SitePoint Podcast #34: Sorry About the Slashes
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
Tim Berners-Lee says “Sorry about the slashes!”
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Sorry About the Slashes (SitePoint)
- Which URL is Right? (SitePoint)
GeoCities is dead
- SitePoint Podcast #14: The Cyberdyne Bill (SitePoint)
- Saving a Historical Record of Geocities (Web Archive)
- Memory Lane: XKCD Pays Tribute to GeoCities (Mashable)
- Geocities redesign discussion (XKCD forum)
- Tears in the Rain [language warning] (Jeremy Keith)
- Angry Mac Podcast [language warning]
- Geostupid (Jason Scott)
Tim O’Reilly on the Whitehouse.gov Switch to Drupal
- Thoughts on the Whitehouse.gov switch to Drupal (O’Reilly Radar)
- Why running the White House Web site on Drupal is a political disaster waiting to happen (Slate)
Ballmer: The Internet Isn’t Made For The iPhone
- With Windows 7 and new designs, PCs looking better (Associated Press)
- Stephan: Where Goldfish Come From
- Kevin: Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now)
- Patrick: What it takes to be an overnight success
Kevin: October 30th, 2009. The creator of the Web shares his regrets, Yahoo! shuts down GeoCities, and Steve Ballmer doesn’t get the Mobile Web. This is the SitePoint Podcast #34: Sorry About the Slashes.
It’s Friday and that means it’s time for another SitePoint podcast. I’m Kevin Yank and I’m joined by Stephan Segraves and Patrick O’Keefe today. Brad is off but he’ll rejoin us next week, I’m sure.
Guys, welcome to the show again.
Stephan: Good to be back.
Patrick: It’s good to be here.
Kevin: Patrick, you’ve been… The two of you were at Blog World Expo, isn’t that right?
Patrick: It is. It is. I made a little pit stop at a smaller conference too…
Kevin: I can’t believe I missed that.
Patrick: …and then I kind of got sick during that but I’m good now.
Kevin: Back on deck.
Kevin: Good to hear. Alright. Well let’s dive right in. Our first story is Sir Tim Berners-Lee from the SitePoint Blog… well he didn’t write on the SitePoint Blog but we have him on the SitePoint Blog quoted saying if there’s one thing he could go back and change about the Web, one mistake he thinks he’s made, it’s the two slashes at the end of ‘http://’.
Stephan: This is funny.
Kevin: He says “Really if you think about it, it doesn’t need the double slash. I could have designed it not to have the double slash. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Patrick: Yeah, I mean what’s ‘http:’, did they need the colon? Did they need …? I guess they do but you know it’s…
Kevin: They need something separating…
Patrick: The whole thing is like, you know, to the average person, it doesn’t make any sense. Even ‘.com’ isn’t quite something that is translated for a lot of people.
Kevin: Right. So I’m curious, do either of you guys actually type the ‘http://’ when you’re typing out an address by hand?
Patrick: Guilty. Guilty.
Kevin: Guilty? Really?
?Kevin: Is it just… I don’t know.
?Patrick: It’s a habit.
Kevin: A habit?
Patrick: Yeah, really force of habit. I force myself to type everything ‘http://www.’ and I don’t know, it just… It’s part of my DNA now.
Kevin: It’s kind of satisfying, I have to say…
Patrick: Like, “I do this right!” “Who cares?”
Kevin: Like once your hands are trained to do that, it’s satisfying to do that kind of repetitive motion.
Patrick: Right. Yeah, it’s something… you have to take personal pride in it for it to mean anything, right?
Kevin: There are times I catch myself doing stuff like that that… In a programming task or something, I’ve got to type five lines that are almost identical and I’m halfway through it and I’m realizing I really could have used the clipboard for this. But I’m halfway through it. I’m committed and I just start… I use it as an excuse to think of something else as I just let my fingers do the typing.
Patrick: It’s relax time, right? I mean, in this day and age…
Kevin: It is.
Patrick: …we’re all busy and hyper-aware of everything, so those mindless moments are a vacation.
Kevin: So this brings me to something else that I’ve mentioned in the SitePoint Tech Times a couple of times, it’s the old debate of whether the ‘www’ should be done away with.
Stephan: Do away with it. I don’t need it.
Kevin: Do away with it. And Patrick?
Patrick: Well, I think we’re at a stage right now where it’s too late. I mean, I’ve thought about that because you know you can force with .htaccess, you can force to go with a ‘www’ or not.
Patrick: And I think that’s a decision you need to make when the domain first starts obviously.
?Patrick: Now I think we’re locked in.
Kevin: Oh, I don’t know. Well, it goes without saying that if whether or not you decide when launching a new site to have a ‘www.’ at the start of your address or not, whether or not you do, you need to configure your server to redirect to the other one.
Kevin: There are still a few high profile sites out there. Last time I looked, Flickr still supported both forms and it didn’t redirect you back and forth. I’m bamboozled that a company as big as Yahoo! can get that wrong. It makes me question the advice I’ve been giving, which is that it’s really important to have that canonical address for your search engine rankings. Maybe Flickr doesn’t care about search engine rankings.
Patrick: Yeah, and sometimes… I don’t know, I’m not a big SEO guy so I don’t know if there’s ways you can redirect it in a search engine’s eyes or whatever… I don’t know but there was another case of something that came up related to this where Borders Australia, borders.com.au, launched… I don’t think it’s that long ago because it’s still in Beta. And when they did, I always pointed over there and of course, I checked out to see if my book was on it and it was. And I checked www.… And for some reason I checked without and what happened was I got a blank page. It didn’t lead to anything. It had some text on it, I think, like testing or some just random placeholder text in there where ‘www’ worked fine. So it’s like you don’t want that to happen either.
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve got that right now. You might be thinking of Dymocks. Dymocks is the Australian online bookstore. And yeah, if you go www.dymocks.com.au, you get their site. If you don’t, you get a very… It’s a Microsoft IIS ‘under construction’ page.
Patrick: No, no, this was definitely Borders. But what’s up with the bookstores in Australia then?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. Try this yourself, listener, ‘dymocks.com.au’, you get an ‘under construction’. “The site you’re trying to view does not currently have a default page.”
Patrick: Going there now.
Kevin: It’s insane.
Patrick: I’m a listener.
Kevin: It’s clearly theirs. It’s not someone else that’s grabbed that site from them.
Patrick: Oh, yeah. “You are not authorized to view this page”, huh.
Kevin: Yeah. Well anyway…
Patrick: I’m going to hack in by adding the ‘www.’… I’m in.
Kevin: Yeah. And I’ve tried to buy a couple of books from them in the past week and both times— I’ve clearly gotten into the habit of not typing the ‘www’ and trusting that they’ll redirect me if it needs it. So whether you do or not, you got to have that redirecting place but I don’t know it’s… For a while there, it seemed like it was the Web 2.0 thing to do if you were launching a new startup, you wanted the shortest address possible and it was just stylish not to have the ‘www’.
Kevin: Yeah, I’m looking at vimeo.com right now for my spotlight later and they don’t have ‘www’.
Kevin: But yeah, it’s personal preference I suppose. But yeah, ‘http://www.’, how many letters is that? Eleven.
So you’re Tim Berners-Lee, the first thing you do when you’re designing the Web is go, “Okay, every address is gonna start with 11 characters that will be the same no matter which address…” I think he does have some apologizing to do about that.
Patrick: Well you know, we could just give the whole internet back. I mean if we don’t want it so it’s…
Stephan: But the thing with the ‘www’ is that, you know, when you think about it, like online marketing stuff, you don’t want to hear, “Well go to our web site wwww.whateverwhatever.com…” I just want to hear whatever.com. That’s what I want to hear. It’s too much gibberish.
Kevin: I haven’t heard Dymocks do an online – like a radio ad but I wonder what it would sound like. I wonder if they would mention the ‘www’.
Patrick: And I think that’s part of it. I think that makes sense. Most of the marketing I see anyway tends to have just the ‘.com’. I’m talking about like mass marketing, TV and newspapers ad. I mean, I think that it then falls to the people, whoever, to redirect it properly and you know, I think that’s pretty much a given these days. I think that the fact that we can point out examples where, okay, it doesn’t work, is probably more an aberration then it is you know, a norm, because most sites that I find, they tend to do both well, I guess. And so it’s not really much of a skill but I don’t know, they do…
Stephan: Well I think I just said four w’s so I apologize to the listeners.
Patrick: And you’ve got to redirect that as well!
Kevin: All due credit to… I have to give credit to Flickr, they have fixed their problem. Flickr does redirect to the version with ‘www’s’ now so they used to support both.
Patrick: Do they redirect the version that has an ‘e’ on the name? Flick-er?
Kevin: Yeah, I don’t know. I doubt they have that domain.
In this story on the SitePoint blog by Craig Buckler, he lists the problems that Tim Berners-Lee admits to have been caused by these slashes. He said “it looks too technical to novice web users,” and that’s probably true, but I guess like you guys said… I don’t know, the marketing heads have kind of solved us for us; you never see really a web address in an advertisement or in a consumer context with that prefix. The browsers add it for you. I think it’s been phased out pretty well so I think we’ve overcome that particular issue.
This one is a pet peeve of mine. “Many users mistakenly refer to it as backslash-backslash” and I have to admit that there are definitely people in my immediate family who don’t know the difference between a forward slash and a backslash and maybe they shouldn’t have to. I’m just going to try this, now what happens if you type ‘http:\’?
Patrick: We’re going into uncharted territory! Hold on, listener!
Kevin: I’ve never done this before. Oh, it broke! Safari 4 does not like ‘http:\’. It adds the slashes for you in front of the backlashes and it just all goes wrong…
Patrick: You learn something new everyday on the SitePoint Podcast.
Stephan: What I want to know is how many listeners out there actually use the other transfer protocols like gopher through their browser.
Patrick: How many even know there are some?
Kevin: FTP seems to be other big one.
Stephan: But do people still use it through their browser?
Kevin: I doubt they type it but certainly there are probably links to – you can go here and down… You know, the open source sites when they’re…
Patrick: I mean really, I could do the total accident one day. I was like, “Hey, I don’t need an FTP client? What is this?”
Kevin: Yeah. I know when you know, if I’m going to download and this is not a good consumer example, but if I’m going to download the latest version of Ubuntu Linux or something like that, they’ll redirect me to the mirror and usually it’s an FTP address and it’s on a list of files.
Stephan: Yeah, but you’re a nerd.
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.
Moving on. “It’s one of the biggest causes of URL syntax errors,” it says? Ah, I guess, yeah. Yeah, I just, this morning, read a blog post by TomTom. They’re announcing that they finally got their iPhone mount for the in-car iPhone mount available on their online store and in their blog post the link, the writer of the link forgot to put ‘http://’ in front of it…
Patrick: It’s a folder.
Kevin: …and so it just goes to www.tomtom.com in the current folder. Yeah. So it’s broken. So yeah, good point. There is plenty of broken links out there because of this kind of thing, I’m sure.
“An unimaginable quantity of printer ink, and paper has been wasted on the unnecessary characters.”
Stephan: Really? … Really.
Kevin: Ahh, that’s going a bit far.
?Patrick: You mean that URL on the bottom of the page that when you print from a browser. I mean…
Kevin: Yeah, I guess.
Patrick: We could have fed a starving nation with all that ink.
Stephan: Hopefully, you weren’t sending them the ink.
Kevin: Taking a step back to the ‘www’ or no ‘www’ people who actually care about this kind of thing will be familiar with the two big sites out there, the no-www.org and yes-www.org. Man, that’s hard to say. It’s explaining why you should or should not have the ‘www’. I recommend also checking out www.www.extra-www.org, which is the site which advocates adding an extra ‘www’ to all of your addresses.
Patrick: You lost me.
Kevin: Check it out, it’s hilarious.
I think we’ve killed this story.
Kevin: Speaking of killing things, GeoCities is dead. It’s official. It’s gone.
Patrick: Want to say a few words? GeoCities, you were a great friend. We grew up with you, in a way. We learned on you and we will miss you.
Kevin: That’s touching.
Patrick: Thank you. Thank you.
Kevin: We spoke about GeoCities last in SitePoint podcast #14 and at that time it was just announced that Yahoo!, the owner of GeoCities these days, had decided to shut it down and just remove the hosting for all of these sites that people threw up there for free.
Patrick: It’s funny how that was a really quick point.
Kevin: And the date has come. The day has come. This past Monday, I think, the site came down, October 26, 2009. And this was Yahoo!’s last and only at this time free web hosting service. So Yahoo! is no longer in the business of free web hosting unless you count hosting your Flickr photos for free but actually putting up web sites, Yahoo! doesn’t provide that for free anymore.
And when we last talked about it, we, like many other people out there were kind of hopeful that some of the efforts underway to encourage Yahoo! to save this piece of web legacy was going to pay off. That someone would be able to convince Yahoo! to hand over the keys to the hosting and preserve this piece of web history but it hasn’t… it’s gone down and there is no one place that you can access the GeoCities content anymore. A lot of people went through processes of backing up their own GeoCities site, the Web Archive had… They had a form up saying that “We’ve been working extra hard to spider GeoCities’ content and keep a record of it but if you look in our archive and you find that your GeoCities site is not in there yet, fill in this form with your address and we will move it to the front of the queue.”
So hopefully, anyone who wanted their site preserved was able to do so but those people who have forgotten about their sites and go back there Anonymous one day. It’s gone is the sad truth of it and if you go to geocities.yahoo.com now it says, “Sorry, GeoCities has closed” and suggests “visiting one of these popular Yahoo! sites, like Yahoo! Mail or Yahoo! Sports.”
Patrick: I actually checked to see if my old GeoCities site was archived and it was by archive.org and the thing about it is though is my site was so old that they crawled it back in 2001 and they never needed to do it again.
Patrick: Not that I could get in because I simply could not but it’s always there for me should I ever want people to actually see it.
Kevin: There were a few things that happened on Monday to commemorate the event, xkcd, a popular web comic redesigned their site for one day and man, was it an eyesore.
Did you guys get a chance to check that out while it was up?
Patrick: Unfortunately, I did not.
Stephan: It was funny.
Patrick: I saw a screenshot, though, and it was on point.
Kevin: Yeah, it was best experienced in its animated glory but mashable.com has a screenshot and we’ll link to that in the show notes. It was, as you’d expect, black background, thick borders, lots of gratuitous animated GIFs and plenty of broken images as well. Yeah, they had these standard broken image icons for Netscape and Internet Explorer all through there.
Stephan: This was the golden age for iconography.
Kevin: [laughter] Oh, it was great. Plenty of Comic Sans in there, and if you were a real geek, you could view the source of the page and they had all sorts of tidbits in there. I’m not sure how much of it actually was functional but that nice, on the HTML tag for the page that
WEB="2.0". It’s a nice QBasic code in there which at least in theory a properly configured version of Internet Explorer back in the day probably could have executed.
<font face="Comic Sans MS">, oh man. Great stuff and again, I’ll put a link in the show notes to thread on the xkcd forms that sort of dissects the contents of that page.
But there was a darker side to the reaction and we had a lot of people out there just condemning Yahoo!’s handling of the shutdown saying that “Yahoo!, even though you had people with their hands extended in friendship, ready to take on the burden of responsibility of keeping GeoCities live” they didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t accept any of those efforts. In fact, they were silent on it, on the issue entirely and were more than happy just to throw the switch on the servers when the day came.
Jeremy Keith was a loud voice in this story and he has a blog post up on his site called “Tears in the Rain” and I can’t actually read out parts of this because the language in it would get us a rating on iTunes that we would like to avoid.
Patrick, you were telling me earlier that you thought that this tone was irresponsible.
Patrick: Hi Jeremy, love you. No. [laughter]
Kevin: I have to say we are all fans of Jeremy Keith.
Patrick: No I mean, you see the problem I have with it is when you… there’s a couple of problem with this. The first problem is the vulgarity. There’s words in here, name-calling that are not just like what I would call low-level vulgarity but stuff that is pretty crude, pretty nasty, that a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate. And I think that when you… and maybe it’s emotion, maybe it’s his emotion and that’s fine, I respect that this is how he wants to come across, it’s his blog, cool, but I think it makes it easy for people to dismiss you when you’re – I don’t want to say, belligerent, but when you’re communicating in this manner and I think it’s irresponsible to do so, makes it easy for people to dismiss your point and the point gets lost because you turn people off when they’re just reading the post.
And the other part of it is, of course, I guess assumptions about who made the decision to close GeoCities. I mean, sure there’s an outside perception that it’s probably some stuffy executive, who knows what what, but at the same time Yahoo! is a company staffed with techy people, with geeky people, with people who know the space and it’s feasible that someone who knows the Web pretty well made this decision, not just some old white businessman in a suit in a boardroom somewhere.
I think, like, no assumptions and then maybe changing the tone of the message helps more people to reach it and helps people to take it seriously. That’s just my point. No disrespect.
Kevin: It’s an interesting debate. I’ve listened to a podcast called – I’m not even sure I can say the name of it but it’s the Angry Mac … podcast, we’ll call it. I’ll be sure to post the link to it for people who want to check it out. But it is a few geeks who get together and swear a blue trail about idiots covering the Mac scene every week. And in a recent episode they were saying that they couldn’t understand why people didn’t take their message seriously just because of its tone. The fact that they choose to communicate in that tone, that angry, swear-filled way, should not prejudice people’s reactions to the content of their message. And while perhaps logically that argument is sound, I have to agree with you, Patrick, I do switch off as soon as someone starts yelling at me when they’re trying to make a point that I’m legitimately interested in. I just cannot take it in.
Patrick: Yeah, I think that if we’re all… if you’re talking to a machine, I think that’s a reasonable conclusion that okay, don’t take my point. But you know, there’s a couple of different things here. First of all is, it’s not just – what you say is as important as how you say it because that determines whether or not people understand it, whether or not they can receive it. And if you take the average business person who’s held to a standard let’s say in communication, if the CEO of Yahoo! goes off in a rant like this, you know, I think it’s Carol Bartz, I’m not sure though – that person gets fired. So you have to look at it in that light too, like there’s a certain standard of communication that respectful people require of one another.
It’s not just cursing for me because you know, that’ll turn off some people, sure, but it’s also the object of cursing – name calling. And that’s sort of stuff that adds to it for me as well. I can put up with a couple of swear words and I’m sure a lot of people can but if you want your message to reach as many people as possible, you need to make it accessible to as many as possible. They need to feel comfortable reading it from work or from anywhere and they need to be able to present to someone else. Now if you’re at Yahoo!, do you print out this post and take it to your boss where they are called all sorts of names? Probably not.
?Kevin: So in the spirit of taking this message that I think we agree is important… I mean, Jeremy links to Jason Scott who is one of the leaders of the effort to try and preserve the material on GeoCities and Jason Scott’s most recent post about this opens with “You’re stupid and I hate you.” Case in point… but I think Jeremy’s post, although maybe one-third inflammatory and impossible to read out on this show; I think there is some great stuff in there.
He says, “We’re losing a piece of internet history. We are losing the destinations of millions of inbound links but most importantly we’re losing people’s dreams and memories. GeoCities dies today. This is a bad day for the internet. It’s a bad day for our collective culture. In my opinion this is also a bad day for Yahoo! I for one will find it a lot harder to trust a company that finds this to be acceptable behavior despite the very cool and powerful APIs produced by the very smart and passionate developers within the same company. I hope that my friends who work at Yahoo! understand that when I pour vitriol upon their company, I am not aiming at them. Yahoo! has no shortage of clever people but clearly they are down in the trenches doing development, not in the upper echelons making the decision to butcher GeoCities.”
I have to leave it there because any further and it gets into some language.
Stephan: So they’re smart but they’re stupid at the same time, is what he’s saying.
Patrick: You know there’s two trains of thought here. The first train of thought is that Yahoo! is destroying a portion of the Web, a portion of its history and that’s a bad move. The other train of thought that I think people have also is that you know, GeoCities gave a fair amount of notice. The sites have been online for a long time and it’s a business and if it’s not carrying its weight then it needs to go.
I think there’s a balance somewhere between idealism and realistic expectations and I think that that intersection is where we need to get to, at least for me.
Kevin: And I think the intersection there is where when the idealists extended their hands and were willing to do whatever it took to protect and preserve that piece of history. When Yahoo! ignored them and turn them down, I think that’s the crucial mistake that was made. I can’t blame them for not being able to sustain the expenses associated with hosting, however significant or insignificant they may have been. As you say, they are a business but when the Internet is willing to help you preserve a piece of itself and you don’t take them up on the offer, I can’t defend that.
Patrick: There’s separate questions there as well though, such as who permits these people to archive their content? Most people don’t have a voice in this. You have people who want to save content that for the most part isn’t theirs and that’s a separate debate, I guess, what entitlement they have to content created by other people? But yeah, I mean, that’s a separate point.
Kevin: Alright. Well let’s move to something a little… I was going to say a little less inflammatory but it’s politics and politics always, always brings that out in people. The whitehouse.gov site has re-launched itself yet again. This time it’s a behind the scenes change and Tim O’Reilly writes extensively about whitehouse.gov switching to Drupal, which is an open source PHP content management system and that it’s running on Red Hat Linux Apache, MySQL technology stack. And there’s a nice story here worth reading about how it was undertaken and the different parties involved, there’s at least four different companies involved in bringing this to fruition but it’s a great story for open source and possibly a great story for the US government as well.
Guys, I’m not American, you guys are. What do you think?
Patrick: We count you as one of us.
Kevin: Thank you.
Stephan: I think it’s pretty cool. I’m all for open source being used. If people on the show don’t know it, I work in the public sector so I try to push open source when I can and so I think this is a good venture. I think there’s also an opposing viewpoint. There’s an interesting article on Slate written by Chris Wilson and there’s a little bit of a political slant.
Kevin: It’s not the Chris Wilson, is it?
Stephan: No, he’s just a Slate writer. I’ve looked him up, I can’t find anything linking him to the other Chris Wilson.
Kevin: It would be really weird if Microsoft’s Chris Wilson was writing on Slate about the whitehouse.gov site.
Stephan: Yeah, I don’t think it’s him.
Patrick: No, it’s not. This is a separate Twitter account.
Stephan: Yeah. So this guy, if you can get past the political slant of the article, it’s pretty interesting because he points out some Drupal fall points where Drupal is struggling, such as upgrading and the fact that the structure is somewhat disorganized in the file system. There’s some interesting points and I think his best point that he makes, counter to what Tim O’Reilly is saying, he’s saying that recovery.gov actually used Drupal for a while and it was dropped and they decided to go with a private contractor at a reported cost of $18 million dollars to rework the site. So it’ll be interesting to see what the White House does with this and if it stays, the central piece of software there.
Kevin: The fact that this was a purely behind the scenes change, that the site itself to its visitors has not changed at all, does that feel like a waste of resources to you guys?
Patrick: Without seeing the past backend, I don’t know. Right? Because that’s probably what this is aimed at, I would say in large part is the behind the scene stuff and obviously they didn’t like what they saw, right?
Kevin: Tim O’Reilly seems to like the move because he says that by switching to Drupal, at least initially, it makes no change to the site but it opens them up to taking advantage of the entire ecosystem around Drupal and it’ll make it easier for them to engage with social media and things like that in the future because they won’t have to write that into their own technology stack from scratch; they can just use plug-ins for Drupal that are developed by the open source community.
Does that ring true to you guys?
Stephan: I mean, yeah. I think it’s great that the government’s using open source stuff and maybe will contribute back to the open source project itself if you know… because you know they had to make some changes to the code to get it to work and I think it’s good that they’re moving away from a proprietary system that is probably costing us a lot of money and hopefully this is cheaper. I’d like to see a breakdown of it and if it’s true, it would be a great case study to see if it’s actually saving taxpayers money.
Patrick: Yeah, I mean, Mr. O’Reilly touts this as a “big win for open source” but the flipside of that is it better work. Right? Because anything… And it’s almost an unfair standard I think that it might be held to by some because if there is a problem security wise, once, twice, or ever, then you know, it’s going to reflect very badly on open source and very badly on Drupal because it’s just a different level of exposure. I mean, how much bigger do you get than the White House. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of probably brighter lights or more scrutinized web sites probably. So if it succeeds, it’ll be a big boon for Drupal and our friend Brad Williams, but if it doesn’t, then obviously they’ll be open to a great deal of criticism. ?
Kevin: Yeah. I wish Brad was here this week because he does do a fair bit of work with Drupal and he’d know a lot more of the technical side then we can speak to on this show.
But Tim O’Reilly’s story ends up – and you brush on this Stephan – that he is hoping that this will end up with up the government contributing back to open source. You know right now they’ve just taken Drupal and perhaps done some modifications to it to suit their purposes and no one knows what those modifications are and that if the government is embracing open source in all of its forms, they should be contributing whatever changes they make back to the community, and he suggests that just as the US government has launched a data.gov to open up government data to third party use, that they should release code.gov to release whatever open source code they may have written.
Stephan: I’m a little torn on that because do we really want people knowing what went into to make the White House site secure maybe… I mean, is that one thing we want hacked? I don’t know.
Kevin: The purist view is that security by obscurity is no security at all and if they’re confident in the work that they’ve done then they should be able to release that code with no qualms whatsoever. I’m skeptical about just what amount of modifications they’ve done. Call me on this if you don’t think it’s right but my impression of government contracts for web technology like this is either it gets through or it doesn’t, either the proposal to switch to Drupal slips through all of the political cracks and then someone installs a pretty vanilla installation of Drupal and they do the work to make it look nice and that’s the end of the story. This theory that the US government has some sort of special team of hackers who will modify Drupal in extra secure ways that the open source community could never conceive of on their own, it seems like a pleasant fiction to me. I would be very surprised if there’s anything that’s been done to that Drupal code base that’s worth contributing back.
Patrick: I detect a hint of jealousy as far as our lead hackers here. No, I’m just kidding.
Kevin: [laughing] Jealousy, no. I would say skepticism.
Patrick: I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. I think it’s a fair point and I share kind of Stephan’s skepticism about it. That’s the key, we don’t know what they did, and I think that’s maybe a good thing. I understand the point about obscurity and I guess that was Dr. Seuss who came up with that but you know, I think that… No, I’m just kidding but I think it’s true. I don’t see a reason for them to release like what they did security wise. If they make a new photo gallery thing, cool, distribute it. But the security stuff, I don’t really know if they need to be putting that out, if there’s a really great benefit to them doing so.
Stephan: Here’s the point. Here’s the great point and I think this comes from the WordPress community, right. It doesn’t matter what you’re using as long as it gets the job done. Right? Because WordPress has always touted that “we’re here to let people write,” and it doesn’t matter what it looks like, right? It doesn’t…Wait, that’s the wrong word. It doesn’t matter what the framework is behind it as long as the content is being produced for the people, right. So we shouldn’t really care that it’s Drupal. It shouldn’t matter, right? I mean, yeah, it’s great that it is open source but at the end of the day, it’s just software to put some text on the internet, really, and some pictures. Really, I mean…
Patrick: Of course, you can’t really compare the White House web site to other government web sites. I mean, obviously, there’s probably some special consideration goes into that. It’s probably not your average everyday government contract either. I speak with no experience of course, but I would hope that there would be extra considerations. So I think hopefully it works out well, it reflects great on the open source community, everyone walks away happy and open source continues to grow.
Kevin: Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, in an interview with the Associated Press has said that the internet was not made for the iPhone, which I suppose you can’t fault him on that but… I don’t know. This is a story from the Associated Press about how Windows 7 has revitalized the PC market and that the PC market is sprung into this variety of options, all of which are taking hardware design a lot more seriously than the PC world has in the past. We’ve moved from a world of beige boxes into slick and colorful machines that are suited to the individual tastes and needs of various users and that Windows 7 provides a flexible platform that suits everything from the smallest netbook to the biggest professional workstation and that competitors like Apple just can’t compete with that. What all that has to do with the internet and the iPhone is difficult to fathom but at the very end of this story, right down the bottom, I’ll just read it out here.
“Microsoft has more to contend with than computers running other operating systems. People have begun to use such gadgets as the iPhone as tiny mobile computers. But Ballmer scorns the idea that smart phones could unseat PCs as the technology of choice for on the go consumers. “Let’s face it. The internet was designed…” this is quoting Ballmer… “Let’s face it, the internet was designed for the PC. The internet is not designed for the iPhone,” Ballmer said. “That’s why they’ve got 75,000 applications. They’re all trying to make the internet look decent on the iPhone.”
Patrick: Um, I think what happened is he was asked about it. I mean, that’s how… If someone probably asked him, “So how do you compete with cell phones?”
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Patrick: Knowing how reporters go about their business. I think it’s probably true but I think what it is… Obviously, the internet is not designed for mobile phones (throw aside the iPhone). That’s why we have development now being led in the mobile direction. There are people creating mobile versions of their web sites so can they tap into that audience. Obviously, most web sites are designed first and foremost for the desktop or the laptop, normal computer, but then there is this whole new audience that really maybe doesn’t use the computer very much and there’s some money to be made for that audience. So that’s why people are tapping into it. So I don’t look at it as an either/or scenario. I look at it as here’s a way we can make more money and get more traffic so you know, people are now developing their sites for mobile devices or creating apps to make their sites easier to access or their data more easier to access, from booking flights to any kind of service that you purchase; it’s a new audience to tap into.
Kevin: Yeah. If we trying to squint through Ballmer’s typically glib quote here. I think that’s my biggest annoyance with him is he always tries to distill serious issues down to something that he can laugh off to Microsoft’s advantage. But the core question here is whether the mobile internet will take the form of a browser or whether it will take the form of applications which access internet-based services. So conventional wisdom or at least what I’ve been hearing in a few years up to this point is that, especially in developing countries, people aren’t buying PCs; they’re buying mobile phones and in those countries a lot of people’s first experience of the Web is on a mobile phone handset screen. And that user base is growing a lot more quickly than the desktop PC or laptop computer market is growing in the rest of the world. And so in the next decade or so, we can expect the mobile internet user base to outstrip the people sitting in front of a computer and a keyboard.
Patrick: Relating to this, I was at a panel at Blog World Expo about reaching multicultural audiences and my friend Wayne Sutton was on it and a member in the audience, said “how do I reach…” I think he was saying inner city… “How do we reach inner city kids that maybe don’t use or care about a computer or laptop as much?” And one of the panelists answered, “Well, they may not care about that but I bet you if they don’t already, they’ll soon have a mobile phone that will be accessing the Web and that’s how you reach them.” So it is a separate audience that can be reached and I think that plays into your point.
Kevin: So right now when you’re designing a new site, typically you design the desktop experience and then if you’ve got money left over or if your demographics justify it, you’ll develop a mobile phone version of your site. But I think the day is coming soon when your market research will tell you to develop the mobile version of the site first, depending on your audience. So there, Steve Ballmer. [laugh]
I think the idea that the desktop browser experience is somehow special and will forever define the web experience, provide the primary one, the one that people most associate with the Web. I think that’s very naïve.
Stephan: My biggest hangup with what he’s saying is that most people don’t walk around with a netbook and pull it out and get on the internet.
What I’m saying is just that even people with other phones, Android, whatever, the G1, when they go out, they’re not pulling out their netbook to get on the internet when they’re walking down the street or to check their email or something; they’re pulling out their phone. So the idea that it was designed for the PC and not for what people are doing now I think is a fallacy. I think that it’s changing, it’s shifting. Sure, it may not have been designed initially for the PC but that’s changing now. And I’m sorry, Ballmer, times change. People are moving away from the normal idea of a computer.
?Kevin: I’m hesitant to even bring up the fact that Microsoft has a mobile phone platform of their own because it almost feels like a cheap shot to bring it up. But in the past two weeks Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 6.5, which has a whole series of phones from different manufacturers running that operating system and, of course, it’s got a web browser on it.
Stephan: Oh, it shouldn’t. They should take that off; it’s not designed for it.
Patrick: I don’t think he’s saying that mobile phones are going to disappear; I think he’s saying that the Internet is going to be primarily driven by desktop use for the foreseeable future and I think whether or not you agree with that is the discussion.
Kevin: So what does that say about the company’s priorities when the CEO on the week that they’re launching a new mobile phone operating system with a browser in it is saying “the internet wasn’t designed for mobile phones.”
Patrick: It’s also because they’re launching their new operating system. Windows 7 is probably the priority.
Stephan: It comes back to Kevin’s point about the developing countries because you’ve got China, you got India, you’ve got a lot of South American countries that are all developing and all getting a large number of cell phone users because it’s easy to have a cell phone. It is not easy to have a landline to the internet in your house.
Patrick: I mean these points are going to be business driven too. I mean let’s not forget in a way, I mean, Microsoft has a foothold in a desktop market so, of course, they’re going to have vested interest in desktops. Apple has obviously this huge, huge foothold in the mobile industry with the iPhone and its massive sales so they’re going to be interested in that side of the Web and pushing that. There’s always a business side to it.
Kevin: Alright. Guys, it’s been a chockablock episode but let’s get to our spotlights before we sign off here.
Stephan, what have you got for our listeners?
Stephan: I actually have an interesting video, kind of funny, kind of irrelevant to everything that we’ve talked about.
Kevin: That’s how spotlights are best.
Stephan: Yes. It is a video about where goldfish come from and it’s Leelefever of Common Craft. They make the little paper animations that explain things. Paperworks, yes. Thank you, Patrick. And it’s a really interesting 5-minute video at Ignite Seattle and Where Goldfish Come From… Apparently, he grew up on a fish farm, grew up the son of a goldfish farmer in North Carolina and he shares his story. It’s really interesting, kind of funny, and just a fun watch.
Kevin: I haven’t seen this video. Is this like the birds and bees for fish? Or is there some deep message in this video that we can look forward to? Or is it really just, here’s what you may not know about how goldfish farming happens.
Stephan: It’s just about how goldfish farming, you know, what his experience has been in goldfish farming, growing up in that industry and what his dad’s dream of doing this and stuff. It’s a good story.
Patrick: Yes, it is. It does have some insight to it, I think. I’ve watched it.
Kevin: My spotlight this week is a pair of videos by Merlin Mann who many people may know from the site 43folders.com. They may know his Inbox Zero video from a talk he gave at Google a while back but he occasionally does video blogging on Vimeo and he in the past week released a couple of videos. The first was a little concerning to some people. It’s called “Merlin Labs! 5 Surprising House Hacks” and he basically goes on a rant about how… It’s really hard to explain. He explains how common household objects that you may have been using for Web 2.0 social media purposes can actually be used for common household tasks.
For example, the idea bulb that you hold above your head every time you have an idea, you can actually screw it in to a light fixture and use it to light a room of your house. That’s the first one of his five surprising house hacks and they get crazier from there. And the reaction to this video—which I have to say may not be entirely safe for work, there is a bit of language in that video—there were some people worrying that Merlin had lost his marbles and so the very next day, he followed it up with a much longer, something like 45-minute long video called “Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now),” and in that video he kind of explains the point he was trying to make with his insane House Hacks video. He explains first of all, that the straw that broke the camel’s back that led him to make that video was a post on lifehacker explaining that when you have food caked on to pots and pans in your kitchen, a good hack to get them clean is to soak them overnight in your sink with dish detergent.
Patrick: Is that a hack?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. So his…
Stephan: It sounds like washing the dishes to me.
Kevin: [laugh] So his overriding point here is that there are people out there who are in the business of wasting your time by drowning you in productivity hacks and that the real key to being productive is knowing when to turn off those streams of noise and actually put your head down and be productive. And as creative people online, we do need to expose ourselves to that noise as a source of inspiration and ideas but we also need to be very good at knowing when to switch it off and when to do the hard work and that these sites like lifehacker.com, it’s not in their interest to ever tell you, “Okay, it’s time to close your RSS reader and get some work done now.” Rather, they are in the business of leading you on to the next ridiculous hack. And so if this interests you at all, this is a really… The first video, once you know what he’s on about is absolutely hysterically hilarious and the second video, if this is meaningful stuff to you, is really inspiring and it’s kind of a preview of what is coming in the book that Merlin is working on.
Patrick: That sounds great.
Kevin: Yeah. Patrick, what’s your spotlight?
Patrick: My spotlight is a post from Chris Brogan at chrisbrogan.com. It’s “What It Takes To Be An Overnight Success” and it’s a short post with a nice little video. It’s a minute long, you can digest it in a couple of minutes, and basically, you know, he gets people to look at him and say that he’s an overnight success or he gets something because he’s Chris Brogan. And it’s silly because of all the work that goes into what he does. And in the video he shows that he got to bed at 12, fell asleep at 3, up at 5:30, flying to another conference. And basically the story is the work that goes into the success that you see in other people. So I definitely recommend checking it out and giving the video a watch for a bit of perspective about success.
Kevin: Alright. Well that’s the end of an episode. To all our listeners in countries where Halloween is a thing, Happy Halloween for this weekend.
Kevin: Let’s go around the table, guys.
Patrick: I am Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network, ifroggy.com and on Twitter @ifroggy.
Stephan: This is Stephan Segraves from Houston, Texas. You can find me on Twitter @ssegraves.
Kevin: You can follow me on Twitter @sentience and SitePoint is on Twitter @sitepointdotcom. Visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on the show and subscribe to get every show automatically. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something to tell us or something to ask us, we’d love to hear from you.
This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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