Hello India, we’re still here…

…but other sites are apparently blocked.

There are a fair number of readers here from India, where some ISPs have started blocking many blogs, including all of Typepad, Blogspot, Geocities. So you might have thought this site was also blocked if you came by yesterday, since you would have gotten something like “Connection refused” or a similar error message.

Fortunately / unfortunately, it’s just Dreamhost having some hardware and network problems, which took down many of their clients for several hours yesterday, and is still behaving badly today.

On the care and feeding of online forums

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I’ve had two online forum transition experiences in a week now. It’s interesting to observe how quickly an existing user base can be fragmented or even lost altogether.

The Yahoo Finance message boards uproar continues. Now that I’ve tried it more than once during the past few days, I’m still finding it difficult to scan quickly. More importantly to Yahoo, there are signs of mass migration to other message boards by very active participants looking for a new home. Much of the flock may still settle back at Yahoo, but it looks like there’s been a lot of people checking out the alternatives during the past few days.

On a completely different front, I have been part of a running forum which has been at Runners World magazine. I usually check in once a week or so, and participate in a weekly motivational game in which teams of runners post their weekly mileage. A few weeks ago, Runners World changed their forum software. In the process, the site went completely offline for a while, and later required re-registration by existing members. Their new message board there isn’t as much of a change as the Yahoo boards, but the extended outage appears to have dispersed many of the participants to other message boards. I only check once a week, and haven’t succeeded in re-registering my account yet, so I effectively disappeared. A few people from the Marathons forum eventually tracked me down today and pointed me at an “escapee” forum set up during the interim, which seems to have picked up many regulars in just a few weeks.

Assuming that either Yahoo Finance or Runners World finds it constructive to run an online message board, it’s interesting that there has been very little (no?) dialogue that I know of between the operators of the sites and their respective user communities. I suspect that a few bread crumbs of communication would have kept more people on board.

Yahoo Finance Message Boards upgrade – ugh

Dropped by the Yahoo Finance message boards this evening to scan through comments. The Yahoo Message Boards have been around in the same form for nearly as long as Yahoo, and for the past several weeks Yahoo has been testing a new format, which I find hard to read. Fortunately, there was a link to return to the original version, and I think it’s been popular.

Sometime over the weekend, all Yahoo Finance message boards have been upgraded to the new version, with no way to get to the old version.

This post captures the sentiment of many members:

IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM YAHOO!
Hi, I am the Project Manager for the new Yahoo Message Boards. I just wanted to let you all know that we will be adding even more new features to the stunning new boards next week:

1) Starting next Monday, all new posts will automatically be translated into Norwegian. Our Yahoo Finance development team decided that users would want this, and since we do not speak directly to users before updating our site, we will assume this is a highly desired feature. The brilliant Stanford Ph.D.’s we hired to update the site thought it would be cool! Due to disk storage issues, we regret that we will no longer be able to offer your posts in English. Please learn Norwegian, and let us know how it goes on our Feedback form! We read every form you send us!

2) As you know, we recently stopped listing stock board posts chronologically, and went to a thread-based system. We feel that stock investors do not need to clearly see the latest posts in chronological order, during the trading day, and our Ph.D. geniuses from Stanford think you would prefer to dig through threads to find old posts on your stocks. More importantly, later this month, we will be removing the dates and times from all posts, and then in September we plan to mix them all up randomly. We hope that you are not inconvenienced by reading 8 year old posts when making investment decisions. Please use the helpful Feedback form to let us know what you think. We read every one!

3) As you may know, in the Beta we switched from a simple and effective system of “recommending” posts with a click, to a more complex one in which you rate posts with stars. Of course, you can only see the number of stars for the first post in a thread, but we feel this is better even if no one ever uses it. Our Ph.D. developers informed us that “complex” equals “better”. So next month, we will replace the star system with a new even more complex one, in which you will manually calculate the cube root of how much you like the post on a scale of 3.4 to 11, and then divide by pi. Please let us know what you think on the Feedback form, which next month will only accept entries in Hexadecimal. We read every post.

Finally, just to get you excited and build some anticipation, I wanted to let you know that our Ph.D.’s are working on a new feature for 2007. Posts will be automatically scanned for keywords by our cool super-complex search technology, to determine if they would be better suited to a different stock board, and if so, they will be automatically moved. We feel the slight inconvenience of having posts moved around by the system will be outweighed by how cool the technology is!

Regards,
Yahoo Finance Development Team Manager ”

The new version defaults to thread-oriented, has a 5-star rating system, and provides a filter to view only highly rated posts, similar to Slashdot. This seems like it could be helpful to people who want to see popular topics. Unfortunately, the new message board format makes it very difficult to view posts in time sequence. It also doesn’t have the old message numbers, so people who kept lists of “useful” posts are out of luck, and in general seems to make it difficult to get to older posts except through search.

There are typically many more readers/lurkers than writer/posters on any message board. The board revisions seem geared toward helping the occasional reader, but also seem unpopular with the current board communities who actually generate the content. There’s a lot of grumbling, and at least some early signs of migration to other boards, such as Investors Hub, Raging Bull, Silicon Investor, and Investor Village.

After some experimenting, I’ve found it a little easier to use after changing the view preferences to “expanded” and “message list”. I suspect the threaded format may eventually help separate traffic between the buy-and-hold crowd and the short term traders, if people stick with the new system. In the meantime, there appears to be a surge of people trying out the other services.

It will be interesting to see how the transition works out. I find the new format more difficult to read, and it seems to be unpopular among the existing communities. On the other hand the new message boards format may be easier for new people to participate, and could grow new communities to replace the existing ones.

There’s some speculation on Yahoo’s intent, this post is representative:

It’s puzzling that yahoo would enforce this new system when there’s been clear evidence (from neglect of the trial format in the last weeks) that it’s not popular. I suspect there is a familiar style of coercive industrial ad mgt driving things. If you use the new format, you are coaxed/forced into playing a sort of teenage interactive popularity contest, like voting for pop stars. I assume this is to persuade advertisers that the system gooses up user enthusiasm. The problem is, as in consumer mkting, the “threads” preselect what you can see and respond to, channeling your attn the way news reporting and ads preselect the reality you can see. In effect, yahoo is part of a larger industrial paradigm in which life is a consumer decision-tree rather than a play of curiosity and discussion / analysis. Part of the frustration being felt is that you know you’re a mouse in a maze. You’re being trapped inside a teenie bopper fan magazine rating “products” rather than sharing ideas. It’s a shame to see such a useful forum crippled by childish advertising trickery.

I’m less cynical about the intent of moving to a threaded view, but it’s clearly an uncomfortable change for many participants who are more engaged there than myself. The challenge for Yahoo is that much of the value in the Finance boards is that there’s enough traffic and/or useful posts on many of them (AAPL, GOOG, TIE, most highly traded stocks) to make it worth checking out from time to time, but the interests of the active board community are different than those of a casual viewer, and for the moment there’s a disconnect in progress. Yahoo may have also picked an inopportune weekend to switch over, since posting volume is likely to be high during the next few days, reacting to events in the Middle East.

I was recently pointed at Instant Bull, a new site intended to scan multiple finance boards. Unfortunately it wants Firefox 1.5, and I’m still running 1.x for now, so I’ll have to check it out later.

Update 07-16-2006 23:00PDT: More from PaidContent, GigaOm, CNet

Update 07-18-2006 19:45PDT: There’s an impressive level of antipathy toward the new message board format. Yahoo Finance members have rapidly started setting up beachheads on other sites. One anecdote from the YHOO board:

ELN on Investor Village shows that over 800 members and over 1800 guests (probably folks checking out alternative boards) have visited in the last 24 hours! Who even heard of Investor Village before this week?

I did a search of messages on Yahoo’s ELN board and saw that there were almost 500 postings between 6AM yesterday and 6AM today (for some reason, Yahoo’s search function is not showing any results for postings after 6AM today), most of which were probably related to complaints about the new format. Then I did a search on the number of postings done since 6AM today on the ELN board on Investor Village and there’s been over 400 posts! Considering they only have 1805 posts in total on the board and considering the number of people that have visited the ELN board on Investor Village in the last 24 hours, it tells me if Yahoo doesn’t find a way to bring back something similar to the old format and the complainers on Yahoo see that their complaints are getting them nowhere, there’s gonna be a mass exodus of all these people that are now posting on or at least checking out Investor Village.

This ‘upgrade’ implementaion has been a disaster. Competitors like Investor Village are taking advantage. Even if Yahoo gains some of their traffic back, they won’t recover all of it just like Coke didn’t gain all of their market share after the New Coke fiasco. If this an indication of Yahoo’s current business model, do you really want to be an investor in this stock as future ‘upgrades’ are implemented????

Vestiges of the “old” system are still around in the non-Finance sections of Yahoo, so others have been trying to set up shop there, such as this alternative AAPL board. I suspect these may not last for long.

Tom Foremski has commented on the uproar about the new message board format in the context of user interface design: “people are creatures of habit and nobody wants to have to learn a new user interface”. I agree, but I think there’s more to it than people not wanting to change. I personally find the new format difficult to visually scan, and in retrospect I see that I tend to watch for interaction among certain individual contributors, as well as for general noise level around various topics. The new system would probably work well for topically driven forums, while many of the high volume forums border on IRC chat.

Message boards are pre-Web 1.0 social software, dating back to the days of dialup BBSes. One view might be that the users just don’t “get” the Web 2.0 fit and finish being wrapped around Yahoo Finance. However, I think the clash here has mostly been about a mismatch between the existing community of users and the use of the site as envisioned by the Yahoo Finance product management team.

I conclude that there’s either a serious gap in how the user testing and feedback process worked, or there’s been a conscious management decision to change the character of the Finance Boards product, to clean up the content and make it better behaved by making it less interactive. Historically, many of the posts are of questionable merit, laced with profanity, innuendo, misrepresentation, and other disinformation. However…if you knew that already, then the flow of the pumper/basher posts itself was a useful data point, along with posts from individual traders and investors offering up independent opinions. Looks like that’s another bit of history now.

YHOO shares dropped hard in after hours trading today, the latest earnings matched, but search monetization isn’t growing well. Ironically, it sounds like at least a few traders shorted YHOO at the close, out of a combination of spite and a sense of management distrust following the message board fiasco. Not a sound rationale for the trade, but it clearly worked out for them.

Update 07-20-2006 14:36PDT – Yahoo has added a link to the old message list view, labeled “view all messages”, next to “view all topics”. The individual posts are still formatted in the “new look” though.

I’m really curious about what effect this is having on traffic and monetization at Yahoo Finance. I recognize a number of user handles that have moved to Investor Village or Investors Hub, and there are daily notices there from the site operators on server upgrades and other steps to accomodate the unexpected boost in traffic.

Some of you may also be interested in checking out SaneBull, an example of an AJAX-based stock info scanner. via TechCrunch

What was Zidane thinking?


France lost the final match of the World Cup to Italy, on a 5-3 penalty kick shootout after a 1-1 tie through regular time and two 15-minute overtime periods. Penalty shootouts can be a bit random, so either team could have won, and it was a fun game to watch since I’m not partial to either side.

More interesting to me than the actual outcome of the game is Zinedine Zidane, captain of the French side, who headbutted Marco Materazzi from the Italian team, which got him red carded and thrown out of the game during the second overtime. Not in the middle of play action, mind you, but while walking back down field between plays, so it was completely pointless in terms of advancing the game for his side.

Zidane isn’t exactly a hotheaded youth, having already stated his intention to retire from soccer after the World Cup. Up to the headbutting, the US commentators had been comparing him to Beckenbauer and other elder statesmen of the sport, which might have been overdone. But after leading the French side to the finals, heroically coming back in late in the game after a minor injury, and standing on the verge of ending his career on a high note, perhaps leading off the game-ending penalty kicks, what on earth was he thinking?

More from SI.com, video clip at YouTube

Update Wed 07-12-2006 13:55PDT – Anil Dash presents the Zidane World Cup Headbutt Animation Festival.

How to find out who watches Rocketboom


I’m amazed by the volume of discussion about Amanda Congdon, Andrew Baron, and the history and future (or not) of Rocketboom. I’m looking forward to seeing what either or both of them do going forward, like everyone else, but have nothing to add to the discussion other than best wishes.

However…the flap is also having the side effect of showing that just about everyone I “know” online has been watching Rocketboom. Check out the Technorati search for pointers to Amanda’s departure post and see how many names you recognize. Who knew?

Update 07-06-2006 16:20 PDT: Rocketboom the comic
Update 07-12-2006 21:42 PDT: Rocketboom is back on the air with new host Joanne Colan, here’s her debut.

Bell Labs Holmdel to be demolished for new office parks

I’m surprised to read in Engadget that the old Bell Labs Holmdel research facility is slated to be demolished and turned into three office parks. I recently tossed out some old project papers from the days when AT&T still ran Bell Labs, and I had occasion to visit the site from time to time.

Aside from the long history of really cool projects there (radar, sonar, cosmic background radiation, cell phones, networking, etc), the building (designed by Eero Saarinen), is huge (six stories, two million square feet), and visually striking. Externally, it sits on a large parcel of land by itself, making it hard to get a sense of scale as you approach. Internally, the lobby atrium is vast, open to the ceiling, and surrounded by chrome, gray, and fluorescent-lit mezzanine floors. Stepping inside felt a bit like landing in the Death Star.

As interesting and historic as the building is, what I really miss is the broad scope and scale of activity at the pre-divestiture AT&T Bell Labs. The closest thing to it today is probably at Google, funding a lot of motivated smart people with its massive stream of ad revenues, trying out a lot of interesting but not always commercially viable ideas. I always thought Microsoft could have done more along these lines with revenues from Windows and Office. You pretty much need monopoly-level profits to fund big private research for any length of time.

Update Friday 09-01-2006 16:49PDT: Looks like the developers have come up with a plan that preserves the main building.

PREI announced that the landscape, oval, tower and two of the original Phase I Eero Saarinen-designed buildings will remain (including the 80-foot tall center lobby), in addition to developing a historic library to highlight Bell Labs’ artifacts and paraphernalia related to the facility. Also being built are five new adjacent buildings (in orange, above), though two of the original Phase II buildings (and two wings that were added later) will be demolished.

Gnomedex 2006

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Returned this afternoon from Gnomedex. There was a lot of external interest in John Edwards’ session, which made the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Saturday.

For myself, I enjoyed getting away for a few days to think about blogs, social media, and also enjoying Seattle. It was interesting to meet various bloggers in person. Mostly good, although from time to time I wished for the super remote from “Click”, to turn down the volume or fast forward.

watching the world cup at gnomedex

There wasn’t a World Cup video feed on the first day of the conference, so Jeff Clavier and Halley Suitt offered to sponsor a big screen television at the conference center, which was running on the second day for the England-Portugal and France-Brazil matches. Conveniently, the dramatic penalty shootout ending the England-Portugal match started just after a session break, allowing many fans of the English side to be disappointed in real time. Jeff was pleased with France’s win, however. No conference feed in the World Cup TV room, but the IRC backchannel was busy.

IMG_6474 gnomedex-museum-of-aviation-dinner

Gnomedex party at Seattle Music Experience

The evening events were at the Museum of Aviation and the Seattle Experience Music Project (which is co-located with a Science Fiction museum). These sorts of places don’t get very high on the priority list when travelling with my family, so it was a lot of fun spending time there with a crowd of more appreciative visitors.

Many more photos at Flickr and posts at Technorati from other attendees.

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At Barcamp SF today

Opening comments
I’m at Barcamp San Francisco for the day. Come by and say hello if you’re around!

Website as graph


Here’s part of a visualization of this site. There are many more site visualizations on Flickr, tagged websitesasgraphs. The applet is written by an artist named Salas, who also has a project to sell one thousand paintings of numbers from 1 to 1000.

Markup tags are mapped to colors.

What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

About my del.icio.us links

The nice visualization of my del.icio.us tags reminds me:

If you normally reading my blog using a browser, you might want to take a look at the “Recent Links” section.

That category is automatically generated from del.icio.us. I got tired of seeing post after post titled “Links for xxxx-xx-xx” on the home page, so they don’t show up there, and they don’t show up on the recent posts listing either.

I normally try to add a descriptive comment and tags, so the links section is somewhat readable. At the moment, del.icio.us has a maximum of something like 255 characters for the comment, which can lead to terse and/or truncated prose, though.

If you normally read this site through a feedreader such as Bloglines or Rojo, the link posts are included in the full feed, but excluded from the index-page-only feed.

A graph of my del.icio.us tags

hjl-links-visualization

Here is a visualization of my del.icio.us tags, by Kunal Anand, who’s been collecting del.icio.us tags and turning them into interesting pictures. Here’s the short explanation he sent along:

1. Each dot represents a tag (aka a node)
2. Each line represents an intersection between tags
3. The center of the visualization (denoted by a colored gradient), represents the heavy set of intersections

It appears that I have a fairly consistent set of regularly used tags, and a fairly even distribution of less used tags that intersect with the most common ones.

For comparison, see visualizations of tags from Brad Feld, Tom Coates, Pete Freitag

BarCamp Bangalore

In catching up on e-mail and feed reading, I see that Chris and Tara are heading out to Bangalore for Barcamp Bangalore. Looks like there are several scheduled in India, I see Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and Mumbai on the calendar.

A number of the regular readers here are from India. If you’re reading this, chances are you’d enjoy participating. Here are some of my notes from (the first) BarCamp last summer in Palo Alto. If you’ve got some time this weekend and you’re in the area, check it out.

When:

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Login at 9am
Sessions start at 10am
Official end of sessions 5:30pm
Venue available till 10pm

Lunch 1pm sponsored by Yahoo! Bangalore

Dinner at 7:30 PM sponsored by Riya.com.

Day 2- Sunday, April 23
Maybe here: Fireflies

Where

Yahoo! Software Development India Pvt. Ltd.
Embassy Golf Links Business Park
5th floor, Augusta building,
Koramangala Ring Road
Bangalore – 560 071.

Change of scenery

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Vacation, broadband and an ocean view. What more could you want?

Now I can post very little due to vacationing, as opposed to posting very little due to work.

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Dae Han Min Kook!

dae-han-min-kook costa-rican-section

Yesterday I went to see an exhibition match between the Korean and Costa Rican National Teams at the Oakland Coliseum. These are basically training games for the World Cup series starting later this year.

The Korean team did unexpectedly well in the last World Cup series in 2002, making it all the way to the semifinals, which precipitated huge street celebrations and instant celebrity status for the entire team. My wife, who generally has no interest in organized sports, was getting up at 3 in the morning to watch the games on Telemundo, which is representative of the level of interest among the general Korean community.

It’s fascinating to me to see that many Koreans in one place. As you can see in the pictures, the Korean fans mostly wore red (the team is called the “Red Devils”). Many people also had those red plastic things which seem to be mostly for the clapping part of the cheer “Dae Han Min Kook – clapclap clapclapclap”. It’s extremely loud when it gets going, and very impressive. I enjoyed the fact that everyone from young kids to elderly halmonis and harobogis were there and having an enthusiastic time together. Judging from the vehicles in the parking lot yesterday, some of the Korean churches in the area organized carpools for their members to the game in church vans.

There was a much smaller section of Costa Rican fans. Costa Rica won the match, 1-0, which gave them something to cheer about too, but the Korean side appeared to play better overall, with about 10 attempts on goal (of which two bounced off the post) vs 1 for the Costa Ricans, and seemed to have the ball most of the time.

Next week the Korean team is playing the Mexican National Team in Los Angeles. I suspect there will be a larger turnout on behalf of the Mexican team down there, although there are also many more Koreans in L.A. than here in the Bay Area. The good news is, the match is being carried live on Telemundo, so we get to watch it up here.

Future of Web Apps workshop


I had been trying to arrange my schedule to get to the Future of Web Apps workshop this week in London, but sadly things didn’t work out. Actually, I didn’t even manage to get to last night’s SearchSIG to see edgeio’s first public demo here in the Bay Area, so perhaps it’s not surprising I couldn’t get a trip to the UK sorted out.

The good news is, there’s a conference wiki with lots of presentation notes, including comments on del.icio.us, discussions on how Flickr evolved, some thoughts on approaches to building discoverable URLs for data, the merits of Ruby on Rails. and a detailed discussion on the implementation approach and specific costs for the DropSend service.

A Digital Pantheon with D&D character alignments

This randomly turned up while I was looking into something else and will make absolutely no sense to you unless you have played Dungeons and Dragons at some point in your life.

Digital Pantheon

Lawful Good: Steve Jobs (Apple / Pixar)

Neutral Good: Larry Page/Sergey Brin (Google)

Chaotic Good: Linus Torvalds (Linux)

Lawful Neutral: Bill Gates (Microsoft)

True Netural: Peter Norton (Norton Utilities / Antivirus)

Chaotic Neutral: Shawn Fanning (Napster)

Lawful Evil: Nobuyuki Idei (Sony)

Neutral Evil: Steve Case (AOL)

Chaotic Evil: Ruslan Ibragimov (Spammer / SoBig virus)

Original post at LiveJournal, with comments.

See also: Wikipedia entry on character alignment in role playing games.

Wireless at the car dealer

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More overhead of life today, since the house is temporarily shut down. This morning I’m at the car dealer for annual maintenance. Fortunately, they’ve remodelled since last year, added free wireless service and fixed the coffee machine which brews Starbucks on demand, so I’m having a relatively productive morning. Power is still up at the house so I can get to those systems and everything else is on hosted services already.

Take that, termites!

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The rains a few weeks ago seems to have prompted the arrival of roving termites, so yesterday we vacated the house and filled it with Vikane. I spent part of the day working in the office while they were wrapping the house with a tent. By the time they finished, it produced an interesting lighting effect.
IMG_5824

Update 02-02-2006 20:55 PST:
Safe to re-enter?
We’re back in the house today, after the inspector declared it safe to re-enter. I’m vaguely disappointed that there aren’t more random dead bugs lying around the house, although the termites wouldn’t be visible in the walls and underground, and there actually were a few dead moths and stray houseflies here and there. Of course, now we’ve let in a whole new set of wandering insects, since we’ve had the windows and doors open all afternoon to air out the house.
IMG_5833
Here’s a good photo of some visible termite activity. Not what you want to see in your linen closet.

Starting the New Year with a Bang

We’re having a nice quiet New Year’s Day here, with traditional Korean duk mandu gook, a beef broth soup with dumplings and sliced rice cake. The custom is that you are one year older when you have duk mandu gook on New Year’s Day. I’m not totally sure about that part, but in any case we usually have soup on New Year’s Day.

I also have some more recent New Year’s traditions, such as cleaning out my e-mail inbox and archiving the previous year’s data, although I’ve mostly managed to take a break from computers during vacation. Outside it’s been wet and windy, making it a good day to stay indoors.

In contrast, my friend Andy has had a more exciting weekend, in which the latest round of storms here in the Bay Area managed to uproot a huge tree onto his house. Fortunately no one was hurt, and he has an amazing set of photos.

Wow!

Happy New Year!

Most Popular Posts of 2005

As 2005 comes to a close, a look back at some of the top posts this year based on page views, which seems to have been a mix of technology, business, travel, and random.

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