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Showing posts from 2006

Why AOL Should Go OpenID

I've argued beforethat identity is a building block -- an essential amino acid, if youwill -- for social networks.  It's far from the only thing you need,but without stable, persistent, verifiable identity, it's very hard tobuild relationships.  It's so important that there are specialized subnets in the human brain that recognize voices and human faces to help you remember people.

The digital world doesn't work like that.  Identifying someone onlineis hard.  Even solving the more limited problem of verifying that this person is the sameperson who you were socializing with yesterday online is not trivial. All social software has some mechanism for letting people verify someonline identity -- usually a user name and password.  Of course thatjust means that you have different user names for different services. In the new "Web 2.0" world, though, a primary rule is for services to be open and interoperate and play together. That's difficult if people have …

Atom API for AOL Journals

Journals exposes a very complete API for creating and managing blogs, entries, and comments.  I'm working on getting the API documentation up on sometime soon.  But it's very easy to get started with basic blog posts.  Here's an example using curl, that would post to this blog, if my password were MYPASSWORD:

curl -k -sS --include --location-trusted --request POST --url '' --data @entry.xml --header 'Content-Type: application/atom+xml; charset=utf-8' --user panzerjohn:MYPASSWORD

where entry.xml is the Atom entry to be created, like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<entry xmlns="" xmlns:aj="">
<title>Blog entry title</title>
<content type="html">
   Hello World!
</entry>On success, you&…

At IIW2006b

I'm at the Internet Identity Workshop (part B), listening to a bunch of smart people like Dick Hardt, Johannes Ernst, Kim Cameron, and of course Kaliya.  Looking forward to hearing a lot of exciting developments.  Already people are announcing open source libraries supporting OpenID.

Dec 5, 11:45am: There's a good article just put up at ZDNet: "The case for Openid" It's been Slashdotted already.  At IIW, I've been sitting in on the basic OpenID discussions, finding out what's new with 2.0, and listening in on the user experience/microformats discussion.  The latter is potentially interesting; at least there are specific short-term obvious next steps, like supporting XFN, that would help enable potential applications down the road.  This is a very difficult thing to sell to business people, though.  Maybe there's a session on that -- evangelizing to the business?


Caching for AOL Journals

We're continuing to work on improving the scalability of the AOL Journals servers.  Our major problem recently has been traffic spikes to particular blog pages or entries caused by links on the AOL Welcome page.  Most of this peak traffic is from AOL clients using AOL connections, meaning they're using AOL caches, known as Traffic Servers.  Unfortunately, there was a small compatibility issue that prevented the Traffic Servers from caching pages served with only ETags.  That was resolved last week in a staged Traffic Server rollout.  Everything we've tested looks good so far; the Traffic Servers are correctly caching pages that can be cached, and not the ones that can't.  We're continuing to monitor things, and we'll see what happens during the next real traffic spike.

The good thing about this type of caching is that our servers are still notified about every request through validation requests, so we'll be able to track things fairly closely, and we're…

Jonathan Miller: 破釜沉舟

Jonathan Miller wasn't a charismatic leader.  But he recognized theneed to fundamentally change AOL's strategy, mappedout a new direction, and got people moving the way that he waspointing.  Since last year, especially, he had been executing well andreally seemed to "get it".  Giving AOL's services away for free thissummer forced the organization to focus on the new world rather thanthe old; a Rubicon crossing, or as Jon's Sifu might say, "Break the woks and sink the boats(破釜沉舟)".  And as Ted notes, the strategy that Jon architected is starting to show good results.

Given all of this, Jon's departure wasa shock. Neither the communications to the rank and file nor to Jonhimself were handled well.  There are plenty of rumors and speculationflying around.  I hope that the Time Warner leadership team handles thesituation going forward with the openness and honesty that are due tothe people who have worked so hard to turn AOL around.

Jon, you'll be…

The AIM Network: AIM6, AIMPages, Buddy Feeds

I love launches.  This week, we're launching AIM 6 along with a major upgrade to the AIMPages beta.  And they work together!

The new AIM is a big improvement; I've been running the various betas over the past many months and they've been both rising in quality and slimming down in footprint.  And the UI is finally reasonable: I can now once again edit my buddy list right there in the main window.  And buddies now have a little (i) icon that tells you when your buddy has published something -- anywhere.  Like blog entries!  Profile updates!  Or, if they've set things up, new Flickr photos, Diggs, Myspace or Blogger or Xanga updates, or any custom Atom or RSS feeds you care to add.

There are some problems:  It keeps telling me about their away message status, and I don't really care that Kevin Lawver is away at lunch.  And I see that Kevin posted a photo but there's no thumbnail in the feed...  but this is a first release, we can fix these nits.  (The feed data is…

Gold stars for good feed readers!

Over the past few weeks, we've been rolling out support for proper cache control on the Journals blogging platform, which will help reduce both bandwidth and database load, and also make things faster in general.  Last week we added ETag based cache control for both Atom and RSS feeds.  Today I took a quick peek at our logs to see how things are going...

The good news is that a lot of feed readers are being great citizens.  Around 33% of our feed requests get satisfied with 304 responses, meaning that clients only need to do a quick validation that they have the latest content, rather than fetching everything all over again.  Here's a quick list of feed readers, in no particular order, which are doing the right thing with our servers.  Gold stars for everybody!
Bloglines ( (UniversalFeedParser/4.1;) +…

Launching AOL Developer Network

We've been talking about the launch of our new site all week.  The goal is to provide a place to talk about our open services in one standard place.  (We've tried the strategy of hiding our APIs in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard', but it didn't work out too well.)

We really want to get feedback on both the site itself and the APIs that we're exposing.  Both are evolving rapidly and I anticipate that we'll be adding some new APIs there in the very near future -- there are a couple I'm going to be pushing for.  So please, give us feedback, or just link to and we'll pick it up.

Web 2.0, Sudoku, and EC2

I'm at Web 2.0 now -- it took secret ninja moves to actually get a pass, even though AOL is a triple iridium sponsor.  The place is so thick with VPs you can barely reach the free food.

In breaking news, our own Michael Chowla just won HCL's Sudoku contest and will be taking home a very nice trophy.  I'll add the picture... as soon as the network actually lets my camera phone upload it... oh darn.  Apparently the Ning demo suffered from some network issues earlier today too.  Infrastructure!

Speaking of infrastructure:  Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud looks very cool.  You could run a startup now with nothing more than a laptop and a table at a WiFi-enabled cafe.

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AIM Pages Blog Widgets

Just finished the Blog sidebar widgets panel at Widgets Live!.  I was the only one foolish enough to try a live demo... which of course crashed and burned.  I'm so glad I made a backup animation to show instead.  I'm also told that I was nearly inaudible during most of the presentation.  Note to self: Lean into the mike! Also, I forgot my VGA converter cable and had to jump off the platform right as we started to go grab it. 

On the other hand, the panel discussion was fun.  We're certainly in early stages; we had four people on the panel, and four completely separate terms for essentially the same things (widgets, gadgets, modules, parts).

Link: Widgets Live! AIM Pages Blog Widgets Presentation (html).

At Widgets Live!

It's pretty packed and I'm in the back next to the power outlets.  It was great to see Alex Russell mention AOL's support for Dojo this morning.  I've been struggling a bit with the WiFi -- it's better than at some conferences, but something's definitely wrong when it takes 2 seconds to ping the router.  It's still a little slow even now but not horrible:

PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=188.881 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=135.392 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=74.55 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=63.111 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=64 time=237.2 ms

REST Web Services: The Book

Something to look for on Amazon soon: REST Web Services.  The outline looks good; I would love to have a book to hand to people who want to find out about REST.

Especially Chapter 8: Resource-Oriented versus Service-Oriented Architectures:
The main event. We single-handledly take on the SOA, WSDL, and the WS-* stack: an enormous, multi-billion-dollar project that has alrady had about 25 books written about it. We believe this conglomorate will ultimately end up like CORBA, the OSI protocol suite, ATM, and other overengineered big-money flops; and that simpler, more flexible solutions will swallow anything good to come out of it.

In the spirit of comity and friendship, following the smackdown will be a section describing what REST services can learn from the SOA and take from the WS-* technologies.
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Widgets Live!: Blog sidebar widgets

I'll be on a Blog sidebar widgets panel at Widgets Live! next week, doing a short demo and discussing the nuts and bolts of how to more easily hook up widgets and blogs.  Widgets are to web pages what feeds are to HTTP -- a technical shift that opens up new possibilities and is a potential game changer.  It should be fun, barring demo gremlins.


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Journals R9 Update: Shiny!

Stephanie just blogged about our latest Journals R9 update, which has escaped from beta and is currently rampaging throughout our production servers on  The most visible change is the new, less blue color scheme.  There are a lot of less visible changes.  One of them is that we now support HTTP authentication for both RSS and Atom feeds -- so if you are a reader of someone's private Journal and use a feed reader that supports it, you can get their daily thoughts delivered to your computer automatically, just like you can for public Journals.  Does your feed reader support it?  If it's web based, probably not.  Otherwise, it probably does.

Here's a bonus Easter Egg, just for fun.  You can apply a theme to any Journals page by adding an argument "?skin=css url" to the page URL.  Like this.  Or this, or this... or anything over at the AIMPages themes directory.  It shows a direction we're headed; not the end of a journey, but the start of a trip…

Journal Beta update

We just pushed out some new updates to, so please go play with it.  A lot of the changes are for International Journals (,, etc) but there's also one fairly visible change:  We've modernized the look and feel of the "owner" pages, mostly by changing colors and buttons.  Newly created Journals will also get a different "Silver" default color theme.  It's not a huge functional change but it helps spruce up the look of the place.

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Call me =john.panzer

Several Internet eons ago, I registered for a newfangled xri:=john.panzer universal identifier after listening to a conference presentation.  Didn't know if this system was going to go anywhere or not, but I did know that it was free to stake a claim in this potentially interesting namespace.

Well, after a while I did get a free i-name, a contact page, and now it turns out I can actually use it to log in to something useful, to wit, the new OpenID Wiki.  Turns out that the library used for the Wiki authentication automatically supports user IDs like =john.panzer; it just works.  Which is of course the goal of the technology, and a good demonstration that user centric identity can become ubiquitous.

On Magic

We discovered an interesting IE6 feature when we pushed out caching changes earlier this week for Journals.  For posterity, here are the technical details.  Our R8 code started using "conditional GET" caching, meaning that we supported both If-Modified-Since: and If-None-Match: HTTP headers.  The way this works is that, if a client has a version of a page in its cache, it can send one or both of these headers to our servers.  Like this:
If-Modified-Since: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 21:47:18 GMT
If-None-Match: "1159307238000-ow:c=2303"If-None-Match, which passes an "entity tag" or ETag, is better to use and was designed to replace the If-Modified-Since header.   (If-Modified-Since has granularity only down to a second, and can't  be used to indicate non-time-based changes.)  In our case we actually have two versions of our pages which can be served up, one for viewers and another one for owners.  We really only want to cache the viewers' page.

When our server s…

Another use for feed licenses: Splogicide

Doc Searls just changed his blog license to Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5... in order to clearly deny splogs reblogging rights to his content.  Interesting, though I think there may be some unintended fallout.  But there are some cool applications for this.  What if someone built a tool to make it easy to find such copy right violators (academics use these tools to find plagarism)? With an accompanying service to aggregate complaints and, when they reach a sufficiently remunerative level, send attack lawyers after sploggers.

Update: The collective intelligence of the blogosphere is a mighty thing.  In a comment below, Doc points at an open source plagarism detector from UCSB (my alma mater) that already does Internet searches.  Hmmm.... 

AOL's Open Source Contributions to Dojo

It's nice to see something your team has worked on being put to good use.  In addition to other things, we open sourced the JavaScript Compiler tool my group has used internally for several years.  (It's actually more of a linker and compressor than a compiler since of course the output is still JavaScript.)  We're also contributing new code to Dojo, including a pretty cool cross domain XML request mechanism.

URL format change for Journals

One of the recent changes this week in Journals is an update to the format of our entry URLs.  We're essentially adding the entry date and title to the URL, for example:


So anyone who may be parsing our URLs -- be aware that the format has changed :).  We will, however, do a permanent redirect from the old URLs to the new ones.

REST and the Authorization: Header

Talking to lots of people about identity, mashups, web services, and sustainability of the mashup ecology today at Mashup Camp.  I'm wondering why LID apparently is using a new X- header for passing pointers to authentication information rather than re-using the existing extensible Authorization: header.  Both GData and Amazon Web Services  allow Authorization: as at least one option in their REST interfaces:

Authorization: GoogleLogin auth ...
Authorization: AWS ...

I know that GData uses 401 Unauthorized and WWW-Authenticate: challenge headers and I'm going to assume that AWS does too:

WWW-Authenticate: AuthSub realm=""

So, existing services are using the RFC 2617 framework; it's working for them; why not build on top of that instead of inventing new headers?

Mashup Camp: Identity and Access Control in Mashups

Some notes I just took for the AccessControl session (my first session of the camp).  Here's a shot of the campers organizing the schedule an hour ago:

Yet Another Post on Feed Licensing

Back in April, I blogged about copyright and licensing standards for feeds.  People were happy with most of it, with one big exception:  Nobody can agree on what to do with feeds lacking an explicit license.  People clearly felt I was nuts to suggest that the implicit permissions involved in this situation could be captured in any flavor of Creative Commons license.  Obviously the owner holds copyright, and obviously fair use applies in the US, and unfortunately nobody can specify what that means in a way that software can understand.

So, here's my new summary, which is shorter but more complicated:
Support and promote feed standards for embedded licenses.Allow fair use for unlicensed feed content.
You'll need to consult your legal department on what fair use is in each case, and figure out how to deal with international jurisdictions too.

All of which makes embedding licenses in feeds even more important.

Tags: , Creative Commons, RSS, Atom, syndication

User Centric Identity

I just gave a talk at AOL about user centric, distributed identity, titled "Identity 2.Open" just to draw the punters. This came out of various thoughts I've had regarding opnness and authentication, and from the recent Internet Identity Workshop 2006(a).  Fair warning: There may be a podcast up sometime soon, in which anyone who cares to do so can listen to me butcher explanations about identity, security, and game theory.

This was also my first foray into the S5 slide show system. I gave up on PowerPoint when it refused to accept .PNG images.  I mean, come on guys, it's only been about 10 years since PNG was introduced.  Sheesh.  S5 works great, though I would love to see a few more generic themes that I could snag and use without working on visual designs.

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Searching Structured Data Using Microformats

In the well-of-course-he-did department, Tantek just announced the beta of Technorati's Microformats Search. Hopefully this will help accelerate deployment of structured data onthe public web.  Their beta main page adds on some special sections ifa keyword search gets results containing microformats:
events results for San Francisco - View 32 events Barcamp San Francisco - 2 minutes ago BarCamp San Francisco - 5 minutes ago Supernova 2006 workshop: Decentralizing Data - 5 minutes ago contacts results for San Francisco - View 16 contacts Amber - 1 hour ago Matisse Enzer - 1 hour ago Kevin Marks - 5 hours ago reviews results for San Francisco -����������…

Meta-tagging in plain English

"Tag Bundles" in are quite possibly the Right Way to do hierarchy for tags:
This feature allows you to combine several related tags into a logical grouping. So, for instance, you might combine the tags “hitter”, “pitcher”, and “fielder” into a bundle and call it “Baseball”. It doesn’t change anything about the existing tags, but does allow you to create another level of heirarchy. When looking at your bookmarks, will show this bundle and all the tags grouped under it as a separate section.This is really meta-tagging but explained in plain English with a perfectly sensible immediate end user benefit. Plus bigger benefits down the line if these bundles are shared.

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And the daily meetings will continue until productivity improves!

We're doing a lot of daily meetings these days.  Often they're a waste of time; sometimes they're alifesaver.  I think they're primarily insurance.  You're paying an upfront daily cost to mitigate your risks due to missed communications,forgetfulness, lack of shared understanding, and lack of commitments.

Perhaps there is an optimal strategy for daily meetings thattreats them like insurance and adjusts them according to your riskforecast.  If your project is bright red, maybe you need a one hourvideo conference every day with the full team.  If you're green, maybe it's sufficient to have an optioanl 10 minute conference call.  And something in between for the vast majority of projects.   The goal would be to minimize your expected wasted time in a rational way.

Note: We of course do our level best to ensure that engineers are pulled into daily meetings only when they absolutely need to be there!  


AOL Greenhouse

A long-awaited site has been unwrapped this week as well -- AOL Greenhouse. Things are happening fast and furious (there's another soft launch this week that I can't talk about yet... hopefully next week we'll make it public).

Greenhouse is particularly special because it's all about getting some sunlight onto some of the cool things that we come up with.  Also, it has a monkey.  Can't go wrong with a monkey.

At the moment, the blog aggregator seems to be hosed -- it's showing Yoel's post about 23 times. Stan?

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AIM Pages Lives!

Our AIM Pages beta is now up:  Kevin just blogged about it.  Check it out, have fun, let us know what you think!

Memories of IIW2006

Some quick visuals from the Internet Identity Conference (it might help to quietly hum "Memories" to yourself). The pictures are mostly Phil Windley's.

Kaliya and others reviewing the Identity Timeline at the start of the workshop:

The lunch that AOL (partially) sponsored, from DeeDee's.  Best meal of the workshop:

Dave Winer discussing OPML 2.0 and identity contact URLs with a bunch of very smart people.  I am off to the side putting on a wise expression.

This slide is a cool vision statement of how identity URLs enable an entire open ecosystem:

Yan Cheng talks about the dimensions of identity.  He convinces everybody that we're good guys.  Maybe we should adopt a Googleian corporate motto: "Do good."

Circle time!  I'm trying to learn the lyrics.  Or maybe falling off my seat.  Hard to be sure.

And last but not least, the AOL logo up on the wall:

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Internet Identity Workshop 2006

I'm at IIW2006 in Mountain View today (and tomorrow as well).  I'm a highly interested observer who just wants stable identity and authentication system(s) to build useful things upon.  From my point of view, the really useful thing that's happening at this conference is the interactions between lots of really smart people who are motivated to interoperate and provide really useful identity services for real people.

We had a good discussion about interoperability with AOL's Yan Cheng talking about different dimensions of functionality which are, at least to a first approximation, orthogonal.  For example, exactly how authentication is handled is mostly orthogonal to the issues of how public identity and reputation is handled.  I do think that we need to talk about these things in the context of real world examples.  It's the minor little things that trip these simple scenarios up -- like, how do we auto-discover authentication capabilities from a user without adding…

Atom feed updates: Pagination

One of the hidden changes from last week's release is the support for Atom pagination.  This will potentially let tools browse of the entries in a blog, copy them, archive them, search them, etc.  Technically, this means we're supporting the link@rel="first", "last", "next", and "previous" relations.  Get the current feed and follow the "previous" links until you run out of data; then you've got all of the entries in a blog, in standard Atom format.  And, we're valid according to  Let me know if you see any problems.

Tags: Web Bumper Stickers

Our new entry tagging secret beta stealth feature might be a little difficult to see since it doesn't work on IE yet, though Joe did a great job with screen shots.  (Joe: It's not much of a stealth feature if you tell everybody about it, is it?)

Tags are just labels that you can apply to your entries; since they're public, they're kind of like electronic bumper stickers.  If you use Firefox or Mozilla, you can play with them on<your screen name>.  Otherwise, well, here's a little animation:

...and you can see the results below.  I have no idea what "stealth" is going to link to, since right now it just does a general web-wide tag search.  I think that's kind of fun, actually, but your mileage may vary.  We're looking at various ideas, including having the links go to a blog-specific search page (but perhaps with links off to the general web search to see what other people have chosen the same bumper stickers).  Also, we&…

Code, and other laws... (part 2)

In part 1I talked about the ideal world where feeds were all clearly licensed. Sonow I'll turn to the real world, and I'll be very US-centric becausethis article is quite long enough as it is. You might want to skip tothe happy fun summary at the bottom.

Millions of feeds aren't explicitly licensed.  Some can't be becausetheir generators don't allow for it.  For others, the owner doesn'tknow or care about licensing.  For unlicensed feeds, it's notreasonable to make the default assumption "nothing more than fair use"because there are millions of feeds out there whose owners want theircontent syndicated as-is (headline feeds with links back to content,for example).  On the other hand, if you assume anything more than fairuse, you also need to be prepared handle exceptions.  So how to do bothof these in a way that minimizes overhead and letsaggregation happen without lawyers while respecting copyright?

My take is that a reasonable default assumption is…

Buddy Updates for Blog Entries

Greg of aiminfo blogs about IM Triton release : "Buddy Updates allow you to view changes or additions your buddies make to their away messages, message boards and profiles.  You will see a new icon next to the buddy in the buddy list when an update has happened: "You can grab the latest AIM Triton here.  What Greg doesn't mention is that this also works for blog entries made through Journals.  So if you use the latest AIM client, you'll be notified about your buddies' latest blog posts.  If you try it out, please let me (or Susan or Joe or John) know what you think.  This only works for public blogs, the ones that you can find through AOL or Google search in any case, but it does give you an up-to-the-minute picture of what's going on with your buddies.Oh, and we have an update for Journals going out tomorrow morning.  After it's complete, one nonobvious change is that you'll be able to see the list of Journals someone publishes by going to t…

Danah Boyd at AOL Mountain View

Danah Boyd just wrappedup a great talk about online social spaces here at AOL Mountain View(the podcast is up already).  She delivered information via firehose. Some random notes...

There were several reasons why Friendster faded, and some lessons.Conflictbetween the user community and the space creators (they wanted a datingsite, the users wanted to do a lot of other things).  Lesson:Listen to the community; be flexible; adjust the business plan whenneeded.Servers buckled under load when it got too popular.  Lesson:The technology has to work or people will lose patience and go to the competition.
When Friendster started to try to go mainstream beyond the earlyadopter clusters, new users couldn't find any friends on the site so itwasn't useful to them.  Lesson:  Network effects work inreverse too.  Start with small clusters and grow organically.
MySpace did a big thing right: When people started 'hacking' HTML intheir own spaces, the creators let it happen, then made it e…

Code, and other laws... (part 1)

There are tens of millions of RSS and Atom feeds published on the Web.  And nearly all of them are copyrighted.

If an author doesn't explicitly give up all rights to a work, which might be a bit tricky,it's automatically copyrighted in the United States and most othercountries.  Of course the same is true of web pages.  But web pages aremostly intended to be viewed in a browser.   Feeds are generallyintended to be syndicated, which means that their content is going tobe sliced and diced in various and unforeseeable ways.  This makes adifference.

In what ways is an application allowed to copy and present a given feed's content?  To start with, it can do things covered by fair use (*). There are some interesting issues around what exactly fair use means inthe context of web feeds, but ignore those for the moment.  What aboutcopying beyond what fair use allows? 

It would be awfully helpful if every feed simply included a machine readable license.  For example, a <link rel=&q…

New Feature: Common Feeds Icon

Another update to Journals this week was the switchover to the Common Feeds Icon (). This is the same icon used by Firefox, and soon Internet Explorer and Opera.  Also, AOL's Favorites Plus.  It's also being adopted by web sites at an astonishing rate.

(Why a new icon to indicate feeds?  Because "RSS" doesn't exactly scream "dynamic feed of updates for this web page".  And lots of people our testing thought the tiny icon said "R55", which is even more useless.)

Rogers Cadenhead has a nice discussion here (see the comment thread too).

There's a debate over whether this icon should indicate an action (subscribe to this feed) or be a link to the feed resource (see the feed, and maybe subscribe).  I personally don't think this is a huge issue, as long as a user isn't left staring at XML source.  If an application only lets you do one thing with a feed, jumping directly to subscribing seems like a good idea.  If you can do multiple things…

New Feature Demo: Flickr Photos

One of the little things we did for our latest update was to open things up a little bit to allow some types of iframes inside entries -- basically iframes from trusted sites.  We'll be adding to the list of allowed sites as we go forward.  Right now Flickr makes for a great demo:

Mashup Camp Concludes

Mashup Camp just concluded in the Computer History Museum.  A very nice, direct, simple mash-up -- PodBot -- won 'best mashup'; second prize went to the everyhing-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-Chicago-crime-statistics mashup  PodBot does just one simple thing but does it for data around the world; ChicagoCrime does lots of things for just one city and subject.  Also, PodBot is all about having fun and ChicagoCrime is about not getting killed.  Sort of a yin/yang thing.

The unconference itself was good.  A lot of good sessions conflicted, so I had some quandaries; but I think I made the best locally optimal choices possible.  No regrets.  The WiFi was good (better than most conferences with 250 people in a single room) but still not perfect.  But it wasn't too bad since there was little need for a backchannel.

Software Development's Evolution towards Product Design

Software Development's Evolution towards Product Design -- Danc Redmond writes a great article from the perspective of a product designer.  I agree with nearly everything he says, especially the need for small, unified, cross-functional teams.  A few minor caveats:
Programming, done properly, is not a production activity that can easily be separated from product design.  If it could be, it's basically rote work that can and should be automated.  The non-rote work that programmers should focus on is all about figuring out how to hack the universe in order to deliver superior benefits to the customer.  Which is part and parcel of product design, which is why those small, cross-functional teams are so valuable.
A big factor in game development and web design companies' successes was sheer volume and high competition.  There are plenty of terrible user experience in both camps (books have been written), but the industries have thus had a chance to learn from lots of successes an…

AOL and Dojo

Several engineers(*) at AOL had a very interesting meeting with the Dojo guys last week.  One of the results is the announcement that AOL is hosting the Dojo toolkit on our content distribution network.  The reason this is great is because the major barrier to adoption of DHTML/Ajax/etc UIs is, honestly, the download times for the Javascript code; you only pay this once but it's a major concern.  The CDN helps enormously with this since it does automatic compression, caching, intelligent routing, proper browser bug workarounds, etc.  If enough people adopt this, it would be a win for everyone (only the first application to require a library module pays anything, the rest get it for 'free').

I hope we'll be able to do some more interesting things and help contribute to Dojo as well.

(*) OK, technically I'm a manager, but they let me wear the engineer hat sometimes.

Another One on Tagging: Data on Folksonomies

This folksonomies article is good for the questions it raises, but alsofor the data it collects in one place -- lots of good statistics and flickr usage of tags in this paper:

Folksonomies: Tidying Up Tags?
"Thisarticle looks at what makes folksonomies work. The authors agree withthe premise that tags are no replacement for formal systems, but theysee this as being the core quality that makes folksonomy tagging souseful. The authors begin by looking at the issue of "sloppy tags", aproblem to which critics of folksonomies are keen to allude, and ask ifthere are ways the folksonomy community could offset such problems andcreate systems that are conducive to searching, sorting andclassifying. They then go on to question this "tidying up" approach andits underlying assumptions, highlighting issues surrounding removal oflow-quality, redundant or nonsense metadata, and the potential risks oftidying too neatly and thereby losing the very openness that has…

Why Tag?

One of the questions that keeps coming up in discussions about taggingis whether private tagging is useful and if so, how?  Is publictagging really the important application to keep in mind and if so,why?  By private tagging, I mean someone applying tags but notsharing them with anyone -- so they're useful for personal organizationbut not for sharing with others.

Empirical evidence suggests that tagging is most useful when public andshared.  But why, exactly?  Caterina Fake, in a panel atSyndicate, noted that people on Flickr get to "ride free" on top ofcompulsive categorizers.  I think this is certainly part of it,and maybe tagging is good occupational therapy too, but I have a gutfeel there's more to the story.

My fifteen month old son is an inveterate tagger.  His tag cloud looks something like this at the moment (somewhat elided):
airplaneágua ana birdbookbulldozerbusbyechoo-choo-train dada dogdownmamaphone tractor truck up wow...which I know because he tags things …