Did I Miss a Memo? I Thought the Browser Wars Were Over?

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

According to Mary Jo Foley, the Safari Web Browser may be coming soon to Windows’ users. I can’t even begin to understand if this bothers me more from a CSS designer perspective (anyone who’s tried making a complex CSS design for Firefox, IE AND Safari knows what I mean), or more from a Business perspective.

The browser wars are over. We’ve all moved along (or so I thought). Since RSS our focus has shifted from the medium (the site) onto the content (through our feed readers).

Why would anyone bother to compete with Mozilla/IE on any platform? Seriously, Apple – Mozilla and Microsoft have got it covered.

Well done Microsoft; Another 1 Step Forward, 5 Steps Back

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

For those of you like me who are too stubborn too busy to move to Gmail; our worse nightmares have been realised. Microsoft Outlook (whom consumes approximately ¾ of the corporate world’s email client market) will no longer render HTML emails with Internet Explorer, but instead with the crippled Microsoft Word HTML Engine.

I read David Greiner’s post on the Campaign Monitor Blog, and I agree with his sentiment totally.

After picking up the contents of my desk off the floor and taking a few deep breaths, I tried to come up with a few decent reasons why Microsoft would go in this direction. Here’s what I came up with.

Security – But wait! Microsoft have touted Internet Explorer as “a major step forward in security”. Surely they’d just replace the IE6 rendering engine with IE7 and be done with it. I’d also love to know how float and position impacts the security of an email in any way.

Consistent rendering – By default Outlook uses the Word engine to create HTML emails, which it’s done for years now. Perhaps Microsoft figured that in order to keep the look and feel of emails consistent between Outlook users they’d display emails using the same engine that created them. But what about the millions of other email newsletters out there that aren’t created with Outlook or Word? If an email is created with Outlook, then surely it should display perfectly in a modern browser like IE7.

They hate us – OK, this one might be pushing it, but I’m running out of explanations here. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not Microsoft bashers here. Both our products are developed on Microsoft’s .NET platform and we’ve been a fan of their development environment for the better part of a decade. But seriously, they’ve taken 5 important years off the email design community in one fell swoop.Without entering the Plain Text/HTML debate, there is simply no sense to Microsoft’s Product design decisions lately. I think we’re starting to see what happens in the IT marketplace when it takes a company too many years to release new versions of their software.

They claim that they are going to start itterating faster yet we have not seen any evidence of this so far.I personally needed Outlook to load faster, use less CPU/Memory and respond far, far faster than it does. I didn’t need its HTML rendering handicapped. Like I said, Microsoft seems to be failing me in areas it used to excel.

Congrats Edgewall Software

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

On behalf of the entire Touchstone Team, I would like to extend a sincere congratulations to the Team over at Edgewall Software, for one of their products “Trac” recently winning the UK Linux & Open Source Awards for Best Linux/OSS Developer Tool.

This award is truely deserved, and as manager of the Touchstone Development Team and a big fan of Trac, i am very happy that they have received the credit they deserve for producing, in my opinion, the best value Project Management Tool on the market.

Trac, for the uninitiated is:

“…an enhanced wiki and issue tracking system for software development projects. Trac uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management. Our mission is to help developers write great software while staying out of the way. Trac should impose as little as possible on a team’s established development process and policies. “It provides an interface to Subversion, an integrated Wiki and convenient reporting facilities. “Trac allows wiki markup in issue descriptions and commit messages, creating links and seamless references between bugs, tasks, changesets, files and wiki pages. A timeline shows all project events in order, making the acquisition of an overview of the project and tracking progress very easy. Trac really does speak for itself, and for anyone who might be considering an IT start-up, you simply cannot beat it. It’s built-in support for subversion repositories, code/file browser, ticketing, wiki and plug-in systems make it simply one of the best Project Development Tools available.

Again, congrats Edgewall Software, and keep up the good work. You can learn more about Trac at the Trac Website.

The Things I Care About

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

One of the important distinctions that we often have to make for Touchstone is that a personal relevancy engine is very different to a recommendation engine. It does forma part of the puzzle, but we feel that there is enough recommendation engines out there, but not enough engines which filter down the noise, based on many of the same principals.

Let me share a brief story with you:

Touchstone shares its office with another development team (a start-up doing other…stuff). We all get along very well and the teams work play nicely together. Today I started conversation based on an alert I got from Touchstone. During the conversation (about a possible cure for AIDS) someone asked:

“Where do you get all your medical news? Because I’ve got my Tech news covered, but I am interested in Medical Science, but don’t ever get exposed to it.”.

And I honestly had no idea.

I had no clue, because it was actually Touchstone that told me, and like many other’s when Touchstone is doing its job (which is infrequently because I am always running the least stable and most experimental version available) I couldn’t care less about the “source”. I don’t feel I NEED to know. I replied “I don’t know, umm, prolly Reuters?”

This got me thinking. Does the source matter? How and more importantly should Touchstone suggest new sources of information to you over time? Where does Touchstone stop being a personal relevancy engine and start being a personal recommendation system? Should it start tracking new sources with or without your permission?

The Googlefly Effect (or Google Farts and the World Pays Attention)

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

Disparity seems to be trailing Google like bad smell these days. I’m not sure if it’s just “tall poppy syndrome” and the recent acts by Google are mere coincidence, but I am not so sure anymore.

As Google has grown comfortable as the powerhouse of Bubble 2.0 throwing away the mantra of early 21st century corporate-political philosophy of: Trust me, I’m [Google] [the president] [your local utility company]; replacing it with a form of commemorative inscription where they have to specifically remind themselves to be nice! Are they succumbing to the weak-ass corruption at the top of the service industry “food chain”?

I personally am tired of how much clout they have, and while I do recognise their place in the IT world, it’s getting tiring, that every time Google Farts it’s a headline!

As a founder of a start-up, and knowing many other people with their own start-ups, it means it’s even harder to get traction and cut through the noise. Breaking down the two biggest barriers for young [self-funded] startups, Mr. Apathy and Mrs. Ignorance. This wouldn’t be so bad on its own, save the latest piles of crap to leave the [Google] Campus, like Google Talk, Google Video, Google Docs & Spreadsheets to name a few. In fact, I would go so far as to say the only good things (outside search and ad networking) Google owns have been outside acquisitions. Overall their latest products have been sub-standard, uninspiring and have diminished the effect of others doing a same (and probably better) job.

I guess all this “Google Bashing” could be a good thing though, it was getting old hating Microsoft all the time 😉


Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

Today (hopefully) will mark a milestone in the life of Touchstone. While Chris is in the States, talking with many of the people we’ve been engaged in conversation with since we started, I have been passed the helm of our Australian Operation in his absence, and prepping a build for tonight, which I *hope* will become our first Beta build.

With the Touchstone Team growing, we have surrounded ourselves in positive, interesting people passionate about what Touchstone is all about. This positive drive, has been accelerating the momentum of Touchstone and has given us the ability to produce a build which is far superior then anything we have previously produced.

I thought it might be interesting to post a few of the recent enhancements this build of Touchstone will bring, a sort of Elaborate Release notes to show you our direction and to convince those who have not yet signed up to the mailing list to receive this build, to do so now (over there <– on the left). So, here are a few of the enhancements of Touchstone 0.4.397:

The first and most obvious change is the new slick interface as it was just too difficult and too cumbersome to use the previous one. We designed this window to be a little more “normal” while at the same time empowering us to do more with it. Now all inputs, prioritization and interuptions are all controlled within a single window.

The user now has a more verbose status area, where they can view the items Touchstone is “tracking”, sources found, Inputs and Outputs. It also shows the current state of the automatic profiler (another overhauled system for this build).

The event log is another useful tool we’ve included in this build. Originally designed as a debug tool, we thought a way for users to see exactly what’s going on inside the core during Touchstone’s standard operation would be helpful. Especially for our Adapter Developers.

While the new interface still has a few things we need to iron out, overall it makes a massive difference to the Touchstone user experience.

Another big shift is the way ranks and ranges are set. Gone are the Trackbars of old and replaced with a new star control which we feel makes selecting values and ranges more immediately obvious at a fraction of the screen space. Black stars are negative values and Gold stars represent positive values.

The development team has also been optimizing the default adapter set. The ticker is now fully dockable (thanks Paul 😉 and behaves nicely compared to the floating topmost ticker before.

The ticker also has a number of modes, Multi-Item mode (which works just like a normal Ticker) and a fade mode, which was requested by the community as an additional optional transition to the Top and Right Sliding modes.

Optimizations to the cache and core importance algorithms have made Touchstone more responsive and more discerning about what items to interrupt the user with.

Age now more heavily effects the results of an item, and this has eliminated “item spam” the user got when they used to initially launch Touchstone. This is still a work-in-progress, but the effects are really effective.

We are preparing the build now, so it should be ready for release tonight or early tomorrow morning AEST (/me touches wood). Cross your fingers for us, and signup to get in on this awesome build.

“Almost beta” indeed 🙂

Ash Out

Walking the Walk

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

Creating a profile of a person’s attention is something Touchstone has been doing for some time now. Since we have launched the APML specification, we have had a lot of positive feedback about it, which has been both inspiring and reassuring. Additionally, APML addresses something I have felt for a while now; that I have grown weary of the constant “banter” about solving the Attention Deficit Problem.

One thing that we feel will make the difference, is the implementation of the APML specification into real-world (and value added) user scenarios.

Having an attention profile specification is all well and good, but if nothing useful uses it, there isn’t much point in having it. At some point, the talking has to stop, and action must (and should) always take place. In order to facilitate the widespread use of the APML specification, we have charged Michael (a member of the Touchstone Development team), to building an APML library which will consume and process APML data so other developers do not have to worry about designing/programming their own to process the format we have suggested. We understand the pressures of supporting a standard like this, so this library and it’s source is going to be free for whomever wants to use APML in their applications.

While APML is still a young format that is being discussed by the community it it will continue to change and grow – we are committed to making it the right kind of solution for storing an Attention Profile (so that end users don’t get 400 different ways of describing and profiling a person’s interests) and taking the first step by releasing these types of contributions. We will be releasing another build very soon, but we hope that within the week we will have the initial APML library ready to go for anyone who is interested in joining the “less talk, more action“ bandwagon, with Attention Meta-Data consumption.

You can read more about APML at the APML website.

Ash’s Theory of Progressional Persistence

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

There is a common problem amongst any program that generates any kind of alert. It’s quite a significant problem too because while I might have configured Outlook or FeedDemon to show popup (“toast”) alerts, if I have happened to turn around to talk-to or help a co-worker, then yep, there goes my important alert.

Who knows, my wife may have had a baby and I wouldn’t even know about it! 😉

Seriously, it’s a problem. At work, like most people I don’t just sit in front of my workstation without blinking and I am tired of missing things while I happen to be elsewhere, possibly reducing the security permissions for staff on the network.

Similarly, you can’t just throw stuff to the user’s screen and leave it there. A user’s desktop is a sacred place, and you can’t go about just leaving your shit lying around where you like. That type of annoying behaviour is what we call an “Uninstallable Offence”.

Missing alerts is a problem – one that Touchstone is guilty of too.

But this will soon change. Because I feel that whether or not an alert should persist is directly relative to how important the item is to a user. If the importance of the item is inside the top 25% of the threshold for that output adapter, then the alert should persist (at least our alerts will). Of course there will be an option to turn that off.

I will try to implement it over the next few builds.

Did I Write That Adapter?

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

I’ve been running the latest build of Touchstone on my home workstation for over 2 days continuously now, with no errors. Its good to know that it seems most of the fu**ups features people have been reporting are actually a fault with the Adapters and not the core, and while this is a bitter-sweet victory, overall, I have been very happy with this outcome.

Chris and I have always worked very hard to get this developed as quickly as possible (while still maintaining some form of “life”) but recently we’ve really been burning the candle at both ends to get the major public build which will go to everyone on the mailing list (…so if your not on it). We are very close and it’s getting hard to keep the lid on the present when we are so excited about the future plans for client-side attention management deliverables.

I really hope Chris announces *some* of these ideas soon, because I think I’m going to explode!

Also, don’t forget to checkout www.areyoupayingattention.com, the Touchstone Community website (also available from the “forums” link on the top of the page),a collaboration point for developers and users of Touchstone to discuss things they love, hate and want to see in future releases of Touchstone.

Getting Plugged In

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

The alpha requests for the next round of testing are streaming in (now a list of many hundreds) and since Chris and I have had a good night’s sleep for the first time in a long while, it seems appropriate that I share with you folks what’s happened over the past several days. I guess you could say we’ve been inspired by Leeroy Jenkins.

The last release of Touchstone was pretty much a proof of concept. A one piece application that read RSS feed items, processed them and displayed them in a news ticker. Not very exciting.

This new version will introduce key architectural pieces that will make it possible for 3rd parties to develop input and output adapters for the Attention Management Engine.

Already we have received SDK requests from early adopters who get our approach in a way that has surprised and delighted us. They understand the potential of connecting multiple data sources with multiple outputs using a caching and relevance power plant in the middle.

Sure, out-of-the-box we will have the Feed Reader and a News Ticker and a System Tray alert and maybe even a Cursor Trail alert… but the real innovation begins when our development friends get their hands on the SDK.

While I work on finishing off all this low-level under-the-covers stuff, Chris has been working on polishing the interface. This new version of Touchstone will feel like a more professional application ready for prime time.

It really is true… 20% of the work takes 80% of the time.

Stay tuned for more…