Well put, David Brin!

David Brin, answering Edge’s big question: What have you changed your mind about?, says, somewhat off-topic:

Let me close with a final surprise, that’s more of a disappointment.

I certainly expected that, by now, online tools for conversation, work, collaboration and discourse would have become far more useful, sophisticated and effective than they currently are. I know I’m pretty well alone here, but all the glossy avatars and video and social network sites conceal a trivialization of interaction, dragging it down to the level of single-sentence grunts, flirtation and ROTFL [rolling on the floor laughing], at a time when we need discussion and argument to be more effective than ever.

Indeed, most adults won’t have anything to do with all the wondrous gloss that fills the synchronous online world, preferring by far the older, asynchronous modes, like web sites, email, downloads etc.

This isn’t grouchy old-fart testiness toward the new. In fact, there are dozens of discourse-elevating tools just waiting out there to be born. Everybody is still banging rocks together, while bragging about the colors. Meanwhile, half of the tricks that human beings normally use, in real world conversation, have never even been tried online.

Cory Thinks Facebook Is Doomed

Science fiction writer and commentator Cory Doctorow thinks Facebook is just as doomed as its predecessors:

Keeping track of our social relationships is a serious piece of work that runs a heavy cognitive load. It’s natural to seek out some neural prosthesis for assistance in this chore. My fiancee once proposed a “social scheduling” application that would watch your phone and email and IM to figure out who your pals were and give you a little alert if too much time passed without your reaching out to say hello and keep the coals of your relationship aglow. By the time you’ve reached your forties, chances are you’re out-of-touch with more friends than you’re in-touch with: Old summer-camp chums, high-school mates, ex-spouses and their families, former co-workers, college roomies, dot-com veterans… Getting all those people back into your life is a full-time job and then some.

You’d think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It’s not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.

It’s not just Facebook and it’s not just me. Every “social networking service” has had this problem and every user I’ve spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that’s why these services are so volatile: why we’re so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace’s loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

Facebook Groups would be more useful if…

… it were possible to include the contents of an RSS feed in the group.

This would make it possible to stream content from a group’s website to their Facebook group space, no extra software needed.

For example, I would really like to be able to embed the RSS feed from http://www.onenw.org/news-events in ONE/Northwest’s Facebook group page.  But I can’t.

How lame.  This would be such a quick and easy win

Facebook starts measuring “engagement” instead of raw users for ranking popular apps

Very interesting.  Facebook has announced that it will no longer rank popular applications by raw number of users, instead choosing to measure “engagement” those users have with the apps they’ve installed.  This is a great, smart shift, and I think it presages lots of changes to how online activism is measured.

We define engagement as the number of users who touch your application every day (measured from midnight to midnight each day).

These touch points are:

  • Canvas Page Views
  • Link Clicks in FBML
  • Mock-Ajax Form Submission
  • Click-to-Play Flash

The number of engaged users is calculated by putting all of these
touch points together. We display this as the number of “Daily Active
Users.” Next to it we also show what percentage that is of the
application’s total number of users.

Hat tip to Jeff.

8 Really Cool Things About Plone 3

Plone 3 Release Candidate 1 is out. This is a big milestone in the evolution of Plone, and a big leap forward for both developers and for everyday Plone users. The Plone 3 team is still putting the final polish on it, but Release Candidate 1 is more than ready for prodding, poking and testing. Here are eight of the things about Plone 3 that I’m most excited to start using in ONE/Northwest’s projects, with screenshots. Continue reading 8 Really Cool Things About Plone 3

If Architects Were Web Designers

Shae Allen offers a sharp, funny riff on the thrill of difficult web design clients.

Dear Mr. Architect:

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need,
so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere
between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such
that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the
blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also,
bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can
arbitrarily pick one.

Continues…

How Plone Keywords Should Work

We’re finishing up a big intranet project here at ONE/Northwest, and that led to an interesting conversation between me, Dave Averill and Gideon Rosenblatt about tagging and keywording content in a website. Here are a few notes from it.

Definitions:

1) “Tags” – keywords that are stored per-item and per-user, ala del.icio.us. Plone doesn’t provide out of the box support for tagging. That’s probably OK, because tagging doesn’t really work well unless you have a LOT of users.

2) “Keywords” – keywords that are stored per-item, but not per-user. Plone provides this out of the box.

How Things Work Now, And What’s Wrong

Plone’s current Keywords user interface is really clunky. So clunky as to be nearly useless, in fact. (Sorry.)

keyword widget

The main problem is that as the list of keywords in the site grows (which it does, very quickly, because keywords are not per-user, they’re global across the site), it quickly becomes very difficult to find and choose the keywords in the scrolling window.

Worse, you can’t easily see at a glance which keywords have already been selected.

How to fix it

Fortunately, I think this should be fairly easy to fix.

I would do the following things

  1. Move the Keywords widget from the “Properties” tab to the “Edit” tab. (Plone 3.0 fixes this quite a bit, by making the schemata refresh without page reloads, so this may ultimately be a moot point.)
  2. Show the list of keywords assigned to a content object above the keyword widget. (Bonus points for making them clickable to a search!)
  3. Change the widget to an Autocomplete widget. (Note: I need to check whether the Autocomplete widget will let you add new items to the vocabulary.) Del.icio.us uses an autocomplete widget like this for tag entry, and it’s really efficient.

    autocomplete widget
  4. Make keywords part of the default content view templates (again, with clickable links to other items with the keyword). It’s easier to remove them (especially in Plone 3.0 with the viewlet manager) than to add them, and having them there by default will signal that we value keywording.  UPDATE: Shane Graber below points out some instructions he wrote for doing just this, in Plone 2.0-2.5.   Zope 3 fans might prefer this as a viewlet, but that’s a pretty trivial implementaton detail.
  5. We should build a screen that allows one to very quickly assign keywords to many objects in a single operation. I think I’d want to execute a search (or build a smart folder), then see a list of all found objects, their descriptions, the keywords they currently have, and an autocomplete widget for each object. Rip through the screen, assign keywords to a bunch of objects, then hit save once. That would be really fast and efficient.
  6. Finally, we should make sure that permission to assign keywords to content is separated from permission to edit the object itself. (I’m not sure if this is already the case, please leave a comment if you know!) This would make it possible to create a “tagger” role which could be used to let site members keyword content items.

OK, that’s it. All of this stuff seems like it would be pretty easy to do without any major changes to the underlying plumbing.

What do you think? Would this be more sensible, more “humane” behavior for Plone? Is there more low-hanging fruit that I’m missing?

Update: It also might be interesting to look at auto-generating keywords by using Yahoo’s Term Extraction API.

Google Reader vs. Bloglines

I’m a longtime user of Bloglines for reading RSS feeds.  It’s simple, clean and very, very quick to use.   But, I’d been hearing good things about Google Reader lately, so I thought I’d take it for a spin.

I’ve been reading my ~150 feeds in Google Reader the past few days, and I have to say, I think I’ll be sticking with Bloglines. 

Google Reader looks a bit slicker, but it wastes a lot more pixels on the screen with superfluous lines and boxes that distract me from the text.  It also doesn’t show as many feeds in the left column, wasting space on the “all/starred/shared items” controls that I don’t use. 

It’s harder to mark things as read in Google Reader — one has to manually scroll through the items or remember to click the “mark all as read” button.  That’s annoying.  I can’t adjust the width of the left column in Google Reader.

I guess the grass isn’t greener after all.

More Thoughts on Commenting

Seems like I’m not the only person thinking about website comments these days. Our friends at The Tyee have been doing some heavy duty musing on this lately, too:

The Tyee just
launched its new commenting system yesterday, and it’s been a very interesting
ride so far.  Overwhelmingly positive feedback, but of course some disgruntled
commenters who don’t like the changes.  Lots of good constructive feedback from
readers so far, both on the experiment in general, and on technical details that
we could improve on.
 
Check out our
editor’s two pieces about the changes:
 
1) “Can We Still
Talk Online?  Push is on to improve reader forums on the Net.  First in a
series.”
http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2007/05/15/TalkOnline/
 
2)
Tyee’s New Approach to Comments: A system designed to promote thoughtful
posts.
http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2007/05/16/NewComments/
 
We see the
changes we’re making as part of a wider trend in online forums, not just with
online publications, but with blogs and other open forums as
well.

ZyprexaKills: bleeding edge online direct action

My friend Jonah Bossewitch has been involved with a fascinating ‘online direct action’ campaign targeting Eli Lilly, who had been conducting an illegal “off-label” marketing campaign around their drug Zyprexa, despite knowing about the drug’s lethal side-effects.

Jonah’s case study of the campaign weaves together simple, freely available technologies such as bittorrent file sharing, anonymous web proxies, tagging, and wikis with issues of free speech, media rights, whisteblowing, and network neturality, and

spotlights… cyberactivism… on the bleeding edge of technology and the frontier of civil liberties. The story suggests how participatory culture might give to way to participatory democracy, and especially how these kinds of technologies can play a leading role in radical actions. It also demonstrates the strong symbiotic relationship between new and traditional media, and presents new models for their future collaboration.

Good stuff, well worth a read for anyone who is working on corporate or government accountability in this digital age.

NewsCloud’s guide to social news aggregation for organizations

NewsCloud creator Jeff Reifman offers a nice guide for social news aggregation for organizations.  It describes five increasingly-sophisticated techniques for groups to integrate NewsCloud-powered social news aggregation into their online activities.

  1. Add NewsCloud headlines to your Web site or blog
  2. Create a Journal to clip headlines from around the Web for your Web site or blog
  3. Create a Group for multiple staff or member stakeholders to
    track and clip headlines on related topics for your blog or Web site
  4. Invite your stakeholders to participate in news gathering for your organization
  5. Host your own installation of the NewsCloud software at your own Web site

Posted from Flock

Ok, Drew convinced me to give Flock another whirl. It seems to have improved a LOT since the last time I checked it out. Basically, Flock is Firefox plus a bunch of really nicely integrated interfaces to various collaborative services like Del.icio.us, Flickr, various blogging tools, etc.

Open Source CMS Security, Part II

Last summer, I did a quick count of the number of known security vulnerabilities in common open-source CMS products, and their underlying software stacks. The results were rather eye-opening.

I thought it might be time for an refresh. Once again, my protocol was simple: I searched the MITRE CVE list of known vulnerabilities and counted the number of results.

Here are the most recent results, with last July’s results in parenthesis for comparison, followed by the percentage growth rate:

  • Plone: 3 (3) – 0%
  • Drupal: 55 (22) – 150%
  • Mambo: 91 (31) – 194%
  • Joomla!: 74 (20) – 270%
  • Zope: 16 (15) – 6%
  • MySQL: 129 (99) – 30%
  • Python: 18 (17) – 5%
  • Rails: 2 (0) – infinite
  • PHP: 2271 (1258) – 80%
  • Ruby: 14 (7) – 100%
  • Perl: 105 (97) – 8%

Again, Plone, Zope and Python come out with remarkably low total issue counts and extremely low rates of new issues being found. Perl also seems doing pretty well, with relatively few new issues being found. Rails is also looking pretty good.

The rate of growth in new PHP vulnerabilities is still pretty staggering, both in absolute and percentage terms.

I’m also surprised to see the number of vulnerabilities in Drupal, Mambo and Joolma! continue to soar. (Joomla! 270%! Ouch!) It’s worthwhile to note that many of these vulnerabilities (but not all) are in add-on modules rather than the core products, and so may reflect more on individual module developers than the platform as a whole. Still, the fact that these products’ security exposures are growing considerably faster than that of their underlying PHP/MySQL frameworks is intriguing.

Again, in the end, these data don’t really prove anything, but they certainly are an interesting metric to keep an eye on over time.

I don’t think most folks choosing CMS platforms (or programming languages/frameworks), either as customers or as developers, are really considering the security track records of different tools. Should they?

NTEN Open API Summary

NTEN recently published a solid little paper by Michelle Murrain and Katrin Verclas that sums up the state of open APIs in the nonprofit CRM sector.  It’s an important read if you believe in the importance of integrating tools.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this short paper, and I particularly appreciate that they make a clear distinction between “same machine” or “internal” APIs, which are only accessible to programs written in the same language running on the same machine, and web services or “externally accessible” APIs that can be used by any program, written in any language, running anywhere. 

Pipes!

Yahoo’s new “Pipes” service is going to enable some really cool RSS remixing, I think.

The blogerati are agog
.  I am usually skeptical about these kinds of things, but what I think is most intriguing about Pipes is that it is not so much consumer-focused as about providing powerful, easy-to-use tools for building web services.

Very cool, I’m looking forward to exploring and brainstorming.

Building Bridges

Ryan Ozimek’s piece “Islands and Bridges, the building has begun” is a great hallelujah to the power and importance of integration via open APIs.  It’s clear that PICnet and ONE/Northwest are drinking form the same cup, when Ryan writes:

The power of open source, combined with best of breed proprietary
systems with open APIs give organizations the power they need combined
with a price point they’re more likely to afford.

Which leads us back to the islands and bridges. The winning
solutions at the end of this year won’t be those that try to pack as
much under the hood as possible, but rather those that are most
flexible and connect most effectively with other systems.

In short, the non-profit sector’s needs demand more choice, and that’s just what open source and open APIs can do.

Amen!

We’re attempting very similar bridge-building work between Salesforce.com and Plone, and we’re looking forward to (finally) releasing our SalesforceConnector for Plone in the next few weeks.  (Got to get through some server migration work first!)

I can’t wait to discuss all of this great integration work at Aspiration’s Nonprofit Software Development Summit in a few weeks. 

Has “Web 2.0” Jumped The Shark?

Jonathan Peizer offers up some skepticism about Time Magazine’s designation of “you” as Person Of The Year:

I am just not ready to give into a rose-colored panacea that seemingly lulls me into a false sense of who is in charge and the life-changing benefits of a “thing”. Just because a new form of interactive, networked and seemingly grass-roots technology is introduced, we must not forget that however easy, cool and innovative it seems, it is still only a process. Who controls the discussion and subsequent actions using any technology [process] is a separate issue. When the world actually becomes a better place for most people, by a measurable factor, and our control of the Information Age is identified as a significant contributor that helped people make better life decisions — for themselves, their communities and the planet — then i’ll be a true believer.

To my mind individual control of the Information Age is justifiable as the “It” thing of the year if it results in the technological equivalent of a polio vaccine – something that makes the world a better place — YouTube, Myspace and the ability to better find, post and distribute stupid pet tricks video clips doesn’t quite cut it — although outing what stupid politicians say on the campaign trail to insure they don’t get elected to do further damage is certainly a step in the right direction.

I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly.  Thanks, Jonathan, for voicing this skepticism so eloquently.  If you’re a “progressive techie” who hasn’t yet read Jerry Mander’s “In The Absence of the Sacred,” you should treat yourself to an early Christmas present.

“Web 2.0” is way oversold.  I think we’ll look back on this as something of a “jump the shark” moment.

Four Observations About Using MySpace For Politics

Joshua Levy has a nice post at Personal Democracy Forum on using MySpace (and other social networking environments) for advocacy & political campaigns.

Nothing radically new here, but it’s a good, concise restatement of the obvious:

  1. You have to go where the people you want to reach are already at. (Organizing 101 here, folks. Sadly, this is something that I often see advocacy organizations forgetting!)
  2. If you want people to spread your message, you have to let them take control and make it their own. (Organizing 101 strikes again!)
  3. MySpace isn’t a good place to fundraise.
  4. It’s much harder to do local, place-based organizing on placeless, wide-scale social networking sites. So far, the most successful social networking advocacy campaigns have been about “wide, blunt” national or international issues.

The bottom line:

… a MySpace profile is not a replacement for a campaign’s homepage. Instead, it is meant to be part of a participatory ecosystem that campaigns must set up…. MySpace profiles are the equivalent to canvassing on the street or in a mall; they are part of a larger outreach effort. Just as it’s a mistake to think that the web will itself replace other media, it’s also a mistake to think that MySpace or Facebook profiles are simply lazy or trendy ways of gaining an online footprint.

(Hat tip to Marty.)