Making Information More Useful

This is mostly notes I jotted down after listening to the Jon Udell’s Interview with Art Rhyno. First of all, I think the concept of Interview with Innovator’s itself is a great idea. I plan to listen to more.

A few ideas worth noting from the interview:

  • The concept of Social Search and Discovery
  • Desktop Indexers (like Google desktop) taking advantage of structured metadata
  • Desktop systems could be intelligent assistants. They could find out more of what we do and help us.
  • Putting metadata directly into files so that when you move the file out of the desktop the meta data can be used too (Jon mentioned that this is in Vista)
  • Meta data creation at the time of content creation.
  • Collective as a trust network.
  • FOAF is a low barrier syntax.
  • We listen to certain people for certain reasons – Authorities in that space (example – Stephen Hawking in Physics) are more likely to carry trust. There are all sorts of reasons to listen to certain people on certain topics. There should be some flexible infrastructure. We assign authority for all sorts of reasons.
  • Freebase has a way of declaring connections. Very ingenious in the way it attracts you to do certain things.
  • We are entering the era of XML compound documents on the desktop.
  • Bi-directional objects that move freely between desktop and web.

Each one of these ideas merit their own blog entries and definitely require quite a bit of research. To me the fascinating parts of these conversations is how these simple observations provide useful insights. For example, Jon was talking about how tag recommendations (from not only your past bookmarks but also from the collective) may be a great idea to bring to desktop content.

I wonder if I am creating or saving a document, if the file dialog looks like the interface, whether I would pick a few tags? I do it for bookmarks now. Can a desktop agent do this automatically?

Breadcrumbs in Vista

I switched to a new laptop a few weeks ago. It came with Vista. My first instinct was to reformat the hard disk and put back Windows XP. But I changed my mind and decided to try it.

I have not decided whether I like it or not. I am going to live with it for a while and see whether I like it. There were no major changes for things I normally do. There are a few pleasant surprises. I like the breadcrumbs interface in the explorer toolbar. Having been used to it in Plone and some of the wikis I use, it is nice to see it in the Document Explorer.

A Nice Touch

I went to Google calendar to plan the week. On the top right hand corner, I noticed a little a link New Features.

And there it is – a list of new features of Google calendar. I don’t recall when I last used the calendar, but it is nice to know that something new is added to this web application. It is a nice touch. It is better than an email.

There are few interesting things web apps can do. Incremental improvement and making them available to users almost immediately.

Little Programs

Some times you start somewhere and end up in unexpected places on the Web. This one of those little journeys. A few clicks of the mouse. A few minutes of reading. I really like Hackety Hack. It is time someone picked a simple model to encourage people to try out little snippets of code and enjoy the outcome.

Here is an enjoyable few minutes if you are a programmer. Amazing how much you can achieve with less than 5 lines of code. Take a look at Little Programs page. If you are not ruby programmer, try these little ones in other languages – Python, PERL, PHP. And try them again in C, Java, C#. You will know what I mean.

The Bylaws of Hackety

Here are the rules by which Hackety Hack was established:

  • Beginners should be greeted to Hackety Hack by a cartoon character. (For the sake of argument, let’s call this character: Hacky Mouse.)
  • Also, helpful sentences. And full sentences with a period.
  • Hackety Hack is fundamentally a browser and a programming language. For now, Gecko and Ruby.
  • I’m only using Ruby because I know it. Hopefully, more languages can be added!
  • Again, this isn’t about Ruby, it’s about simply offering a place for plainspeople to tinker with code.
  • IDEs are a disaster. Newbs should see only one non-scary window free of tree controls and pinned windows and toolbars.
  • As such, we want to stay away from project files and makefiles, the trappings of an IDE.
  • Hackety Hack also adds simple libraries for common things.
  • Common things are one-liners.
  • Keep args and options to a minimum.
  • In Ruby, blocks should be used to open up a method to more advanced possibilities.
  • Help files are clean, short, simple. Lots of short examples. No frames.
  • While all bug tickets are helpful and great, I just value tickets from beginners to a greater degree.
  • Hackety Hack is free and will remain free henceforth.

Beyond that… anything which makes life easy and fun for Hackety Hackers is definitely encouraged, even demanded.

Path to discovery:

Jon’s blog on A Conversation with Art Rhyno -> Code4lib ->Planet Code4Lib -> Michael Giarlo’s links

Searching For A Better Search

When Google came on the scene, they raised the bar on search. Search went from something I occasionally use to something I use most of the time. I did not know that I had the need to search so much.

However, I am yearning for a better search engine. That is good for both Google (since they are slightly ahead of the game at this point) and competitors since they can do a Google on Google.

Depending on your search needs, your wish-list may be different than mine. I am also looking at it as a more geeky power user. Here is my list.

Better Profile Usage
I want better use of my search profile (I now provide this to Google) both implicit and explicit. I use Swicki and other similar tools to constrain search. So I am willing to provide explicit hints to the search engine if required. I would also like the search engine to implicitly see the results I am clicking on and bookmarking. I will be happy to provide a search engine my blog profile, my profile my flickr profile in addition to my search profile. That should give them enough hints to give me a few good, high quality results. Google does a great job when I am looking for something new. But I am not all that happy with what it does for the areas I am interested in.

Better Use of Contextual Information
An example of a context is whether I am searching for my work or for my personal needs. Other contextual information includes whether I am looking for vendors, recommendations, opinions, deals etc.

Better Clustering of Results
I would like better clustering of the results. Some search engines currently do this. But I have no control over the clustering parameters. Again, I will be happy to provide some hints to the engine (may be my own classification structure).

Collaborative Search
Collaborative Search may be the next big thing. In a collaborative search, a set of users collaborate on filtering the search results to improve the quality of results. Collaborative search, by its very nature, may be useful for small clusters or groups where people are looking for similar things.

Better Formatting of Search Output
I would like better formatting of output. It is good to see RSS feeds being one option. It will be great, if I can choose what I want to see in my search results besides links and some brief text around the search terms that is currently provided by search engines.

Continuous Search
I would love to have a facility called Continuous Search (I picked the term from continuous query processing in the database world). A continuous search is a search, that is repeated at specified intervals and only the new items identified. This way I can keep tabs on various things I frequently search for.

Ability to Specify Search Objectives
Finally, I would like to specify what I want out of the search. Is it a person, a company, a place, a document? I will be happy to specify something like result:person or some such hint in the search.

I can go on and on, but you get the drift. I am a power searcher and I find some of the most powerful search engines available today still a bit too limiting. As we make search an integral part of our web lives, we will need more.

Many of these features can probably be handled through search extensions and mashups. So building a great Search framework and let other developers innovate may be a way to do this.

Cool Tools for the Web – Part-3

Some times I use a tool for a while before it appears in this list.


I stumbled upon, StumbleUpon a while ago, while tracking the visitors to my blog. It is one of those compelling applications that you have to have. It is sitting in my Firefox Toolbar, right now. StumbleUpon made news this week. They were acquired by eBay. They seemed to have added more services too. Definitely worth checking out.

Swicki is a cross between wikis and search engine (not sure why they decided to spell wiki as wicki). The swickibuilder lets you build a search (a few terms and information sources) and use it collaboratively. According to the swicki FAQ:

A swicki is new kind of search engine that allows anyone to create deep, focused searches on topics you care about. Unlike other search engines, you and your community have total control over the results and it uses the wisdom of crowds to improve search results. This search engine, or swicki, can be published on your site. Your swicki presents search results that you’re interested in, pulls in new relevant information as it is indexed, and organizes everything for you in a neat little customizable widget you can put on your web site or blog, complete with its very own buzz cloud that constantly updates to show you what are hot search terms in your community.

You can check it out here. I built a couple of them to play around with. There is not that much activity in my swickis. You may understand why, if you look at my swickis and the popular ones 🙂

Cool Tools for the Web – Part-2

I have been playing with Netvibes for a while. Today I made it my home page. It is cool. You can build your portal page by dragging and dropping widgets and setting a few parameters. My home page contains some tech news feeds, a few RSS feeds, my bookmarks and some cool widgets like Astronomy Today, Blog Search, Image Search, Podcast Search, Video Search.

Netvibes now has a Unviersal Widget API. Here is a short description from their site:

With UWA, your Netvibes widget is by default able to work on most other widget platforms and blog systems: Netvibes, Google IG, Apple Dashboard…

  • Code once and run your widget on most platforms.

  • Rely on our open-source JavaScript runtime, soon ported to more and more platforms.

  • Get access to the Netvibes UI environment, a cool UI that gives a fresh and shiny look to your widget.

  • Build your widgets around open services, or give your users access to your open API through your very own widget.

  • Coming soon: leverage our translation community to see your widget ported and localized.

I tested a few and they work both in Netvibes as well as Google Pages. I hope we can get UWA widely adopted across vendors.

An Innovation to Diffuse Innovation

Eric Von Hippel likes to share his work on Innovation. In this interview, he explains why.

I’m trying to diffuse my work and ideas, much the way MIT does with OpenCourseWare. Society is already paying me for my work via my research funding.

So what does the author do? Takes the two books he has written on Innovation and makes them available as free downloads. I have seen other similar moves from authors like Mark Pilgrim (Dive Into Python) and Bruce Eckel (several programming  books).

In this interview Eric says that this experiment proved that making books freely available on Internet, in fact, improved the sales.

Here are links to download Eric’s books – Democratizing Innovation and The Sources of  Innovation.

Found the article through : Google Alerts

Cool Tools For The Web – Part-1

Here are some cool tools, I tried this week. I went searching for some and others came to me through friends and Google alerts.


A way to synchronize your Firefox bookmarks on a server. Was very useful to me when I moved to a new laptop last week. Works pretty well for the simple things I tried.

Google Notebook

Even though I mentioned this earlier, Google seems to have made some UI changes which is tremendous improvement. This is one of the tools I use more and more.


Fleck is a service to annotate web pages and share it with your friends. I tried the Firefox extension and it works well. Here is a Fleck on my previous blog entry.

One of the Most Valuable Resources for Bloggers

This is one of the most valuable resources for bloggers I have seen, in a while. For some one to take the pains to assemble such a big list and carefully categorize them and list them on a blog, is, simply astounding. But then, this is what blogging is all about – sharing.

I’ve put together a huge list of content resources for you to peruse and investigate for possible blog content. It certainly isn’t a list of all the content, resources, and information out there, but it is designed to get you thinking about all the content, resources, and information out there for you to blog about. And there is a lot out there. If I have missed a favorite resource of yours, please add it below in the comments. I love looking up new avenues of inspiration.

I came to this list by accident. I track several topics using Google Alerts. I received an alert for InfoMinder today. InfoMinder is a product our company provides. I followed the link on the alert and found this blog post. I am glad, I did.