Web 2.0

Valuing Openness

An interesting insight from, of all places, a clip of CSI, where they’re looking at someone’s Twitter feed:

Greg: “Some people just don’t value privacy.”

Archie: “They don’t expect privacy. They value openness.”

I came across the clip purely by accident – it was in the ‘what’s related’ box on Youtube for a clip of psd asking Evan Williams a question at LeWeb.

And on a completely unrelated note, finding Evan’s site for the link above (via his Twitter profile, naturally), I see his comment on Twitter’s elusive business model:

I agree with Fred on this issue. It’s not that we don’t care about the business model or aren’t thinking about it, but, as Fred says: “But every ounce of time, energy, money, and brainpower you spend on thinking about how to monetize will take you away from the goal of getting to scale. Because if you don’t get to scale, you don’t have a business anyway.”

Which kind of ties in nicely with this tweet from JP.

Oh, and looking for that tweet, it appears Twitter now don’t SMS you @replies from people you follow to people you don’t. Maybe it’s worked like that for ages, but I hadn’t noticed before. Which relates slightly to my previous post, and also brings us neatly back to Paul’s question, which is where we came in.

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Web 2.0

Modes of Conversation

Tower of BabelThis post has been languishing in my drafts for a while, but JP’s musings on ‘asymmetric tweeting’ reminded me to get it finished.

Before the Internet came along, there was a fairly clear boundary between publishing and conversation. You could reply to a newspaper article via the letters page if you felt strongly enough, but the publisher decided whether to print your comments, and the relationship was still heavily one-sided. Conversations, in turn, could be largely divided into synchronous (face-to-face, telephone etc) and asynchronous (letters, fax and so on).

The more traditional internet communication tools follow a similar pattern: publish a web site; converse synchronously (instant messaging) or asynchronously (e-mail). A new addition was the many-to-many conversation – again either synchronous (IRC) or asynchronous (newsgroups; mailing lists).

With the advent of what I’ll call ‘Web 2.0’ for want of a better term, things start getting a whole lot stranger.

Let’s start with blogs. At first glance a blog is just published content, but what sets it apart is comments and links. Anyone can reply to a blog post, either by commenting on the post itself, or by writing a response on their own blog, and using trackbacks. If it’s a popular blog, you often end up with conversations between commenters which don’t even involve the original poster. With trackbacks, it’s not always obvious to people reading an article that it’s a response to another, so you can end up with several conversations on the same post: one in the comments, and the others in ‘the blogosphere’, held together loosely by hyperlinks. People will read later contributions without necessarily even realising that they’re part of a conversation of sorts. There’s no guarantee that the original poster will even read everything that links back to his post, and reading links to links is even less likely. Similarly many people comment on a blog and never get round to going back to look for replies to their comment (bloggers: please provide RSS feeds for comments on individual posts!)

Then we have the weird and wonderful world of ‘social networks’. Facebook, for example, provides several ways to converse with your friends. There’s personal messaging, which is basically a walled-garden, non-standard e-mail service and not especially interesting. You can write on people’s walls (not to mention superwalls, funwalls and who-knows-what-else-walls), and have ‘wall-to-wall’ conversations. Even ignoring the fact that they’re hidden from the Web at large, these are only semi-public, in that only people who are friends with both of you can see the whole conversation – non-mutual friends can only see one half. Or people can have more ephemeral conversations just using their statuses, which can look very odd to those who are only privy to part of the conversation, or who come in late when the statuses no longer make sense together.

Twitter, for such a simple service, also leads to a surprising variety of conversations. There’s the original simple broadcast “what are you doing?”, and direct private messages (again, not much different from e-mail or SMS), but things get interesting when people use the @username syntax to reply to other messages. As observed by Phil and discussed by JP, this can get confusing (and annoying) when you aren’t following the person being replied to (although watching who your friends reply to can be a good way of finding new people to follow). On the other side of the coin, if you reply to a tweet from someone who doesn’t follow you, they won’t even see your reply, unless they happen to look in the replies tab on the Twitter website (or subscribe to their replies using RSS).

And as if that weren’t complicated enough, what happens when all these tools meet up? Lots of people automatically post their tweets to their Facebook status, or create Facebook links to their blog posts, or aggregate just about everything to Jaiku, and inevitably some people will reply to the link or the second-hand message rather than going back to the source.

So can we cope with all these semi-visible, partly-asymmetrical, multi-homed conversations? We seem to be managing so far, and at least we have the choice. I was reading something recently that I wrote in my student days (when mobiles were for yuppies, and student houses didn’t generally have phones, let alone internet access). A bunch of us from various places were going camping in Wales for the weekend, and apparently there was confusion because someone had sent a letter saying they didn’t know where the campsite was, but it hadn’t arrived in time to send a reply. Life was simpler then, but sometimes the simplicity made things more complicated.

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web Web 2.0

[BarcampLondon3] JQuery in 30 minutes (Simon Willison)

I didn’t take any notes, but JQuery looks pretty cool. Maybe even cooler than Prototype and Scriptaculous!

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Software web Web 2.0

[BarcampLondon3] Caja/OpenSocial (Ben Laurie)

Caja compiles Javascript into different javascript, allowing you to put untrusted gadgets in trusted container pages (eg OpenSocial). Removes potentially evil code (eval etc), and passes in an object representing the global scope (document etc).

Ben’s writing a Caja wrapper for OpenSocial. Lots of hairy stuff with closures wrapping callbacks in functions, then wrapping the response in more functions. I haven’t really looked at OpenSocial yet, so some of this is flying merrily over my head.

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Web 2.0

First chink in FaceBook’s garden wall?

FaceBook screenshot FaceBook now provides an RSS feed for your friends’ statuses. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, rather than an exception – I’d be happy to eat my words.

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Web 2.0

Wired on opening FaceBook

It seems like I’m far from being the only one who doesn’t like the walled garden nature of FaceBook. There’s now an article on Wired bemoaning the same thing.

Interestingly, they come to the same conclusion that I’d been meaning to blog about for a while: that we need massive adoption of XFN to start pulling all the various social networks together.

Web 2.0


I signed up to FaceBook a few weeks ago to see what all the fuss was about, and I’m still not sure I really understand.

OK, so it’s yet another social networking site, and it’s probably better than most of the rest. You can use it to store your photos (like Flickr) or videos (like YouTube), or to post regular status updates (like Twitter) And it’s got lots of ‘fun’ little applications, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s got an API too, so it seems to have gained something of a reputation for being an open platform.

But how open is it?

I can show my Flickr photos on FaceBook, but as far as I can tell if I posted my photos directly onto FaceBook I couldn’t share them with the world at large. I can show my Twitter status on FaceBook, but I can’t just make it use that for my FaceBook status (or at least not without a lot of work). I could use the site like a blog, but then only a tiny invited audience would get to see my ramblings (big loss, I know). The whole site needs login, so it’s not externally searchable.

All the FaceBook applications seem to either exist solely within the site itself, or to just be a window onto somewhere else. There’s no real interaction going on. There are no APIs to allow other applications to access FaceBook data – it’s all one-way traffic. There aren’t even any RSS feeds.

It seems like FaceBook are making a play to become the Microsoft Windows of the social networking world – the common interface to everyone’s applications. Maybe it’s because I’m a long-time Mac user, but that makes me really nervous.

Ruby Web 2.0

Updating FaceBook status from Twitter

I’ve recently jumped on the Facebook bandwagon. I can’t be bothered to update two statuses (I rarely get round to it with one), so I was looking for a way to update my FaceBook status from Twitter. I installed the Twitter application in FaceBook, but that just displays the Twitter status separately.

It seemed that the only way to do it was to write a script to regularly check Twitter, and update FaceBook when it found a new Twitter message. I found a partial solution in PHP, but decided to roll my own in Ruby anyway.

It took a few hours longer than I expected (the documentation for Net::HTTP could be better), but I got there in the end. I now have the script below installed on my DreamHost account, and set to fire every minute via cron. It’s not the prettiest code I’ve ever written, but it does the job. Feel free to borrow it if you think it’ll be useful.

Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth
11:29pm September 6th

I’m an engineer at facebook and I’m writing to ask if you would be willing to take down the link to your facebook/twitter status sync utility (located on your website Based on your comment on TechCrunch I suspect you anticipated this would be coming at some point. Even if your intended use of such a script is noble (as I’m sure it is), the simple script you have posted on your site is (and has always been) against our terms of service. Said more shortly, we just can’t let people automate aginst our site outside of the platform; it’s a slippery slope.

We’d obviously like to resolve this without disabling your account or getting the lawyers involved if possible, so please let me know as soon as you’ve taken the script down so that our legal department doesn’t get all fired up about this.

Andrew Bosworth
Facebook Engineer

My reply:


As you’ll probably expect, I’m not particularly impressed with Facebook’s current stance on openness in general, or on this issue in particular. I hope that at some point you add an API to allow remote updating of status, in the same way that you recently added an RSS feed to allow tracking of friends’ statuses.

For the record, I don’t believe that posting the script on an external site constitutes a violation of the terms of service, although I accept that using it would be. Also, when you say “we can’t just let people automate”, I assume you really mean “we won’t just let people automate”. This is a shame, as it goes against the grain of the Internet, and reinforces the impression that you’re trying to lock people into your site.

All that said, I don’t particularly want to be spending my time fending off writs and takedown notices, so the script no longer appears on my site (see


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Web 2.0

Cool “Web 2.0” introductory videos from the Common Craft Show

There are some great short videos on explaining some Web 2.0 concepts for non-technical people. The lo-fi style is very clever, too.

So far they’ve done RSS, wikis and social networking (see below).

Web 2.0

Jakob Nielsen on Web 2.0

According to the BBC, Jakob Nielsen claims that “Hype about Web 2.0 is making web firms neglect the basics of good design.” As you would expect, he makes some good points, but I’m not so sure about this bit:

“That was just bad,” he said. “The idea of community, user generated content and more dynamic web pages are not inherently bad in the same way, they should be secondary to the primary things sites should get right.”

“The main criticism or problem is that I do not think these things are as useful as the primary things,” he said.

Well-established patterns of user involvement with sites also led Mr Nielsen to question the sense of adopting Web 2.0 technologies.

Research suggests that users of a site split into three groups. One that regularly contributes (about 1%); a second that occasionally contributes (about 9%); and a majority who almost never contribute (90%).

By definition, said Mr Nielsen, only a small number of users are likely to make significant use of all the tools a site provides.

To my mind, one of the key things about “Web 2.0” – think Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia etc, not just sites with AJAX and trendy colours – is that community and user generated content are at the heart of the site, not just an add-on. That means that those 1% who regularly contribute are absolutely central, and vital to the site’s success.