A California government official is spamming me to get elected governor. I'm in the wrong state, and the wrong party. Bill Jones nees a clue.
Ten tips (in progress)
- Write for a reason
- Write often
- Write tight
- Make good friends
- Choose good enemies
- Let the story unfold
- Stand up, speak out
- Be sexy
- Use your archives
What term shall we use to describe all the sites that change often? News sites, web logs, journals, web 'zines, slashdot clones, wikis -- all are places where people read and write daily (or weekly, or hourly).
Daypop calls this "the living Web". I've been using "web log and web journal" to describe all these things. Zeldman calls them "personal sites", which begs the question of what's personal: if Zeldman hires a crew of designers and becomes an even larger studio, would zeldman.com cease to be a personal site? I don't think so....
Torill observes that some Tinderbox webloggers write in spurts, as when Adrian Miles "suddenly pours three weeks of writing into his weblog". As she notes, it's not clear whether or not the difference is a good thing; at this point, all we know is that it's a difference.
One reason for the difference is that, with Tinderbox, you have the option; you can write a note and think about it. With Blogger or Moveable Type, you either write somewhere else or you post immediately.
BloggerPro lets you write a post for future release, as several correspondents point out.
Another reason, of course, might be that people put off FTPing because it's inconvenient or slow or because they forget. That's a technical problem; perhaps we should find a better FTP client, or perhaps we should build this into Tinderbox.
Most of the time, I try to keep a note or two ready in my "unpublished" container, all set for days when there's nothing to write. Having a buffer of finished notes, and another buffer of topics you intend to write about someday, is important to keeping the rhythmn of a site like this.
From Mary Wehmeier, a wonderful look at what it's like when former Olympic ice skaters get together for drinks, a bite to eat ("Hey! Eat! We ain't skating this Olympics! They won't let us!"), and the ladies' long program.
One of the un-named Olympic Gold Medallists sitting next to me, eyes met mine and we did one of those... ut ohs.
When she finished-- well the house came apart with a standing ovation, including the posse who rarely stands. Sarah however, like the typical 16 yr. old hadn't realized she had really brought the house down. It wasn't until her coach turned her around, saw The Posse standing, Sarah thought it was just a good program
In A List Apart, Dennis Mahoney tells us how to write a good web log. His focus is Good Writing -- clean, concise, and witty.
It's a good piece, for what it does. As Winer was quick to point out, Mahoney casts good and bad writing as a distinction between amateurs and professionals. This is unfortunate because it's false. Almost all our best novelists are, strictly speaking, amateurs or semi-pros -- most of their income comes from teaching, speaking, something other than writing. You can write well and leave it in the drawer.
To suggest that the best way to improve your web log is to write more correctly is probably to lead people astray. Bad writing can be effective in weblogs. What really sold Kaycee Nicole, in the end, is that she wanted so desperately to write, and her writing was so consistently, convincingly terrible. Mary Wehmeier's weblog on Olympic skating is full of blunders -- naive spelling, bad grammar, flat-footed sentences. But this is exactly right for the purpose. She's got the voice of a former athlete who's having a good time, a good drink, and is enjoying The Game with some people who have been there, too. "You never heard such crowds, Joe!", said Marylin. "Yes, I have." Dimaggio answers.
All-time top sports moments, personal, including things seen on television but excluding reruns. (I'm missing some; jog my memory?)
- Keri Strug
- Bucky Fucking Dent
- Day before the wedding, Wrigley Field
- Brunansky's Catch: Sox win the pennant
- Bill Buckner
- Marino's fake spike
- Talking strategy with Cardinal pitching coach Claude Osteeen before a game, circa 1985
- Sarah Hughes
- Red Sox-Angels, game 5 (1986)
- Ernie Banks home run, opening day, circa 1971
- The Drive
- White Sox beat Yankees in 14, 1961 (my first game)
- Padres sweep the Cubs
- Mets-Astros, game 6 (I was there)
- Patriots win the Super Bowl
- Clemens' hit
Tinka has a nice summary of the growth of weblog clusters (see also Torill), and a fascinating note about the ambivalence people feel about the size of their audience. If nobody is listening, why write? But, if too many strangers are listening, people feel inhibited -- a shared, private writing space can suddenly seem all too public.
Though people write about the people who read their web logs, I've been thinking lots about the people who don't read this page. When lots of readers started appearing every day, I assumed most of them were friends, family, colleagues.
That turns out not to be the case. My mother doesn't read this. (I wish she did) Neither does Linda. I reconnected with some old school friends a few years ago; we send regular newsy emails. Only one of them reads this (and he's the worst correspondent). My little sister doesn't read this.
Eric Meyer's CSS/Edge demonstrates some lovely stylesheet techniques. These only work well in modern browsers.
Razorfish information architect Victor Lombardi is very interested in indexes and related structures -- ways to better organize the information that accumulates in web logs.
"Perhaps the next generation of blogs is a way to massage ... post/comment combinations into documents.... because ultimately I think a well-structured document is more useful than a reference format.....I think an index could be built with Tinderbox using keywords and agents."
He's exactly right. For example, this page is an automatically-built index to my book notes; whenever I add a new review to any of the Books pages, the review is automatically added to the list. The list was easy to make -- it took me perhaps five minutes -- and it automatically alphabetizes the titles. (In this case, I didn't even have to add keywords!) The lists of new items at the top of this column are automatically-built indexes, too.
My Singapore Album is another kind of self-assembled document. An agent graphs all the items that (a) have pictures, and (b) were posted while I was in Asia, or are marked with a special keyword. This lets me add new pictures to the album, even if they were posted later, without having to go back and add keywords to lots of old items.
Hilarious Flash stunt, by Matecumbe Multimedia. Thanks, Michael Harris.
This morning, I woke a little before sunrise and didn't work on Tinderbox. Tinderbox 1.0 shipped yesterday. It's finished.
Until yesterday, there was nothing much like it, anywhere. Yes, it's a little like Storyspace, VIKI, Blogger, Agenda, PageJockey, and a host of other systems old and new. But it's a very new kind of software, and until yesterday, if this is the kind of software you needed, you were in a bad place. Now, it's done.
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It's a wonderful tool for making, understanding, and sharing notes.
I've been working on, or thinking about, Tinderbox just about every day since Sunday, August 15, 1999. That morning, as Linda's Toyota headed out the driveway for a photography workshop in Vermont, I settled in to write a new foundation for a pair of hypertext systems. You know these today as Storyspace 2 and Tinderbox. Through the week that followed, Linda photographed and I coded non-stop, working almost around the clock. It was the most extreme of extreme methodologies: an idea, a plan, and a deadline. It was the best run of coding I've ever had.
Tinderbox itself started on April 20, 2001. Since then, it's been 304 days. Roughly 581 files of code, resource definitions, working doc, and test jigs (not counting libraries). About 80,000 line of code. 28 developer releases. The first Tinderbox weblog, the Development peekhole, was published on June 1.
In Hawaii for a conference, I took advantage of the jet lag to watch the sun rise while writing the code that adjusts links when you add or delete text. "It's much harder to concentrate in on a tropical beach than you'd think," my notes read, "although the code seems to be good." Those notes are in a text file; for months, all my programming notes have been in Tinderbox. Now, Tinderbox is yours.
In Denmark for the Hypertext meetings, I took notes in one window and fixed bugs in another. Some of those notes led to features like the Nakakoji view that made it into the first release. On the trip home, the guy in the seat in front of me had his seat all the way back for ten hours. Mine wouldn't budge. I scrunched my half-open laptop sideways in my lap, and fixed a show-stopper from Australia.
In Berlin for p0es1s, I stole moments late at night to fix text editing and adjust HTML templates. On early Malden mornings, I spent birdwatching time hunting bugs and tuning code. I've lost a lot of sleep.
Every line of code had to be written, revised, checked, and tested. Everything has to be just right. Lots of things ended up on the floor -- entire families of classes were written, debugged, rewritten, and then refactored out of existence. Software is craftwork; every joint and bevel in Tinderbox was carefully wrought and polished by hand.
I've wanted this tool for years. It's not everything I want. Yet. It won't be everything you want. But it's new, it's here, and now it's yours.
AI veteran Roger Schank writes a hilarious analysis of Stories, Curricula, Master's Degrees, and Dragon Slaying for trainingmag.com.
At the curriculum-planning meeting, everyone agreed that each faculty had something important to contribute. The business faculty was concerned that potential dragon slayers understand how to finance a dragon-slaying expedition and know how to create a business plan to market the lessons learned from the expedition.
Schank outlines the failure mdoes of conventional curriculum design and proposes story-centered curricula would be a better guide to ensure that what is taught is actually useful and sufficient. An unusually candid look at the design of universities.
Master's degrees offer a great opportunity in the university world. They are the stepchild of the faculty and the joy of the administration...Since master's students are usually self-funded, master's programs are very profitable for universities, which is why administrators love them....Faculty members prefer the potentially brilliant Ph.D. student, who will be a protege, to the student who simply wants to earn a living in his field.
Thanks, Ken Tompkins!
Thanks for that kudo to Rogi, a London expat photographer.
"I do like those colours though. They look even nicer on a laptop as well as they get a bit of that LCD metallic sheen to them. "
It looks like Tinderbox will ship next week!
Deborah Branscum (Newsweek, Fortune.com) writes about the interface between business and the media, the murky land of press releases, reporting, and hype. Her weblog is the best place to get a feel for life at the other end of the phone. The bubble, and Enron, have shaken her confidence badly:
Maybe it doesn't matter--my job, after all, is to provide the filling between the advertisements, which pay for the entire operation--but I'm disheartened by all those chipper experts offering nostrums ...
The Mouse Driver Chronicles is a new book by John Lusk and Kyle Harrison about "the true-life adventures of two first-time entrepreneurs. As they started their company, they kept a journal:
There's only one thing that Kyle and I did that most entrepreneurs don't do: we kept an ongoing record of what was happening with out company. We started a diary during the first summer of our venture, making entries roughly every other day, just as an exercise in collecting our thoughts and blowing off steam. We wrote about the realities of everyday life as entrepreneurs -- the screwups and masterstrokes, the boredom, excitement, dumb luck, humor, and mood swings that crom from creating a product and a business out of an idea.
In time, they began sharing the journal with email subscribers; now it's a weblog.
Mood meter: ...The economy sucks, the instability of entrepreneurship is starting to wear on us, and this whole "work out of your apartment" gig is getting really, really old. But...never in our lives has either one of us been this excited.
Joel Spolksy, who runs Fog Creek Software, explains what technical people need to know to survive non-technical management. "You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too-- there's a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers." (block that metaphor!) "The secret," he explains, "is that people who aren't programmers do not understand this."
Carlton Clark examines the position of hypertext in feminist pedagogy.
"But knowing a hypertext is more like knowing another person, or at least another changing, living being of some sort. Like a person, every hypertext shifts and resists final predication; the text cannot be "nailed down." Software, such as Eastgate System's Storyspace, that allows the wreader to add and delete links and change the text further enhances the sense of hypertext as a living being."
It's an interesting article, though Clark ignores previous work that he ought not to have overlooked.
Peter Norvig, director of machine learning at Google, created a PowerPoint presentation of the Gettysburg address. Wonderful: and don't miss his notes on the making of the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation.
"I thought I'd have to spend some time choosing bad fonts and garish color schemes, but the Wizard did it all for me"
Weblogg-Ed covers classroom weblogs: interlinked online journals maintained by a school or college class. A classroom of webloggers is particularly interesting, as classroom writers know more about their audience than most Web writers: they know their classmates and teachers are reading . They see their immediate audience every day; as Prof. Mortensen recently noted, even having a writer as a houseguest need not break the habit of reading her web journal.
The ancestor of the classroom weblog cluster is, of course, George Landow's monumental work, The Victorian Web. (Eastgate publishes snapshots of parts of this vast hypertext as The Dickens Web and The In Memoriam Web, and the Web version of the whole affair appears at NUS) This vast assemblage connects course readings, term papers, and a growing body of current scholarship in one vast hypertext net, forming a critical community in miniature; school weblogs are, I think, undertaking a closely related task albeit at a more modest scale.
The most interesting aspect of weblog clusters are, as Will Richardson observes, the patterns of connection between writers.
But the thing I love more than anything else with weblogs is the hypertext. That's just something you can't do with paper and pen, and I really think it adds so much to the discussion. Now, as I've complained before, the only problem is keeping track of it all. That's why Mark's Tinderbox technology is so intruiging....
Matt Kirschenbaum, in the course of arguing that the methods of textual studies are important to electronic literary theory, observes that the link structure of afternoon changed significantly between the first (samizdat) version in 1987 and the published edition of 1992. (Wierdly, EBR or Krischenbaum forgot to footnote either edition)
The best argument for the value of these methods might be to employ them. Kirschenbaum makes much of the changes in the hypertext's icon over time, but I wonder whether this means much to anyone. A better case (and important contribution) could easily be made by taking a close look at the 97 links that Joyce added when preparing afternoon for publication. What did he do? Why? How would you describe the changes succinctly? What effect, exactly, do the additional links exert?
These are clearly questions that we would like to answer, both about afternoon and, indeed, about any fine hypertext. Why not give it a shot?
When I was 20, I used to hunt for weeks in search of ideas that might yield publishable research. Nowadays, it seems that publishable ideas are low-hanging fruit. I can't come close to picking the fruit fast enough. Picking fruit isn't even my job anymore. It's very frustrating.
Thomas Madsen-Mygdal (CommonMe.org) writes that
" Tinderbox is in my opinion the most promising weblog tool ever!"
Tinderbox has about 88,000 non-empty lines of progam code, excluding external libraries and the application framework. Each line was carefully designed, hand-crafted, and tested.
Innovative software is hard work.
Justin Hall is probably the inventor of weblog as we know it. He started his quirky, candid Links from Underground in 1994, from a dorm room in Willets Hall at Swarthmore. (I spent two years in Willets at a much earlier date. Ted Nelson invented 'hypertext' in Wharton, though naturally he moved to Mary Lyons as an upper-classman).
Justin is now in Japan, and after a few lean years his Web journal is really hitting its stride. Hall has become newly reflective, he's grown considerably as a writer, and his disarming (and alarming) frankness is now tempered by the ability to see himself as an outsider.
Yesterday nearby Yuzawa was lit up with bright lights and fireworks above the artfully crafted houses and dogs made of snow. It was a rural Japanese festival to honor the snow gods.
The Hypertext '02 Program Committee meeting comes up at the end of the month in College Park, and it turns out there are two interesting art exhibits just opening in Baltimore. The Baltimore Museum of Art has a big retrospective of Turner, organized by the Tate Gallery. The Walters Art Museum has a collection of Danish Impressionism from the Ordrupgaard.
Electronic Book Review has been mass-mailing anonymous ads, written in first person and in blank verse. I doubt this will do much for their reputation.
James Fallows wrote an important appreciation of Lotus Agenda (an early note analysis tool) for The Atlantic Monthly back in 1992. A draft is still available on the Web, apparently a fragment of an abandoned site. Worth a look; Fallows understood what Aegnda waqs trying to be, which is more than you can say for the industry.
Here's a picture of Linda, walking along Ngpali beach a few minutes before sundown. I like it.
Pictures are fun, and on rare occasions a picture is worth a thousand words. Most of the time, for most things, writing works better. Weblogs have prospered despite lousy support for pictures in the popular tools.
The pundits missed this entirely in talking about the supposed connection between TV and the Web. So did the golden-agers, the people who worried that graphics on the Web would subvert imaginative writing. Thousands and thousands of web writers were delighted to give up even the simplest image tags in order to use Blogger and its kin.
A tinderbox is a place to keep your tinder -- your kindling. (Linda says that the best tinder is twigs from the top of blueberry bushes)
Tinderbox is a place to keep your ideas.
Why is blogging so much more satisfying as a writer - to me at least - than just keeping a journal? The audience? So that other people can know what you think when they see what you say?
On a related note (though what the relation is, I am not quite sure, other than that I have been unable to think about things like this for a while, and now can again): our wedding plans are proceeding apace. I have finally managed to stop worrying about the whole thing..."
My doctoral research involved picosecond lasers -- lasers that were the fastest in the world back in 1980, lasers so fast that the pulse of light they emitted was a few millimeters long. Now, they're building zeptosecond lasers!
New, gorgeous, and made with Tinderbox: SurfTrail: Studying the Web, convergence and multimedia, by Anders Fagerjord.
In his latest Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen argues that clearer computer screens can improve reading speeds 10%. If a $50K/year professional spends 20% of his or her time reading from the screen, Nielsen argues, this gain is worth $2000 a year.
Nielsen's argument is correct only if the time saved by faster reading is used profitably. That might be a good assumption, and I can't see any particular reason to fault it, but it might not turn out to be true. Nielsen's argument also raises an important red flag: people do not generally behave as if it were true. Almost nobody is willing to spend $2000 on a better screen for themselves, nor do they spend this kind of money on office lighting, on home video equipment, bedside lamps, or custom eyewear. This doesn't mean Nielsen is wrong; lots of people do things that aren't well advised. But, most of the time, most of the people are likely to be right.
Though Nielsen might be off-base on this specific question, I'm convinced his underlying argument is right: better hardware and (especially) better software can make people much more productive. And it's not just a question of percentages, saving a few minutes here and there every day; having the right tool at the right time can mean the difference between capturing (and acting on) a great idea, or forgetting all about it. Having the right tool can make the difference between convincing your boss (or your staff) to pursue a new course or a better strategy. Having the power to make your argument, and to make it effectively, can make all the difference in the world -- not 5 percent, but five orders of magnitude.
Speaking of clarity and type, Andy Crewdson's Lines and Splines is a wonderful weblog about type design. For example, yesterday I learned that the architect who now lives in my childhood house has commissioned a custom font from Thirst. cool!
"Disclose all pertinent information about your interests. Never state as fact something you know not to be true."
Chris Casciano plans to present 28 styles for weblog index pages, one for every day in Feburary. Carrying the design entirely in the stylesheet is an interesting and worthwhile exercise in separating form and content, although old browsers may have fits.
A Google search led me to the download page for a popular internet utility today, and I was astonished by the quantity of whining, contemptuous, and bitter user comments. In illiterate, misspelled prose, these people were denouncing the vendor for overpicing, feature bloat, and a host of other sins. (The product, a sophisticated utility, costs $45; some of the users were insulted that it wasn't free)
I clicked around to CNET, VersionTracker, and a few other places. It's endemic: good software gets horrible ratings, usually expressed as unsubstantiated opinion from persons whose qualifications are unclear and whose prose is worse.
I find this disturbing in its implications for collaborative sites, as well as for the revival of the moribund software industry.
Writing in Schoolblogs, Will Richardson points out how frustrating the disorganization of a cluster of web logs can be. If weblogs are conversations (and schoolblogs, in which an entire class creates individual web journals as individual projects, are more emphatically a conversation than most) then linking the conversation is important.
Threaded lists like MetaFilter help keep comment from drifting away, but they also promote the all-too-familiar pattern of flaming that destroyed usenet and that, more recently, shut down almost all the major Web design community portals.
It is interesting that Weblogs don't flame -- or rather, their flames are unlike the flames of discussion groups. Even weblogs dedicated to flamage (Winerlog comes to mind) are usually less obnoxiously personal and less intensely trivial than the worst usenet flame wars. It might be interesting to know why this is true, lest we accidentally make things worse with new weblog technologies.
The world-champion New England Patriots were not the most best team in football this year. They weren't the most talented, or the most skilled, or the smartest.
They won it all.
In an amazing turn of events, after a dismal start to an apparently doomed season, they simply started to win, and win, and win again. Nobody understands how, or why. It's a wonderful story.
Nooface blogs Fluid Documents.(They link to the Hypertext '98 paper; the Hypertext '01 paper is even better.)
Nooface links to TreeDoc, a stretch-text implementation for the Web written in PHP. It seems to me that TreeDoc is only peripherally related to Fluid, and it lacks any of the finely-honed animations that Zellweger et al. consider so important. And when Bill Softky, the implementor of TreeDoc, claims that "the in-line method of hypertext display was originally conceived by the Fluid Documents group at Xerox PARC", he's simply mistaken: its history obviously goes back to Peter Brown's GUIDE in the mid 1980s. I'm quite confident the Fluid folk know this!
It's cold in Boston. Cold and wet.
The football season is over. Baseball is months away, a promise of spring. Years ago, I called this "the season when software gets written".
This year, the problem won't be writing the software (though there's going to be plenty of code to cast). The problem is going to be explaining the software. We're off to a good start:
"The more I read about Tinderbox, the more I like it...Now I'm convinced: Tinderbox will probably be the hottest/most inspiring thing in Personal Publishing in the next few months." (Thanks, Langreiter.com!)
But it's going to be a long journey.
Nathan Shedroff wrote Experience Design, a gorgeous book (and pep rally) that urges designers to view new media as encompassing experiences, not screens or artifacts or processes. A few months ago, he wrote an important polemic about the critical response to the book.
I'm deeply puzzled and disappointed at the lack of thoughtfulness in the design world when it comes to articulating opinion. Maybe this is just confinable to the online design world and, admittedly, the online world is much more polarizing and excitable in general.... What upsets me, though, is the apparent acceptance as normal of the kind of boorish spouting-off within these media and these communities.
Shedroff suffers from a malaise common to writers, the belief that their important and successful book has been neither. It's hard to know whether your book matters; the book goes off and does its work in private. What you see are the critics and the axe-grinders and, too often, the fools.
Shedroff also has a useful diagnosis for the meltdown that afflicted Web design discourse this summer, an epidemic that took most of the best portals offline.
Can you imagine a group of Fashion Architects declaring their supremacy over Fashion Designers? Yes, that's what we've come to. We barely have enough respect as it is from clients and some team members so far. Imagine if they found-out how shallow and vain the profession is turning. And, sadly, just as Experience Design is coming "in," Visual (or Graphic) design seems to be going "out." At the fourth annual AIGA Advance for Design this year (the forum for the AIGA Experience Design group) a sneaky, scary undercurrent was uncovered. It seems like the field of graphic design isn't important enough anymore; that visually translating all of the decisions and messages and strategies into a final product just wasn't important on it's own to be included as a role.
It's a long rant, it might have been tightened here and there, and it walks dangerously close the the edge of the Author's Big Mistake -- arguing with the critics -- but it makes fascinating reading. Shedroff can be hilarious (he argues that CHI is a "conference of abused children") and doesn't hesitate to assign blame: "The most dangerous thing in design today is that too many designers hyperlink automatically to eye-rolling sarcasm. "
Information architecture on the fly: why not have a list of all my book notes? This will help people (and Google) find them, which might be especially nice since I sometimes write about good books that don't get a lot of press.
Tinderbox made this very easy. An agent grabs all the recent book notes from their various pages, sorts them by title, and displays the titles alphabetically. It's not a tremendous advance, but it's a nice little addition. Adding it took almost no time, and it will maintain itself; whenever I add a new book, Tinderbox will automatically add the title and update the page,
Linda and I subscribe to the first premier of the American Repertory Theater. This saves money, gives us a chance to say 'Hi' to Robert Brustein, and means that when ART does a new play, the script will always be published with a note about the cast of that very first performance.
Last night's debut was Adam Rapp's Stone Cold Dead Serious, and it's a hell of a play. (A surprise, Rapp's much-honored Nocture from last year isn't a play at all, but rather a short story uncomfortably lodged on stage) It's very much in the tradition of Long Days Journey and Death of a Salesman, but Stone Cold Dead Serious is very new and almost (but not quite) unbearable. Elizabeth Reaser does a wonderful job with two impossible parts, the addicted, manipulative, big sister and the brilliant but mute girlfriend.
It might be interesting, I think, to see this again at the end of the run. I sense a hint of problems in the third act; perhaps they'll be gone after another performance or two.
ART artistic director observes that new plays are a headache here in New England, where people love classics and won't risk world premieres. New York is the opposite, he notes, for New Yorkers aren't eager for classic drama but flock to see what's new.