Flickr and the web 2.0 - many-to-many has its day

Drop Trio with Kaoss
Originally uploaded by Ian Varley.
OK, so I'll admin it. Until recently, like, this week, I had no idea what "web 2.0" meant. I kept hearing it, but didn't have a strong concept of what "it" was. I know, once again, I'm at the back of the parade on this.

So, for those of you in the slow lane like me: "web 2.0" signifies a new wave of useful, social-oriented, hyper-usable web sites that have gotten popular in the last year or two. Flickr, LastFM, Bloglines ... there's a whole list of 'em, in fact, over here.

They all share a few things in common. They're highly participatory (i.e. the mass of people using them is part of what makes them good). They almost all have slick AJAX front-end (i.e. they're not as clunky as web sites used to be, partly because we're no longer stuck in Netscape-compatibility hell).

Most interesting, though, is the phenomenon of tagging (which, if you know anything about database design, is essentially an elegant many-to-many relationship). You can add zero or more "tags" (i.e. words or phrases) to your stuff (blogs, photos, music, etc.) that then help you find the stuff, and help others find it too. The many-to-many-ness of it is what's really brilliant. Got a photo of your cat with some fruit? "cat" + "fruit". Got a photo of a fruit bat? Bingo, "fruit" + "bat". Got a photo of your favorite baseball bat with your cat? "cat" + "bat". Couldn't be simpler, but that simplicity is a model that's actually sort of sophisticated, from the database implementation standpoint (which is probably why it's taken so long for it to occur to web site creators). It connects the way our minds work (semantic flexibility) with the power of computers. Rad.

Anyway ... Flickr is my latest find. Post your photos online - yeah, big deal. But do it in a decentralized way where you (and everyone else) can assign tags to 'em, and throw in some flashy (and fast) AJAX goodness, and you've got a winner. I'm actually writing this entry from within Flickr. How's that for mind-blowing ... ly boring? zzzz.

Anyway, if you want to see my flickr photos, here they are. That's just a start, o' course.



One from the "everybody else knew about this ages ago" department ...

After a bunch of prodding from Nino, I finally checked out lastfm. Rad! Basically, it uses a little program (called Audioscrobbler) to track what you're listening to on your computer (iTunes, WMP, whatever) and save that info to their server. Then you can: a) find other people who listen to similar stuff; b) find other stuff you might like; and c) show others what you're listening to on your web site. Neat. I just put a little sidebar on my blog to show my recent listening.

Any other LastFM users out there?


One Strike for Google

So, you know I loves me some Google.

But I've been frustrated with Google Reader lately. Several times in the past few days, it's given me errors, or not come up at all. And it makes doing simple things, like marking all articles as "read", quite difficult. The AJAX is really spiffy, but spiffy don't pay the bills. It just takes up too much of my time, having to press a key for every single feed, and their tagging process isn't as transparent as I want.

(In GOOG's defense, they did say that the underlying feed data is the important part, and that Google Reader is just an example of an application that can consume that data. So.)

So I'm switching. This is easy, because nowadays, most services and programs let you both import and export your list of feeds in an XML file. I will not use any service that doesn't offer this ability, in fact.

So what to use? There's a lot of choices out there.

I used to use NewsGator, but I don't use Outlook anymore, so that's out. I tried out Thunderbird's RSS capabilities for a couple days; seems to work well, but a) I'm stuck doing it on one computer, b) some of my feeds don't work on there (for example, this one), and c) it hasn't solved (or really, dealt with) the problem of updates to feeds (so, edited items in feeds will often show up as new, sometimes multiple times). Of those objections, (a) is the only real killer. Thunderbird is rad for using as an IMAP client, because I can share one account across multiple machines. Can't do that in RSS without doing something complicated like writing a program to copy all the feeds that thunderbird pulls in onto my email server. No thanks.

So now I'm trying out another webtop service, Bloglines. Easy to import your feeds? Check. Easy to move feeds around into folders? Check again. Seems to update very quickly, and there's a little notifier program that checks the server for new feeds and plays a sound. The coolest feature I've seen is that they'll give you a special email address that you can use to subscribe to a mailing list; then, that mailing list shows up as a feed in Bloglines (so, no more crappy band emails coming to your inbox 24 hours a day).

I've got about 100 feeds right now, and I'll probably scoop up a few more now that I'm getting settled with a feed reader I like.



So, SxSW is done. Phew. My last entries are posted to the Houston Chronicle blog, and I'm trying to get back to normal life.

One aspect of doing that is getting back to zero inbox. I am kind of a freak about email (as you might remember), so that's not an easy process for me.

First up, I had to get through all my held spam, which was about 700 emails (held by Spamcop). This only takes a few minutes, but is concentrationally intensive, because it's very important to me that I don't delete (or worse, report) any legit emails.

BTW, as I was going through the list, I found a spam message with the subject "Martha Steward Prison Photos". The mind boggles.

Next up, I've got to deal with the ~80 real messages in my inbox. Some of these are requests to send albums, some are requests to come to a show, and some are just "hey, what's up?" kind of emails. All require different responses. I'm guessing just moving these to-dos into the appropriate system will take about 2 hours.

Next up is my physical inbox. That's got a stack of receipts & mail, plus checks to deposit, bills to pay, etc. Probably got a good hour there.

And of course, there are still other inboxes: voicemail, RSS, pending business cards from SXSW. And then there's ... THE BAG. SxSW gives you this big honkin' bag of stuff when you register. I haven't even opened it yet. Most of it is the music business equivalent of spam ... flyers, free CDs, coupons, etc, most of which I don't really care about. But being slightly OCD, I have to look through it all to make sure I don't miss something good.

So anyway, guess I have my work cut out for me. Off I go!



OK, I did it.

I suffered so you don't have to. I listened to every track in the sxsw bittorrent. Yes, EVERY track. Holy crap that's a lot of music. Out of that, I picked my favorite tracks - 125 GREAT ones and another 75 very good ones. Take a peek:

Ian's SxSW Band List

Note: this is just showcasing bands, based on the mp3s on the sxsw site. I'll put my schedule up shortly.

A couple caveats on this list, if you care:
  • I listened to the tracks first without looking at the band name. If it was obviously not for me, I skipped without looking. If it was obviously RAD I kept it. Anywhere in the middle, I allowed the band name / bio to assist my decision.
  • This is only culled from bands with mp3s on the sxsw site.
  • It's possible (nay, likely) that in the process of listening to 1000 mp3s, I missed a few good 'uns and picked a few turds. Sorry; I'm sure you understand.
  • I tend to cut bands that just "tow the party line"; I'm more interested in bands doing something novel. I'm sure I skipped over some bands that are kicking ass by perfecting a certain post-grunge guitar sound / stones posture / indie haircut. But they just don't interest me as much as wacked-out stuff like, say, the Dresden Dolls.
  • I didn't include any screamy stuff. If you like screamy stuff, sorry. Same goes for Emo; I'm not 14. Likewise, I probably under-represented earnest singer/songwriters, bluegrass, and reggae / world music. Just not where my head is right now.
  • I also didn't include much hip hop, as I've got the taste of a loaf of wonder bread in that area. Check out my man Matt Sonzala's Houston So Real page for the scoop on sxsw hip hop (he ought to know, he booked it all).




Phew! Just finished listening to BitTorrent #1, which is 712 MP3s. Out of those, I found about 185 that are "keepers". Of those, 80 are "really good" and 10 are "really REALLY good". Any interest in me putting up an MP3 zip file download of just my picks? It'd probably be about 700MB, so that might not be feasilble for anybody to download. I'd be happy to make MP3 CDs on request. I'll also put up the artist list shortly.

Next up - BitTorrent #2, which is only 230 MP3s (presumably the ones that came in too late to get into the first bittorrent). asdflkjweaopiuf.



So, tell me if you think I'm crazy.

Earlier this week, I downloaded the entire BitTorrent of the mp3s of all the bands showcasing at sxsw. (For those of you keeping score, that comes out to 941 mp3s, or 3.3 GB.)

I don't know what illicit substance had been slipped into my OJ, but for some reason, I decided that I was going to listen to ALL of the music on offer, and keep track of which ones I like enough to go see. I've listened to 300 tunes already, out of which I have picked about 30% as tunes I like, and 10% as tunes I REALLY like.

I've also started keeping a schedule of events I want (or am obligated) to go to. I plan on posting it here, in some form anyway, when I complete it - probably early next week. So far, it's got 58 entries, and I haven't yet started looking at any of the panels or official showcases. That is JUST stuff people have told me about, day parties, etc. And I haven't even done a thorough look through those yet.

On every entry, I'm tracking not only the time & place, but also how important it is to me, so at any given time, I can filter it to see only the most important things that are coming up.

I know, this sounds totally insane. Maybe it is. But my goal is to make life really easy for myself when the festival actually starts. Having this calendar should enable to make the best decisions in the moment, and not always be looking at schedules, forgetting things, etc.

Am I crazy?