Blog Update

I’m experimenting with my blog’s design this week, so you may see some weird behavior here for the next day or two. If so, just ignore it – it’s only me playing around.

What’s the Story Here?

It was interesting to watch the evolution of the Microsoft RSS patent story last week.

After reading about the patent applications on Dave Winer’s blog, I read through them and posted my thoughts (in a nutshell, I disagreed with the inventions claimed in the applications, but given all the patent lawsuits Microsoft has experienced, I understood why they filed them). By the time I uploaded my post, several bloggers were claiming that Microsoft was attempting to patent RSS, so I quickly updated my post to make it clear that the applications were much narrower in scope.

Over the next few days my FeedDemon search feeds brought in a ton of other blog posts and mainstream articles about the subject, many of which continued to claim that Microsoft was trying to patent RSS. By the time Microsoft’s Sean Lyndersay had posted his response, much of the geekosphere was already up in arms.

CNET’s article was the first mainstream piece I read about about the patents, and to her credit the author tried to decipher what the applications were about. Perhaps that’s one reason the article was so widely copied? It quoted both Dave Winer and myself, and the same (or very similar) quotes were used in many other pieces about the patents. I’m not one to complain about free publicity, and I’m flattered to be considered a trusted source, but it’s hard to believe that so many independently thinking writers decided to quote the same two people.

But there’s more to this story than how bloggers and journalists reacted to a couple of minor patent applications. There were 69 Microsoft patent applications published the same day as the two RSS-related ones, and a quick perusal of shows how frequently patents are sought by major tech companies. It seems to me that there are several stories here:

  1. Why do large companies feel the need to file applications for dubious inventions (cursor interaction and window repositioning, for example)? Do they expect to make a fortune from patent licensing? Are they seeking ways to sue their competitors out of business? Or are they merely protecting themselves from patent trolls?
  2. We’re all building upon prior art here, so why do so many software developers permit themselves to be listed in patent applications as inventors?
  3. How do companies who on principle refuse to file software-related patent applications defend themselves against patent lawsuits?
  4. How many of our beloved Web 2.0 companies will turn into (or sell their inventions to) patent trolls if they run out of cash before being acquired? It happened after the first dot-com bubble burst, and it will happen again.

I’d certainly read any article that seriously investigated those questions. How about you?

My 2006 Favorites

Yep, I’m joining the ranks of bloggers who write about their favorite pop culture releases of the past year. Sad, isn’t it?


This one’s easy: Stadium Arcadium is hands-down my favorite album of the year. I agree with Fred Wilson that this double album would’ve been better if it was pared down to a single CD, but figuring out which songs to remove would’ve been tricky because even the weakest tracks are enjoyable. I’ve witnessed many of my favorite bands disintegrate or turn into caricatures of themselves in the 15 years since I graduated from college. Not so with the Chili Peppers – this album shows them getting better with age.

Honorable mention: The Beatles Love. The mashups are hit-and-miss, but the CD is worth its weight in gold for the digitally remastered versions of “A Day in the Life,” “Revolution” and “I Am the Walrus” (three of my all-time favorite songs).


United 93 was the film that had the biggest impact on me this year. I initially avoided this movie because I mistakenly thought it was a cheap attempt to cash in on 9/11, but now I wish I would’ve seen it while it was still in theaters. United 93 is more respectful to history than any film I can remember, and it moved me much more than I expected it to.

Honorable mention: An Inconvenient Truth. I watched Al Gore’s presentation on global warming two weeks ago, and it was an eye-opener – especially since I stepped outside after viewing it and discovered it was 70°F (definitely not the norm here for the middle of December). That’s like hearing a banjo right after watching Deliverance.

And I’ll give a second honorable mention to Monster Road, a documentary released on DVD this year about the bizarre world of animator Bruce Bickford. If you like weird movies, this will be right up your alley.

Video Games

It’s rare that I have time for video games these days, and when I do play it’s usually something like Unreal Tournament. But this year my favorite game was a little different: Lego Star Wars II. My son saved up for this game over the summer, and the day he bought it we played it together for six hours straight. I doubt I’d enjoy playing Lego Star Wars II by myself, but playing it with a seven-year-old was an absolute blast.

Honorable mention: GameTap. Alright, so it’s not actually a video game – it’s a video game service. After signing up for GameTap, I downloaded a ton of classic games like Zaxxon and Joust. It was fun to wax nostalgic over the quarter-munchers I played in the arcade when I was a kid.


I read a lot of blogs, but Creating Passionate Users is one of the few that causes me to drop everything when it has a new post. I can’t say I’m always happy to read what Kathy Sierra has to say, though – all too often she points out mistakes in software design and usability that I’ve been guilty of :)

Honorable mention: The Dilbert Blog. I’m not a huge fan of Scott Adams’ comic strip (I’ve worked at a few Dilbertesque companies, so I find the strip too realistic for my tastes), but his blog has caused more coffee to be spilled (or spurted) onto my keyboard than anything else I’ve read this year.

Playing with Vox

Earlier this week I received an invitation to try Vox, Six Apart’s new “personal blogging service” (currently in beta). I haven’t delved into all the nooks and crannies, but so far I’ve been very impressed with it. I’ve heard some folks call it “MySpace for grownups,” but I think it goes beyond that and will appeal to all age groups (and besides, it’s a lot easier to use and explore than MySpace).

Here’s my Vox blog if you want to check it out, but you should stick with my Feedburner feed rather than subscribe to my Vox feed since I’m just kicking the tires. And I should add that there are some display problems when viewed in the Internet Explorer 7 beta, so use another browser to check out Vox if you’ve got IE7 installed.

I like how Vox ties into other services such as YouTube, Amazon, Flickr and (no surprise) TypePad. I also like how it enables building a “neighborhood” by connecting with other Vox users, especially since there’s a single page which shows new posts from friends and family. The ability to explore through feeds is also great, and they’ve certainly made it easy to edit existing content.

Of course, Vox isn’t perfect – for one thing, there’s not enough control over design to make it attractive to someone like myself. Now, I realize I’m not the target user, and I certainly understand why Six Apart doesn’t want the support headaches of something like the advanced template feature offered by TypePad. But right now I’m not sure how to brand my Vox blog with my personal style, and while the built-in themes are decent, they’re devoid of any real personality. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be willing to pay for more customization features, so most likely this is an area they’ll improve upon during the beta cycle.

One other thing I don’t like is how awkward it is to post pre-formatted HTML. I use TopStyle to write new blog posts, and I copy-and-paste the finished post into my blog’s composition page. Unlike TypePad, Vox doesn’t appear to allow posting HTML directly – so if you hand-code an image tag, for example, Vox will escape the angle brackets and show <img> instead of the image itself. As a workaround, I discovered that I can retain the HTML by previewing the post in TopStyle, and then copying-and-pasting directly from TopStyle’s preview into Vox’s composition page. Yeah, I know bloggers who hand-code their HTML are in the minority, and Vox is designed for non-technical users (as it should be), but it would still be nice if Vox made this easier.

All in all, though, Vox is an exciting effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow over the next few months. The best thing about it is that it’s easier to use than other blogging packages I’ve tried (an impressive feat given the extra social features it offers). I’d say Six Apart has another winner on their hands with Vox.


At the “Users in Charge” session at last week’s BloggerCon, Chris Pirillo defined the word “freedbacking” to mean “free feedback from software users to developers.” Later in his blog, Chris asked users (better known as “customers”) to use the word (or tag) “freedbacking” in any blog posts which give feedback to developers.

Chris, you know I respect you, but beyond self-promotion, what’s the goal here? If it’s to make developers listen, then I don’t get it. Any developer worth his salt is already subscribed to keyword search feeds about his or her software, and any developer who isn’t already listening isn’t likely to hear users just because they use the word “freedbacking.” So using the word “freedbacking” strikes me as superfluous.

What am I missing?

PS: Ironically enough, by using the word “freedbacking” here, I’ve made sure that Chris will hear this :)

BloggerCon IV Wrap-up (Thanks Dave and Niall)

BloggerCon IV concluded today, and the (un)conference exceeded my expectations. My thanks to Dave Winer for the time and effort he put into this event. I learned a lot and shared a lot at this BloggerCon – I leave knowing and feeling more than when I came.

I also want to thank Niall Kennedy for being an excellent tour guide and friend during my short visit to San Francisco. Niall showed me around the place, introduced me to people, and basically made my brief stay here a better one. Even if we end up competitors in this whole RSS thing-a-ma-jig, I think we can still bounce ideas off each other since we’re both motivated more by the possibilities than by the competition.

BloggerCon IV

Most of the time when I attend a conference, I benefit more from the schmoozing/partying than I do from the actual panels. Truth be told, I usually skip the majority of the sessions, hoping to save my energy for the after-hours socializing.

So the biggest compliment I can give to BloggerCon IV is that I spent the entire day sitting in a chair listening to (and participating in) the conference itself. I know that some people sneer at the unconference idea, but my experience has been that it works – involving the “audience” in the conversation results in a far more interesting and unpredictable event.

My favorite discussion today was “The Emotional Life of Weblogs” (MP3) moderated by the brilliant Lisa Williams. Listening to fellow bloggers talk about how blogging connected them with other people reminded me why I’m in this business – to build tools to help improve peoples’ lives rather than complicate them.

I also enjoyed the “Users in Charge” discussion moderated by Chris Pirillo, but I have to admit that I had to struggle not to blurt out my opinions as a developer (it’s a user conference, so the users do the speaking). Why did I want to speak up? Because many of the people talking were techies, which is a big part of the problem. Less technical users believe they don’t have the technical expertise to join the conversation, so developers end up tailoring their tools to meet the needs of power users since they’re the ones that speak up. We need to create an environment where non-geeks don’t feel intimidated, and power users need to help rather than hinder this goal.

What I’d like to see at a future BloggerCon (or Gnomedex) is an open, respectful discussion between users and developers. Even though public speaking terrifies me, I’d still be willing to moderate a session between users and developers if it would make the discussion less adversarial. So much of our society’s future depends on technology that we absolutely must open the communication lines between those building the tools and those using them.

Scoble Leaving Microsoft

Robert, good luck on your new (ad)venture. Your work at Microsoft has had a huge, positive impact on their image (and on blogging in general).

Now, once Robert moves on, what single source are we supposed to read when we want to find out about new stuff that Microsoft is doing, without all the marketing?