Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: Web 2.0

Modernizing White House technology

One of the small but persistent questions that’s hounded Barack Obama since he announced he was running for President was whether or not he’d be allowed to keep his Blackberry. The arguments against are based on security (which I don’t really understand) and the archiving requirements of the Presidential Records Act, which came into law in 1978.

Today I read that White House employees will be barred from using instant messaging due to the Presidential Rights Act.

Matthew Yglesias suggests that Obama could probably succeed in getting a modernized law passed that would end the controversy over White House employees using modern tools to get their work done. There are no barries to archiving every type of communication that would be subject to archiving laws. This is not a technology problem, it’s a law problem. It seems to me that Obama is the right President to fix it.

Maybe solving this problem is a good job for the yet-to-be-named government chief technology officer.

Tina Fey makes message board commenters famous

Tina Fey name checked some real Internet commenters in her Golden Globe acceptance speech last night. The three people she mentioned are regulars on the LA Times entertainment forums, although another commenter claims that two of the three are actually the same person.

Defining Web 2.0

I like Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0 better than the accepted definition:

Aside: I seem to have lost the battle to define Web 2.0 as “the use of the network as platform to build systems that get better the more people use them.” Perhaps it’s the lure of the obvious: companies and products that harness explicit user contribution are easier to recognize than those that pursue the more subtle and difficult task of harnessing implicit contribution. Or perhaps it’s the persistent gravitational tug of the idea that the heart of Web 2.0 is ad-supported business models; therefore, enterprise features that look like those of well-known companies featuring user contribution and ad-supported business models must by definition also be “2.0.” For me, the far more profound and powerful systems come from harnessing both explicit and implicit human contribution.

He describes Wal-Mart, Google, and the Barack Obama Presidential campaign as three examples that fall under his definition. Certainly the apps that make use of implicit contributions from users are more interesting to build.

Open Salon

Salon has finally launched their reader blogs feature — Open Salon. I hope it works out well for them, but mostly this release makes me sad, because in many ways I look at it as another example of Salon’s unfulfilled potential.

The sad thing is that Open Salon is immediately behind the times. There are already plenty of blogging tools/social networks out there, and while it’s fine for Salon to offer one, at this point it’s sort of a “me too” effort rather than anything groundbreaking. And that’s a shame, because I know Salon worked on this project for an awfully long time. (Scott Rosenberg posted about the development of the site yesterday.)

At one time, Salon and Slate were really the leading Web magazines. These days we have the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Politico, hundreds of really outstanding topical blogs, and major online presences from all of your favorite print publications.

When Salon started out, it was so ahead of its time that they were rarely credited in the major media when they broke news. These days, everyone’s accustomed to Web sites breaking news stories and they are as likely to be credited as any dead trees publication. That’s thanks in large part to Salon.

Salon also tried to get into blogging before it was mainstream, but made the poor choice of using Radio UserLand as a tool. Salon Blogs spawned a number of really good sites, but they were always disconnected almost completely from Salon proper.

It’s also worth noting that Salon has been an incredible incubator of talent over the years. They’ve had able editors like Andrew Leonard and Scott Rosenberg. Farhad Manjoo and Jake Tapper were both Salon staff writers. Chad Dickerson made his initial move to the West coast to head up the tech side of things at Salon.

In the end, if Salon does well with Open Salon, it won’t matter that they look like a late adopter. I’d love to see Salon back in the spotlight. The dot com bubble hit them particularly hard, forcing them to move most of their content behind a pay wall and cut the budget right at the time when blogging really started taking off. If the stores on the home page are an indication of the quality of content they’ll be attracting, they’re on the right path.

By the way, anyone know whether Open Salon is powered by home grown software or a third party package? It’s hard to tell from the URLs and the page source.

Why you may want to protect your Twitter updates

Stephen O’Grady talks about the risks of using Twitter to publish personal information:

But for the majority of us, I always thought the costs of keeping everything under lock and key far outweighed the benefits. Now, however, I am being forced to reconsider that view. Because, as John Simonds reports (not to rag on John here, he’s just the messenger), one or more of the professional communities I interact and work with may use the tool to form an impression of me.

It’s not obvious to me that this impression would be anything less than professional. I’m generally not Twittering after a night on the town, every other word is not something that would be considered unprintable, and I’m not posting the intimate details of my day to day existence. But I need to consider it, still, because as I’ve discussed in the past, Twitter is a personal tool for me first, professional tool second. A distant second.

I think this is why we’re seeing more people with two Twitter accounts, a public persona and a private one that they share with friends. I haven’t gone that route, however, I will say that my Twitter feed is currently protected.

(This reminds me that I need to write that post I’ve been meaning to about the value I see in Twitter in general.)

Is the personal Web site a thing of the past?

Given how easy it is these days to outsource Web functionality that you once had to create for yourself, Wired Compiler asks whether the standalone personal Web site is an endangered species. Back in the day you had to install your own blog software, set up your own photo gallery, and take care of everything else on your own as well. These days it’s a lot easier to just upload your photos to Flickr, set up a blog on any number of free or paid blogging services, and keep track of your friends via any of a number of social networks.

Furthermore, the network effects offered by those sites provide some key advantages over building your own site. It’s interesting that having your own domain and Web site once set you apart from the crowd because it meant you were an early adopter, perhaps soon it will mark you as unusually old fashioned.

The LAFD on Twitter

Today I stumbled across the Twitter feed for the Los Angeles Fire Department. I thought it was sort of a silly novelty until I clicked on the Twitter feed for the only person LAFD is following, Brian Humphrey, a public spokesperson for the department. Humphrey’s use of social sites to create a lightweight process for disseminating news from the department is clever and effective.

LAFD also publishes alerts to a Google Group, LAFD_ALERT, which contains the same information as the Twitter feed, and a blog that publishes longer articles. The home page for the Google Group explains what the alerts are for and how they’re used.

What I like about Humphrey’s approach is that it works with the web rather than just being on the web. Had LAPD put a form on their Web site that said, “subscribe to LAPD alerts,” it would be unlikely that they’d be seeing the public engagement that they get by taking advantage of existing services for which people have already registered. This approach surely works for him because implementing it was free of cost (other than his own time) and probably red tape (he didn’t need to get any help from IT to set it up). But the side effects are worthwhile in and of themselves. It’s a great example of how it can be more effective to reach users on the services they already use than to build a new service and expect them to come to you.

The LA Voice and Governing magazine have both published articles on Humphrey’s work if you’re interested in reading more.

Links for April 16

On Twitter and blogs

Alex King posts about lowering the noise on Twitter. He suggests that Twitter change “What are you doing?” to “Say something interesting,” which works for me.

The truth of Twitter is that it is many things to many people and the beauty of it is that you can mold the Twitter experience to your own tastes. If I want to follow people who treat Twitter like a shorter-form blog, I can, or if I want to follow coworkers who keep everyone abreast of what they’re working on up to the minute, I can do that as well. Ultimately we all get to decide who’s interesting to us, and limit our Twitter experience to only those people. As Russell Beattie points out, that’s a powerful thing.

The thing I like about Twitter is that it’s much more conversational. I don’t know who reads my blog unless they leave comments, and most people whose blogs I read probably don’t know that I do so. On Twitter there’s a reasonable expectation that people who are following you read your tweets, and that there’s a decent chance that someone you address directly will read your tweet as well. It seems like that relationship makes it much easier to build a community quickly, as you find among LiveJournal users or Vox users if you use those sites.

We had that type of community when there were many fewer blogs. Many moons ago, it seemed like basically everybody read everybody else’s blog. I could pretty much guess who would link to my posts as I made them. If I could come up with one innovation, it would be a way to ease building communities among bloggers running their own sites the way you can with Twitter and other sites where everyone is swimming in someone else’s pool.

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