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Showing posts from 2009

Open is as Open Does

Why I'm happy to be working at Google: The meaning of open (Official Google Blog).  Open technology and open information are ultimately about freedom and control.  Open technology gives everyone freedom to invent, compete, and improve the world; open information gives people ultimate control over the literal bits that belong to them.  These are aspirational, ambitious, long-term goals.  And yes, in the long run they benefit Google as well as the world — but the point is that they do this, at least in principle, by increasing value for everyone.  That's a good goal.  It's a difficult goal, and it takes a lot of up-front investment and a long term perspective — something the world needs more of right now.
Happy holidays!

Massively Collaborative Mathematics via Blog Comments

This year, the hive mind proved a theorem, and is going to submit a paper under the pseudonym D.H.J. Polymath.  The NYT reports:

In January, Timothy Gowers, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and a holder of the Fields Medal, math's highest honor, decided to see if the comment section of his blog could prove a theorem he could not.
In two blog posts — one titled "Is Massively Collaborative Mathematics Possible?" — he proposed an attack on a stubborn math problem called the Density Hales-Jewett Theorem. He encouraged the thousands of readers of his blog to jump in and start proving. Mathematics is a process of generating vast quantities of ideas and rejecting the majority that don't work; maybe, Gowers reasoned, the participation of so many people would speed the sifting.

It's unfortunate that the NYT doesn't link to the blog, because the procedural discussion is very interesting.  Part of the kickoff is setting the norms for participation, which are of cour…

"RE": Open alternative to ReTweet

Just discovered a useful alternative microsyntax to Twitter's RT: "RE" (via Stowe Boyd). It's been available in Tweetdeck's menu since this summer but I hadn't noticed. It's effectively an equivalent to email's In-Reply-To that creates mail threads, and it uses links rather than copying tweets, so the 140 character problem is solved.
I love RE's potential because it can solve all the problems with newRT and oldRT, and opens up some new possibilities as well:

gregarious I really like when the clocks change

about 2 hours ago from Twitter Retweeted by 3 stoweboyd: I disagree with @gregarious about daylight savings time themaria: he sleeps all day anyway brianthatcher: I never come out in the light of day

Note that the target of an RE doesn't have to be a tweet; it can be any URL. So RE can also reach outside the Twitterverse and unify all sorts of threaded conversations. In particular, if the target of an RE were Salmon-enabled, a tool could triv…

OpenID delegation for Google's OP

Following up on Brad's announcement of last week, I wanted to test out OpenID delegation. I just set up to delegate to Google's OP, which lets me use my own domain as my identifier.  Earlier I was using AOL's OP; you can pick any OP you like without changing your identity.  Doing this for a static web page like this is fairly simple:
Make sure you know your Google Profile URL; it's useful to pick a nice readable one (which will be taken from the GMail namespace).  Mine is the following two links to the <head> section of your page HTML, substituting your own Google Profile link for<link rel="openid2.provider" href="" > 
<link rel="openid2.local_id" href="" > 

Note that the Google OP supports only OpenID 2.0.  This is a Good Thing.

"Algorithmic Authority" (via Clay Shirky)

Clay Shirky recently wrote up some thoughts on algorithmic authority, well worth reading:  When you merge "publishers" and "readers" the People Formerly Known as the Audience are no longer a statistical mass of consumers, but are themselves producers of content with their own authority.  This long tail of content production makes the ability to do personalized rankings and authoritativeness far more important.  Back when there were three networks, you could rely on hearsay or statistical aggregation of authority to figure out which one had the 'best' news coverage.  With a million or a billion, you need something much more fine-grained and low-overhead.  Thus "algorithmic authority", though it also depends on user actions -- such as linking to and recommending someone else or their content.

Twitter's NewRetweet and Darwinian Selection

A couple of days ago, I tweeted "I like Twitter's new Like feature. Just not sure why they called it Retweet."  Which is a bit snarky; @ev and the crew deserve more than 140 characters, because they've clearly put a lot of time and thought into this feature and it solves a lot of real problems. People have critiqued some of the superficial problems; I'd like to focus on just one core issue, which @ev also touches on, namely the inability to add commentary.  Which turns this into (as one re-tweeter remarked) a streamlined "propagate" feature.  This does let a meme propagate at the speed of Twitter and yet be coalesced for display purposes, and that's exactly the right thing for some memes.  In some ways it's a very democratic, Darwinian process; the tweets that are most likely to be NewRetweeted will undoubtedly get propagated more efficiently.

But there's another piece to Darwinian selection:  It's not just reproduction of the fittest, b…

One XRD To Rule Them All

Discussing The Hammer Stack most of the day today.  Resolving several issues.  Will keep going until coffee runs out.  XRD will bind all services together and rule them all.  Notes here.

Addendum Nov 5:
One Protocol to rule them all, One Protocol to find them,
One Protocol to bring them all and in the DNS bind them
In the Land of Standards where the Shadows lie.

The Salmon Protocol: Introducing the Salmon Project

A few days ago, at the Real Time Web Summit, we had a session about Salmon, a protocol for re-aggregated distributed conversations around web content.  I was hoping for some feedback and to generate some interest, and I was overwhelmed by the positive reactions, especially after Louis Gray's post "Proposed Salmon Protocol aims to unify Conversations on the Web". Adina Levin's "Salmon - Re-assembling distributed conversations" is a good, insightful review as well. There's clearly a great deal of interest in this, and so I've gone ahead and expanded Salmon's home at with an open source project,, and a mailing list,
The project is a home for all types of open source code related to Salmon, but particularly reference implementations and validators.  At the moment, it contains the Python/Google AppEngine source code for the demo at

Use your email address as an OpenID

We're not quite there yet, but soon you'll be able to use any reasonable user identifier as an OpenID.  Most importantly, email addresses.  Dirk just wrote a great blog post explaining "Email Addresses as OpenIDs" which goes into the nitty gritty.  Basically, this all just needs a finalized XRD spec to rely on, and adoption of same (and ability to use acct: URIs) in the next rev of the OpenID specification.  The upcoming IIW will be an great opportunity to make some progress on these.

Mint Promises

Mint is a great service, and I'm actually trusting it quite a bit.  But their re-assurances are giving me the willies:
Your credentials are safe on  We use bank-level encryption to secure your login credentials, they cannot be compromised. We are establishing a read-only connection to your bank, we cannot move or transfer money. --
Of these 3 statements, the first is hopefully true for some reasonable value of "safe".  The second and third statements are demonstrably untrue, and they undermine the first assertion.  (As a matter of fact, when my bank offered a "read only" username/password mechanism, I tried it out with Mint -- Mint choked on the results.)  Mint has full access and can impersonate me to my bank.  I strongly dislike this situation and want Mint and the banks to change this.

Mint + Banks:  Please implement a least-privilege access mechanism.  OAuth would be great, but frankly anything including a read-only password would be better …

Camel sighting at Google

At Building 46, off Charleston, a camel. I'm sure there's a good explanation, but for some things I just prefer the mystery.

Open Issues for Discovery / Webfinger

The problem: Discover information that wants to publish to the world; things like their preferred identity provider, their public avatar, public contact methods, etc. Same mechanism should basically work for or, no wheel reinvention.

The Webfinger session at the last IIW was quite productive in the sense that it produced a long list of open issues that need resolution. The whiteboard snapshot to the right (stitched together thanks to @factoryjoe) shows the list, albeit in low res form. Translating the notes, and giving my takes:

Starting assumption : Domain owners need to play along. We're not trying to handle the case where wants to be discoverable, but doesn't control and the domain owner doesn't want to implement discovery.
Open Issues

Location of host-meta data: Older spec calls for this to be at /host-meta for every domain; Mark Nottingham has updated his proposal to create a /.well-…

Health Insurance Insider Tells it Like it Is

Sometimes, the existing order melts away when its defenders' cognitive dissonance reaches deafening levels and they defect to the revolutionaries. Read this Bill Moyers interview with Wendell Potter -- money quote:
BILL MOYERS: Why is public insurance, a public option, so fiercely opposed by the industry?

WENDELL POTTER: The industry doesn't want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don't want any more competition period. They certainly don't want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate. The Medicare program that we have here is a government-run program that has administrative expenses that are like three percent or so.

BILL MOYERS: Compared to the industry's--

WENDELL POTTER: They spend about 20 cents of every premium dollar on overhead, which is administrative expe…

Webfinger White Board at IIW

Whiteboard from the Webfinger session at IIW, in the form of an iPhone triptych:

There were a lot of good issues raised in this session, and we didn't even get to talking about the XRD schema. The right hand side of the board lists the open issues that need resolving before we can deploy real code and validators.

IIW8 Next Week

Gah! The Internet Identity Workshop has snuck up on me once again. It starts Monday, with the bulk of the sessions happening Tuesday and Wednesday morning. I'm planning to talk with people, among other things, about personal web discovery and a project @bradfitz has started to implement the core bits.

Personal Web Discovery (aka Webfinger)

There's a particular discovery problem for open and distributed protocols such as OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, and OpenSocial.  It seems like a trivial problem, but it's one of the stumbling blocks that slows mass adoption.  We need to fix it.  So first, I'm going to name it:

The Personal Web Discovery Problem:  Given a person, how do I find out what services that person uses?
This does sound trivial, doesn't it?  And it is easy as long as you're service-centric; if you're building on top of social network X, there is no discovery problem, or at least only a trivial one that can be solved with proprietary APIs.  But what if you want to build on top of X,Y, and Z?  Well, you write code to make the user log in to each one so you can call those proprietary APIs... which means the user has to tell you their identity (and probably password) on each one... and the user has already clicked the Back button because this is complicated and annoying.

Positive Feedback in Social Search

One suggestion from today's social search session at #swfoo was to send queries off to both search engines and your friends (e.g., "vacations in Venice").  A problem here is that many of your friends are incompetent about vacations in Venice, so sending them this both spams them and decreases results relevancy -- noise increases linearly with overall size of system.  This is why the good results that early adopters with 20K followers have with "what's the best pizza in Sebastopol" aren't scalable.
But, there's a nice solution to this I think.  As you do get results that are somewhat relevant from friends, you click through on their answers.  Your clicks tell the system that friend's answer was relevant in context, allowing it to learn which friends are competent in various fields.  Combine these results across everyone who is asking questions of the same friends to cancel out bias; you're left with a vector of weights for each person in the n…

Social Web Foo: Standards for Public Social Web

Small but useful #swfoo session.  My idea was to try to give public social data formats, protocols, and standards some quality time, since (a) privacy and ACLs introduce many difficult problems that eat up lots of discussion time; and (b) there are many key use cases that are totally public, and might be easily solvable if we remove the distraction of privacy controls. @niall, @dewitt, and @steveganz attended, but per Foo rules, I won't attribute specific quotes.
Examples of this include public blogs, update streams, and feeds; and public following/friending relationships.  Typically following (one way) seems to be more likely to be public than friending, for social reasons.
Some random notes:   Public content, once published, should be assumed to be "in the wild" everywhere, indefinitely, until the heat death of the universe.PubSubHubHub (prior session) is a great example of a proposed open standard for improving the performance of public social data.
Problem:  How does an …

Deep Thought at Social Web Foo

Not mine; these guys:

Goin' to IIW 2009a

I'll be at the Internet Identity Workshop May 18-20 and will be conversing about social identity and presence on the 'net... or whatever hot topics arise during the conference, which is an unconference, so you can decide what it's about in real time.  And, if you sign up by tomorrow, there's even an early bird special.  Go for it!

Exploring Drafty

1. Jason Shellen: Putting an exclusive, first 100 people only invite code into a tweet is awesome marketing.
2. Uses OAuth to access my Blogger data; yes!.  I probably would have trusted Jason with my password anyhow, but it's really good not to have to.
3. Thirty second impression: Looks like a way to generate and disseminate conversations.  I think it needs a social network component for exploration (yes, everyone is twittering about NCAA -- I just don't care).

The Awesome Turbo Plane Car

...which my son threw together this weekend. I am given to understand that it has a turbofan engine.

What is the Social Internetwork?

Way back when, before the Internet, there were a bunch of different computer networks that didn't talk to each other.  The situation:
"For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C. and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley or M.I.T. about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. [...] I said, it's obvious what to do (But I don't want to do it): If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go where you have interactive computing. That idea is the ARPAnet." —Robert W. Taylor, co-writer with Licklider of "The Computer as a Communications Device", in an interview with the New York Times, via Wikipedia. (And ARPAnet begat the Internet, which begat the World Wide Web, which begat Web 2.0.)

We're in a parallel situation today in online social n…

The Social Bar on Blogger

I've just added the Google Friend Connect Social Bar to the bottom of Abstractioneer; as with the Demo gadget, this involved copying and pasting GFC code and substituting the Abstractioneer site ID so it hooks up correctly. Try it out!

The OpenSocial API on Blogger

The Google Friend Connect integration also brings the OpenSocial API to Blogger -- not just the Gadgets APIs, which Blogger has had for a while, but also the social APIs. Let's see how the Friend Connect demo gadget (which calls the OpenSocial APIs) works within this blog post:

[An OpenSocial Friend Connect demo gadget -- turn on Javascript to view]

In Friend Connect, the followers of this blog show up as "friends" of the OWNER, which is the blog (Abstractioneer). I show up as an administrator of the site, as does the Blogger service. And, my friends-on-Abstractioneer show up as my friends when I sign in.

(It's amusing how social Blogger is becoming -- not only is a blog your friend, Blogger itself is helping to manage your friend's affairs.)

Building Out the Social Internetwork

It's been a busy week unifying Blogger Following and Google Friend Connect, so not a lot of time for blogging. A great thing about Friend Connect is that it's a catalyst for millions of individual social contexts (web pages). The contexts are separable but not totally disjoint -- you can choose to leverage and include your existing social networks and social communication tools. (The last thing we need is another social network.)

This is a little bit like real life, where you have different social contexts without totally disconnected social networks.

A practical advantage of the unification is the ability to create OpenSocial gadgets that work well on both Blogger blogs and Google Friend Connect sites. Stay tuned...

Sorry Son, I Can't Read to You Tonight...

...unless you pony up some cash to purchase the audio rights:
"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law." -- WSJ
In addition to the millions of felonious parents, the AFB might have a word or two to say about this.