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Michael Gracie

Politicos to preach online civility

A lot of folks are talking Web 2.0 bubble. Internet bubble rumors usually arise when a hoard of projects sprout up without well thought out business models, and get enormous amounts of venture capital which usually winds up in the founders’ pockets as compensation for their grand importance to “the space.” That frenzy has now hit the online political scene.

A web venture is being launched with the mission of facilitating rational political debate. Right. I am wondering how HotSoup.com is going to get those heavy-hitting bloggers to shut down their sites so HotSoup can get their traffic. That is where the supposed debate is going on right now, and it isn’t too pretty; getting it to migrate is going to be one hell of a task.

Of course, now that HuffingtonPost.com is rumored to be getting a load of funding, I’d say the bubble talk may be right on. For goodness sakes, even HuffPo had a hard time keeping heavyweights around.

I wish those VCs good luck.

The internet is boring?

I say the nightly news is boring – others tend to agree. I say TV in general is boring, and if stuffing programs on your cellphone is the best the hot shot executives can come up with, that isn’t going to change much either. Even the blogosphere is getting boring (or at least the political end of it has) – just more of the same in a different venue.

But it takes a really rich guy (Mark Cuban) to say the whole internet is boring, and I am inclined to disagree with a billionaire for the first time.

I’d say that is akin to declaring that everything inventable has been invented. Whether technologically or via just plain attitude, someone will always rise to shake things up. Or is that exactly what Mark is trying to incite?

My guess is that someone with an “I don’t give a shit” attitude and a helluva set of coding skills is always right around the corner.

Microsoft executives to use the insanity defense

This little battle going on between Microsoft and Apple is getting a bit silly, and the media is certainly playing it to its fullest. Let’s break it down, shall we?

– Microsoft’s latest operating system is delayed, and now Bill Gates is laying long odds on another delay.

– Apple stock is getting beat up because iPod sales are slowing.

– Microsoft announces they are creating an iPod killer just in time for Christmas, and a pretty simple analysis of that possibility creates a lot of doubt.

– Apple is going to release a new operating system, purportedly just ahead of Vista.

So, we have the old guard hampered by delays to its core product chasing a market created by the new guard, just as that market seems to be stagnating. And, we have the new guard pounding away on the old guard’s turf, just as the old guard is getting caught with its shorts around its knees.

Someone get someone else a stiff drink, please, before they go insane.

I don’t like you, Mr. Blogger, so I wish your child dead

The political blogosphere has a few stars, but more than its fair share of wanna-be’s. You can tell a star by rational thought in writings and a willingness to take a licking, all the while showing at least a semblance of class. It is easy to segregate out the wanna-be’s. First, you have numbers on your side, and they squawk the same squawk, day in and day out. They are usually far right or far left (and I think a little far out), and easily recognizable by their mantra – “everything on my side is completely pure and correct, and everything about your side is outrageously despicable and wrong.” I believe they are directed by their local politico cadre, the ones they believe possess the “power.” They’ve concluded that by acting and sounding venerable, they will gain some ground in the pecking order. In fact, they are being used, and they are sounding like mindless asses to boot.

But enough of my innate contempt for the lot.

If you want to hear how far the carnival will go to sell a few tickets, you need look no further than here. To summarize, one blogger decides they don’t like another, and then proceeds to say they’d like to see the other’s kid dead. It doesn’t get more poluted than that. It’s the kind of aggregious behavior formerly reserved for the offline world, forced into the online because you can’t ignore an RSS feed into obscurity, and you can’t go to blows in the front yard either.

Watch out – the real escalation of this conflict between meager minds has only just begun. I stated in no uncertain terms that I felt the political blogosphere would turn gangrenous and die due to the festering of its own one-sided rhetoric.

I now say it has one foot in the grave.

***UPDATE***

At a table of plenty: Make no mistake, this is not a victory for “our side vs. their side.” Uh, no kidding, again.

My blog is sooo busy!

Blogging is an endless struggle for attention. Not many people get that attention, and some only get it from the same folks who they are providing attention to (in other words, they create a big “circle jerk”). Bloggers will use every excuse under the sun to make you think they are big, bad and bold, when in fact they are as obscure as the rest of us.

Among the signs that a blog is unsuccessful (read: full of shit)…

– “I’m changing my layout to suit my readers needs” – when they should have said “I’ve been using a prepackaged style sheet because I don’t know CSS, and I think all these high-powered bloggers’ success is highly correlated with their beautiful graphics”; they will soon come to the realization that Adobe Creative Suite costs a mint, that their design friends are too busy to help (because the masses cannot afford Adobe CS), and they’ll wind up with an even crappier style after trying on their own.

– Using terms like “my host” a lot – “My host” means “Blogger”; they’ve masked the fact with their own URL (purchased at GoDaddy for $4.99) so you think they have a server to themselves; readership is too ignorant to know better.

– “This blog is really busy” – should be “I’m a political blogger with absolutely no original thoughts and I know it – everyone commenting on my site is just like me – we just finished toasting our link around at Drink Asininely.”

– “We just received our first advertising partner” – actually, Google just approved their Adsense account after 400 emails back and forth, arguing a lack of content and/or a consistently broken site due to faulty HTML tags; get ready for “ad slather” (the use of “we” to make you think they are just one step behind Daily Kos).

– “We are changing blogging platforms, because MovableType is too slow.” – this means PageRank = 2 and Alexa ranking is unrecordable; even though Hugh Mcleod and Glenn Reynolds are still using MovableType, the blog owner has run out of excuses (“we” used in this context means unemployed webmaster – since CMS went open source).

Of course, if you are Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media (a guy who understands the economics of blogging) you don’t conjure lame reasoning – you simply restructure.

Bet the Debt is the latest casino game

According to a recent poll, plenty of folks would be willing to go double-or-nothing on their personal debt at an online casino.

This all comes despite the poor odds, none to surprising as most people don’t calculate risk when they sign the aggregious contract on that new European car (their thought at the time is they will just draw down the home equity line to pay it off).

Little do they know, while they are sitting around with their thumbs up their butts hoping for a miracle of chance, the farm has already been bet for them.

They’d be well served to read this instead.

MyReturn to MySpace

After doing a quick run-though of MySpace, and concluding there isn’t really much there to worry about, I thought I would return, hoping to learn from the master (Tom) how to become the most popular guy on the planet (with 90 million friends, there is no doubt as to that claim).

Low and behold, after just a few days on the second most highly traffic-ed website on the planet, I am getting messages from lovely women requesting friendship. What a shocker – they want a half-baked entrepreneur in their lives (even though I haven’t disclosed that fact in my profile yet). These women belong on the covers of magazines, and I’ve noted that there are plenty of gentlemen suckers egging them on. They have tons of friends as well (as all prime-time cosmetics models with hopes of pursuing Ph.Ds in astrophysics should have). Interestingly, profiles that should have absolutely no problem getting picked up every time they walk out the door are using…..tada…..online dating services! Can you imagine that? Well, they must be hard up for cash despite their good looks and outstanding resumes, because they are getting affiliate referral credit for the links to all the pictures they are supposedly posting (about their wild nights on the town, of course).

Still, nothing particularly dangerous. Just some harmless fun, and a little surreptitious marketing.

Stay tuned.

***UPDATE***

Of course, these knockouts knocking on my door could be outsiders’ way of capitalizing on the MySpace frenzy, although if they were I’d say it isn’t a very effective means of doing so (hitting up obscure, new members). If outsiders have gained a access foothold into the broader member base, then Fox Interactive has a real problem.

***UPDATE 2***

MySpace just topped the charts, according to Hitwise. Of course, there are plenty of questions as to what being number one according to Hitwise really means, along with what all those attractive women wanting to party with you really mean too. Slashdot has a nice roundup on the matter.

PS: Yes, I’ve been back, and all those models are courting me too. That’s what makes me most suspicious.

***UPDATE 3***

A teacher calls it a long, unsupervised locker room break. Nice.

New Jersey won’t be the last of governmental budget problems

In the fight for balance between the need for essential services and reasonable taxes, New Jersey is losing. Some are taking the opportunity to draw partisan lines, but I think it is a little more than that.

Although I don’t live in New Jersey, I’ve visited the Shore often in the past. Nice place. I know someone who lives right on the beach (an obvious public attraction). The beach is being shut down tomorrow. The friend is a professional (and extremely successful) gambler. The casinos (a source of revenue for the state) are being shut down tomorrow. When you start shutting down visitor attactions and revenue sources because you can’t supervise them, you know you are in deep trouble.

Without a budget compromise, New Jersey’s problems are going to snowball. And I don’t think New Jersey is the last we’ll see of the meltdown induced floods.

PS: Happy Independence Day!

***UPDATE***

No more gambling (and I think, no more beach either – what are those Shore lovers going to do now, but drink!)

Taming the MySpace monster

myspace.gifAs if everyone doesn’t know already, MySpace is being sued for failing to protect one of its users. I am not going to delve into the details of the case – plenty of speculation already abounds – but I will say I agree that failure to properly supervise a child can be a precursor to problems in almost any environment. I was covertly supervised catching fish off “borrowed” john boats, jumping my BMX bike too short over the neighbors’ flowerbeds, and crashing my go cart into the tires of parked cars on the street – I didn’t understand it, but there was generally some adult around being held accountable. In the internet age, that no longer seems the case.

Some colleagues and I recently launched Tot Jot, geared towards parents of small children, and we presumed a high level of privacy was a foregone conclusion. We leveraged what meager contribution I could make on the matter from my workings over at Spamroll, but I still thought it would still be a good idea to see how the other side works. So I took the plunge and joined MySpace – the goal being to analyze, from a beginner user’s perspective, what makes MySpace so potentially dangerous.

Now, for what I found….

Uh, not much

Hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have any real blatant issues with the way the site is run. No, I didn’t try hammering a style sheet with a cross-site scripting exploit, and no, I didn’t try passing a home-cooked virus to someone via messaging. Those are potential problems that Fox Interactive should take care of on their own. Furthermore, I didn’t try to harrass some underage participant under the guise of being an underage participant – that is an issue for users (and in the case of the underage, for their parents). Considering the sheer number of users on MySpace, the relatively frequency of trouble is probably no more significant than what occurs in the real world – you just hear less about the latter because the citizenry is immune to it – they don’t want to admit the problem is more likely to happen in their own home. You hear about it via MySpace because the mainstream media needs all the attention it can get. Scott Granneman of Security Focus aptly focuses on the mass hysteria begin created by the media – I concur with him wholeheartedly.

As for solutions…

Passing a COPPA agreement to users is not going to stop this type of issue, as users will just lie. Requiring a credit card to join (a favorite web age verification system nowadays), won’t stop it either. Unless MySpace charges, kids are going to grab that wallet after the parents go to bed, enter that card number, and the parents won’t ever know. For goodness sakes, the lawsuit screams of lying about ages anyway – none of these checks are going to bring any additional security to the table. Bruce Schneier noted that MySpace is beefing up its security by allowing restriction of full profile information, but more as a measure to cover its butt in the case of additional lawsuits. That (a lawsuit) is all the previously mentioned measures are going to mitigate, but the change in profile functionality is a different matter altogether.

I say it is a good move to allow users to restrict access to their profiles. And MySpace could go one step further by tightening down the friends and friends of friends functionality too. At Tot Jot, we purposefully restricted user profiles on their behalf, to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of profile information. In fact, we kept profile information to a minimum, and further restricted friends access by creating a one step friends list – you can see who someone’s friends are, but not friends of friends. We made it relatively mistake proof, because we felt our potential userbase was less inclined to understand additional, optional complexity. MySpace, however, is made up of a lot of moderately tech saavy, style-sheet loving, spare-time-on-their-hands types, and they could easily allow the option of restricting profiles, friends list access, etc. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen, as it would clearly stem MySpace’s growth. And if they are already doing it somehow, they certainly aren’t pubicizing it very well.

Dear Parent

If I was a parent of a child on MySpace, I’d be a lot more worried about the government archiving my kid’s records for eternity. Bureaucrats possess less than grand wisdom when it comes to matters like technology (to the point of sounding just plain stupid) – next thing you know, your child will be blacklisted from public educational institutions because he posted his or her thoughts on government waste on a MySpace page. I say give the kid a scholarship – he or she could be a future President. Meanwhile, parents should learn to ignore the hysteria, as well as spend a little more time supervising their children’s online activities.

End Note

I once asked how all this growth could be happening at MySpace, questioning whether spyware might be involved. Now, I don’t think that is the case. What I did find is that by putting together an almost non-existent profile on MySpace (I mean devoid of virtually any information besides the required birthday), I seemed to have attracted a lot of interest. Yes, I’ve made a lot of friends on MySpace, although those friends seem to be a lot like me – not very real. Initial friends in my “extended network” (whatever that means), as well as subsequent requests to allow others to “be my friend” (which turned out to be relatively thin in profile, but with lots of friends of their own), lends me to believe there is some gaming going on.

Or maybe that is the real allure of MySpace – making unreal amounts of unreal friends, without really trying. Regardless, the title of this post could easily have been Taming the MySpace Media Frenzy.

***UPDATE***

And yes, for those who were wondering who my first friend was, his name was Tom.

***UPDATE 2***

Seems the MySpace/spyware issue (mentioned in comments) is a spyware company action afterall, and in violation of the MySpace TOSs to boot. The reaction from Zango, when outed, was to dance around the issue (i.e. blame everyone else). I say the Zango executives should quit their day jobs and run for office.

NewsGator talks RSS’s future, and a reaction ensues

Newsgator posted a company roadmap a few days back. Techcrunch picked up on it.

I reviewed both offerings, and concluded the following: first, Bloglines is fine for me, and considering the fact that I have been using it since nearly day one, I’m going to need some hell of a compelling reason to switch readers (which I wish NewsGator would provide, since they are a local outfit – but then again, I suspect they are doing pretty well targeting the commercial enterprise); second, I am now enthralled with FeedBurner.

Henceforth, tweaked feeds, now playing at Thought Market and Spamroll.

Ode to RSS (and independent reviews).