Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Catching Up With Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is a big buzzword these days and Wired has just began a review of the best and worst sites of Web 2.0. I thought this could be a good chance to visit some of these sites and see what I was missing. Here are my first impressions.

Wired list is split into Champs and Stinkers.. let's start with Champs.
  • Flickr - photo sharing site... I am not much into photos, so I'll give it a pass for now.
  • - clever name, though it did take surprisingly long time to load. The idea of web-based bookmarks is not new, but still useful. In fact, this is how my site started many years ago, though I've never come up with an efficient filtering /moderation system, so it kind of got overrun by people trying to promote their own sites.
  • - also working slow... unless it's my ISP acting up :) Kind of cool how they are using mouse wheel to zoom the map, but hard to keep track of where you are. I was trying to see what's happening in my state of Missouri, but it kept scrolling off the screen.
  • Digg - I've been hearing about this site so much, I cringe every time I hear the phrase "digg it". Tried adding their feed to my personalized Google home page, but wasn't too crazy about the warning I got: "Inline modules can alter other parts of the page, and could give its author access to information including your Google cookies and preference settings for other modules." Looks like an interesting blog site though, maybe I'll use it some more.. that is if I decide I can trust it with my cookies.
  • YouTube - looks nifty, seems along the same lines as Google Video service. I hope they are keeping an eye on the copyright checks, so they don't go the way of original (RIP)
  • Yelp - reviews of local businesses, always a good idea. I still feel that Web is not localized enough, so any site that provides local info is welcome. It also automatically recognized which city I live in, nifty!
  • Blinklist - another bookmarking service, exactly how many does one need?
  • Bloglines - allows to build a custom page with Blog feeds. That's what I am already doing with Google, no niche to fill there.
  • Basecamp - project collaboration service. Looks pretty intriguing, could be useful both at work and in business.
  • Writely - a web-based word processor. A neat idea if you want to save money and don't mind your private documents being stored online.
  • Dimewise - financial management site.. yawn. I don't manage money - if I need more, I find a way to earn more :)
  • Kayak - airfare and hotel reseravations. Mkay.
  • Spurl - what, one more bookmarking service? Sheesh.
  • LibraryThing - allows to catalog books, interesting idea. Reminded me of my younger geeky years of cataloging my reel-to-reel tapes and collecting stamps.
And now, the Stinkers (I didn't say that, Wired did).
  • MySpace - weird, how did it get on stinker list? Isn't it supposed to be the biggest thing since sliced cheese? Not that I am using it, but you gotta respect their subscription numbers.
  • Friendster - oh yeah, the Myspace before Myspace. As one person said - "if you need an online service to make new friends, perhaps you should get out more".
  • Goovy - I am allergic to sites that require Flash. I can live with a site that has a Flash intro and allows me to skip it, but if it's a requirement, I will go elsewhere.
  • LinkedIn - "making connections"... "recommended by Forbes"... uh-huh.
  • - I hope we're not gonna see an epidemic of sites that play on words that end with "us", it would be like telling the same joke over and over.
  • - seems like an novel concept - getting to know people before reading their profiles. This is kind of how real life relationships used to work.
  • Classmates - would be more useful to me if included the country I went to school in :)
So, what have I learned from giving these a glance?
  1. It's somewhat strange how these sites were picked, perhaps people were given a pre-defined list to vote on. Otherwise, I don't see how giants like Wikipedia didn't make the cut.
  2. Looks like the nerds are still in minority - most of these sites are not tech-oriented. In fact, I've been seen posts at Slashdot, where some old-time geeks say that they are falling behind the curve, as far as new developments on the Web go. So, I am not alone.
  3. Alexa "Movers and Shakers" could be another good way to see what's hot and what's lukewarm.
  4. Keeping up with entire Web is impossible. The only thing I can do is use the sites I've grown to love, while remaining open-minded about a possibility of the Next Big Thing.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Is Wireless For Real?

Sometimes I get a feeling similar to how the main character in The Truman Show felt - that the world is an elaborate show and a lot of what's happening is staged. One example of this is the wireless technology. I am not sure if it's for real or its' users are just pretending that it works.

For years I've heard about the glory and promise of wireless networks. Now and then I would succumb to temptation and give it another shot - always with decisive lack of success. I'll let you be the judge.

Many years ago, our local computer store was selling a product that would allow home networking over phone lines. I thought the idea was neat, since running network cables from room to room is never fun. So, I bought it, plugged in the transmitter in the basement and receiver in my own room upstairs. Then I connected my laptop and waited for the wonders of wireless networking to dazzle me. The signal was barely registering. I tried moving PC from place to place, bringing it closer to the transmitter. Eventually, I got a strong usable signal... when my computer was right next to the transmitter. That didn't seem overly useful, so I've returned the package to the store.

Some time passed and I've read the announcement that our Downtown is now a wireless-enabled zone! The idea of playing online games while getting fresh air seemed enticing, so I've bought a wireless network card and went to investigate. Me and my buddy drove around downtown with the laptop on, looking for the stable connection. A few times a network would register, but never actually strong enough to surf the Web. Eventually, the laptop battery died and the experiment ended.

Fast forward a year ahead. I've curbed my expectations and thought that perhaps there's some limited use for wireless connectivity after all. I bought a wireless router, hoping that I will be able to relax in the backyard, while being online. As I turned on my notebook, standing next to the router, the signal was strong and steady. I began walking away from it, watching the quality of connection like a hawk. It began to decline. As I exited the house, the strength dropped to 0% and my ThinkPad told me: "As far as I am considered, I am offline".

Time went by and our local TGI Fridays proudly advertised that they offer free Wi-Fi access. My brother is a sports addict, so the idea of keeping up with hockey scores while enjoying potato skins was appealing to him. We've packed the laptop and went to the restaurant. Waiter gave us the login and password info. We sat down and booted up the comp. A login screen appeared. We've exchanged hopeful glances. We entered the login info and clicked Submit. The browser paused, sat at 'opening connection' for a while and timed out. Additional attempts did not help. Our waiter turned out to be somewhat computer-illiterate person and couldn't assist. So, another try, another miss.

All is not lost though. A couple of weeks ago, our apartment complex was out of power and as I surfed the ABC news site on my cell phone, I realized that wireless is indeed useful - at least as long as you have no electricity.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Me and Windows

I used to be an anti-Windows crusader. Back, when I came to States in 1990, I soon became
aware of how saturated with Windows are the computer magazines. In fact, one of the first
magazine covers I remember seeing was from Byte magazine, titled: "Windows 3.0 is here - who needs OS/2?".
Back then, I didn't yet know what OS/2 was, but there sure seemed to be a lot of buzz about Windows.

After few months without computer access, my parents bought a computer and I've met Windows first hand. I was not impressed. Sure, the icons were pretty and menus were nifty, but it was slow and it liked to tell me something about Unrecoverable Application Error.

I would spent most of the time at DOS prompt, trying to address the DOS limitations with TSRs (which Windows really didn't care for). Eventually, I've discovered DESQview, which was a great multitasker, despite the stability problems. I was trying to steer clear of Windows and was satisfying my GUI craving by playing around with GEOWORKS Ensemble.

Around that time, I've read about the history of OS/2 and Windows development and felt really strongly that OS/2 was the way to go. The story was quite dramatic, with Microsoft as a bad guy (abandoning OS/2 development in search of quick buck) and IBM as good guy (staying the course and keeping the promises).

Around 1994, I've got my hands on the open beta for OS/2 Warp and tried to install it on my home PC. It didn't work, citing a cryptic "keyboard controller" error. However, this did not curb by enthusiasm about OS/2 and soon I was able to get one for my work PC. The computer liked it and roared with power.
Performance was a tad slow, but DOS multitasking was quite good. Eventually I've stripped out all the graphical doodads and just used OS/2 as a robust DOS multitasker.

For a year, I was a dedicated OS/2 user, doing what I could to promote this wonder system in the newsgroups, to my friends, coworkers, even fighting with software salesmen about their lack of OS/2 applications.

My course and coast were clear, until a devilish temptation appeared on the horizon. The temptation was called Windows 95. As I was buying a new computer for work, I've asked the shop to install both OS/2 Warp Connect and Windows 95 on it. I was pretty sure I'd just stick with OS/2, but I was curious to see what Microsoft had up it's sleave.

As you may guess, I was hooked instantly. The interface was well laid out, the icons looked great, the programs were easily accessible, my DOS tools ran like a charm and I could really find nothing wrong with this OS. Sure, it may have skipped audio when multitasking.. and yeah, there was a DOS prompt hidden behind it's shutdown screen (mode con: co80 anyone)?, but what it did, it did perfectly.

That was the day I kind of found myself in pro-Microsoft camp. While one can argue about the stability, speed or innavation of their products, they've got at least one thing right - the User Interface.
Their programs are pleasant to look at and easy to use, this is hard to argue about.

One thing I noticed once I began using Windows - it's easier to be pro- then anti-.
I no longer need to convince people to use a certain system or tool, I just use whatever works.
Be it from Microsoft, Symantec or open source community, I am not prejudiced.

Thus, I've made peace with Microsoft and enjoyed a lot of fun and productive time with Windows.

Links of Interest

In this section I will post some interesting/useful links I encounter, as I travel around the Web.
  • Computer Gaming World downloads - Backissues of this magazine are now officially available for download in PDF format.
  • Multiple Pagerank Checker - check Google pageranks for up to 100 domains at a time.
  • AOL Keyword Tool - This tool allows you to see which keyword people use to find any given site. Keeping in mind that AOL search results are currently provided by Google, this could be useful indeed.
  • Digital Point Forum Spy - DP forum is an excellent place for webmaster discussion. The Spy tool is a unique way to use the forum - the new messages smoothly scroll into the page you are viewing, without apparent reloading of the site.
  • Unusual Yahoo Submission - Some guy at Digital Point forums is offering a $60 Yahoo Directory submit. Nobody knows how he does it and whether it's legit, but apparently he's indeed getting sites listed.
  • Microsoft ContentAds - MSN is beta testing a context-sensitive ad system, potential competitor to AdSense and YPN.
  • Google TV advertising - Software will listen to TV playing in the background, analyze it and display relevant ads on the website.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Four Generations of the Web

The other day I was reading the article about Web 2.0 and it reminded me that I had some thoughts on the subject as well. In my view, since I've gone online in the 90s, four generations of the Web have existed.

  1. Geeks. In the beginning, the were few web pages, and indexing them was easy. The web spam did not exist and nobody created pages, unless they had something to say.
  2. Businessmen. As Web grew, the prospect of making money online became real and the online business boomed. On the positive side, many companies established Web presence and online shopping took off. On the other hand, the amount of spam was growing, search engines did what they could to curb it, but there was simply too many sites to sift through. Human -edited directories had hard time catching up, while software filtering was not yet advanced enough to clean things up.
  3. Robots. Google has single-handedly started a new generation - proving that with enough smart people and advanced algorithms, it is possible to produce quality results, regardless of how big the Web became.
  4. People. The new era is being ushered by the sites like Open Directory and even more so, the Wiki project. While admitting that robots can do a great job, we are seeing that a new way of human-edited Web is possible. Allowing everyone to edit pages, like Wikipedia does may seem insane, yet it definitely works! For me, Wikipedia, has become the "standard repository of all knowledge", akin to the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And the interesting thing is, the ability to edit pages was right there, in the original design of Tim Berners-Lee, the Father of the Web!
So, in a way we've come the full circle. Once again, it's Power to the People. Yet, the Web has grown and people have learned, so things are looking better than ever!

Spammers are Getting More Creative

There is a neverending battle of spammers vs. admins/filters. As filtering software gets more advanced and administrators gain experience, so do the spammers become more wily.

One of the relatively recent developments is the emergence of Spam Poetry - using fragments of books or randomly generated phrases to make each spam message unique.

Another thing that's becoming more prevalent is forum spamming - finding forums that allow anonymous posting and filling it up with self-promotional stuff. This would not deserve a separate mention, if spammers didn't get creative here as well. Today, I was tracking posts by a person who spammed one of my own forums and found out that he has left traces all over the Web. What makes it interesting, is he appears to be using some sort of generator to make his messages appear meaningful and even relevant to the subject of the site.

For example, in one of the fantasy forums, he has posted a bunch of messages that appear to be links to books or stories. Here are some of the subjects he used:
A stableboy raised by desert nomads plays a prank on a foolish wizard.
In this story, gypsies and dragons clash with a heroic sorceress stuck in the middle.
This tale of intrigue begins when a young peasant marries a proud queen.

These can actually pass for a real thing, but if you keep reading, you will notice that the generator is beginning to repeat itself:
In this story, dwarves and mice clash with a cowardly mermaid stuck in the middle.

And so, the battle rages on. Spammers are being sued and banned, but they do not surrender. The lure of easy money is too enticing, and the saga of foolish wizard continues.


Welcome to Webbed Up!

I am sure you are curious about the name of this blog. It comes from the sketch by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, called "How to keep your parents off the Internet". The full quote sounds something like this: "I wanna be surfing the email and be webbed up to netpages and such!".

And here's what Urban Dictionary has to say on the subject:
All Webbed Up
Every aspect of your life is associated with the internet (ie. talking to friends via the internet, messenger, my space, personals) Also can be used to describe a person addicted to the internet

I've been online since 1990 and making web pages since 1996 or so. You can see the full list of my sites here. I am currently trying to catch up with new technologies, like, say, blogging. Not yet sure what the buzz is all about, I am pretty sure I've been blogging long before the term was even coined - for example, check my infamous Life of Programmer page.

Anyway, I guess the best way to figure out any new technology is to dive right in, so here comes Webbed Up!