Phillip Pearson - web + electronics notes

tech notes and web hackery from a new zealander who was vaguely useful on the web back in 2002 (see: python community server, the blogging ecosystem, the new zealand coffee review, the internet topic exchange).


What I'd like to see from Vodafone (or Telecom) in NZ

In New Zealand we have two main mobile providers: Vodafone and Telecom. Telecom is NZ-owned, and Vodafone is from overseas. Telecom's image is very corporate, while Vodafone's is more "fun" - perhaps "younger". I had assumed that Telecom was a much bigger company than Vodafone, but it seems that it's the other way around - Vodafone is a big international company with deep pockets, whereas Telecom, despite having a near-monopoly on fixed phone lines in NZ, is actually much smaller.

Enough history...

Both companies have come out with phones and networks that let you do some sort of primitive 'net access from your phone. My phone, a Siemens MC60, lets you access the 'net via GPRS. Not particularly quick (probably because the phone's OS is so slow and clunky), but it does let you read proper HTML pages. I can browse to my to-do list on the Topic Exchange OK, but scrolling up and down is painful.

It really seems that web sites have to be completely aimed at mobile users for them to be any use. But - what's the motivation? Mobile users have to pay - like $10/megabyte! - for the data they use to talk to your site, and there are lots of other turnoffs: slow speed, slow navigation, small screen size.

What I'd like to see would be some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement from Vodafone or Telecom that would pay you some of what they take in in data fees when mobile users access your site. This is good for everyone: it encourages usage, so the phone company benefits, and it encourages people to make mobile sites, so the users benefit.

If it could be run so that anybody could make a site - with no joining fee, or perhaps a minimal one - it would encourage every man and his dog to get out there and make stuff, and everyone profits. Very "long tail".

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Structured blogging, so far

"Structured blogging" is what people are calling the ongoing effort to make weblog content along specific lines machine readable and aggregable.

"Aggregation" in its current form means bringing a bunch of posts together from different places and showing them in a convenient way - usually either on one page ("Dave Winer" style), with three panes (like an e-mail client - many desktop aggregators do this) or two panes ("Bloglines" style).

Structured blogging is about letting the aggregator understand what you are talking about, and present things more intelligently. For example if you blog an event notification - maybe you're talking about a concert next week - it might be shown on a calendar along with everyone else's events. Or if you review something, it can be shown in context. I run a coffee review site, and you might be able to aggregate my reviews with some other local ones. Or perhaps my site could aggregate your reviews, from your blog, and you could see everyone's coffee reviews in one place.

Or perhaps your digital lifestyle aggregator could aggregate all the reviews of your favourite cafes? Maybe those within walking distance, or on the way to work -- and show them to you on Monday morning, right when you need coffee the most? How about that?

I could implement that in my site - if I could get everyone to leave their reviews with me. But maybe you don't want to do that: maybe you want to review things on your site, so they become part of your portfolio rather than mine. And if I can aggregate them still, then I can still offer the features, while you get the credit you deserve.

A lot of people are thinking about structured blogging - and how to do it. So of course there's a bunch of proposed standards.

Some time in 2004, Alf Eaton put out RVW so you could represent reviews in RSS.

This year, PubSub introduced, which came with a Wordpress plugin that would output a different XML format ("x-wpsb") for both events and reviews.

And then there's the "microformats" - hReview and hCalendar.

So far I like hReview the best - it's nice to use, and you can use it both in your content and your feed. It's still very new though, so not widely adopted.

And then today Russell Beattie came out with this: Blogging Evolved: Application Aggregation. Suggesting a standard "general field" extension to RSS or whatever, so you can produce stuff that an aggregator with no knowledge of the format can consume. Interesting, but hReview/hCalendar let you do this and make it human-readable too, which seems nicer to me at this point.

Some other references:

Seb Paquet: Towards structured blogging (March 2003; soon after he designed and I built the Topic Exchange).

Bob Wyman: When the Gray Web meets up with Structured Blogging and Prospective Search (May 2005; talking about how the 'you keep your data' idea can kill centralised servers).

PubSub (Bob's company): press release: PubSub Announces The Structured Blogging Initiative.

Update: Alf Eaton (22 May): About reviews and microformats.

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