Archive for August, 2007

Loving aideRSS

Tough love, that is—there’s a lot more I want out of this.

But first, aideRSS is awesome. When I serve it a blog’s feed, it looks at how many comments, delicious saves, and other mentions each post has and then divides them up according to their popularity relative to one another. AideRSS offers me a feed for each division—the smallest circle of the “best posts,” a larger circle of “great posts,” and an even larger circle of “good posts.”

I’ve got two main uses for it. It ups the signal-to-noise ratio on blogs that aren’t worth reading in their filtered state, given my peculiar tastes. And it allows me to keep current with the most popular posts of blogs I don’t have time to read every single day. That’s huge.

There are real problems, however, and other curious behaviors.

Consider Marc Andreessen’s blog pmarca. For one, AideRSS strips out his byline (here’s the “good” feed). For two, it has recently really oddly clipped his most recent posts and made them partial feeds (I also follow Andreessen’s full feed, and it is still full). Also, aideRSS also seems to strip out all the original dates and replace them with some date of its own.

That’s a problem. Google Reader published Andreessen’s post called “Fun with Hedge Funds: Catfight!” on August 16, 2007. But it’s the most recent post in AideRSS’s filtered feed of Andreessen’s “good” posts. The problem is that it follows “The Pmarca Guide to Startups, part 8” in the “good” feed but precedes it in the regular feed.

Did the post about the hedge funds and the cat fight receive some very recent comments, more than a few days after it was first published? All else equal, it wouldn’t be a problem to have the posts out of order—that would seem to be the sometimes inevitable result of late-coming comments or delayed delicious saves, etc. But all else is not equal—because the original dates are stripped. Posts in a blog exist relative to one another in time. Stripping out the dates and then reordering the posts smothers those important relationships.

But let’s look to the horizon. AideRSS can’t handle amalgamated feeds. I want to serve it what Scoble calls his link blog—the feed of all the very many items he shares in Google Reader—and receive only the most popular. That way, I would get the benefit of two different kinds of networked news at once. I’d get the intersection of the crowd’s opinion and the trusted expert’s opinion.

I’d also like to serve it a big mashup of lots of feeds—say, my favorite five hundred, routed through Pipes—and have it return the top two percent of all posts. That kind of service could compete with Techmeme, but it could be dynamic. We could all build our own personalized versions of Techmeme. That would be huge.

Trying it out a few different ways gave wild results. The posts in an amalgamated feed weren’t exactly being compared to one another on a level playing field—so that even a relatively bad TechCrunch post with ten comments crushes an small-time blogger’s amazing post with eight comments. But they also weren’t being compared to one another only by way of their numerical rankings derived from their first being compared to the other posts in their original feed.

Why can’t aideRSS measure each post’s popularity with respect to its kin even when it’s among strangers? The share function within Google Reader gives aideRSS the original url for each post. Can’t aideRSS take the original url for each post, find the original feed for each post, and then analyze each post against the other posts in its original feed? That would be much more analysis, for sure, but it would also be much more valuable. I’d love to see it.

Of course, while it may be a surprise or unintuitive at first, all this is really just one particular take on the first and second components of networked news—pulling in your news from a network of publishers and from a network of readers, including friends and experts and others. Without my additions, aideRSS represents just the second component, in which we get news based on whether others are reading it and participating in the conversation around it. My additions bring a little of the first component.

UPDATE: It would also be awesome to serve aideRSS the feed generated by a WordPress tag or by a persistent Google News search. That would be bringing in a shade of the third component of networked news.

Streamy, Let’s See What You Got

One of the Streamy boys extended me an intitation to their beta version. I poked around for a few minutes, but subprime mortgages are taking up my time. So I can’t wait to get to it, and will soon, but for the moment, it remains a happy presence on the horizon.

Meantime, I think I like this switch to an rss-centric logic, in both a technical way and user-centered way. The content gets around inside the guts of the web application by rss, and users are said to experience the content much the way they do inside an rss reader like Google Reader. Only better, though. Or that’s the hope.

I wonder whether this rss-centric view of the growing field is helpful, because it gives us a usefil lens through which to understand what might otherwise be a new and confusing technology, or hurtful, because it inhibits us from thinking bigger about consuming content on the web. In other words, I’m not sure an rss reader, even a super-powered one, can fully achieve all three components of networked news.

Breaking Content, Building Conversation

Deep down, what makes the new kind of debate from the Huffington Post, Slate, and Yahoo! actually really exciting is the extent to which it represents the third component of networked news.

What, again, is the third component of networked news? It’s a data-driven network of the people and the issues in the news.

Although very limited in scale, this example of being able to slice and dice a stodgy debate is amazingly powerful. Jarvis knows it. He groks how this means a “conversation”—a free-flowing exchange of information among people along a topic or around some substance of interest to everyone involved, both the speakers or writers and the listeners or readers. As I’ve noted before, I think Jarvis also, at some level, gets the importance of structuring the news around the people who are in it and who consume it and interact with it.

That’s what this is. Once the candidates have had their chances, we listeners get to pull apart their interviews, re-arrange them, and piece together a conversation, organized by issue. We can ignore candidates and focus on others. We can focus on Iraq, or maybe even withdrawal from Iraq, or we can weave in and out of interrelated topics, like, say, security and civil rights or single-payer health care and taxes, comparing each candidate’s self-consistency and comparing them all to one another. (I’m for security and civil rights and single-payer health care and taxes.)

This is awesome. Huffington Post is blowing up. For realz.

To bring in the first two components of networked news, HuffPo and co would have to give us the tools to weave in our own video clips and then let us share them with one another as variously trusting members of a community.

Let me juxtapose my own counterarguments to a windbag’s dissembling. Or let me loose some praise on another candidate’s courage. For that matter, let me juxatpose my praise for a candidate’s courage with another citizen’s attack on that same candidate’s cowardice. Let us argue with one another—and do it alongside the evidence.

And then let us, users and consumers, mixers and contributors, define relationships among one another. Let us grow our relationships. Let me read some smart midwesterner’s opinions on farm subsidies and then let me subscribe only to his agriculture-related content. Or let me take a wide-angle view of the network of conversations we citizens are having. Let me find out how many people really care about extraterritorial rendition, or let me get a sense of who wants big government to let them be. Let me check out which clips are the most viewed or most mashed-up.

That would be awesome.

News Graph?

Mark Zuckerberg once upon a time extolled facebook and told us about this thing called a “social graph.” Bernard Lunn has just talked about an “innovation graph.”

What about a “news graph”? Hubs and spokes—call them nodes and bridges.

Nodes are the people who are the subjects of the news. Like Karl Rove or Paris Hilton or Chuck Prince. Maybe nodes can also be groups of people acting as a single agent. Like the 100th Congress or the Supreme Court or maybe even something really big like Disney Corp.

Bridges are the news issues connecting the people to whom they are relevant. Here, the bridges have substance apart from mere connection. It would be like a social graph having connections indicating different kinds of friendship—a solid line for a great friend maybe, and a dashd line for a business acquaintance. Think of bridges like tags, just like those you might in delicious. You find a piece of news, which comes in the form of a newspaper article or a blog post, for example, and you assign issue-tags to it. Then, in turn, you assign that article or post to the people-nodes whom it discusses. The issue-tags flow through the article to the people-nodes to which the article or post is assigned; the pieces of news fall out of this picture of the news graph.

When people-nodes have issue-tags thus associated with them, we can indicate when certain people-nodes share certain issue-tags. If we represent those shared characteristics with bridges that connect the people-nodes, we’re graphing the people in the news and the substantive issues that bind them all up into the story of the world at some slice in time.

Just note once more how the pieces of the new—the bits of content, as I call them—fall away and liberate the news and the people and issues it comprises from the narrow confines created by the printing press and furthered by HTML. (Check out Jarvis’s more than mildly inspiring post.) This kind of news graph would, at long last, make the bits of content contigent on the people and the issues they discuss. It’s the elegant organization for news.

This is, by the way, the third component of networked news. This is the data-driven network of the people and the issues in the news.

Facebook Hacked? My Identity Too?

So very many people use facebook. So very many people, though they may not realize it, rely on facebook to establish a real presence of themselves for others to see. That presence happens to be online, but no matter. It’s identity.

That’s why it may shock very many people that they have put their identities in the hands of a private company—one that seeks profit, naturally enough—the guts of whose website has been revealed. Techcrunch says that just “a quick glance” reveals “hidden aspects of the platform” that “give a potential attacker a good head start.” That said, many of the comments on that post take the whole thing to be a hoax.

Anyhow, note that facebook seems to have a comment at Techcrunch verifying a problem. If the comment had been left at Google News, would there be any doubt?

It doesn’t make much sense to wonder whether Web 2.0 projects like facebook are “due” for some wildly major breach, for lots of reasons, like the fact that no particular person with a facebook profile is due for such a serious intrusion. So far, so good….

A Google World

I just love the sort of ex-post realization, or even re-realization all over again, we all get when a powerful agent in the blink of an eye moves a market so profoundly and yet so easily and even obviously. In this case the our market is the broader market of information about the world, the news. The powerful agent is Google. And the move in the market is letting the subjects of the news have their say—and from a mighty platform indeed. (See here for a very enthusiastic response, one to which I’m deeply sympathetic.)

It doesn’t strike me that letting the subject of an article have a special way to respond to an article is wildly innovative. But with power comes responsibility comes wonderment from those over whom a market-mover wields real, substantive, everyday power responsibly.

On the one hand, newspapers had their chance. The New York Times had its chance. But they missed it. They won’t be the innovator, though they may now follow—and may have to follow. (It might be cheaper for them to do it too, since their reporters, who will have often interviewed an article’s subject, can more easily verify a commenter’s identity.)

On the other, online outfits like Newsvine and Topix didn’t have gravity to pull off the move seriously. They could make the play, but they aren’t market-movers. They don’t project the gravity that informs the seriousness of the decision.

When Google moves, even if simply or predictably, it brings the world with it. This is just more proof, again, of how just how much influence Google has on our lives.

Plus this: There are those who think Google’s decision will bloat up with PR bullshit, who doubt Google realizes how labor-intensive its new moderation project will be, and who doubt whether it’s even possible for Google to make the (editorial) decision in any way nearing efficient about who’s even part of the news and thus deserves to comment.

Scoble Apologizes For Flooding Facebook

But this very well may be facebook’s “problem,” and I don’t think that’s a surprise. Scoble didn’t write facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, after all.

For instance, facebook may be more likely to add Scoble’s items to his friends’ newsfeeds because he has many friends (I won’t share the number, because Scoble already has…a few times, anyway). But if this is a matter of many, many friends, facebook can simply throttle that down.

Or it may be because many of us click, or have recently clicked, on the items he posted or the applications he added. I certainly used to click on lots of Scoble’s posted items and other bits of activity. “Oh, Scoble just added that application! Let me check that out!” I don’t practice so much nearly blind experimentation anymore. That’s nothing against Scoble, but I just don’t get as much value as I used and as I thought I did. I like his blog more. Anyhow, facebook can fix this too. Facebook can stop its newsfeed algorithm from presuming that other people still care about Scoble’s added applications just because I used used to.

For any problem I can imagine, facebook can fix it. Then it’s just got to worry about the side-effects, and the two solutions above don’t strike me as portending awful consequences. Can you think of others—perhaps some clever catch-22 or truly gordian knot?

Screenshot from Facebook News Feed“But is there something I can do?” Scoble asks in the comments to the post in which he apologizes for taking over facebook. “I’m certainly looking through the setting to see if I can turn down my own noise level.” He protests that he’s “reading thousands of people, and I respond to them. So I look ‘noisy’ to lots of people.” Scoble frets, wrings his hands, and writes, “I know, but not sure what I can do about it.”

Haha. I have just one idea. Scoble doth protest too much, methinks.

But let’s get one thing clear. It’s not his responsibility to mind how facebook builds its own newsfeed. He can do what he likes with it, and we can choose whether we want to be his friends in view of that. But as long as Scoble really, really wants to find something he can do, I’ve got a suggestion. It all starts with Bill Tai’s video on kite sailing. What’s the issue? It’s in my newsfeed twice—once because Scoble gave props to his boy and once because Scoble then posted the video for all to see. It’s a fun video (though I gotta be snobby on the Coldplay front). Just posting the video, with a comment, would have probably gotten back to Mr. Tai. To the extent that that’s probable, it’s also probable that the original props are redundant. Don’t leave a comment and then also post the video. Pick one. Just an idea.

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