danbricklin.com/log

Starting June 29, 2004
News.com publishes my reaction to Coop's column, More local coverage, Thoughts right after the Convention, Blogging is working well at the Convention, Blogging is working well at the Convention, What we learn from the Convention blogging, DNC blogger dinner, The Convention is coming, the Convention is coming..., Software that lasts 200 years, Additional ListGarden documentation, Mail seems fixed, Email problems with bricklin.com, ListGarden 1.0 released
29Jun04-2Aug04
2004_06_29.htm
Monday, August 2, 2004 
News.com publishes my reaction to Coop's column [link]
At Charles Cooper's suggestion, I wrote a "600-750 word rebuttal" which was just posted on News.com. The text borrows heavily from what I've been writing here. Thank you to CNet and Coop for this opportunity!


Not to take away anything from what CNet did, here is something I found of interest:

As I was told in advance, they did only minor copy edits to my submitted text, such as adding paragraph breaks. Surprisingly they did remove the phrase "...and perma-links" after "the original Blogger" as an example of "simple" blogging tools and techniques, which changed the meaning slightly to my mind -- removing a "technique". That was the only real change and is pretty minor.

The fact that the copy editor may not have understood its value as an example of a very simple technique with big implications (I would have dropped the "Blogger" example before perma-links) shows how little people really understand of what makes blogging work. (Blogger is actually more on the complex side than the simple side, and was created partially to help manage perma-links.) It may have been "too technical" for the News.com audience. That's a shame. Perma-links are an important piece of what holds the "blogosphere" together, making direct inter-blog and intra-blog references work in a genre that puts many ideas on one page and then scrolls them off. They are not the same as plain old URLs. They usually point into a different place than the original web page (i.e., to an archive), and have special visible locations on the page for locating them in the flow of text. RSS takes advantage of perma-links. They are a simple idea that had major implications. I thought mentioning them would get an "ah ha!" from people, but I guessed wrong. Sigh.

(On this weblog, which uses an authoring tool without built-in perma-link support, I have to do lots of cut and pasting, and hope you notice the text at the bottom of the home page that tells you where to find the archives that have perma-link markers in them.)

Friday, July 30, 2004 
More local coverage [link]
In response to my post earlier today, I found out about two related sites that provided feeds from local bloggers in the Boston area that might be of interest for looking at blog coverage of an event. From Adam Gaffin: the manually updated Boston Online / Politics, and the automatic/manually fed Boston Online / Convention pages.
 
Thoughts right after the Convention [link]
To media and other non-bloggers reading this: Much of my writing is aimed at the computer world, and I frequently have specific commentary that is meant as discussion among techies, or among bloggers, or among amateur photographers. Mixing roles together is part of the "reality" brought by blogging. Introspecting about blogging is part of my role as I see it. There are enough bloggers writing to other audiences. This is not circular, this is natural. When I write as an MBA and business person for Harvard Business Review targeting business people (which I have done) is that too circular? The DNC Bloggers were a small advance force scouting out a field for the hundreds of thousands or millions of others who blog. Their blogs were their main means to communicate back.

The Convention is over and we can start looking back to learn from it in relation to bloggers. We will see the delayed effects from being at the Convention through posts coming in after the DNC Bloggers get home. We already can start to put together what worked and what didn't (from many viewpoints) during the real-time part of the event. Hopefully there is a snapshot for study somewhere online of all the full posts of all the DNC Bloggers and those that pointed to them or commented about them. Hopefully we'll see how various stories or themes were carried throughout the blogosphere in future analysis by others out there better able to look through haystacks for needles.

We will use all this looking to figure out tools and techniques for doing event-blogging better. As I pointed out in my essay, the event blogging here lacked some of the scale aspects that have helped blogging, such as having gatekeepers, many participants (a few dozen is not that many in a genre that is used to hundreds of thousands). Unlike traditional media, that tries to use a few people to get the big picture, blogging as an Internet phenomenon uses a large distributed population. Blogging is aided by invented tools and techniques, some very simple such as the original Blogger and perma-links and others more complex such as blog-post popularity engines like Blogdex, specific search engines such as Feedster and Technorati, and the whole world of RSS. Event blogging will bring about others.

Most of the DNC Bloggers seemed to spend most of their preparation with logistics and not practicing for the sprint. That was good in that they went with an open mind, trying things for us to learn from. It was an experiment. An innovative programmer among them, Dave Winer, did a quick experiment with his ConventionBloggers aggregator, as did Technorati and some others. The traditional press did lots of preparation, and tried to execute a plan. Don't judge blogging at this event that way. This wasn't, as Charles Cooper wrote today, "put up or shut up" time. This was "start to learn time".

I've been repeatedly pointing to the local angle these last few days. I found another one that might be of interest to those trying to understand the local impact of such events and the role of a blogger. My colleague from Trellix days, Dave Owczarek, who has a strong command of operational and process issues in the Internet world and a very nice camera which he knows how to use, kept a blog from the viewpoint of a resident in a town that was supposed to get the brunt of the traffic effects of the Convention. Start at the bottom and read his coverage of the traffic in Medford, Mass.

Thursday, July 29, 2004 
Blogging is working well at the Convention [link]
I woke up this morning and saw that Dave Winer pointed to Anick Jesdanun's story as the "AP Internet Writer" titled "Convention Bloggers Are Feeling Their Way". I notice how I, and lots of bloggers, tend to identify writers by name not just as "AP says". We know reporters as people and treat their work as that of an individual, much as we do ourselves, and weigh it based on our knowledge of that person and their writing. (Well, Dave didn't do that this morning, but he does quick posts...) Googling Anik, I find lots of good, detailed Internet-related articles, some I'd be proud to have written myself. (I had to call AP to find out that he is male, so that I can get my pronouns right in this post. Anick is not a name I'm familiar with, like Jack or Pradeep. In Google I found Anick Violette who is a female Canadian photographer and windsurfer.)

The headline and much of the content mirrored some of what I wrote yesterday -- that it takes time to figure out how best to blog a convention and that you go through a process which we are watching. It's nice to know that a pro who spends his time following the Internet and speaking to people like Vint Cerf saw the same thing I thought I did. I loved how he pointed out some of the valuable things he found from the bloggers. He's doing his homework as he did in other articles.

What bothered me, though, was his tone about that process, that it meant blogging had some failing for needing to go through that process (even as he explained he himself went through just such a process in the past). The ending, "But as a member of the traditional media, I don't believe I need to look for a new job yet," seemed aimed at readers who are journalists like himself, not regular people who may wonder whether blogging may be something that might be important to them. He's being self-referential just as he faults the bloggers.

For someone who is so close to technology, it was strange that he didn't present this in a way that acknowledges the process we always go through in adopting and adapting new technologies. Rather than start with a lead declaring the arrival as hype and then temper that with "still trying to figure out their role," he could have used it more as a lesson in this common progression.

What I find amazing is how fast the bloggers at the Convention got in the groove (surely by last night). They feel the pressure and despite the distractions worthy of Super Bowl participants (in a relative sense...) are providing great value even in this first "experiment". They're fighting sleep and falling prey to illness as you'd expect, but pushing on. As I pointed out in my essay yesterday, blogging at an event is quite different than normal, daily blogging. That they are adapting so well is a testament to the robustness of the genre.

When it comes to the traditional press writing about blogging, I'm reminded of programmers reacting to developments like the spreadsheet when VisiCalc came out. Sure the "programs" people wrote with it, and the "databases" they kept as lists, were not up to the standards of "real" programmers. But "every-person programming and databasing" has proved a boon to society and has not really threatened the profession of "programmer". It has, though, changed the role of programmer by allowing many of the detailed, area-of-expertise-centric applications to be done quickly, effectively, and inexpensively. Likewise, personal online publishing, such as blogging, is providing a means for communicating feelings, facts, experience, and opinions that we're even seeing the benefit of in this first try on a national stage. Bravo!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 
What we learn from the Convention blogging [link]
I've just posted an essay with some of my thoughts two days into the Convention. I discuss the differences between normal blogging and event blogging, blogging's role, some problems we're seeing, etc.


A few other observations that don't fit in the essay:

At least one "real" journalist who was exposed to what is going on with the Convention blogging, Larry Magid, was pushed over the edge enough to start his own blog. See "LarrysWorld Blog". This is quite fitting, since Larry has filed a few CBS Radio reports about Convention blogging, as reported by David Weinberger (and reproduced by Larry on his main page).

More local flavor to share: As a Boston area resident, when Barak Obama said he is of Kenyan ancestry, that had a very special meaning to me. To many, that may mean poor and third-world. To Boston, it means champion. The Kenyans have dominated the Boston Marathon for well over a decade with 10 different men winning, and the Boston Marathon is very dear to our hearts, as I've written before. If only he had also mentioned the fact that he's a Harvard Law graduate, too...

I've been talking to various friends who are getting into the Convention or spending time near their homes nearby. It's the talk of the town and very exciting. So many stories. I've read, and heard, about friendly security people. I've heard that others involved with the Convention went through very specific "friendliness" training, and it sounds like it may have paid off. We should learn from this for all of our Homeland Security needs.

Sunday, July 25, 2004 
DNC blogger dinner [link]
On my way back from a vacation up in Maine this weekend, I got a call from Bob Frankston on my cellphone. Was I going to the DNC blogger (and others) dinner that Dave Winer mentioned? Bob and I aren't "official" DNC bloggers, but it was an open invitation -- so why not. A minor detour on the way home and I was there for Chinese dinner. I listened to stories about the facilities inside the Fleet Center, CNN being behind the bloggers, and more (Bob and I also talked to Dave about RSS and old times). You can see Dave's pictures from earlier up on his ConventionBloggers.com site. Here are some pictures I took tonight at dinner:

Smiling people holding green bordered passes  Sitting at a table with another pass

Close up: PRESS 2004 Democratic National Convention Monday Hall Pass
Some DNC Bloggers with their passes, one with a NYTimes strap
Bob drove Dave back to his hotel and then me home and we passed by the Fleet Center where there was surprisingly little traffic:

Same view as below, but with bridge all lit up at night
The Fleet Center on the right as we go over the Zakim Bridge (notice how close I-93 is to it)
Driving down from Maine earlier, there were more signs about the Convention. Lots of "I-93 Closed Monday-Thursday 4pm-1am" signs. People on overpasses with Kerry-Edwards signs waving (no Bush ones visible). Yesterday, the Red Sox won a very exciting, emotion filled (including a big brawl) game against the Yankees. It was a great, come-from-behind win. Just what the city needed. The strikes are settled so the pickets should be off, but not early enough for a least one canceled state-delegate party. People are streaming in. In a surprise change, Kerry was one of them today and flew in to see the Red Sox-Yankees game tonight, throwing out a ceremonial "first pitch" on his way to a scheduled event in Florida tomorrow. I heard people mention it on the streets of Cambridge.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004 
The Convention is coming, the Convention is coming... [link]
I'm not one of the bloggers going to the Democratic National Convention. I didn't apply for various reasons, and am feeling mixed about that. It would be a real special experience, like a roller-coaster or 3 Comdexes at once I assume. But I couldn't commit to all that time, nor did I really want that pressure (as I'd put on myself), and frankly I never thought about how special it might be until it was too late. (I also might not have been chosen -- I'm a techie blogger with a specialized audience, not a political one.) The closest I got was being a catalyst in David Weinberger's pre-Convention camera purchase.

I feel very grateful to those that are blogging at the Convention. To me, they are the way we other bloggers (and blog readers) will get to vicariously feel what it's like to be there as a blogger. That's what I expect from reading the blogs -- to get feelings of being there through the eyes of someone I get to follow through time. A "traditional journalist" gets us the facts -- who, what, where, when, why. They try in many ways to be interchangeable, except that some may be closer to an "ideal" than others. Bloggers are different to me. They have a name and a history. I've seen how some of them have reacted to all sorts of things and know some of their perspectives. The Convention will fit in there in that stream from them over time, and the human element that they have already given us (or that we can read in old posts and in posts in the future) is something on which their reports will be carried. People see the world differently. I remember a child who when asked if they remembered visiting Cape Kennedy Space Center years before said "Is that the place where I saw the cat with her kittens?" with no mention of any huge rocket carcasses nearby. I want to hear the wonder at seeing things that are not supposed to be the "story" but that matter to someone. We know who is going to be nominated. What else do we learn instead from having so many people together for such a purpose with such emotion behind their reasons for being involved?

While I'm not in there, I guess I'll still write some of what I feel as a person nearby. The Convention has a force field that goes far beyond Causeway Street. That's a view I want to remember, too, and this log is where I often put things I want to remember.

Here are some observations:

Notice that I call it "the Convention", with a capital "C". In the Boston area this is a Big Thing. (I live a few miles from downtown in a close-by suburb, but for this event we're all in "Boston".) You can feel the excitement in the air. We didn't expect to get it here, and have no idea what it will be like. We don't have something like it to look back at for comparison. The city is quite different than it was - the Fleet Center (where the Convention will be held) is relatively new, replacing the old Boston Garden where the Celtics and Bruins (sports teams) used to play. The Big Dig has changed the landscape, but isn't completely done. We have a new bridge next to the Fleet Center -- one of the most beautiful in the world (at least in the eyes of many of us here). 9/11 happened and security takes on a whole new meaning. While not all the hijackers started in this area, some did, and I pass by two of the motels where they last slept very frequently -- a strange reminder. Kerry is our senator, so it's all local and national at the same time. We've met him.

Kerry bending down sitting on podium to talk to Joyce with John next to him

View from the north -- bridge cables showing
John Kerry at a Massachusetts Software Council meeting in May 2001 talking to Joyce Plotkin and John Cullinane; The new bridge, the Customs tower, and the Fleet Center
The city is very nervous. We are on display. Our big chance. We've lost some of the big games on the national stage (with the Red Sox) and won some others (with the Patriots) in the near past (but always a great show!). How will this go? Is there some security thing that could have been done that will be "obvious" in tragic hindsight? Are we doing it wrong? People all over are affected. Basically, downtown will be closed to lots of normal traffic for the duration of the Convention, meaning people can't get to or from work as they used to and maybe not at all. Things keep changing, so we don't know what new roadblocks will be thrown up (literally and figuratively). Some people are being more selfish, taking advantage of the situation. There are pickets threatened, which embarrasses me. They are using the delegates' support of unions against them and the city that invited them. It's like playing out a family feud at the wedding you invited all your friends to. Many others are sacrificing for the good of the city with a smile on their faces.

Temporary sign
Sign on the highway last week: I-93 North Closed 4 PM - 1 AM July 26 To July 29. One of many such signs. I-93 is the major road through downtown (taken with my cellphone camera as we zoomed by).
It's getting closer. As I returned from a trip last night, the airport had banners up welcoming people to the Convention. I received a copy of a book in the mail relating all sorts of great stories about the city (Scott Kirsner is one of the contributors and he kindly mentions me and Bob in his essay about innovation). The top newspaper headlines show the uncertainty and struggle with the details: "Fast city-police accord ordered", "Protest zone draws ire", "By sea or land, private transport fills a gap", "Neighbors fume over can removal: Security measure yields untidy result" (public trash cans were removed from the streets so bombs can't be hidden in them and then people put their trash in the empty metal can-holder frames).

Five more days. Lots of emotion, but the bottom line is I'm proud to be here in Boston and proud that we're the center of something big for the country.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004 
Software that lasts 200 years [link]
I just posted a new essay that grew out of my exposure to the state of Massachusetts' work on open source and open standards, as well as from my thinking about open source and software development business models in general.

It looks like the structure and culture of a typical prepackaged software company is not attuned to the long-term needs of society for software that is part of its infrastructure. This essay discusses the ecosystem needed for development that better meets those needs.


Tuesday, July 6, 2004 
Additional ListGarden documentation [link]
The reaction to the release of ListGarden has been wonderful. As a person who has been programming on and off since 1966, it's really a treat to have people that I don't know care about and use a product that I coded myself. It's been many years since that last happened (Trellix products were all written by other, very talented people -- I only did prototyping and sometimes specification work). As I wrote last February, "I love programming and hands-on product development." Another treat (but one I've had periodically thanks to this website) is having people link to my writings for their own sake (in this case to the tutorial "What is RSS?" page which is aimed at regular people and not techies who know what XML is). When you work alone, as I do now, the main feedback you can get is from outside.

ListGarden opens up RSS usage to applications and individuals for whom it would have been too cumbersome in the past. As Doc Searls so kindly wrote: "Looks like an ideal way to extend easy RSS generation from blogs to everything else: newsletters, private websites, whatever...Launches a new category, methinks."

I realize, though, that you need to be very explicit and help people the best you can to implement these applications. Things that are easy or that seem obvious to those of us who are more technically experienced or are closer to the RSS world are barriers to regular people. So, I've been adding more documentation. While aimed at ListGarden users, it may be helpful to others, too.

The most recent documentation additions are:

Adding an RSS feed to a normal website: A logical RSS use is for update notices on "regular" websites. These websites are often authored "by hand" with tools like Dreamweaver and Notepad that don't automatically create RSS feeds. This tutorial goes through the steps necessary to use ListGarden to add RSS information to such websites. It includes a long section about planning that talks mainly about marketing and procedural issues. That section goes into the good and bad about having an RSS feed, as well as writing issues such as the style and content of headline and description text.

I've tried to take my own advice, and added a ListGarden-specific XML RSS feed along with an automatically generated HTML companion to use as a "ListGarden News" page.

Storing RSS on inexpensive web server space: While RSS feeds are traditionally stored on a complete website along with other, related web pages, the simple applications made more practical by ListGarden may be good candidates for hosting on inexpensive storage space available to people who are not maintaining a complete website themselves. This page gives examples of storing public RSS feed files on inexpensive web server storage available through many ISPs and free web hosting communities, including specific FTP setup instructions.

Saturday, July 3, 2004 
Mail seems fixed [link]
The mail seems to be fixed, though some messages in the last couple of days may have been lost. Sorry to bother you all with this, but that's the way it is with email. I guess each email address really needs an RSS feed to provide status...
 
Email problems with bricklin.com [link]
I've been having email problems with all mail to and from bricklin.com since Wednesday night. It now seems that much of the mail in has been delayed or lost and none is getting out. If you tried to reach me since then and haven't heard back, and until further notice, please send mail to the account listed on the Software Garden Contact Us page instead of the normal ones at bricklin.com. Thanks and I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, June 29. 2004 
ListGarden 1.0 released [link]
I've just posted the 1.0 version of my ListGarden™ RSS Generator Program. It creates and maintains RSS feeds. Written in Perl, it runs either locally on a PC (or Mac or Linux box) or on a web server. The user interface is through a browser. When run locally, it does its own HTTP serving. It can upload the resulting XML file to a web server by FTP. The source code has been released under the GNU GPL license.


ListGarden icon: Sprout with roots

A new feature has been added since the beta release: In addition to creating the XML RSS file, it can also produce an HTML file with the same information as the XML. For some RSS feeds, where all of the important information is in the feed's item title, link, and description fields, this HTML file can provide the human readable backup needed. It's also nice to have a quick way of seeing which items are in the feed. I've added an "HTML" button linked to such a file to the home page of this weblog to go along with the "XML" button that links to the RSS XML file.

Human readable text of blog RSS posts
A sample of the optional companion HTML file
The proliferation and growing popularity of RSS readers, highlighted yesterday with Apple's announcement of one coming in the Safari browser, makes RSS a more and more appropriate means for disseminating all sorts of information. Public weblogs and news headlines are not the only application. Website change logs, companions to email newsletters, project status reports, simple lists, use behind the corporate firewall, and more are possible and desirable.

ListGarden is a useful addition to the RSS world. It is Open Source, and runs in a wide variety of configurations, including stand-alone on a personal computer. It gives you control of the location of the resulting XML file. You don't even need much of a website to join the RSS publishing world. Many ISP accounts include basic web hosting and FTP support, and work well with ListGarden which can produce the companion "full list" in HTML to go with the updates in the feed.

An issue I'm wondering about is private RSS feeds. When used behind the firewall, private web servers hosting RSS feeds should work fine with client-based RSS aggregators. What about in the open web? Do all aggregators handle password-protected RSS feeds, and handle them privately? I hope so. I'd want to be able to follow feeds keeping me updated about friends' illnesses, private event planning, etc., but I wouldn't want such information finding its way into Feedster...

Finally, I've also tried my hand at a "What is RSS?" page.

I hope people find this product helpful. So far, I'm finding that because of it I'm using RSS more and more to do things.

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