Archive for February 28th, 2004

The Monkey Paw Effect


Next Generation Blogging Tool


Last week the fearless leader of the Berkman Blogger’s,
Dave Winer, wanted to collect some starting point design criteria for
the next generation of Blogging software. Since Dave believes (and we
concur) that software should be designed from user needs translated into
engineering reality rather than visa versa, he asked a select group of
Blogger’s whose opinion he respects as deep thinkers and super-users
to formulate their thoughts and functional fantasies into words.

Needless to say, the Dowbrigade was not among those hoary sages asked
for their opinions, adding to his richly deserved reputation as the Rodney
Dangerfield of the Blogosphere.  The disadvantage of being identified
as a humor blogger is that nobody takes you seriously even when you are
trying to be.  Of course, the advantage is that you can dismiss
all of your critics as lacking a sense of humor.

At any rate, never having been shy and at one point in our career practically
supporting ourselves by crashing parties, we will leap in with our two
bits. For starters, let us say that we agree with almost everything written
by Jim
in response to Dave’s query. Summing up, Jim wrote that users
need completely transparent, drag and drop simplicity in composing and

We would like to expand on and modulate those comments, however. The
dream of a composing environment where we non-coders can drop pictures,
text blocks, links and media gems, move them around and arrange them
just the way we want them is admirable and may someday be achievable.
However, Macromedia and Adobe have been trying to achieve the same thing
in their general purpose web site design programs, and they are still
far from the ideal Jim imagines.

As Dave himself noted browser based composition is clearly the way to
go. It allows designers to allow users to do common composition and uploading
tasks in 2 or 3 steps instead of 10 or 12.  Yet even the most advanced
WYSIWYG html editors like Dreamweaver, in which the Dowbrigade News
is composed, are far from this kind of super-simple drag and drop capability, so it
may take awhile to reach this holy grail

It is instructive to consider the evolution of html editors, for as
we have repeatedly established a weblog is really just a web page with
some build-in functionality. Web page design options range from coders
who compose straight-out in html, tags and strings of code flying from
their fingertips to complete non-techies who simply type text into a
template and have no idea of how it gets onto the web. Many people,
like the Dowbrigade, take a middle path.

This offering of a variety of modes and composition options is essential.
As an educator we know that different people have different learning
styles, and different composers have different composition styles. Some
may say aim for the lowest common denominator and let those who want
to mess with the code use a different application.  However, since
what goes on in the background is pretty much the same, it shouldn’t
be too difficult to let different kinds of users access the functionality
in different ways.

The key to offering the capability to arrange and position elements
within postings seems to be tables.  As a web page designer and
blogger we find tables indispensable in placing specific content in specific
places on the page. Although our initial understanding of cascading style
sheets was that they were designed to do pretty much the same thing,
we could never get them to do more than preserve formatting styles across
a site of disparate pages, and we still use tables for placement in just about all the pages we design. However,
we have yet to find a really easy and flexible table tool.

Without knowing whether it would be technically possible, we can imagine
self-adjusting table cells such that when a user drops an image or other
object into a page an invisible table cell is automatically generated
which instantly adjusts as the user moves the object around the page.
This ability to spatially arrange elements, combine with the common
skills of using a basic formatting pallet, would give even complete non-coders
a high degree of intuitive control over the appearance and functionality
of their content.

In general, we think the principles of simplicity and modifiability,
both of the creation and viewing environments, should be the touchstones
of the next generation of blogging tools. And of course, it must be
integrated with the next generation of aggregators. We would suggest
that the aggregator be a central feature of the new blogging tools, both
as content collector and as a feature for readers.  As Jim suggests,
finding, subscribing and unsubscribe from streams should be made as
simple and intuitive as possible.The aggregator should be enabled to
handle as wide a variety of embedded enclosures as possible; audio, video,
text, etc., and should be completely configurable in that the user can
select, for each feed, how much to display of headlines, body and graphics,
and what to do with enclosures.

In fact, users should have the option of using the aggregator by itself
and ignoring the blogging part of the equation altogether. In fact, the
Dowbrigade already has two Manila blogs set up expressly for that purpose.
If a user wants, their aggregator could BE their blog, simply a controlled
information flow reflecting the interests and character of the owner.

If a product could do all that, the Dowbrigade would be severely tempted
to actually break down and PAY for it. Unless we can finagle a copy as
a beta tester….


Aggregator-Safe Classics


A Revolution in News Production and Consumption


"Every citizen’s a reporter. Journalists aren’t some exotic species, they’re
everyone who seeks to take new developments, put them into writing, and share
them with others." … (Oh Yeon Ho)

For the past several days the Dowbrigade has been researching an upcoming
article on the world’s first Internet President – Roh Moo-hyu of South
Korea.  A
virtually unknown labor lawyer just two years ago, he rode a wave of
Internet organizing and fundraising to the Presidency of the most wired
nation on earth (80% of homes have Broadband access to the Internet)
one year ago. There are many valuable parallels and lessons to be learned
from Roh’s electoral saga and first year in office.

But that is a story for a later date and another publication (although
it will indubitably be posted to the Dowbrigade News). What is currently
blowing our mind is the discovery that the Roh victory was part of a
major media revolution spurred by thousands of "Citizen Journalists".
All of the stuff that is starting to explode on the US media scene is
already in full-blown implementation in Asia! Who knew?

merely reinforces for the Dowbrigade the absolutely necessary global
nature of the revolution which is just starting to make its true dimensions
and potential know.  We in America are not necessarily the center
of the Universe, or even of CyberSpace. Furthermore, in many cases we
are not even close to the cutting edge. Digital democracy is starting
to look like one of these.

Much more on this as our investigation continues.  Meanwhile, check
out, the site that reputedly got Roh elected in South Korea.

Duck Hunting with the Dowbrigade


Antonin Scalia, the
Soprano’s favorite Supreme Court Justice, is in hot water again, and
once again it is his choice of hunting buddies that
got him there.  Just as the furor was starting to die down concerning
his hunting trip with Vice President Cheney so soon before the court
will hear arguments in the case arising from Cheney’s refusal to reveal
the names of the industry insiders who were called in to talk with his
Energy Task Force, there are new accusations.

Scalia is accused of going hunting with the Dean of the University of Kansas
Law School, who was also the lawyer for the State of Kansas, and the
then-Govenor of Kansas, at a time when an important case involving the
state was before the Court.

Now, the Dowbrigade knows that the resulting impression of impropriety
is completely unfounded and, as any social scientist worth his salt would
tell you, based on an unreasonably small sample size. Justice Scalia
obviously just loves being outdoors, the sweet smell of cordite escaping on
the breeze, the reassuring feel of modern weaponry in his hands, and
the chance to kill small, unarmed (but fleet) creatures.

The problem, as we see it, is merely one of public relations perspective.  In
order to completely defuse this potentially embarrassing situation (for Supreme
Court Justices, like Caesar’s wife in more ways than one, must avoid
any IMPRESSION of impropriety), Scalia need only take one simple step.  He
needs to diversity his hunting buddies.  He needs to go hunting
with someone who not only has no pending cases before the SC, but whose
whole political orientation was so out of wack with his own as to
be impossible to reconcile in a single world view.

Someone, for example, like the Dowbrigade.  Yes, we are volunteering
to take a little hunting trip with Justice Scalia, a trip we believe
might be edifying AND enjoyable for both of us. A real briefcase nuke
in the old echo chamber.

Despite the fact that the Dowbrigade suffers from a life-long quasi-Buddhist
abhorrence of killing in any form, he has no aversion to weapons, having
achieved the rank of Marksman First Class in his days as a NRA
adolescent shooter, and a Varsity Letter from Harvard for exemplary service on the Harvard
Sharp Shooting
Team, affectionately known as "the Snotty Snipers".

So we could hang with old Antonin. Hell, who knows how many of the world’s
problems we could sort out over a case of Coors and a couple of those new
big-bore rifles with the Granite Mountain Arms large
magnum repeating
action, and a woods full of critters. Even WITHOUT killing anything we’re sure we could scare the hell out of a wide variety of lifeforms.

So what do you say, Justice Scalia? Why not show those carping critics
that there’s nothing to those nasty rumors. If you can go hunting with
the Dowbrigade, your impartiality, if not your better judgment, will be unimpeachable.

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