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8 posts from July 2008

Twhirl (and a whack of other Twitter clients) add support

twhirl-identica.jpgYesterday, the big news in the microblogging world was the release of Twhirl version 0.84 with support for (If you don't understand the significance of, I would point you to my earlier post.) The wonderful aspect of this is that I now have a window on my screen that automagically updates with my latest "dents"[1] and those of the people who I follow.

Just like working with my Twitter stream, I can easily reply to people (as you can see in the screenshot). I can lookup users and subscribe to them. I can see my own posts and also replies to me. Twhirl also has a very cool feature where you can easily see in the client who you are following and who is following you. (You can't do this for Twitter in Twhirl.)

For me this makes infinitely easier to use. There's also a XMPP integration that allows for real-time receiving of notices... which sort of turns Twhirl into almost an instant messaging program. I've not tried this yet, but the tutorial shows how easy it is to set up. Nice feature (and something you can't do with Twitter).

Separately from Twhirl, there have also been updates to other Twitter clients Posty and Spaz and a new IndentiFox client (a spinoff of TwitterFox). Additionally, a Twitterific user figured out how to hack it to work with Naturally there was a good amount of blogosphere coverage. Here are some worth reading:

It's great to see... and let's see the support for continue to grow! Good times...

P.S. If you are experimenting with, feel free to follow me at

[1] I'm not sure I'm thrilled with the word "dents", but: a) it's getting common usage; and b) I don't have an alternative.

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Why Facebook needs an "unsubscribe" or "block event invitations"...

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way you could easily ignore/block event invitations from a specific person? Today, Mari Smith directly involves me in a piece on her blog called " Facebook Event Invitations - Unsubscribe Option?" that goes right to this point.


Here's the thing... I don't know Mari. That I can recall, I've never met her. I've never attended any of her online events, nor had I read her blog prior to this morning. Yet inside of Facebook I received the occasional message from her about upcoming events she was doing, none of which were honestly of interest t me. After her latest message about an upcoming event, I couldn't understand why I was receiving her message. Naturally I tried to see if she was one of my Facebook friends, but of course Facebook's <expletive deleted> brokenness didn't give me that answer:


I checked my Facebook Groups, too, to see if I had subscribed to any group that Mari coordinated. No luck there. So having no clue why I was receiving these messages, I sent her a Facebook message asking to please remove me from her distribution list, as it seemed to me that somehow I had wound up on some kind of list or group inside of Facebook.

Now, I'm glad I was polite, since my message to her wound up as a screen capture in her blog post today.... (goes back to my mantra "Never put online anything you wouldn't want to appear on the front page of the New York Times.")

She wrote back a polite reply, but as she notes in her post, there is no easy way to do what I requested inside of Facebook. There is no way to "Block Event Invitations from this person" or "Unsubscribe". You can, of course, "un-friend" the person, but what if you don't want to go that far? What if you only want to stop receiving their event invitations in your inbox? (And what if, as far as you can tell, they aren't one of your friends?)

Mari says:

With all due respect to Dan, I’m sure he doesn’t know if he had just RSVP’d NO or clicked the Remove from My Events link, he would not receive any further emails.

Actually, I did know this, but it only solves the issue for that particular event. If I RSVP NO or remove the event, I will not receive any more email notices about that event... but in my case, because I couldn't figure out why I was getting these email invites in the first place, I wanted to not receive any further email messages about any events. (Which sounds harsh, but keep in mind I didn't understand why I was getting these... see below...)

Mari's absolutely right that a "Block Event Invitations from this person" feature is necessary. If you have someone who you would like to keep as a contact in Facebook, but you are just tired of getting their event invites, you should be able to block their event invites, just as you can block application invites from a user.

She also suggests to organizers to create a "DO NOT INVITE" list, although I would suggest this should perhaps go the other way... create an "INVITE" list to which you add people - and then remove the ones who no longer want to receive your invitations. That might make it easier when you are creating an event invite.


Now I did figure out why I was receiving Mari's invites. It's simple, really...

She is one of my Facebook "friends"!

Yes, indeed, even though a search of my Friends in Facebook tells me "You have no friends named "mari smith".", there she was in the S's when I manually paged through all my Facebook friends.

So that's why I was receiving her event invites... because I had allowed her to do so... by at some point approving her friend request.

As I mentioned above, as far as I can recall, Mari and I have never met or interacted online. (Apologies, Mari, if we have and I simply don't remember.) I'm also very definitely NOT one to simply approve a friend request. I usually don't approve one unless: 1) I actually know the person; or 2) some combination of the following: a) when I look at their profile they look like someone interesting for me to follow; b) they write a very compelling personal message in their friend request; and c) they are also someone who is connected to a number of other people I know.

So at some point in the past something caused me to approve her friendship request. Perhaps it was last year when I was doing a lot more with Facebook and was actually following a great number of people through their status updates, the mini-feed and such. I don't know, but in any event, there was no mystery involved here (other than why Facebook doesn't make it easy to find people listed in your own Friends list!)....


A couple of lessons out of this for me:

1. DON'T RELY ON FACEBOOK'S SEARCH - If you want to find out if someone is a friend on Facebook, click on Friends on the top of the page, then the "Everyone" tab, and then manually page through your friends list (alphabetically sorted by last name).

2. FACEBOOK NEEDS A "BLOCK EVENT INVITATIONS" ACTION - I agree with Mari that this action would great to have for the times when you don't want to completely remove someone as a friend but you do want to stop receiving their event invitations. (Although I think that an email exchange like Mari and I had is also a great step because otherwise the organizer may still think you were invited and not understand why you haven't responded.)

What do you think? Does Facebook need this functionality?

P.S. And my apologies, Mari, for not realizing that we were connected on Facebook...

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FYI - I'll be out at O'Reilly's OSCON next week in Portland talking about voice mashups...

OSCON 2008 If any of you reading this will be out at O'Reilly's OSCON Open Source Convention next week (July 21-25) in Portland, Oregon, I (Dan York) will be there giving a talk on Wednesday on "Mashing Up Voice and the Web Through Open Source and XML". Here's the abstract:
With over 4.5 billion mobile and fixed phones out there as of November 2007, the phone represents the most ubiquitous user interface out there. As “mashups” on the Web let us quickly and easily access information from multiple data sources, how do we extend those mashups to the world of the phone? How do we bring the old world of voice and telephony into the new world of the Web, social networks, and social media? And how do we do that using open source tools and open standards? In this session, Dan York will introduce participants to the world of “voice mashups” and how applications can be quickly built on top of open source and open standards. Topics covered will include:
  • The technology and architecture behind voice mashups
  • The open standards in voice of VoiceXML, Call Control XML (CCXML), the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and new standards emerging from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
  • Open source tools related to voice including Asterisk and
  • How to quickly build voice applications that interact with web sites, databases, and even new services like Twitter.
During the session, York will demonstrate multiple applications and provide participants with sample code, tips, and pointers so they can return home and get started building voice applications with open source and open standards.

If any of you will be attending, please do drop me a note as I always enjoy meeting up with people who read this blog. If you are not attending but are interested, it's not too late... you can still register at the OSCON site. Should be a great convention for those interested in open source development. The schedule is pretty amazing as it truly has a collection of some of the best folks out there in the open source world. (The convention starts on Wednesday with Monday and Tuesday being for tutorials.) I'm definitely looking forward to the event!

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NxE's 50 Most Influential Female Bloggers...


I have to honestly say I haven't really paid a whole lot of attention to the gender of who is writing the articles I read these days. The truth is that what social media I do consume is mostly in micro-blogging like Twitter or aggregators like Friendfeed where often I just see small names and pictures... and it all merges into a blur, really, and I guess in so many ways I just don't really consider gender (or race or age) relevant... if an article is interesting, I'll read it.

Yet as I look at a lot of the blogs I read (when I actually have a chance to do so), I do have to admit that my current list in my RSS reader is overwhelmingly male.

So it was interesting to see NxE's Fifty Most Influential 'Female' Bloggers come out. A few of the bloggers listed are in fact ones that I subscribe to.... and there are predictably several female bloggers I subscribe to who are not on this list (it is, after all, only 50). Regardless, it's a good list of interesting people. I like how the compiler of the list formatted it with information about the blogger, a picture and "Why She Matters". Nicely done. There's a lot of great folks on there who deserve the attention and credit for all they've been doing...

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MobileMe launches from Apple... sort of...

As I've written about previously, I view Apple's "MobileMe" service as far more interesting than the "iPhone 3G" being released tomorrow. So naturally I was rather pleased to see this message pop up on my Mac this morning:


Naturally, I installed the software update... only to wind up seeing nice messages like this one:



I also found that I can't access my iDisk right now (thankfully I haven't really been using it lately so I didn't need anything I had put there).

I realize Apple has a rather gigantic task ahead of it in getting the software out to all of its .Mac users before it does the cut-over to MobileMe. I realize also that they want to do a "big launch" of all this stuff. Still, as a user out here working with the tools... it would be awfully nice if they were set to go when the software update was downloaded and installed.

I guess for now we will need to heed the note: "Please try again later."

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Remaining connected... to the dead?

Here's another piece to the social media/uber-connected-society puzzle we need to work out as we continue this grand experiment we are all a part of...
what happens to our social networking connections when we die?

Today a former colleague asked to connect to me on Plaxo Pulse, but when I approved his request, Plaxo Pulse put up an error message saying the connection couldn't be established right now. However, since the request message also disappeared, I decided to check my list of Plaxo contacts to see if this person was, in fact, added (he was, despite the error message).

In doing so, though, what did I see on the top of one of my pages of contacts but this:


Now, as many readers may know, Marc Orchant passed away back on December 12th. He and I had been corresponding via Robert Sanzalone's PacificIT Skype group chat and at some point in there while we in the chat were all trying out the new (at the time) Plaxo Pulse, he and I became connected there.

The Pulse connection, of course, survived his death.

Marc and I were not connected directly on LinkedIn, but I do note his profile is still there. If he was on Facebook, there does not seem to be an account there. The question remains, though, what happens to all of your connections when you die? Do you have a plan for someone to go in and remove all of your accounts? Or should they just live on forever?

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The real meaning - and power - of (a.k.a. open source Twitter)

identi-ca-logo.jpgIs the savior of microblogging? Or is it simply Yet Another Twitter Clone destined for doom?


As those of us of the Twitterati watched the FailWhale appear multiple times today and wrote posts like mine wondering if we should just give up on Twitter, there was this afternoon a moment when the clouds parted, the trumpets sounded and a bright beacon of hope appeared before us all... here came the launch of, an... (gasp)... open source version of Twitter!

Dave Winer declared "Oh happy day!?" and Marshall Kirkpatrick was out with the first longer writeup: " May A Million Twitters Bloom" (which is definitely worth a read). Those links were twittered and re-twittered...

What happened next was of course entirely predictable... about 1,000 people jumped over to to set up accounts (myself included, I'm and swamped the server. There was no way that any brand-new service could measure up to the repressed frustration of the Twitterati, and so there was the inevitable backlash...

...the user interface sucks... this doesn't look like a Twitter-killer... I'm not getting all the updates... the Jabber integration doesn't work for me... ugh, this isn't good!... where's the API?... what do you mean there's no SMS interface?... why are the RSS feeds broken?... how can I see replies?... do I REALLY need yet another <expletive> service?

Beyond showing that people need to chill out a bit and give a new service time to develop, the comments somewhat miss the point:

The success or failure of the site,, really doesn't matter.

What matters most was very nicely summarized in a post (what do we call them? they aren't "tweets"!) by Edd Dunbill:



The real power resides in the actual software being used, called Laconica, that is used by It is open source/free software and licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License. As stated in the FAQ:

How is different from Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, others? is an Open Network Service. Our main goal is to provide a fair and transparent service that preserves users' autonomy. In particular, all the software used for is Free Software, and all the data is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, making it Open Data.

The software also implements the OpenMicroBlogging protocol, meaning that you can have friends on other microblogging services that can receive your notices.

The goal here is autonomy -- you deserve the right to manage your own on-line presence. If you don't like how works, you can take your data and the source code and set up your own server (or move your account to another one).

That last line is key... "If you don't like how works, you can take your data and the source code and set up your own server (or move your account to another one)." As Aswath said:



Anyone can now start up their own Twitter-equivalent. In fact, Russ Beattie already has... is up and running with the Laconica code.

More will follow. Someone will throw it up on Amazon's EC2 and put a cloud computing infrastructure behind it. Once Google's AppEngine supports PHP (which the Laconica code uses), someone will throw it up there. Someone will make it work on the evolving P2P network clouds. Someone will add code for an SMS gateway... someone will add a solid API. Someone will add the Replies tab and improve the UI.

Many implementations will suck. Some will suck badly. But others will excel... and somewhere in all of that something resembling the next Apache or Wordpress may emerge. Will it be Laconica? Maybe... or maybe some fork or derivative work. Or maybe some other version written in another language but inspired by the Laconica work.

Of course, just because anyone can "run their own Twitter" doesn't mean they will. Most folks won't. But some will. Other users will join those services. Maybe the site will lead the pack... maybe some other implementation will eclipse its lead. The individual sites don't really matter as much as the software that powers them.


Of course, to make such a distributed / decentralized system work, the individual servers need to understand how to connect to other users. As Marshall writes:

Ultimately, this means federation. I put a customized version of the foundation software (called on my server, you put one to your liking on yours, we both get friends on our local copy and any other versions around the web - and everyone can communicate with each other just like we were using the same service from the same provider. Whoever comes up with the best alternative to the garbled name wins!

That's the hard part. Coming up with a way to easily and securely pass information between the servers... and to uniquely identify users running on the different servers. The good news is that there are some folks already looking at this through the OpenMicroBlogging initiative (that, like Marshall, I had not heard of before today).

The other good news is that we have multiple precedents for doing this before. Think of Jabber and XMPP. I have a Jabber ID (JID) of "[email protected]" (or "[email protected]"). I can do XMPP-based IM with anyone else who has a JID. Our servers can resolve the JIDs and communicate with the servers. Each of us can be running our own Jabber server - yet we can all find and communicate with each other.

Or think of email. Each of us has the option of running many different kinds of email servers. Yet we can all communicate through an open standard, SMTP, and we can be uniquely identified with our address.


Probably not. Let's be real... Twitter has hundreds of thousands of active users these days (maybe more?). At some point, they'll fix their stability problems. People will stay there because their "community" is there. Let's face it, simply the existence of an open source IM solution (Jabber/XMPP) hasn't killed off the walled gardens of AIM, MSN/WLM and Yahoo!Messenger.

But Laconica and it's impending derivatives gives us all a "Plan B"... it gives us choice and "control"... when we finally hit that pain threshold and decide to move on... there's another choice out there.

More than that, the release of Laconica unleashes the "power of play"... developers can now tinker with the code... change it... improve it... do wacky things with it that Evan at had never even remotely dreamed of. Every developer who gets pissed off at yet more Twitter downtime now has a building block to launch off in pursuit of "building a better Twitter".

Sure, the code needs work... maybe lots of work... that's okay. It's a building block.

At the very least there is the potential of competition for Twitter... competition is good. It keeps the leaders on their toes... and fosters innovation.


The phenomenal success of Twitter has shown us that we were missing a communication medium.

Somewhere in the midst of email, IM, web sites, blog sites, IRC, video, RSS feeds, Facebook, MySpace, VoIP, cell phones, snail mail and everything else... we wanted yet another way to communicate. The one-to-many mode of Twitter... mixed in with a one-to-one mode... and accessible through a wide range of devices and a simple API.

Twitter's very simple question of "What are you doing?" showed that there was desire out there to provide "status updates"... which evolved into everything else we do now with Twitter. And now pretty much every "social networking" site out there along with IM services and many other apps have added "status updates".


As early adopters and users, our frustration, though, has been that the services allowing us to publish those updates have been out of our control. Whether it's been Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo Pulse, Skype... or... pick your service... we are locked into their infrastructure. We can't experiment with it. We can't tinker with it. We can't hack on it. We can't fix it. All we can do is pound our head against walls...

With and Laconica, we see the hope to regain that control. Some of us want that, while others admittedly don't care - they just want a service that works. There are many barriers to such a service reaching the level of usability that we probably want. It may never get there. Twitter may mystically fix all its issues and we'll just stay over there and this whole thing will fade into the background of other available-but-not-widely-used open source and free software.

We'll see.

Meanwhile, the code is out there for those who want to play with it. As Marshall said "May A Million Twitters Bloom"... let the hacking away on the code begin... it will be fun to see what evolves...

P.S. You can find me at as well as

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At what point do we simply give up on Twitter?

At what point do we finally call a spade a spade and just give up on Twitter?

This morning the Twhirl client I use started acting really flaky. Tweets wouldn't post... or they would post but then would lock up Twhirl. Sure enough, the folks at Seesmic/Twhirl used their new ability to send out status updates to give us this:


I tried sending an update, but I have no way to find out if it got there because Twitter's main page currently has the wonderful "fail whale":


There's been no end of commentary in the blogosphere on Twitter's instability in recent days... a quick Techmeme search will show some of the flow of articles, in particular Dave Winer's "State of the Twitter" and Michael Arrington's TechCrunch post about the conversation moving to FriendFeed.

The question remains... how much longer will we all put up with Twitter's downtime?

It's almost like a digital version of "crack"... we keep returning to feed our addiction to the conversation. Surely it will get better now, we think. They must have fixed it after this update. With all that investment money, they must be able to fix this, right?

Why don't we go to FriendFeed? Or Plurk? Or, heck, even Facebook with it's status messages? Some people definitely have moved... but most of us remain. Why?

I don't have a solid answer. A blogger named Corvida outlined many of the issues in her post "The Problem With Leaving Twitter". It is all about the community... about the many people you connect with who have, in many cases, become actual "friends".

I think it's also about the APIs... for all of its faults, Twitter stands above so many others with the many different ways you can send updates to it... via the API from a ton of different clients... from the web interface... from the mobile interface... from IM (if they ever fix the IM interface)... via voice from Jott or Twitterfone... from your blog site... from other services. The absolute simplicity of the Twitter API has created a whole ecosystem of integration around the service.

It's also where - at this moment - much of the "conversation" is among the emerging tech / new media / chasers-of-bright-shiny-objects. It's our virtual water cooler. It's our "Cheers"... it's where we hang out.

How much of that conversation will remain, though, is a good question. Each day Twitter seems to try our patience a bit more. At some point we may all reach that pain threshold where we finally say "enough is enough" and move on to somewhere else...

When do we hit that point? I don't know, exactly, but it's increasingly seeming like the answer is... SOON!

P.S. You are welcome, of course, to follow me on Twitter when the service is up... as well as on Friendfeed for when it isn't. :-)

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