:Ben Metcalfe Blog

The sad news breaking is that James Kim has been found dead in thick woods in near Rogue River, Oregon. He leaves a wife and two young daughters.

James Kim

On behalf of Citizen Agency, I wish to pass our condolences on to James’ family & friends and his co-workers at CNet – whose offices are just a block away from ours and with whom we regularly share the line at the local Starbucks.

More on:

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Kathy Sierra on “How to build a user community”:

“Encouraging a ‘There Are No Dumb Questions’ culture is only part of the solution. What we really need is a ‘There are No Dumb Answers’ policy.”

Kathy looks the chasm between the newbies who asks questions and the seasoned users to like to answer them. What about the people in the middle? As community facilitators, how do we create an environment in which they feel able to answer questions too?

Great post…

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Following on from my last post - here’s some more thoughts about ViolentAcres, the controversial anonymous blogger:

A few things for me smell dodgy about her blog. She’s very vague about what her professional background is exactly, but at no point does there seem to be any reference of inference to working in the internet/online-media industry. Yet:

  • Her blog runs on a self-install copy of WordPress with a custom template. With so many good + free managed blogging options around (like WordPress.com) that’s kinda odd for anyone but an ‘industry person’ or someone who intends to run their blog for advertising (which is usually banned from free managed blogs).
  • For a ‘regular person’ she seems to be very aware of the success metrics such as Alexa and Technorati rankings, and inclusion in Digg and del.icio.us – and she’s monitoring them. My ‘normal user blogger’ wife barely knows what any of these are let alone why they’re significant indicators.
  • She has a ‘add me to del.icio.us’ link at the bottom of every post
  • She doesn’t accept comments – perhaps an astute move for someone setting out to be uber controvesial who doesn’t want on-site bite-back. This is why Valleywag only allows comments from an invited select pool of people
  • Her blog actually runs on an account from APIS Networks – a web host “by developers for developers”. Not a hosting provider a ‘normal user’ would use.

I therefore would like to take a hunch that ViolentAcres is somehow connected to the internet industry – either directly or perhaps by proxy (ie her husband/very close friend/etc works in the industry).

This then further makes me wonder whether this is an experiment or bet to see how quickly someone can get notoriety from nothing via their blog. That would certainly explain the decision to go for controversy, etc.

What do others think?

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Have you read any posts by the anonymous blogger ViolentAcres?

In little more than two months she’s launched a controversial, self-promoting blog that’s catapulted her straight into the heights of many of the ‘what’s-hot’ lists and measurements. Sure, we’re not talking Technorati Top 100 – but then like I said, this blog has only been live since October.

VioletAcres, who doesn’t reveal her name or much else about herself for that matter, has courted popularity with such snarky (but strangely agreeable) view points as:

Four Rookie Mistakes People Make That Keep Them Poor

“I hate to be harsh here, but when you have children, you are basically choosing your life as it is. So if you’re living paycheck to paycheck now, you’ll probably always live paycheck to paycheck. If you’re in a lot of consumer debt now, you’ll likely always be in consumer debt. If you’re working lot of overtime, get used to it because you’ll be doing until it your body literally gives out. Very few families deviate their financial standing after there are kids in the picture.”

and

Pet Peeve #1

“I can’t stand it when people use the phrase ‘in my opinion’ in their writing. Of course it’s your opinion! You’re the one writing it, aren’t you?

Listen, if you don’t have the balls to write commentary without using those two phrases, you shouldn’t be writing. You cheapen and weaken everything you say when you puss out and proclaim ‘well it’s only my opinion!’ Your reader knows it’s your opinion because you wrote it. But now that you’ve invalidated your points by focusing on the fact that you’re allowed to make them (instead of on the points themselves) the only thing you communicate to your readers is that you don’t have very strong convictions.”

and

You Can Learn a Lot From a Rich Girl

“I’ve spoken to a lot of college kids lately who regularly spend $200 for a pair of blue jeans. When I ask them how long it takes for them to earn that kind of cash, the answer usually falls in the realm of a week or so. At this point, I will stress that not even the very wealthy spend an entire weeks worth of salary on one article of clothing.”

And then there’s the tale of ViolentAcres vs the “mommyblogger” Sweetney. One day Sweetney, who writes and posts pictures of her children to her blog, discussed how disapointed she was that her daughter wasn’t more popular at pre-school. VA decided to comment on Sweetney’s post by reposting a picture of her daughter on her blog, and comparing the child to a child with Downs Syndrome.

In a later post, having been on the receiving end of much criticism for her actions (much to her delight, no doubt, as the traffic levels rose) VA wrote:

“In the midst of the whole Sweetney debacle, I read a comment that almost thawed my cold and bitter heart. A woman posted eloquently about how my picture insulted people with downs syndrome more than it insulted Sweetney’s daughter. I clicked a link she left to her blog and found out that she was the Mother of a child with downs syndrome and for an instant, I felt guilty. It wasn’t my intent to make fun of children with downs. It was my intent to make fun of Mina, who has an incredibly sloped forehead for someone who is not brain damaged. Her kid, on the other hand, was cute in a ‘God’s Clown’ sort of way. Briefly, I thought about constructing an apology and sending it to her.

But then I remembered how much I fucking hate retarded people.
…”

As you can see ViolentAcres, enjoys courting controversy – and by writing about her here I’m falling for the buzztrap as someone once said.

But I’m writing abut her, and giving her further Technorati ranking in the process, because I want to raise some points for discussion.

The first question many will ask, of course, is “who is ViolentAcres?”. That’s a question people ask of just about every anonymous blogger. As I warn my wife (who has a very uncontroversial yet anonymous blog), most anonymous bloggers who gain notoriety get found out in the end.

With some bravado, ViolentAcres paints herself as a self-confident, financially stable women: (emphasis below is mine)

“Since I’ve started this site, a lot of people have said a lot of nasty things about me. I’ve had my identity, my sexuality, and my parenting techniques all questioned. But probably the most hurtful comments of all are the ones implying that I have a job.

See, the difference between you and me is that I invested my money wisely so I don’t have to spend my life doing shit I don’t like and you…..ah…..didn’t.

This is why it cracks me up that some of you are trying so hard to find my name, hoping against hope that you’ll find out where I work and get me fired. My portfolio is my ‘job’ and my portfolio isn’t going to fire me, people! Also, it generally doesn’t answer the telephone. So you’re going to be sorely disappointed if that’s what you’re hoping for…”

For me, the more pertinent question is “what is her motive(s) for having this blog in the first place?”. Everyone has a reason why they blog – and this would explain why a clearly intelligent and astute women has decided to take the snarky route over perhaps a more toned down but constructive approach.

And hey, I’m not knocking the bitchiness. People know I’m kinda infamous for it too – and in some ways I wish I could be more snarky on this blog. In my family it’s a shame I ended up being the boring married-early straight son and my brother the edgy gay son cos I can be the the biggest bitch in town.

But I also learned that although you might attract a big following as you rip people apart, there is very little you can do with it. To influence, you have to try to build things up rather than tare them down. That’s why I prefer GigaOm over Valleywag or TechCrunch. And frankly why Om’s proposition has a longer shelf life than Nick Denton’s or Michael Arrington’s.

At this point in my career and my blogging reputation, I’m caught in the middle – no longer snarky enough to get the masses but not a big enough (positive) reputation as I would like to be considered influential to the same degree as my partners in crime Chris and Tara.

Oh how I miss being snarky. And how I’m – just – a teensy bit jealous of VA. But ultimately I feel that my non-bitchyness will get me further in the long-run than ViolentArces.

What do others think of ViolentArches? Does anyone else know who she is?

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Adriana Lukas (via Hugh) cites an interesting post from the Shotgun Marketing blog about committees:

“Even if your committee is full of intelligent, creative people, the great ideas are lost. Committees, by nature, are full of compromises so solutions from a committee are usually watered down versions of the original.”

This question should extend beyond marketing to, well, all aspects of business really. During my time at the BBC we designed and built a lot of things by committees – it’s kind of in the BBC’s nature.

But it always felt ‘funny’, ‘odd’ and ‘uncomfortable’. This post helped me put my finger on perhaps the obvious. By choosing to bring a load of people into the decision making process the BBC (or it’s management at least) were implying that individually we were not up the task of deciding for ourselves. On some stuff, which perhaps I’ll keep to myself for now, I can think of committees where 10% of the room knew 90% of the pertinent information – yet everyone had an equal ‘vote’/'say’/etc.

As the Shotgun Marketing blog lambastes:

“Why don’t you also have … a human resources committee to help decide who is hired and fired?”

One of the reasons why many people find working with start-ups so rewarding is (generally) the lack of committees. Sure it depends on the exact circumstances, but in general you are dealing with maybe one or two people – people who have the power to agree and to execute.

To be honest, I do get a bit peeved when champions of start-up culture raise such points without any thought of how the enterprise can be changed to benefit from some of this experience. Hey, we gotta help the old guard out sometimes – they’re the ones that make us look smart and cool and agile.

And I guess it goes back to the original blog post says – hire good people and put them in charge. If you have good marketing people, let them make the marketing decision. If you have good software engineers let them make the software engineering decisions.

It may be stating the obvious, but think about it. Not only will such an agile solution remove so much of the analysis paralysis and group-think, but it will also expose those in corporate culture who end up doing very little other than making up the numbers on committees where their presence is otherwise unnecessary.

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Over on GigaOm blog, Om Malik notes the sudden discussion/hype of WiFi VoIP handsets, making particular reference to today’s New York Times article on the subject.

(One should note that Belkin just released a WiFi Skype handset, just behind similar offerings from Netgear and SMC… So similar in fact, they are probably all from the same OEM)

SMC Skype WiFi handset

One of the aspects people don’t seem to be talking about is how ‘aggressively’ the phones automatically connect to open WiFi. Frankly, there are issues both ways, regardless of whether they connect to anything available or only when one explicity tells the unit to connect to a given base station.

As a consumer, I would expect that any such device (whilst sitting in my pocket) would be constantly monitoring the available wifi access points and connecting to the best open wifi coverage accordingly – unless a known private hotspot was in range. This is what I mean by ‘aggressively connecting’ – and is essentially the same method cell phones use to ensure they are constantly online.

I’m yet to get my hands on a NetGear/Belkin/SMC skype phone but I’m lead to believe that they don’t do this. I’ve had a go of the Sony Mylo and was disappointed to see that it needed to be instructed on which base stations to connect to. It wouldn’t just conncect automatically to anything going.

This seems to really miss the point. How can I receive incoming calls via a SkypeIn number if the phone is not online unless I tell it to connect when I’m about to make an outgoing call?

The reasons I’ve heard for this decision include:

  1. Device makers removing any liability. If you explicitly connected to an open wifi node, then you are liable for any legal issues that raises. If the phone auto-connects than the device manufacture is. It’s a grey area, of course, as to whether connecting and using someone else’s WiFi connection without their permission is really legal or not.
  2. Pressure by Skype on not having to process a constant flow of reconnects as you pass between coverage. Skype is a propriatary application, of course, so Skype could easily stipulate such functionality as part of any agreement with the OEM.

    BTW, it’s alleged this is one of the reasons why using mobile phones in airplanes is banned – over land your phone would be constantly negotiating with base stations due to the speed of the aircraft – increasing the load on the mobile network.

  3. The possibility that the idea doesn’t scale… if you lived in an urban area with an open WiFi node, and everyone had auto-connecting phones you could suddenly find your base station having to deal with a constant flow of say 20 or 30+ connections at any time. This would reduce performance and over time lead to more people taking their WiFi private. With fewer and fewer open WiFi nodes, much of the selling point of these phones is thereby removed.

As much as I am excited by the possibility these phones raise, the last point seems particularly valid.

As the prevalence of WiFi devices increases, esp into second-tier usage like phones, surely we can only expect a dilution of open WiFi nodes?

People offer open WiFi for different reasons: out of kindness, out of service and out of ignorance.

Kindness only goes so far, and if that kindness is abused then the availability is simply taken away. So many devices connecting to poor Joe Brown’s WiFi router is only going to abuse that kindness – and perhaps lead to it’s closure.

Service, such as coffee shops, is slowly closing up too. I’ve noticed recently many places are now only giving out WEP/WPA keys on request (so no auto-connect on your phone if you don’t know the code) to prevent those from accessing who are not customers. There’s also a lot of discussion, especially here in San Francisco, as to whether coffee shops should remove Internet access altogether, to stem the tide of such establishments becoming nomadic offices for Web2.0 startups, etc.

And ignorance is slowly changing – many routers now come closed by default and people are understanding more about the equipment they are buying… perhaps that’s a good thing as I do feel it unfair to use someone’s internet connection if they didn’t knowingly intend for it to be used publicly.

So I still don’t know what to make of these phones. If they don’t auto-connect then they seem a bit pointless.

But if they do auto-connect, and loads of people have them, then the additional load on people’s WiFi may ultimately have a negative effect on the availability of open hotspots. And that would have an adverse effect on all of us laptop users, not just VoIP WiFi handset owners.

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I have to admit that Bonjour, Apple’s service delivery protocol is actually one of the more cooler aspects of the Apple/OSX stack. It even has a Microsoft Windows download.

HP OfficeJet 5610

We have an HP OfficeJet 5610 in the Citizen Space (thanks Ivan!) which is connected to an Apple AirportExpress – and thus available via Bonjour (BTW if you want one of these cool multi-printers, this is the current version).

However, getting it to install on Windows has been difficult because the installation process requires the printer to be connected locally via USB. The drivers can’t just be saved to a local drive and then accessed via “Have Disk…” during the install process in Bonjour. This is particularly common for the ‘all-in-one’/multifunction printers.

I’ve finally managed to do it, with some advice – so here’s my own little guide. Hopefully this will get indexed into Google and displayed when people search for ‘windows printer driver bonjour’ or similar.

How to install a printer on Windows via Bonjour that requires the printer to be connected locally during the driver installation

  1. Download and install Bonjour for Windows and your printer driver, if you haven’t done so already. In the case of HP drivers at least, you shouldn’t need to download ‘network drivers’ as these assume direct connection to the printer via the LAN. Therefore make sure you download drivers designed for local use via USB.
  2. Run the Bonjour Printer Wizard via the Start menu, and select the networked printer
  3. When presented with a list of driver options (this is Windows XP’s default driver list, which is often out-of-date) choose your printer model if it’s listed. More than likely it won’t be there, so choose one that’s close – ie if you have an OfficeJet 5610 then choose the generic ‘HP OfficeJet’ option, etc.
  4. Complete the installation wizard.
  5. Disconnect the printer from the Apple AirportExpress.
  6. Now run the actual driver install for your printer that you’ve just downloaded/have on CD, connecting the printer via USB first or during the install (as per the instructions of your printer).
  7. Complete the install, and confirm the printer is properly setup locally by printing a test page
  8. Disconnect the printer from your computer and reconnect the printer back to the AirPort Express
  9. In the ‘Printers and Faxes’ window of Windows, right click the printer you installed via Bonjour and select ‘Properties’
  10. Navigate to the ‘Advanced’ tab and locate the ‘Driver’ droptown – it should look like this. This is a list of all printer drivers you have installed on your machine.
  11. Change the Driver dropdown box from the ‘similar’ printer to the actual one that matches your printer type
  12. Delete the other printer driver instance – the one that was installed locally.
  13. Your Bonjour-enabled printer should now be ready to print, with the correct driver! Print a test page to confirm, making sure that the printer is correctly plugged back into the AirPort Express and viewable by Bonjour.
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Susi Weaser spends her time reviewing gadgets on YouTube (and her blog Shiny Shiny).

She came to the attention of the BBC when a producer was looking for someone who could present short, ‘for-a-mainstream-audience’ gadget reviews for a forthcoming daytime program.

Apparently the fact she had effectively created a show real of her talent made it very easy for the BBC to decide to invite her in for a screen test.

This is probably the first person in the UK to move from grassroots video to mainstream media.

More on BBC News Website.

UPDATE: My former BBC colleague Jem Stone says that in fact she’s going to work for Princess Productions, and independent TV production company that will sell the show to the BBC. Also, as Jem quite rightly points out, ShinyShiny is a Gawker blog – so not quite as ‘grassroots’ as I initially thought. Thanks for the update, Jem.

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Arh, probably not. :(

But they could seeing as they all appear to be free agents as of today:

Reports that the three have decided to launch an ultra-Web2.0 social video bookmarking tool in Second Life cannot be confirmed. In fact I just made it up.

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Maybe it’s because this is Apple country, but there seems to be no Zune’s available for purchase here in San Francisco. And that’s not because they’ve all sold out, it appears they never went on sale here in the first place.

I dropped into CompUSA yesterday (the main computer store here in downtown, not counting the Apple Store of course). They hadn’t had any come in so there were none to buy. Office Depot on 3rd St, which has them listed in a flyer I saw this morning hadn’t had a delivery either.

An article on CNet confirms my experience, although they claim that Virgin Megastore at the top of 2nd St has them but the store isn’t putting them out yet because they don’t have the right in-store signage. Say what? I might go pester them to see if I can buy one none-the-less.

I’m going to try Staples tonight, which is one my way home, otherwise I guess I’ll have to trek down to BustBuy on 10th St to see if they have any left.

BTW: This isn’t a purchase for myself – it’s a gift.

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