This past weekend I went on a hiking trip in the White Mountains. We did the Tripyramid Slides Loop, which according to the AMC White Mountain Guide is “one of the most challenging and scenic trips in the Whites.” The most challenging part was the “North Slide” on which we climbed 1,200 ft. in 0.5 mi. I basically felt like I was rock climbing as I used my hands quite a bit. After about halfway, the views were spectacular. It didn’t hurt that the foliage was in peak condition. (See the entire gallery here)
I really enjoy taking pictures. I also enjoy sharing my photography. I’ve been busy the last few weeks and my internet access has been somewhat tenuous, but I have finally posted photos from the trip that ACP and I took to Tahoe in August. I like the interface of Google’s photo sharing application Picasa. The integration with Google maps appeals to my compulsion to tag and categorize. When I have more time, I want to post about tagging information on the web and why I think its important. But, after reading a couple scary articles yesterday, I am feeling more reluctant to share anything on the web, let alone tag and categorize what I share.
Scoble sent out a link on his twitter feed to an article by Judi Sohn who was criticizing one of his posts. Reading these articles made me aware of a controversial situation involving a company named Rapleaf (the company posted a somewhat apologetic letter about the situation). As I read more, I felt somewhat sick to the stomach (the situation is even more awkward for me because I know at least one person who works for Rapleaf from undergrad). I started to feel my excitement about the possibilities for using social networking applications to understand human behavior and for other scientific endeavors fade away. I have been meaning to read and write more about the way that social media improves our ability to utilize the vast amounts of data that exist on the web. But now, companies like Rapleaf are already acting on this and abusing the opportunities presented to us by social media. I guess it was inevitable, and I’m sure companies like Google, Yahoo, etc. have been storing up information about individuals on the web for a long time now. Its just disconcerting when you receive an email stating that you have been searched and find out that some random website is displaying all sorts of information about you. Its true that this information is freely available on the web, but it seems wrong to me for a company to compile and display information about a person if that person has not requested or even agreed for that to be done. For example, I want people to read my blog, thats why I write it. But I don’t want what I write in my blog to be scraped and displayed elsewhere. Nor do I want the content of my blog to be analyzed so that I can be categorized by marketing firms. I’m not an expert on this subject, so I’m hesitant to throw around the following terms. But, this seems like a critical moment in the transition from a “social web” to a “semantic web”.
I just spent some time using Browzmi this morning. I learned about it randomly last night from an ad in facebook. Its not often that an advertisement points me to something cool. If you haven’t heard about it, it is sort of a browser within your browser. Which in itself is not all that amazing. But, they are starting to add some interesting features. You can tag, like, dislike, and comment about sites. You can also establish a network of friends and chat with them within Browzmi. So, it seems to be aspiring to be a replacement for Digg, del.icio.us, facebook, googletalk, etc. all rolled into one site. The user interface is pretty good. My most immediate wishes were for the ability to have more than one website open at once (something like tabbed browsing) and the ability to move the chat windows around or at least minimize them. Travis Parsons from the Browzmi team chatted with me which was cool. But the chat itself was obscuring my ability to scroll in the website that I was viewing! I might just be used to google talk, but it would be cool if browzmi chats could be saved. I think integration with other web services like del.icio.us would encourage people to start using browzmi. At least the ability to import/export tags. I’m looking forward to seeing how this thing scales up. Currently accounts are by invitation only. Let me know if you want an invitation.
Starting tomorrow, YouTube will include advertising within videos. My initial reaction to this news was one of much dismay. I generally find advertising to be intolerable. I rarely watch tv largely because I hate to sit through commercials. Most tv shows would barely be worth sitting through without the commercials. Similarly, I generally get annoyed watching music videos on sites like Rhapsody because they show the same annoying commercials before every video. This is especially frustrating because I pay to use Rhapsody to listen to music.
However, as I read more about YouTube’s new plan my dismay was slightly reduced. The ads will not be short videos that play before the video that the user chooses to watch. They will be banner type ads that show up during the video. They will last for 15 seconds and only take up 20% of the video player. If YouTube feels like it must include advertisements within videos, I think this is so much better than “pre-roll” ads. It still kind of sucks though.
[By the way, I discovered this news through a tweet made by Jeremiah Owyang.]
My attitude about reading feeds tends to cycle. Occasionally, I go on a rampage and subscribe to a ton of feeds in Google Reader. Then for the next few days or weeks, I spend a lot of time trying to keep up with all of the feeds that I have subscribed to. Finally, I eventually start to feel overwhelmed and I stop following the feeds that I am subscribed to all together. This time around I have decided that I want to find some way to avoid through this cycle again. The realization that I came to today is that I subscribe to feeds for at least three reasons. Some feeds I subscribe to because I happen to read an article on a blog or website that was probably linked to from another blog and I feel like I would like to read an occasional article in the future. Other feeds I subscribe to to keep up with news that is important to me. These feeds include those from major news sites like the New York Times or my friends’ blogs. The third category of feed that I subscribe to are those from research journals and conferences that are related to my work (e.g. Nature, Science, Cell… biology related resources seem to be more organized online than those relating to machine learning/computer science ironically). These are, in some ways, the most important feeds to keep up with because maintaining an awareness of what researchers are working on in certain scientific fields is crucial to my work.
So, given this realization, I have just gone through all my feed subscriptions and given each of them one of three labels. One label is for feeds that I want to read occasionally when I have a few moments to spare. Placing feeds in this category will significantly reduce the stressfulness of keeping up with my feed subscriptions because I am effectively stating that I don’t care if I miss most of the articles that get posted to these feeds. The second label is for feeds that I want to try to keep up with so that I can stay current with news about my friends and the world. If I miss a post here and there it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I want to try not to miss too many. The third label is for feeds relating to my work that I want to really try to at least read the title of every post.
We will see how this scheme goes. How do you manage your feed subscriptions?
I’m sitting on a plane right now. So, unfortunately I’m not able to type this post directly into my wordpress blog. This fact brings to mind a couple thoughts. One thought, which I have every time I fly, is that flying would be so much more enjoyable if I had internet access. I’ve thought for a while that this technology must not be too far off. I’ve been flying JetBlue a lot for the past year and if everyone on the plane can have their own satellite TV, giving everyone internet access must be pretty doable (although certainly there would be a few extra details to take care of). And… lo and behold, I just read and Engadget post about Lufthansa’s plans to provide in-flight broadband by 2008.
At this point, you might have a couple questions for me. What was your second thought? And, wait a minute, how did you just read an Engadget post while on a plane? I’m glad you asked! Just before taking this trip I noticed that Google Reader added an ‘offline’ feature. Given that I had just gotten back into reading blogs and a six hour plane flight is a great time to slog through some feeds, today was a perfect opportunity to try this new feature out.
I’m pretty fascinated by the idea of taking web applications offline and I’m happy to see Google experimenting with this idea. I’m not sure exactly when Google released this feature. It must have been fairly recently because I just watched a video in which Robert Scoble complained about the fact that he wasn’t able to use Google Reader offline. I wonder if the timing of Google Reader’s offline feature was purely a coincidence, or if Scoble’s remark had something to do with it. Scoble is definitely a Google Reader power user.
I’m looking forward to being able to use more and more web applications while in the air, however that becomes possible.