Sunday, September 10, 2006


If you are old, like I, you might remember life BI (Before Internet). Yes, life did exist then. ;)

One day, someone with a computer and a collection of modems (you know, those things you attach to your computer and the phone line) setup a bulletin board. The bulletin board was for discussing things. Somebody else setup another bulletin board, for discussing other things.

If you wanted to discuss in the first bulletin board, you'd connect your computer to that bulletin board ("dial in"). Then you would disconnect from the first, and dial in to the second. The dialing in process was not instantaneous. You (some of you) use dialup connectivity, and know about the noises - the hums, whistles, and screeches - that you hear when connecting. And the silence, and the suspense. With 9.6K connections, this would take a while.

After a while, the folks in each bulletin board setup connections from one to another. You could dial in to board A, and discuss with folks dialed in to Boards B, C, and D.

This evolved in to Usenet, with hundreds of servers all over the world. All interconnected, and using a common protocol so someone in one country could post to a local Usenet server, and that post would be relayed to a server in another country, and on another network.

But the relaying was done by the servers, and still using dialup conversations. Dialup by the people, and by the server to server message relays.

Then came the Internet, and the World Wide Web (and no the two are not the same). Both the person to bulletin board connections, and the bulletin board to bulletin board connections, were modified to use Internet connectivity. No more dialing up - instant connection. Wow.

Eventually, the bulletin board system became known as Usenet. To participate in Usenet, you'd use a newsreader (not the same as a syndication newsreader), which would connect in to the Usenet network on the Internet.

Then folks demanded more. And web portals were developed. Web sites were built, which would take a Usenet feed, and put it into a web page. One day, Google (the search engine) bought out Deja News (one of the bigger Usenet web portals), and made Google Groups. And now, you have web based discussions. Such as, and alt.24hoursupport.helpdesk (don't go there, and that's a story in itself), (nanae), and microsoft.public.windowsxp.network_web, which is where I got involved, in Web based assistance in general.

And you have private Google groups (not available on Usenet). Such as Google Blogger Help.

Anyway, both Usenet and Google Groups have their advantages - and disadvantages. But that's another post, coming later.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


A Wiki is an online database, thats added to and updated by its users, thru the browser. One well known (and a key reference for me, in PChuck's Network) wiki is Wikipedia.

A Wiki is an online example of democracy in action. One person can write anything, but if everybody else participating sees that something is bogus, they will correct as necessary. Since correcting a WiKi is done by hand, any single person trying to make bogus entries is generally outvoted by the other participants, and technical correctness prevails. This principle is similar to the ESP Game, as discussed by Luis Von Ahn: July 26, 2006 Human Computation, and to the Google Image Labeler.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Syndication Feeds and Newsreaders

There are millions of websites out there on the Web, and not all of them are updated regularly. Anybody who uses the web, with any regularity, has dozens of favourite websites, and checks each one periodically for updates. And anyone who uses the web, with any intensity, knows the frustration of either checking the same website repeatedly and seeing the same material, or checking a website one day and seeing some information several days old, that you would have benefited from greatly, if known sooner.

So what to do? Originally, folks who ran websites that really wanted visitors would get an email address from each visitor. Periodically, or when they had written a particularly interesting article, they would email to all of their registered visitors
Check out the website, read this article.

But the problem with most "Hey check out my website" email was myriad.
  • Many folks wouldn't subscribe, for fear of spam.
  • Some email systems would treat the email, received as spam.
  • Folks even getting the email wouldn't read it promptly.
  • The email never went out often enough to suit everybody, or it went out too frequently to suit some folks.

So nowadays, properly designed web sites, and blogs, include a replica of each page, that you never see when viewing a page in your browser. This replica, called a news feed, can be read only by a newsreader. You subscribe to a news feed by adding its URL to your newsreader. You read your newsreader when its convenient, your newsreader checks all subscribed web sites, and gives you a list of all feeds that have changes relevant to your needs.

The web site is updated when convenient to the author, and you read the updates when convenient to you. Your newsreader tells you which sites have changed, and you only spend time reading the changes. Simple.

You can view the news feeds that interest you using a newsreader, or other products.
  • As a stand alone program. NewsGator (not free) is well known.
  • As a browser add-in. If you have Firefox (and I hope that you do), you can get Sage, a free Firefox extension.
  • As a standalone reader, in a web page. Bloglines, and Google Reader, are two well known examples.
  • If your web site (blog) supports JavaScript, you can have your feed hosted on a server, with a JavaScript front end embedded in your web page. FeedBurner and Feed Digest are two services that provide this possibility.
  • If you have a Blogger blog with a Layouts template (and possibly other blog products), you can add a Page Element, selected as a Feed.
  • You can find dozens of other possibilities in such websites as Atom Enabled, and News On Feeds.

InterRecord Chat aka IRC

IRC is the original chatroom, a "virtual meeting place where people from all over the world can meet and talk". It's a totally separate protocol from the Web (aka HTTP).

If you say that Usenet is a Many to Many communication, which operates In Virtual Time / Virtual Space, then IRC is a Many To Many communications which operates in Real Time / Virtual Space. Both IRC and Instant Messaging offer Real Time / Virtual Space communications; though the latter started out as One - One, the two are converging somewhat.

IRC communications are limited to text, with some rich text ability but nothing standard. It requires a specialised agent, such as mIRC, which is installed on the computer, for full participation.

There are dozens of IRC networks, each containing multiple servers in various world wide locations, and having their own separate rules and regulations. You can sign in to any server with an available connection, and have access to the chat rooms on that network (but only the ones on that network).

Full participation in IRC gives you access to hundreds of chat rooms, aka channels. Each channel is started, and run, by anybody who connects to an IRC server and opens a channel with that name (assuming that name is not in use on that network). The channels can be moderated by the person starting a channel, or by the owners of a server on that network, or by anybody designated as a moderator by a current moderator.

Some IRC channels are connected to Java front end scripts. You can participate in limited fashion by accessing a web site which is running an IRC front end script. The Midnightz channel, on the Blitzed network, is an example of limited particpation; that script appears to be packaged in forums like Googolians, and many folks use this channel without realising what they are using.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Time and Space

In the old days, we worked In Real Time, and In Real Space. The Internet, and other electronic technologies, have provided additional possibilities.
  • In Real Space.
  • In Real Time.
  • In Virtual Space.
  • In Virtual Time.

In Virtual Space / In Real Time

Instant Messaging is an IVP / IRT application. You can converse with your friends at any time, from anywhere. If you can find a computer with Internet service, anywhere in the world, you can be online and chatting with your friends in seconds.

In Virtual Space / In Virtual Time

Discussion Groups / Forums is a IVP / IVT application. You post stuff as its convenient to you. Some folks might post once / day, others might post every few minutes. This makes for interesting discussions, as some folks post once and disappear. When they come back a day later, the discussion that they participated in (or started) may have moved on, far beyond where they left it.

The dividing line between forums and Instant Messaging is not sharp. Some folks will use an IM platform as a forum, by inviting their friends in a group IM conversation, and keeping the forum open 7 x 24. Others will use a forum discussion practically in real time, by checking every minute for updates in a forum.

I, personally, like to leave my IM clients open 7 x 24 (and my computers up and online at the same basis). If it occurs to me, I might change the status message (if available for a given IM client) to indicate that I'm out for any period of time (ie sleeping). Other times, I don't. Anyone who uses IM for any regular amount has experienced finding an attempted IM contact buried in a window underneath whatever they were working on at the time, 2 - 3 hours after the attempt was made by a friend. MSN and Yahoo Messengers have an alert tool (MSN: Nudge, Yahoo: Buzz) on their native clients, that you can use if supported by your client.

Instant Messaging

This is my favourite application on the web. Even my mother uses this to contact me, and she now actually speaks to me (OK, IMs me). There was a time when she wouldn't do either (OK, Mom, my fault I know).

There are 4 major IM networks that I'm aware of. I have nyms (accounts) on 3.
  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).
  • Google (GTalk).
  • MSN / Windows Messenger.
  • Yahoo Messenger.

Instant Messaging started out as a computer to computer text conversation, IVP / IRT. The various networks have added possibilities, and not all networks offer the same possibilities.
  • Alert tool (buzz or nudge your friend, if he's not paying attention to the conversation).
  • Audio (voice) conversation.
  • File transfer.
  • File sharing.
  • Music sharing.
  • Picture album sharing.
  • Video (webcam) conversation.

In the beginning, Instant Messaging required proprietary software, running on your computer (and installed with some formality). GAIM, a multi-protocol instant messaging (IM) client, changed that, though still requiring installation. Before GAIM, Trillian fought the battle of multi-protocol instant messaging. Now, thanks to Meebo, you can IM from any computer with Internet access and Javascript enabled, with no installation of software.

And soon, you'll be able to IM your friends on Yahoo Messenger, from MSN / Windows Messenger, and vice versa. And in another trend, IRC now allows one - one (or restricted many - many) private chats.

As I said elsewhere, Instant Messaging started as a One To One relationship. It has evolved to Many To Many, and includes group chats, conferences, and whiteboards. IM group functionality further evolved into collaborative discussions and conferencing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Classifications and Terminology

Now, if any of you really know me, you'll know that I like to categorise stuff. That's how I figure stuff out - I break it down, figure out how it's like other stuff, then figure out how it's different from other stuff.

Now there is a lot of stuff on the web, and each person would like to invent new stuff, and become the next Google. But how do you categorise it, so you can know what you might do?

I'm going to start out by using mapping terms. Not geographically mapping terms - relational mapping, in terms of personal interaction ("conversations").

One To One

Classical Instant Messaging (IM) is a one to one conversation. One person (you) can instantly talk with one of your friends.


One To Many

A blog, or any web site, is a one to many conversation. One person (you) creates a blog or website. Many of your friends read (view) your website. Like IMs, you can share text, sound, pictures, and files.


Many To One

If you attach a guestbook to your website, or if your blog allows comments, you have many to one conversations. Many people enter comments about how great your website is (or how lame it is), and you read the comments. Other folks can read the comments, but they are basically addressed to you.


Many To Many

A forum is a many to many conversation. The original forums were bulletin boards (before the web), and evolved into Usenet. When the web became dominant, Usenet evolved into using web front ends, like Google Groups.

Nowadays, forums can be almost small (or large) communities, filled with your friends. One of my favourite forum communities is DSL Reports. A smaller forum is ForumFinder, and a new forum which I helped to get started (and is now dead) was Googolians. Between these, and still larger and smaller, are hundreds of others.

Online communities, like MySpace and Yahoo 360, are also many to many conversations. Online communities, though, differ in one major way - time relationship. That's a deep subject, so I'll save that for another article.

Blogs and Hypertext

One of the neatest stuff about blogs is that you can write what you're thinking, right now. Later, when you think of something else, you can write that. Or you can edit what you wrote previously. And you can link what you wrote last week with what you're writing now.

Plus, whatever you know, your friends probably know too. And whatever your friends write about, you can write about, from your perspective. Neither of you has to be better than the other, just different. If your friends write about something, you can link to that too.

And that's blogs, and hypertext.

Who Am I And Why Am I Writing This?

I'm not your typical MySpace inhabitant. But recently I setup a MySpace account. My nephew has one, and I thought it would be kewl to see what the kidz do with it. Mine is pretty lame right now (well, I can share my favourite music, and that's fun). My Yahoo 360 page, I think, is better (no music there though).

Now, I'm a Network and Security Consultant, and one of my mottoes is about paranoia (the beneficial component of that, anyway). And I've been hearing about MySpace, and how dangerous it is for the youth who use it blindly. But recently, a friend sent me a link, which shows it to be far worse than I imagined.

So recently, in the process of helping a bud of mine figure out how to write a blog about setting up and running online forums (which is a subject that I'm just starting to approach, in my presence in the Google Blogger Help forums), I had a 30 minute IM conversation with him, and at the end, I realised that rather than (in addition to) filling his head with ideas, I had just started writing a new blog. This one.

Now don't expect a lot here immediately. Be patient with me, and come back occasionally. Use the Atom feed , or the RSS feed, too.


Welcome to MySpace and More.

One of the things I tell my friends is
If you think that the web is full of bad stuff, and you haven't written any good stuff, then it's your fault that there's nothing but bad stuff there.

And if you have put good stuff out there, publicise it.

This is my attempt to help you put some good stuff there.