Beyond Diaspora

I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one disappointed in Diaspora.  Read this article from Blogoscoped, Beyond Diaspora: Another Facebook Alternative has a Head Start.

While I have already deployed (it’s an open, distributed alternative to Twitter, and mine is here), it doesn’t allow for much social functionality, especially for the single user.  And GNU Social, what the article is really about, isn’t widely developed (look at the email lists, there are very, very few posts).  I would think the GNU/FOSS community could put some more substantial effort behind creating an open alternative to Facebook.

As I said up front, I’m disappointed in Diaspora (the open alternative to Facebook that got a lot of attention this summer).  Diaspora runs on Ruby, which is great if you like Macs (it’s built in to the operating system), but Ruby runs poorly on Linux servers (which host the majority of the internet’s sites).  The entire package is difficult to install on Linux, but the real issue is Ruby.  Ruby is notoriously slow, and a lot of people are reporting that the app slows to a crawl when two people are accessing it.

I’m disappointed in Diaspora because they didn’t make Diaspora to work with common server technologies like PHP and MySQL.  Therefore, the installation base is a lot smaller, and those that want to install it are in for a day-long treat typically.

The Need for Government Data

The City of Seattle’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer) Bill Schrier writes an interesting blog, and recently posted about the need and usefulness of local (and state and federal) government data.  He notes the iterations of government presence on the Internet/web:

  • First, simply putting information online for citizens.
  • Second, online transactions (paying bills, reporting problems, applying for permits, etc.).
  • Third, “expanding information to include this bulk download or easy, machine-readable, querying of data.”  (He also notes, “in this wave of innovation, government diverges significantly from the private sector. Few private businesses will want to place large amounts of data collected at their own expense in the public domain for anyone to see and use.”
  • Fourth, sites where “constituents can not only report issues online (using a map-based interface in the case of see-click-fix) but also see what others have reported and even rank the importance of the issues which have been reported.”
  • Fifth, allow citizens to track issues (and resolution of the issues) online.
  • Sixth (and this is done by citizens and not government), citizens use government data sources to make applications (‘apps’) to inform policy-making.

Overall, this is a very good read from “the Chief Seattle Geek.”

More and More Using WordPress as CMS

From Matt Mullenweg:

The Harvard Gazette is now on WordPress, with a beautiful magazine-style design. There’s a whole meme/argument going around a few blogs and Twitter saying WordPress isn’t a CMS. Who cares what you call it, look at the amazing sites you can create. (And manage content on.) Who woulda thunk it. I thought WordPress was only good for “just a blog” — what are these Harvard gonzos doing? Fie! I say.

I have to agree.  I use WordPress to most everything!

A Possible Twitter Business Plan

An interesting comment in class yesterday sparked an idea for Twitter. Twitter has always lacked a business plan, and is just now deploying one that sells to companies.

My thought is an addition to this, to sell advanced services on Twitter to companies, organizations, and governments (and non-profits). Twitter could see these services:

– Verified account status for account

– Password and account management, including:
— Organization of employee sub-accounts, with authorization and revocation of tweeting privileges.
— An assurance that the account stays with organization (so no employee can hijack account if they leave).
— The ability to see which sub-account post on the account.
— The ability to post during a downtime (a Twitter downtime or natural disaster).
— A more secure account in general.

This is something I came up with rather quickly, but I think it would enable some corporate and government organizations to increase their usage of Twitter, while funding the service.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this proposal.

An Integrated Social Address Book

palm-pre / CC BY-SA 2.0

I have recently come to the conclusion that the future of the address book is in the social realm… and likely includes the cloud.

The big announcement yesterday was that Microsoft will incorporate more social-ness in Outlook, first with LinkedIn (TechCrunch post).  Here is the news from LinkedIn and the announcement from the Microsoft Outlook team.  Outlook will integrate LinkedIn profiles with Outlook contacts, including activity feeds, profile pictures, and direct links to LinkedIn profiles.

The Microsoft Outlook team actually went above and beyond just integrating LinkedIn, and created a framework for any social network to integrate with Outlook.  The framework is called the Outlook Social Connector.  In the future, any social network or service should be able to integrate with Outlook in similar ways.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook integration announced next.

The social-ness in Outlook isn’t a new concept.  Xobni has for a while offered an interesting Outlook add-in that integrates LinkedIn and Facebook (among other services).  WebWorkerDaily recently had a post about making Outlook more social.

As I stated at the beginning, I think the future of the address book lies with social networks and online services.  Xobni and Outlook Social Connector are just the beginning of a major trend (on the desktop).  But mobile address books have already started integrating online services.

The Palm Pre was the first mobile device to tightly integrate social networks and online services. It’s Synergy feature integrates information from Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, Google Contacts, online calendars, and instant messaging services.  See here for a good screenshot of a “linked contact”.  And here’s Palm’s description of the feature(s) (there are a lot of good pictures on that page):

Pre uses the Palm® Synergy™ feature to bring your Microsoft® Office Outlook®, Google™, Yahoo!, and Facebook® calendars together for one logical view of your day. And if you have contacts stored in those places or on LinkedIn®, Pre can pull in each person’s information and combine it under one entry, making it easier to find what you need.

ArsTechnica has a great article looking at the Synergy feature and the ability to pull contacts and other information into the phone.  The CEO of Funambol (a mobile sync solution that I use) thinks that Synergy is the killer feature and has this to say:

But then I added my Facebook account and the magic started. My friends appeared on my contact list with pictures. Where possible, the app merged my Facebook and Gmail contacts (I guess using their email or cell phone or name). Visually, it reminds you if a contact is merged, because you see the contact picture in a deck (easy to see than to explain). You can remove the link, or add a link to connect two contacts that are the same but do not share any common info: for example, my wife that has no email address in Facebook so it could not be linked, but now I have her picture on my phone and it will change if she changes her profile in Facebook. When you edit a contact, it shows you where every field came from. Some can’t be modified (you can’t change any of your friends info from Facebook, they do). It even merged two contacts I had duplicated in Gmail by mistake… Awesome. Sync nirvana. Finally.

Motorola built a similar feature into its recent operating  system, called MOTOBLUR. Their description says (and check out the pictures):

Put everyone together in one address book without lifting a finger. Only MOTOBLUR continuously syncs your phone and email contacts with your friends from Facebook™, MySpace and Twitter. Automatically.

And Vodafone has Vodafone 360 (announcement).

But these solutions are just the beginning of the mobile, social address book.

I’d like to see these types of features move to other devices.  The easiest way to integrate more social networks and online services would be through Funambol, the open source sync client that supports many, many phones.  And since the CEO Fabrizio Capobianco thinks so much of the social sync built-in to the Palm Pre (see above), you would think Funambol would be involved more in the social arena.  But Funambol only really has AvatarGrabber (to grab photos from Facebook, etc.), which is a very rough, client-side app (not built-in to Funambol).  They have facebook-client project, but no outcome exists (and no Facebook sync).  And there was also some interest in a feature to invite contacts into your social network, but again, no outcome.

I’m also surprised BlackBerry hasn’t done more in this arena.  They seem to be becoming one of the larger consumer (as opposed to business) phone providers, but even their spiffy new operating system doesn’t have any social features.

So, to conclude, the integrated, social address book is the future.  Some type of sync between your phone contacts and your contacts in social networks and online services (ie. Gmail and Google Contacts).  This integrated, social address book has really only been deployed at the mobile level on the Palm Pre, Vodafone, and Motorola CLIQ.  And on the desktop, really Xobni is the only contender, while the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector (and LinkedIn support) will be coming soon.

I hope to see it deployed soon elsewhere (Blackberry and Funambol?).

More on White House and Drupal

I wanted to write a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the White House Using the Drupal Open Source Content Management System.

There has been quite a bit of coverage following the short announcement about the White House website.

techPresident has a bit more information on why the White House decided to use Drupal as its content management system.

Tim O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Media, posted some thoughts on the announcement.  He managed to track down some specifics on what systems the White House used to implement Drupal:

That Drupal implementation is in turn running on a Red Hat Linux system with Apache, MySQL and the rest of the LAMP stack. Apache Solr is the new White House search engine.

He also mentions the White House possibly contributing back some of the code they used to implement Drupal:

The source code for Drupal (and the rest of the LAMP stack) is indeed available, but the modifications that were made to meet government security, scalability, and hosting requirements have not yet been shared. In my conversations with the new media team at the White House, it is clear that they are exploring this option.

The ZDNet open source blog thinks that this will be a good test for Drupal (and, really, open source) security – I agree.

I can’t wait to hear more details.