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November 27, 2005

David Sifry, Founder of Technorati, Takes Us For a Ride on the Cluetrain

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Catching up on the past six weeks' copies of the Economist last evening I came upon a most interesting interview in the October 6 issue with David Sifry (above), the founder of — among other companies — Technorati.

I like David Sifry because last year, after he read something I wrote in bookofjoe or I sent him an email about Technorati or some such thing, he emailed me back and was really, really pleasant and engaging.

As I recall, he suggested that sometime in the future he might ask me to beta test stuff for him and his company.

Sure, I'll do that.

Anyhow, the Economist piece delves into how Sifry came to start Technorati and how its functional tool — gaining a snapshot of the blogosphere via "pings" sent out seconds or, at worst, minutes, after a blog's been updated — makes it by default far more timely than Google or Yahoo.

Both Google and Yahoo "crawl" the web with bots, making copies of pages, indexing them, scoring and then ranking them: this takes days or weeks as opposed to Technorati's seconds or minutes.

In internet time, that's a huge difference.

Here's the Economist story.

    The Life and Soul of the Internet Party

    David Sifry's epiphany occurred when he read "The Cluetrain Manifesto", a book published in 2000 that quickly became a bible in certain Silicon Valley subcultures.

    Its main thesis is that "markets are conversations" among humans who use language that is "natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking" and above all "unmistakably genuine", whereas companies and governments are stuck in "the humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal."

    But liberation is at hand.

    The internet, by amplifying the genuine conversations, will make a laughing stock of all those using the monotone.

    The manifesto struck a particular chord with Mr Sifry, as he pondered the shortcomings of his then passion — an electronic mailing list that he was sending around, tailored to ultra-geeks.

    "Mailing lists suck," he says, with the benefit of hindsight.

    They don't let the sender or the readers see what is being said about them; they provide no window into the conversations that follow.

    Then, in 2002, Mr Sifry discovered the then-new medium of blogs — personal online journals, linked to other blogs and information on the internet.

    He dumped his e-mail list and started blogging.

    But he was frustrated because the most popular internet search engine, Google, was no help, when he "wanted to find out who was linking to me."

    So he started a new company.

    Technorati is a pioneering search engine for blogs, which allows the surfer to connect to online chatter on topics that might interest him — top topics this week, included Harriet Miers and Ajax football club.

    Like all search engines, Technorati makes money by selling little text advertisements next to the results of relevant searches.

    But, as Mr Sifry sees it, his firm is much more than a new sort of search engine — it is an expression of a change in the sociology of the internet.

    Most people have over the past decade learned to think of the world wide web as a gigantic sort of library, with "pages" and "directories".

    This explains the dominance of Google and Yahoo!, which have become the world's preferred librarians.

    In fact, both are making this role increasingly explicit.

    This week, Yahoo! joined several universities and archives to begin digitising old books in (physical) libraries so that they can be searched online.

    Google has similar plans.

    As librarians, Mr Sifry acknowledges, Google and Yahoo! are "brilliant" — he has no intention whatsoever of competing with them in general web search.

    His idea for Technorati is subtly different, but has huge implications.

    Mr Sifry starts out with a metaphor for the web not as a library but — slipping into some technical argot common in Silicon Valley — "a big-ass threaded conversation".

    Or, more poetically, a "river of human chatter", constantly joined by other creeks and brooks and ever flowing.

    And whereas a library is by tradition a place where people whisper, Mr Sifry's internet is a cheerfully noisy place.

    Technorati is therefore very different from ordinary search engines.

    Google and Yahoo! operate by "crawling" as many web pages as possible, making copies and putting them into an index, scoring and ranking them, and finally pushing them to web surfers who have typed search keywords into their browser window.

    Because of the time this takes, any snapshot of the web available through these search engines is between one and two weeks old—hopelessly late in the context of ongoing conversations.

    Technorati, however, does not crawl blog pages but listens for notifications—"pings", in the jargon — from the blogs whenever they are updated.

    This means that Technorati's window into the subculture of blogging is only seconds or, at worst, minutes out of date.

    Technorati currently tracks about 19m blogs in this way, with an average of ten new "posts" (ie, updates) and one entirely new blog added, every second.

    Mr Sifry's web-as-conversation metaphor is no longer eccentric.

    In fact, it is receiving the sincerest form of flattery (imitation) from the big librarians.

    In September, Google also unveiled a search engine for blogs (to decidedly mixed reviews), and Yahoo! is poised to launch its own.

    Mr Sifry says he is unintimidated by the arrival of these giant competitors.

    "Architecture follows from metaphor," he proclaims grandly, and Google and Yahoo! just started out with the wrong metaphor.

    Tracking the web's conversations has only so much to do with algorithms, which is Google's prowess, and more with sociological insight — who responds to which blog, who recommends or snubs whom.

    This, in fact, is what may give Mr Sifry a competitive advantage.

    He is that very rare thing, a geek who can use his right brain (social interaction), in addition to his left (computer code).

    On the left side, his geek credentials are impeccable.

    He has a degree in computer science and has been founding start-ups in Silicon Valley for a decade, dealing mostly with such nerdy obsessions as open-source software and radio-spectrum allocation.

    But rather than sporting a pocket protector and buck teeth, Mr Sifry has hints of a beer gut.

    While getting that computer degree, he boasts that he was "on and off academic probation" because he "always partied".

    After college, he somehow found himself as the only gaijin in a Mitsubishi Electric factory in Japan.

    His speech is amiable Californian, peppered with "f***ing" this and "f***ing" that, in the excited tone of those surfing the nearby beaches, rather than the internet.

    Mr Sifry has reason to be excited.

    Technorati's popularity is growing, as more and more bloggers get hooked on following the trail of their own conversations.

    Rivals are popping up with colourful names — IceRocket, DayPop, Bloglines — while Google and Yahoo! work on not being left out.

    Like everyone in Silicon Valley, Mr Sifry grows suddenly discreet when asked whether he would consider selling to one of them if the price were right.

    He may or may not.

    But whether or not Technorati will become the Google of the web's post-librarian era, Mr Sifry can at least rightfully claim that he started that particular conversation.

********************

Well, that was pretty interesting, what?

Now comes your bonus, for reading to the end: click here and you can read "The Cluetrain Manifesto" in its entirety — free.

How's that for sweet?

I must tell you, though, that I read the book in its dead tree incarnation back when it came out and didn't have an epiphany like David Sifry.

On the other hand, I've been running for decades and have yet to experience my first "runner's high."

So maybe the problem's with me.

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In any event they sure picked a great title.

Cool cover, too.

November 27, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Car Bud Vase — 'Add a touch of floral splendor to your car'

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Well, why the heck not?

From the website:

    You have flowers in your home, so why not in your car?

    This unique tempered glass Bud Vase attaches securely to your dashboard with its sturdy suction cup and holds just enough water for one or more stems.

    Just slip the vase out of its plastic silver ring to add water.

    Made in Germany.

Nice — get one for yourself and one for your sweetie.

Two vases for $14.85 here.

November 27, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: How the design of a BIC pen can save your life

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This is the most interesting thing I've learned this year, just in yesterday via the Washington Post.

Linda Hales, in her review of Paola Antonelli's new book, "Humble Masterpieces," in yesterday's Style section, mentioned it toward the very end of her piece.

After noting that the classic BIC Cristal pen (above) was among Antonelli's chosen objects Hales wrote, "The book solves the mystery of the holes in the clear plastic sleeve and cap. The latter is intended to make it easier to breathe if the cap gets caught in the throat."

Who knew?

Now, I always figured that the hole in the barrel had something to do with helping the ink flow, sort of like how a second opening in a can makes the contents pour more easily.

Wrote Hales, "The other [barrel hole] prevents a vacuum that would keep ink from flowing."

So–called ballpoint pen tracheostomies are occasionally referred to but I've yet to meet someone who's done (or been the object of) one.

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Here's a link to an interesting article about the use of a pocketknife and drinking straw for that purpose.

I can see how you could, if desperate, succeed in creating a hole in the trachea, through the cricothyroid membrane (below),

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large enough to support life using the point of a pen as a dilator to ram the rest through.

It wouldn't be pretty, though.

Speaking of which, the LifeStat emergency airway (below)

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I ordered and received last week, and now keep in my car's glove box, looks like it will do the trick very well: it's beautifully made.

We won't know, though, will we, until it gets its big moment?

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But I digress.

What I want to know is who decided to put the emergency ventilation hole in the BIC pen's cap, and when it appeared.

Any information on this subject will be most gratefully welcomed and acknowledged (if you like) here with a shout–out.

Paola Antonelli, in case you were wondering, is the design curator of New York's Museum of Modern Art.

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I love her motto, "Minimize the embarrassment" — even thought it's the opposite of mine.

November 27, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

E–Z Grip Zipper Pull

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It's that time of year for some of us: the gloves are on.

"Stop fumbling with tiny zippers!"

For purses, wallets, luggage, duffels, vests, jackets, you name it.

"Loop once for long–lasting use!"

Also makes it easy to identify which one's yours.

Sold.

$4.29 for a set of 12 polypropylene pulls in assorted colors here.

November 27, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The afterlife is 'prolonged general anesthesia' — Christopher Durang

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What an interesting interview Dinitia Smith conducted with playwright Christopher Durang (above), published in yesterday's New York Times.

Back in 1981, the young Durang's darkly satiric hit play, "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All To You," caused Archbishop John May of St. Louis to call it "a vile diatribe."

Durang attended a series of Catholic schools, including a high school run by Benedictine monks, and at one time even wanted to be a monk himself.

Below (first row center)

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the playwright at age 6 taking his First Communion in 1956 at Our Lady of Peace School in New Providence, New Jersey.

He told Smith, "... I believed everything my teachers and many in my family said."

Then he went to Harvard, where he became disillusioned with the Catholic Church's response to the Vietnam War and became depressed.

He also realized he was gay, which he said deepened his depression.

His work following those years reflected the darkness of his soul and spirit.

His point of view gradually evolved beginning in the late 1980s, mostly due to his meeting actor John Augustine.

Said Durang, "I was drawn to his sunny nature. It opened up positive feelings, possibilities, intuitions. I began to have intuitions that turned out to be right. I thought, 'What is intuition but nonlinear knowledge?' It seemed like a possible entrance into spirituality."

Durang moved with Augustine to Bucks County, Pennsylvania,, where he became attracted to New Age philosophy and Transcendentalism.

He told Smith, "I found my mind wandering to reincarnation. But then, what if you don't want to come back?"

His new play, "Miss Witherspoon," addresses just this dilemma.

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He added, "'Miss Witherspoon' is a fable, half–fantasy. I'm intrigued by three-quarters of it. But I don't entirely believe it."

I was quite intrigued by his remark to Smith about the afterlife being "prolonged general anesthesia."

During general anesthesia you might as well be dead, it's true: if you stayed under anesthesia you'd never become aware or conscious.

So if you think death is a state of deep anesthesia, well, maybe that makes it easier to deal with.

Except for the fact that you wake up from anesthesia.

November 27, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ionic Hair Dryer

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Not from the Sharper Image — but it could be.

I wouldn't be surprised if originally they were all set to bring it out until their Ionic Breeze Air Cleaner was exposed by Consumer Reports as a fraud.

Probably sold it to Brookstone for a penny on the dollar, but no matter: now you get a chance to bombard your hair with negatively charged ions for only $50, less than 20% of the price you'd pay for an Air Cleaner.

And even if the beneficial effects of negatively charged ions on your hair follicles are a bogus claim the hot air produced by the dryer will still leave you with a dry head.

"Dual ionic ports on left and right side of barrel produce negatively charged ions to counteract hair–damaging positive ions — so hair is full, healthy, and strong."

Convinced?

No matter.

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$50 here.

November 27, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Hawthorn Tree — by Louise Glück

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Side by side, not
hand in hand: I watch you
walking in the summer garden—things
that can't move
learn to see; I do not need
to chase you through
the garden; human beings leave
signs of feeling
everywhere, flowers
scattered on the dirt path, all
white and gold, some
lifted a little by
the evening wind; I do not need
to follow where you are now,
deep in the poisonous field, to know
the cause of your flight, human
passion or rage: for what else
would you let drop
all you have gathered?
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November 27, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iPod nano Carabiner Case

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Just out, in pink, blue, white or black leather.

A locking clip secures the nano in the case.

That's the good news.

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The bad news?

The pink one won't be shipped, according to a website selling it, until January 6, 2006.

But if you like, go ahead and order one: $18.95 here.

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It would appear you can buy the black one right now here for $24.99.

Whether they really have it, or whether they'll later on tell you it's not scheduled to ship until next year — that's for you to find out if you so choose.

Belkin (the manufacturer) lists all four colors at $24.99 on its website but adds, "This product is not yet available."

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Which is why I'm highly skeptical about the site selling the black one.

November 27, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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