April 30, 2003

The Iraq War Reader

I'm extremely pleased to announce the release of The Iraq War Reader, a new book and weblog by Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf.  Micah is my smarter big brother. I don't have time for a longer entry (work beckons!) but if you're at all interested in the US involvement in Iraq, the historical context, opinions and analysis from both sides, go buy the book and subscribe to the site.  Micah and Chris have gotten very clued-in to how to use their weblog as a compliment to the book.  Here's the Introduction and here's the Table of Contents

Many thanks to those of you who responded to my earlier request for web designers - In the end we selected Bryan Bell, and he did a bang up job.
Posted by dsifry at 10:25 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

Some quickies

I've got time for just a few quickies, I've been absolutely swamped with work. 
Posted by dsifry at 1:57 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

April 20, 2003

Easy News Topics

Last week, Paolo Valdermarin and Matt Mower released their specification of Easy News Topics 1.0 (ENT), which is designed as an RSS 2.0 module that can add topic and categorization information to an RSS feed.  I committed to get back to them (and others) with a review and some commentary on the approach.

The good news: As a format, ENT is easy to understand, easy for application developers to implement, and pretty easy to parse.  Kudos to Matt and Paolo for coming up with a design that is simple but extensible. 

Now the bad news:  I'm worried about two issues.  First is the problem of self-categorization.  ENT presupposes that authors can successfully create microcontent with the following properties:
  1. It can be placed in one or more categories
  2. the author is qualified to categorize the content correctly
  3. the author's categories have meaning to the reader
In addition, we then run into a larger problem with self-categorization, which is the question of categorization across feeds.  In other words, we have a problem of definitions - one person's rebel is another person's revolutionary.  Even with ENT's inclusion of clouds, which are (potentially) external topic maps that create self-consistent maps of the world, we still have the problem of intentional or unintentional misunderstanding and misreading of metadata like categories, which leads me to think that the entire concept of self-categorization is extremely difficult to work on a large scale.

A good example of this failure to scale is the history of web page metadata tags, especially the keyword tag.  At first, people acted in a trustworthy manner, and put quality information in META tags in HTML documents.  This was ostensibly useful so that the aggregators of that time, search engines, could more effectively sort and categorize data, and more accurately weight the document during search queries.  But soon, bad faith actors entered the picture, and attempted to influence search results by putting false or misleading metadata in their META tags.  As a result, META keyword tag information (self-categorization) has almost completely fallen from the ranking algorithms in modern search engines. 

However, search engines still correctly categorize data, to a large extent.  Newer aggregate algorithms like pagerank and others can effectively categorize larger documents, often by inbound links or by vocabulary similarity. Two documents that share a similar vocabulary often are similar, and are often in the same categories.  So perhaps the answer is to allow for the aggregate collective human filters across the web (aka readers) help to create truly accurate categories for microcontent.  Of course, that collaborative filtering takes time, and thus negates some of the power of blogs, their conversational qualities.  If you have to wait 12 hours to find out what 20 other readers thought of some piece of content on the web, would that be worth it to you?  I would take that tradeoff.  But what if that timeframe was one week?  Or one month?  You'd end up missing the conversation itself while you were waiting for the collaborative filtering process to tell you that you should participate in the conversation. 

So, I think we're in a bit of a knot.  In the end, this won't really be solved until we can place a certain value on a particular's reputation - does blogger A tend to self-categorize in a way that I find interesting and blogger B does not?  In the end, I think there is no free lunch, and a file format standard like ENT won't remove the problems of bad-faith actors or self-categorization problems.  But, it is an easy to parse, easy to implement standard that will allow us to further explore these fundamentally social questions.
Posted by dsifry at 11:48 PM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

April 17, 2003

EFF comments on FCC Unlicensed Spectrum Proposal

Cory Doctorow, Outreach Coordinator of the EFF (other hats too) has written a great comment to the FCC regarding its proposed rule changes that would open up more spectrum for unlicensed use.  It is a very counter-intuitive proposal for people who grew up with the idea of incentives through licenses and monopolies, but the wild success of technologies like WiFi, 900MHz phones, 2.4Ghz baby monitors and the like show that by taking a less restrictive approach and by enforcing minimal standards (devices must be licensed, maximum power levels, devices must accept interference, etc) tremendously cool technologies to solve radio problems (smart radios, spread spectrum, etc) reduce the limitations and companies spring up to capitalize on them.  The FCC has a unique opportunity to continue the revitalization in the decentralized telecom world, build new businesses and technologies, and engage American creativity in open technologies. 

The FCC is looking to open up spectrum in two interesting bands - the 3.6GHz band and below the 900MHz band (in the VHF TV bands). The more interesting band IMHO is the TV bands, because of the potential for use in wireless broadband uses. The lower the frequency, the less aggregate bandwith is possible, but the greater the penetrating power. And for wireless internet connectivity, directed beams of unlicensed transmitters in these lower bands could more effectively penetrate foliage and into structures. This is very good news for most customers who are stuck with the copper in the ground laid a hundred years ago by Ma Bell for "broadband".

Cory also makes the argument that spectrum policy is also a free speech issue - increasing the amount of unlicensed spectrum makes it easier for people (and devices) to communicate. While I agree with the priciple, I'm not so sure that it applies well to the question at hand, unless you take the position that the government's current licensing policy stifles free speech, and I'm not sure that it does.

Even with minor quibbles, though, the policy proposal is still sound, and will help to expand the possibilities in one of the few places of blue-sky innovation left in today's times.

April 15, 2003

Sputnik AP 120 Released!

ap120-250px.jpgToday's a big day for the Sputnik team - we have officially released the Sputnik AP 120 and Sputnik Central Control, which combine to create a simple, manageable, and secure WiFi installation.

Just set up a Sputnik Central Control installation anywhere within your network, and then start plugging in Sputnik AP 120s right into your LAN.  The AP 120s autoconfigure themselves, seek out Central Control, and automatically implement a wide range of security and management features, like dynamic firewalling, SSL-based user authentication, usage tracking, and policy routing.  Central control allows administrators to easily set up and configure the captive portal, manage users, monitor AP usage, and generate reports.   Gone are custom MAC address tables or per-AP configuration - and when you want to cover more area, simply purchase more AP 120s and plug them into your LAN.

It's easy to buy: For the Limited Availability release program, each AP 120 costs $185 and Central Control is offered at a 50% discount for people who sign up now ($895 retail to manage up to 20 APs).  Compared to other companies offering enterprise-class solutions, Sputnik is an order of magnitude less expensive.

sputnikpow.gifWe're also signing up more hardware OEMs.  Our pitch to them is, "put us out of the AP business!"  We built the AP 120 on a set of standard reference hardware designs, and we're making our software available to OEMs at no charge.  This allows OEMs to quickly build additional value around the software package and call themselves "Sputnik Powered" APs.

Gone are the high prices and closed nature of WiFi security and managability solutions - Sputnik takes advantage and adheres to open standards, allowing for significantly lower cost and greater extendability of the system.  The system is based around open technologies like a SQL database, LDAP user directory (RADIUS and Active Directory coming soon), and SSL-based encryption and authentication.

We haven't left out the community networking folks either - each Sputnik-powered AP can be easily configured to become a community gateway. In order to run as a community gateway, you don't even need to purchase Central Control - all you need is an AP 120 or other Sputnik-powered AP. We'll be detailing more of these features after the Limited Availability program is completed, but the idea is that you can bring an AP 120 over to a friend's house, plug it into his/her LAN, and it will immediately become a community gateway, allowing others authenticated access to the Internet.

We've been working on this technology for over two years, and it is a joy to see it hitting the light of day.  Many thanks to our beta sites, who provided us with tons of great feedback and references.  Kudos most of all to the Sputnik team, who all pulled together to make this software release a reality.  Everybody worked their butts off, and I'm really proud of the result.  Onward and upward.

April 8, 2003

Technorati Gets Some Good Press

Some fun stuff going on as the mainstream press continues to discover and report on weblogs.  Three new articles cover Technorati - First, one in the Oakland Tribune by Francine Brevetti, titled Net becomes ideological battleground covers Technorati's Current Events and the Top 100, and covers Where's Raed? which shot up to #2 on the Top 100 in less than a month. People interested in Current Events should also check out Technorati Breaking News, which lists breaking news chronologically, rather than by popularity. 

RSS: Your Gateway To News & Blog Content is written by Danny Sullivan, the editor of SearchEngineWatch.  Danny has some very kind things to say in the section describing Technorati.  An excerpt:
Unlike the RSS search engines above, you can't keyword search at Technorati. Nevertheless, there's a lot to like from this wonderful site that launched earlier this year as a blog discovery and analysis tool.
the third mention is a blurb in the St. Petersburg Times' Personal Tech section titled Blogosphere spyglass:
Everybody's entitled to his or her opinions on current events, and a blog is perhaps the greatest way to express them. I've resisted going crazy with links to war sites because so many of them have a clear pro- or antiwar bias regardless of how well the content is written. But here's a site that's fit to link and specializes in overview rather than opinion ...
Cool stuff, I'm glad that people are enjoying the service. 

Now for something completely different:  I've been following two interesting blogs by Valley VCs that deserve mention for their interesting content and forward thinking:  VentureBlog, put together by some of the partners at August Capital, and Due Diligence, which I mentioned here before, put together by Tim Oren.  Good going, folks!  This kind of openness and smarts is good for you, your firms, and will help to better breach the gulf between VCs and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.  Great reading.

April 6, 2003

Blog Explosion: Technorati hits 200,000 blogs

Wow, it's only been a month since Technorati reached the 100,000 blogs tracked milestone, and today we tracked our 200,000th blog.  All in all, that makes over 13.2 Million active links in the database, a more than doubling of the database size.  On average, over 3,000 new blogs each day are created, in dozens of languages.  At the same time, thanks to some significant improvements in Technorati's spidering engine, the median time from posting to indexing is now 15 minutes.  That means that on average, the content that you post to your blog is indexed by Technorati within 15 minutes of when you posted it.

Many thanks to all of the people who have used the service, especially those who support Technorati by purchasing a watchlist subscription - they're cheap for individuals: only $5/year for email watchlists, and $10/year for RSS feeds!  As each day does by, you can track conversations that link to you with greater breadth and quicker response than ever before. 

We're continuously soliciting feedback - what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, what would you like Technorati to do for you?  Keep those emails coming.  And thanks again for your support.