Trying out a public revision process

"revision/procrastination" by Flickr user wenday
“revision/procrastination” by Flickr user wenday

With the launch of this latest version of my site (roughly my fifth iteration since 2006), I’m experimenting with two new features I’d love to see on other blogs: a changelog and a roadmap.

Yes, it might seem strange to have these two software and/or enterprise-oriented features on a tiny personal site, but why not? If a changelog can show users the progress of software, why not a website? And the same with a roadmap: It might not matter what’s ahead for this particular blog, but what if bigger sites like ESPN or Zeldman.com published public roadmaps, giving visitors a peek into their plans and their processes?

As a developer, and as a reader, I’d love to see more of these types of transparent peeks into the past and future of websites – both large and small.

Update: Nice! The Verge publishes a Version History.

NBC to enhance its online video offerings

Good news for the continuing un-harnesing of network television: NBC has announced it will both expand its online video platform, and in a big finally! move, it will make its video player embeddable.

This move is a big step for a major network…it turns the tide from complaining against services like YouTube, and begins challenging them head-on.

Twitter: a fad, not the future of all blogging

I am coming out, for the record, against the increasingly popular social networking tool Twitter.

If you’re not familiar with it, Twitter is a relatively new web-based service headed by Evan Williams, a founder of pioneering blog engine Blogger. The concept behind Twitter is that you keep in touch with friends– and fans– by posting short “micro-posts” (such as “early night now – paintballing tomorrow!”) via your browser or mobile phone. Anybody who subscribes to your updates then receives a constant stream of text messages alerting them to whatever you’re doing now or sometime in the near future.

Almost too bizarrely, much of the upper echelons of the blog world have been slowly but surely slathering Twitter with praise over the past few weeks. The din of endless and largely empty accolades reached a fever pitch this week, as thousands of geeks descended on my friend Ben’s adopted home of Austin, Texas for the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) film and technology festival.

I’ve been tangentially aware of Twitter for a few months, and after a couple of different casual passes at the service, I grudgingly signed up over this past weekend, only to awake from my group think-inspired stupor on Sunday to retract my short-lived attempt at using the service.

Lest you judge me for not having tried out Twitter before I come out against it, please understand that I’ve also never tried cocaine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it, and I am also opposed to its use as a recreational drug.

So, here is what really bothers me about the Twitter phenomenon:

1) This is not the future of blogging. Okay, fine, we’re in a post-blogging world. Agreed. But there are a number of different fascinating directions that blogging is going in, and in my opinion, Twitter is not one of them. In fact, I would argue that although Twitter appears to be similar to blogging– you use a web service to write short posts– the content and the purpose differ dramatically from the act of blogging. So while some aspect of blogging involves navel gazing, the ultimate benefits of the craft result in more shared knowledge, expertise, and opinions on a wide range of topics with either universal (your insight into Middle East politics) or extremely targeted, but nonetheless shared (your passion for a specific type of thermos) appeal. But in my observations, Twitter strips all of that communal knowledge sharing and keeps only the least interesting aspect of blogging: the aimless, devoid sharing of personal details.

If this is about mobile blogging, as some Twitter proponents have opined, then it is my contention that our mobile devices are now clearly failing us, and not our blogging tools. For example, I’d much rather see the proliferation of powerful mobile devices, such as Microsoft’s SmartPhones and Apple’s iPhone– which encourage full-sentence, full-thought blogging– than I would see blogging technology, and thus trends, develop downward in scope and breadth in order to accommodate our current swath of abysmally bad mobile phones. If you think the average mobile phone is engineered better than, say, the WordPress blogging tool, I’d like to debate you on that issue.

2) There is way too much empty praise going on. Dave Winer wrote of Twitter, “Whenever so many people are so excited about something there must be some substance.”

I strongly disagree with that sentiment. Whenever I sense a critical mass of praise over something in a short window of time, I am instantly suspicious of its substance by sheer instinct. Rather than seeing all of this sudden praise as indicative of Twitter’s inherent quality, I see it as a symptom of a fairly large problem within the blogging community. It’s fad-chasing, pure and simple, and its indicators are all present with Twitter-love: The Constantly Writing About It (check), the Rushing to Institutionalize It (check), the Endless Namedropping Of It (check, ad nauseum).

For material proof of my suspicions, consider well-respected blogger Steve Rubel’s recent hedge on the entirely crowd-driven Twitter-craze: “I want to see how Twitter shakes out. It could be a fad.”

You can’t get much more proof than that: a well-known, well-respected technology blogger publicly demonstrating this point for me. Hence, I argue that a bit more analysis, and a little bit less ‘follow-the-leader’, are in order with respect to Twitter’s emerging influence.

3) Twitter is too clever for its own good. The clever, self-absorbed overtones present on Twitter’s website– be it large fonts, error messages crafted in inane human-speak (“So sorry I lost yr filez,” etc.) and insular “community” mentalities– are, like most fads, constantly at the risk of looking and feeling extremely dated the very second that they’re passed over for whatever the next fad is. It gets to the very nature of the fad: The damningly short period of time from which something is converted from amazing to ridiculous.

So if you’ve been bitten by the Twitter bug recently, please think about these questions. Are you only using Twitter because technology influentials are takling about it? Is it adding any real value or meaning to your already crowded plate beyond that occasionally comforting feeling of not being left behind by the cool crowd?

You may love Twitter– you may even think it is the Future of All Blogging– but I truly don’t, and those are some of the reasons why.

Update, April 13 2007: It’s important to note for disclosure that I am now testing the Twitter service at the request of some friends who have urged me to try it in order to gain more perspective on it. I’ve agreed to do so; you can look in on me at http://twitter.com/jgclarke.

Looking back on my predictions for 2006

Just over one year ago, I posted “7 things to look for on the web in 2006“. Now that 2006 is over, let’s take a look at how I did!

Here’s my original post, and here’s a summary of my predictions, in order of what kind of impact I predicted them to have:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
6. Distributed advertising networks
5. Identity
4. Attention
3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
2. User-Organized Media and Content
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
Grade: B / I think I did pretty well with this one. While corporate-engineered hyperlocal sites faired well in terms of quality and quantity– and the space grew quite a bit in terms of players– it was probably the expansion of homegrown hyperlocal that made this prediction a moderate success.

6. Distributed advertising networks
Grade: D / Sorry, me. With this prediction, I hoped online advertising networks would expand, making the monetization of online content more democratized. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Despite the success of PajamasMedia and the Federated Media ad network, this space took more steps back than forward. For one, both Pajamas and FM are both closed networks, with high bars to entry. Secondly, Google Adwords faced no stiff competition from Microsoft or Yahoo!, and finally, the most well-known new addition to the space in 2006- PayPerPost– became known as an ethically-questionable company, enraging many of the most well-known bloggers for its approach to advertising (which, for the record, I am strongly opposed to).

5. Identity
Grade: C / As 2006 rolled on, this prediction became more and more important to me, yet I saw little or no indicators that it would ever take off, at least during the calendar year. With some moderate adoption of OpenID, I predict that I was one year off, and that 2007 will mark the year that identity really breaks through with early adopters, while in 2008 it will see adoption across major platforms in some form.

4. Attention
Grade: D / Sadly, attention didn’t break out big in 2006. Though some strides were made, I predicted it to become part of the online conversation much as RSS did in 2005, and I was sorely mistaken. Although there are some attention tools built into services such as YouTube, we as creators are still not benefiting from any sort of serious effort to capture and provide attention details to us. Let’s hope my prediction was one year ahead, and 2007 becomes the year for creators to earn more information about their productions.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
Grade: D / In my opinion, 2006 was a major down year for the promise of RSS, OPML, SSE, and related innovations. RSS continued to be beset and marginalized by the lame implementations of personal homepages, while Microsoft’s promising SSE gained zero traction, and OPML, which finished 2005 strongly, floundered and struggled without any major breakthroughs during the year. Although Google’s Reader product made a big splash, no other power tools emerged, and as far as innovative uses, I saw only one power-user product- 30Boxes‘ calendar- which truly showed me that RSS can continue to be grown.

2. User-Organized Media and Content
-AND-
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Grade: A / A I think it’s safe to say I scored big on both of these. It’s my belief that online video was the big story on the web in 2006. From Time magazine naming YOU its Person of the Year (because of your contributions online), to Google’s $1.6 billion dollar purchase of YouTube, to the breakout videoblogs Rocketboom and ZeFrank, to the success of big media video in the form of MSNBC’s record video stats, to the number of sordid celebrity stories told online and enhanced by video (Michael Richards’ meltdown, DeVito on the view, many more), to MSNBC and CNN’s record video streaming numbers, video was the single most explosive online sector last year. 2007 promises to be a huge year for video and user-organized content as well.

Overall grade: C And coming soon- my predictions for 2007!

Law of ongoing trends

Law of Ongoing Trends: Whenever you think a trend is about to expire, it’s safe to assume it will continue on for up to half of its total life to date.

Expressed mathmatically: Total life of trend = assumed life + half

Woomu: Another video sharing site, with some twists

Woomu is a new video sharing site with a couple of interesting twists. The biggest difference between woomu and other video sharing sites such as YouTube is that woomu is simply an aggregator, rather than a video hosting service. While this approach provides relative freedom from pesky copyright troubles like the ones YouTube has faced recently, I’m inclined to think that it may stifle other advantages such as easy sharing.

Like Digg, Newsvine, and other community-driven content sites, woomu also allows users to vote on individual videos, determining which files appear on the homepage of the site. The woomu twist is that besides voting files up to the homepage, users can also vote an individual file down. This two-way-street approach is one that other community-driven sites have stayed away from for the most part, choosing instead to go with a weighted voting system that favors reporting bad links over straight down votes. woomu puts the yea vs. nay on an even keel- but will it work?

woomu logo
Dave McAdam, co-founder of woomu, took some time to answer some questions about the new service via email. In the interview, Dave talks about the difference between woomu and other video sites, how the service fits in with the emerging distributed content model, and what the name means. The entire interview appears after the break.

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