Wednesday, January 30, 2008

First Google then ICANN Halt Domain Tasting

In the mid 90's there was a gold rush on domain names. The practice of Cybersquatting was rampant. I knew of a couple of companies that made some big dollars registering names for web sites that they had no personal use for, but could sell to other parties who did need them for big bucks later on.

Cybersquatting, according to the United States federal law known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, is "registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad-faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else."

I remember mentioning to someone at a conference that I was going to register my own name (which was available at that time) and by the time I got back to Seattle it had been registered. The company (if it was a company) that owned it wanted thousands of dollars for it.

We've since saturated the domain name market and although the costs to register names has gone down, incidents of cybersquatting are less prevalent.

However, a new game came to town with the advent of Adsense and automation. Companies would take advantage of a five day grace period for paying for domain names and "kite" the names for those five days, drop them and immediately re-register. This made them in effect free domain names.

The practice became known as Domain Tasting.

According to Wikipedia,

Domains that are deemed "successes" and retained in registrant's portfolio often represent domains that were previously used and have since expired, misspellings of other popular sites, or generic terms that may receive type-in traffic. These domains are usually still active in search engines and other hyperlinks and therefore receive enough traffic such that advertising revenue exceeds the cost of the registration. The registrant may also derive revenue from eventual sale of the domain, at a premium, to a third party.

By registering them large quantity, and placing Ads on the pages that people would visit, the companies made big advertising dollars for pages which essentially redirected the user by serving them up ads that looked like new search links.

But not for much longer. Google has taken steps to stop the practice, though it stands to lose millions in advertising dollar by doing so.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is following suit.

P.S. Whoever picked up my name eventually let it expire and I registered it last year.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What is Your Blog About?

In the class, "Living and Working in a Virtual World" many of the assignments are turned in via blog entries. That means whoever signs up for the course must start a blog, (as a side note, anonymity is encouraged) and maintain it during the quarter. In some cases, students have continued blogging well after completing the quarter.

The reason that many give for NOT continuing onward with their blogs is the difficulty they report having in thinking of things to blog about. During the Living and Working class questions and comments are raised which form the basis for the posts, so no major effort is needed to originate ideas on their own.

But the students who continue their blogs almost always post more than what is assigned, and invariably their blog is about something more than the class. They have an area of interest or interests and they have ideas they want to express.

In order to help them jumpstart a blog with staying power, I ask, "What is your blog about?". If they say, "this class" prospects are less encouraging for them to continue on later. It isn't always apparent at first, and it may be after weeks of posts before you can answer the question.

It should be a review that is ongoing. "What is this blog about?".

TacomaMama finished a long journey of blog posting which focused on Good Days in Tacoma. Once her mission was complete, she had gathered such good content, good will and community that for her not to continue would have been a great loss.

So rather than quell the momentum, she has started to leverage all that work and content to create neighborhood guides.

Introducing Tacomamama Neighborhood Guides

Installment 1: Proctor

Next up: McKinley. Look for it some time this week. (I hope.)

I'll be taking it neighborhood by neighborhood, starting with the business districts. I'd love to hear from readers what they'd like to see included.


Note the call out to the readers to help guide the content. She has a built in base of readers and along with her own editorial hand, she is asking, "what should this blog be about?".

When you build up a readership or community, taking their pulse and asking for input on direction is an important piece of staying relevant to them. It is also an indication that true community exists behind what was once an individual effort.

The intent is also apparent at Exit133. With an active and vocal community of posters and contributors, the question is being put out there. "What would you like to see?" They are using SurveyMonkey as an anonymous surveying tool, and I hope that they not only get the usual suspects providing input, but the many who enjoy the site yet stay in the background.

It is early in the year. A good time to ask, "what is it all about?".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Proposed Design Changes to SpaceShipTwo



Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson unveiled an artist's interpretation of a WhiteKnightTwo and its SpaceShipTwo launching on a Virgin Galactic flight to suborbital space this week.

According to Information Week "The carrier's launch system is based on the technology of SpaceShipOne, which flew into space three times and won a $10 million Ansari X Prize. Virgin Galactic said the launch system is "environmentally benign" and the spaceship is the world's largest, all carbon composite aircraft."

Pretty exciting. And it looks really cool too.

Already eighty of the spaceships first passengers have completed medical assessment and centrifuge training. Somewhere around 85,000 "registrations of interest" to fly have been completed and participants seem willing to undergo the G Force training simulating suborbital flight conditions.

At the American Museum of Natural History, Branson and Rutan also showed off a model of the four-engine jet, twin fuselage craft (White Knight Two) that launches the SpaceShipTwo was also shown. Up to six passengers and two crew members will separate from the former and move into suborbital space with the latter.

I am not a rocket scientist, but I have two small suggestions. First, expand the flat cone of the ship to accommodate more passengers and give them more things to do other than float around weightless. Maybe an observation deck, or a lounge, or maybe even private quarters. They're rich enough for it.

Secondly, get rid of the need for a lift into space by docking it in space. That way you can attach the twin fuselages directly to the SpaceShip# and use it for propulsion.

I think the redesign would look something like this.

I like it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Old Guard Web Companies Acting All Mature



We like our news new. We like new companies, new vision, fresh pioneers in a new field and even with older companies like Apple, new product announcements. This is especially evident within the web space where we just want to know what we wacky people are up to now. And though bandwidth restrictions and connectivity to the home both wired and wireless provides an extensive stream of news on what and who we can download from now (HBO Joins the Movie Download Derby), there are a number of companies still out there who over a decade ago were the news makers.

Checking in on their news bites shows some of the distinctions that come from being around for a while.

I am reporting that the New York Times is reporting that the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Meg Whitman is retiring as chief executive of eBay. At 51 years of age, Meg has served as CEO there for 10 years. The articles talk a bit about how she has been a bit conservative in her oversight of the company, and refer to their current challenges against emerging competitors. But this isn’t a company with no significant revenue being valued in the billions, this is a company that makes about 6 billion in revenue a year.

In April of 1996, Yahoo completed its public offering of stock at 13 dollars a share. It is valued at around 27 billion dollars and is profitable at 51 cents a share. Yahoo is also reportedly set to lay off hundreds of workers as part of an effort to “sharpen its focus and boost its sagging stock”. I am bringing this news to you via WCSH in Portland, Maine which is bringing it to you from…...The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Getty Images has been around for a while and after merging with PhotoDisc, Inc. consolidated the digital image market further with its purchases of Digital Vision, iStockPhoto, and Stockbyte. They are a major seller of stock photos and other licensed media and compete with Corbis. Just so you know, I’m letting on that CNET is saying the The New York Times is letting us all know that they are looking for a buyer. I’m not sure where the Wall Street Journal is weighing in on this.

And just for good measure, Google has reached that point in its maturity level to begin the flow of Google millionaire stories. You may recall how they used to spring like a fountain from Microsoft during the 90’s. Their numbers are great, so like Shahrazad’s 1001 Arabian Nights stories, they are likely to spring from the pages of our local papers, newscasts and of course the NYT and WSJ for some time. CNET gives us a preview with this story.

This is of course just a sampling, but with every new virtual world, digital device and GPS subcutaneous tracking system, we can reflect back on the youth of some of our middle ages companies who themselves sprang into the forefront of the news from more than a decade past, during the onset of the web.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Going Hyperlocal



I have always thought that newspapers, with their relationships already extending out into the community with a large and eclectic mix of local organizations, advertisers, subscribers and sources would become the hub of community information over the web. Television stations have greater coverage and face time, but not the infrastructure. Radio has coverage but is limited by it's medium.

That's not to say that radio hasn't started posted video on their web sites and that television hasn't leveraged it's appeal to bring in a community of users to their site. It is that the newspapers have always had the mix of business model: news and information source (reporters), community platform (letters and editorial), marketplace (classifieds), sales (advertisements) and a breadth of topics that gave them an advantage.

But it is the depth of information that was to me, a critical piece. TV and radio just can't cover the High School, Little League, Rotary Club, Announcement territory that newspapers can at the local level.

Not to say that newspapers aren't struggling in the brave new world of the web. But some at starting to tap into their potential.

The Chicago Tribune Web service yesterday announced it was expanding community content online to 13 more suburbs bringing to a total 21 suburbs that would be covered by Triblocal. They continue to say they expect "to have 35 "hyper-local" sites by the end of the year as well as eight localized print supplements that will be periodically packaged with the newspaper."

Triblocal intends to drive the content of the website by engaging community contributors


Welcome to Triblocal.com, the place for you to connect with your neighbors, friends and community.

At Triblocal.com, you'll work side-by-side with Triblocal.com's editorial staff to produce coverage of your community with your news items and your photos.


A great example of a hyper-local blog that draws from the community is the West Seattle Blog. Along with co-publishers Tracy Record and Patrick Sand they have contributing photographers Christopher Boffoli and Matt Durham they have
"EVERYONE in West Seattle who collaborates to make WSB the place to come to find out what’s going on in West Seattle right now - with e-mail tips, photos, comments, more. THANK YOU!"


Here in the South Sound, the Tacoma News Tribune made a call out last year in January for local bloggers. Since then they have built an impressive display of blogs from their staff, the community and a rather long blogroll. However this would be more of an example of being Hyper-topical in organization rather than hyper-local. Their coverage is still based on a regional umbrella with some drilling down.

FeedTacoma, with their expanding number of blogs, and Exit133 with the addition of new voices on their B-side are actually appearing to converge toward that same community model and infrastructure that newspapers have had to their advantage. When you look at the activity within the forums and the volume of comments on those two sites, they are more compelling than what is happening on the Tribs site.

As an aside to those who may find my convergence comment to far reaching... A car coming from New York and one coming from Los Angeles are converging if they are both heading to Texas. They just both have a long way to get there.

The one web site that has stated it's intent to drill down to the neighborhood is www.myzip.net. They are building out their beta with bloggers, who if they qualify will be compensated, they are willing to focus no activities directly related to their zip code. As My Zip states...

"We are building the first and best national network of place blogs written by real people about their neighborhoods, streets and local issues. Our goal is to help people connect with the world right outside their front door and help and reward neighborhood bloggers for their effort."

They will have their work cut out for them though. Not because of zip codes being the sorter of information, an idea which is intriguing. But because www.myzipcode.com and www.myzip.com are already taken as domain names, and finding them, even though I was familiar with the idea of the company, was difficult.

Well, on a hyper-hyper-local basis, I need to go get lunch.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Big Opening Weekend for Urinetown



I have been very busy over the last week, as evidenced by the sparsity of posts. During that time I was wondering how that hard work was going to pay off. That's because we were in the middle of tech week for the opening of Urinetown at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

That means that for more than a week we were running the show and reworking the dance numbers, adding the costumes and props, adjusting to the sets and getting the rhythm of the lines down. Not to mention the music. That's me in the middle there surrounded by the good folks of Urine Good Company (or UGC as it is known for short) with my character's daughter, Hope Cladwell, on the desk behind.

The week day routine was, in to work in the morning, call for the run through at 6:30pm or 7:00pm and home at past 11:00 (and for some of the cast from Seattle 12:00pm).

Last Friday was the open and this Monday, yesterday, was the first evening free of rehearsal in 10 days.

And it was a very surprising opening at that.

I remember being in New York several years back and having a chance to see a show on Broadway. My two choices that evening were Rent and Urinetown. I chose not to see either as in my mind I was looking for a classic uplifting musical. For me that meant I wasn't up for Rent, and as for Urinetown, quite frankly, it just sounded awful. When I finally did get to see Urinetown, (ten Tony nominations and three Tony wins later), I loved it. I am still kicking myself for not seeing it that night on Broadway.

So it was with my initial reaction in mind that I wondered how Tacoma, and in particular the patrons of Tacoma Musical Playhouse, were going to receive this show with a terrible title. They had come out in force to see the last show, "Meet Me in Saint Louis", and in shows I have done there in the past, they packed the place for "My Fair Lady" and "Fiddler on the Roof", but then again it was a struggle to fill the seats when we did "Little Shop of Horrors" which was more well known than Urinetown and had been reviewed well locally.

I still joke that we could fill the Tacoma Dome if we put on "The Sound of My Fair Annie's Fiddler".

Well, I have learned that the South Sound is OK with something a little different. The theater was full Friday, Saturday and Sunday (which was a near sellout). Quite an achievement for an opening weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if the excellent job the Bellarmine Preparatory did when putting on the show last year helped a bit.

The house capacity for the Narrows Theater is around 330 seats which means that is a lot of folks coming to see a show. We have three more weeks of a run, with extra matinees on the final two Saturdays. My understanding is that some of those are already nearly sold out.

Congrats to Jon Douglas Rake, Artistic Director, and Jeffrey Stvrtecky, Music Director at the theater for putting on another successful show. The cast is made up of some incredibly talented folks who are great to work with. If you have the chance, come out and see the show with the terrible title. Thanks to Kat Dollarhide for the picture.

________________________________________________

UPDATE: Here is a nice review by the Tacoma Weekly on the show.

And another by The News Tribune.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Privacy 101: If You Post It, It Can Be Seen

OK, kids, time to pay a little more attention to your privacy 101 lessons.

This morning, a number of students walked out of Eden Prairie high school to protest the administrations handling of allegations made when photos of students drinking appeared on Facebook. In some cases the students weren't actually drinking, but still they were in the presence of alcohol. One standing behind a bar, but empty handed, another with a plastic red cup on unknown content. In the students opinion, the school administrators overreacted "to the perception" that students in the photos were drinking.

In some ways it reminds me of an incident from last April where video from the schools surveillance system showed two students kissing, which was then reported to their parents. Erik Emery had a few thoughts on that. At least from a student privacy perspective.

But here are a couple of distinctions:

In this case, the administration did not have ownership of any surveillance devices and the actions did not take place on school grounds. Instead they received the evidence from publicly accessible media on a social networking site. That means someone would have to take the time to search out, find, print and identify the students involved in actions that took place off of school grounds and in many cases private functions.

Secondly, and surprisingly, the ACLU had a less than indignant reaction. According to a piece by Jana Shortal of KARE 11 News, ACLU executive director Charles Samuelson said that "There are concerns about school's mining through student profile pages, but that what happened at Eden Prairie isn't a surprise.... Any kid who thinks what they post on a social networking website is private is an idiot."

Rather straightforward there, Mr. Samuelson.

The reporter also mentions later that "Samuelson says the students rights were not violated because the students in question are part of athletic teams or extra-curricular activities that strictly enforce a zero tolerance policy when it comes to using drugs or consuming alcohol."

42 students were interviewed, 13 were punished.

In a statement to ABC news, Dave Stead, the executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, of which Eden Prairie High is a member said, "All students who participate in school activities have to sign a liability brochure saying they understand the rules and will follow them. Rules include not using, possessing, giving, buying alcohol or drugs. These students signed the pledge and then violated it — so appropriate penalties were given."

I actually think that the response by the principal to the parents was well thought out.

In it, Conn McCartan says, "Although, school officials did not go looking for these photos on student social networking sites, our interviews with students suggest that these may be posted on such sites. If that is the case, it gives me an opportunity to revisit some things I have shared with families in the past. These sites are not private places. Their content forms a permanent and public record of conversations and pictures. We do not go out looking at student social networking sites. We do however take action when we are given legitimate information about school or Minnesota State High School League violations."

Careful out there folks, what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but online word travels quickly.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Search Wikia Makes Its Debut



Used to be, back in the 90's, that every other week a new search engine was announced. Many of them were aggregating other search results then parsing them out, so you shouldn't count those. Especially since they were often created by university students who were querying other university student web search sites.

Then they got a little more serious and you would choose from the Altavistas and the Excites. The University of Washington had a nice little web search project from one of its grad students, Brian Pinkerton, by the name of Webcrawler. It ended up getting bought by AOL.

Then Yahoo struck and made its mark. Then Google struck and made its mark. MSN is out there as well. All continue to try and improve their technology. Yahoo recently debuted some predictive hint features in its drop down box with topic suggestions, and Google just announced its intent to search for text within images.

You would think that we might have settled into a three or so search market, so it is a bit of a surprise to see a new engine enter the market.

Search Wikia, a search engine from Wikia.com and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, made its official debut today. It is an an open-source, community-driven effort and hopes that this will be enough of a distinction to become a player. This was also a note in one of The New Scientist "Technology" blog's bold predictions for 2008 which has since been met with some push back.

I do like the mini-article they supply with search results.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cyber What?

Two terms surfaced as I patrolled the web for information and articles on the Internet this week. Not that they were prevalent, or even new for that matter, but they stuck out to me.

The first was cyberchondriac and the second was cyberholic. There are actually quite a few articles across the web on cyberchondriacs, including a Harris Poll from July of 2007 and the genesis of "cyberholic" was actually pretty interesting.

You are very likely a cyberchondriac, but don't worry. According to the Harris Poll, it means that you have gone online for health information. That's it. Kind of a scary word to be applying to what is to me simply common sense. The caution is that the health information online should be questioned and should not take the place of a medical experts guidance. Duh. But who wouldn't go to an authoritative source that you trust to look up information. Now a cyberhypocondriac is different and has it's roots in the tradition of hypochondria (A person with hypochondria has a preoccupying fear of having a serious illness, Medical News Today). Not only that, but according to WebMD the Internet makes hypochondria worse.

If you are a cyberholic, well, that's another thing altogether. Being anything that involves "holism" is a problem as it referred to an addiction. According to the July 1997 issue of Harvard Magazine, Ivan Goldberg, a Manhattan psychiatrist cooked up a make-believe diagnosis--"Internet Addiction Disorder" (IAD)--for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a psychotherapists' handbook. When stories from doctors and patients surged soon afterward, he established the Internet Addiction Support Group.

The same article from that issue quoted Maressa Hecht Orzack, the founder and coordinator of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, the first clinic of its kind to treat IAD. Check out what she is up to now at www.computeraddiction.com.

It doesn't stop there of course. Because I ran into these terms, it made me wonder what else I might find out there that was "cyber" without resorting to the already adopted terms such as cyberspace, cyberpunk, cybernaut etc. In fact I went right for the jugular and yes, there is usage of the term....

"cyberliscous (see also cyberlicious)" - Everything from music to lip gloss.

"cyberphobia" - From treatment sites to "100 genuinely creepy websites".

"cybertastic" - blogs and bloggers for this term.

"cyberstatic" - among other things, a web development company and an alias.

"cyberrealism" - funny, but also a book and a term used in checking out the validity of the online political machine.

I thought I would fail on the next one, but though low in page numbers, there it was.

"cyberorganic" - Used in science fiction and as a life style description.

Well, enough time wasting, I don't want to appear to be a cyberholic.

P.S. the above image comes from a wikipedia description of cyberspace. "Cyberspace is like the white triangle in the above image, appearing virtually, existing nowhere, while joining computers across the globe"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What is There, and What is There on There



The New Scientist "Technology" blog is boldly making predictions for 2008 and I am impressed that they are willing to stick their necks out and lay out what they believe will be technology failures in the coming year.

One provocative prediction is that if Wikipedia and Google battle it out over online community knowledge bases (Wikimedia announces a community based search project, Google announces Knol) that, in their opinion, Wikipedia is the clear loser as an outcome.

However, the one that took me off on a tangent was the notion that Second Life may be showing some fatigue and be threatened by other worlds, specifically mentioning There. I have mentioned Second Life a few times over the last year, but this is the first time I have become aware of There.

I followed the link provided by the article and am likely going to check out more on this virtual world space. The graphics they promote off of their home page don't seem as compelling as those from the Second Life site, but that could simply be marketing.

Apparently, There has been around since 2003 and recently in December of 2007 announced a big deal with Coca Cola to launch it's own virtual environment within the system. Looking back through the press archives I thought it was interesting that they originally charged a monthly fee of $4.95. Now you can create an account with what appears to be a great deal of functionality for free. There is also a premium service for a small one time fee of $9.95. Given the low cost, I cannot imagine upgrading to the premium if you are enamored with what you experience with the basic package. It just shows how the economic model of virtual communities has changed over the last five years.

By the way, I am not a fan of the product name. It comes across as to generic to me. Like the old generic brands like Beer beer.