danbricklin.com/log

Starting March 25, 2009
Reviews of my book on Amazon, The paper I wrote for business school class about VisiCalc in 1978, Some quotes from the Technometria interview and others, Phil Windley interviews me on his podcast and discusses my book (which he liked a lot), 30th anniversary of showing VisiCalc privately at the West Coast Computer Faire, How Twitter changed the feeling at a concert, Book in hand and Tech Tuesday coming up, Obsessing about your book, How I turned my blog into a book, Prince's birthday surprise, Web site for my new book, Blog rally to help the Boston Globe, A challenge from netbooks and the iPhone-class devices, Reminder about Passover Haggadah class recordings, Podcast of MassTLC Designing IT in the Age of Obama discussion, MassTLC discussion of Designing IT in the Age of Obama, A proposal for an additional way to do URLs in Twitter
25Mar09-18May09
2009_03_25.htm
Monday, May 18, 2009 
Reviews of my book on Amazon [link]
I'm finally getting some reviews of Bricklin on Technology on Amazon. I know I write too much about the book here, but these are the first Amazon reviews and as an author that is pretty exciting and important, so please humor me.

Brad Feld posted the review he posted on his blog as "Book: Bricklin on Technology". Some quotes:

[Of the books he read this weekend] the first - and most enjoyable - was Bricklin on Technology.  I've somehow managed to end up with three of them - I know that Dan Bricklin sent me one and Amazon sent me one, but I don't know where the third came from.  Dan told me about this book a few months ago when I saw him in Boston at the TechStars for a Day event.  He's done an outstanding job of combining his essays on computing with updated thinking along with a bunch of great history.  There are a dozen chapters – each are a “mini-book” within the book.  My favorite was Chapter 12: VisiCalc (which is – not surprisingly – the history of VisiCalc) but the other chapters are all great...

I've always loved the way Dan's brain works and Bricklin on Technology is a bunch of it in one portable package.

Another Amazon review is from Scott Kirsner:

Bricklin has assembled a really valuable collection of visionary blog posts, interviews with people on the front lines of technological innovation, and PC industry history (he was the co-creator of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet -- which is credited as being the original "killer app"). I especially enjoyed chapters two and three, which focus on what people will pay for in the digital world, and the way the media industries have tried to deal with easy copying (Napster, Grokster, BitTorrent, etc.) Entrepreneurs will probably appreciate chapter seven, which focuses on tools that Bricklin thinks ought to be created (or improved). "Bricklin on Technology" is like downloading a few gigs of Dan's brilliance directly to your cerebral cortex.

Finally, another appeared from Eric Lundquist:

I ran into Dan at a Boston Tech Tuesday meeting recently. I've known Dan since he was a regular at our PC Week Spencer Katt parties. In his new book "On Technology" he accomplishes a singular feat. He mixes past short form blogs and posts with long form essays to provide perspective on our technology-driven society. I particularly liked his long form on thoughts on blogging following his 2004 Democratic Convention Coverage. My favorite photo was of Dan doing a demo of VisiCalc at the 1979 (!) West Coast Computer Faire. If you had to pick one book that gives you a where did we come from and where are we going tech direction, this is it.

Thanks to them all!

Thursday, May 14, 2009 
The paper I wrote for business school class about VisiCalc in 1978 [link]
As part of the research for my new book, Bricklin on Technology, I've been going through my old archives (read: boxes in the basement and attic) looking for special material to add to my book and to keep my memory honest. One of those artifacts is a paper that I wrote as a homework assignment in November of 1978 early in the development of VisiCalc. Other than for a little research Adam Green was doing for his studies a few years back when I first rediscovered it, I had forgotten about this until I was putting the book together.

From an historical viewpoint, the paper is very interesting. The assignment was to write a private, few page paper that was to be in the form of a short descriptive business school case  on an advertising management issue or 2-3 brief caselets on related facets of such an issue. Accompanying the descriptive material was to be our own comments/analysis of the case situation. I chose to do a 2-part case.

For my paper I chose to address the issue of advertising for the program I was developing, eventually called VisiCalc. The final name had not been chosen (or even proposed, I think), so I used "Calcu-ledger" as a placeholder, and the "case" is called "Calcu-ledger". (Eventually, Dan Fylstra, the head of Personal Software, decided to use "VisiCalc" as the name. Naming products is always a tough task.)

I needed to make the "case" revolve around advertising, so I made assertions about choices and beliefs at Personal Software and of mine that may or may not have actually been true. (For example, I was not the one tasked with creating their advertising as asserted in the paper.) However, the background material and other writings that I provided should be of interest from an historical perspective. It has narrative about the industry and copies of advertisements from the time.

My favorite quote (some of which made it into my book) is from the end of the paper (and I really must have felt this way). Here is a scan of what the paper looked like (typed on my old Hermes electric typewriter and with a stain from an old paper clip) and then a transcription:


A final word on the name "Calcu-ledger." Currently this appears to be the best name that I have been able to come up with. It has the unfortunate trait of not evoking the right image when heard out of context (ledger sounds too much like bookkeeping and accounting, and not easy use for non-accounting uses by non-accountants). Once the uses of the product are understood, though, its name becomes more appropriate (ledger is also a series of columns and rows). The uses are emphasized from the start in the ad, so I don't think that there will be many problems. Also, the name has a nice ring to it. Other names that I have thought of, such as "electronic spreadsheet" or "calcu-paper" don't sound right, or may not be understood by people, even after they know what it is (not everybody knows what a spreadsheet is, ledger is more common).

It's really funny to read things you wrote years later.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009 
Some quotes from the Technometria interview and others [link]
Here are some quotes from the interview Phil Windley conducted with me about Bricklin on Technology:

Early in the interview he said (at 3:18) "If any of the listeners have any hesitancy about a blog that got turned into a book, don't have it about this one because this one, actually, I found to be fascinating."

When I asked "Did it work for you guys?" (34:30) Phil answered, "Yeah. It did. When I saw what you've done, I thought, you know, if I really wanted to put my blog into a book, this is a good model . . . I think the biggest surprise for me was just the way you had taken material, spread out across time, brought it together into topics and written around it to give it context, and then you set the blog posts off separately with this kind of dotted line format around it -- that made it all work for me. I said, OK, I see how this could work now." Phil's friend Scott Lemon said, "When I first saw the book and how large it was I was thinking, oh my gosh, that's a ton to read, but what's fascinating, like Phil said, is that once I got in and started reading it actually flows well."

After going to so much trouble to figure out how I wanted to turn my blog into a book (as I wrote in "Turning My Blog Into A Book") it was great to hear that they felt I was successful.

I also tried to make the book accessible to non-techies. Phil said (22:38) "It's very readable, I think, as what you might call a popular technology book intended for a lay audience," and Scott added, "It turned out very good that way."

Scott Kirsner (author, writer for the Boston Globe, and host of various conferences, and a different Scott than on the podcast) tweeted this upon receiving his copy of the book: "@DanB's new book 'Bricklin on Technology' is like downloading a few gigs of Dan directly to your cerebral cortex Thanks, Dan!"
 
Phil Windley interviews me on his podcast and discusses my book (which he liked a lot) [link]
ITConversations just released the latest Technometria podcast. Host Phil Windley and Scott Lemon interviewed me about my book. They both liked the book a lot. Most of the discussion was about turning blogs into books, but some of the conversation was about topics in the book. Phil was surprised at how I had put the book together and how well it turned out. We also talked a bit about the challenges of moving a book like mine to the Amazon Kindle.

The web page about the podcast, with download links and direct player controls, is "Bricklin on Technology" on IT Conversations.

Any blogger (on any topic -- it doesn't have to be technical) who is considering writing a book will probably find the interview, and Phil and Scott's comments, interesting.

This is the first interview I've done about the book. There are more to come. It will be interesting to see which aspect each person focuses in on. I cover a lot of material in the book, from social use of technology to system architecture to thinking long term to copyright law to VisiCalc and other history and more. Phil chose the meta issue, of interest to many people, of how do we take all that intellectual material that we've put on our personal web sites and get something out of it that is coherent and readable for posterity.

If after listening to the podcast you are interested in my book, you can buy it here on Amazon.

Monday, May 11, 2009 
30th anniversary of showing VisiCalc privately at the West Coast Computer Faire [link]
VisiCalc was developed and shipped during the 1978 through 1979 time frame -- 30 years ago. As time goes on this year we keep hitting different milestones.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the 1979 West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco, which took place May 11-13. At that show, the company that was going to publish VisiCalc for Bob Frankston and me, Personal Software, hosted a "private" room in the building away from the show floor. In that room we demonstrated a relatively complete version of VisiCalc to personal computer industry press and dealers. As I recall, the price hadn't been officially set and Personal Software surveyed the dealers to get some idea of what they thought they could charge for it.

Here are the notes I wrote in my notebook when I got back from the trip:

Dan Bricklin's notes about the 1979 West Coast Computer Faire
In the notes I wrote "showed VisiCalc to dealers & press - they all liked it. Got survey answers." I also wrote about needing to set up a meeting at The Computer Store in the Boston area to show them VisiCalc. That store eventually became one of the largest sellers of VisiCalc (and Apple II computers) in the country, as I recall. Some of the people there that we demonstrated to went on to be the early sales department for Lotus.

Here is a photo that Bob took of me demonstrating VisiCalc on May 12, 1979:

Dan demonstrating VisiCalc at the 1979 West Coast Computer Faire in the private room, photo taken by Bob Frankston
Most of the personal computer industry press consisted of magazines (including Creative Computing, Kilobaud, and Byte), with a few months lead time for publication. Information was not disseminated with instant tweets or daily blog posts in those days.

In that room I met Vern Raburn for the first time. He was still, as I recall, with GRT, another personal computing software publisher that was a subsidiary of a cassette duplicating company that was having financial problems. He was discussing employment, I think I was told, with Personal Software, but ended up joining Microsoft as an early employee and where he led their "consumer products" group. That group did Flight Simulator and later Microsoft Word and Multiplan. Vern then went on to Lotus, helping them with the initial shipment of 1-2-3, Symantec, Slate (where I worked with him), and Eclipse Aviation.

I also met Dave Winer for the first time in that room. [Correction: Dave thinks that we met and the following happened at the next West Coast Computer Faire, which was March 14-16, 1980, and I that I attended the first two days of.] He was demonstrating an early version of his outlining product that Personal Software was considering publishing. Ted Nelson, who was well-known among us techies for his advocating of hypertext (a term he coined) and his book Computer Lib/Dream Machines, was also there and took a look at Dave's product while the rest of us stood around and watched. As I recall, Ted did not react too positively to what Dave had done, which must have been pretty disappointing to Dave. Ted has always been pretty set on the features he wants in a system. Dave has always been very practical with his products, never letting waiting for the perfect get in the way of shipping the useful. Outlining turned out to be popular, with Dave using the general ideas in a variety of later products that were financially successful for him. (Ted has a new book with his recollections of computing history, Geeks Bearing Gifts, that he's publishing at Lulu.) Dave talked a little about Ted and the Dream Machines book in a podcast last night.

Later this week I'm going to release copies of some artifacts that I have from the early days of VisiCalc that I used to help write my book, Bricklin on Technology. (You'll find the story of the development of VisiCalc in Chapter 12. Most of the book is about other topics.) In early June we'll have the 30th anniversary of the announcement and first public showing of VisiCalc.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 
How Twitter changed the feeling at a concert [link]
In my essay "Turning Inspiration Into Our Own: May the Force Be With You . . . and You . . . and You" I discussed how the Internet, cell phones, Twitter, and other technologies have helped connect humanity. I've just written another essay that covers a different, happier example at the Pete Seeger 90th Birthday concert.


Thursday, April 23, 2009 
Book in hand and Tech Tuesday coming up [link]
I received my first real, printed copy of my book this afternoon. Yay! To memorialize the moment for myself, I'm posting photos of me opening up the overnight package and pulling it out. (Since this is a book whose genesis is from my web site, it's fitting to document it here on that web site.)

 

There are now copies in the Wiley warehouse and they are being packed up and shipped off to book resellers. They should be available for purchase online or in stores in the next week or two.

One place that a few (lucky?) people will get a copy will be at next week's Tech Tuesday. We're holding it at 6pm at Microsoft's NERD facility on April 28th. (You can sign up on the event sign up page.) My editor from Wiley will be there and will raffle off a few copies, and maybe a few other of their books like last time.

Wiley won't be the only one giving out something at Tech Tuesday: O'Reilly Media will be giving away some eBooks (full downloadable copies of their traditional print titles). Maybe we'll have other things, too. We'll see.

For "geek entertainment" we have a really special presentation: General Dynamics C4 Systems will be demoing the NSA-approved Sectera Edge smartphone -- a secure system that President Obama is reportedly using. Over 150 people have already signed up, including many students -- technology, MBA, etc. Admission is free.

Saturday, April 18, 2009 
Obsessing about your book [link]
When you write a book it becomes very special to you. As Dan Ariely is quoted on page 133 of my book as saying about his book, "...people fall in love with what they create...I was amazed writing this book how much pride and ownership I feel about it."

Yep, that's me, too. On any topic that comes up, I seem to find a tie-in to the book. Pirates off the coast of Somalia? Page 168. Twitter or Evan Williams? Many places. Government and IT and transparency? Chapter 9. It gets to be a pain for people around me but it helps me remember what's in my book in a way that I can use when doing PR and need to think on my feet during interviews.

Sure enough, it just happened again. This morning's New York Times has an article about turning blogs into books: "Public Provides Giggles; Bloggers Get the Book Deal." This is right after I posted my "Turning a book into a blog" essay about the issues I ran into when creating my book. It is a good counterpoint to my essay, and hopefully shows why my book is different than those blog-to-books (and will hopefully be more timeless).

By the way, my book should be starting to ship from the publisher to book resellers next week. Hopefully I'll have my first copy in hand by this time next week. Then I'll really be a pain. Please bear with me. I'll get over it eventually. Maybe.

(If you buy from Amazon, you can give me a little extra by clicking here to buy it. Thanks! Also if you like the book, please write a review for Amazon and anywhere else.)

Monday, April 13, 2009 
How I turned my blog into a book [link]
My book is at the printers and I'm told that copies should start shipping from the warehouse to book resellers (and me) in a week or two. I've just written an essay explaining how I went about producing the book and posted it on my book web site. Here's why:

There have been various other blogs that have been turned into books over the last few years. Most, from the little I've seen, are reprints of essays or how-to entries, or are "based" on the stories in the blog as a starting point. Turning some of my web presence into a book that I was happy with had some additional challenges.

As people who have been following this blog for a long time (or who have explored my whole web site) have probably noticed, my material doesn't all just stand alone. Like many other personal web sites, my writings are often a reaction to something someone else wrote or to an event or experience of some sort. There is often follow up as others write on their blogs about the same topic or in response to mine or when they email me, and I use links to other material to further explain things or as a foil.

To me, this ecosystem of other writings and context is part of the experience of my writings and I wanted to preserve it as much as possible in the book where appropriate. Also, as the son of a printer, and a person who once helped develop computerized newspaper typesetting and word processing systems, I see the printed page as a tool whose properties we can exploit to help present material, and not just for simple paragraphs after paragraph of prose.

Extracting a book from my web site and making it relevant today as a coherent whole, as opposed to just having a random collection of popular pieces by themselves, was an interesting challenge. I don't know how successful it has been -- we'll see in a few weeks when we have bound copies in hand. I do know that the book is filled with good material and people have enjoyed reading parts as I put it together. I like it very much, but then, I wrote it and when I didn't like something I got to change it. The people quoted on the cover, including Ray Ozzie and Doc Searls, told me that they read reasonable portions of it and they said very nice things about it.

To help readers have a better understanding of the origin and meaning of various typographic styles used in the book, I've written a somewhat detailed account of the process I went through and included scans of some of the proof pages as examples. I'm also responding to people who asked how I did it. I hope that the write-up (together with the book itself) will be of help to other bloggers who are considering creating a book themselves and are looking to see what others have done.


Sunday, April 12, 2009 
Prince's birthday surprise [link]
Today would have been my dog Prince's 18th birthday. He died a little over 5 years ago. He was a Portuguese Water Dog with really cute markings and a wonderful disposition. His breed used to be extremely rare, and almost went extinct in the early part of the last century. We got him because, as a dog with hair and not fur, he was thought to less likely affect my allergies, and because we were taken with the look and disposition of his mother at a dog show.

Today of all days, the Washington Post ran their "exclusive" story about the new First Dog: A Portie, like Prince. My how the breed has progressed from an obscure working dog on ships to near extinction to the faithful companion of senators and presidents. It makes me very happy. I very fondly remember the times we spent together and how I did some of my best thinking while walking him at night. He made a few appearances here on this blog over the years.

Here's a photo of Prince in 1999:

Prince, Dan's dog, in 1999

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 
Web site for my new book [link]
I've put up the beginning of a web site for my upcoming book. Right now it only has copies of the cover quotes, table of contents, and a more detailed description of the contents. Over the next week or so I plan to add more.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009 
Blog rally to help the Boston Globe [link]
One of the chapters in my upcoming book, Bricklin on Technology, is about blogging. Early in the chapter I write about discussions in the press and online in early 2002 about blogging. There was a February 25, 2002 article in the New York Times titled "Is Weblog Technology Here to Stay or Just Another Fad?" In the article, Bob Tedeschi writes:

But is this a truly new media species, with the power to command the attention of big Internet media companies? Or is it simply that in this, the Internet's fallow period, anything even remotely buzzworthy is given more of a spotlight than it deserves. Is the Weblog, in other words, a fad that is destined to fade?

...But even among those whose Weblogs have gained notoriety, there are some who see this trend as ephemeral.

At the end of the chapter, written in the latter part of last year, I wrote: "The question for the New York Times is not how blogging will make money but how newspapers will get paid."

Faster than I could imagine, things are really deteriorating. The Boston Globe's owner, that same New York Times, is threatening to shut it down. Ironically, Today, there are local blogs that are rallying in support of the Globe. Please go to the blog of Paul Levy, the CEO of a large, famous Boston hospital, and read "Blog Rally to help the Boston Globe".

Thursday, April 2, 2009 
A challenge from netbooks and the iPhone-class devices [link]
The New York Times ran an article this morning titled "Light and Cheap, Netbooks Are Poised to Reshape PC Industry." As is common with articles about netbooks, they say "Netbooks have trouble running demanding software like games and photo-editing programs." This is the common complaint about the speed of the processor. Of course, compared to the older computers with less memory and older graphics systems that many people are used to using, they aren't so bad, and modern browsers are constantly getting more efficient at running JavaScript and other online content. Netbooks work fine for YouTube and Skype video, which are great things to do in the random places you would take these to. From a user interface viewpoint, the processor speed is not a major issue, I think.

Recently, I've had some experience with a netbook. When my old laptop's batteries started getting "tired" and having problems lasting through long flights (or even until dinner), I ended up buying a netbook (an Acer Aspire One) rather than spend over $200 on new batteries. I really appreciate the much lower weight and size, and its one battery lasts longer than my other two combined at their peak on my old laptop.

What I find, though, is that the screen is the issue. It is not the tiny characters (my old Tablet PC has much smaller type on its hi-res screen) or physical size. It is the short 1024x600 screen dimensions that most of the current machines have. Many web sites, and lots of software, has been  written with 1024x768 assumed as the minimum screen size, and most developers are working with 1280x1024 or larger screens. Those 168 pixel rows make a big difference.

It is not uncommon to find the "Continue" button on a piece of software off the bottom of the screen, with no way to drag the dialog box up to find it. The fixed stuff at the top of browsers and many web sites means that almost nothing is visible without scrolling, and even then, the scrollable window is very short (though of normal and very usable width). When connecting to a projector to show a presentation, apparently it's best to run with the internal screen off and only use the projector (so as to use the full resolution of today's projectors), which changes the choreography of presenting a bit as you have to watch the projected image with your back to the audience more.

So, I have a new design point and testing point: Able to work on a 1024x600 screen. This is a challenge for retrofitting existing software, but should be doable.

For reading, 600x1024 would be better, I think (that is, portrait instead of landscape). Unfortunately, today's netbooks aren't Tablet PCs. Tomorrow's will be, I assume, but that's another design point.

With the small displays of the iPhone, G1, and others, often running in portrait mode but sometimes in landscape mode, there is yet another design point. This is a challenge for developers, especially web developers. This is in addition to the lack of certain browser events in those touch-operated devices. (The rich set of browser mouse down, move, and up events, with various modifiers, seem to be compromised on the handhelds when using normal JavaScript, at least at first, as they are reserved to control the browser itself before being let through to JavaScript applications.)

I assume that we will be seeing additional, small, touch-operated devices tuned to the wide-screen formats popular for modern video. These changes in screen size, orientation, and input functionality will be a challenge for developers used to the design point of the old 1024x768 mouse-driven systems.

Microsoft has shown that they can enhance Office by taking advantage of more pixels on the screen (compare the newer versions of Office to the older ones with their smaller toolbars and icons, and to the really old ones with their much smaller toolbars). Apple and others are showing that you can create nice, compelling, usable  interfaces in small-dimensioned screens, but they aren't the same as those for big screens.

With millions of the current netbooks already there, and more being bought, the issue of maximum screen size is something that developers and designers should be aware of and track. Many developers I talk to who haven't spent much time with a netbook don't seem to know about this, so I thought I should flag it here explicitly.
 
Reminder about Passover Haggadah class recordings [link]
Passover is next week. For those who go to seders to celebrate, and for those who are interested in the development of ancient rituals and the development of religion, I want to remind you about the recordings I've posted. Reuven Cohn (a rabbi who also practiced as a lawyer) teaches a wonderful class that uses the widely known text of the Haggadah (the book used during a Passover seder) as an entry way into a much less well known set of texts (the Mishnah and related writings of the Talmud). Reuven taught a short version of the course which I recorded. You can listen to it (7 parts, totaling 5 hours -- something to do while traveling or cleaning the house) like a podcast series. For more information see "About Reuven Cohn's Haggadah Recordings." Warning: Since this was a real class, with real participants (who are also on the recording) the first half hour or so is a little slow while Reuven gets them used to his teaching style. By the end of an hour you should be into the Mishnah and gaining new insights. No knowledge of Hebrew or background other than having attended a seder is required.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 
Podcast of MassTLC Designing IT in the Age of Obama discussion [link]
The MassTLC meeting was the morning and it went pretty well. The "audience" was a little less participation-oriented than I had hoped, but the panelists were great, and everybody who participated brought something valuable to the discussion. Lots of good topics came up. I recorded it and the 2-hour recording turned out pretty well.

For some reason, people couldn't help themselves and during some of the beginning of the meeting, and periodically throughout, the conversation turned to the old topic of Open Source vs. Proprietary. I tried to keep moving it back to the issues at hand about transparency, participation, and collaboration, and we did eventually get in the groove about that.

I've put photos of what was written on the whiteboard during the meeting on the "Designing IT in the Age of Obama" page. You can find the podcast on my podcast page or subscribe to the podcast RSS feed. I'm sure that Tom Hopcroft will put more on his MassTLC Blog.

There's lots to this topic and I hope others are delving into it. Even if you couldn't be there it's worth looking at what I wrote as an introduction and perhaps listening to the recording.

Thursday, March 26, 2009 
MassTLC discussion of Designing IT in the Age of Obama [link]
Next Wednesday morning, April 1, 2009, we are having another event for the Open Source cluster of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. It will be a 2-hour open discussion titled "Designing IT in the Age of Obama". Present will be Doc Searls of the Berkman Center, Microsoft's Susie Adams, new Black Duck CEO Tim Yeaton, and Sun's Tom Kincaid, as well as people from Novell, BSA, Fish & Richardson, some students, and more.

The idea for the discussion came out of a brainstorming session we had several weeks ago. In President Obama's inaugural address he touched on some particular themes about change. He also mentioned use of technology. I thought that if we could get some people who are used to thinking about changes in how we do things in the room we could have an interesting discussion.

The original notice for this event had a placeholder that talked about a panel roundtable to discuss "open source, proprietary, and mixed solutions to address challenges and opportunities in healthcare, energy, education, and other national priorities." That is, the old same "Open Source vs. Proprietary" discussion with Microsoft taking one side and others on the other. We've had enough of those. That's not what I had in mind.

President Obama has put forth some very specific directions with respect to inclusiveness, responsibility to the nation, transparency, participation, and collaboration. Those are what I want to address, but with the from the ground up thinking that went into the idea of Free Software licenses and Creative Commons. Also, the MassTLC had a very successful unconference last September. People are now used to everybody participating, not just a few taking their turns on a stage.

I've written up more detail on a separate page, "Designing IT in the Age of Obama." I think that the issues are ones that should be generally discussed and I hope we do our part at this meeting. Hopefully, I'll get a reasonable podcast recording out of it for others to listen to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 
A proposal for an additional way to do URLs in Twitter [link]
Last night I retweeted a reference to an essay by Eric Clemons about advertising on the Internet. I then tweeted about why I retweeted: I found the article interesting and that another of Prof. Clemons's writings had inspired my "When the Long Tail Wags the Dog" essay (which is in Chapter 7 of my upcoming book and why it was in my mind).

Given Twitter's 140 character limit (which I think is a major feature and partially responsible for its success) I had a dilemma. I wanted to link to my old essay, but I also wanted people to know the name. The URL of the essay is too long and not descriptive enough, and anyway, Twitter would probably turn it into a "tiny" URL which has even less information. What I wanted was something like what HTML gives you: Both the a link to click on and descriptive text to understand.

Knowing that my essay comes up at or near the top in search engines for "Long Tail Wags the Dog", I added "G4U" after it. In a later post I said that "G4U" meant "Google for URL", and asked what one should use for that -- "S4U", meaning "Search for URL"?

I thought this was a useful thing: Search engine positions don't change that fast (at least in Twitter time) so you could rely on the search engine to turn human readable text into a URL (with a little scanning for relevance). All you needed to do was put enough words in the tweet to find what you wanted near the top of Google, Yahoo, or whatever and indicate that this was useful for searching. For anything over a few days old (given the speed of indexing of some of the search engines) this might be an OK way to connect descriptive text to URLs.

I just started using a desktop client for following Twitter (TweetDeck) after using the web interface ever since I signed up in 2007. I'm also using the Socialtext Desktop client (also written in Adobe AIR) to follow Socialtext Signals microblogging within that company. I have seen how easy it is for such clients (and Twitter itself perhaps) to add features to "enhance" the reading. I wondered if there was some syntax that would be readable that could automatically be expanded into search links for your favorite search engine.

The G4U suffix is no good (too Google-centric), as well as S4U (also doesn't bracket the text for automatic linking to a search query). I thought of using apostrophes (if there's a space before the first and after the second) -- quotes would be too common for other uses so making a search query out of what's in them would be distracting. Then it hit me: Doh! Why not use the "/" before and after (also with a space before the first and after the second if they aren't at the end of the tweet or before a period or something)? For example: /Long Tail Wags the Dog/. That's the geeky "Regular Expression" syntax of languages like Perl and JavaScript, but not too funny looking -- certainly not more geeky than the "#hash" convention.

Well, just a proposal. Are there alternatives that people already use that I don't know about? Is this at all useful to others, or just me who has lots of essays with high Google positions for their titles? I don't know how to go much further with it than post here and tweet about it. I don't have my own popular Twitter client that I can modify and let others try. Is there a "W3C" of tweeting? If you discuss it on Twitter, use "#tregex" (Twitter Regular Expressions).

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