Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category


Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Starting in 2009, most of my social media activity was in FriendFeed. I’ve written about it before; it was far better than Facebook, Twitter, and any other site in terms of features — and the community was tightknit and supportive, especially after Facebook acquired the site in 2011, and development ceased (causing the user base to slowly migrate away.

Today, FriendFeed died. Facebook pulled the plug.

There is a replacement site, Frenf.It, created by an Italian FF user known as Senape, and it offers a lot of promise. But when FF’s shutdown was announced a month ago, I resolved to return to blogging. In the past I was too much of a perfectionist and I let good post ideas languish (or just posted them to FF instead). I’ll try to just dash off quick posts here more frequently.  

Resolutions are just words…

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

…until they turn into results.

[A photo from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, December 31, 2012, outer bay tank, with the profiles of different observers staring at fish]

Resolution: Eat and watch more fish.

There seems to be a justifiable backlash against making new year’s resolutions among my friends, but I’m old-fashioned. Despite being two weeks late in posting these (I had to try them out for a bit first!), here’s what I’m aspiring to improve this year in my personal life:

  • Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around, as described in this article by Jeff Haden detailing the 10 habits of charismatic people.
  • Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime), and sign up for Goodreads.
  • Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.
  • For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in Runkeeper (total distance, speed, etc.). (My January goal is to run 20 miles; I’m currently over 11 miles at the halfway point of the month, so I’m on track.)
  • Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.
  • Each week, have six workouts: two runs, and four short sessions of calisthenics/abs/weightlifting.
  • After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.
  • Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)
  • By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.
  • Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.
  • Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.


Friday, August 20th, 2010

I’m very sorry but I remembered to blog recently. I have not been busy at all, so it should be easy to not blog, but somehow I did write something. Sorry.

With blogging being dead, it’s critical to not maintain the long form development of thoughts and issues in this medium. But I screwed up. I am posting. Again: Sorry.

There’s been a lot to not write about, which is why it’s been difficult to not blog, but up until now I’ve managed.

I can only hope that no one reads this any longer, and not promise to post in the future.

Picture is unrelated.

Buzz vs. FriendFeed: 14 features I miss in Buzz

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
[Screenshot of Stephen Mack's feed in Google Buzz]

My feed in Google Buzz

If you use Gmail, you’re likely aware of Google’s new social networking service, Google Buzz, which launched this week.

It’s only the the third day of Buzz’s public existence, and I only received access yesterday, so my experience is very preliminary.

In contrast, I’ve been using FriendFeed since January of 2008, so with two years’ experience under my belt, FriendFeed feels very familiar to me, and naturally my bias is towards what I know.

As I wrap my head around Buzz, I want to like it and have it succeed, but there are quite a few aspects of the service I can’t help but find lacking. Here are the features that FriendFeed has that I miss the most in Buzz:

  1. Pause. Both FriendFeed and Buzz present a feed that updates in real-time. With FriendFeed, the play button (or q key) pauses/unpauses updates. With Buzz (on a browser, not on mobile), items I’m reading suddenly getting scrolled away and I can’t figure out how to stop that.
  2. Custom lists of users. With FriendFeed, I can create my own lists (“Co-workers” and “Relatives” and “Favorites”) and automatically filter their updates. That way, posts from my relatives and close personal friends don’t get lost in the noise. With Buzz, either I’m going to have not follow so many people or figure out some other strategy for not losing updates that are important to me. Most likely I’m going to have to unfollow a lot of people who followed me.
  3. “My discussions.” In FriendFeed, there’s an easy link for me to keep track of items I’ve liked or commented on. With Buzz, some of the items I’ve liked or participated in appear in my regular inbox, but not consistently and not in a simple list.
  4. Smart collapsing of long posts and comments. FriendFeed’s layout for keeping items compact until I click “more” or “more comments” is ingenious. Buzz wastes a lot of screen real estate by comparison. Especially on the mobile version.
  5. Smart, flexible hiding, including hiding by service. FriendFeed allows very smart ways to hide updates I’m not interested in. For example, I never care about anyone’s Foursquare updates. In FriendFeed I can hide an entire service, or many types of updates from a particular noisy user. Buzz offers no such automatic filters yet.
  6. Hiding duplicates. Buzz seems to have some bugs right now where an individual post by a user is displayed twice (or even more) in my feed in two separate places. It could be the user posted the item twice by accident. But also several people could post the same item (a news item, for example). FriendFeed automatically collapses duplicate items into a single line (“1 related entry from so-and-so”). Buzz desperately needs this.
  7. Bookmarklet for easy sharing. The FriendFeed bookmarklet is ingenious and easy to use, a button that appears on your browser’s toolbar that lets you easily share web content, including excerpts and images. Buzz lets you share a URL but doesn’t (yet?) intelligently create an excerpt of the page. (See screenshot.)
  8. Reposting to other services, such as Twitter. The absence of this one is flabbergasting to me. FriendFeed lets you bring in services and also “exports” your posts to other services, including Facebook (via an application) and Twitter. Buzz is a one-way street right now: It can bring in your items from multiple connections, but once inside Buzz, there it stays. It can’t become your Facebook status or a tweet.
  9. Groups and “Imaginary Friends.” Not everyone will join FriendFeed, so you can create a placeholder account on them that brings in their public content into the FriendFeed interface. Similarly, not everyone will join Buzz, so it’d be nice to be able to get someone’s chat content into the same UI. But that feature doesn’t seem to be available. On FriendFeed you can use this to create a “group” or “room” built from whatever content you like, such as the USGS earthquake feed or the Amazon MP3 deal of the day Twitter account.
  10. Plethora of supported services. Buzz currently seems to support somewhere around a dozen “connections” that can create items in buzz whenever you use the service: GChat status, Facebook updates, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, FriendFeed, Picasa, blog content, Google Reader, and probably others. But FriendFeed supports 58 services, including Amazon wishlists, Reddit and lots more.

    Screenshot of FriendFeed

    Screenshot of my feed in FriendFeed

  11. Customized profile page. Not a deal-breaker, but users today expect their profile page to have some customization. Maybe not to the extent that MySpace allows, but both Twitter and FriendFeed let you pick your background image and color scheme. Buzz relies on your Google Profile, which doesn’t allow you to customize the layout or color scheme or background at all. (Buzz inherits your Gmail theme, so you can control how things look on your screen, but that doesn’t display for anyone else. Thus everyone’s feed looks the same.)
  12. Posting of text and photos simultaneously via e-mail. From my mobile phone I can take a picture, and e-mail it to The subject line of the e-mail becomes the subject of the posted item. Up to three pictures can be posted. Any text in the body of the e-mail become included with the item, as the first comment in FriendFeed. Buzz allows you to send a picture to, but any text outside of the subject is ignored.
  13. Friend of a friend discovery. In FriendFeed, if I follow my friend Georgia, and she “likes” an item from her friend Lani, then I automatically see that item from Lani and can then choose to follow Lani as well. In this manner you can expand your social network and meet new people with shared interests. With Buzz, I don’t have any option to see items that Georgia liked, unless I already follow the person who posted the item. (Note that FriendFeed is flexible and lets you hide friend-of-friend updates if you prefer.)
  14. Flexible notification channels. Depending on my preferences, I can have FriendFeed notify me in several ways whenever a particular person posts, or if an item I posted gets comments. I can get an IM, a desktop popup via a standalone application, or an e-mail, either in real-time or at the end of the day.

So what does Buzz do better? Its mobile version is location-aware, and there’s a very interesting implementation with Google maps for following local updates. I was able to see someone post about a special offer at a restaurant near where I pick up my kids from their preschool, for example. Location awareness could be a tremendous change to how I interact with social media. Buzz also makes it very easy to e-mail an item to someone. Notification of new followers is handled real-time on screen, and it’s very easy to reciprocate. (FriendFeed notifies you of new followers via e-mail, so following back is less real-time and a tiny bit more of an effort.) Buzz has better keyboard controls than FriendFeed’s keyboard controls, having inherited the excellent Gmail keyboard implementation. I’m sure there’s more. But I can’t think of anything else yet.

In any consumer space, first-mover advantage is of course critical, because it builds mindshare and market share quickly via the head-start on the competition. But the competition gets a huge advantage also, because they don’t have to create the market, they don’t have to educate users on the category, and they can copy-and-paste the feature set while offering refinements and new features.

But if the competition only copies SOME of what the original offers, they can only succeed either by excellent marketing, an improved implementation on the core feature set, or because of a built-in audience from the brand name or related product. Google has copied some of what FriendFeed offered two years ago. But they really copied only a small subset, and as far as I can see even the core functionality of Buzz needs a lot of work: Counters are buggy, the layout is ugly and hard to follow, and the integration with Gmail feels intrusive and clumsy.

But it’s from Google, and by bolting it onto Gmail (which I use heavily and find to be the best web-based e-mail solution in existence), Buzz has instantly catapulted into a dominant position in the social media space, because they can make all 150 million Gmail users aware of it and even force them to try it.

FriendFeed comment plugin installed

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I’ve added Gürkan OLUÇ’s FriendFeed Comment plug-in, which should allow for any new posts I make here to have their FriendFeed comments and likes displayed as well.

UPDATE July 25th: I could never get that plug-in, or the one by Glenn Slaven, working with WordPress 2.8.x. Glenn confirmed he’s abandoned his plug-in, and Gürkan never replied to my inquiries. I’ve instead used the BackType plug-in, which seems to work great.

I claim this bacon/tilde ASCII art in the name of Zeigen

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Everyone is familiar with <3 representing a heart, and ~~~`~,~~<@ representing a rose, and \o being a wave hello, and @#!@$@#:-) being Carmen Miranda, but in my latest Gchat status update discussed today on FriendFeed, I believe I was first to suggest that the tilde (~) represents bacon.

Five seconds of Googling did not contradict me. Please, let me have this.

Enjoy some bacon:


WordPress users: Don’t forget to adjust for DST

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

If you use WordPress, even the latest version doesn’t automatically adjust the offset for daylight saving time. You need to adjust it manually (along with all the clocks in the house).

To change it: Log in to your admin page, click on Settings, and in the General tab that appears by default, change the Timezone field to be one less than what you had previously. (For example, East coasters change it from UTC-5 to UTC-4, while West coasters change it from UTC-8 to UTC-7.)

As WordPress itself says under that field, “Unfortunately, you have to manually update this for Daylight Savings Time. Lame, we know, but will be fixed in the future.”

If you don’t do this, all the timestamps for posting times, comments, etc., will be off by an hour.

Then write yourself a reminder to change it again in six months.

WordPress 2.7.1

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009 is now running WordPress 2.7.1; please let me know if you see any issues.

A decade for me, and a profitable year for TiVo

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Today marks a personal milestone and a corporate milestone:

  • I started at TiVo on March 2, 1999, precisely ten years ago. That was one office building, nine desk locations, six different bosses, over 113,000 e-mails sent, and over 15,000 meetings ago. This is by far my favorite job of my career so far, and TiVo is an enjoyable and challenging company to work for. In terms of what I’ve learned and the people I’ve met and had the chance to work with, and the products and services I’ve been involved in, the experience has been greatly enriching. I look forward to ten more years (at least!).
  • A corporate press release today announces TiVo’s first profitable year. Congratulations, TiVo!

As I’ve described elsewhere, that first month at TiVo was insane, especially as we got closer and closer to the Blue Moon launch date.

TiVo Blue Moon Celebration, March 31, 1999, with Stephen Mack and Richard Bullwinkle in the foreground, and Bob Vallone and Tony Dicroce in the background

The photo here (scanned from an actual developed photograph, I’d almost forgotten about those) shows me and Richard Bullwinkle at our launch celebration, at the manufacturing plant where the first real TiVo units are about to roll off the production line. We’re all wearing blue smocks so that we could go onto the factory floor to see them pass diagnostics in real-time. Standing next to me is Richard Bullwinkle, TiVo’s first QE guy and webmaster and evangelist (in that order). Behind me you can make out Bob Vallone’s head, to the left, and Tony Dicroce (who used to commute to TiVo from Los Angeles each week, and sleep in the parking lot; that’s the kind of stuff we did back in the dot-com bubble days). I think I see Jaz’s head and Ta-Wei Chien’s head as well. You can see the exhaustion dripping off our faces. We lost count of the all-nighters that month. Ah, nostalgia!

New terms of service for

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

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  • Content you make at any other site that is in any way similar to content must be surrendered to us in whole. Such similarity may be found through your use of words such as (but not limited to) “land fish,” “sea kitten,” “waffle,” “bacon,” or “or,” “the,” “of,” and “and.”
  • Not reading the terms of this license requires you to submit a $50 non-readership penalty.
  • Reading the terms of this license requires you to license the license for a $50 licensing fee license.

Now there’s a title for the upcoming Facebook movie

Monday, February 9th, 2009

[25 random things I hate about you movie poster]

Plinky linky another time sinky

Friday, January 16th, 2009

I’m trying out Plinky. It’s a site that asks an interesting or thought-provoking question each day. You then fill out the answer and share the answers with your friends. (And then buy stuff? Frankly the business model escapes me.)

The first question I answered was: Name three songs you’d put on a road trip mix tape. Here’s my answer.

Way too literal

[Red Hot Chili Peppers Album Cover art]

Road Trippin’
Red Hot Chili Peppers

[Rascal Flatts album cover art]

Life is a Highway
Rascal Flatts

(My son likes it because it was in Cars.)

[Willie Nelson cover art]

On the Road Again
Willie Nelson


Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

I’m going for daily posts. Yeah, it’s a new year’s thing. We’ll see how long it lasts. I reserve the right to fill in backdated posts (like this one) after the fact.

VGT Omnivore’s Hundred a la Zeigen

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

This is going around, and it’s been a while since I did a meme theme, so… Why not! Here’s a hundred random foods, and you bold the ones you’ve eaten, and cross out the ones you’d never try.

“Never” is a very strong word. (What if you were trapped in the Andes with a rugby team? Marooned in a life raft in the Atlantic? Competing on Survivor?) So, I took “never consider” to mean “probably would not consider,” but even so there are not many cross outs.

Most of the ones that aren’t crossed out I’d genuinely like to try, although it didn’t seem worth the effort to score each item on how tasty I considered it or how much I wanted to try it; I did add some comments in parentheses here and there.

My score is only 54, which doesn’t seem that high to me. Post in the comments your score if you don’t have a blog to do this yourself!

  1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

(Links are to Wikipedia. FAQ here, analysis here.)

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (allergic to peanut butter, that vilest of substances)
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (allergic again)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava (ate this once by mistake, not knowing it had walnuts in it)
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (tried a tiny sip once, didn’t like it)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (nope, not going to try any form of smoking)
37. Clotted cream tea (probably had this as a kid but can’t remember)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (at a memorable TiVo celebration in 1999 was the last time)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (really want to try this some day)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis (once was enough)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (I’ve tried each separately but never together)
73. Louche absinthe (thanks to an absinthe bar at Burning Man)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (Someday, I hope.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox (I’m allergic to salmon)
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (Garlic Festival for the win!)

Web 2.0 diplomacy

Monday, September 1st, 2008

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.” — Wynn Catlin

By publishing that quote (it’s frequently misattributed to Will Rogers, but I have no idea who Wynn Catlin was), I’ve just eliminated any chance that I could ever become a genuine diplomat. During the vetting process, the hiring committee would doubtless read my blog, find this quote, and thus find my character incompatible with proper diplomatic bearing.

Any post to a blog, to twitter, to a forum or newsgroup, and any photo posted to flickr or facebook or myspace can come back to haunt you. (Quite a few people have written me over the years to say that their name came up in a web search with the first result pointing to someplace on my old personal web site where I quoted them about some Tori Amos thing or random kibology thing, and could I please remove their name because they were applying for such-and-such a job and they did not wish to appear as the type of person who approved of Tori Amos or kibology or whatever.)

A few days ago, I published an essay about the dilemma between public and private personas when participating in web 2.0 sites. One point I didn’t mention, however, was that ultimately many people prefer to be private to the extent of not sharing anything about themselves at all, which by definition means not participating in public forums. While many sites allow anonymity, many do not (because anonymous users tend to contribute less positively).

Probably this is the genuinely biggest barrier to adoption.

So, as a social media site, how do you overcome this barrier?

  1. Well-constructed trials. Allow users to participate and share anonymously in a walled garden or with a subset of the features so they can get a sense of the site and how it’s fun or valuable, and dangle features in front of them that require registration. Make sure existing users have a way to easily hide the anonymous folks.
  2. Privacy guarantees. Allow users real control over who gets to see their content, be explicit about how long the content will be archived, and describe exactly which search engines will index that content.
  3. Make sure there’s a way for new users to get their questions answered. The very first, most prominent content on the home page must be a concise description of what the site is about, who it’s for, and a link to the FAQ. Follow that with either a new users forum (that allows anonymous posting), or live chat session with either vetted guides or mentors who are advanced users of the site.

Engaging with prospective users is a diplomatic balancing act. Treating privacy concerns as nice doggies only to crush those concerns with rocks isn’t the right approach; the only answer is open and complete disclosure.

Wheeee! Fit?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The truth is, since having kids I’ve not been exercising regularly.

The real truth is, I stopped exercising regularly even a year before Sammy was conceived.

The sad, genuine, unvarnished truth is, my weight is not where I want it to be.

Technology perhaps to the rescue? After reading reviews and testimonials about Wii Fit, and seeing the Wii in action at my brother Phil’s place, I managed to find a Wii and Wii Fit (thanks to Zoolert), ordered online, and all three boxes arrived today.

Setting up the Wii involved surprisingly large amounts of waste packaging and cardboard recycling, but the process was easy. My wife was quite skeptical at first, but a quick game of bowling won her over. (“This is fun, isn’t it!” Sure is, especially when she beat me 126 to 95.) Then it was time to get going with Wii Fit.

Much has been written elsewhere about Wii Fit itself. There are some curious UI decisions, an odd mix of a cartoon aesthetic on some screens and 1970s fitness brochure aesthetic on other sections.  I agree that there’s a bit too much time spent loading and explaining when I’m standing there tapping my foot and just want to get going with exercising. I’m also extremely skeptical of the “Wii Fit Age” (took the body test twice today, before and after exercising, and was first put at 49, +8 from my actual age, and then put at 52. Kimi was put at +11 years. If repeating a test generates results that vary wildly, how accurate can that test be?

But the activities seem (after day 1 at least) to have some variety, and the format is perfectly suited to appeal to my desire to unlock things and complete things.

Some may feel the constant unlocking of hidden exercises and activities combined with the corny motivational screens and dubious emphasis on balance is just so much rat-maze navigation, but to me it’s like a game, and anything encouraging me to view exercise as a fun activity can’t be too bad.

Microsoft has reportedly claimed that 60% of Wii Fit users try it exactly once. Seems like sour grapes to me.

So, my poor long-suffering reader, I’m about to embark on the most banal of all blogging activities, and keep track publicly of my progress against my Wii fit goals.

My BMI is at 26.06, which is overweight. My goal is to reach a BMI of 22 (normal) in two months, losing twelve pounds in the process.

Day 1: After setting things up, I tried a couple of exercises in each of the four areas, starting with Aerobics. The step exercises impressed me immediately. Running seemed less well implemented but the scenery made it interesting — my problem was that I kept trying to game the system by trying to shake the remote in order to figure out how it calculated my pace. In the Strength category, the first activity, leg raises, made me feel very uncoordinated. For Yoga, I tried just the breathing and half moon poses; it seemed fine but I’m unlikely to put a lot of emphasis on this section. I did notice that just doing the half moon made me sweat. Finally, for balance, I was terrible at soccer ball headers, but not too bad with the ski slalom. And then I rounded things out with some hula hooping. I have to say I enjoyed myself.

Day 1 stats: 30 minutes of banked exercise, Wii Fit age 49, BMI 26.06.

The Web 2.0 dilemma: Public vs. personal personas

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

“Web 2.0,” if it means anything at all, is a term usually used to reflect the modern trend of interactive web sites that encourage users to create and share content. Blogs, wikis such as Wikipedia, forums, social networks, podcasts, comment streams, RSS feeds — all these approaches and technologies form the backbone of the web 2.0 universe. (The term also reflects the second decade of the web’s existence, and the transition of web users from dialup speeds to broadband speeds.)

Web 2.0 today is in a state similar to the state of the web in 1998. Back then, four years into its rapid growth period, the “World Wide Web” (as we still called it then) had proven itself to be much more than a passing fad, and the vast majority of major organizations had created a presence. URLs had become a common sight on billboards. While mainstream and popular, there were still many people who had not really used the web extensively.

Today, almost everyone has heard of blogs, and most have used one or more of the vanguard web 2.0 sites such as Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Twitter, etc. But even the most popular of these sites sign up only a small fraction of their visitors as users.

The central dilemma I see as a barrier to future growth is an adoption paradox: Coming up with incentives for users to create accounts and to start generating the content that in turn attracts more users to sign up. Peer pressure is an effective motivator, but many potential users don’t sign up because they don’t get what their role is, what the site is about, or how it would benefit them. In the meantime, they either avoid the site or lurk there.

(The lurker phenomenon is prevalent: A popular Flickr photo will have tens of thousands of views, but very few comments or links. A popular Twitter user’s page might be read by 100 times more people than actually sign up to follow that person. YouTube has hundreds of millions of viewers, millions of registered users, but less than a million users who have uploaded a video. For, according to my server logs, more than 5,000 unique visitors came to this site last month, and an unknown number more viewed the content via an RSS reader — but only 20 unique users left a comment.)

A user’s role at a web 2.0 site falls along a continuum between what I’ll call “public” versus “personal” personas.

Let’s take Flickr as an example. When you sign up for Flickr and begin publishing photographs, you’ll be doing one of these things:

  • Publishing artful or beautiful or technically proficient photographs intended to be appreciated by a general audience
  • Publishing photographs of a particular subject matter (such as, say, model airplanes) intended to be appreciated by fans of that subject matter (such as model airplane enthusiasts)
  • Publishing photos of your friends and family, intended to be appreciated by people who know you
  • Some combination of the above

YouTube follows the same pattern: Many users are uploading family videos, others are uploading things they find generally amusing or interesting, or a series of videos on a particular topics, or anywhere in between.

Similarly, blogs can be personal and intended for friends/family (journal sites), or public but general (such as a celebrity’s blog), or public and focused on a particular topic.

With some sites, such as Digg, the expectation is that there is no “personal” content — everything is for public consumption. You’d never promote stories about your family, only stories of interest to just about everyone.

Other sites, such as Facebook, are the opposite: Other than corporate or celebrity profiles, everything a user puts there is personal, about you, so almost no Facebook profiles are for artistic purposes. It’s all about your personal life.

Some Twitter users highlight the personal even to point of banality (“Ate lunch at sandwich place again. Had Turkey. Was good.”) while others spread breaking news, one-liners, observations, or punditry in an effort to attract more followers and support their public persona as a blogger or artist.

I’ve written about FriendFeed previously. and it continues to be the web 2.0 site I’m most interested in. The dilemma for me (and therefore I presume for most users) is where to draw the line.

For example: A friend posts a picture of their new haircut or has a status of “sad.” Because it’s a friend of mine, I want to compliment the haircut or ask them why they’re sad. Sometimes I just want to post what I had for lunch.

BUT — I have a few different types of followers on FriendFeed (co-workers, friends, business acquaintances, online contacts, random strangers). The people who subscribe to me who don’t know the person involved won’t want to follow that conversation. Sure, it’s fairly easy for them to skip it, but if my goal is to acquire more followers, I need to do so by keeping my persona public. So part of me becomes reluctant to post “personal” comments or links on FriendFeed, because the role I’ve so far taken on there is more public than personal. (I’m usually interested in starting conversations with a wide variety of interesting people about topics that I care about, and the items I share there are generally not about me.)

One prolific FriendFeed user, the notorious Robet Scoble, discussed creating a second account that’s more private, just for personal items — but that’s far from an ideal solution. Fragmenting yourself into different accounts is difficult to manage (especially when you start getting into the weeds of managing duplicate feeds, remembering to unsubscribe or subscribe to different people and join certain rooms on both of your accounts), and the UI of the site presumes that you only have a single account.

Yesterday FriendFeed launched a beta test of their new interface, and it’s a great improvement. In addition to improved aesthetics, there are a plethora of new features. The most important is the ability to categorize the people you follow into whatever labels you assign (Personal, Coworkers, Interesting, Noisy — whatever). Two of the default labels are “Personal” and “Professional,” which supports the observation I’m trying to make here.

However, I think FriendFeed has it almost backwards: It’s not so much that I want to categorize my friends based on how I know them (although I do want that) — much more, I want to categorize what I publish. Let me label the things I share as “Personal” or “Public” (and use even more tags if I want to assign them). That way the people who subscribe to me can decide if they want the full feed (complete with my lunch plans and haircut comments) or to automatically excise those parts they won’t care about.

For all web 2.0 sites, the first job is to clearly explain what the site is about, show how it benefits the prospective user, and ease new users up the learning curve. Once that’s done, helping users understand and manage their role along the public/personal continuum is essential to making the site sticky and successful. Tagging and categorization is the answer for that. Smart tools and good design will be needed to make this task intuitive and easy.

With Flickr, you can subscribe to a user’s entire photostream, or just to an individual series (as tagged by the user). The next step for many other web 2.0 sites, including Twitter, Facebook, and most of all FriendFeed, is to catch up to that concept.

Check out BayDad!

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Steve Lacy, a friend and former co-worker, has created BayDad, a blog by, for, and about dads in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll be blogging there a bit, and I just wrote my first post there, about The Baylands park in Palo Alto.

If you’re interested in parks, parenting, kids activities, tech useful for parents, and/or you happen to live in the area, please give BayDad a read — and if you’re interested in contributing, let me know.

Oh yeah, blogging

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Yeah, I was just kidding about that “returning 8/25” thing. That was just excuse-making. Please to excuse.

In the meantime, here’s the number of posts I’ve managed each month.

[Graph showing # of blog posts per month]

Seasonal variation appears to apply.

Looking for your favorite shows and blogs?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Why, we’re watching the Olympics too. We’re all watching! Your favorite shows and blogs will return after the Olympics. — returning on Monday, August 25.

And now, back to our live coverage of the prelim quarterfinal qualifications of the men’s indoor short track handball 400 meter speed dressage beach trapshooting, where the welterweight Latvian team is in the medal hunt against a field of veteran Olympic athletes, including superstar Zbgnw Klrnzxst. But first, we check in with women’s table tennis. Bob?