Comment Protocol

The blogosphere really needs, desperately needs, a universal comment protocol that enables me to track all the comments that I post, where I post them or remotely, without me needing to remember all of the blogs I post comments on. Furthermore, in order to achieve critical mass, such a comment protocol must work across all the blog platforms (like RSS) and not require blog admins to install plugins or add-ons, or users to install browser plugins.

I’m sick of posting comments and forgetting where I posted them. I’m trying to be a good citizen of the blogosphere and engage in conversations where they happen instead of bringing them back to my place (posting about what other people are posting about), but it’s too damn hard.

I’ve tried a bunch of these services and none of them, so far, has produced anything as easy as RSS.

The Boring Quotient

Maybe Sen. Hillary Clinton’s problem isn’t likability or campaign stumbles, just maybe the problem she suffers from is that she is dreadfully boring. I’ve been watching the campaign rallies on television and the web, she is awful. On top of that, her campaign trots out a roster of Clinton era retreads and 1990’s political figures.

Sen. Obama’s rallies, on the other hand, are wall to wall people, his stage is shared with campaign volunteers and supporters, and the guy is inspirational. When he comes to the Bay Area I would probably check him out. I found myself nodding in approval when he talked about President Kennedy and how the world would be different if Kennedy said we needed to be pragmatic and realistic about getting to the moon.

It’s nice to know that elections can’t simply be bought. It is somewhat discouraging to see that this election isn’t going to be about issues or policy proposals, but rather personality.

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows that Hillary Clinton’s national polling lead has collapsed. Before the Iowa caucuses, Clinton held a seventeen-point lead over Barack Obama. Today, that lead is down to four percentage points in a survey with a four-point margin of sampling error.

[From Rasmussen Reports™: The most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a mid-term election.]

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Investors Battling Over CNet

Interesting stuff going on at CNet. Two things jump out as meaningful, the first being that tech media has fundamentally changed in recent years and despite CNet’s premier brand they have been incapable of fully capitalizing on it. It’s not just about blogging vs. media either, ZDNet’s blogs (part of CNet) are some of the best tech blogs available so looking at News.com vs. TechCrunch is a red herring.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not about tech journalism but rather tech media. How these companies are organized may in fact be the real problem. But irrespective of that, once again we are reminded that page views don’t matter.

Still, those moves have not assured investors. William Morrison, a ThinkEquity analyst, wrote, “While the online tech ad market has been growing in the 30 to 40 percent range for the past several quarters, our analysis suggests that CNet’s core tech ad business, which we believe represented 65 percent of total company revenue last year, is on pace to end 2007 down 3 to 4 percent.”

Mr. Morrison explained the negative outlook by saying, “Technology advertisers are becoming more efficient” in online ad spending “and moving dollars away from portals and higher-priced vertical sites toward more cost-efficient, targeted niche technology sites and social networking platforms.”

[From Investors Said to Seek a Takeover of CNet - New York Times]

More on this topic (What's this?) Read more on CNET Networks at Wikinvest

Big Storm and a Power Outage

The power at our house went out at 11am on Friday, came back on Saturday afternoon. We experienced some torrential rain, as bad as anything I’ve seen in the last 10 years. For the duration we were stuck at home as it was too unsafe to drive and trees were down everywhere, plus with children it’s sometimes better to just stay at home.

PG&E catches a lot of crap, some of it well deserved, and there are still tens of thousands of people without power (friends in Marin were down for 3 days), but I have to say that their work crews answered the call and did the best they could with the conditions that were forced on them.

I woke up at 4am on Saturday just to check around the house and throw another log in our fireplace, which was the sole source of heat over the course of a very cold night, and I saw a PG&E crew working on a power pole down the hill from our house. The only light they had was a portable and the winds and rain were just terrible. On Saturday in the middle of thunder storms they were working on power poles, I’m sure it was because lightening was off in the distance but it wasn’t that far away.

You really suffer a harsh reminder about how dependent we are on electricity when you don’t have it for a prolonged period of time. I am pretty good about being prepared for emergencies, here’s a couple of things I would suggest:

1) Hand cranked LED portable lighting. These are great for kids, and of course, for adults too. No batteries to deal with, completely safe and because LEDs are miserly consumers of power, a 1 minute crank powers the light for 1 hour.

2) Cell phones with the mobile web meant we were using them quite a bit to get status updates. Radios are considered essential emergency equipment but from my experience, a cell phone is your true lifeline. Keeping it charged is a challenge, so make sure you have a car charger. Most newer cars have 12v outlets that are always on, we charged our cell phones and a portable DVD player from one.

3) Candles are essential but inherently unsafe in an emergency, especially around kids. These 100 hour emergency candles are pretty neat, they burn liquid parafin and have a simple collar around the tip that extinguishes the flame if the candle tips over.

4) Modern forced air heating systems simply don’t work without power, so have a backup. We always have a cord of wood stockpiled in the fall and we burned a good amount of it to keep one floor of our house warm in the absence of a heater. The burners on gas ranges/cooktops will also generate heat but it’s very localized. Simply light the burner with a match as the igniter won’t work without power.

Lastly, know your neighbors. We have an elderly couple that lives next to us, the pilot light on their water heater went out and they thought it was because of the power outage. I’d hate to think how long they would have been without it were it not for the fact that my wife checked in on them and I relit it after she told me about it. Online social networks are great but no substitute for real world networks we often overlook in our own neighborhood.

The Curse of YASN

“And about those profiles. As anticipated, Wikia Search is yet another social network. User profiles include basic elements like a photo, adding friends, and information about interests and skills. And in a direct rip off of Facebook, Wikia Search profiles contain an activity stream of stuff you and your friends have been up to over the recent past.”

- TechCrunch on Wikia Search

I tried out Wikia Search and found it to be quite lame, but it is alpha and, according to the company, it needs human interaction to get better. The Wikia about page acknowledges that the search results are poor, so I probably shouldn’t beat up on them too much, although I think it’s fair to say that I was expecting something a lot better out of the gate… search is hard but it’s not an unknown.

As Michael points out, if it needs human interaction to get better then why didn’t the company release the human interaction tools that are required in order for it to get better. Read the comment thread, this is a point that Jimmy Wales eventually acknowledges. Google isn’t perfect but it does return what you need on the first or second pass, and that’s the job of a search engine and more importantly, it’s been that way with Google from day 1.

To compare Wikia Search to Wikipedia is kind of silly, they are two entirely different universes, and that’s a problem for Wikia. Human powered search is only as good as the humans who are powering it and unlike algorithms they don’t get better, more just show up. Wales suggests that Google search is full of spam and Wikia search is not, but if I can’t use it because it’s incapable of meeting the basic threshold of search competency then where are all the humans going to come from to make it better? Why not just start out with kick ass machine search as a foundation?

There are also some confusing overlaps to Wikipedia. For example, search on any term and you will have the option of creating a mini-article about that term. The mini-article looks very much like a wikipedia article so why not just integrate that into the search result?

Why does everything have to be a social network now? Crikey this is getting annoying.

The wisdom of crowds concept is wonderful but we all know now that Wikipedia isn’t the utopia of transparency that so many fans like to suggest. There is an alpha class of users, secret lists, and as in all good socialist systems, centralized control. Having said that, I still rely on it almost daily for the simple reason that it gets me what I want when I need it, a lesson that Wikia Search itself should should study up on. It’s similar to the phenomena that we had a few years ago when multi-function smart phones started appearing en masse and most of them made pretty crappy cell phones… for a mobile phone the number 1 function is to handle calls, for a search engine the number 1 function is to deliver fast and relevant search results and everything else is extra.