste" into your email (or whatever).

Very handy.
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Who owns your internet identity?

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To answer this question, first we must define what your "internet identity" really even is. Is it your blog? Your web page? Your custom domain name? Well, technically it could be any or all of that and then some. But what I'm talking about is your email address. Seems relatively simple, doesn't it? Sure, but there are a lot of issues that people don't think about when it comes to how important their email address is.

Who owns your email address? You think you do? You might or you might not, it depends on the address. For example, everyone uses some sort of Internet Service Provider (ISP) to connect to the internet. In most cases that's your cable TV company or your telephone company via cablemodem or DSL. Many people use the email address that their ISP provides.

Many people also have internet access at work and were given an email address there so they use that for everything. And still others sign up for "free" email hosting at places like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and even AOL (most started with AOL addresses when they had that as their dialup ISP but kept the AOL address after moving to some sort of high speed internet). A few folks use hosting services to register their own domain and then use those services (or even their own server somewhere) to host their email.

But none of that answers the question I asked of who owns your email address, does it? Nope. But it should make it a little more obvious that maybe you don't. Let's start with the places you should not use for your personal email. The worst two places I can think of are your ISP and your employer. How many people have the same ISP or the same employer forever? Not many. These things change. Why tie your personal life to a company that can terminate you or that you may want to terminate for a cheaper alternative? Don't do it. There are options.

The best thing to do is have a personal account either on your own server or hosting service (complicated, but if you want to truly own it, this is the best way) or go sign up for one of the free services. Which one? The best one I know of is Gmail. Hotmail is owned by Microsoft. Enough said. AOL is a strange company with a shaky foundation. Okay, I suppose, but they often have technical issues and don't always play well with other services. Yahoo! is likely to get bought by Microsoft, and even if not, they aren't much better than AOL in the technical department. Google is behind Gmail, and seem to be the best "steward" of free email services. They play very nicely with other services.

But why does this matter? Because your email address, unfortunately, really is your internet identity. When you sign up for a web forum or online banking or buy products online, everything is tied to your email address. Even if you select an actual "user id" on the system you're signing up for, that really gets tied to your email address because that's the only way you can retrieve or reset a lost password. What happens if you forget your password on an account you've signed up for but you've switched ISPs and thus email addresses in the meantime? You might be able to have your old ISP forward email, but what about a job change for those of you who use your work email? Most companies don't forward email for you simply because they don't want something work related getting out into the wild by accident. And guess what? You no longer work there and are thus now "in the wild" yourself, as far as they are concerned.

Gmail is free. They simply use keyword target advertising to have very easy to ignore advertisements on the sidebar of the web interface. But you can still use popular clients like the Mac Mail application, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc, to access Gmail and skip the ads. Google provides client applications for Blackberrys and other smart phones, too. And you can always log in via the web from anyone's computer. Yes, you are submitting your identity to the trust of Google, but for now I feel like that's a safe thing to do. Completely safe? No. But much safer than AOL, your employer, or your ISP.
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