Everytime I give my email address to a company, I create a new email address that I can trace back to that company. That way, I can see who's selling my email address by looking at the "To" header in spams that I receive. I mentioned this about a year ago in the "United Email = Broken" post. Well, here's an update. These are the companies that have sold my email address without my consent. Thanks a lot!
- Datek, which merged with Ameritrade in 2002 and is now TD Ameritrade
- United Airlines. I've created multiple email addresses for United and received spam on all of them
- Micro Center, the electronic store
- Vindigo. I no longer use their service.
- Network Solutions. That gives you confidence, eh?
I have no illusions that sharing these results will change anything, but I figure a little public humiliation wouldn't hurt.
I'm generally not one to point to another post and say "yeah, what he said" -- it's just another echo in the chamber. But I can't help myself with the latest YouTube debate. I am in complete agreement with Fred in his post Stop The YouTube Hating!.
Yes, YouTube is a company that's founded on a very clever viral Flash widget. Yes, I'm sure someone could now replicate YouTube's web site and technology. But that's not the point. As Fred says:
It's the experience. The tools. The player. The comments. The community. That is the essence of YouTube. These guys invented the embeddable flash player. The single best move in the online video game to date. I love them and the service they've built and the community that exists there.
And that's it right there. Do you know how hard it is to get all of that right? Each piece might be trivial or straighforward, but getting the gestalt of the whole experience to work is something else entirely. And that's what YouTube has done. And that's why it's the first place I look for any video content, and why Dane Cook referenced YouTube in his SNL monologue the other night, and why YouTube is awash with "A:F6" tributes this morning.
Remember when, before imdb, you'd remember something about an old movie or some actor and you'd be left with an unanswered question? That's what YouTube is to me -- the place to go to "answer questions", and then some.. My hat's off to what YouTube has created, and I hope they get ludicrously rewarded for creating one of the few services that changes how life with the net is lived.
Looks like we're heading into the next wave of photo sharing apps with Slide and FilmLoop. Just like we're starting to see RSS get pushed down into the plumbing layer, we're also going to see p2p start to become more invisible and "just work". I think the next test of community apps will be "can I just install this on my parents' computer and just have it work and update?" I've been using FilmLoop (thanks for the tip, Eric) and I've been very impressed, even though it's still very beta and there are lots of kinks to work out.
Jakob Nielsen recently penned "Incompetent Email Marketing = Lost Future Opportunities (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)" (thanks Matt) which talks about United's inept marketing emails. I have much more damning evidence that United's email marketing is busted: you sign up with them, you'll get spammed.
How do I know this? I create a new email address for every service that I sign up for ... that way, if I get some spam, I know where the leak happened. Sure enough, I have gotten rolex spam sent to united [at] luntfamily.com. The only place I gave that email address was as part of my united.com Mileage Plus account. Thanks, United!
At least this error message is somewhat poetic. And not really that disingenuous: I'm sure they are making updates to the site. Frantically!
I have had an article pinned to my bulletin board at home since I cut it out of the Wall Street Journal on March 29, 2001. It's by Alvin and Heidi Toffler (yes, the "Future Shock" Tofflers) and it's entitled "New Economy? You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." If you think back to March 2001, you'll remember that it wasn't the most optimistic time in recent history. But Alvin and Heidi did a great job of taking the long view, and it has been a source of inspiration to me. Here's the pull quote:
Some say today's woes mean there's no such thing as a "new economy." But a lot of "start-ups" failed during the Industrial Revolution, too.The energy surrounding the Web 2.0 conference made me think of this article again, so I thought I'd share the text of the article with you (without permission -- please don't get mad at me WSJ).
Yeah, I can just picture that exchange at MSN world headquarters:
- Deploy guy:
- "Hey Boss, we'd like to go ahead and do that upgrade in the middle of the day on Wednesday. It'll take down all of the spaces for a while. Can we get your approval?"
If you're going to fake out a 500 error page, at least go with "The MSN Spaces server is getting a massage", which is the de facto standard 500 page for Web 2.0. "Upgraded" ... yeah right.
I just received and hooked up a Slingbox to our main Tivo. Seems pretty cool. I accessed it from work and it looks like the home has enough upstream bandwidth to get the job done. I'm looking forward to really putting it through its paces when we vacation in Big Sky next month. We've got a lot of Six Feet Under to catch up on!
Okay, after a week of using Yahoo! Music Engine Unlimited, here's my summary: I'm in! I'm going to really enjoy this service, and it's already changed the way I think about music. Here are some quick thoughts.
I've generally been happy with the music selection, especially with new releases. So, while I haven't found:
- Lou Barlow
- Braid, Frame and Canvas
- Eels, Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
- Gary Jules, Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets (minus Mad World, unfortunatley)
- Incubus, A Crow Left Of The Murder
- Joseph Arthur, Our Shadows Will Remain
- Kaiser Chiefs, Employment
- Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth
- Royksopp, Melody AM
- Ryan Adams, Cold Roses
- System Of A Down, Mezmerize
- The Chemical Brothers, Push The Button
- Tricky, Maxinquaye
- Some live albums from Bjork that I didn't even know existed
When I first checked out the radio feature, the sound quality was horrible. But now it's just as good as all the other music (which is very good), so I don't know what was up with that. Maybe it's because I'm an Unlimited subscriber now or something. Anyway, the personalized radio works great, although it was a little kludgy accessing my station on different machines: I thought at first it didn't keep that information server-side, but once I messed around with the client it eventually located my server-side profile.
MyStation is a great way to slowly crawl your way to new music, and you can see the immediate benefits of rating musical artists as you go. When it plays a song, it tells you why it's playing the song ("Audioslave, Recommended by fans of Incubus"), and you can easily jump to the artist to play their music.
All in all, I really like the radio feature and I imagine this will become my new "Party Shuffle" -- why shuffle with just your own music?
Here's a link to my station: eric_lunt's Station.
The player is fine. Not great, but not bad. Certainly no worse than iTunes. It's annoying that it keeps trying to push Y! Messenger on me, and I've had to restart the client a few times, but the fact that it's a plug-in based client is promising. I'm sure the client will improve over time.
One thing I really miss is that there doesn't seem to be much of a sense of a "queue", so when I come across something that I want to listen to later, I have resorted to adding it to a "Listen Later" playlist.
And yes, the mini-mode sucks, but that's supposedly addressed by a plug-in I haven't installed yet.
So, is the music rental model really viable? For me, the answer is "for the right price, you bet!". Everything has a price, and for $4.99/mo I'm willing to endure quite a bit of inconvenience. And truthfully, it's really not bad. You can have your account active on up to three machines, it works great disconnected, and it's all handled invisibly by the client.
So, I'm sold. So much so that I'm now thinking about mothballing my iPod and looking for a "PlaysForSure" portable player that doesn't suck. Anyone have any suggestions? Also, I'd love to have this music work with my tried and true (maybe that should be "tired" and true at this point) Audtiotron, but I don't think that's in the cards. Guess I'll have to buy-in 100% and get a Windows Media Center machine.
Nice job, Yahoo! And Microsoft: you somehow got me to buy into your evil empire. I feel dirty, but I'll be enjoying lots of great music.
So, I've just spent 30 minutes trying to get Yahoo! Music to take my credit card information so I can purchase their Unlimited subscription service. I enter all my info in, hit "Continue", and keep coming back to the payment page. No error message, no nothing. Try a different card? Same thing. Send support a message? Uh, how? Different browser? Nope, same thing.
Oh well. I guess I could use that $60 elsewhere. I had such high hopes, and now all I have is bad will.
Update: Well, it worked if I created an entirely new Y! account. I guess it didn't like my circa 1995 "elunt" account. I then had to restart the client a few times for it to correctly play streamed music.
Initial impressions are mixed. I think I really could like the subscription model, given how much time I sit in front of my computer listening to music. The Y! radio stations sounded like horrible flangy mp3s, like it was using a 32kbps bitrate or something -- pretty much unlistenable. Artist selection is okay, but I came across some albums (like Beck's Guero) that didn't offer all of the tracks!
Of course, for only $60 a year, I'll put up with a lot of awkwardness if I can get to even 50% of the music I really want to hear. I've got six more days to decide if I want to keep it.
Dear Comedy Central,
I have an idea for you. Something that would expand your reach, raise your audience in a desirable demographic, and, well, let's be honest: really improve my life. Here's the idea: make every evening's The Daily Show available online, distributed via a "video podcast". If that doesn't make sense, maybe some explanation is in order.
Those people at Woot! know funny. Today's deal is "Random Crap!". Since there's no permanent URL I can link to, I've copied their very funny description here.
Update: It's already sold out! Lotta people love random crap for a buck!
An entertaining meme that's spreading around right now: what's your earliest USENET post? Well, I found this one, but I seem to remember many more posts before it. Ah well, still brings back the memories!
I was going to post a HOWTO on how to use the power of RSS and BitTorrent to be able to download television shows, but Phillip Torrone at Engadget did a better job than I ever could have, so check his guide out.
Now, I'm a huge Tivo fan with a number of hacked DirecTV-Tivo units throughout the house. I've even got a Series 1 unit that's nicely set up for video extraction, but the BitTorrent solution is really superior imho.
I have a 35-minute commute on the train two times a day ... perfect for catching up on some shows that I watch but Christine does not watch (The West Wing, South Park, and pretty much the entire Sunday night lineup on Fox). Azureus with the RSS plug-in dumps them straight to the laptop. Even better, most of the shows are captured in HD. Sweet!
This even came in handy last Thursday night when there was a DirecTV local channels outage across the country. Screwed up Survivor, CSI, and The Apprentice, which are three shows we watch. Bummer. But, a visit to "that tv torrents" site the next day, a few downloads, and a DVD burn, and we were set to watch them by Friday night. That sure was better than having to read about the episodes.
Very nice demonstration of the kind of app that's totally appropriate on a Media Center PC. It's amazing how just putting a different kind of UI on a basic app can change your perception: "I can program my TV!".
Source: My Netflix MCE 2005 Plug-In
Maybe not a reversal, but the latest from Sprint is that the Treo 650 will support Bluetooth dial-up-networking, and that capability will be delivered in a software update.
That's very good news, but I still might shop around.
It's a nice idea: the Google Desktop is a client-side application you can install on your Windows box and it'll index your files, your incoming and outgoing emails, the web pages you visit, and even your IM conversations. Then you can search through all your stuff whenever you want. Wow, sounds great.
Except for this part:
The Google Desktop full text indexes:
- Text files, Microsoft Word documents, Excel workbooks, and PowerPoint presentations living on your hard drive
- Email handled through Outlook or Outlook Express
- AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) conversations
- Web pages browsed in Internet Explorer
Let's see ... I use Thunderbird for email, Trillian Pro for IM, and Firefox for browsing. Guess that pretty much leaves me with another annoying background process indexing my local documents, just like the hell-spawn Microsoft Indexing Service (also amusingly known as FindFast).
I'll take a pass for now. Hey Google, let me know when you've gathered your clothes, put your hair in a pony tail, and started making that Sunday morning "walk of shame" back from Redmond to Mountain View.
Oh man, this is the best bookmarklet/browser hack I've seen in a long time. So you're looking at a book on Amazon.com and you want to see if your local library (remember libraries? free books, music, and movies!) has it ... just click the bookmark and it opens up a window with your local library's catalog. It works! Here's the bookmarklet for my local library (I just dragged the link up to my bookmarks): Arlington Heights Memorial Library.
Well done, Jon ... fantastic.
Nice article that talks about categorization schemes in both flickr and del.icio.us. They both use very similar mechanisms ... they're called tags. And it couldn't be simpler ... you just type in a bunch of space-separated words into an input field and viola, your photo (or link) is associated with those categories. Seems almost too simple, doesn't it? Well, here's why it works:
- Couldn't be easier to create and assign categories to an item. No "Create new category" dialog box you have to create, no "assign categories" multi-select list box ... just type 'em in. It'll create the categories if they don't exist.
- Easy to edit and reassign categories. Both services provide all the tools to maintain your growing taxonomy ... easily merge categories (in case you have categories for both "Internet" and "web", for example), easily modify the categories assigned to an item. This is really the key to an effective service: provide the gardening tools.
- Compare with a publicly evolving taxonomy, which has been coined "folksonomy". There are some wonderful examples of evolving taxonomies that are being created organically rather than dictated. If you care, you can make your personal taxonomy reflect the larger scheme and participate in the larger community. Unknown benefits might accrue to you and others (see a newer article by Jon Udell that demonstrates aligning your personal taxonomy with the folksonomy).
What'll be really interesting is to see if a common "tag library" starts to be built up across services. Who knows what wonders we'll see then?
Wow, the seldom seem double-dip. It's not often you get to sell your company twice. These guys are the masters.
Hmmm, wonder if we can buy-back spyonit and go for the double-dip ourselves? I still miss having that service, and I think there's still a need for it.
Good look at a few of the "link management" applications that exist. "Link management" applications are essentially server-side shared bookmarks. I currently use del.icio.us, a useful service with a hell-spawn domain name.
Michael Sippey wrote something not too long ago about the various methods for sharing or remembering information, and I agree completely with his analysis (except that I use Ecco instead of The Brain for long-term private storage). These online bookmark services fill a nice place for those low-privacy/low-context pieces of information you want to share.
Oh yes! This is exactly what I've been looking for. Ever since I've started using Firefox instead of Mozilla, I've really missed the "type type type down-arrow enter" location bar method of searching Google ... instead, Firefox has a separate "search field". One of those minor annoyance I've just grown to accept.
But not anymore! This page has some wonderful tips, including the killer tip "Searching from address bar". Thank you author Chu Yeow.
So, have you ever installed AOL instant messenger and tried out the "WeatherBug" application that puts a little temperature indicator in your Windows system tray? The thing is horrible: it pops up windows all over the place and the main window is so crammed with ads it's hard to find the information.
The best thing was when I uninstalled it. It popped up a window saying something very close to "Are you sure you want to uninstall WeatherBug? Please note that if you uninstall WeatherBug you will miss out on LIVE-SAVING alerts of severe weather in your area." That's right -- when I uninstalled WeatherBug it basically said "You might DIE if you uninstall me!!".
Yeah, that's the kind of company I want looking out for my rights as a user of desktop software.
Do yourself a favor and install Weather Pulse instead.
Wow, what a coup! The 21st century thrift shop, AuctionDrop, now accepts items to get eBayed at any UPS store. I know a lot of people (myself included) that use eBay to buy things, but avoid selling things because of the (perceived or actual) hassle. But if it's this easy, I might dig through the big bag of misfit technology at my house and drop some things off.
Another examination of the declining usefulness of social networks from all-around smart guy Nova Spivack. The "usefulness" curve should look like a log function, not a bell curve.
If you're a content publisher or are responsible for coding a content retrieval engine, you should know about how web content is cached. Especially if you publish RSS/Atom feeds, and ESPECIALLY if you are writing an RSS client. Unfortunatley, really understanding the interactions between the server, client, and proxy servers/web caches can be confusing. Fortunately, Mark Nottingham (he's also very active in the Atom community) has written an excellent document called "Caching Tutorial for Web Authors and Webmasters" that is required reading for any feed aggregator coders or blog hosting sites out there.
Having written a few web caching engines before, I'd just like to add a few suggestions that I've found useful:
- The "last modified" date should always reflect the server's clock, while a "last fetched" (for secondary cache expiration) should always use the client's clock. Don't get lazy: if you're requesting a remote resource, hold onto the last modified date that the server returns to you and store it so you can use it to set your If-Modified-Since header next time around. Don't use your local clock.
- If you're on the server side of things and need to provide a Last-Modified header, truncate the date value you store (and send down) to the second level. I picked that tip up from Jason Hunter's book Java Servlet Programming. That means if you've just grabbed the local system time to mark when a page or item has been modified, you should do one of these tricks before you set the value and send it down in the HTTP header:
long modifiedTime = System.currentTimeMillis() / 1000 * 1000;
- There's nothing wrong with setting the ETag header on a response to be the same as the Last-Modified header in quotes.
One of the smart things that most of the blogging engines do (thank you Blogger for establishing the precedent) is they provide the illusion of dynamic content by generating static pages, and then let the smart folks who wrote the HTTP server figure out the caching parameters to set. That doesn't mean that the server configuration can't be tweaked, though, especially with the Cache-Control header.
Oh, don't forget about supporting gzip compression.
Following on this earlier entry, here are some more cool Google tricks you can use to win friends and influence people:
- Vehicle ID numbers(VINs)
example search: "AAAAA999A9AA99999"
- UPC codes (cool -- don't forget the leading 0 or trailing 4)
example search: "028000010874"
- Telephone area codes ("where is this caller id from?")
example search: "224"
- Airport delays
example search: "ord airport"
- Flight status
example search: "united 11"
Reference page for all of this stuff is still at Google Web Search Features.
As more and more people wake up to the idea that a fundamentally polling-based RSS distribution model might have some "scaling challenges", different ideas to handle this come to the fore. Here's an interesting model: using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer infrastructure to distribute RSS feeds.
BitTorrent is a cool bit of engineering that solves the "Tragedy of the Commons" problem that plagues many p2p protocols: you gotta pay (i.e., offer some upstream bandwidth) to play (download). The Java-based client Azureus is my client of choice, but it's really the protocol that's the smart stuff here.
Getting back to how this works with RSS, I personally think this is overkill for the scaling issues at present: I think getting the clients and server-side aggregators/publishers to agree on a push protocol and transport is a more pressing concern. I think the P2P idea is a good thing to keep in our pocket when RSS starts getting bulkier.
I love how Google just quietly introduces new features that (to borrow a phrase from somewhere in my past I can't put my finger on) "surprise and delight" the user. Here's the latest batch of fun things you can do, just in time for the holiday season:
- UPS tracking numbers
example search: "1Z9999W999999999"
- FedEx tracking numbers
example search: "fedex 999999999999"
- Patent numbers
example search: "patent 6543046"
- FAA airplane registration numbers
example search: "n199ua"
- FCC equipment IDs
example search: "fcc B4Z-34009-PIR"
Check out the rest of the page Google Web Search Features for other tips you might not have seen before.
A little while ago I posted what Jerry Michalski thinks about social networking tools (like Friendster and LinkedIn), so I figured it's appropriate to follow that up with Esther Dyson's opinions on the matter. Guess what? She doesn't really like them either.
This posting by Sean Neville (Macromedia guy) talks about a lot of the things that I find exciting right now. Atom/RSS! Formalized content model for things you can by with Atom/RSS namespaces! Wireless! Macromedia Central! Mystery! Intrigue!
There's some convergence of a lot of these ideas that's just waiting to emerge ... what it's going to be and who's going to find it is anyone's guess right now. But it's going to be a Big Idea.
An impressive usage of technology over ar Amazon: they're scanning tons of books and letting you search them. Seems simple enough, but the implications are far-reaching, and how they're dealing with the copyright issue is creative. If it works half as well as Google Catalog Search does, I think they'll end up selling a lot more books because of this.
Nice interview with Evan Williams of Blogger fame at news.com. I really respect how Evan has always stayed true to the vision of how Blogger should evolve, and I wish nothing but the best for him at Google.
So I saw this article today (link below) from the father of using Bayesian filters to combat spam, Paul Graham, which states that these filters are holding up really well, despite spammers trying their darndest to get around them with devious and clever tricks. I decided to start using a spam filter earlier this year. Specifically, the Bayesian filter-based SpamBayes that I invoke via procmail. I've been happy with my mostly spam-free lifestyle, so I thought I'd look at the numbers and see how successful my spam filtering has been.
So I looked at the filter log for the last month to see how much spam I'm not seeing. Here are the numbers:
- Number of spam emails that got filtered before I could see them: 2046
- Number of valid emails that made it to my inbox: 548
- Number of emails Spambayes was uncertain of that I had to classify (mostly as spam): 221
So I get roughly 4 spams for every valid email. About 10% of the spams are sneaking through into the "maybe" category, but they're not clogging up my inbox, and I hope that number will decrease over time as I continue to train it. On the whole, I'm extremely happy with the filtering. In the article, Paul even has a few more tricks up his sleeve to improve the results.
This article talks about one person's experience with Google's Adsense textads. Another thing to put on the "List of Things Google Does Right". I also like Matthew's advice for blog writers: keep it focussed and write your ass off.
The other cool thing about this article that now I've got another feed I'm interested that I can start tracking: PVRBlog.
Three things I like about this article:
- Hey, Red Herring's back!
- Hey, haven't heard from Jerry Michalski in a while!
- Hey, I think these companies trying to codify social networks are a waste of time too!
Trying to somehow make organic social networks explicits is fraught with peril, and often one's own social network is way to valuable an asset to share with some third-party. Thanks for expressing a lot of these problems so clearly, Jerry! Great sub-head too: "Social networking systems promise ease and deliver irritability."
We've come to expect innovative things from Google, and here's another great example. Hold a contest with cash prizes to find the best coders out there, then offer them jobs! Plus they'll probably get some cool IP out of it. Keep ahead of the curve, Google ... we're cheering for you!