Fixing NPR’s pledge drive

I swear that every week is an NPR pledge drive. I know they say they only do it a few times a year, but every time I feel like one just ended. Every time my response to the whole affair is, “if you really want me to pledge, give the option of paying my way out of this radio hell you call a pledge drive.”

I think the technology has come far enough that they could. I connect to WNYC through a web stream anyway, and I like my local channel (especially Soterious Johnson). I would easily pay $50 if they provided me with a unique stream that had a maximum of 1 connection and expired when the pledge drive ended. This stream could default to national programming when they’re yammering on about matching funds and special offers. I’m guessing that there would be a whole bunch of people just like me that would pay to make the pain go away.

Sony Ericsson’s annoying auto-keylock patent

Have you ever spent hours looking for the auto-keypad-locking feature on your Nokia phone? Wondering why you have to manually engage the lock function on a Blackberry? It turns out that Sony-Ericsson has a patent on the “activation and automatic inactivation of keys on a mobile telephone terminal keypad.” Please Sony and Ericsson, for the love of god, and the eradication of pocket-dialing, give this patent up.

Today I cancelled my MySpace account

I’m not one for being rash and I am not particularly worried about privacy online. I used Friendster frequently for a couple of years and I remember when people’s accounts started mentioning “moving to MySpace because it’s better,” and frankly I can not remember for the life of me what the argument was. Nonetheless, I eventually created an account for myself and all of my musical identities, and I befriended some 50 or so people which were at least 50% musical entities.

I never really “got” MySpace. Not many of my friends use it regularly, except those who enjoy dating and of course those with bands. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed by the site design and the resulting profile pages that people create there. I still use it to promote my music and I see the value as a publishing tool and media hosting service. However, for the last year I have not logged in to MySpace under my own identity once, and I receive at least 10 spam friend invitations per month.

So today I cancelled my MySpace account.

Unlike so many web brands that I identify with (Flickr, Upcoming, del.icio.us, and Facebook, to name a few), I see no long term value for remaining a MySpace member. Here’s my reasoning:

  • It’s not easy to do anything
  • There aren’t any services provided that aren’t available elsewhere
  • I don’t need to be a member to take advantage of their media
  • There aren’t any members with whom I could not communicate otherwise
  • I’m not looking to find people to date

Which leaves me with zero reasons to remain a member. So long MySpace, and thanks for all the free webcam girls.

Most hated things on the web

There are a lot of angry people in the world. These people typically have a number of gripes, and sometimes one of them stands above everything else. Those who have web savvy might even take it to the rest of the world through a passionate blog or unifying community website. I was interested in what Google thought the most hated things were, and this is the list:

  1. Cilantro
  2. Brooklyn
  3. Starbucks
  4. Divorce
  5. Emo kids
  6. Clowns
  7. Cubicles
  8. SBC Yahoo
  9. Haggling
  10. Macs

From this logic, I present a highly unsuccessful personals ad:

Part-time clown seeks cilantro-loving emo kid. My house in Brooklyn , my cubicle in Manhattan (selling SBC Yahoo), but my heart is with Austen (die hagglers!). Let’s grab a Starbucks or just chat on our powerbooks!

Surprisingly, I find myself being quite a big fan of most of them. Maybe people just hate the things I like, but probably these things get more attention because they are highly divided topics.

Flickr spam email

I received a strange email this morning, addressed to my blogdex email address which has nothing to do with Flickr, but exceptionally high SpamRank:

From: Dee ([email protected])
To: [email protected]
Subject: question about your photo

I’ve accidently found your photo at a flickr and i’m very
interested in it.

Can you tell me what place i can see in the background of
it?

wbr, Danny

Where “your photo” is a link to http://www.fri91.net/flickr,html. At the outset this appears to be a Flickr phishing scam; while on the train without a connection I was convinced I’d find a Flickr login screen when I followed the link to “my photo.” And you know that when your service is getting phishing scams, you have arrived.

The truth is much stranger. Go ahead, click the link. It’s not going to hurt you. In a sort of janky way, Barry has copied some of Flickr’s code and design along with some of his own “edits.” The page is hosted on a Norwegian soccer club’s website. The links on the page lead to tjhallett1’s Flickr data. The email domain is a fish food company. This piece of spam is a stumper.

The full email is here.

Update: Andy explained to me that this is, indeed, a scam. DO NOT visit the link in IE, it is some sort of Activex control hack. More details here and a virus definition describes the functionality on AusCERT.

It appears that this email is using the credibility of a site like Flickr and its community to get people’s attention and clicks. It’s no different than preying on people with the possibility of Anna Kournikova pictures.

Google news, meet spam

I’ve been a long-time user of Google news and news alerts. For certain topics, it’s the only way for me to stay informed, and the quality of their index has generally kept these updates to high-quality, on-topic news that matched some keywords. Over the past six months I have noticed a diminishing returns on the value of their search, especially in the case of alerts. While the amount of information has increased, the average quality has been diminishing. This decrease in relevance can be attributed to certain publications in their corpus:

Small publications: as more college newspapers, trade publications, and otherwise non-authoritative sources become primarily web-distributed, they have also started to overwhelm the news index. It’s rare these days to come across a story from a mass media publication.

PR announcements: some readers may remember a few months back when a 15-year old boy wrote a press release about how Google had hired him, and the entire affair turned out to be a hoax. Press releases seem to be a media that is not well policed, probably because they mainly come from

Blogs: The boundary between mass media and blogs has certainly blurred over the past few years, but the selection criteria for news indexes does not seem to follow any rules. Presumably the site maintainers take submissions to the site and decide based on internal editorial guidelines what to let in. Some of the blogs I have seen do not seem to make the cut, but maybe their inclusion of blog search into the interface suggests they are working on a better solution.

Syndication sites: a few news sources indexed by Google are actually sites that aggregate news from other sources. Try a search for any of your favorite spam keywords, such as “viagra,” you will find some surprising results. Spam?! It seemed absurd to me that spam could get into the news index, where every source was hand evaluated, but lo and behold, there are more than a few pages trying to sell viagra:

Google News vs. Viagra

What each of these examples points to is the need for a ranking mechanism that takes into account the reputation of the source. At last count, the US version of news is indexing over 10k sources, and as this bar gets lower, our collective trust in this site becomes more and more important. Unlike web search, which can be indexed and updated over the course of months, the news index has to be extremely fresh; for this reason, algorithms like PageRank cannot function properly. Attention indicators like del.icio.us, Digg or Newsvine might help, but each of these sources comes with an inherent bias that might not reflect the audience of Google News.

It seems much more likely that the sources of news will become the harbingers of trust. I am not advocating a return to old media, but the index could be built to reflect the current opinion of the web at large. If most sites trust the New York Times or the Washington Post as an authoritative host, so could a news search index. Andy Baio did an experiment around host ranking using Metafilter as a source, and the results from 1999 to 2006 are quite interesting: many sites appear out of nowhere (Youtube, Wikipedia) while others maintain rank over the years (New York Times, BBC). My guess is that standard news results run through this filter would provide a substantially better experience, especially for ranking results within a given news cluster. I guess we’ll see what the big G ends up doing to rectify the situation.