The Universal Aggregator.

Dare Obasanjo said something about the Universal Inbox, and about Google being a digital information hub, that got me thinking.

Right now we closely associate an inbox with an email application like Microsoft Outlook, and these applications have grown in to task, schedule, and contact managers. With the increasing use of RSS we have another place to look for information – the aggregator. Some aggregators actually make the aggregator appear to be a component of the email application, allowing the user to read their feeds within Outlook.

Yet as Seattleduck points out, it would be nice to collect a lot more than just email, including things like websites, remote files, and more. He recommends tags as a possible solution. I had said that folders already provide that ability, but he provided some good reasons why folders don’t always work.

What if instead of thinking about email as the inbox, the email application actually generated RSS or Atom feeds of your email, appointments, contacts, and tasks. You could then subscribe within your aggregator to those feeds. Google already provides an Atom feed for your Gmail account. EVDB, the new events database, provides an RSS feed for events.

The aggregator user could then group these different feeds together as they saw fit, perhaps tagging them, and then also including links to outside services like Flickr or Technorati for those tags. Since RSS and Atom feeds represent published information, a change remotely won’t affect what the user sees. There would also be no problems with duplication, because multiple uses of the feed do not constitute multiple copies, but merely multiple references to the same information.

So basically your aggregator becomes your universal inbox, for want of a better metaphor.

Other institutions like banks or travel companies could also generate RSS feeds for our statements or our travel information. The subscription nature of RSS won’t eliminate spam sent through email, but as RSS is an opt-in mechanism by default we will be able to control other unwanted intrusions.

Aggregators don’t appear all that different from traditional email inboxes, but they can grow in functionality as new uses for RSS and Atom feeds appear.

The use of OPML files would also allow us to switch easily from one aggregator to another as better tools arrive, or to use tools like Microsoft start. You could even publish or make public some or all of your OPML to others so that they can see what you see.

Even Robert Scoble says he spends 90% of his Internet time in his RSS news aggregator.

Just imagine, a single tool, easy to write, and not controlled by any company, based on standards, and easily extensible as new applications come along, limited only by your imagination. And if you want to deliver information to anyone, you just have to syndicate it as an RSS or Atom feed.

[Update: John Battelle is talking about the Universal Inbox too.]

Uncommonly accurate.

Business 2.0 found some inaccurate information in a story and corrected it in their online edition in a rather unique way, clearly admitting the error:

It was bound to happen. The idea is too obvious and the potential too great to resist exploitation for much longer. A few weeks ago, Tony Perkins, creator of the digerati clubhouse AlwaysOn and now the publisher of its spinoff magazine, outlined for me the suggestion he says he recently made to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger.

Suppose the Times, he told Sulzberger, rounded up 5,000 luminaries — op-ed writers and the like — and gave them, and only them, free rein to blog stories on the Times’s own site. Imagine the traffic, he said. Imagine the buzz. “The first guy who does it is going to be the cool brand on the block.”

[Editor’s Note: Upon factchecking, Perkins says he did not meet Sulzberger and that the discussion of the Times and blogging was merely hypothetical.]

Now Huffington has just about beat any of the mainstream media to the blogosphere. And I’m about to finally find out: Will the return of Tina Brown’s diary mean that blogging has grown up, or just gotten old?

(Link from CyberJournalist.net)

Tagging the desktop.

Seattleduck asks why we don’t tag our desktop:

But why dont we take this to our desktop, and use tagging to get our work stuff organized in some rational manner? Why cant we tag documents? And file shares? And intranet sites? Then tag communications: emails, Messenger contacts, and address book contacts?

[...]

Regarding documents and the desktop, the focus to date has been search, via Google Desktop and MSN Desktop. This is great but once you find that document or email, what next? You end up copying it over to your own folder, or dragging and dropping it, or creating a link to it from within your project plan. The net result is still chaos. We now have discoverability, but no memory. No personalized categorization of the content you actually use.

Tags allow us to categorize and group information. We already do that everyday. We just refer to them as folders. Folders are personal categorization, and a metaphor for real-world file folders, where we gather similar items. This is also a pretty good metaphor for tags.

Unfortunately there is no standard taxonomy for tags or file folders, so we occasionally forget what we called something, or where we put it. The reason desktop search is so useful and necessary is because it helps us find the stuff we lost. Any usable system will required both the ability to categorize, and the ability to search across categories.

The folders we are already comfortable with address all of Kevin’s requirements. They can aggregate documents, contacts, other folders, and links or shortcuts to other information. And he can call it “Q2.Marketing.Campaign” if he likes, or he can have a folder called “Marketing Campaigns” that contains Q1 and Q2, which would be even more effective.

Tags are a poor man’s metadata, more about categorization than defining the attributes of an item. It is a great way to group items that we can’t otherwise organize – as we do in Flickr or Technorati, and is very useful in situations like that.

It’s easy to jump onto the next cool idea and forget that sometimes we already have the same tools at our disposal.

By 10:30 or it’s free.

The other day I got a note from Fedex, a gentle reminder that I owe them money. Since I had no idea why I owed them money, I called their toll-free number. I got the standard “all of our agents are busy” line, and finally I was told that I left my name and phone number they would get back to me. Sadly, they didn’t even tell me how important my call was to them.

That was two days ago. So I was wondering, since they didn’t get back to me by 10:30 the next day, does that mean I don’t owe them anything?

Journalism is a verb?

I agree with Jeff Jarvis that journalism is something you do, not who you are:

Journalism is not defined by the person who does it or by the medium or the company that delivers it.

Journalism is not a thing. It is an act: The act of informing is journalism. It’s a verb, not a noun.

But his grammar needs a little work. An “act” is still a thing, and therefore a noun.

I won’t let that detract from his thoughts though, because I get his point. I too harbor that inner desire to “aggregate, select, edit, present, and distribute information” in order to affect people, and to make a difference in the world. So am I a journalist or not? I guess if I achieve that goal then I am. If not, I’ll just keep trying.

To want to make a difference. Okay, maybe it is a verb.

Just another tax.

Jay Currie proposes extending the Canadian media levy currently on blank media to high speed internet connections. He suggests $2 a month, which is about 5% of what I currently pay. I already pay GST on my high speed service as well.

No offence Jay, but what is with this Canadian need to tax everyone and everything in the name of redistributing income?

I’ve had high speed service for a number of years now. I do not download music or movies. I buy blank CDs to backup my computers. Why should I be paying a levy to fund artists? I’m already forced to pay for the CBS, the Canadian Film Telefund, and numerous other arts subsidies through my tax dollars. And you state that the levy isn’t even being paid out to the artists.

I’m happy to pay for what I use. I still buy CDs and DVDs. I find it convenient and comfortable. So why should I have to pay twice?

Starving artists?

Timothy K. Armstrong on MGM vs. Grokster:

MGM closed with its pity-the-starving-artists line, complaining about the lost revenues from hypothesized sales it says would have occurred absent file-sharing.

Anytime I watch an episode of MTV Cribs, or hear about one of Britney Spears’ marriages, or hear Ashlee Simpson sing, I have trouble visualizing a starving artist.

That’s what we’re talking about after all, isn’t it? A few more sales for 50 Cent, or Britney Spears. We don’t really care about starving artists. And we certainly don’t care about Fiona Apple:

But here’s where it gets funky. “Extraordinary Machine” is an album that Apple finished over two years ago, but which was quickly shelved by the sad corporate drones over at Sony because they didn’t “hear a single” and because it doesn’t sound exactly like Norah Jones and because they’re, well, corporate drones. They dictate cultural tastes based on relatively narrow and often deeply ignorant criteria related to marketing and money and fear of the new and the different. This is what they do.

They are worried about lost revenues from hypothesized sales, but they choose to forego revenues from real sales for music by those starving artists they insist that they are so concerned about. Without file sharing, you wouldn’t even be able to listen to music you want to purchase, but can’t because the record company won’t sell it to you.

(Link from Furdlog)

We support free speech – occasionally.

The Globe and Mail mentions a letter supported by more than 80 professors and graduate students at the University of Toronto (Canada’s largest university) calling for the censorship of Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a pro-Israeli academic.

The letter says that the authors support academic freedom:

“Genuine academic debate requires an open and free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance. We . . . are committed to academic freedom and we affirm Pipes’ right to speak at our university,” the letter states.

but then says this:

“However, we strongly believe that hate, prejudice, and fear-mongering have no place on this campus.”

Ahmad Shokr, organizer of the Arab Students’ Collective had this to say:

“Although he has the right to speak, we don’t think he should actually have a place to speak on campus,” the 22-year-old said. “There should be a general awareness amongst the campus community of who this person is and hopefully with that awareness . . . groups wouldn’t invite a speaker like this.”

Free speech should be just that – free – regardless of whether or not you happen to agree with the ideas presented. It is sad that an institution of higher education would be so willing to limit that free speech. The faculty certainly have the right to express their views, but those views should not be taken as reason to limit the free exchange of ideas.

Thanks again to kate at small dead animals. She has all kinds of great stuff happening today.