Tilting at Windmills

I tilt at windmills—often.

A day in my mind is a day in Cervantes’s world of going after things that are different than perceived.

It always gets worse when I surround myself with people who are likeminded. Interacting with like-minded folk makes me think that we really can change the world, that we can shift the paradigm and turn the world on its ear.

Maybe we can.

Maybe we can’t.

It’d sure be fun to try.

Will we try? I don’t know if we’re that crazy.

I do know that we’re that pissed about it enough to give it a good, long think.

B: “Every time we talk about this, we get bolder.”

G: “One of these days, we’ll be dumb enough to try.”

M: “You mean smart enough to try.”

G: “Okay, both.”

If only I could, say, give up sleeping for the next year.


I’ve been thinking about the evils of spam of late.

So much about Weblogs is open to attack: comments are a simple Web form, easy to script into oblivion; PingBack and TrackBack are open protocols that, in essence, put stuff on your page without your consent [assuming your logware allows that, of course]; referral logs can be spammed by spoofed HTTP requests, no matter what measures you take to lock down your referral logs.

I think I know the answer to this issue: a decentralized, permission-based system rolled out on a site-by-site basis.

You want to leave a comment on my site? You fill out a form that sends you an email with an authorization to link to my site, giving you an account from which you can comment. It’s a pain, and it’s a multi-step process, and yes, it raises the bar … but we have spam because there is no significant barrier to entry.

You want to PingBack or TrackBack my site? I agree with the WP people that TB/PB is, essentially, a comment and should be treated as such. If you want to TB/PB, you should have to fill out the same form.

Referral logs … not much to do there, other than maybe setting up a script that checks each referring page for an actual link before recording it to the log. Apache certainly shouldn’t do this, and this would be prone to DDoS [and also would make you far more prone to Slashdotting], but it would be a nice-to-have, I guess.

I thought about suggesting a centralized commenting service that would work on trust … but that’s too easy to socially engineer.

I think this is where it’s gotta go. If you put up a different barrier at each site that must be overcome, you’ve made it harder for each spammer to nail you.

[I will be updating this post with relevant linkage later on, but right now, I’m trying to get work done around the office, and I just wanted to strike while the iron was hot.]

Shirky Slams Meta-Utopia … So What?

Clay Shirky spent 3600 words debunking the ‘future of the Semantic Web’ as an artificial intelligence utopia. I guess I should expect this kind of thing from Shirky, who’s probably prone to fully stating his case ad infinitum just to get you to agree with him. [That’s a trait of academes; it is neither right nor wrong, but simply is, as my father is wont to say.]

You know, early on in searching around on this stuff about this Semantic Web thing&emdash;which I first ran across when realizing that I was behind the curve on Web design&emdash;I ran across a document, Cory Doctorow’s “Metacrap”, that silenced the issue for me.

It shouldn’t really surprise me that there are idealists that dream of a Semantic Web future. In any great trend, there are idealists of all sorts who push doing the right thing for simply outrageous reasons&emdash;but there reasons are just plausible enough that, if you ignore the fact that their foundations are built upon sand, you can smile and nod and say, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that.”

That’s not bad in and of itself, but when a smart guy like Mark Pilgrim slams metacrap some sixteen-plus months after Doctorow, well, I begin to wonder if the idealists have lost their minds just a wee bit.

[There is a slight pause while I consider that many of these idealists love a technocratic, finger-to-the-wind politician named Howard Dean. :chuckle: I’m not a Confederate-flag-flying redneck, but I do live in the South and own a truck. Of course, as a practicing aerospace engineer, I’m outside of the demographic Dean was seeking. But, I digress. This is about the Web, and Dean is only using the Web for his own political ends, much as Jesse Ventura used college kids to become governor of Minnesota and then maintained the status quo antebellum governing practices that hardly increased fundage for those college kids’ schools. :snicker:]

Is the Semantic Web an ideal? Certainly. Shirky writes, “This example sets the pattern for descriptions of the Semantic Web. First, take some well-known problem. Next, misconstrue it so that the hard part is made to seem trivial and the trivial part hard. Finally, congratulate yourself for solving the trivial part.” The man is right, but that doesn’t mean that metadata is a horrible thing.

IF the market ever pushes it, you’ll see metadata well and truly go commercial. This won’t happen for one-to-one economics; it’ll still be for one-to-many economics. Only a large enterprise could really push metadata in a commercial market. [Those programmers don’t work for free.] Some might argue that Amazon is pushing it there, and maybe they are. Time will tell.

But, much like going to the moon, I think that you push for metadata just because you can. Now, one might wonder why I used the moon analogy [rather than the more ubiquitous climbing-the-mountain one]. It’s not just a desire to remind you that, yes, I am a frickin’ rocket scientist … it’s also an acknowledgement that chasing ideals leads to positive, unintended consequences. The tools you need to accomplish huge ideals teach you lots of things that you didn’t know, mainly because you have to be creative to overcome seemingly looming obstacles. Anytime creativity is spurred, good things eventually fall out.

There will be some worth to all of this metacrap. It’s just preposterous to think that we know what it is here towards the end of 2003, and frankly, if we know its worth in 2008, I’ll be surprised.

Unified Killer Apps

David Weinberger got me to thinking about the future of Weblogs. There are two points of his that I wish to address at moderate length.

1. The word “blog” will expand to cover any linkable posting (a place) where a person gets to speak her mind more than once. If it’s more permanent than IM, it’ll be a blog.

That’s what the Weblog [blog, whatever] really has become these days. This is the after-effect of a very simple-to-use personal publishing system. Not everyone wants to toss down 4000 words once a day.

3. The lines between blogs and discussions will blur. Contributing to a blog discussion requires less effort than creating your own and taking the initiative to come up with topics every day or so. The regular participants in a blog discussion will consider themselves to be blogging. (We see this beginning to happen in the comment boards of the Howard Dean blog.)

This is the one that I really see as an interesting point for further thinking. As I commented: The key thing that’s going to be important here is that third point. People like message boards for building community because of the ease of posting and the threading abilities. The first person to really make Weblogging and threaded commenting work on non-Slashcode stuff is going to make the Weblog world very, very happy.

Continue reading Unified Killer Apps

Wondergeeks, Form Power of XML!

I swear.

I’d rather just have an RSS feed.

Seriously, though … with the advent of RSS, I can get my surfing done in a far more efficient manner; heck, I can read more because of it.

Now, why some of my friends have a site that’s powered by a piece of logware that allows you to create XML feeds … but don’t offer any … just … ugh! 😀

Too Late for Me

Matt Haughey is apparently catching a lot of flak from people who are upset that he’s making money from his PVRBlog site.

What Haughey doesn’t say is a pretty simple thing: PVRBlog is called a blog but it’s not really one; it’s simply personal publishing on a topic that you’re passionate about. You’re using logware, and you’re linking to stories, but you’re more aggregating than you are doing anything else. [Where a “blog” used to be a Weblog and more linklisting and snarky commentary, people now (annoyingly, to me) use the term as a catch-all, and “blogs” in people’s minds tends to be more about a personal site than anything else. Because the terminology is vague, it’s confusing to some folks.]

Haughey’s doing low-cost electronic publishing, the same kind of stuff that I was doing with TOTK.com Sports as recently as a couple years ago. To call it a blog&emdash;even if what Haughey’s doing is pretty dang close to the original Weblog motif&emdash;is just asking for confusion. Because people have taken the term and perverted it, I think you have to get away from the term.

Haughey said, “Maybe I made the mistake of calling my article ‘blogging for dollars’ since it’s not exactly blogging in the classic sense.” Best as I can tell, Matt, that’s the only mistake you made. 🙂

Can Technology Make A Way?

Andrew’s post about being an independent musician has left me thinking further about the problem that independent musicians face, and how technology can be a boon:

Some recent goings-on at the Indieheaven message board have caused me to re-think my approach to this whole “music business” thing. Up until now, we’ve fallen into the world’s way of thinking: create an excellent “product” (our CD), and everyone will want it and buy it and you will be successful. This is the mindset that keeps DiscMakers in business and has given many a musician a basement full of shrinkwrapped, barcoded, dust-gathering “excellent products.” At Indieheaven, we’ve been talking a lot about honest relationships, and how they’re integral to an independent artist. From sharing gigs with like-minded musicians, to just connecting with the people who like your music on a personal level, I couldn’t agree more.

Will the “relationship” approach bring you to Jars of Clay level instantly? Not likely. But to think of music not as “my shiny offering that you all will want because it’s so awesome,” and instead as just another way to serve our neighbor has definitely been a reality check for me. Maybe Carla and I aren’t meant to expand beyond Maine/New England. Maybe we’ll never be one of the “cool” indies everyone raves about at Grassroots. But if we’ve managed to go for this long, and someone’s listening, we must be doing something “right.”

Put simply, people like good music, and for the most part, people know good music when they hear it. The problem for many people is in finding it.

Continue reading Can Technology Make A Way?

Playing Nice With Web Searchers

People find my personal sites for all sorts of interesting reasons. I’ve been thinking about the frustration that people must have with that, and I’ve also been thinking about the general frustration that many people have with searching the Web and ending up on personal sites that only peripherally relate to their search terms.

I think I have a solution but not enough know-how to implement it; because of that, I’m going to be cheap and do a TrackBack to LazyWeb and see if there’s a geek that has a quick solution to this that can be happily released to the community of Webloggers.

Continue reading Playing Nice With Web Searchers

Don’t You Love It When …

… points are just utterly missed?

I’m sure that Anil does.

Nothing like making a solid point about how old technology is being repackaged as new technology and having it turn into an OS flamewar.

Three commentors appeared to have understood the point–and I was a bit slow in catching onto it myself.

Of course, in the “Mas alla! Over the next hill!” push of technology [genuflection to Moore’s Law here, yo], everyone wants to forget the little niggling details.

After all … wasn’t RSS originally a Netscape push format kinda thing? Winer–no matter what you want to say about the dude–saw that it could be used for other purposes and did a nice job of using a flathead screwdriver on a Phillips-headed screw.

And yes, my mechanical/aerospace engineering background will probably forever leave me to making such obfuscatory comparisons. Le sigh.