Thunderbird leaving the Mozilla nest

I was a Eudora user in college and then switched over to Thunderbird in grad school. How times have changed! Ars has the details – the Mozilla Foundation is spinning off Thunderbird to an independent organization. It’s a good move since Thunderbird was always kind of an odd man at Mozilla; the old POP3 model seems so outdated now in this modern era of web-based mail. I exclusively use Yahoo and Gmail for 99% of my own email now, and there’s always Outlook/Exchange (or Notes) on the business front. Then there’s the internal messaging systems of Facebook and LinkedIn, and of course chat (fully integrated to gmail and yahoo). Finally there’s text messaging to round off things, and there are increasing bridges being built between these various platforms (such as twitter, or send email to [phone number]@ messaging.sprint.com/verizon.com etc). Staid old POP just seems like a dinosaur in comparison, and from my experience the POP systems are the ones that are the most vulnerable to spam and virus threats.

Ultimately the desired end goal would be to drop email entirely and communicate entirely via messaging within closed systems. Thats a pretty controversial opinion Iguess, given that the trend has been precisely the opposite until now – remember the day when Prodigy email was finally compatible with Compuserve? how we cheered.. fully unaware of our spam overlord masters waiting in the wings.

But I think messaging systems and social networking sites are better for communication because you have a more trusted “network” and you can vet people before they ever are allowed to contact you. 99% of my email is from people I already know, and the remaining 1% can be referred to a web page or blog or something instead.

Ultimately the freewheeling nature of the web means that Identity becomes a form of currency; email was always identity agnostic and completely egalitarian, with no thought given to vetting or social networks. And that was a loophole that the spammers were destined to drive trucks through.

Mozilla is better off without the Thunderbird baggage; whether Thunderbird succeeds as an independent product will depend on whether they stay rooted in the old POP email model or whether they try to innovate around it and embrace some of the new forms of communication out there. There’s a niche waiting to be filled.

UPDATE: the Thunderbird team makes an appeal for developers to join them.

all atwitter about Twitter

Josh analyzes the relative merits of Twitter vs newcomer Pownce, and finds Pownce wanting. Pownce is essentially an online chat application, which has essentially one unique feature:

instead of being boxed into 1:1 communication (IM) or X:X (chat) or 1:X (Twitter), Pownce offers all of it in one package. Want to send a picture to your family, but not all your friends? Easy: select recepients and send away. Try to do the same thing in any IM client and you’ll see that it usually doesn’t work and/or takes quite a few steps.

However, as Josh points out, Pownce lacks the public API which makes sites like twitterfeed possible, vastly increasing the utility of Twitter. Frankly, 140 chars of plaintext is enough; I still rue the day that email became html-enabled.

It’s sad but true that the vast majority of Twitterers employ the service for banal ends. However, there’s a lot more you can do. Josh uses it to tie together all his output, from Flickr to blogs. I use it as a roadtrip real-time journal (though twittering while driving/TWD has earned me some deserved reprimands). I also just added the feeds from the “stranger than fiction” and the “marshfield” categories here at Haibane.info to my twitter, to liven it up without flooding it too much. The key is not to overdo it.

The best thing about Twitter is that it’s input is device-agnostic; you can twitter from pretty much anywhere. Until global wifi becomes a reality (ie, never) or EVDO becomes affordable (ie, someday), you simply can’t expect access to the Internet from anywhere, even in the continental US. And more to the point, you aren’t limited to consuming content; you can also create content from anywhere.

Is Twitter perfect? obviously not. A simple feature request would be the ability to send pictures as well as text. That would increase the utility of twitter by another order of magnitude. But as it is, it’s still a novel service with genuine potential for creativity.

Incidentally, if anyone wants a Pownce invite, I’ve got 6 to hand out. Leave a comment with your email address.

Grazr

I’m going to have to look very carefully at this:

Grazr is a free publishing tool for feeds. It lets you quickly and easily display RSS, RDF, Atom, and OPML files on any Web page so they can be viewed by any visitor to the site.

This kind of blows away the old RSS-to-Javascript service. And with the OPML support.. this could really be useful.

browser wars: 1997 vs 2007

Netscape has released a new version of Navigator. Netscape! And Apple has ported Safari to Windows. Its notable that for both, the main selling points of differentiation from IE and Firefox are new ways of messing around with tabs. I find this obsession with tabs on the part of these bit players to be a kind of cargo cult mentality; wave the word “tabs” around and the users will fall out of the skies.

The real innovation on the browser front is porting the web to handheld devices. In that regard, Opera is the king – they just released a version for the wifi-capable Nintendo DS. Opera really understands that the user interface needs to be custom to the device; anyone who has used the Opera browser on the Wii can attest to how well they’ve leveraged the strengths of the unique interface there. With the DS, they have two screens, and a stylus to play with. That is definitely going to be interesting; the DS is a fraction of the cost of bulkier “web access devices” like the UMPC or Origami, and there’s already a gigantic user base.

power corrupts…

and Google corrupts absolutely. With that maxim in mind, this little Google hack might be of interest:

-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(wma|mp3) "Linkin Park"

Of course, you can replace “Linkin Park” with whatever other artist or work you may be interested in. This searches open web folder indexes for files that people have uploaded and left publicly accessible. Other enterprising folks have even built an entire application around this, called G2P (Google to Person).

Please use your newfound powers for good, and not for evil.

Twitter

I joined up with Twitter several months ago, and have essentially never used it. I see that I am not alone in considering its stated rationale kind of pointless. Do any of my friends actually care what I am up to moment-by-moment? If anything I already have a (less fine-grained) system for that, in my google chat status message, which I populate with all sorts of things as my mood strikes me. And I know I have a lot more (vetted) friends on Google than I will ever recruit on Twitter.

(as an aside, a javascript badge to display your Google Chat status on your web site would be mondo cool.)

I am however impressed by Twitter’s technical backend; essentially a device-agnostic messaging system, that lets you essentially blog via IM, cell phone text, or web interface (provided each “post” is only 140 characters long). This suggests that Twitter could be thought less of a social tool and more of a general one that can be easily re-purposed, for example as performance art. I’ve decided to hijack Twitter myself, to use it akin to the old UNIX fortune command, only mine will be populated by great song lyric lines.

If you look on the sidebar, you’ll see a new section called Lyrical; that’s powered by javascript (which I had to hack the code a bit from their example). I wanted something unobtrusive and easily integrated. Now, whenever I get the urge to preserve a great lyric, I can just IM it or cell text it to my Twitter account and it will automatically update on my blog sidebar. This is really kind of impressive if you think about it. At any rate, it’s a cool toy and until I find something even more interesting to use it for, I shall enjoy the freedom of music, one line at a time.

UPDATE: Removed it from my sidebar. Took way too long for the javascript to update, it was slowing down the whole page load. I might add it as an RSS feed module instead.

Continue reading “Twitter”

Why is this so hard to understand?

Ars takes the new BitTorrent video store for a spin and finds unsurprisingly that DRM renders it useless. Off the top of my head,here’s what a genuinely successful online video store is going to require:

Intuitive. The interface should be identical to NetFlix, with genres down one side and a search box. A Queue functionality should be a given, with options to “subscribe” to shows.

Comprehensive. Every TV show that is currently broadcast or on cable should be available. Movies should have simultaneous release on the big screen and at the online store.

Value. No more than $1 per 30 min for movies, $1 an hour for TV. Hot picks or new releases could reasonably go double or triple that rate within a short time window, say three to four weeks. The price could decrement in stages over that time frame. Allow users to get a discount on TV show downloads if they opt for included TV commercials (which will be formatted as part of the content chapters, so they cant be skipped on the DVD burn). The purists can pay full price for the ad-free version. For movies, give the user a discount coupon for the soundtrack CD or a free movie rental at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video as a freebie (give those chains free ad space to cover their costs). Permit the user to apply discounts/pay a premium for higher or lower resolutions (ie, 50% for iPod or 150% for BluRay).

Burn to DVD. The vast, vast majority of video is seen on consumers’ expensive TV sets. Its still very rare for people to have a PC next to the TV set, and will be rare for a long time. HD-DVD and BluRay, not to mention the mandatory upgrade cost of HDTV for everyone within the next year or two, means that people have enough new media hardware to spend money on.

And what about DRM? First, let’s acknowledge reality: all DRM schemes are bogus to begin with.

Second: what Steve said. But more importantly: recognize that the lack of protection on audio CDs has not impeded sales. Note that you can burn iTunes tracks to CD as well. Theres no reason that burning to DVD would result in any threat to the studios’ revenue streams; in fact, I’d be able to burn a disc of great scifi show episodes and get my friends hooked. We could share video discs the way we did with mix tapes and CDs. The lack of any need for DRM on the files would also mean less overhead and increase profits to the studios directly.

Have I missed anything? If the studios build this, the consumers will come. Ultimately we shouldn’t even be wasting our broadcast spectrum on television; it should all be wired.

convergence: blogs and forums

My earlier comment about traffic really boils down to the fact that it is hard to police a community of blog commentators. However, if you look across the “pond” to the web-based forum, they often don’t have the same kind of problems. Forums like phpbb offer much tighter and fine-grained control over the userbase.

However, there is a lot of overlap between a forum and a blog. Topics are categories; posts are posts, replies are comments. You can essentially map the two onto each other.

I had posted on this some years ago[1], but others have also been thinking about it. For example, there’s a plugin for phpbb called phpbblog.

UPDATE: There has been substantial interest in creating a plugin for WordPress that uses the WP database for the forum user db. Also, the forum software in use at wordpress.com (bbpress) itself actually boasts complete user integration. But this kind of misses the point – I am talking about a blog and a forum as different “skins” to the same discussion content, not two separate content spheres intersecting solely at the level of the userdb.

[1] my previous posts on this topic below the fold: Continue reading “convergence: blogs and forums”