Aggregating people

A number of different things have come together for me today, this post titled Is there a need for New Newsreader?, Zeldman’s post about distributed content and Kent brewster’s FOAFster which linked me off to all the things that MyBlogLog provides (a service I’ve never really looked at very closely).


These have tied together with thoughts I’ve been having about wxVenus, and more generally about social-network-on-the-desktop type software for the past few years. It makes me think again about how I browse feeds, how I access them and when.

Since people started outsourcing their content stores to and Flickr, and using blogging systems to produce their content, they’ve all suddenly got feeds for this content, so should the method of navigation actually be by person, rather than blog title? Obviously this is how systems like FriendFeed work, but it doesn’t yet seem clear to me how this relationship between a person and their data is best expressed and how to best obviate much of the need to either boil the ocean (get everyone to sign up to friendfeed) or to automatically assign feeds to a person (acronyms like “RDF” and “FOAF” spring to mind but don’t seem to actually be useful in this example).

For my use-case it’s rare that I subscribe to a lot of content from a lot of people, rather I subscribe to most of the content my friends are producing, and a single source of content from some stranger on the internet whether it be their blog or Flickr photos. From where I sit, these are two fundamentally different ways of viewing data: person-centric and data-centric and I’m less and less convinced that it’s possible to model these two views in the same application, or at least expose data sources from the two views at the same time.

There seems to be a fundamental mismatch between the way we use aggregators (whether they be river of news, multi-pane windows or whatever) and the way we consume information from people we know. I have no idea what the resolution of this impedance is, but I’d really like someone to come up with a good solution sometime soon.

Internet contention

My internet usage should not be constrained by other people.

Pylons striding the landscape

I live in a small apartment building containing eight flats. I have an ADSL line with PlusNet and a contract for an 8MB, uncapped connection, which, until a few months ago was fine. Recently however, it’s felt more like dial-up. My connection speed is dreadful (hitting ~4MB at best but typically seeing 1MB and under), downloads take ages, and given that my wife also uses the internet heavily, life in general is bad.

I can only assume that someone has moved into our building and is using the internet very heavily when they get in from work, since we see a definite increase in speed late at night when someone might have, for example, gone to bed.

What shall I do? Be the weirdo who knocks on everyone’s doors and asks them if they use the internet a lot? Downgrade my internet package to something cheaper? We plan on moving as soon as the house prices drop slightly/we stop being so lazy, so I don’t want to switch to a cable provider and be tied in for 12 months.

Update: A big thank you to Ian Wild and Kelly Dorset from PlusNet who both got in touch (via blog comments and email) and explained what was actually going wrong and what I could do about it., Flickr Uploadr 3.0 and XUL

Flickr have just launched, Your one-stop shop for information, gossip and discussion with the Flickr developer community which I imagine they want to use to draw together the disparate developer resources from the groups, forums, mailing list and more.

I guess they also want to use it to hire a new XUL guru because the author of their new Uploadr, Rich Crowley, has left and is now working for OpenDNS.

The new Uploadr does seem better than the 2.x version, and has some nice features, but none of them seem hugely critical. Last time I used it, it was unreliable, slightly slow and I read a lot of bad press so I reverted to version 2.x (I’ve just reinstalled v3 and I will give it another go).

But, it’s in XUL. I don’t like XUL. I started writing some crappy XUL applications at the beginning of the century, and it was *hard* (it didn’t help that the documentation was both partial and obscure). From what I understand, the situation has improved, but not to the extent where there’s an XUL development ecosystem outside of Mozilla extensions (covered in season 5 episode 1 of LugRadio).

So although it’s cross-platform, it’s written in C++ and specifically in a reasonably esoteric UI library, thus barring all but the obsessive from committing to the core. It can use extensions, which are written in C++ and/or JavaScript, but this doesn’t address what seems to be a major problem.

If cross-platform was an absolute goal, and Adobe Air is out of the picture, and bearing my current pastime in mind, it would have seemed more appropriate to choose wxWidgets or, for a web company like Flickr, one of the other language implementations like wxRuby or wxPython.

In summary: XUL, bah.

The computer science turing test

I fundamentally don’t understand SQL JOIN clauses.

That’s not to say I can’t read and parse them, I just don’t understand them well enough to be able to write them and be confident of exactly what’s happening. In my brain, this means I fail some kind of test. I think that being able to naturally understand and write JOIN clauses is probably what marks you out as a Computer Scientist, instead of some pretender like me.

Perhaps JOINs are some form of Computer Science Turing test? Although whether being able to write JOINs means you pass or fail the test I’ll leave up to you.

I need awesomebar everywhere

For the past six months or so I’ve been using the Autocomplete Manager for Firefox. From my perspective, it’s what has inspired AwesomeBar. The problem is that I only had it installed at work. At home I was happy to struggle on with plebianbar.

Since I upgraded all my Firefox installations to use the latest beta, I have had a serious problem – neither Windows Explorer nor Nautilus implement the same “find the location quickly” feature that awesomebar encapsulates. This means that at least three times a day, I find myself typing a fraction of a disk location into a file explorer window and being confronted with absolutely nothing. In a worst-case scenario I hit ENTER so early that I get back a page of search results before I can amend it to be an absolute location; maybe this is actually a best-case scenario – it’s unsatisfactory in any case.

I seriously need AwesomeBar in my file explorers.