Category Archives: yahoo!

mashups made easy

Yahoo! recently announced a new service called pipes that hopes to bring the ability to “mash-up” to the common folk.
As always, Tim O’Reilly has a very good description:

Yahoo!’s new Pipes service is a milestone in the history of the internet. It’s a service that generalizes the idea of the mash-up, providing a drag and drop editor that allows you to connect internet data sources, process them, and redirect the output. Yahoo! describes it as “an interactive feed aggregator and manipulator” that allows you to “create feeds that are more powerful, useful and relevant.” While it’s still a bit rough around the edges, it has enormous promise in turning the web into a programmable environment for everyone.

While undeniably exciting, this technology reminds me of a concern I had and wrote about just a few months ago: the ethics of software in the networked world.
The basic problem is that having data spread across large and unreliable networks can lead to a chain reaction of unintended consequences when a service is interrupted. For example, imagine Google Maps changed the way a fundamental part of its mapping tool worked: Since the changes are applied immediately to everyone using the network, serious problems can arise as the necessity for these tools increase.
Also, the responsibility for managing problems can become a lot harder to track down when the network of dependencies becomes complex, and creating a new layer of abstraction, like in Yahoo! pipes, can potentially exacerbate the problem if there is not an clear agreement of expectations between the parties involved.
I think that one of reasons that licenses, like the GPL and the Creative Commons licenses, are popular are because they clearly communicate to the parties involved what their rights are, without ever having to explain the complexities of copyright law. I think it would make sense to come up with similar agreements between nodes in a network on the issues I raised above as we move more of our crucial applications to the web. The problem is, who would ever want to take responsibility for problems that appear far removed? Would there be any interest in creating a network collective of small pieces, closely joined?

privacy matters 2: delicious privacy

delicious.gif Social bookmarking site announced last month that it will give people the option to make bookmarks private — for “those antisocial types who doesn’t like to share their toys.” This a sensible layer to add to the service. If really is to take over the function of local browser-based bookmarks, there should definitely be a “don’t share” option. A next, less antisocial, step would be to add a layer of semi-private sharing within defined groups — family, friends, or something resembling Flickr Groups.
Of course, considering that is now owned by Yahoo, the question of layers gets trickier. There probably isn’t a “don’t share” option for them.
(privacy matters 1)

the email tax: an internet myth soon to become true

After years as an Internet urban myth, the email tax appears to be close at hand. The New York TImes reports that AOL and Yahoo have partnered with startup Goodmail to start offering guaranteed delivery of mass email to organizations for a fee. Organizations with large email lists can pay to have their email go directly to AOL and Yahoo customers’ inboxes, bypassing spam filters. Goodmail claims that they will offer discounts to non-profits. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined together to create an alliance of nonprofit and public interest organizations to protest AOL’s plans. They argue that this two-tiered system will create an economic incentive to decrease investment into AOL’s spam filtering in order to encourage mass emailers to use the pay-to-deliver service. They have created an online petition called for people to request that AOL stop these plans. A similar protest to Yahoo who intends to launch this service after AOL is being planned as well. The alliance has created unusual bedfellows, including Gun Owners of America, AFL-CIO, Humane Society of United States and Human Rights Campaign, who are resisting the pressure to use this service.
Part of the leveling power of email is that the marginal cost of another email is effectively zero. By perverting this feature of email, smaller businesses, non-profits, and individuals will once again be put at a disadvantage to large affluent firms. Further, this service will do nothing to reduce spam, rather it is designed to help mass emailers. An AOL spokesman, Nicholas Graham is quoted as saying AOL will earn revenue akin to a “lemonade stand” which further questions by AOL would pursue this plan in the first place. Although the only affected parties will initially be AOL and Yahoo users, it sets a very dangerous precedent that goes against the democratizing spirit of the Internet and digital information.

yahoo! ui design library

yahoo! logoThere are several reasons that Yahoo! released some of their core UI code for free. A callous read of this would suggest that they did it to steal back some goodwill from Google (still riding the successful Goolge API release from 2002). A more charitable soul could suggest that Yahoo! is interested in making the web a better place, not just in their market-share. Two things suggest this—the code is available under an open BSD license, and their release of design patterns. The code is for playing with; the design patterns for learning from.
The code is squarely aimed at folks like me who would struggle mightily to put together a default library to handle complex interactions in Javascript using AJAX (all the rage now) while dealing with the intricacies of modern and legacy browsers. Sure, I could pull together the code from different sources, test it, tweak it, break it, tweak it some more, etc. Unsurprisingly, I’ve never gotten around to it. The Yahoo! code release will literally save me at least a hundred hours. Now I can get right down to designing the interaction, rather than dealing with technology.
The design patterns library is a collection of best practice instructions for dealing with common web UI problems, providing both a solution and a rationale, with a detailed explanation of the interaction/interface feedback. This is something that is more familiar to me, but still stands as a valuable resource. It is a well-documented alternate viewpoint and reminder from a site that serves more users in one day than I’m likely to serve in a year.
Of course Yahoo! is hoping to reclaim some mind-space from Google with developer community goodwill. But since the code is general release, and not brandable in any particular way (it’s all under-the-hood kind of stuff), it’s a little difficult to see the release as a directly marketable item. It really just seems like a gift to the network, and hopefully one that will bear lovely fruit. It’s always heartening to see large corporations opening their products to the public as a way to grease the wheels of innovation.


People have been talking about internet television for a while now. But Google and Yahoo’s unveiling of their new video search and subscription services last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas seemed to make it real.
Sifting through the predictions and prophecies that subsequently poured forth, I stumbled on something sort of interesting — a small concrete discovery that helped put some of this in perspective. Over the weekend, Slate Magazine quietly announced its partnership with “,” a web-based interview series hosted by Robert Wright, author of Nonzero and The Moral Animal, dealing with big questions at the perilous intersection of science and religion.
Launched last fall (presumably in response to the intelligent design fracas), is a web page featuring a playlist of video interviews with an intriguing roster of “cosmic thinkers” — philosophers, scientists and religious types — on such topics as “Direction in evolution,” “Limits in science,” and “The Godhead.”
This is just one of several experiments in which Slate is fiddling with its text-to-media ratio. Today’s Pictures, a collaboration with Magnum Photos, presents a daily gallery of images and audio-photo essays, recalling both the heyday of long-form photojournalism and a possible future of hybrid documentary forms. One problem is that it’s not terribly easy to find these projects on Slate’s site. The Magnum page has an ad tucked discretely on the sidebar, but seems to have disappeared from the front page after a brief splash this weekend. For a born-digital publication that has always thought of itself in terms of the web, Slate still suffers from a pretty appalling design, with its small headline area capping a more or less undifferentiated stream of headlines and teasers.
Still, I’m intrigued by these collaborations, especially in light of the forecast TV-net convergence. While internet TV seems to promise fragmentation, these projects provide a comforting dose of coherence — a strong editorial hand and a conscious effort to grapple with big ideas and issues, like the reassuringly nutritious programming of PBS or the BBC. It’s interesting to see text-based publications moving now into the realm of television. As Tivo, on demand, and now, the internet atomize TV beyond recognition, perhaps magazines and newspapers will fill part of the void left by channels.
Limited as it may now seem, traditional broadcast TV can provide us with valuable cultural touchstones, common frames of reference that help us speak a common language about our culture. That’s one thing I worry we’ll lose as the net blows broadcast media apart. Then again, even in the age of five gazillion cable channels, we still have our water-cooler shows, our mega-hits, our television “events.” And we’ll probably have them on the internet too, even when “by appointment” television is long gone. We’ll just have more choice regarding where, when and how we get at them. Perhaps the difference is that in an age of fragmentation, we view these touchstone programs with a mildly ironic awareness of their mainstream status, through the multiple lenses of our more idiosyncratic and infinitely gratified niche affiliations. They are islands of commonality in seas of specialization. And maybe that makes them all the more refreshing. Shows like “24,” “American Idol,” or a Ken Burns documentary, or major sporting events like the World Cup or the Olympics that draw us like prairie dogs out of our niches. Coming up for air from deep submersion in our self-tailored, optional worlds.

Wikipedia to consider advertising

The London Times just published an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in which he entertains the jimmywales.jpgidea of carrying ads. This mention is likely to generate an avalanche of discussion about the commercialization of open-source resources. While i would love to see Wikipedia stay out of the commercial realm, it’s just not likely. Yahoo, Google and other big companies are going to commercialize Wikipedia anyway so taking ads is likely to end up a no-brainer. As i mentioned in my comment on Lisa’s earlier post, this is going to happen as long as the overall context is defined by capitalist relations. Presuming that the web can be developed in a cooperative, non-capitalist way without fierce competition and push-back from the corporations who control the web’s infrastructure seems naive to me.

why google and yahoo love wikipedia

wikipedia.png From Dan Cohen’s excellent Digital Humanities Blog comes a discussion of the Wikipedia story that Cohen claims no one seems to be writing about — namely, the question of why Google and Yahoo give so much free server space and bandwith to Wikipedia. Cohen points out that there’s more going on here than just the open source ethos of these tech companies: in fact, the two companies are becoming increasingly dependent on Wikipedia as a resource, both as something to repackage for commercial use (in sites such as, and as a major component in the programming of search algorithms. Cohen writes:
Let me provide a brief example that I hope will show the value of having such a free resource when you are trying to scan, sort, and mine enormous corpora of text. Let’s say you have a billion unstructured, untagged, unsorted documents related to the American presidency in the last twenty years. How would you differentiate between documents that were about George H. W. Bush (Sr.) and George W. Bush (Jr.)? This is a tough information retrieval problem because both presidents are often referred to as just “George Bush” or “Bush.” Using data-mining algorithms such as Yahoo’s remarkable Term Extraction service, you could pull out of the Wikipedia entries for the two Bushes the most common words and phrases that were likely to show up in documents about each (e.g., “Berlin Wall” and “Barbara” vs. “September 11” and “Laura”). You would still run into some disambiguation problems (“Saddam Hussein,” “Iraq,” “Dick Cheney” would show up a lot for both), but this method is actually quite a powerful start to document categorization.
Cohen’s observation is a valuable reminder that all of the discussion of Wikipedia’s accuracy and usefulness as an academic tool is really only skimming the surface of how and why the open-souce encyclopedia is reshaping the way knowledge is made and accessed. Ultimately, the question of whether or not Wikipedia should be used in the classroom might be less important than whether — or how — it is used in the boardroom, by companies whose function is to repackage, reorganize and return “the people’s knowledge” back to the people at a tidy profit.

yahoo buys and takes on google?

Just as we were creating a account and linking it to our site, Yahoo announced the purchase of the company. This strategy of purchasing successful web service start-ups is nothing new for Yahoo (for example, flckr and egroups.)’s popularity has prompted lots of discussion has been going on across the internet, notably on slashdot as well as social software. started with the simple idea of putting bookmarks on the web. By making them public, it added a social networking component to the experience. Bookmarks, in a way, are an external representation of notable ideas in the mind of the owner.
They also announced a new partnership with Six Apart, who created Moveable Type. Although, they did not purchase Six apart. Six Apart has optimized their blogging software to work with Yahoo’s small business hosting service.
In the end, these strategies make sense for Yahoo and other large media companies, because they are buying proven technologies and a strong user base. Small companies are often more nimble in thought and speed, and then able to develop novel technology.
Interestingly, the online discussion seem to be framing this event in terms of Yahoo versus Google. Microsoft is noticeably absent in the discussion. Perhaps, as Lisa suggested, they are focused on gaming right now. With each new initiative and acquisition, the debates about the services and strategies of Yahoo and Google sound more like discussions about competing fall line-ups of ABC, NBC and CBS.

gawker blogs to appear on yahoo

Gawker Media, the Conde Nast of the blogosphere, has just sold distribution rights for five of its blogs to Yahoo. Selected posts from Gawker, Wonkette, Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Defamer will soon appear daily on the Yahoo news portal.
Not so worrisome (or surprising) to see blogs like these going corporate. From the beginning, they’ve sort of pitched themselves as commodities — the tabloids and gadget rags of the blogosphere. But when blogging comes fully front and center as the next hip business strategy — that authentic unfiltered element with which to adorn your comapany’s image (hang some humans on the doorpost) — then we may see a massive rush to rake up the brighter talents with lucrative little hosting deals. I’d hate to see bloggers foresake their independence like this. Then again, it might clear the way for a whole new generation of authentic voices.

microsoft joins open content alliance

Microsoft’s forthcoming “MSN Book Search” is the latest entity to join the Open Content Alliance, the non-controversial rival to Google Print. ZDNet says: “Microsoft has committed to paying for the digitization of 150,000 books in the first year, which will be about $5 million, assuming costs of about 10 cents a page and 300 pages, on average, per book…”
Apparently having learned from Google’s mistakes, OCA operates under a strict “opt-in” policy for publishers vis-a-vis copyrighted works (whereas with Google, publishers have until November 1 to opt out). Judging by the growing roster of participants, including Yahoo, the National Archives of Britain, the University of California, Columbia University, and Rice University, not to mention the Internet Archive, it would seem that less hubris equals more results, or at least lower legal fees. Supposedly there is some communication between Google and OCA about potential cooperation.
Also story in NY Times.