Wednesday, December 14, 2005

GDoom anyone?

Off topic.

Google released the API to add widgets modules to the Google personalized homepage.

Naturally, one of the first widgets modules made available is "Eyes".

We've all been through this before, so many times. We all know where it leads to:

New Platform -> New Windowing System -> New Widgets Framework (yes! widgets! not modules! and while we're at it -also tags, not labels. ) -> A Port of Eyes -> A Port of Doom.

Is anyone working already on a port of Doom to run inside the Google personalized homepage??

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yahoo Answers

Yahoo launched Yahoo Answers on Wednesday - this is almost old news :)

Yahoo Answers is a service with a simple and compelling objective - allow any (Yahoo) user to ask any question and get an answer from other (Yahoo) users.

The service was first announced without too much fanfare on the Yahoo! search blog, by Jeremy Zawodny.

Personal disclaimer: [stealth mode. If you really have to know feel free to ask.]... having said that:

Yahoo Answers is slick and easy to use... the user scenario is simple and straightforward: join the service, ask your question, add details, categorize the question, and post it away.

A points system throttles a user's usage of the service, with points awarded to actions ranging from mere participation (login into the service and you get 1 point), to having your answer voted as the best answer (10 points). The more points you have, the more you can participate (ask, answer, vote and rate). Somewhat similar to the original experts exchange points system, and somewhat counter-Web 2.0-religion, as it potentially limits user's ability to co-create and to contribute value to the service.

From the bells and whistles area, RSS feeds are available for categories, questions and users, but tagging is very much absent - a point noted by many of the reviewers. Instead, Yahoo provided a taxonomy / hierarchical categorization system. Interesting choice, given Yahoo's leadership in the tagging area (Flickr, Del.icio.ous, My Web 2.0). And a choice that will limit the service ability to leverage the long tail of knowledge, since it forces the questions into the mainstream topics, exiling all niche questions into the "Other" category.

Yahoo Answers is not the first attempt at this. In fact, Susan Mernit referred to it as a YAAN - Yet Another Answer Network, comparing it to Wondir and to others. While it's true that Yahoo Answers is not much different then Wondir, which has been around for quite some time, the user experience in the Yahoo implementation is considerably more slick, and is likely to get better and better. Not to mention the fact that, not really surprisingly, Yahoo Answer got on its first day traffic similar to what Wondir is seeing after ~3 years of operation.

Which does make me wonder - what's going to happen if Yahoo Answers turns out to be really successfull? Let's say that I am interested in answering questions in a specific category. Browsing through categories is fine as long as there are a few hundred questions in each one. Subscribing to a category makes sense if it gets 20-30 questions a day. But what do you do when you got 100K questions per category? Thousand of questions in each category per day?

How do you make sure that askers experience a reasonable "SLA" - or satisfaction level - meaning, have most of their questions get reasonable answer in a reasonable timeframe?

To survive the potential onslaught of Yahoo's 82M users, the service will need either a more effective way for answer-providers to easily find questions relevant to them, or a more convincing incentive system. Or, better yet, both :) Without these, the differentiator between this service and any other mega-bulletin-board is not clear.

As noted in SearchEngineWatch's review of Yahoo Answers, spam, scams, blatant advertising and other forms of abuse could turn out to be a problem in such a system. Looks like Yahoo is hoping that the points system, combined with community filtering and the need for a Yahoo ID, will reduce this to a manageable level. The exploitable areas in the system are quite obvious - for a second I thought about listing them, but on second thought, maybe it'd be wiser to let spammers come up with that list on their own :)

Like Wondir, Yahoo Answers suffers from the "initial impression" effect (we call this "The Harry Potter Effect" - whenever a new Harry Potter book is released, Wondir is swamped with Potter-related questions...) - when a user enters the system and is exposed to the "most recent" questions list, the content of these questions determines the flavor of the service in the eyes of the user. And given the random nature of this most recent list, and the topics which people are most interested at, that initial impression may cause users who are valuable knowledge sources to click-back-away. Again, if leveraging the long tail of knowledge is a goal of the service, thought should be given to this topic as well.

Yahoo is probably leveraging lessons it learned from observing similar services from its competitors in Korea, where one of the top portals provides a successfull similar service that integrates Yahoo Answers-like "knowledge search" into the search and commerce experience. It's clear though that the success of such a service depends on cultural factors which may be very different between the Korean and the US markets. One notable point is the fact that in the Korean implementation, the sign in into the system is using the user's social security number, making the reputation system considerably more attractive.

It's interesting to note that at pretty much the same time,, a Google's partner, announced that it will buy Brainboost, a service that relies on an algorithm nicknamed AnswerRank™ to extract answers from existing web pages. Again, a demonstration of the people empowering through the machine vs. people empowering through people approach. Google also offers its own take on the issue with Google Answers, a service that provides answers from a selected small group of pre-screened researches for fee, where the fee is determined through bidding.

Here are some interesting reviews on Yahoo Answers:

  • Barb Dybwad, on thesocialsoftwareweblog, discusses the challenges that Yahoo Answer will face with regards to reputation, scams and infomercials
  • Michael Arrington on TechCrunch discusses the service and complains about the categorization system
  • Michael Parekh compares Yahoo Answers with Google Answers
  • Susan Mernit compares Yahoo Answers with Wondir, 43 things and Squidoo
  • Gary Price published on SearchEngineWatch a 2-part in-depth, fascinating review
  • Michael Bazeley published on SiliconBeat an interview with Ofer Shaked and Caterina Fake of Yahoo, in which Shaked mentioned that Yahoo is looking at letting posters tag their question
  • Pete Cashmore published on Mashable interesting thoughts on the merits of the Yahoo Answers points system

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Saturday, December 10, 2005


Yahoo! acquired yesterday, proving once again that among the big 4, they are the one who actually "get it".

Joshua's announcement on was aptly titled "y.ah.oo!".

They couldn't have made a better choice of course. Despite its often-discussed shortcomings, and maybe somewhat because of them, has the liveliest, most vibrant and active community from the social bookmarking crowd. The gentleness track record that Yahoo demonstrated with Yahoozation of Flickr might help making sure that this community won't walk away.

Walking away should be a real concern - since switching from one social bookmarking service to another is very, very easy today.

Reminder: Yahoo introduced their own service, My Web 2.0, not so long ago. The service was not as successful as you'd expect, with "only 424K saved pages and about a quarter of that in tags". I said back then: "… might save a lot of time in those VC weekly investment committee meetings". I guess that was somewhat premature :)

It'd be interesting to see what will the result of this ongoing process - the Flickrization of Y.ah.oo!. One thing is sure - with so many tagged web objects, and, even more important, so much information on which users act as a de-facto authority on what's interesting, Yahoo!'s search engine should get quite a boost in the relevancy of its results.

Now that my photos are on Yahoo's Flickr and my bookmarks on Yahoo's, will Yahoo be able to get me - and, slightly more important, others :) - to move from typing "google" when I think web search to typing - hmm... what is the URL for Yahoo's search thingie? Maybe I should start memorizing it..

There is something poetic about this battle between the two giants, with one betting on algorithms and server farms, and the other betting on people.

A different way to look at it: Google is about empowering people through the machine. Yahoo is about empowering people through people, with the machine as an aggregator. Oh yeah, and Amazon, making an attempt at empowering the machine through people :)

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Tagging as a comodity?

I've had an interesting conversation last night with an engineering lead in one of the mega-portal companies. While it wasn't really the topic of the conversation, he said something that got me thinking. He said:

"Tagging is by now a commodity".

Is that really so?

In my eyes, tagging, while not really a novelty anymore, is far from being a commodity. The vast majority of internet users (outside the valley of course :) never heard of it... as I noted in earlier post, I still find myself explaining quite often to people who never heard of it - what tagging is about and why it makes sense. And by "people", I mean pretty internet-savvy people.

Browsers are commodity. Search is commodity (is it?). Tagging is still at the beginning of the adoption curve, still firmly in the hype area.

It's going to take a while before the dust settles down, and tagging will become a commodity - to be used only where appropriate (no, tag clouds do not always make sense) and with clear predictable user expectations and usage patterns.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Google Beware

And now for something completly different:

Quantum Entanglement is the new Search. At this point it's good mostly for 2-bit searches, but hey, it's a start.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Google anyone?

There is one player notably missing from the social bookmarking, and that's Google.

2 years ago there were rumors that Google tried to buy Friendster, and shortly after Google introduced orkut.

Google's Personalized Search, introduced on Nov '05, does bookmarking with tags (oops, labels in Google-talk) as a sidekick. But these tags labels are personal, not "social" - they cannot be shared with the community.

How come?

Either Google believes that its algorithms can do just fine (or be further improved) without the need for human input, or, maybe they believe that they can simply leverage the social tagging done by other non-Google services (which, after all, result in links- the fuel for Google's PageRank algorithm), or maybe something is cooking.

It's interesting to note that Google has a patent that covers certain aspects of social bookmarking:

[0068] In one embodiment, a user may share or overlay bookmarks. For example in one embodiment, a user is able to open up their bookmarks for others to view.


[0069] One embodiment of the present invention fosters community and relationship building. In one embodiment, the search engine is able to recognize clusters or pairs of users having similar interests.

Rumors anyone?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tag-cloud my OPML

Both tagging and RSS aim to help us cope with the information overload.

Tagging means that we no longer have to decide for each and every bookmark in which folder it should be filed.

RSS means that we don't have to go our favorite information source to check what's new; instead the information is aggregated and delivered as a notification to us.

Unfortunately, most RSS readers file the RSS feeds in... guess what. Yup, folders :)

Back to square one, only now instead of having to file hundreds of bookmarks, we're filing hundreds of RSS feeds.

Can we please have tagging in OPML? I'd really like to be able to specify the tags for the feed I am subscribing to, and have the RSS reader allow me to navigate my OPML using a tag cloud.

Mashing up the OPML tag cloud and the RSS items tags, together with an indication of the number of new posts, into a single visual display, would be even more powerful, as it'd allow me to quickly identify the hot topics in the feeds I am subscribed to.

BTW, RSS supports tagging directly (through the category element), but it doesn't seem to be widely supported.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Web 2.0 Metaphors

In his notes about Mark Cuban's post suggesting a new music distribution model, Michael Eisenberg said:

Anyone in the path of the "Free Information/Content Tornado" beware!

That "tornado" (also referred to as Tsunami by some :), coupled with people's desire to interact with actual real live people, is the real engine behind Web 2.0, with simplicity being the engine oil. And that's 4 metaphors in a single post :)

Seems like anyone standing in the in the path of the desire to interact with people should also be somewhat nervous... as proven recently by Paul English from [IVR Cheat Sheet].

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tagging Whmpfff

The Freesound Project is back online, after several days of downtime due to being slashdoted :)

Freesound is about sharing tagged sound samples, all available under the Create Commons Sampling Plus license.

More than 10,000 sound samples already shared and tagged (some are also geotagged). Pretty cool.

Not much more left to tag in the world :) (yes, I know I will be proven wrong)

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To Web or to Bubble?

Depending on where you stand, the buzz around Web 2.0 seems to be getting louder and louder. In fact, at some places, it gets so loud that it makes lots of smart people wonder if it's actually Bubble 2.0:

Kevin Buton is frightened:

A lot of the recent news around Web 2.0 is starting to frighten me. There is just too much money flying around with too much hype and too little value.

Mike Rundle is worried:

Are we growing too fast too quickly? Are people throwing their money around too haphazardly, without due diligence? I don't know, but it's always a possibility.

Robin Miller is amazed by the silly business ideas:

There really are people running around with money to invest who know that little.

Speculations and hints go back as much as 6 months ago:

It is too early to say whether the flush environment heralds another tech investment bubble, but there are echoes of the dotcom boom.

David Hornik is already looking past Bust 2.0 and toward Web 3.0:

So when I hear large numbers of companies pitching themselves as excellent acquisition candidates before they've even gotten out of the gate I can't help but think to myself that we are in the heart of Bubble 2.0. Sadly, only one thing follows Bubble 2.0 and that is Bust 2.0. On the good side, there's always Web 3.0.

There is even a blog dedicated to the new bubble, and a very useful Web 2.0 Business Plan Generator.

Are we heading down toward an industry-wide embarrassment again?

Some other smart people believe that this is not the case:

John Battelle is optimistic in a recent New York Times article:

But regardless of all this déjà vu, we are not in a bubble. Instead we are witnessing the Web's second coming, and it's even got a name, "Web 2.0"

Signal vs.Noise by 37signals feels that there is no bubble, though there is certainly a lot of Babble 2.0.

Om Malik agrees:

I agree - so far it is not a bubble.

Though he goes on to warn:

But it can very quickly become one.

Scobleizer is asking:

Which gets me onto the point of this post. Is Web 2.0 a bubble?

and answering:

Not when Google's advertising revenue and profit lines look steeper than KT-22's ski slope at Squaw Valley


Not when companies like Meetro are so capital constrained that they are all living and working in one house in Palo Alto.

I believe that Brian Shin nailed it down, getting closer to the truth, in "On Web 2.0: Where are we going?":

... we've all deluded ourselves into thinking we're more important than we really are. It just looks like Web 2.0 is hitting it big because as technology bloggers, everything we see and touch is affected by it.

I am not located in The Valley. From over here, things look a bit different. Some of the most savvy VCs around here didn't even hear about that "Web 2.0" thingie until recently. The buzz is limited to a very active but still small group.

Hopefully this means that we're still in the productive part of the curve.

The Bubble may and probably will come, but not quite yet.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Wink, launched almost two months ago and now accepting beta users, is interesting.

Half delicious-like social bookmarking (with tagging, duh.), half-Wiki, with a bit of Outfoxed

The Wink user scenario begins pretty much like a search engine - a small text box, with a "Search" button next to it. Enter a search term, click Search.

You will get two sets of search results - first, links which were already tagged and rated by Wink users (ordered using Wink's TagRank), and second, standard Google search results. For each link in either of these two sets, you can add the link to your favorites, tag it, rate it or mark it as spam.

In addition, you can view the Wiki entry related to your search term, edit it if needed or create a new one if one doesn't exist already. Plus, you get a list of related search terms.

Other features - the ability to aggregate links into collections, and to subscribe to other users' collections.

Pretty cool. A potentially smooth integration between the search, bookmarking, tagging and content creation processes.

However, since it's going to be uphill battle getting us to switch from typing Google whenever we think "search for pages", they might be better off packing all this wonderful functionality into a browser plugin, Outfoxed-style (or integrate with Flock).

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Web 2.0 Litmus Paper

It's been a few days since I last posted. [rule #8]

With so much of the industry energy and time going into trying to figure out What-Is-Web 2.0 (a.k.a. "Web 2.0 - wtf?"), the new "Web 2.0 Validator", even though it's only at beta version ~2.7183, could prove to be a real boon.

If you find though that AJAXing your site by adding prototype.js didn't get you slashdotted, here is an actually useful description of Web 2.0 by Tim O'Reilly (also in summarized version by Dare Obasanjo). It's almost 3 months old though - read it quickly before the definition of Web 2.0 changes again :)

A wonderfully short and to the point definition comes actually directly from the Web 2.0 Validator site:

...that 2.0 sites exist and gain value from the aggragation of user data, which thrives when users are trusted to be in charge.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All Your Base

Now that Google Base was launched, we will be seeing a revival of the "All-Your-Base" wave. So, here is some useful background :) (thanks Daniel)

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - online tagged file system

Ian Sefferman introduced Openomy. It's a brave attempt to start from the bottom up - a web file system based on tagging (no folders. nada. nothing. just tags.), RSS (notes on implementation), completely open APIs, and infrastructure for building applications on top of this.

Everything is still rudimentary - basic functionality, minimal user interface.

Pretty exciting, but the real test of course would be existence of applications leveraging it.

(From Tagrio)

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Amazon is tagging too

It's not clear exactly when did this happen, but Amazon is gradually introducing tags into its service. See Techcrunch for details. I just hope they didn't patent it :)

I love Amazon's recommendation engine, and tagging certainly has the potential to make it even better.

I was just thinking, that in order for users to come up with unorthodox usages for tags (a-la Flickr's deleteme), there has to be some sort of bulletin board in the service. Without it, new tagging conventions would be much slower to emerge.

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The Flickrization of Yahoo

Erick Schonfeld wrote in Business 2.0 about the effects of the Flickr purchase on the Yahoo culture, and Yahoo's approach to Social Media and amateur-created content. An interesting read.

"Yahoo has done the best job of the large guys of getting the concept," says tech guru Esther Dyson, who was an early investor in Flickr.

I agree :)

On the other hand, the article presents some facts regarding the success of Yahoo's home-grown social bookmarks service:

In practice, however, tagging search results and bookmarks may still be too geeky an activity for Yahoo's average Joe. Thus far, My Web has seen tepid growth in the number of pages saved (about 300,000) and tags applied (fewer than 90,000). That might not seem bad for a product still in beta, but My Web is seeing little month-to-month growth. (, by contrast, has 10 million saved pages and half a million tags.)

Why are mainstream users slow to adapt tagging? Is it because it is inherently attractive only for a small segment, or is it just a matter of time before one of the competing social bookmarking services will get the ingredients + the secret sauce of the tagging user experience right?

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Amazon Gets Patents on Consumer Reviews???

... and, in sharp contrast to my previous post, reports that Amazon was awarded three new patents, covering its purchase circles, search and consumer reviews.

The third patent, on consumer reviews, even covers collecting reviews by letting visitors to a Web site fill out a form.

Surprisingly enough, these wonderful patents aren't mentioned on the Amazon press release page. Could it be that they find this somewhat embarrassing?

This might generate a few more posts similar to Scobleizer's "slave generated content" post.

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Dave Winer

Throughout the years, doesn't matter what my current interest is - XML RPC, SOAP, RSS, blogging, or the banned word - Dave Winer is there, and is always worth reading.

Dave just posted his "vision for podcasting" - though in fact, it's a manifest for amateur-created content. An inspiring read.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Oh, baby, baby it's a TagWorld

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch reported on TagWorld - a new uber-tagging service. Their vision, from the About page:

build the Social Web by providing a unified set of easy-to-use, web-based services that will let users create and engage in a more meaningful, social experience


TagWorld sees five fundamental components for building out this new social web infrastructure: people, photos, blogs, tags and storage.

They do a pretty good job at providing an integrated, do-it-all experience, with a slick(er) user interface. The free-form tagging interface is still somewhat lacking to my taste. They have a cool tag-by-selecting-from-a-tag-cloud user interface in some of the areas. Bookmarks, like pretty much everything else, can be tagged as public or private.

The search experience is real pleasure though. A slidebar for indicating the number of results you'd like to see at once. Thumbnails of the web sites in your bookmarks.

The service has a strong "mass consumer" flavor to it. Also, it seems to be one of the only Web 2.0 services developed using .NET technology, and not LAMP. No, I'm not hinting at a connection between the two facts. Almost not all :)

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Standartizing Tag Semantics

striatic has been leading for several months a brave attempt on the Flickr discussion board to standardize the usage of certain tags.

Several similar discussions went on in the discussion list. Suggestions for a wiki-like solution to organize such an effort keep coming up.

There are some things that tagging systems could do to reduce the effort associated with this, without losing the value of free-form, tag-with-whatever-comes-to-mind tagging.

Some of them can be done in the backend, when searching for tags (like stemming). However, there are probably more things that such systems can do to encourage users to choose the more standard tags.

For example, using the same logic used by the Flickr clustering algorithm, when a user tags an item with "SF", the system could - after letting me use the SF tag - make a suggestion:

The "SF" tag often stands for "San Francisco". The "SF" tag was used 36,717 times, while the "San Francisco" tag was used 214,347 times. Would you like to add the "San Francisco" tag as well?

As more and more users join the tagging circles, thought should be given to the scalability of the model - it is in everyone's best interest to reduce the number of tags in the tag space. Well. Except maybe for Oracle and MySQL :)

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Friday, November 11, 2005

More Big.Blue.Licious

Also, reported on more from IBM: "Public Image Monitoring Solution" monitors and analyzes blogs, wikis, news feeds, consumer review sites, newsgroups and other community-generated content to allow corporations and brands to keep tabs on their image.

Also, personal lesson of the day: don't blog while cooking.

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The IM Generation

CNET reported on an America Online-commissioned study of instant messaging trends.

"Nearly 66 percent of 13- to 21-year-olds say they send more IMs than e-mails, compared with 49 percent last year, according to an America Online-commissioned study of instant messaging trends.

... Overall, 38 percent of users say they send as many or more IMs than e-mails.

... About 80 million people in the U.S. regularly use IM"

CNET also reports on a new study from IDC:

"about 1 billion IMs sent every day between 28 million enterprise users."

New study from PEW:

"Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.

... 19% of online youth ages 12-17 have created their own blog.

... 7% of adult internet users say they have created their own blog."

I still (vaguely) remember what the BITNET TELL and RELAY screens looked like, and I'm not that old. I think.

These 13-21 years old are and becoming more and more so our users.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Shop By Color

TechCrunch has a short piece about Etsy, a rather cool P2P ecommerce company for handmade items. The post goes into details about the features and functions of Etsy, read it all there. But what really got me is Etsy's Shop By Color thingie - Flash at its best. Wonderful toy.

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Monday, November 07, 2005


David Weinberger live-blogged a rather amusing recount of an IBM press event, "The Future of Social Networks" held in the IBM office in Cambridge.

Turns out that IBM did their own application wiki thingie (JotSpot-like), and also - behold - DogEar, an internal social bookmarking service.

My favorite quote:

"Irene: It's all Web 2.0 stuff." :)

An interesting read, especially given the live-blogging effect (less-filtered opinions).

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10 Issues Facing Web 2.0 Today

Dion Hinchcliffe posted a wonderful completly subjective list of "10 Issues Facing Web 2.0 Today".

#8: Blogging Instead of Doing. :)

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Matchbox Wisdom II

Matchbox Wisdom II
Matchbox Wisdom II,
originally uploaded by YanivG.
Too much tagging. Gotta balance it with some matchbox wisdom.

tagstd:recap <tagstd:recap>

I've had some interesting comments from several folks regarding the tagging standard ( & follow up) I've proposed a few days ago - thank you! I'd like to try to address some of them here.

  • On a general note, I'd like to note that the list of predefined values for the rel attribute is defined in the HTML4 specification. Obviously it does not include "tag" as predefined value.
    The specification however explicitly permits defining new values for the rel attribute (though it recommends that in this case the conventions used will be cited in the profile attribute of the head element).
    So, technically speaking, using rel="tag" is OK from HTML point of view. But, putting aside the spec, why take the risk of using a non-universally-accepted value when we don't have to? I don't really see why "
    <a tagstd:rel="tag" href=..."
    is significantly more usable then
    "<a rel="tag" href=... "
    and that would already be a big improvement in the robustness of RelTag.

Kevin Marks (from Technorati, and who is credited with the concept of Rel-Tag) raised some great points:

Mixing data and representation is by design. If the tags are embedded in the content they don't get detached (link)

I agree, this is a worthy cause. But, there are several different options for embedding the tag in the contents, and some of them provide the ability to embed the tag in the content without mixing data and representation. For example, using
<span tagstd:tags="tag1 tag2 tag3">content here</span>
would get the job done just as well. (though using span has other drawbacks though).

Redundancy is not a problem in practice (I have 18 million examples). (link)

While it's hard to argue with 18 million examples :), it'd be interesting to know - does the Technorati crawler verifies a match between the tag as indicated by the URL postfix and the tag as indicated by the link text?

When you do cut-and-paste, you get cut-and-paste errors, that's one of life's most basic truths, second only to "if you use 1.0, it will crash".

Usability: straw man argument here. Bloggers know how to make links. Adding rel="tag" is very easy to remember. In any case, if a tool is generating it this is moot. XML is no more robust. (link)

Hmpff. I beg to differ. Bloggers != HTML coders.

For people who click "new post", write their thoughts, and then click "Post", the rel="tag" is not only not easy to remember, it's also.. well. They pretty much have no idea what we're talking about :)

Now this of course could be solved by tools. But, if we rely on a tool, why don't we choose a format that assumes a tool (though it can still be added manually).

I am not sure why you're saying that XML is not more robust. XML can be validated against a schema, assuring 100% match between the expected syntax and the actual syntax. And even if a schema is not used, the mere fact that XML supports namespaces solves a lot of problems. Even just defining your own tagstd:rel attribute instead of using the HTML standard rel attribute would be a huge improvement in robustness IMO.

Tag Spaces: these are there for disambiguation, and to provide alternatives. You should pick an appropriate one for each tag, bearing in mind that it should make sense to your readers if clicked on. See your own complaint of redundancy supra. (link)

I am not clear on this point, disambiguation of what? and alternatives to what?

Let's keep in mind that the whole tagging thing is about a flat namespace, in which all tags start as equals. That's the beauty of tagging. And, when we do want to disambiguate them, I doubt it will be done by URLs.

Let's admit it, everyone reading this blog is probably an early adopter to some extent. Let's try to imagine what will the tagging world look like when the dust settles down a bit. I'd guess we'll have 3-4 "tag collections" web sites, with direct tagging and tag-lookup support integrated into the browsers, and lots of non-technical people using this.

I'd guess that for them, the right thing to do is that when you'd like to look up a tag (e.g. find all "things of type X" associated with this tag), they'd want that it would be them who decides - at "run time" - which repository to use to look up the tag, not the one determined by the author.

Scope: this is deliberately left unspecified in the rel="tag" definition.

Just wondering, what is the issue that not defining scope was meant to avoid? Also, as pointed out by Kevin, while the Rel-Tag spec avoid this, the other microformats use facilities such as the class attributeto define the scope. Again, according to the specs, this is ok. But there are practical questions to ask... what would prevent a CSS developer from defining a CSS class "tag" and using it? How would the tools and the browser resolve the conflict? and the biggest question... why not reduce the chances of a conflict from happening at the spec level. A very simple solution would be to use class="tagstd:tag".

Also, it should be noted that the input from Priyantha, from Zoundry, which is the tool I'm using the write this post, express confidence in the Rel-Tag (and the other microformats). Also, Hendrik responded to Eran's comments indicating that in his opinion, a tagging standard should not assume any changes in the (X)HTML specs, and should in fact be independent from HTML.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005


Check out the sidebar. I've added the obligatory "chicklets" thingie [ Subscribe in Bloglines Subscribe in Google Reader Subscribe in My MSN]. What a waste of screen-estate.

I wonder what will the "standard" for this end to be, 2 years from now, when RSS is finally mainstream. Which will happen of course only when smooth, integrated support for this will be incorporated into Windows (reading this blog: 78% Windows, 5% Linux / UNIX, 17% Mac OS X).

Yeah, I know that Firefox has an extension. Yes, there are wonderful readers out there. Right, we've got feed:// and feed: and rss:// and auto-discovery and USM. They're all great. But it ain't over until the Lady from Redmond sings, and we all know it.

I'd be happy with:

  • feed: being supported and configurable directly by the OS (a-la mailto:)
  • Integrated browser-support for auto-discovery, redirected to the OS feed: support
  • "Standard" alternate subscription user interface (inside an orange rectangle of course, for legacy reasons :) ), for browser-only no-desktop-of-my-own users, leading to a Microsoft/Google/Yahoo-provided universal subscription mechanism, similiar to MultiRSS.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

More on a tagging standard

More on a tagging standard.

Rel-Tag (a.k.a relTag) is a de-facto standard for tagging a specific page. Rel-Tag was defined by Tantek Çelik, following a concept from Derek Powazek and Kevin Marks. It is part of a larger collection of microformats - a wonderfully practical approach to building a practical semantic web.

To tag your page with a Rel-Tag, you just include a link and use the attribute rel="tag" on the link:

<a href="" rel="tag">sample</a>

It doesn't matter what page the URL points to, as long as it ends with the tag name.

Incredibly simple. Paste this piece of HTML into your page, and your page is tagged, and indexed as such by services that support this convention, such as Technorati.

I do share Kevin Burton's feeling though, that the Rel-Tag specification is somewhat lacking (or, as Kevin defined it, under-specified).

Points to consider:

  • Mixing Data and Representation
    • relTags are easy to create by hand (at least, assuming that you know HTML). They're even easier to generate by an application that supports them (such as Zoundry). But once generated, relTags are not just metadata, they're actually part of your content. So it becomes very hard to build a tool that edits them. You might have used these links in your content. You might have moved them around. You might want to change the link text but keep the tag. It becomes messy. Last time checked the problem of separating data from representation in a practical, widely supported manner was already solved.
  • Redundancy
    • The tag is repeated twice, once in the URL and once in the text. Wanna bet how quickly these two get out of sync?
  • Usability
    • relTags are very easy to use, if you know how to access and edit your HTML. But, if you know that, there isn't much difference between editing a "<a href" tag to add the rel="tag", and between cutting and pasting a piece of XML to achieve the same goal. And if you don't know HTML, both are equally inaccessible. So, end-user usability being pretty much the same, why not choose a more robust solution?
  • Tag Spaces
    • According to relTag, the actual URL you use point to any page, as long as that page is a "tag space", loosely defined as "a place that collates or defines tags". The spec goes on to inst that tag spaces can be used to provide a specific meaning to the tag. What does this mean? Is it a method to tag tags? A categorization system? A meaningless technical detail? These questions are too big to be left unspecified. The obscurity of this is leading to people (e.g. me :) repeating the tags multiple times, for each one of their favorite "tag spaces" (and to some cool gizmos).
  • Scope definition
    • relTags are used to tag the text that includes them. They do not carry with them a scope definition, so it would be hard for tools (or people as a matter of fact) to understand if these tags refer to the entire page, or to a specific section in the page (or post in a blog).

It'd be great if a more general and robust tagging standard would support relTags for backward compatibility.

I've been playing with the tagging format I've suggested in a previous post, and found some changes that should be applied to it in order to make it more useful. But this post is already getting way too long, so more on that later :)

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Osher Frimerman just pointed out that the numerical value of the word Google, as written in Hebrew, is... yes. 42.

Hmpff :)

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The Perfect Tagging UI

Enough whining. I'm going to try to be constructive by listing what are the behaviors that will make me fall in love with a tagging thingie:
  1. Clearly mark the tag boundaries
    • Why? we still have a mess with different conventions regarding what separates tags - spaces, commas, semicolon, ... until we figure out it, we need a way to provide a visual hint to the user whether they got it right or wrong.
    • Reasonable: Flock. Tags are comma-separated; whenever you type the comma, the previous tag is visually surrounded by a gray bubble indicating that it's a "single unit".
    • Bad but not awful: Flickr. You can't tell as you type the tags if you got it right or wrong, but when you click the "Add" button, you get immediate visual feedback by inspecting the tags list above the entry line.
    • Terrible: Zoundry (which other then this is a pretty cool product, I am using it to write this post :). You won't know if you did it right or wrong until you see your post
      on the blog...

  2. Support copy and paste of tags
    • there, and paste them here. Using a standard copy-and-paste interface, mind you.
    • list, but selecting the tags in the list is hard, and pasting them results in a mess.
    • Good: delicious.

  3. Auto-complete
    • Why? I love tagging, they make life easier. I don't like typing, it makes life shorter.
    • Reasonable: blinklist.
    • Bad: RawSugar. The auto-suggest does not follow well with the typing process. I can't press enter to choose the currently selected auto-complete suggestion and then proceed to type the next tag. I am forced to leave my typing context to select the tag, and after it's selected, to use the mouse to move back to where I was in the tagging line.

  4. Auto-suggest
    • Why? I'm not always in the mood to generate tags. Sometimes I am feeling lazy. Comeon, you know so much about me and about other users, use it to make my life easier, not just the search engine life :)
      • Based on tags that I've often used together with the tags I've already typed
      • Based on tags that other users often use together with the tags I've already typed
      • Based on tags that other people who tagged this page used
    • Good: delicious
    • Bad: Flickr

  5. No hierarchy, classification, or anything else that disrupts the cognitive process
    • Why? Because I find it distracting. And I have a good excuse for this :)
    • Good: Flickr
    • Bad: RawSugar

  6. Ability to edit tags like text
    • Why? because I make typos and change my mind, and I want to be able to quickly go back during the tagging process (or later) and fix it
    • Good: Flickr, Delicious. Though none of them makes it too easy to edit the tags once they are submitted.
    • Bad: Flock. The visual bubble around the tags, which I mention in #1, really gets in the way when you see a typo in a tag you just typed and you want to fix it.

  7. Search previously tagged items with an already-typed tag without disrupting the tagging process
    • Why? Because I'd like to borrow the tags I used when I tagged related items in the past
    • Good: Flickr. Modless tagging interface, I can always open a new window and search.
    • Bad: Flock (modal dialog...), Microsoft Live Favorites.

Funny, if you scan the "Bad:" examples, you'll note that the application that I am pretty much addicted to - Flickr - scores pretty high on the Bad list. Which kinda puts my rumbling in perspective :)

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Looksmart leveraging Furl to create vertical search

Looksmart launched yesterday 161 new vertical web sites in 12 categories, apparently leveraging their Sep' 04 acquisition of Furl by using Furl users tagged bookmarks to discover and rank web pages relevant for a specific category / vertical.

I believe that they are the first major search engine company that truly leverages the tagging phenomena and integrates it with conventional search engine to deliver general purpose better search for the non-tagging public.

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