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24 posts from August 2007

Steve Rubel uses Tumblr to build an aggregated "Lifestream" of all his online content (something I've done with Feedburner, Yahoo!Pipes)

image How do you make it easy to find writing that you do online when it is scattered all over a zillion sites and services?  Over on his blog, in a post called "Identity Through Online Lifestreams", Steve Rubel talks about his recent experiment doing exactly that with Tumblr.  Tumblr is a service that lets you create a "tumblelog" (which is essentially a mixed-media blog) and allows you to import RSS feeds of various other sites and services.  Steve has done this (in part, apparently, with directions from Gina Trapani over at LifeHacker) and the result can be seen now at: www.steverubel.com. All his blog posts, Twitter posts (aka "tweets"), Flickr uploads, etc., etc.  Tumblr is of course not the only way to do this, but it certainly seems to have a nice interface to do so. 

I did this myself through a different means back in January when I split my 3-year-old single blog into the current network of separate blogs (and then later added Twitter, etc.).  My first attempt was to use the Feedburner Advertiser Network to create my own "Feedburner network" that aggregates all my feeds into a single "Dan York All Feeds" RSS stream.  This works in that I have the combined RSS feed and then also a web page with links to the blogs and the most recent entry from each.  It's not as pretty as what Tumblr seems to be able to produce and as I note in the blog entry, it was a good bit of a pain to set up.  It helps that I use Feedburner for all my various feeds.

However, creating your own Feedburner network only works with Feedburner-managed feeds.  What about things like Twitter RSS feeds?  Now the kludgey way would be to create Feedburner feeds for those fees and then pull them into the one aggregated feed.

Instead, my second technique back in March was to use Yahoo!Pipes to do this and I did so: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=0DoSGZS82xGxhlBMZoQMOQ  Now, there was a dating issue that was subsequently fixed, and I never bothered to wrap it back into a Feedburner feed, but it works to combine my blog feeds with Twitter.  (And since my Facebook status updates are feeding into Twitter as well, they wind up in this feed, too.)  Now, from a display point-of-view, Yahoo!Pipes may again not be as nice as Tumblr pages, but it does allow for easy aggregation of feeds.

Today, you could apparently also do this same type of thing with Microsoft Popfly or Google's Mashup Editor (or so I am told... not having used either service I can't say for certain, but I am told they would do this).

I will say, though, that Tumblr does make it pretty drop-dead easy to do. In literally less than 5 minutes, I had all my various feeds set to go into:  danyork.tumblr.com.  (Obviously it is starting now and so content will only appear there from this point forward.)

The one thing that Tumblr does not (yet, anyway) seem to have the ability to filter feeds based on certain criteria.  For instance, I write over at the Voice of VoIPSA group weblog, but I really only want to include my postings there in my lifestream - and there is only one RSS stream.  This is something that I can do over at Yahoo!Pipes (and of course if I wanted to I could create a filtered feed at Yahoo!Pipes and then bring that into Tumblr!).

In any event, Tumblr certain looks to be an easy way to aggregate one's "lifestream" of online content.  Kudos to Steve for pointing it out and showing how he used it.  I liked one of his points:

I really like that there is a single place attached to my name that rolls up all of the content that I am publishing online. I also like that in just a couple of clicks I can set up a river of news that I can share at the domain of my choosing.

This latter point is a key one.  Steve has mapped www.steverubel.com to this Tumblr page.  I could easily do that with some variant off of danyork.com. The nice thing with that is that you are not dependent upon the success or failure of the company, Tumblr.com!  If Tumblr sometime ceases to exist, or starts charging and you don't want to pay, or has performance problems, or is acquired by someone else, or.... whatever...  because you control the domain you can simply point it to another site that lets you do domain mapping.  Cool stuff.


Facebook: All your email belongs to us! (Inside of the walled garden... and do your recipients know that the Facebook ToS lets them do anything they want with your email?)

Back in May, when I wrote my "Facebook is a walled garden" post, I wrote this:

We've gone from the closed communities of email services to the complete openness of Internet e-mail and now seem to be returning back to those gated communities, with email/SMS helping keep us aware of updates. 

I was talking at the time how Facebook let you only send messages to those within Facebook.

Well, today Facebook took an interesting step.  As noted as in the Facebook blog, you can now send email to people on the outside who don't have Facebook accounts:

If you're like most people, you may have a few stubborn friends who haven't joined Facebook…yet. This can make reaching friends complicated—there are some friends you can send a Facebook message, and others you have to email. Not anymore. Now, when you're writing messages, you can send the message to people on Facebook, and to people not on Facebook.

Now you can enter a friend's email address into the To: line when you send a message or share an album, and Facebook will email them the message. Your friends will be able to reply without signing up, and they will be able to see content you share with them. Keep in mind that all rules of privacy still apply; some Facebook content that you share (photos, groups, notes, etc.) won't be visible to your friend.

It does work, as you can see in the screenshot below (click for a larger image):

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Over in my Gmail account, it comes out like this (click for a larger image):

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The sending email address shown for my Facebook message is: "notification+o46j2=yc@facebookmail.com".  I can reply back and the reply winds up in my Facebook inbox.

On the one hand, I applaud Facebook for allowing communication to go out through the walls and come back in.  However, two points:

1. You still can't forward messages from inside Facebook out to external recipients. Perhaps this is part of the whole "privacy" thing, but there are times when it would be great to get something from inside out to someone on the outside; and

2. Do your external recipients realize that anything they send in becomes the property of Facebook?  The Facebook Terms of Service are still dated as of May 24th, and that's well before I posted my note/warning about all your content belonging to Facebook.  Now I'm not sure what Facebook would realistically ever do with all the content... but I think it's fair to be sure that people on the outside realize that whatever they send in becomes the property of Facebook to do with it whatever they want (if they so chose).

 The Facebook blog entry concluded with this:

As we continue to make Facebook more useful for everyone, these changes mean that there's no need to switch between Facebook and email for your daily communication needs.

Translation:  Just use Facebook as your portal for everything.  No need to go out to those pesky Gmail, Hotmail, AOL accounts...

Luke, a Facebook engineer, is never using email again. Ever.

 But, of course, Luke is using email... just email inside of Facebook.  We've gone from walled gardens of email to open standards and then back into walled gardens of email.  Strange world we're in.


The fractured conversations of Twitter, part one: You don't know if your conversation partner is following you!

Despite many views that Twitter is about conversations, it's an imperfect conversation tool at best.  Consider two recent exchanges, first via IM with a friend:

Them: dude, can you add me in Twitter?  <URL>
Me: Huh?
Them: Can you follow me in Twitter so we can communicate that way?
Me: Sure, but why given that we can already communicate this way?
Them: Because I've replied to several of your tweets but you don't see them because you don't follow me. I prefer to reply in the medium in which the question is asked.

(I added him.) And then an exchange with someone asking them why I should add them as a Facebook "friend" when I didn't think I knew them:

Yes good question . simple Answer . We twitter mostly ( I am <twittername> ) . Also as a subscriber to your blog ...<snip>

Well, no, WE don't "twitter" because I wasn't following the person.  (I am now.)  And in fact when I looked at their Twitter pages there were indeed several different "@danyork" posts that I have simply never seen.

This is the problem inherent with Twitter "conversations"... you don't easily know if the other person is seeing your tweets

There's the disparity between people you are following and people who are followers of your twitter stream.  When I look at my twitter page, I can see these stats:

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So updates/tweets from 78 people show up in the Twitter stream that I view.  However, feeds for at least 115 people that read my Twitter feed are not being seen by me.  I say "at least" because I know of at least one person I follow who does not follow me.   There may be others.  For those 115+ people, if they put a "@danyork" at the beginning of their tweet... I won't see it!  And so their contribution to the conversation is ignored.

Now there's a separate discussion about why I haven't necessarily added all those followers to the list of those I follow (and I'll blog about that another time - suffice it to say that it's mostly an issue of just not having the time yet to check out all the Twitter invites I receive), but for the moment let's think about the impacts to the conversation.  The person that starts following my feed may feel compelled to answer a question I pose... or to send along a URL they think might be of interest.  Or to pose a question to me. So they do "@danyork" and type away.  I never see it and never reply.

Does the person think I am ignoring them?  Do they think I'm arrogant and don't view their posts as worthy of responding to?

And how would the Twitter user know?  Unless he/she kept track of all the Twitter notices they received about who was following them... or went to my twitter page and looked to see if they were listed there (I'm suddenly imaging some blog readers and twitterers doing exactly that!)... they have no way to know that I am or am not following them.

So yes, Twitter is about conversations... but many of those conversations may be fractured or disjointed - or disconnected.

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Dave Sifry steps down as CEO of Technorati...

image Today Dave Sifry announced (also here) that effective immediately he was stepping down as CEO of Technorati and turning over the reigns to the CFO, VP of Engineering and VP of Marketing while the organization continues its search for a new CEO.  Dave will now take on the role of Chairman of Technorati's Board of Directors.

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In full disclosure, I should state that I've known Dave for quite a long time now.  Back in the fall of 1998, it was Dave who offered an email mailing list from his brand-new startup then called LinuxCare (with a capital C) to a group of people who thought we ought to have a vendor-neutral professional certification program for Linux. Dave was later involved with the process of hiring me into Linuxcare and giving me the freedom (and funding) to run all over the world getting people on board with what would evolve into the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), today the leading vendor-neutral certification program for Linux professionals.  My involvement with leading LPI led to me taking a position with a startup named e-smith up in Ottawa in 2000, which was acquired by Mitel in 2001... and is how I wound up where I am today.  I love what I do today and really have Dave to thank for a lot of what started me down the path that led to here.

So I've naturally been watching the growth and challenges of Technorati over the past few years.  It's definitely done some fantastic things... and also had its share of challenges.  I've had my own issues with the site redesign earlier this year.  It has, however, provided us with one way to sort through all the zillion things happening out in the world of social media.  Given that absolutely anyone can set up a blog and start publishing,  how do you sift through all the sites out there to understand what and who matters?  Technorati's attempts at Authority and Ranking have been one way to help with that.  They will continue to be, but the other reality is that the space they are in, "search", is awfully crowded.  Technorati was the first major site to really focus on searching blogs, but now of course Google and every other search site does that.  Technorati's expanded its focus, but so have all the others.  It's definitely an interesting time for them, I think.

As Dave says in his note, Technorati is a "revenue stage" company at this point, and a different stage calls for different leadership.  As Dave writes:

I've been doing startups for almost all of my adult life. And I LOVE startups. I love the teams. I love the sense of mission, and the fast innovation. I love building something from an idea - a whiff of air over vocal cords - into a real, concrete business with real customers and a deep and real sense of corporate mission. I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten the opportunity to do that with so many diverse teams and businesses - SecuRemote, Linuxcare, Sputnik, and Technorati.

There's a definite difference in heading up a startup from heading up a more mature company.  Kudos to Dave for recognizing - and accepting - that and stepping out of the way so that others can take the reigns and move the company he founded to the next step.

Best wishes to the Technorati team and to Dave for whatever comes next for both of them.

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Twitter error messages - at least they brought back the cats!

image I was amused today to have an error connecting to Twitter and see the error message shown on the right.  Now, it wasn't an LOLcat, but it was, indeed, a cat.

If the service isn't going to be available, I at least like a site that attempts to put some humor into a bad situation.

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Links for my correspondent's report into tomorrow's (8/16/07) For Immediate Release (FIR) podcast #267

Here's a preview of the things that I discuss in my correspondent's report into tomorrow's episode of For Immediate Release:

And the thing I meant to talk about but forgot- Jeremiah Owyang: "Facebook news page gives away son's taboo party"

Luke Armour has a bit of a special guest appearance... of sorts... but you'll have to listen tomorrow to FIR #267 to hear what I mean. :-)

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Congrats to Tris Hussey on the launch of "blognation Canada"!

image Congrats to Tris Hussey on the launch of "blognation Canada"!  As he said in his welcome post:

You think Canada is all just hockey, beer, and maple syrup?  Yeah, not so much.  Let’s talk about things like Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Northern Telecom (now Nortel) inventing voicemail and many other phone features, Corel, RIM … how about PHP?

We also are the birthplace of Flickr, StumbleUpon, Club Penguin, Webkinz, b5media, and the man who invented Java…and far many more.

What’s going to be going on here?  Well the standard news with a Canadian twist (no that doesn’t mean I’ll end each sentence with “eh”), profiles of Canadian start ups, and probably a podcast or radio show.

So if you are interested in tech news north of the Canadian border, consider adding blognation Canada to your feeds.  (Note that also this week "blognation USA" launched.)

If you aren't familiar with blognation, it is a network of country-specific blogs focused on "the latest Web 2.0 technology, mobile and enterprise startups from around the world, but only written in English."  Sam Sethi created the network and it is backed by venture capital and advertising.  More details are in the FAQ.

One of the interesting elements to me about this is the fact that before a few months ago, I didn't know who Tris Hussey was, but yet now he's become someone with whom I regularly correspond.  How?  Primarily through Robert Sanzalone's geeky pacificIT Skype group chat, but also through Twitter and Facebook and all the status messages they can generate.  In a very short time there's become enough familiarity that I would write this post primarily as a way to congratulate Tris on his new venture!  It is indeed interesting and intriguing how these "social media" can generate this kind of familiarity... but that's a subject for another post on another day...


Identitude - using your Facebook account for an OpenID identity!

imageWhat if you could use your Facebook login as a source for an OpenID identity?  Courtesy of a Facebook status update by Aswath Rao, I learned of Identitude, which does exactly that.

Here's how it works.  First, within the walls of Facebook, you add the Identitude Facebook application to your profile.  After you do that, you claim your OpenID URL essentially as you would with any other identity provider. For instance, my Identitude OpenID identity is:

http://danyork.identitu.de

(Note that the URL ending in ".de" (Germany) looked strange to me until I realized you are supposed to read the whole URL similar to "del.icio.us".)

So now, when I go to any site that allows me to login via Open ID (directories here, here and here), I simply enter my Identitude URL as my user name.  Identitude, as the Identity Provider, then checks with Facebook to see if I have approved sharing my identity with this site.  Assuming I'm logged into Facebook already, I'll then get this screen below (when I went to Twitterfeed.com and logged in with my OpenID):

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where I will then approve the usage of my identity with this site.  If I click on "yes" (for a one-time approval) or "always" I will then be logged into the site (Twitterfeed in this example) and be able to use the site's services. 

The developer, Armand Du Plessis, posted his own explanation in the (internal to Facebook) forum for the app:

It creates a new OpenID but uses Facebook for authentication and identity details.

You can use <yourname>.identitu.de on other sites (or Relying Parties) that supports OpenID. You'll be authenticated with Facebook and if the site requested Simple Registration details like your name etc, it pulls that info from your Facebook profile.
It's still a prototype but the next version will be documented better :)

On the privacy side. The only information stored is the Facebook identifier used to link the user to an OpenID and to lookup the user again later and a session key as required by the Facebook API.

The process flow is basically something like :
You enter your Identitude OpenID on a Relying Party (RP) site e.g. jyte.com.
The site look up your OpenID server (Identity Provider) by parsing that OpenID url you supplied above and it resolves to
http://identitu.de/openid in this case.
It establishes a session with the IP which is a small process and asks it to verify you.
At this stage if you are logged in to Facebook I will just lookup and supply your details(first asking you to confirm that you trust the RP with your details) If you're not logged in it will first ask you to login to Facebook before sending the info back.
The RP will either log you in to their site or register you.

Okay, "so what?" you may be saying, what does this really do for me?

Well, as I've written about before, services like OpenID are trying to address the issue of having to login to each and every website with a different username and password.  Or, for instance, having to fill in your user information to comment on a blog (like this one).  What if you could have just one identity that you used across all of the various websites you use?  (Or maybe two identities - say, one for work and one personal. ) And what if that identity could be secured so that you only had to remember a single password - yet that password wasn't shared across all those websites? 

That's the whole concept behind OpenID.  (Here's a great screencast from Simon Willison that explains it in more detail and here's a Security Round Table podcast with which I was involved that dived into the issue as well.)

You can get an OpenID identity from any of a zillion identity providers.  You can use your AOL screen name.  You can use your LiveJournal account.  With a tiny bit of HTML code, you can use your own domain name.  You have many different choices.

Now... with this Identitude application inside of Facebook, you have one more choice: your Facebook account.  Since most Facebook users will probably already be logged into FB as a part of their regular daily activity, it's very easy to then login to other sites via OpenID. Just one authorization screen and you are logged into the site in question.  (Now, the same could be said of using AOL or LiveJournal for an OpenID identity because AOL and LJ users are typically logged in on a daily basis.)

So you have one username and password you have to remember - your Facebook account.  That's it.

It's rather cool to see this come out.  As the developer indicates, this is still a prototype:

A prototype OpenID provider allowing Facebook users to leverage their Facebook profile details on OpenID sites.

But it is, to me, a great step in improving options for online identity.

Now... if we could just increase the number of sites supporting OpenID!  (directories here, here and here)

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Facebook faces a new lawsuit on patent infringement - but could it not apply to ALL social networking sites? (and some background on iKimbo)

Facebook gets sued for patent infringement but is this perhaps just the latest case of intellectual property holding companies going after likely targets?  And will they now go after most social networking services? 

Yesterday, TechCrunch reported that a "venture capital management firm", Cross Atlantic Partners, had sued Facebook for infringing on patent 6,519,629 for a "System for creating a community of users with common interests to interact in".  The comments to the TechCrunch article make for interesting reading, as the Internet community starts to do what it does best, which is to slice and dice things like this and provide links and commentary.

Reading the patent, either at the USPTO site or over at Google Patents, is quite instructive.  It's quite a lengthy document with 15 pages of accompanying flow charts.  It's also written in that nice vague language that can apply to many things.  Here's a taste from the section about "Inviting Other Users":

FIG. 3 is a flow-chart which illustrates inviting other users to participate in and/or join a community according to an embodiment of the invention. At step 250, a user activates an invite function. At step 252, a user's communication address book is accessed and a list of communication addresses is presented. A user selects communication addresses and creates a personal invitation at step 254, and sends communication addresses and personal invitations to central controller module 115 at step 256. At step 257, the contents and configuration of an invitation application are determined, and at step 258, central controller module 115 creates an invitation application. At step 260, central controller module 115 sends an invitation application to the communication addresses. An invited user receives the invitation application and launches it at step 262. The executable component prompts an invited user to provide acceptance information at step 264. At step 266, the acceptance information is sent to central controller module 115. Central controller module 115 approves the acceptance and transmits a community client application at step 268, and launches the community client application at step 270. The method of FIG. 3 will now be described in more detail.

Follow all that?  On one level, you could see the rough approximation of Facebook's invitation process.  On the other hand, Facebook's lawyers will probably pick apart things like the fact that it speaks about an "invitation application".  Regardless, the language will certainly ensure plenty of work for lawyers on all sides.

It appears the patent was filed back in October 2001 by a since-deceased startup called iKimbo. Taking a tour of iKimbo through the WayBack machine is useful.  In the first instance archived in March 2000, they had just received seed capital and said this on their website:

iKimbo is creating a revolutionary new approach to online communities.  Very soon, anybody with an Internet connection will be able to quickly and easily create a rich Internet e-commerce community for free. 

By May 2001 they were focused more on secure instant messaging (and had also changed from "iKimbo" to "Ikimbo"):

Ikimbo provides instant communication for the enterprise. Ikimbo's Ominprise products offer a secure, reliable and scalable instance communications platform, providing industrial-strength instant-messaging, secure file sharing and wireless access.

ComputerWorld also discussed Ikimbo's tools in "Startup Pushes Instant Collaboration" (Oct 2001) and mentions consulting giant Deloitte & Touche as a prime customer.  By May 2002, though, it seems things weren't going so well and the company cut it's staff in half and replaced its CEO.  It appears the company then created a product called "AGENDA" which interacted with Lotus Sametime and Microsoft products.  The July 26, 2004 archive of the web site, the last one available from the WayBack Machine, shows a company that had recently been recognized by Lotus Advisor Magazine and had presented their product in Microsoft's booth at the "Instant Messaging Planet 2004" show in Boston. The WayBack Machine doesn't show all the graphics, but it would seem the shift was toward "real-time resolution of time-critical events".

However, on July 21, 2004, Stowe Boyd posted the news that "Ikimbo is Closing Down" and mentions his own role with the company, as well as the name of yet another CEO.

Meanwhile in February 2003 Ikimbo/iKimbo was awarded this patent with the abstract:

An Information and Application Distribution System (IADS) is disclosed. The IADS operates, in one embodiment, to distribute, initiate and allow interaction and communication within like-minded communities. Application distribution occurs through the transmission and receipt of an "invitation application" which contains both a message component and an executable component to enable multiple users to connect within a specific community. The application object includes functionality which allows the user's local computer to automatically set up a user interface to connect with a central controller which facilitates interaction and introduction between and among users.

And somewhere in the trail of corporate disintegration, the intellectual property rights wound up in the hands of this Cross Atlantic Partners who have evidently decided that they have a case in suing Facebook. (As Dean Evans writes in Tech.co.uk yesterday, having a $6 billion valuation makes you a pretty obvious target for this type of lawsuit.)

As commenters to the TechCrunch article indicate, I have to believe that there is sufficient prior art out there to ultimately dismiss this patent.  I'm not a patent attorney and I haven't slogged through the whole document, but what I do read sounds a lot like many of the different online forums and communities that I participated in during the 1990's.  The question is really whether or not such prior art can be proven (and can be proven to be different from the nuances of the patent) and also whether Facebook will bother to fight it or simply settle to get rid of the annoyance of the suit.

The question, of course, is that if this should go ahead and, by some miracle, Cross Atlantic Partners wins (or even if they settle), would it not be obvious to go after all the other social networking sites as well?  Almost all the social network-du-jour sites that are popping up operate in a very similar fashion to Facebook with regard to invitations, communities, etc.  For that matter, so does Orkut, owned by giant Google (who has lots of lawyers).

We'll see.   In the meantime, it seems like this lawsuit would fit in well with the patent/IPR discussions over at a site like GrokLaw or somewhere similar.

Interesting times...

P.S. A tip of the hat to Judy Gombita for circulating the link to an email list, which is how I first learned of the issue.


Several great lists of marketing/PR podcasts!

I noticed two great lists of marketing/PR podcasts coming out lately.  Over on his "Web Strategy" blog, Jeremiah Owyang published a "List of ongoing Marketing Podcasts" yesterday that he indicates he'll be updating.   In the comments to Jeremiah's post, Paull Young notes that as part of the Forward Moving blog, he and Luke Armour recently posted (July 7th) "Forward Podcast 26: A Tour of the PR Podosphere" in which Paull and Luke review some of the various PR-related podcasts that are are out there.

Constantin Basturea has also been maintaining his list of PR podcasts for quite some time as well (and Jeremiah updated his post with that pointer).

All in all a great set of lists for folks wanting to find podcasts related to PR and marketing.  (Now if I could just find the time to listen to all these great podcasts!)