Zero to (free) shopping cart in sixty minutes

This cycle can feasibly be completed in under an hour; most of the time is spent filling out forms over and over again.  PayPal account verification steps may take up to 5 business days, though, but that shouldn't prevent purchases from taking place.

  1. Using Blogger, get a blog (and configure it to use your FTP server, if so desired).
  3. Using Picasa, create a new Hello account and configure it for the blog.
  5. Using PayPal, get a merchant account.
  7. Using Picasa and Hello, send a merchandise photo with a short description to BloggerBot.
  9. Using PayPal's merchant tools, generate an "add to cart" button for the item.
  11. Using Blogger, edit the new post to include a title, a description, and "add to cart" and "view cart" buttons.

Feedback welcomed as to how this performs for y'all out there..  One interesting side effect of this process is that, without any advertising on the site whatsoever, it's a new way to (theoretically, at least) make weblogs profitable.

Continue reading "Zero to (free) shopping cart in sixty minutes" »

Indexing iTunes libraries with playlists

Using smart playlists to organize music by properties helps me find music I want to listen to in my iTunes library.

Simple titles work well when the playlists are in a single folder ("Indexes" works). My iPod carries "Underrated" – transit time is rating time. I have made steady progress towards rating every song.

Complex indexes can be built out of simple components. Playlists such as "Top Rated" and "Checked" encapsulate a set of logic selections as a single "smart playlist". The logic "playlist" is then used in other "smart playlists". Some simple-seeming playlists can only be defined with complex indexes.

Many of these playlists depend on song ratings. Consciously-selected metadata helps improve the "success rate" of the playlists. To rate songs, I use Synergy to bind F1 through F5 to the rating stars in iTunes. Others might bind F6/F7 to increase/decrease by a half-star.

Most of the playlists are at their best in Smart Shuffle with no more than 5 upcoming songs listed. This reduces the delay between when a rating is changed and when the new rating takes effect in Smart shuffle. All rating-logic playlists refresh immediately when a rating is changed.

These playlists simplify using and maintaining an iTunes library. Finding something to listen to takes less energy with these indexes. Genre alone has limited usefulness. I have many more of these. Feedback is welcome. I don't use half stars.

"5 underplayed" lists 5 star songs that haven't been heard recently, providing an instant "mix" of great music.
  • Match the following rule:
    • My Rating is | * * * * * |.
  • Limit to 100 songs selected by least recently played.
  • Live updating.
"Checked" lists all songs that are active in the library.
  • Limit to 10000 GB songs by name.
  • Live updating.
"Top Rated" lists active songs that have at least 4 stars.
  • Match any of the following rules:
    • My rating is in the range | * * * * .  to | * * * * * |.
  • Live updating.
"Unchecked" lists all songs that are not active, using the "Checked" playlist.
  • Match the following rule:
    • Playlist is not "Checked"
  • Live updating.
"Underrated" lists all songs played with no rating stars set.
  • Match the following rule:
    • My Rating is | . . . . . |.
  • Live updating.
"Unplayed" lists good songs that haven't been played recently, using the "Top Rated" playlist.
  • Match the following rule:
    • Playlist is "Top Rated".
  • Limit to 100 songs selected by least recently played.
  • Live updating.

Interface patterns: "Coordinates, measurements"

"Coordinates, measurements" describes a pattern commonly used when representing measured data to humans.  Presenting measurements associated with coordinates on a graph helps people intuitively grasp complex sets of spatial data.  Graphs can be as simple as the timeline of last night's party or as complex as a three dimensional map of asteroids less than a light year away.

"iSPOTS" represents wireless devices as geographical points on a map of the campus.  The exhibit will be open until January 13, 2006.  Study hall is less often desirable when there's a comfy couch at the coffee shop next door.  Data collected will influence how student services money is spent.

"Simcity" represents urban health indicators such as "traffic congestion" and "police coverage" as spots of colors on a map of the city.  Recurring congestion in a downtown area indicated that it was time to consider replacing a high-rise office building with a park (or build a light rail).  This visualization could identify local or city-wide issues quickly and clearly.

"Moodteller" represents the self-described "mood" of LiveJournal's recent posts as line graphs.  Their predictions of "happy" have are very accurate, with minor fluctuations.  Predictions of "horny" are less accurate.  Those nervous about social interaction should meet with others for breakfast, when they're less likely to feel anxious.

"Ridefinder" represents the position of taxicabs in various cities as waypoints on an interactive map.  The taxi parking area at the Caltrain station is popular when the trains are running.  Combined with location data from users taxi drivers could more effectively locate passengers scattered throughout the city.

"Bio Mapping" represents the strength of galvanic skin response measurements on a map of a city.  Present a "mood" poll to citizens at high-response locales.  Social activitsts should select locations where emotions run high for maximal effect.  Thought police could investigate emotional outbursts resulting from criminal actions.

Profiting from free, online content

There isn't a compelling business argument today that would suggest that giving away our content is a good idea. (more)

What tangible benefit does the New York Times get in return for being a world news library to us? It's neat to be revered by all as a repository of information, but without a visible associated profit, I can certainly understand why it could be rejected by higher-ups. In the interests of simplifying things, I'm going to make a gross generalization of this and call it: "How do I make money while giving everything away for free?":

I'll award a $25 gift certificate to the person who emails me a screenshot of their Google toolbar having blocked the most pop-up ads. I ask only one thing: take the screenshot against the site (more)
The scourge of optic nerves everywhere can still be useful when done tactfully. Loud, garish ads can send people into seizures, drive people to distraction, inspire thousands to write code to block them — all for the sake of making a buck. I prefer not to build my business by preying on humans, so I don't recommend this route. That said, it is actually desired in certain places. Optimizing for advertising profit results in cults of people whose sole purpose is to see your business crumble to dust, so use it as sparingly as possible.
products sold through the Amazon Recommends service earn a 4% referral fee for Classic plans and 5% for Tiered plans. (more)
While I'm reading the content, there may be various items for sale that I'd be interested in, that are related to what's being talked about. If I'm reading a New York Times article about "quantum dots", I'd very much like to have a link to a manufacturer's product catalog for them; the commission off of those sales could enormous, and that commission could be structured with every business linked from the content. Prints of the content, links to artists' galleries (5-digit commissions possible, here); there's hundreds of ways to make a percentage, with just a bit of effort.
Entering your ZIP Code will provide you with a number of benefits, including articles, links, and attorney listings that are relevant for your state or locality. (more)
Provide a questions and answers service that handles incoming queries from the public, and work out special deals for libraries and schools and such so they can pay a sliding scale fee for research access. Put all those archives to good use, by hiring a staff of archivists and librarians and researchers, and then charge the world a fee to answer their questions. Many would rather pay to have a question answered (I've offered up to $50 before) than do the legwork themselves.
If you like TorrentFlux and you use it, please help support it. Thanks. Or buy something on my Wish List. (more)
Some people like to give back something in return for content; money, gifts, or comments. Be direct, but don't wave it around any more than is necessary to keep it in mind. If a user comes back more than once, or spends a few minutes on the site, show a donation blurb on the side of the page. One futuristic way to collect a donation that most users are unaware they have (and that most people do not need, but many do) is many seconds of computer work: complete computational tasks for a fee, using the processing power of the visitors. Resell visitors' processor time and show a counter on the page showing how much money they've made at your site, so that many users click on the long-term, "set this as my home page" button. I often walk away from my computer with web pages open, but intermittent visitors would still contribute a little.
Advanced Search allows you to generate millions of customized search reports from our database of 7.5 million credits. (more)
By providing a high-quality, open-content, profitable business model, the NYT becomes the shining star for all data repositories; a sort of profitable library, that gives away everything yet still makes money doing it. Prices may drop when competition begins, but do not be afraid: an experienced hand doing competent work is unlikely to fail, and I respect that far more than a low price.

The various angles described above (examples at best, themselves) can scale to any sort of content repository, be it an image gallery or a newspaper. As a blogger, I'd be thrilled to provide a Q&A service on my blog; the default price would be free, but if someone wants to paypal me for answer, that option will be available. Some blog comments are more valuable than the post they're attached to, an unusual side effect that I'm not sure was anticipated. Selling idle computational power has the most dramatic possible potential, as the only business successfully harnessing the idle processing power of the world is spamming.

Martin Nisenholtz, are you listening? I miss seeing the NYT clean, easy-to-read page layout whenever I search for news on current (or past) events. I miss the simple links, the easy-to-look-at URLs. You have so many possible ways to make money off of that archive without hiding its content, and by doing so, you allow the entire industry to hold back political, economical, and social research.

Please reconsider closing your archives by fees; for every person who pays a fee, a thousand are turned away, unable to afford it, and a growing number each day find their way in through partner links, BugMeNot, and so on. Some people will develop whatever tools they can to circumvent locks you place on content, now that they've seen what free content is like; if you choose a business model that offers content for free, then those same people will build tools with your content.

Continue reading "Profiting from free, online content" »

File folders: The carbon database filesystem

Walls of file cabinets can be found at any institution, containing thousands upon thousands of manually indexed documents. When someone's interested in using a folder within, they take it out, bring it to their desk, and work with it. Once done, it's put in a "to be filed" stack (or filed immediately). This is the most common way to structure a filesystem on today's computer as well: cabinets of folders of files, all carefully packed away on the wall of the office, waiting to be carefully taken out, worked with, and then carefully put back.

The translation of a carbon-based filing system to a silicon-based filesystem leaves out one key component: most people don't have someone to file their "to be filed" stack. The clearest sign of this lack is a directory filled with thousands of files, distinguishable by filename; the silicon brings is the ability to manage a stack of thousands of papers with very little effort, and all that's asked of the user is to choose a unique title.

Over time, some of those who initially have a folder with thousands of files will begin to create folders, for things that need to be lifted up out of the mess (urgent bills, closed cases, etc.). Given several years, many bookmark menus filled with links will end up carefully organized and sorted; people who start off putting every file in the "to be filed" folder make up simple ontologies ("Work", "Bills", "Family") and begin to refile their documents.

The analogy of a filing system to a database filesystem is a tough one: filing systems are generally subject to physical limits (you can't have two million pages in a single folder), and there's all sorts of features that don't exist outside of silicon. It's still an effective explanation for conveying what precisely this new "database filesystem" feature of the next OS upgrade is, though -- and many keep their documents (paper and digital) in a filing system and put documents in the "to be filed" folder when they're done.

Silicon brings a second advantage to the table: now people can work with tremendously large collections of objects with very little effort. Searching fifteen thousand songs on my laptop takes approximately one second; searching four billion web pages on Google takes approximately one second. This is where database filesystems can shine, and where the most confusion will lie. It only takes a few seconds to change the filing system; instead of hiring extra interns and spending a week reorganizing filing cabinets, the silicon shifts things around immediately.

In many commonly used filesystems, each folder is given a database of files and each file is given an assigned "name". Files may have other properties, but with rare exception these are not used to uniquely identify files; a file's "extension" is considered part of the "name". NTFS stands apart by bringing a second unique identifier to the filesystem (a two-column primary key, in database terms), but it's not commonly used or recognized by most.

As the filesystem becomes a collection of documents with a convenient selection of perspectives, the filing system metaphor becomes somewhat strained. It's not considered efficient to reorganize a collection of files every five minutes when it takes tremendous amounts of manpower and logistics, yet it goes unnoticed on computers everywhere, hundreds of times a day. A stronger analogy is necessary, to provide an easy path for harnessing the new possibilities.

Astronomers work with a collection of millions of objects every day, using different perspectives such as "color", "brightness", "position", or even "name". By aiming their telescope to a given perspective, they can precisely locate a star; if their calculations (or assumptions) are incorrect, then further work is required. Eventually they get it within the viewfinder, work with it for a while, and then move on to the next perspective.

Bridging the analogies, astronomers work with a single file folder filled with all the objects they have (the "universe"); then by sorting through different perspectives (such as "name") they find what they seek and work with it. Imagine a planetarium with all your documents broadcast on the ceiling in small print, and you need only a pair of binoculars and a direction to look to find anything in your collection. Unlike a filing system, astronomers have no need to re-file things when they're done, since the only thing that changed was their perspective.

A database filesystem, built properly, can allow the user to accrue every document in a single place, with the power to search through the collection efficiently. A document's "name" need not be unique, as long as the files with a given "name" are linked in some manner (say, revisions of a contract). With the ability to search through all the documents at once, filenames to some extent become moot; it's more effective for many to search for "Jan's resume" than to scroll through thousands of files sorted into directories (as evidenced by the recent popularity of Google, vs. Yahoo!). This is where the true power of a database filesystem lies.

Feedster claim

Categorizing with spaces

Jon Udell's been paying a lot of attention recently to categorizing XHTML elements. Two of his readers suggested that he use the class attribute, delimiting the categories (if necessary) with spaces; this is also valid CSS. I'm in favor of it as well, as it has worked well for me in two other circumstances.

At, I keep a notebook of interesting links. Each link has several pieces of metadata; of interest is the tags field. The content of this field is a space-delimited list of categories, so to speak; a blog post about Google's IPO would be assigned "blog business", while a paper about graphing social dynamics would get "science social math". It's worked out very well for me, so far; I can find things easily enough by selecting individual tags, though more complex slices of the data aren't provided.

With the release of iTunes 4.2, a new field was added: grouping. At first, it was thought of as a similar sort of categorization field as the tags field: a space-delimited list of single-word categories. It turns out, however, that Apple has other plans for this field. While this puts somewhat of a damper on efforts to sort through music easily, the comments field can be used instead.

filster: Linking reputations networks to email whitelists.

I've written a procmail filter that checks incoming mail against several identity networks; when the sender's email address is listed, it adds a new header: X-Reputation: friend. Currently, plugins are provided for Orkut, FOAFweb, Reputation Research Network, and CPAN.

# When someone's listed as a friend, add X-Reputation: friend.
:0 f

An addition to SpamAssassin's allows mail from these senders to pass through more easily, while allowing super-spam (scoring 20+) to remain blocked.

header REPUTATION_FRIEND X-Reputation =~ /friend/

header REPUTATION_PEER X-Reputation =~ /peer/

Combined with SPF, it becomes quite feasible to tie one's social networking profiles into a list of all the email addresses from which you don't receive spam.

The code is included in the extended entry of this post; please be aware that it is to be considered pre-alpha 0.0.1 pencil draft code. That said, it works quite nicely once you've got the prerequisite perl modules installed.

Update: Added code to link into the Reputations Research Network. Neat :)

Update: Linked into the CPAN author database and an instance of the FOAFweb as well.

Continue reading "filster: Linking reputations networks to email whitelists." »

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