Archive for November, 2005

Open Guide to Boston

Posted in OpenGuides on November 19th, 2005 at 20:12:39

Since I’m now in a bigger, better, brighter city, I restarted some of the work I’d done on creating an OpenGuide for where I lived, previously Manchester, now Boston.

There was some discussion over simply using MediaWiki in a local LiveJournal community for the storage of the content, but I made an argument for structured metadata. After creating a Google Maps View of Things in Boston, I think that I convinced the detractors that the structured metadata technique evangelised by OpenGuides can be a much more useful for expansion.

As usual, however, the wiki nature of the OpenGuide has led to it lapsing as a data source. I can only spend so many hours a day adding and editing nodes, and with limited help, the resource is unfortunately limited in content.

This is a cry for help. If you are in Boston, or know of things in Boston, or know people who know of things in Boston, have them hop on the bandwagon. I’d love to see the Boston Guide take over from places like CitySearch for top Google hits. A service where people can contribute directly to the content, good or bad, is much more worthwhile to me as a user than one where all I get is the phone book description from an agency which probably charges to list there.

Help show the power of wiki! Help make the Open Guide to Boston great!

Digital Photography

Posted in Social on November 19th, 2005 at 19:55:56

In the next couple weeks, I’ll be getting a new Canon Digital Rebel XT (EOS 350D) with a 18-55 “kit” lens. I finally got tired of my 2 megapixel Kodak CX4230, and I got a nice deal worked out on the camera due to some rebate offers and talking with my father, who’s buying a Canon 20D.

I’d love to hear some interesting things that people are doing with creating and sharing digital photography from relatively high quality cameras.

MerriLUG and Ning

Posted in Ning, PHP, Social on November 18th, 2005 at 10:34:45

Attended my old Linux Users Group in NH last night: there was no scheduled speaker, so it was mostly just a “hang out and talk” type of meeting at Martha’s, in Nashua, NH.

Here’s a summary of how the meeting went from my point of view:

Had fun with all the MerriLUG folks last night. I also got to experience driving out of the Boston area during rush hour last night for the first time, which was significantly less fun.

Some things which were discussed:

* Results of the recent quarterly meeting, and location of the next one
* General questions on Linux:
** Why won’t my screen turn off when the computer goes into standby?
** How can I do load testing of MySQL and network traffic?
* Raffling off of books from Ken
* How Vendor/Client relationships are like teenage sex: They’re hormone driven and have no basis whatsoever in reality.

I also led some discussion on Ning. The reason I brought it up was in part because it is following the model of the open source world so much more closely than many other
services out there:

* Ning provides a “hosted” PHP framework
* All code, by default, is “open source” — can be viewed by anyone with an account.
* Users can “clone” applications: take the current application and customize it to their own liking from the same code
* Data is stored in a universal content store, and data is (by default) accessible to all applications across the server. So, my application “gnhlugbookshelf” can also read from the “restaurantreviewswithmaps application
* Income comes in via advertisements sold on the sidebar of the applications, as well as premium services (more space, removal of view source links, and the like)

Most of the time when this is described, it’s described as an “experiment” - can a company make money solely off ads to run their servers? Can premium services pay for all this? My experience with LiveJournal says yes: LiveJournal makes all its money off premium services (no ads), and they gross several million a year. However, their employees are paid much less than Ning’s are, so who knows.

I also mentioned the creation of GNHLUG Bookshelf, an application which “aims to store the suggestions and recommendations of the New Hampshire Linux Users Group on technical books that are the most useful of the bunch.”

Lots of interesting discussion on the business model behind Ning, where it could go from here, and how service is really where the money is these days. Give away the code: sell the service. RedHat learned from this model, and others are doing so too - Ning is simply a widescale demonstration of “give away the code”.

There are aspects of Ning which aren’t given away: the code that runs the playground itself is not open source, but the applications that run on it are. The “secret bits” are still probably important enough to Ning that open sourcing would give away a competitive advantage, but the PHP bits aren’t, since they’re easily reproducible.

Another thing that came up is how much control you have over code you write for Ning and taking it elsewhere. This is a question that has come up in developer discussion before, about how to take your application code elsewhere. What it comes down to is that Ning provides a lot of functionality: shared content store, tagging, user auth, etc., that doesn’t exist anywhere else. There’s no clone of the functionality which you can drop in and replace with something else. There’s nothing to stop people from mirroring the API and creating a way to drop Ning apps into your own webserver, it just hasn’t been done yet. So although you can take the code with you - you own it - it doesn’t do you much good without a lot of work to reproduce the functionality that Ning already provides for you.

Wikimania and Wikimedia

Posted in Social, default on November 11th, 2005 at 16:47:28

About a month ago, I participated in a couple of meetings at the Berkman Blog Group regarding Wikimania, the Wikimedia annual conference, which will be held this year in Boston. Talking with the local organizer, I was interesting in helping in a number of ways where I’m more useful than many other people — having a place to stay and possibly offer to other people, as well as technical skills which not everyone has that might be of assistance.

During the second meeting, I had the oppourtunity to engage with other Wikimedians who would be participating, and to get some of their feelings about the conference and the Berkman Blog Group’s attempt at trying to make things easier for them here in Boston during their convention.

I got a negative vibe from one of the people I spoke to, and later attempted to determine whether my understanding - that Wikimania was dedicated to Wikimedians, and local help in a significant way by people who were not active Wikimedia participants would be appreciated only so long as it didn’t affect the conference - was correct. Although I don’t have an exact quote of my question and the answer, the feeling was, again, negative.

The local organizer here asked me to clarify why I felt pushed away by the Wikimedia participants I had talked to, and this is what I wrote in response:

When I asked if it was the case that the purpose of Wikimania was to further the goals of Wikimedians, and that local people were not being invited to participate in the same way, I was informed that yes, this was the case: assistance from non-Wikimedians was unneccesary. (Sadly, I don’t have the log of this due to a client crash, because it’s the one thing that was said more than anything else that convinced me not to participate.)

Wikipedia has always had a very distinct aura of excluding outsiders. Although the wiki-nature of Wikipedia would seem to act as a counter to that point, many friends who have in the past been heavily involved in Wikipedia have left due to issues relating to negative personal interactions between themselves and other contributors. I have always held Wikipedia at arm’s length due to this, but given the local oppourtunity presenting itself, I thought that maybe I could be convinced otherwise.

What I stumbled into was exactly what I would have been led to expect - an elitist attitude taken by core contributors towards anyone who is not one of the “good ole boys”. Although you were extremely positive towards external help from the people on the ground, every other person I spoke to who in any way represented Wikimedia only left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

I was hoping that Wikimedia was really a good group of people, done wrong by the masses who consider themselves to be “better than you” because they participate more. Instead, I found out that that attiude is perpetrated all the way to the top, at least from my external point of view.

As a result of the general vibe and the specific statements requesting that non-Wikimedians not take part in the planning and activities surrounding Wikimania, I’ve decided simply not to bother.

Another friend of mine put it best: “The only way to participate in Wikipedia is to just edit, and ignore all those people behind the ‘Discussion’ link.”