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Best of the Web 2006
Our Favorite Blog Essays and Debates

# The Long Tail and its Doubters

The Long Tail is a provactive book (based on an article by a Wired magazine editor), that talks about the new abilities for sellers to focus on (and make profit on) the items farther away from majority appeal.

See:
http://www.wired.com...hive/12.10/tail.html
http://longtail.type...d.com/the_long_tail/
http://www.amazon.co...p/product/1401302378

From a review of the book:
The long tail is the colloquial name for a long-known feature of statistical distributions that is also known as "heavy tails", "power-law tails" or "Pareto tails". In these distributions a high-frequency or high-amplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population which gradually "tails off". In many cases the infrequent or low-amplitude events--the long tail--can cumulatively outnumber or outweigh the initial portion of the graph, such that in aggregate they comprise the majority. In this book the author explains how due to changing technology it is now not only feasible but desirable in business to cater to the "long tail" of this curve.

The author explains how in traditional retail, you have the 80/20 rule, with 20 percent of the products accounting for 80 percent of the revenue. Online, instead, he sees the "98 percent rule." Where 98 percent of all the possible choices get chosen by someone, and where the 90 percent that is only available online accounts for half the revenue and two-thirds of the profits. He also explains how filters and recommender systems that help people find what they are really looking for are crucial ingredients. Thus, in a nutshell, Anderson's theory is that mass culture is fading, and being replaced by a series of niches. Thus the subtitle of his book, "Why The Future of Business Is Selling Less of More."

 Make sure to check out the new essay by Kevin Kelly on the problem with the Long Tail from a content *creator's* standpoint: http://www.kk.org/th.../wagging_the_lon.php

Continue reading the rest of the entry and discuss..

I know there are quite a few of us who feel a bit uneasy about google's arguably increasingly questionable behaviors and desire to dominate the web..  Some nice writing today by FireFox developer..

Google is now displaying “tips” that point searchers to Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa for any search phrase that includes “calendar” (e.g. Yahoo calendar), “blog” and “photo sharing,” respectively. This is clearly bad for competitors, and it’s also a bad sign for Google.
...
The tips are different—and bad for users—because the services they recommend are not the best in their class.
...
While advertisers compete to be first in a string of lookalike ads that are often shunted to the side, Google now determines the precise position and appearance of ads tips that are not subject to any of the same rules. Its ads get icons while others don’t, and if you think that’s small potatoes, you are not an advertiser
...

And I think this hits on why i don't have a great feeling about google having such a monopoly on everything:

But we’re not there yet, and in many ways, Google’s new age “bundling” is far worse than anything Microsoft did or even could do. Microsoft threw spaghetti at the wall and hoped it stuck, and likewise there’s nothing wrong with Google’s arbitrary front page ads. The difference here is that Google knows what users want and can discreetly recommend its products at the right time. Microsoft can’t easily hide a program packaged with Windows (and doing so would defeat the purpose), but competitors can only discover Google’s bundling, which might be transient or limited to certain regions, through trial and error searching.
...
Perhaps the most nefarious aspect of this feature is how it operates within our collective blind spots. Advertisers are happy that Google no longer invades the canonical Ad Results. Technology purists continue to see untainted Search Results. But does my mother make that distinction? How much does a result have to look like a Result to cross the line?
...
Google promised not to be the type of company that needs to ask.

 All of us are now using a search engine to search the web, which has a vested interest in sending us to certain sites and certain products.  Google may be better than many companies, but they are now a huge beast which needs to be fed a constant influx of profits.  They profit when they send you places with ads that you click on. I for one am very much looking forward to the rise of the non-profit search engines..
discovered on slashdot.org

# Bribing Bloggers - Joel, and Others, Weigh In

You've probably heard about the recently thing where Microsoft and AMD gave away Vista-loaded tricked out laptops to top bloggers in an effort to get some good publicity.  There has been a lot of talk on the web recently about the ethics/morality of the move, and some thoughtfull discussion pieces are emerging.

There's an interesting debate going on about whether bloggers should accept gifts from vendors.
Lately Microsoft, working through their PR agency, Edelman, has been getting rather aggressive about trying to buy good coverage from bloggers. A few months ago they invited bloggers out to Seattle to meet Bill Gates, with all expenses paid (hotel, airfare, etc). Last week they send out a round of expensive laptops with Vista preinstalled. These are not loans, by the way: they're completely free laptops ("yours to keep!"). Here's the offer I received from a Microsoft employee:
...
Sounds nice, huh? What could be wrong with that?
Robert Scoble says "it's an awesome idea." He says that as long as the bloggers disclose that they got the laptops free, they're acting ethically. And he says that Edelman is just "doing their job," which is therefore by definition ethical: On Edelman’s side? Is sending out laptops ethical? Of course! That’s their job.
Scoble is wrong.
...
've been thinking long and hard about this, and the only conclusion I can come to is that this is ethically indistinguishable from bribery. Even if no quid-pro-quo is formally required, the gift creates a social obligation of reciprocity. This is best explained in Cialdini's book Influence (a summary is here). The blogger will feel some obligation to return the favor to Microsoft.
These gifts reduce the public trust in blogs.
...
This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I'm upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. Don't even get me started about PayPerPost.
...

Read more essays on the subject at TechMeme: http://www.techmeme....61228/p68#a061228p68

# Latest Creating Passionate Users Essay: Don't make the Demo look Done

The "Creating Passionate Users" Blog is one of the best sources for insightfull essays on user interface design and on building software for users.  Right up there with Joel Spolsky in terms of good writing and solid principles.

Today's essay is very thought provoking and somewhat counter-intuitive, and talks about the nature of the demo you should show off of your work-in-progress..

When we show a work-in-progress (like an alpha release) to the public, press, a client, or boss... we're setting their expectations. And we can do it one of three ways: dazzle them with a polished mock-up, show them something that matches the reality of the project status, or stress them out by showing almost nothing and asking them to take it "on faith" that you're on track.

The bottom line:
How 'done' something looks should match how 'done' something is.

# Companies paying people to say good things about their products on forums

Article about Geurilla marketing and NVIDIA paying people to build up reputations on forums so that they can later say good things about the product:

About a week ago, The Consumerist stumbled upon claims made by various gaming websites (specifically, Elite Bastards and Beyond3D) that graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, in cooperation with the Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG), had seeded various gaming and PC hardware enthusiast sites with pro-Nvidia shills. That is to say, that AEG would hire employees to create ‘personas’ in various gaming communities, slowly building up the trust of other members by frequent posting unrelated to Nvidia, to later cash in that trust with message board postings talking up the positive qualities of Nvidia’s products.

# Digg rigging?

Digg Corrupted: Editor's Playground, not User-Driven Website
As a follow up to an earlier post (Digg Army: Right in Line), there have been some vibrations that I think not only our readers would find interesting, but also all Digg users.
To quickly summarize the earlier post, I had noticed two submissions by SpitF1re were on the front page, separated by only one story in between.
To digress for a second, we all know that people who Digg a lot have friends who use Digg. So often times friends digg articles for each other, and often times you may see the same people digging stories, and what not. The buddy-buddy system in effect. That's fine (in a way) - it's a shortcoming of all social networks - the more popular people gain more influence...

# Article: Inside the Spyware Scandal -- Part 2

Inside the Spyware Scandal -- Part 2

..
The "rootkit" on Sony BMG CDs was meant to prevent consumers from disabling anti-piracy software. It didn't stop one group.
This article -- the cover story in Technology Review's May/June 2006 print issue -- has been divided into three parts for presentation online. This is part 2; part 1 appeared on Tuesday, May 16, and part 3 will appear on Thursday, May 18.
..

# Digg, the wisdom of crowds, the hive mind, netscape, and competitors

there's been a lot of talk recently about the new sites that are planning on challenging the popularity of digg.com.

for example see:

Digg CEO Jay Adelson took time out of his busy schedule to email me some thoughts about Netscape's new digg-inspired community news site. Jay's thoughts below, but first some context. I've written two posts about the new Netscape site. In the Read/WriteWeb post I had two main points:
1) I think introducing paid editors into a community site may end up being as problematic as the 'hive mind' that it aims to prevent - because it introduces potential bias and favoritism.

2) The prominence of internal links and editors influencing discussions with "commentaries", IMO deflects attention away from the actual articles - which leads me to think Netscape wants to keep people onsite, in order to expose them to more advertising (which there is a lot of on the new Netscape site). This of course is an old-style portal strategy.

I followed that up with a ZDNet post which suggested that the paid editors now hold the balance of power - and how appropriate is that for a community site? I also pointed out that because Netscape has released a working version of non-tech categories before Digg, that this could spell trouble for Digg as it attempts to expand beyond tech.

Continue reading the rest of the entry and discuss..

# Broken Windows Theory: On MS Windows Development

An interesting post by a MS blogger, about the "inner workings" behind Vista development.

[...]
Windows code is too complicated.  It’s not the components themselves, it’s their interdependencies.  An architectural diagram of Windows would suggest there are more than 50 dependency layers (never mind that there also exist circular dependencies).  After working in Windows for five years, you understand only, say, two of them.  Add to this the fact that building Windows on a dual-proc dev box takes nearly 24 hours, and you’ll be slow enough to drive Miss Daisy.
[...]

# Why is so much software cracked?

Read the long discussion on our forum..

Continue reading the rest of the entry and discuss..

# First Monday Article: Fundamental issues with open source software development

You may not agree with all of it, but it's an interesting read by someone trying to give helpful advice to the open source community.

Despite the growing success of the Open Source movement, most of the general public continues to feel that Open Source software is inaccessible to them. This paper discusses five fundamental problems with the current Open Source software development trend, explores why these issues are holding the movement back, and offers solutions that might help overcome these problems. The lack of focus on user interface design causes users to prefer proprietary software’s more intuitive interface. Open Source software tends to lack the complete and accessible documentation that retains users. Developers focus on features in their software, rather than ensuring that they have a solid core. Open Source programmers also tend to program with themselves as an intended audience, rather than the general public. Lastly, there is a widely known stubbornness by Open Source programmers in refusing to learn from what lessons proprietary software has to offer. If Open Source software wishes to become widely used and embraced by the general public, all five of these issues will have to be overcome:
...

http://www.firstmond...s/issue9_4/levesque/

# Article: The Six Sins of the Wikipedia

Interesting article..

It is a question of time before the Wikipedia self-destructs and implodes. It poses such low barriers to entry (anyone can edit any number of its articles) that it is already attracting masses of teenagers as "contributors" and "editors", not to mention the less savory flotsam and jetsam of cyber-life. People who are regularly excluded or at least moderated in every other Internet community are welcomed, no questions asked, by this wannabe self-styled "encyclopedia"

Six cardinal (and, in the long-term, deadly) sins plague this online venture. What unites and underlies all its deficiencies is simple: Wikipedia dissembles about what it is and how it operates. It is a self-righteous confabulation and its success in deceiving the many attests not only to the gullibility of the vast majority of Netizens but to the PR savvy of its sleek and slick operators.
...

http://www.americanc....asp?articleID=11109

# Really interesting post about new netscape digg-clone and paying bloggers

This is really quite interesting..
In some sense it sounds a little sleazy, but on the other hand it sounds completely reasonable to me.

I basically agree with its general hypothesis that most of these sites are being driven by a very small group of dedicated "experts" who are adding huge amounts of content.  and this content is building traffic and thus generating ad money.  so shouldnt these "bloggers" get paid for creating the content that the site is getting rich off of?  seems reasonable to me, and putting these people on the payroll also sounds reasonable.  (though 150 stories a month seems a bit of a serious workload!)

What do you guys think?

Continue reading the rest of the entry and discuss..

# Financial Advice Websites and Blogs

Tired of eating noodles every other week? Too poor to buy that lapdance, or do you find yourself staring at the counter, deciding whether to spend your last \$5-spot on candy or fast food? The Get Rich Slowly blog has some solid Money Tips for Students that I wish I'd had back in the day.

# What we believe but can not prove

Our day-to-day beliefs often come from established theories, but what about beliefs based on theories in progress? A new book asks literary and scientific thinkers about what they believe but cannot prove.

# FTC Moves to Unmask Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Endorser Must Disclose Link to Seller

"FTC Moves to Unmask Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Endorser Must Disclose Link to Seller"

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.
...
Word-of-mouth marketing can take any form of peer-to-peer communication, such as a post on a Web blog, a MySpace.com page for a movie character, or the comments of a stranger on a bus.
...
The group cited a 2002 Wall Street Journal article on a marketing campaign by Sony Ericsson Mobile for its T68i mobile phone and digital camera. The initiative, called "Fake Tourist," involved placing 60 actors posing as tourists at attractions in New York and Seattle to demonstrate the camera phone. The actors asked passersby to take their photo, which demonstrated the camera phone's capabilities, but the actors did not identify themselves as representatives for Sony Ericsson.

Commercial Alert also singled out Tremor, a marketing division of Procter & Gamble, which has assembled a volunteer force of 250,000 teenagers to promote the company's products to friends and relatives.

Read the original Washington Post Article..

 Not a minute too soon - there should be laws requiring full and clear disclosure on all such relationships.

# Anil Dash: Nice analysis on why Google Answers Failed where Another Succeeded

Summary: In 2002, Google launched one of their few pay services, Google Answers. The service attracted only 800 responders in the past 4 years, and was shut down a few weeks ago. Three years ago, Matt Haughey created Ask MetaFilter, pays no money to those who answer questions, and has turned the site into a successful part of his business using, in part, Google AdSense to support the site.

Why was Matt successful where Google was not? Let's take a look.

http://www.dashes.co...2/11/how_matt_haughe

# Want to be a popular name-dropping, annoying, self-absorbed blogger? Scoble Tells How

Robert Scoble has a very popular blog, and today he posts some tips for others on how to increase your traffic if you have a blog.
Most of the advice he gives is fairly common knowledge, but here are some more tips if you want to blog like Robert Scoble:

Write constantly about all the big names you know and meet - take pictures of yourself with them.  Drop famous names as often and frequently as possible.  Remember, the more stars you meet - the more important you are and the more people need to read you to get some of your star dust.

Find a sponsor who is willing to pay to have you mention them 10 times in each post, at every possible occasion, regardless of the context, even if it's just to make a statement like "Oh by the way my wonderful sponsor X is great because they don't make me mention them."

Most of the time you should focus on talking about yourself and the big shots you know.  But sprinkle these posts with discussions reflecting on how cool it is that you spend most of your time takling about yourself and the big shots you know.

 Hey by all means read Robert's advice and the advice of others about how to increase traffic on your blog.  But do me a favor and if you become an "egotistical A-hole", maybe you could avoid reveling in it and talking about it so much - leave that to the pros.

# Nine Ways to Combat Spam

Here are some good pragmatic suggestions for our "constant battle".

Anyone with an inbox nowadays knows that email spam is a real and serious problem. Luckily there are a number of techniques you can employ to contain this phenomenon and decrease the amount of junk mail you receive.

Spammers harvest email addresses using bots that surf the Net in search of email addresses. If an email address is hidden somehow when it's published on the Web, a bot may miss it. Address munging is the process of hiding or disguising an address. For instance, you can write an address like this: name [AT] domain [DOT] com, or create an image that displays the address, or write the address in ASCII characters. For example, when you put @ in the HTML code, the browser translates it to @.

Content-based filters

Once the spammers have your email address, the fight moves to your mail server and inbox. A simple approach to reducing spam is to filter each message's content. With content filters, the body of the message is scanned in search of trigger words, such as Viagra or free money. If one or more of these keys are found, the message is marked as spam. In some implementations you don't have a "spam/not spam" identification but instead a score (the higher the score is, the higher the chance the message is spam), so one can customize the system a little.

The main disadvantage of this method is that spammers often misspell words or hide them to avoid recognition. Moreover, using a large list of trigger words can increase the number of false positive cases ...

http://www.itmanager...al.com/feature/21508

# A set of Essays about Web2.0: Fake Sharing vs. Real Sharing

Continue reading the rest of the entry and discuss..

# Coding Horror Blog Entry: The Field of Dreams Strategy

We have a tendency to fetishize audience metrics in the IT industry. Presenters stress out about about their feedback ratings and measure themselves by how many attendees they can attract for a presentation. Bloggers obsessively track their backlinks, pagerank, and traffic numbers. I see it a lot, and it's strange to me. I don't chase those numbers. I couldn't even tell you how many readers I have, or what my presentation ratings were. I don't mean to sound glib, but I don't care.
...

http://www.codinghor...archives/000702.html

 Jeff Atwood has posted a number of recent nice blog entries that are refreshingly against the current trend of focusing on monetizing everything and organizing everything to make money.  Here he introduces us to what Conant O'Brien calls the "Field of Dreams" strategy.

# Blog Review: Making Comics - How to communicate visually

Magnificent! A work of genius. The best how-to manual ever published. I could keep piling on the superlatives because this book is simply a masterpiece. At one level, it is a comic book about how to make comics, and for that it is supreme; the best. It will walk you through every step of making a comic, including how to make them on the web, digitally, or in pen and ink. I've been working on a near-completed graphic novel, and every page has told me something important and spot on. With brilliant graphics, Scott McCloud combines the most profound insights from his two previous books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. But in this book he raises your understanding of graphic communication further by making every lesson utterly practical and useful for both novice and expert. I can't imagine anyone ever doing a comic manual better.

http://www.kk.org/co.../archives/001441.php

 Nice blog post on what looks like a brilliant book for aspiring comic book authors.

# Blog Article: Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute

"Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute"

Summary:
In most online systems, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.
All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don't participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background.
...
When you plot the amount of activity for each user, the result is a Zipf curve, which shows as a straight line in a log-log diagram.
...

http://www.useit.com...tion_inequality.html

 nice article and relevant to this site.

# Read/WriteWeb On Social Networking: Time For A Silver Bullet

There are hundreds of emergent social networks, but I've shortlisted a few that are worth keeping an eye on (apart from the obvious ones, like MySpace and Facebook)..

# Article: The Social Bookmarking Faceoff

Readwriteweb.com does this kind of article a lot, and the articles are useful:
"The Social Bookmarking Faceoff"

The social bookmarking market is in a steady state with two dominant players - del.icio.us and StumbleUpon. The rest of the pack, including Yahoo MyWeb, appears to be substantially behind. Will they catch up? In this post we attempt to answer that question.

We also take a look at how social bookmarking has evolved since del.icio.us. (even del.icio.us itself has evolved a lot!). We compare the features and approaches of the different companies, to see which has gained popularity and what has become the norm in this space.

# Essay: How Digg Gets Everything Backwards.. And How to Fix It

Digg is a wonderful idea.. but it's horribly broken.

It suffers from a fundamental flaw in design. In fact its entire approach to leveraging the crowd's wisdom is completely backward.

Digg is using crowds in the wrong way, for the wrong role.  If we ask instead what is the crowd good at, and when do we need domain experts, we end up with a completely different model..

 It seems everyone is lining up to stick the shiv in Digg, so here I go before my arm gets tired.  I actually still find interesting stuff on digg occasionally, I still submit occasional articles to Digg, and I'm not under any illusion that they are in the slightest bit of danger in terms of their market share, but I do think there are interesting issues that need more discussion.

# Is Cybersex Cheating?

Two weeks ago, I was on stage with four other folks at the Second Life Community Convention, talking about cybersex. The agenda had slipped its schedule and we were running late, so when it came time for questions, we were only able to take two.
...
They trotted out The Question. The Question, which you could put to anyone from Oprah to Howard Stern, that has nothing to do with Second Life and everything to do with show hosts in love with being minor celebrities rather than having something real to say.
The Question is, of course, "Is cybersex cheating?"
-Regina Lynn

Article: http://www.wired.com...?tw=wn_culture_sex_1

# Piracy as Progressive Taxation?

In his entry The Fan Mail That An Author Wants To Get, Nat referenced my assertion that obscurity is a greater threat to authors than piracy. That was from a piece I wrote in 2002, entitled Piracy is Progressive Taxation. It contained seven lessons from my experience as a print and online publisher:

• Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
• Piracy is progressive taxation.
• Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
• Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.
• File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.
• "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.
• "There's more than one way to do it."

 also see: http://www.roughtype...6/08/yo_ho_yo_ho.php

# Paul Graham: Why is it that so few people do what they love?

I have to share this with you. The clarity of Paul Graham is just scary. He has nailed the problem he writes about! I find that pretty much every paragraph is absolute brilliance. Why is it that so few people do what they love?

http://paulgraham.com/love.html

# Is Jeff Atwood Wrong?? Recent Blog Debate About Donating to Open Source Projects

I absolutely love jeff atwood's Coding Horror blog, but found myself in rare disagreement with him this morning..

He posted some reflections on another blog entry by Scott Hanselman on the death of the open source project NDoc.

...
Open source software is at its best when you aren't obligated to do anything at all other than use it.
..
You definitely shouldn't have to pay for it.
...
If contributing money is foolish and contributing code is an extravagance, what's a poor user to do? Nothing. Nothing at all, that is, other than use the software.
...
-Jeff Atwood

 I'm not quite sure where Jeff is coming from with his conclusion that "contribuing money is foolish".i wrote about some of these issues in my article on donationware, "When Do Users Donate?": http://www.donationc...icles/One/index.html

# The Hive: New Long Article on Wikipedia

Can thousands of Wikipedians be wrong? How an attempt to build an online encyclopedia touched off history’s biggest experiment in collaborative knowledge
by Marshall Poe
...

http://www.theatlant...doc/200609/wikipedia

# Article form publishing2.com: Web2.0 puts users in control of everying, but wont share profits

this is a nice article that is relevant to donationcoder.com, and i hope this is an issue that will continue to get attention.  surely sites built on the content created with others should not be getting rich off this content while the creators get nothing.  surely the solution is that much (most) of the profits should go to the community of content creators..

I’ve been following an interesting trend of power grabs by Web 2.0 companies, from MySpace to YouTube to Google — Web 2.0 is supposed to be all about the “user,” but when it comes to profit making the user is getting shut out:
..