Tools

Out of touch

We’ve been away and without connectivity for much of the last week. And what a week to choose. This summer will live in memory for its news and events. Some days, the real world is more like theatre than theatre is.

Through tools such as Reeder, and the many eyes and ears of Twitter, we just about kept abreast, snatching 3G, EDGE or feeble GPRS where location permitted, and quickly learning where towns and villages could give us WiFi. (A shout-out here for the excellent Toucan Café in Minehead, its good food and free wireless.)

Back home, I’ve caught up in detail on the accumulated reading. I wish it had been less dispiriting. It’s come to something when, as Euan said, Russell Brand is more credible than the Prime Minister.

Some of what I’ve been reading about the unrest in England, on Pinboard.


The particular and the peculiar

Geoffrey Grigson

I find I’m seeking out older guide books about the areas of England I particularly like. In the good ones there’s a wealth of knowledge and an intensity of observation that’s very rewarding to work with — and of course they’ve become an object of cultural interest in their own right. So I’m pleased that Geoffrey Grigson’s The Shell Country Alphabet is back in print after 43 years. (That and The Englishman’s Flora are two books of his I’m glad to have to hand.)

I found this on the web (linked to from Wikipedia’s entry on Geoffrey Grigson):

His worldview is clearly evident in the enthusiasms he championed: brightly burning poets of the countryside such as John Clare; visionary artists from Samuel Palmer to his contemporaries and friends, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash, John Piper, Wyndham Lewis. Grigson revelled in finding the extra-ordinary in the seeming ordinariness of a rural life that twentieth century short term thinking was beginning to eradicate. Flora, fauna and rural lore were presented in inspirational compendia and essay collections such as the Shell Country Book, The Englishman's Flora, Freedom of the Parish and the Shell Country Alphabet. For the Festival of Britain in 1951 he edited the series of About Britain guides, penning the text of the volumes on Wessex and the West Country. Grigson also wrote books to lead children into an appreciation of the countryside, poetry and the visual arts; later he became an 'anthologist's anthologist', with a seemingly endless train of collections of epigrams and epitaphs, nonsense verse, 'unrespectable' verse. He revealed much light to be found in apparently dark and (at that time) neglected and disdained periods of literary history, the Romantics, the Victorians. He revived interest in forgotten poets such as William Diaper.

image

You can get a flavour of the Country Alphabet book from the large page spreads Penguin’s put online. Penguin’s done an attractive job with the presentation of this book (published under their imprint, Particular Books) and has this to say about it:

In the 1960s Geoffrey Grigson travelled around England writing the story of the secret landscape that is all around us, if only we take the time to look and see. The result is a book that will take you on an imaginative journey, revealing hidden stories, unexpected places and strange phenomena. From green men, ice-scratches, cross-legged knights and weathercocks to rainbows, clouds and stars; from place-names and poets to mazes, dene-holes and sham ruins, via avenues, dewponds and village greens, The Shell Country Alphabet will help you discover the world that remains, just off the motorway.

I like what Toby Barnard says about Grigson: ‘Geoffrey Grigson resurrected the minor, the provincial and the parochial ... [he was] an erudite and unrivalled topographer … ardent in promoting informed awareness of the distinctiveness of place’. That’s well put: ardent in promoting informed awareness of the distinctiveness of place.

I’ve been out a couple of times recently to Broad Town, where Grigson and his third wife, Jane, lived and are buried. The farmhouse that was theirs, where they both worked and wrote and where, it’s said, Edward Thomas once learned to make hay ropes, is close to Christ Church, the church that serves Broad Town. Locked when we went, the church itself seems undistinguished, but the churchyard is a spacious, sunny and quiet spot that looks out towards the Broad Town White Horse. The Country Alphabet tells me this was cut in 1863.

Last month I read Joe Moran’s excellent On Roads. Reviewing this, Craig Brown wrote:

Joe Moran is a young academic (and if his lecturing is half as good as his writing, I’d advise any young student to make a bee-line for the cultural history department at Liverpool University). Unlike most academics he is excited by the particular and the peculiar, and is obviously happy to spend time ferreting out odd information that more po-faced academics would dismiss as merely anecdotal. … Reading On Roads, I felt as though I was being introduced to a place I thought I knew well, and seeing it for the first time. Moran has the poet’s ability to find the remarkable in the commonplace.

And before On Roads, I was reading Roger Deakin’s Notes From Walnut Tree Farm. The things he sees, feels, hears, touches and then writes about — and that stick in my mind! (Too much to choose from … ‘There are 243 beams in this house, proportions natural, set by the size of the trees and their girth. … Trees are the measure of things. … The first measures of length must surely have been cut on sticks. … Trees have given proportions to things too. … The standard width of a timber-framed house or barn, between sixteen and twenty-one feet, is the distance a single beam from an oak will normally span.’ ‘People ask how a writer connects with the land. The answer is through work. … And when we work on the land, what is our connection with it? Tools, and especially hand tools. Much can be learnt about the land from the seat of a tractor, the older and more exposed the better, but to observe the detail, you must work with hand tools.’)

I was fortunate to be taught Biology at school by a fine field biologist, Arnold Darlington. I was a poor student and am still learning to have my eyes wide open, but he set me off on a course I’m still on, observing and naming as best I can. There’s a thread here that connects all these writers and it’s why I really liked this article in the NYT, Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World:

We are, all of us, abandoning taxonomy, the ordering and naming of life … losing the ability to order and name and therefore losing a connection to and a place in the living world. No wonder so few of us can really see what is out there. … we barely seem to notice. We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening. Happily, changing all this turns out to be easy. Just find an organism, any organism … and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. … Then find a name for it. Learn science’s name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own. To do so is to change everything, including yourself. Because once you start noticing organisms, once you have a name for particular beasts, birds and flowers, you can’t help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you.

Once you start noticing … once you have a name for (the) particular … you can’t help seeing life … just where it has always been, all around you.


Being that much better

From the immemorial to the ephemeral. I’ve been moving steadily Mac-wards in the last couple of months. If nothing else, it’s liberating to learn to think with different tools. (The desire to have tools that are ready-to-hand, but the value that lies in appreciating constraints — then we have a fighting chance when the picture might otherwise hold us captive.)

The operating system I should really be using is Linux, for the reasons John Gruber summed up so well in a footnote to his recent blog post about Google Chrome OS/vapourware. What he had to say about Linux is so good it’s worth quoting it all:

“Linux” means different things to different people. At a precise technical level, Linux is not an operating system. It is a kernel that can serve as the core for an operating system. What most people mean by “Linux”, though, is an operating system built around the Linux kernel. For use as a desktop PC operating system, all the various “Linux distributions” are basically the same thing: variations of Gnome or KDE sitting atop the ancient X Window System.

Ubuntu is almost certainly the pinnacle of these distributions, but they’re all conceptually the same thing, and the only significant difference is the choice between Gnome and KDE, and even there you’re just choosing between two different environments that are conceptually modeled after Microsoft Windows. The entire X Windows/Gnome/KDE “desktop Linux” racket has never caught any traction with real people. Almost no one wanted it, wants it, or will want it.

My theory on this is rather simple. Early versions of Gnome and KDE were pretty much just clones of the Microsoft Windows UI. They’ve diverged since then, and I’d say Ubuntu’s default Gnome desktop is in most ways better from a design and usability standpoint than Windows Vista. But it’s still fundamentally a clone of Windows — menu bars within the window, minimize/maximize/close buttons at the top right of the window, the ugly single-character underlines in menu and button names. At a glance it looks like Windows with a different theme. The idea being that if you want Windows users to switch to Gnome or KDE, you’ve got to make it feel familiar. But that’s not how you get people to switch to a new product. People won’t switch to something that’s just a little bit better than what they’re used to. People switch when they see something that is way better, holy shit better, wow, this is like ten times better.²

So I think Gnome and KDE are stuck with a problem similar to the uncanny valley. By establishing a conceptual framework that mimicks Windows, they can never really be that much different than Windows, and if they’re not that much different, they can never be that much better. If you want to make something a lot better, you’ve got to make something a lot different. …

² The group that’s the most enthusiastic about Gnome and KDE desktop Linux systems consists of those who care the most about the political and licensing aspects. With regard to the freedoms that stem from the software being open source, something like Ubuntu isn’t just, say, ten times better than Windows or Mac OS X, it is infinitely better.

In amidst fruit-picking, I’m playing with a better camera and I think I’m moving on a little, inspired by time spent alongside Jonathan, engaged by how he works, and, interesting-to-me, by computer games. To start with, that familiar sense of panic that, years ago, poetry once gave me (“I’ll never get this”) and then, at first slowly then more and more quickly, the coming of understanding and pleasure. Games absolutely encourage a try-and-fail-and-try-again approach. I used to be paralysed by the seeming unpredictability in learning anything much at all about digital photography, but treating it like play (which is certainly how I see Jonathan set about things) makes it all right — and fun.

Hammersmith Bridge

Tools for thought: this post was semi-made on a Mac — I could have made this in a pure-Mac way (following a path no doubt excellent but seemingly laborious), but LiveWriter remains the best tool I know for blogging (a lot of the time it gets out of the way). And VirtualBox is free — and works.

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Online/Office 2007

I've been using Office 2007 in beta for some while now and like it very much. Dan Saffer at Adaptive Path writes:

Office 2007 just might be the best interaction design to ever come out of Microsoft, and it’s certainly the most significant upgrade to a major suite of applications since, well, probably ever. … 1000 enhancements. They broke with convention when they had a better solution. They applied known interaction design principles and come up with some awesome results, including the minibar. They understood tasks and modeled them before designing. They fixed known issues that have been annoying people for years. In short, they took a set of products that have been an interaction design punching bag for years and rethought them. While I’m sure this is going to cause some serious redesign reorientation, the suite really looks and feels designed now. In a good way.

But, he adds, 'From a business sense, it’s unclear if all these upgrades might be too little, too late.'

Anil praised Office 2007 back here:

Short and sweet, the Ribbon and new UI in Microsoft Office 2007 is the ballsiest new feature in the history of computer software. I've been using Office 12 for about six months, and not only has it made me more productive, I'm struck by the sheer ambition of the changes in this version. … there have been very few bet-the-company style risks, and certainly none from companies as large as Microsoft. But Microsoft did it anyway. They killed the File menu, along with all the other menus. They added a giant, weird circular target up in the corner. They actually use part of the title bar as a menu sometimes. They even changed the default font in all the apps. What's amazing is not just that it works, but that it works so well.

My experience has been the same as most of those who I know that are using the new version: Word went from being frustrating and confusing to fairly straightforward to use. PowerPoint went, in a single upgrade, from being the worst widely-available presentation software to being the best. Excel is a fundamentally different kind of spreadsheet application, focused on presenting information usefully instead of optimizing for the creation of complex formulas.

I've posted about Google "Office" before (here and here). Now I see:

  • You can email documents into Google Docs & Spreadsheets (login and go here).

  • Google Spreadsheets now allow you to 'publish … in every imaginable format (HTML, PDF, XLS, ODS, CSV) or as a feed. What's great is that the file is automatically updated, so you'll be almost certain that someone gets the latest version. You can also publish all the sheets or only some of them. But the coolest thing you can do is to embed a spreadsheet into your blog or site … Google Spreadsheets shows you all the revisions of a spreadsheets, so it's easy to go back to an earlier version. And there are two new functions that use information from the web: GoogleFinance("symbol", "attribute") that returns information about a stock. GoogleFinance("GOOG", "price") returns the current price for GOOG; GoogleLookup("entity", "attribute") that returns answers to simple questions like: population of Italy, Jay Leno's date of birth, that usually appear at the top of search results in Google.com. GoogleLookup("Italy", "population") will return the population of Italy. Don't forget to place an equal in front of the function name.' Google Operating System

In other news:

We know that many of you are managing your tasks with Remember The Milk and your events with Google Calendar, and we thought it would be very cool if we could bring the two together. This new feature adds a small task icon to the top of each day in Google Calendar -- click on the icon to:

  • Review your tasks for the day
  • Add new tasks and edit existing ones
  • Easily complete and postpone tasks
  • Review your overdue tasks
  • Optionally show tasks with no due date
  • See where your tasks are located on a map
  • Google Reader is improving in leaps and bounds. The latest, via Lifehacker: 'Google Reader has updated their Feed actions drop-down menu with several super-handy actions that had been conspicuously missing in the first iteration of the new Google Reader, namely renaming of feeds and assigning feeds to a folder (all you could do for a while was unsubscribe).'

Web-apps (and not just Google's — see my earlier postings linked to above) are quickly becoming formidable. Whether Microsoft is, indeed, doing 'too little, too late' time, 'the final arbiter of all designs' (Dan Saffer), will tell, but all enterprises, businesses, schools must at least be pondering whether something as tempting as Office 2007 (for example) really is worth the upgrade price (and associated issues). Dan Saffer cites one CEO: 'To me, Office 2007 is a complete non-event. I have no interest in an upgrade … Most of what I like about computing now lives online.'


Some thoughts on mobile viewing

Ben posts about some developments on this front:

Om Malik and Michael Arrington are pondering Dave Winer’s move towards mobile-enabling the blogosphere. Specifically, his product OPML Editor will allow users to view content they’ve subscribed to on their mobile phone. This is definitely a useful feature; I certainly spend a fair amount of time viewing my Gmail on my phone (in lieu of a Blackberry or similar device), and the ability to subscribe to content and take it with you is brilliant. Similarly, Winer’s Yomoblog.com service for posting to weblogs by phone looks like it could be great.

Take a look at Dave's portable river ('published by my desktop computer, every night at 1am' — OPML Editor support page).

As Om Malik says, 'there are a lot of tools out there' that enable (or attempt to enable) our mobile lives. On a list of things I've played with and found useful, I'd include Litefeeds and Delicious Mona. On the blogging front, TypePad has just announced TypePad Mobile for posting to your TypePad blog from a mobile device (though there's this route, too). And Gmail on the phone (link) is something I also use a lot.

Ben goes on to recommend Opera Mini, 'an excellent browser that goes through Opera’s proxy server which automatically provides content-squeezing functionality'. I agree: it's very good.

Google has its own functionality for mobile search and reading websites, of course, which currently comes, *I think*, in these forms:

  • Google Mobile Web Search (access your phone's mobile web browser, type http://www.google.com in the URL field, type your search query and select Mobile Web); for UK users, www.google.co.uk is another option.   
  • www.google.com/wml (see here: 'offers Web Search and Mobile search. Mobile search restricts your search to the mobile index which contains sites that are specifically written to fit your mobile screen').   
  • Google's own mobile proxy (where you enter any URL and get a stripped-down version of the page — with the option of having images or not).

I can't speak for the following, not having made much use of them yet, but here they are:

  • Google personalised homepage for your mobile: set it up on your PC — US link here, UK here.   
  • Google Local XHTML — US here, UK here.

And there's the Gmail-for-mobiles that I mentioned above.

Google seems to advertise (ha) its specifically mobile services very little and I may have missed some obvious ones or have got some of the above wrong (it's a bit of a rabbit warren to investigate). Please add/amend accordingly.

Concerning mobile access of websites, I take to heart Chris Heathcote's view that 'well-written sites win' (link — ppt: slide 27). We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed.  As The Man said, web pages ought to be designed to be read across platforms, across browsers and across devices: 

The Web is designed as a universal space. … The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or network used to access it, of the perceived quality or appropriateness of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and physical capabilities of those who access it. Hardware and network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth of the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely by the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great strength. … For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for such device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, many Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good on a very wide range of screen sizes. Tim Berners-Lee

That's from a document Sir Tim wrote about the .mobi TLD proposal. He concluded: 'Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or different classes of user, or different classes of information, breaks the Web in a fundamental way'. The road ahead in teaching, with staff and pupils using their own mobile devices and their own desktops/docking stations, depends upon the web keeping this integrity:

The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined by the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI. The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links, bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People look up URIs in all sorts of conditions. It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some information and then look up that URI in an entirely different context. ibid.

It's quite clear that teachers will need to be on top of the developing options for mobile viewing (and understand the arguments about web integrity). Is there a site (wiki) which collates and maintains links like these, preferably along with comments and reviews about user experience? If not, we ought to get together and create one.

*****

Update (31 August). For the sake of something like Google-completeness, I should perhaps add here:

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More on the Google "Office"

Substantial, thoughtful post from Anil Dash — needs to be read in full, but here are some bits that struck me:

Google Apps will be used by companies that are relying on an in-house tech fan as their IT department, where larger companies who have a consultant or IT person on staff will stay with Microsoft solutions for these tasks. The truth is, Microsoft Office is great at traditional document creation, but it's lousy at collaboration, and that's the space that Google Apps, Office Live, SharePoint, and lots of other competitors are going after.

He goes on to review the non-Microsoft competitors of Google Apps (Office Live being the Microsoft "app" with which Google Apps is competing): Joyent, Zoho, 37Signals, Yahoo and Best of Breed Apps.

In all, the strength of these competitors bodes well for the entire space. In every case, these independent competitors are charging money for their products.

Information Week's report on Google Apps brought out the way Google is presenting its "relationship" with Microsoft:

"The right way to view Writely and Google Spreadsheets, especially in the context of a larger business, isn't necessarily as a replacement for Word or Excel," says Matt Glotzbach, head of enterprise products at Google. "They're the collaboration component of that."

That bit from Information Week, and a Reuters piece, led Nick Carr to say, 'Google is competing with Microsoft's nascent Live services more than it's competing with Microsoft's existing office suite'. Check. (Anil Dash: 'A key to success here will be to position Spreadsheets and Writely as complements to Microsoft Office'.) But Carr concludes his posting: 'it appears that the long-time monopoly in office applications may not be dismantled but rather replaced by a duopoly, and that the expected wave of innovation in web-based productivity applications may die long before it reaches shore'.

'In all, the strength of these competitors bodes well for the entire space': I hope so. Nick Carr's posting made me think of Don's warning earlier this month: 'useless to ask whether Google is the new Microsoft. Ask instead how can small companies survive the chaos to come'.

However the market pans out, here's some of Anil Dash's conclusion:

… there has been active resistance (to 'web-based hosted services') by large corporations and enterprises, and adoption was led by small companies or by independent workgroups and remote offices within a company. Google Apps is going to mirror that adoption, and will take hold primarily in organizations where the culture isn't based around an existing process of mailing Word memos as attachments, but instead on IMing links to relevant resources.

In Anil's words, in order to grow Google Apps need 'a mixed environment where many core services are hosted, but in an informal … model instead of the structured ASPs that large enterprises use'. Schools with IT departments whose zeal is not misguided are likely to be places where users will experiment with such application utilities — and students will be amongst the leaders, of course. Handheld and other devices that are wirelessly connected to the net independent of the organisation's gateway will, evidently, greatly assist the viral spread of such apps and, in the best of all possible worlds, IT departments and schools will recognise this and focus their efforts on encouraging both good and innovative practice.

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Google and Office-on-the-web

So, the launch today of Google Apps for Your Domain and Google Apps for Education gives us something else to explore in this area — along (for example) with the Zoho range of products. Office-on-the-web is attractive for reasons of collaboration, cost-cutting and productivity (Richard MacManus, responding to Rod Boothby's paper — HTML version here) and, self-evidently, you can use the same system to have access to your own documents, for your own use, on any machine, anywhere.

Google doesn't yet have an Office 2.0–a full suite of hosted productivity applications aimed at the Microsoft Office crowd, especially the small- and medium-sized firms–but starting tomorrow companies or organizations can deploy Google email, calendar, chat and Web page (Page Creator) hosting for free (ad supported). The set of Google communications applications is an extension of Gmail for Your Domain, and has some limited UI customization and administration features. Later this year, Google will offer a subscription service with additional storage and support options. …

Microsoft's base of Office users–most of the business users in the developed world–aren't going to defect to Google or other products like Zoho's suite overnight. And, Microsoft is developing its own suite of hosted Windows Live applications and looking forward to Vista improving the overall Windows applications experience. But, there is disruption in the air, and the Microsoft Office monopoly is definitely going to face a major competitive threat in the near future…  Dan Farber, ZD Net (writing yesterday)

Connectivity remains an issue:

Another pressing issue is how Google (and others in the Software as a Service game) will adapt their applications for offline use. I’d be willing to bet that when most Gmail users need to draft a message offline they use…MS Word. I just got back from a weekend on the Chesapeake Bay, and I can tell you that there wasn’t a hot spot for miles — accessing Web apps just wasn’t an option. And now that Boeing has infamously pulled the plug on its inflight Internet service, airline flights remain the great offline terrain that challenges SaaS to accommodate business travelers. Publishing 2.0

'Occasionally connected': not good! Another article from ZD Net:

Computing is about using standalone smart devices (PC's, PDA's, cellphones today and intelligent peripherals - smartTV, media centers, home appliances, etc. tomorrow) which are "occasionally connected" to the Internet. Ok, the more accurate phrase is probably "usually" or "almost always" but the key is that sometimes they are not connected. Once you accept that, you immediately acknowledge that a browser-only solution is not viable. One needs both online and offline (PC) solutions and applications. … I'd rather bet on Microsoft (and 3rd parties) solving the technical challenges of offline synch and "occasionally connected" services than betting on Google providing me with 100% 24x7 connectivity that leaves me without anything when (and not if) it goes down.

Then there's privacy (as ever with Google) — GigaOM baulked at this — security, confidentiality … all aspects of 'my data'. And here's Kent Newsome:

Bold but troubling is word via InformationWeek that "Google's plans include prompting people who send Microsoft Office documents using Gmail to translate those files into Google's formats for editing on Google.com, presumably in a forum where ad space is up for sale." One of the great and valid fears of IT managers is data spread- when your data is spread all over the place, it becomes harder to protect and manage.

(At this point, by association, I looked up Eric Norlin's piece from June of this year, Google's authentication vs. Microsoft's Live ID: '… one company is clearly advancing the cause of "identity 2.0", "web 2.0", "Net 2.0" — call it what you will — and that company is Microsoft. The other company is deepening the silo and building the walled garden'. Worth clicking through to.)

More interestingly, we have to ask what we need from web-based "Office" apps. GigaOM comments (elsewhere), 'Web Office should not be about replacing the old, but inventing the new web apps that solve some specific problems'. Via that last posting, I got to Red Herring's piece, 17 MS Office Killers, and here's what caught my eye:

The traditional Office suite is an old idea, said Jason Fried, chief executive of Chicago-based 37 Signals. “That’s 15-year-old thinking,” he said. “The modern office is more about real-time collaboration and group chat, and not just a spreadsheet and processor.”

To that end, 37 Signals created an online word processor called WriteBoard to offer—along with project management software called Basecamp—a group chat product called Campfire, as well as shareable to-do lists called Ta-da Lists. WriteBoard, said Mr. Fried, is a simple online word processor. … “Microsoft Word seems like complete overkill for sharing text here and there,” he said. “You don’t need tables or formatting all the time. You need a place to write text, make changes, and pass around.” So far, 350,000 WriteBoards or web-based documents have been created.

So, '37 Signals positions its product as complementary to Microsoft’s':

WriteBoard has its shortcomings, Mr. Fried is not above admitting. “It is not for writing your 300-page functional specification document or long manuscript,” he said. WriteBoard also lacks familiar formatting functions like font, paragraphs, or text point size. Users can take the text and then move it into a Word document or a PDF file, or publish it as HTML.

And back in June, Richard MacManus said: 'the main benefit of web-based Office products is that they'll extend the functionality of desktop office products in many useful ways'.

I use Basecamp, but I'll be watching Zoho for sure (see Zoho Projects and Zoho Virtual Office) — and the promise of a single sign-on. As ever, Richard MacManus has a finger on the pulse.

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Ma.gnolia

For a few days now, I've been running a Ma.gnolia account — here. At first glance, it resembles del.icio.us after a trip to the beautician: as I said to Todd Sieling, product manager, 'The GUI you're using is simply stunning — very beautiful, easy on the eye, a pleasure to work with — clear and informative: enough info, links, option choices, etc, but not noisy'.

Importing my del.icio.us bookmarks was easy, and Todd tells me that Ma.gnolia will 'make a saved copy when a bookmark is added, regardless of how, though it will be a while until you see saved copies of all your bookmarks. The process takes a little while with so many bookmarks'. Tag editing will come ('removal and other management tools are on the way') and other ideas that didn't make it into this beta public release (eg, 'a dead link report at the end of an import that will let people follow up on or remove bookmarks that get no response when we try to make the saved copy') will no doubt make an appearance at some stage.

Nick Chapman's Greasemonkey script for copying individual del.icio.us bookmarks works well, but it would be really useful to be able to post a bookmark simultaneously to both del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia.  In fact, great as Nick's script is, there's an appreciable use of time involved in copying across several bookmarks by this means, and since I imported my bank of del.icio.us bookmarks I've made many more and just haven't got round to copying them into Magnolia.

So will I use Ma.gnolia? Todd on the Ma.gnolia/del.icio.us contrasts:

  • Ma.gnolia offers a very different design for a different kind of social bookmarking experience. We prefer focus and ease of use over large amounts of information on a page, and believe that while del.icio.us' way of presenting information works for some people, it doesn't work for the average web user. Both approaches are valid, but neither works for everyone. One way to think about it is that del.icio.us is more like Linux and Ma.gnolia is more like Mac OS - different values, appealing to different sensibilities.
  • Bookmark Ratings give you a chance to differentiate yours and other people's bookmarks for quality.
  • Saved Copies of web pages at the time you bookmark them, so you won't be lost if a bookmarked page disappears since you bookmarked it.
  • Make Contacts of other members to easily watch their collections and to directly share bookmarks with others.
  • Private Bookmarks.
  • Groups, both public and private.
  • Import from browsers and other services.

I love the interface of Ma.gnolia but am wedded to the bare-bones simplicity, the GTD-effectiveness of del.icio.us; nevertheless, to be able to post simultaneously to Ma.gnolia, given that it's making a copy of each bookmarked page, would be good. I'm not fussed at all about privacy — though I know from the del.icio.us discussion lists that some users want this. And if I want to share my bookmarks, it's easy for a friend or contact to take my del.icio.us feed and follow what I'm tagging. Nothing is hidden: look!

I am also committed to del.icio.us because of its user base. Joshua said last week that del.icio.us is not a community — there are no conversations and the aim is instead to let individuals and communities use del.icio.us — but I value it very much for the way it enhances so much my eyes and ears: because I know people through it, most of whom I may never have met physically, whose expertise or interests add to or complement mine, I find news, ideas, research, etc that I would not come across outside of del.icio.us. My del.icio.us inbox is, in effect, a net in which to catch "interestingness" — web interestingness. (del.icio.us as an attention lens.) **And**: tagging! So hard to put my finger on this, but what the people whose eyes and ears I've come to trust (whose judgement and taste have become important to me) choose to tag pages with is often provoking and interesting in its own right and builds its own kind of … community network.

Todd is interviewed here and explains in more detail some of the thinking behind Ma.gnolia. Also reported there is Jeffrey Zeldman, who speaks about the design. They may indeed have concocted a service that will have wide appeal to end-users not yet into social-bookmarking. Moreover, as this interview makes clear, Ma.gnolia is aiming to create its own user-community:

Our approach moves beyond just sharing bookmarks. We want to make bookmarking more about collaboration and about bringing attention to what the community is looking at through our Hot Bookmarks and Hot Tags sidebar items. Sharing across channels and looking at interests as an aspect of both individuals and a community will make for a different kind of experience than Del.icio.us has done well with.

But you know, I don't see the market as being dominated by anyone right now. There are still lots of people out there who haven't even heard of social bookmarking, or didn't know you could simply store your bookmarks online. We hope to reach those people with a style and way of working that will appeal to them. And when you look at all the cool ways that people are mashing up web services and remixing data, I think there's more to be had in thinking about the cooperative opportunities than what competition will be like. Sure we want people to like what we offer, but it doesn't have to be at the expense of someone else's service.

As for the name, you need to go here to understand it.

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Yahoo! Go Mobile

Yahoo! Go Mobile is here:

With Yahoo! Go Mobile, emails, phone numbers and pictures synch with your account. So your stuff is always with you and easy to use.

  • Contacts — Stored phone numbers are automatically synched
  • Photos — Take a picture and it's stored online
  • Messenger — Record voice instant messages
  • Mail — Get notified when new email arrives

And …

Yahoo! Go - Get Started on Your Mobile

Yahoo! Go Mobile is available for download today on select Nokia Series 60 handsets. Prior to downloading the application, you should review the list of compatible handsets and read the installation instructions.

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Weird feed behaviour

1) I've had to decouple FeedDemon 1.6 RC2 (a beta) from NewsGator: the synching between the two had gone haywire, ever since a problem that developed some time around 28 December at the NewsGator end of things, and it was driving me nuts.

2) More to the point here, apologies to my FeedBurner subscribers: FeedBurner has a range of services on offer — PingShot service and FeedFlare — and, I'm not sure, but changing my options on both of these seems to have set off a riot in that feed, posts reappearing as unread a number of times and (most recently) a strange 'noemail' address appearing entirely unasked for in the headers of posts. I've reset my options within FeedBurner and I hope things will now quieten down again.

For good measure, I've been playing with Technorati tags: in TypePad these have to be entered manually (TypePad's categories are read as Technorati tags, but categories are not the same kind of animal as tags) which is a little bit of work. (Within Firefox, Performancing semi-automates the process for you.) The work's worth it when the tags are read by Technorati, but I'm finding the process more miss than hit. As ever, Dave Sifry is very supportive, but we still haven't cracked the problem. Niall Kennedy at Technorati suggests it may be feed-related, which led me to validate my feed and the feed of a number of blogs. Errors abound everywhere, which made me feel a bit better. I still can't get the Technorati tags to work consistently, though, and the most recent ones have simply gone unnoticed by Technorati's spiders.

Web 2.0. Dontcha just luv it.

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