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The Tip Jar as Revenue Model: A Real-World Experiment
DATE: 2003-04-30T03:00-0400
It's been three months since I posted my novel online for the world to read for free, with a tip jar as compensation medium. I think we have enough data now to tell how well it might work for other artists.

Blazing trails with RSS
DATE: 2003-04-29T22:57-0400

Few would doubt that RSS has an important role in content syndication. Some might even say, myself included, that we have yet to see the full potential of RSS, especially given the opportunity of RSS extension by namespaces and modularisation.

It's probably a fact that at present the most popular way of creating an RSS file is as a result of writing for a weblog. I should mention at this stage that I'll use RSS file and RSS feed interchangeably throughout this piece. Most weblogging software automatically creates RSS feeds based upon weblog posts. This article for example is destined to become part of the RSS feed for my weblog home page, at least until it falls off then end of the feed in a couple of weeks as I write newer pieces for my blog.

Immediately there are two issues introduced by this. The lack of permanence and the lack of control over what goes into an RSS file. Let's explore each of these in a bit more detail:

1. Lack of permanence.

I've already talked about this in another context, that of RSS search engines. My weblog includes the last 10 or so days in my home page RSS feed. After that old items get replaced by newer items. This is fine and probably what I'd expect for a weblog RSS feed. The number of days in the feed is configurable in my weblogging software so if I wanted more days in the feed I can have them. But sooner or later old data is lost, at least from the feed. Is this a problem? Well, it could be depending upon what you want from my home page feed but most likely not, at least not for RSS feeds based upon weblog posts. But are there other uses of RSS feeds? Maybe, but more about that later.

2. Lack of control over what goes into a feed

By this I mean that the RSS feed for my home page has a bunch of unrelated stuff in it at the moment. Some stuff about RSS search engines, some personal stuff, something about my Bluetooth mobile phone. You get the idea. Where's the context? I guess it's that I wrote the pieces at one time or another in my weblog but there's certainly no theme. I could of course make a weblog category (or whatever the metaphor is for a weblog sub-section in your own weblogging system). As it happens I have a weblog category for educational technology. But even then the posts are only loosely associated by that common theme and the RSS feed for this category is still governed by the chronological order in which I wrote the individual weblog posts.

What if I wanted to group together several items on a specific theme and keep these items separate from other items, even items in my weblog that I've written. In other words what if I want to actively create an RSS feed of items on a particular topic. I would probably want complete control over this feed, the order of items it contains, and of course I'd want it to be permanent.

Here's an example. Suppose I wanted to create a list of all the resources I find useful about RSS. There'd be web sites I've found and maybe even pieces I've written. I don't want to create a separate weblog category for these because that's not the right metaphor. Put another way, what if I was a teacher and I wanted to create lists of resources for my students on several topics as part of some learning opportunity. In my own teaching I could thing of 10's, maybe 100's of subjects I'd want to collate for my students but I wouldn't want to create a weblog category for each one. In simple terms I'd want to create bookmark lists of websites plus my own annotations. Teaching is just one example, I'm sure you can think of many different contexts of your own for the same kind of exercise.

I'd want to do this through my web browser because it's a familiar tool and I'd want to create these lists in such a way as to be compatible with the widest possible range of browsers and data aggregators, in short, I'd want to create RSS feeds for all of these.

So now we have a new role for RSS, content syndication under full control of the user rather than as a by-product of some other activity (such as blogging).

Let's take it further. Now I want to share these RSS feeds. So I send you my feed on RSS resources using an earlier example. You receive it, like it, but want to add some of your own links and re-annotate some of mine. By doing so you then make a new feed that can be shared back with me or with a 3rd party and so on. The RSS feed becomes a commodity.

These are not new ideas, not by a long way. I was inspired a decade ago by reading Vannevar Bush's 'As We May Think', written in 1945. Ever since reading that piece I've been fascinated by the idea of sharing 'trails' of information or as Bush put it "There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.".

So anyway, I've been thinking about RSS and thinking about trails. RSS feeds are certainly not the trails that Bush described but I like the analogy, particularly the emphasis on sharing. I want to be able to create a trail through the web that I can share with you, that you can read in any number of ways, using RSS aggregators or using directly in your weblog, that you can repurpose and share with others.

For those who are brave enough to humour me in my wild ramblings I've created a new tool for Radio UserLand that allows you to make and publish your own RSS trails. I call it my trailBlazer tool! It's in alpha right now but you're welcome to give it a whirl. Comments are particularly welcome.

Get your copy here and let me know what you'd like it to do for you!

Oh, and that trail I mentioned about RSS resources, here it is!

Have fun! [David Davies]

I am very excited about David's initiative. Harvesting, mixing, creating, and republishing RSS streams and items could really be the next breakthrough in personal Webpublishing, I believe. Last year I said in a related item:

If somebody explored this idea any further we could turn Radio into a aggregation-publishing powerhouse with the capability to harvest RSS feeds and redistribute them to any other location. Bring in the feature of mixing RSS feeds according to your needs (which the Multi-Author Weblog Tool handles already) and you can become a content master DJ... Any programmers out there who would want to expand Dave Winder tool? I can see a lot of interesting applications... can you? [Sebastian Fiedler]

Unfortunately, nobody really picked up on this issue. Maybe it's the right time now.

BTW... you can subscribe to my first experimental BlazerTrail: The EduBlogger Gallery alpha (xml). Check this out! [Sebastian Fiedler]

RIP: E-mail Marketing
DATE: 2003-04-29T20:26-0400
I'm putting together an invitation-only seminar on the death of e-mail marketing and am currently seeking partnerships and a local place to present it to people (in the Bay Area). Let me know if you can or want to be involved - or if you can deliver a specific location within a month. Thanks!...

Unmanned Airplanes for Civilian Usages?
DATE: 2003-04-29T10:08-0400

Unmanned airplanes are now routinely used by armed forces. But can they also be useful in our daily lives? Rafe Needleman thinks so and wrote an article about these civilian usages for Business 2.0, "Your Robotic Eye in the Sky."

I talked with the CEOs of two interesting companies that are developing civil unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs. At the moment, both are subsisting on government research grants, but they are also working to bring their technology to civil airspace.
The Insitu Group, which makes long-range UAVs, is currently marketing its Seascan for several applications, like search and rescue, harbor patrol, pipeline reconnaissance, and forest-fire monitoring. My favorite pitch is for replacing the spotting helicopters that fishing boats use to track schools of tuna in the open ocean.

Here is a picture from the Seascan.

The Seascan, from the Insitu Group
A smaller, shorter-range aircraft is being produced by MLB. The company's Bat, like the Seascan, can run completely autonomously: Operators program in the locations of waypoints and items to be photographed or videotaped.

This is a squad of MLB bats.

A squad of MLB bats

Insitu wants to sell the planes while MLB wants to sell reconnaissance services to the police or TV stations.

So when will we see these 35-pound planes circling the skies of our cities? Not anytime soon: unmanned flights are currently forbidden. Even if these companies are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to lift this interdiction, the situation will not change overnight.

Please read Needleman's article for more information about the Insitu Group and MLB.

Source: Rafe Needleman, Business 2.0, April 28, 2003

Are Geisha Prostitutes?
DATE: 2003-04-28T11:25-0400
The Japanese have elevated prostitution to a fine art.  There are many grey areas - between pure hooker (who are usually Chinese or Phillipina girls) versus Geisha.  Hostess bars plop a beautiful woman down - in between each business man - who put their hand on your knee, laugh at your jokes and pour your drinks.  They then accompany you outside and hail a cab for you.  But sex is never a part of the equation. 

Lots of blond and buxom American and Europeans are imported for both hostess bars and strip joints, but only a pure bred Nippon Jin (Japanese) can be a Geisha (do don't believe that Shirley MacClaine movie!)  Japanese actually take pride in their Geisha tradition.

I'm not going to take a moral stand here, but will try to point out some interesting facts and thoughts that this quote from Marc Canter highlights.

First of all, it's amazing what gets lost in the translation and the difficulty I am having in explaining the whole geisha thing really shows how different cultures can be.

I think almost all cultures have prostitution and I don't think Japan's sex industry is any different, but you're more likely to get a sex for money offer from Jr. High School girl in Shibuya than from a geisha.

I think geisha represent the polygamist past of Japan more than they represent prostitutes. Even one generation ago, many men had many women with whom they had children. One of my good friends has over 40 siblings, many of the mothers are geisha. Japan is still very arranged marriage oriented and until recently was almost entirely so. What was really happening in a marriage was two families negotiating a relationship that was solidified in the exchange of children. The geisha and other mistresses were often treated at part of the large extended family and were treated well and often publicly recognized. The children were not as recognized as the official children, but were also treated with a great deal of respect.

The geisha have gone through a variety of changes in their roles in the past and are now totally different from where they started out. I think the height of the geisha's role was when poor families would sell their young women to the okiya and the okiya would provide young women to the tea houses to take care of the powerful men. The powerful men would choose from these maiko their favorites and sponsor them to be geisha. The power men would support the geisha financially and indirectly the traditional dance and arts that the geisha performed. These days, people don't "sell" their children so most geisha become geisha to learn the tradition and to meet interesting people. Most people who go to tea houses can not afford to be a full sponsor of a geisha and corporate expense accounts pay for most of the drinks. People still sponsor geisha but it only usually works when both are truly in love and in many cases, this turns into a true marriage.

So, there are a lot of bars and even tea houses that are about prostitution. In fact there is even a service in Gion that provides prostitutes who double as geisha to tea houses for the foreigners who come to Kyoto thinking that geisha are prostitutes and insist on having sex. On the other hand, the bars that have evolved from the traditional tea houses and the old tea houses in Kyoto are still fairly legitimate places for people to meet future wives and for women to look for future husbands outside of the arranged marriage system.

I forget her name now, but there is a female academic who asserts that monogamy is a plot by the weak and poor men in Japan to get their fair share of women. She blames the drop in birthrates in Japan on this. She said that she would rather be the second wife of a wealthy man than the first wife of a poor man and that there weren't enough good men to go around now. ;-)

And as I said at the beginning of this post. I have a very torn moral stance here. I don't think it is fair that women are not treated equally in Japan and the "tradition" is not supportive of women's' rights. On the other hand, there are a lot of amazing things that tradition supports including a great deal of art and culture. The "value" of a man probably should not be defined by their wealth or their political influence. On the other hand, having children that you can't support is probably not a responsible thing to do. Then we can later about whether the fact that there are men who can't support their children is the fault of society or the men...

The global advantage
DATE: 2003-04-27T23:40-0400
fourmilab earth viewer
With U.S. enterprises increasingly looking to offshore talent to reduce costs, the American programmer has become, in bottom-line speak, a fungible asset. As the globalization of software development unfolds all around us, it's clear that dollars-per-line-of-code is but one of the equation's variables. Other factors influencing this view include time to market, the speed with which project teams and resources can be assembled, and the rate at which tools and techniques can be transferred between offshore outfits and U.S and European companies. [Full story at]

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