Why RSS isn’t Push

Dan Gillmor writes about the rise of RSS web syndication. What’s happening is related to the boom vision of “internet push” technology, yet very different.
Microsoft, Netscape, and the late unlamented PointCast envisioned a world where Net feeds from corporate content providers would be streamed to the desktops of users, surrounded by ads. Media companies would pay huge premiums to snag plum real estate on the “webtop.” The cable television business model would take over.
RSS newsreaders put the choice of content in the hands of the end-user. RSS feeds come from big companies and local friends. Search engines find related content, aggregating the bottom-up choices of readers and writers.
Gillmor writes about current and emerging uses for RSS, beyond subscribing to weblogs and newspapers. Chris Pirillo sees RSS evolving as a replacement for e-mail publishing and marketing. Dave Sifry envisions RSS applications that “aggregate information from traffic cameras, published to the Web, to be able to more effectively calculate and predict traffic flow during rush hour? How about entirely new industrial applications made possible because the sensors are all describing information in the same format?” Dan Gillmor anticipates more control over the selection and display of content “more nuance, such as the ability to highlight by topic, by writer, by popularity and other measures.
It will be interesting to see where RSS goes from here, but on thing’s for sure. It doesn’t look much like cable television.

Who knows who?

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) covers contact mining tools, from companies including Visible Path, Spoke Software, and Zero Degrees.

The goal is to identify people within the company who have potentially useful contacts elsewhere and could make a personal introduction, say, linking a salesperson with a potential customer, an attorney with a prospective client or a fund-raiser with likely donors.

Success depends on effective use of permission and integration into the existing social network. For example, when a salesperson using Visible Path asks the system for an introduction to a person at Microsoft, she doesn’t find the name of the contact inside the company, or the contact at Microsoft, until after the person who has the contact has given consent.
These tools complement explicit networking tools, like Linked In, Friendster and Ryze, where participants explicitly declare their business and personal relationships.
These approaches represent two ends of a continuum
* contact mining tools infer relationships from email and address book contacts
* social network tools explicitly represent relationships
A third complementary approach is emerging, based on hyperlinked public and semipublic media such as wikis and weblogs. Tools like Technorati and Feedster implicitly identify relationships by following the trail of hyperlinks.
On the one hand, a link relationship is weaker — hyperlinks are one-way, and may indicate a tangential association rather than a direct relationship. On the other hand, the content is public. So you can read the discussion over time, and decide for yourself whether Sam Ruby knows Mark Pilgrim.

Your life as a soundtrack

Ed Vielmetti suggests a music player that plays music based on your location.

…a mobile music device like an iPod that has GPS location on it, so that it knows where you are and selects or offers up things to listen to based on where you are or what’s coming up. Some of it is totally ideosyncratic, like playing tunes from bands you saw at concert venues when you go past or near the venue. Some of it is obvious, like playing Mystery Spot Polka when you’re on US-2 heading west out of St Ignace, or Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on M-123 north of M-28 near Whitefish Bay.

Prentiss Riddle builds on the idea and suggests a collaborative soundrack…

If you combined it with GeoURLs (and some method of doing wireless downloads of music to an iPod, a bit of a stretch given 2003 infrastructure and copyright law) you could construct a collaborative musical geography….
A “songlines” system would require a GeoURL engine with hooks to CDDB or an equivalent music database, preferably with a bit more annotation capability than GeoURLs offer; a way to plan a route and query the GeoURL engine to produce a playlist; preferably some capability in the playlist generator to filter CDDB info for genre (no death metal, thanks) and song density (the songs associated with Graceland or Times Square or Austin’s Sixth Street would run into the thousands, while some highways would be lucky to have one song per 50 miles). The hard part would be a discovery agent to trawl various file-sharing systems for the MP3s.

Wow. All kinds of opportunities for collaborative performance art.
This would be cool for reunions… “they’re playing our song.” Or creating a mix tape for a friend programmed for a favorite walk. All you need are lighting effects cued to emotional dynamics and life becomes a movie.

RSS and Web Addiction

Bill Gross writes:

Here’s what’s really true and important about RSS: It increases the rate at which information flows by and it decreases the number of times you read a web page twice.
RSS makes the web more addictive; it helps make sure we only get new-to-us information, and that we get that information when it’s fresh….
I’m just not sure that the side effect, of accelerating the rate at which we turn into into information junkies, is necessarily a good thing.


I’m trying to get the network-surfing thing, I really am. I still think weblogs are a much richer way to get to know people than profile forms.
Instead of shoehorning people’s taste into a few favorites, a blog lets you check out what people are reading and watching and listening to.
Blog posts are conversational. They invite response, and it’s easy enough to join the conversation in comments.
Writing a blog post is easy. You have something to say; and people in mind to say it to, and write.
Writing a profile entry is really, really hard. Abstracting the essence of one’s identity into a paragraph or two is a miserable, impossible task.
And it feels barely relevant; one’s identity is made up of a series of interactions, moments, perceptions, actions. A blog captures the flow of identity. A profile forces you to pin it like a butterfly to a page.

Why Girls are Weird

I heard Pamela Ribon read from Why Girls are Weird” at Book People the other week. Ribon read one piece on the twisted things little girls do with Barbie dolls; another on the indignity of eavesdropping on an ex-boyfriend with his new sweetie from behind an end-cap display in a supermarket.
The reading was lively, off-color and very funny (she kept apologizing for reading the R-rated bits standing next to the kids section of the bookstore). Ribon is a sketch comedy performer and it shows; the sketches catch and exaggerate the dramas of life shaped by pop-culture. It was infinitely better than the usual, pause, breathy, pause, dramatic, pause, intonated, pause, style that infects book readings.
As Prentiss points out, “Why Girls are Weird” may be the first epistolary novel based on the web journal form. The novel is based on a journal Ribon kept when she was living in Austin and working as paratechnical slacker during the dot-com boom.
The journal entries are fictionalized versions of the main character’s life. For example, she writes as if she were still dating her ex-boyfriend. The plot is driven by the understandings and misunderstandings that occur when she meets people in real life who know her through her web journal. The book’s emotional core is the weird mixture of honesty, selective disclosure, and fiction that makes up first person web writing.
The good things about the book are its comic sketches and the exploration of the dramatic possibilities in writing a web journal. As a straight-up novel, it’s off-the-shelf romantic comedy. The protagonist starts self-involved and doesn’t get much wiser; the romantic interest and gay best buddy are painted by the numbers.
Ribon left Austin to seek fame and fortune in Los Angeles, writing for TV and movies. She enjoys writing the journal and the novel because nobody asks her to make endings happier and characters more blonde, unlike producers in LA. After the reading, I bought the book, hoping that book-readers can keep her fed and free from obligatory blondness.