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Tim O’Reilly on Creating Value

The longer I go without blogging, the more pressure I feel to say something profound when I come back. And it’s been almost a month. While I won’t pretend to have anything grandiose to say, I just wanted to pass along a quote from Tim O’Reilly that I heard today. Tim O’Reilly is the publisher of O’Reilly books, which produces fine computer books. I listened to the podcast version of his interview on NerdTV while jogging. (I jog as often as I blog.)

Tim said companies should seek to “create more value than they capture.” That’s something I’d like to live by, personally and professionally. There are plenty of opportunities and riches out there to give away a lot.

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Jeff Barr from Amazon.com on web services

Jeff Barr of Amazon.com was in town last week and spoke at the Thursday evening UPHPU meeting. His position at Amazon.com is “Web Services Evangelist” — he spends a lot of time traveling to talk about Amazon.com’s web services.

Web services are “backdoors” to websites. For example, a popular app called Fetch Art lets Mac users download all the album art for their iTunes songs. It uses web services to connect to Amazon.com and look up all the albums. Other popular sites with web services are Google, Yahoo, HotOrNot, and Flickr. A fairly complete list can be found at ProgrammableWeb.com. The point of web services is that web sites and apps can be connected together (sometimes called “remixing”) to provide more interesting and powerful applications.

Amazon.com’s web services allow people to make money using Amazon.com. Almost 1 million people sell their products on Amazon.com and over 100,000 people earn money by selling Amazon’s products as associates. Jeff pointed out several cool websites that use Amazon.com web services to change or improve or niche the buying experience:

  • TV Mojo — a website by a guy in Logan, UT, that only sells TVs. It uses Amazon.com product information but has a very clean, uncluttered look.
  • ScoutPal — lets you book check prices from your cell phone. For example, if you see a cheap book at D.I. (they’re all cheap) you can find out whether you should buy the book to sell for a profit on Amazon.com.
  • liveplasma — shows music recommendations with floating bubbles connected by curvy lines — cool
  • HoneyComb — shows products graphically with different colors and sizes — cool

Jeff also pointed out that microformats are essentially half way between websites [scraping] and full-blown web services. Microformats allow for structured data to be embedded in a web page so it looks the same to a person but can also be interpreted by a computer. For example, you might list your mailing address on your website, and while it would look normal, it could be directly downloaded into someone’s address book program.

Take-away for the layperson: the “new” web — they’re calling it “web 2.0” — combines previously separate services (HotOrNot on a Google Map, or Amazon.com album covers in iTunes) and anyone can do it.

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David McCullough on the Founding

When I learned that David McCullough was going to speak at last week’s BYU forum, I marked it on my calendar. He’s the author of 1776, John Adams, and other best-selling history books. (He has even appeared in several movies.) Roommate Cody and I ended up going to the lecture and we both loved it. Mr. McCullough gave an awesome lecture on the founding of the United States and what it means for us today. Phil Windley took notes:

David McCullough at BYU

And it should be here eventually:

BYU Devotional archive

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Phil Windley on blogging

Last Monday I went to a lecture on blogging and wikis by Phil Windley. Here are my notes:

  • the internet is like a river and we are like fly fishermen — our experience depends on where we’re standing and what flows by
  • My Yahoo and Personal Google let you customize what information you want to be in front of
  • reading blogs lets you customize your experience
  • bloggers practice the virtuous cycle — they write about what they read, then others write about what they have written — everyone learns — the body of knowledge grows
  • blogs are conversations — you can respond to things you read and then other response to you; comments and trackbacks help with this
  • if you find a blog you’re interested in, that person becomes a human router for you — he or she finds and filters information that’s interesting to you
  • by regularly reading blogs you like, you create your own panel of experts (or “cabinet” or “brain trust”) — you can learn about any topic you want from an expert
  • you can be someone else’s expert
  • if you don’t write about something, you’re probably writing about nothing (not all bad if readers are just your friends)
  • [non-friend] readers want to know what to expect, they want a topic
  • be sure to practice the virtuous cycle — link to others, comment on others’ blogs — they’ll see it
  • centuries ago, journals and letters were for sharing scientific information and other learning — today blogs and wikis allow everyone to share in the learning
  • the old model was to peer review, then publish — the new model is to publish, then peer review
  • everyone can publish (start your own blog!) — and the best stuff floats to the top through services like del.icio.us and digg
  • wikis are collaborative websites, like multi-person blogs
  • Wikipedia, an encyclopedia built on wiki software, is the “best encyclopedia ever” including World Book and Britannica
  • blogs to help hurricane Katrina victims popped up quickly — blogs are great for non-tech uses as well — anytime information needs to be published

On the way out of the lecture, I heard Paul Allen say that he wished even more people had been at the lecture because it represented a “massive shift” in the way we get information. Incidentally, one of Phil Windley’s lectures a couple years ago was what got me started blogging.

Update: Errors in the Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia, why it works, and why it sometimes doesn’t work.

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Firefox Extensions and Greasemonkey

greasemonkey

If you use Firefox, and we all hope you use Firefox, then you should know about Extensions. Firefox Extensions let you add new functionality to Firefox — there are extensions for blocking ads, showing the weather, or checking your Gmail account for new mail. There’s even a Google Toolbar. Web developers will love the swiss-army-knife-of-an-extension from Chris Pederick.

One of the coolest extensions, with awesome potential, is Greasemonkey. Greasemonkey doesn’t do anything by itself, but when loaded with Greasemonkey scripts, it lets you change websites. If you don’t like the colors of a certain website, you can change them. Or you can add a Delete button to Gmail. There’s even a Greasemonkey script that will show you what books are available are your public library when you’re browsing Amazon.com. Greasemonkey is Burger King for the Internet — have it your way.

Here’s how I used Greasemonkey this week:

My home page is My Yahoo, which I like because I can customize it with weather, stocks, a Foxtrot comic, movie show times, and TV guide listings. However, the TV guide listings always look so busy — so many channels, so much on TV — it’s not well suited for quick glances.

So I set up a Greasemonkey script that highlights my favorite TV shows. If Seinfeld is on, I can easily see it because it’s highlighted in yellow. I love it.

TV listings on My Yahoo
my yahoo before greasemonkey

TV listings on My Yahoo with Greasemonkey
my yahoo after greasemonkey