These posts have drawn somewhat farther apart; this past week has definitely thrown a wrench in my gears. Eric, Shawn and I do a quarterly full-day Stamen partner meeting, and this time we thought it’d be fun to do it down in Palm Springs to celebrate winter. So, down we went on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. Palm Springs is a strange place that rightfully shouldn’t exist, but we still ate two of our meals at the old folks’ country club tennis resort near our hotel. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the converted 7-11 carniceria/taqueria in Banning that Gem, George, Michele and I found last year on our trip to Joshua Tree. Off the chain, those tacos are.
As you can imagine this hasn’t been a banner week for productive code, research, or design, though I have managed to push a few things out into the world.
The first is that my straight skeleton code from last week has a new public home on Github and a new name, Skeletron. Although quite minimal for now, I’ve taken care to ensure that a bare-bones HTTP interface is built right in. You can try it at skeletron.teczno.com:8206. The mnemonic for the port number is the number of bones in the human body. More on all that in a separate post.
The second is a minimal new blog I’ve started, Oh Yeah, Paper, a link-and-picture dump for interesting paper-related things. My research interest in paper is mostly around communication technologies like Mayo Nissen’s City Tickets and easy print-on-demand services used for custom book printing, but there’s plenty of room for silliness as well. I’ve been posting to this site for a bit over a week now, and didn’t want to say anything until after I’d proved to myself that I could keep up a simple daily posting schedule for a little while. We’ll see how that goes.
The big news this week is Yahoo!’s incomprehensible shitcanning of venerable bookmark-sharing service Del.icio.us. This is one of those cases where it’s hard to distinguish malice from stupidity, so I’m grateful to Maciej Ceglowski for having started Pinboard last year. I’ve had an account there since the beginning, and a few weeks ago I started noticing a number of people in my network moving house - James, Aaron, Paul, among many other. Henryk Nyh was kind enough to create a username mapper to speed the transition for folks.
One important outcome of this move has been the sudden interest in baking your own. Jeremy Keith suggests a home-grown Delicious, the “self-hosting-with-syndication way of doing things”. This is largely what I’ve been doing with Delicious for a few years now. I keep the primary copy of my bookmarks in Reblog, and when they’re published I push them to Delicious, Twitter, and my own linkblog. Some of those channels get the tags, some get the full description text, and one just whatever short link and title fragment happens to fit in 140 characters. The elephant in this room is that a primary value of Delicious has always been its network feature, which I use as a primary research tool and general way of finding things I should be paying attention to. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a bit about how ReadWriteWeb used the network feature to do research, which meshes pretty well with my own approach. Clearly the social bits were important, something that Jeremy talks about in his post. Stephen Hood (former Delicious product manager) makes the excellent suggestion that the Delicious data corpus be donated, perhaps to the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian. This supports the idea that the data there has value as a historical artifact from 2004-2010, and especially well with Twitter’s corresponding donation of public tweets to the LOC. Twenty years down the line, looking at those two datasets in concert is going to lead to some fascinating research.
There have also been a bunch of responses to the problematic idea that it’s possible to bang out your own alternative service, maybe best expressed by Andre Torrez in How To Clone Delicious in 48 Hours:
You may have heard that Delicious is shutting down (or not?). Someone on Twitter suggested that a group of engineers should get together on a weekend and build a Delicious clone. In anticipation of this mystery group of people sitting down and doing this, I thought I'd make a quick todo list for them.
Andre continues with a laundry list of social features like account systems, imports, tags, etc. Jeff Atwood has a similar post on the difficulties of sending email from code. While both of these guys are clearly accomplished developers, I think they’re expressing a little too much stop energy for my comfort. Andre lists a number of “critical” features that Pinboard is cheerfully lacking right now, and Jeff is ignoring the presence of services like AuthSMTP and Spam Arrest offering completely brainless SMTP for not very much money. While you wouldn’t build something huge on top of these services, it’s worth remembering that Delicious started life as a text file, and grew into its present form over time. Things start tiny and develop direction over time as user-constituents suggest ideas or push and pull the service in new directions. There is still a lot of good you can do online with plain old flat files, and even Twitter was able to get a useful, fun service built on quicksand.
Any product that includes a community component is a vector rather than a point: there’s where you started, and the possible gulf between where you think you’re going and where your constituents think you’re going.