November 28, 2006

Agents, toolbars and adware

Here is a thought provoking post from Brian Smith about agents, adware and toolbars on I like that he presents the core value of 'adware' and phrases it in a more general context of 'agents'.

Long ago I had been very excited about agents and event driven applications but spent most of the recent past working just on messaging systems (subscriptions, notifications, etc) rather than the agents themselves. Maybe it's time to go back and revisit agents. Recently I've had this notion that an interesting paradigm for empowering people to build agents might be to use a spreadsheet with event inputs and message outputs - but I haven't even started down the road of working out what it would look like. I think general folks wouldn't understand specialized agent building languages but might be able to poke things together with a visual tool.

November 20, 2006

The Spreadsheet as Mashup Fabric

The title of Joe Gregorio's recent post - The Spreadsheet as Mashup Fabric - really caught my eye. For the past two days I've been thinking about the spreadsheet as a simplifying tool for building event driven web applications - accepting events, summarizing many messages, routing and republishing the results to a new set of subscribers.

I've just started thinking about this so I don't have any actual situations it might be useful for, but the idea of opening up a compact, rich and information dense document in a very responsive interactive application for ad-hoc applications and messaging components sounds interesting.

Sort of like message-driven beans on acid.

November 17, 2006

What's old is new again

Check out this short article from 1998 on making more responsive web applications using - get this - javascript.

We can create a more responsive experience if we look at the available technology in a different way. In particular, we are going to forget the assumption that a Web page is loaded directly from a Web server. Instead, we are going to use the request/response structure of the Web in a slightly different way.

I wonder how far back we can see this approach being used or clearly talked about.

November 14, 2006

37Signals and Google Web Accelerator

From the rest-discuss list, here's a post from 37 Signals that missing the point about the Google Web Accelerator fetching URLs.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem on the public web since it’s pretty tough to be destructive on public web pages, but web apps, with their admin links here and there, can be considerably damaged. If you have a web app, it might be worth returning a 403 when the HTTP_X_MOZ is set to “prefetch” header is sent. This will keep Web Accelerator from clicking destructive links.

I like this "destructive links". A major point of the Web is that links are not destructive.

I think the better approach is to not use GET to modify or remove data. That's simply unnecessary and against the word and spirit of HTTP.

Remember, a link is not a widget. You can't use a simple anchor element as if it were the same as a push button. Whenever an HTML page has an anchor tag, it is explicitly advertising that the URL is safe to retrieve. By sprinkling your HTML with these landmines, it's the author that made the mistake, not the browser or web accelerator.

If you are writing web apps, it might be worth more to think about what's happening and why, rather than hack a workaround that only occasionally avoids a bug introduced by your own application. Fix the bug, and no workaround is necessary. Again - a link is not a widget.

November 08, 2006

New Direction is new theme for Democratic plan

Is it just me or does the phrase
'New Direction' sound just like 'nude erection'?

I have a bad feeling about this...

November 06, 2006

Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities

A few years ago I had stopped reading Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox even though I had been reading it for a long time before then and had enjoyed his fact filled articles and analysis. Just the other day I popped back in to check out his recent postings and this one caught my eye - Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities - as I'm looking into communities, social aspects of the Web and such.

The article gives some history and data that covers the basics of a 90-9-1 rule with respect to participation - most people just lurk, some interact occasionally and a few are very active. Many people know this and if you've read Clay Shirky's "Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality" article you'll be familiar with the idea. Although there have been comments elsewhere that Jakob doesn't "get" RSS (and his alertbox site doesn't have an RSS feed), I think Jakob does understand the implications of RSS and this post provides some value by highlighting some issues and suggesting how to design useful systems in the context of participation inequality.

Search. Search engine results pages (SERP) are mainly sorted based on how many other sites link to each destination. When 0.1% of users do most of the linking, we risk having search relevance get ever more out of whack with what's useful for the remaining 99.9% of users. Search engines need to rely more on behavioral data gathered across samples that better represent users, which is why they are building Internet access services.

Make participation a side effect. Even better, let users participate with zero effort by making their contributions a side effect of something else they're doing. For example, Amazon's "people who bought this book, bought these other books" recommendations are a side effect of people buying books. You don't have to do anything special to have your book preferences entered into the system. Will Hill coined the term read wear for this type of effect: the simple activity of reading (or using) something will "wear" it down and thus leave its marks -- just like a cookbook will automatically fall open to the recipe you prepare the most.

(Bummer - Jakob Nielsen had a 'User Experience 2006' in Seattle a few weeks ago and I missed it...but maybe I can catch some of it on a blog somewhere)

Added: Here is another good article from Jakob Nielsen about traffic log analysis.
The top 10 queries accounted for 10% of the total traffic, so each one of these queries is obviously more important than those that brought only one visitor. Taken together, however, the single-use queries accounted for three times as much traffic as the top 10 queries. This statistic shows the folly of focusing search engine optimization solely on a few high-performing queries. Your site must be found when users enter relevant queries -- and the possibilities are typically vast.

November 05, 2006

Abundance .vs. Scarcity

This is a good post by Dare Obasanjo commenting on economies of abundance .vs. scarcity with respect to the digital abundance of Internet and the scarcity of time and attention with respect to human intelligence. The Economy of Abundance and Other Fairy Tales.
I first heard the phrase 'economoy of abundance' many years ago in a story called "Manna" by Lee Correy (pseudonym of G. Harry Stine) - a neat science fiction story. I wonder where it first came into use...

Most successful Web companies today are exploiting the scarcity of attention and time that plagues all humans. In a world where there a hundred million websites the problem isn't lack of content, it is finding the right content.