I’ve been playing with Outside.in for a few minutes (here is the Portland feed), and my first thought was that this is exactly what friends told me to do in 2000. MetaFilter was just taking off being barely a year old, and San Francisco friends urged me to make city-specific local news hubs that interested people could find links and news for and post to. Tom Coates had a great write up in fall of 2000 asking for precisely this. I was (and still am) too busy to take on such an effort, but it’s good to see someone trying to pick up the reins and try it.

I’m surprised they didn’t use CityName.outside.in URLs instead of outside.in/City_Name though.

The Benefits of Hindsight

Like the original iPod thread at macrumors, I love reading last year’s announcement of YouTube getting funded. Post GooTube deal, Sequoia’s $11.5 million invested netted them $495 million in return. With that in mind, these quotes from the post and linked blogs are great:

“The Web 2.0 funding frenzy is in full effect.”

“People on the street in Montana aren’t talking about [YouTube]… It will be some years out before general people become users.”

“…emerging land of absurdity where a live prototype that can be replicated in 90 days, that has no business model or revenue is considered a business.”

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

Holy crap, the rumors were true: Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

I’m really happy about this and think it’s a good thing. Like I said last month, YouTube offers a fundamental shift in how video is shared online and provided a free hosting outlet for millions of people. YouTube proved that broadband and video can actually work and it doesn’t have to cost every producer an arm and a leg. The rest is all details, though I understand profits and lawsuits over IP are pretty big details.

I would put this purchase up there with the Blogger deal. Google saw this app that provided a huge shift in how people interact online and snapped it up. Same with Writely, same with Picasa (though I’m sure they wanted Flickr back when it was independent). Google used to just be a search company but now they’re looking more like a very smart media company buying up all the best-of-breed services.

I do wonder how on earth they’ll fold YouTube into Google. If they just merged the YT content into Google Video, all the personality and social aspects of YouTube would be lost, but if it stays independent, then they have two brands offering much of the same product competing for engineering and legal resources.

Congrats to the YouTube team and kudos to Google for snatching it up and keeping bandwidth costs at zero for young filmmakers.

MeFi Down for a bit

Just a note to people looking for *.metafilter.com — this morning there was an OS-level software problem on the web server, which required a total wipe and reinstall of the drive. The database server is fine, and I am getting all the data off the original web server drive, so everything should be back up and running by this afternoon or tonight at the latest. At the moment stuff is just being reinstalled and will take a few more hours.

Attention Artists: Brushes and Paint are now Free

Flickr and YouTube are wonderful services that have been lauded in the press hundreds of times this year, but recently I figured out their worth was much more profound.

Back in college, I spent my free time designing web pages for fun and due to my dead broke status, I got a lot of software on heavy student discount, borrowed copies from friends, and if need be, pulled copies from usenet. It used to be pretty easy to get copies of anything you needed and I justified it by saying when I went on to a career in web design, my employers would be purchasing full licenses of the products I bought, borrowed, and stole.

I also had this idealistic mantra: when everything you are creating is digital, the supplies should be free. An artist should never be limited by tools she cannot afford. Ideas should be the only limits.

Fast forward a few years and most of the things I clung to in college came true. My employers bought full copies of Photoshop and I generally had access to limitless free bandwidth thanks to employers and friends. The only limiting factors were my ideas and imagination. Anything I could create I could upload to my server and share it with the world.

But there was one thing I never thought quite worked out right, and that was The Bandwidth Problem. The web is an amazing, democratic, open, limitless thing that has forever changed my (and everyone’s) life, but it always had the Achilles Heel of paying for bandwith. In the early days of the web there were plenty of free hosts with limitless bandwidth and we got all sorts of things like Mahir’s I Kiss You, dancing hamsters, and fighting stick figures.

Free hosting popped just like the bubble did, and as blogs began to gain popularity in 2001-2003, paying for bandwidth was a constant problem, especially for sites with no revenue. During those years I talked to a lot of people with interesting ideas that were held back by the fact they couldn’t afford to host their work or pay for the downloading of it by thousands. Nosepilot was a great example of the problem. Flash was still synonymous with “skip intro” and crappy techno background sounds when some random freaky artist builds a continuous sort-of story that takes the form of a whimsical scrolling film. The hosted file was something like 50Mb in size if you played the whole thing and as it gained instant popularity, the creator was hit with a multi-thousand dollar bill from his provider. I remember him trying to raise money through donations and giving him something via paypal. He eventually had mirrors set up to view the file on other servers while he was trying to sue his host into cutting the bill down. It was an ugly outcome for such a lovely piece of net art.

These days, whenever I see someone on Ask MetaFilter wanting to explain something, they’ll almost always link to a screenshot hosted on flickr or a short cameraphone video on YouTube. I think we’ve all forgotten what the web was like before YouTube came around. Just a year ago, video on the web was still a thorny problem. The only people that could reliably offer it were huge movie and TV studios, and I recall even downloading the video for “A Million Ways” by Ok Go last summer required people volunteering mirrored downloads of a quicktime file.

Just over a year ago, I found something incredible on usenet: a mock terror exercise that was part of some anti-terrorism training program. In order to share the 81Mb file, I had to set up my own bittorrent server to share the download bandwidth with others. Even with bittorrent, when the file was linked on BoingBoing, the server crashed to a halt, and when brought back, almost maxed out my bandwidth for the month in a couple days. Until that time, I always considered my server shared with a friends was limitless at 1200 gigabytes a month, but this one video almost cost me a bundle.

Thankfully in 2006, everyone has YouTube and Flickr. Video is no longer a problem online. You can post thousands of huge images on Flickr and not have to foot any bill. You are free to create any movie, design, or photograph without fear of getting punished financially for its popularity. It can cost nothing to host, and millions can experience it.

The tools to deliver your creations are finally free. I am already seeing profound changes in how students can create and share their work but I bet in a couple years from now it’ll be even more dramatic. We’ll look back at the days when you were charged by the downloaded megabyte as quaint and laugh and wonder what things were like before YouTube and Flickr (and others, of course) took away those limits.

Unattached spam

I’ve been getting these gmail spams for months now, with no predictable way to filter them out, since the spammers use variable email addresses, subject lines, and text content. For Gmail to filter them completely, they’d have to scan every image for text and apply that to spam filters, which is probably too much processing required.

Today I came up with a way to kill them forever, but it is definitely overdoing it, as it basically means no more .gif attachments in email from anyone anymore. But I don’t mind since I rarely get legit .gif attachments. Here’s what I did.

– Hit the Create Filter button next to the search box at the top of Gmail.

– In the field “Has the Words” put in: .gif

– For the Has attachment checkbox, check it.

Run a test search (middle form button) and check your results. Chances are you’ll probably see a ton of spam, but look for the legit emails. I saw some from former coworkers, a blogging service, and a company I do ad stuff with. To keep those people safe, do this:

– In the field “Doesn’t have” put in text that their emails would contain somewhere. In my case, I just put in their domain names.

Run a test search again, and make sure you don’t see any false positives. I just made this filter permanent and found out I had 13,000 of these in the past month.

Thanks to spammers, email is getting more and more broken everyday, but at least there are ways to make it manageable.

update:this looks even better (thanks Cory!)

yet another update: this looks like a combo of how you’d put the hawk wings idea together with the one I presented, for Gmail. I’d strongly suggest going this route until spammers wise up and change their content types.

Bug Report: Gawker Media’s photo galleries

I’m going to try something new here, doing little posts called “bug reports”. I guess I could submit this to This Is Broken, but there’s sort of a negative connotation with that because everyone just piles on in the comments and I just want to help people out by clearly laying out bugs I’ve found so they can improve their product and I can enjoy a better experience.

Today I’m mentioning the photo gallery hack that Gawker sites like Lifehacker and Jalopnik use because I see them everyday and have learned to avoid them because I don’t think they really work all that well. There are two main problems here:

1. RSS readers like reblog display escaped php in the entry. Perhaps it’s just my web-based reader but I don’t get anything useful from something like this (screenshot of a lifehacker post with a gallery):


2. Using the galleries themselves is cumbersome. With OSX/Firefox, when I click on an image, a few moments later, the blog entry reloads, and I have to manually scroll down to see the image. Clicking on Next properly jumps back down, but requires another page load, which can be slow. At times I’ve given up after 1 or 2 photos because the reloads are taking 10-20 seconds.

Here is a video of that in action

I have the feeling that the gallery works the way it does to encourage more pageviews, for advertising purposes, but it results in a poor experience for users. I tend to not even look at galleries and instead follow whatever links are in the entries to see photos somewhere else.

Suggestions for a solution: The easiest thing would just be using MT’s built in image popup links. Or you could dump them into a Flickr set. Best solution would be an in-page dhtml widget that could show the first photo and cycle through them all without requiring any page loads at all, so visitors could quickly and painlessly view an entire gallery in seconds without losing their place or forced to wait for server responses.

Behind the Video: Star Wars MacBook

I made a video for a dozen friends to laugh at my geekiness, and so far it’s gotten as high as #3 most popular video and over 100,000 views on YouTube. I thought I’d recap some details and things I’ve learned from the process.

– I first saw MacSaber on Sunday morning, on MetaFilter. It was the only place I saw it at first, and I immediately thought of all the cool things you could do with the motion sensor, the most obvious being using a light saber simulator to do a parody of the star wars kid.

– On most blogs, even with a somewhat technically minded and art-appreciating audience, the first reaction for most people was about dropped laptops and hard drives destroyed by motion sensor toy apps like MacSaber. Some people can’t see innovation when it’s right in front of their faces. The SmackBook is the first in a long list of innovative uses of the SMS.

– I placed an order for a MacBook the day it came out, so it could replace my three year old 12″ powerbook, and it shipped early, arriving Monday afternoon of this week. I unpacked it around 3pm, got it up and running and at 4pm loaded up MacSaber and did a few attempts at the joke.

– I filmed it with the iSight in my G5 iMac, using iMovie ’06. It was super easy to do a take, review it, and do another one.

– It took about ten tries before I got enough movement and a funny moment worth keeping (a slight slip, and the stare at the end).

– After I uploaded it to YouTube, it took about 45 minutes to get approved. In the past it’s taken 5 minutes so they’re either swamped and doing it by hand still, or maybe having “star wars” in the title is a red flag that requires review just in case I uploaded a copy of the movie or something.

– I sent the URL to about a dozen friends (mostly bloggers) on IM. One of them was Andy Baio. Kottke and Cory Doctorow both read my feed, and linked it. Hitting the trifecta of kottke.org, waxy.org, and boingboing.net pretty much puts you on the internet meme fast track.

– YouTube comments are virtually useless. After the first ten or so from people that read my blog and got the joke of it all, the rest that followed were all variations on “this sucks” “what the hell?” and “I hope he drops it HAHAHA lolz”

– If I had a dollar for every “lol” in a comment on YouTube, I could retire.

– After I hit the popular page (about 12 hours later), 90% of the new comments were links to another video. It was basically comment spam, where users hit every popular video and say “hey! come look at my movie here!” I deleted about 40 of them so far. I just got an actual comment spam to a cafepress store, so I’m now turning them off.

– Some strange offshore video production company asked for redistribution rights. I wouldn’t be surprised if YouTube is in talks with a TV Network. It’d be pretty easy to make America’s Funniest Home Videos every week by just broadcasting the most popular page.

– It probably helps that the movie was only 12 seconds long — it was very little “work” to watch it so I think it spread thanks to that.

– Since I don’t have ads showing on comment pages here, I made no revenue off this. I suspect it could have been worth a couple hundred bucks considering the entry with the video got tens of thousands of views.

– YouTube is a little bit of a walled garden — it could do a better job of promoting users and their own websites, or letting you write HTML descriptions like on Flickr. I noticed lots of videos embed a URL in order to get people to read more about something. I didn’t really get traffic from YouTube to this server, other blogs did a better job.

– I wonder if Apple sold any MacBooks from people watching it and wanting to try it at home.

– The Weblogs Inc. folks linked to it on Engadget and TUAW. One entry called me “youtube user mathowie” and Engadget didn’t even mention me by name (and they used to link to PVRblog all the time). Bonus boo-hoo points to Engadget for suggesting Apple copied the Nintendo Wii controller (even though Apple released laptops with motion sensors in them last year). Do some research people, you’re pro bloggers, yo!

Anyone have a clue what is going on?

I’ve been getting a steady stream of really oddball email from this blog’s contact form. They look like this:

Nice hack on Shoutwire!  I like how you stole my article submission link to a news story and re-directed it to your bullshit blog. 

If you want to express an opposing viewpoint on Shoutwire, please do so.  Don’t fuck with my submissions.


Shoutwire is some sort of digg clone that doesn’t even have comments, it just has a frame around other sites and you vote on links and I can’t tell if this person thinks I run it or thinks I hijacked it.

why are you jacking pages?

Another one, and when I replied to this one asking them to explain, I got nothing in return. This is the weirdest one of all:

Why do I get your site when I am trying to  get the Fox47News web site?

It must be a default browser thing, sorta like when you type in http into firefox and you end up at microsoft?

And another:

it bites the way your site hijacks links

I wish someone would write me back on this that doesn’t think I am stealing something. A few months ago someone said an old article on Wired News redirected to this blog, but perhaps it was just a bad HTML link. I’d sure love to get to the bottom of this and figure out what combination of exact browser version plus links ends up with people on this site. If anyone has any ideas, do tell in the comments here because I can’t figure it out and no one will email back to explain.

update: the person that sent the first feedback wrote me back and posted it to shoutwire’s site here. On my mac with firefox, I don’t get redirected here, but if anyone clicks on this link and ends up here, do leave a comment telling me what browser/OS you are running? Thanks.

another update: So here is the offending page. Click on the blue title and you’ll end up here, but the crazy thing is that in the middle, the word “nothing” is google searched, and since I’m apparently the first result, people get redirected here.

So I think the issue is that whatever content management system foxnews.com is running, somewhere, somehow, instead of responding to browsers with a real 404, the phrase “nothing” is being returned on their app server, so browsers like firefox are guessing on it by running a Google “I’m feeling lucky” search for the phrase, ending up here. Hopefully someone at foxnews.com notices and fixes this soon.

conclusion: As Phil figured out, javascript on foxnews.com checks to see if it is being presented within HTML frames on another server, and if so, it redirects to http://nothing/. Firefox by default does a Google “I’m Feeling Lucky” search for any word you put in your address bar, and I am apparently the first result for “nothing” on google, so you end up here. I would direct folks to a page explaining this but there is no referrer sent from the I’m Feeling Lucky search. I guess those of you looking for foxnews.com, don’t use whatever site tried to load foxnews within a frameset, as they are just putting a frame around other sites. Just go to foxnews.com yourself.

SketchUp FREE!

Sketchup is one of the coolest apps to come out in the past few years. It always reminded me of the OOP program from Microserfs.

Basically it’s an easy to use, rapid 3D program that lets you sketch out ideas much like you would on a piece of paper. I used it to mock up my garden in about 30 minutes and my friend Michael did his entire house. The one downside to it was that until now it was really expensive, like around $500 per license. When Google announced they bought the app earlier this year, my one wish was that it would someday be free and it looks like that day has come. Sweet, though the free version is Windows only at the moment, which is odd since the app works great on OSX and I assume it’s coming very soon for the mac.