Flock The New AOL Client?

Not sure that I understand what is supposed to be so wonderful about flock. To me it seems to be taking users back to the days of the ‘walled garden’ days of the AOL application that lulled/forced users into using it for all of their email, browsing and content instead of just using a browser directly.

I also have a big problem with all of that personal data aggregation being tied to running the flock browser. Why not use one of the many (and growing) number of web-based tools to aggregate your ‘personal infocloud‘ so that it is available everywhere you are (including from mobile devices).

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Ubiquitous Data

The title is a play on Ubiquitous Computing except I don’t necessarily want devices interacting with each other, I want me to be able to interact with all of my data sources. Recently I realized that general purpose desktop apps are becoming more irrelevant for me because they do not have an online and/or mobile access point. By way of example, here are a few desktop apps that I have traded in over time for online counterparts:

NetNewsWire is a fine feed reader for the Mac, but I gave it up for Google Reader the instant that there was a viable version of Reader. I found that I spent too much time trying to reconcile the feeds that I had read online, on my phone and in NNW. Google Reader gives me one place to manage and access them all.

After the initial coolness factor of scanning barcodes via iSight in Delicious Library it soon became clear that Delicious was just another island of personal data that I couldn’t use in the way that I needed/wanted. I exported the book information from Delicious and imported it into the very fine (and then fledgling) LibraryThing and never looked back. LibraryThing liberated my book info and provides both online and mobile access to my data. I would love to find a ‘LibraryThing for music’ where I could upload/synch my iTunes music info and be able to browse and search it on the go.

StickyBrain (now SohoNotes) was a handy utility for capturing random bits of info from the web and other desktop apps. Same problem though — I found myself wanting to have access to the data on the go but there was no good option. Granted they did have a Palm conduit that you could export notes to which was great if you carried a Palm device. I have begun using Google Notebook more and more for this type of data collection because I can get to the notes when I need it. SohoNotes would be 1000% more useful to me, if it could synch with Google Notebook and thereby provide mobile/online access.

I almost bought OmniFocus when it was discounted during the beta. But again I found that it’s lack of an online capability was too much of a limitation for my purposes. RememberTheMilk has been a great GTD solution for me over the years. It is simple to use and does everything that I need it to do without being tied to desktop app.

The next step is to move beyond the apps and get straight to the heart of the matter — the underlying data. The ideal model is that the data is online and available via a common set of services in addition to a lightweight UI. Another bonus would be if the data is also stored in a format that allows it to be repurposed beyond its original use (XML?, RDF?). Consider the possibilities: Mashup your own data. Have a unified set of tags across all of your data.

Granted there will always be things that you want to do on a dedicated app (edit photos, video) but for ‘everyday tasks’ (schedule, todos, bookmarking, contacts, notes, presence, etc) it just makes sense to be able to take that with you. And ‘taking it with you’ could be as simple as desktop apps having the ability to export/sych information into your online personal data hub. Until the personal data hub becomes a reality, there is still a great deal of value in exporting to existing web applications.

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Google Reader vs WebCards

A quick note in case anyone else runs across this issue.

Symptom: Google Reader only partially renders the view page — the top menu and the spinning ‘loading’ indicator in the middle of the page. This happened to me for the first time when I received the Firefox update — though googling now it seems that people had this same problem back in March of 2007. Not sure if it was some change to webcards, Google Reader, the .8 update or a combination of these.

Diagnosis: After trying clearing the cache, cookie and restarting Firefox to no avail I went in and turned off all of the add-ons that I had loaded. Reader worked again. Next was the slow process of turning add-ons back on one by one until the offending unit was identified. webcards was the culprit. Note that it is only necessary to disable the webcards add-on, not to uninstall it for Reader to become responsive again.

Other microformat and semantic data mining extensions like Operator and Semantic Radar seem to continue to work just fine.

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JobVent is a place you can go to post anonymous rants about past employers (there appear to be few positive comments from what I have seen).

In some commentaries, the poster gets a little carried away and complains in such a great deal of specificity that it would be relatively easy for the company to identify the poster and possibly pursue legal action against them. The whole thing just looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen. In the meantime, I sure that posters feel at least a little relieved at the opportunity to blow off some steam.

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Fantastic Spoof Site: Sporkk

Sporkk is a fantastic ‘Web 2.0’ spoof site that brings together all the tired elements of these sites: reflected logos, smiling-faces stock photos, even a list of quotes from industry ‘pundits’. As an added bonus, click on the ‘glossy submit button’ and it proudly proclaims that it is doing some AJAXy stuff behind the scenes. Brilliant.

And if you become inspired by sporkk, you can use sites like my cool button or Web 2.0 Logo Generator, to cobble together your own ‘me too’ design.

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Project Joey

Project Joey is a concept that is being explored in the Mozilla labs. It acknowledges that there is just too much stuff in most web pages for a mobile device browser to deal with. So Joey allows you to select and essentially cut and paste data of interest to your mobile device. I think this is fantastic and represents sort of the missing link for tools like Google Notebook and Soho Notes. The value of the tool dramatically increases if the information that I have cribbed away is available both on the web and via my mobile.

Project Joey brings the Web content you need most to your mobile phone by allowing you to easily send it to your device. You can quickly mark content that is important to you and have that content always available while using your mobile phone.

The premise is this: you can use Firefox to send text clippings, pictures, videos, RSS content, and Live Bookmarks to your phone through the Joey Server. The Joey Server transcodes and keeps all of the content up-to-date. You can then use your phone’s browser or the Joey application on your phone to view and manage what you have uploaded.

You can even take an early cut of Joey out for a spin.

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Google Name Cred

This article on the WSJ Online about having a good google search value for your name gave me a chuckle. Since I de-cloaked about two years ago, I am (not surprisingly) the number one search result for my name. By de-cloak, I mean that previously I was very conscious about not leaving many personally identifiable signs on the internet over the previous 10+ years or so that I had been using it. Note that that includes, usenet, gopher, telnet, command line ftp and all of that pre-browser stuff. After many complaints from people trying to (legitimately) find me (or find out about me) I created the mobrec.com domain and linked in most all of my online stuff.

Back to the WSJ article — So unless there are a huge number of new Campoamor’s online (or those wishing to pretend that they are), I think that I am safe in having ‘a name that Googles well’, as will my daughter.

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Google Spreadsheet Trickery

There is a pretty slick feature in Google Spreadsheets that allows you to lookup and embed data into your spreadsheets using the GoogleLookup function call [from google Docs blog]:

One is GoogleLookup, which attempts to answer your questions by using information from the web. You can use it for all kinds of party tricks, like looking up the population of New York City [=GoogleLookup(“New York City”, “population”)] or when Google was founded [=googlelookup(“google”, “founded”)]. Try it to see what other things you can look up. I’ll warn you in advance, it’s a bit addicting. If you mouse over the cell, you’ll see links to the source pages where we found the data, so you can always check out the primary sources. And don’t forget you can copy/paste (ctrl-c / ctrl-v) the formula to other cells to easily have a bunch of GoogleLookups in a sheet. Don’t expect to change the world with this function, but have fun with it.

While GoogleLookup covers a little bit of everything, its sibling GoogleFinance focuses just on financial data from Google Finance. Using a similar syntax, you can look up the price of Google stock [=GoogleFinance(“GOOG”)] or the 52-week high of Apple [=GoogleFinance(“AAPL”, “HIGH52”)]. And since stock prices tend to change more often than, say, the capital of California does, we update them in your spreadsheet automatically. So if you leave your portfolio spreadsheet open, you should see numbers get updated as you would on Google Finance itself. Of course, we also have the same 20-minute delay on financial data.

This is certainly above and beyond any feature or integration that you get with the expensive, commercial spreadsheet application available from your nearest monopoly.

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Shrink That URL

As a long time user of tinyurl — a web-based tool that lets you smash down those long, ugly, line-wrapping URLs that some sites generate into something much smaller and more manageable, I was curious when I saw a new offering called dwarfURL.

It looks like dwarfURL is the same idea, but adds the ability to track the number of times that the dwarfed link has been clicked on. If you are into stats on your shared links, this might be of interest.

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I just recently stumbled across slidshare, a site for sharing presentations. Supports both powerpoint and open office formats. Also allows you to rate (and of course tag) presentations as well.

It would be nice for this to catch on and become a single place to go for slide decks from conferences and workshops.

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Zooomr, jUploader and Aperture

I just discovered a nifty little trick for uploading pictures to Zooomr if you are using Aperture (or iPhoto). You can drag and drop photos directly from Aperture onto jUploader and click the upload button. jUploader will then upload the full size image from Aperture. Maybe this is obvious to others, but I was pleased to find that I didn’t have to export to jpeg from Aperture first to use jUploader.

One side effect of this for me, is that I will be uploading a lot more of my stuff to Zooomr as it has just become so much easier.

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Exhibit Data Publishing Framework

The fine minds at SIMILE at MIT have come up with a ‘lightweight structured data publishing framework’ called Exhibit that is in the same vein as their awesome timeline widget.

It’s like Google Maps and Timeline, but for structured data normally published through database-backed web sites. Exhibit essentially removes the need for a database or a server side web application. Its Javascript-based engine makes it easy for everyone who has a little bit of knowledge of HTML and small data sets to share them with the world and let people easily interact with them.

Check out the examples, including US Presidents and Breakfast Cereal Character Guide.

They also provide a complementary tool called Babel to convert from various formats to the Exhibit JSON format.

And, as they say: “Remember: there is no database, no web application behind these examples.”

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