November 29, 2004

The Living Room Battle is about Search?

The CNet article Striking up digital video search has stirred up quite a discussion today.

What struck me about the article is not the fact that Stefanie points at plans from each of the of the Big Three (Google, MSN, Yahoo). Yes, AOL is mentioned, but they don't seem to be in the search technology business. AOL strikes me as a company fumbling their way through this brave new world and attempting to stay relevant as the world moves to broadband.

Anyway, what really surprised me was the living room connection. Her article leads with:

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are quietly developing new search tools for digital video, foreshadowing a high-stakes technology arms race in the battle for control of consumers' living rooms.

Hmm. She goes on to talk about how we're all going to "bring TV to the web." And when you combine this with the idea of a "Netflix over broadband" service, an interesting picture starts to emerge.

It's funny. We've been hearing about brining this stuff to our couches and living rooms in various ways for years now:

  • Interactive TV (remember back in the pre-netscape Jim Clark/SGI days?)
  • Tivo and Internet-connected PVRs
  • Media Center PCs

But who'd have thought that we might arrive there with search technology pushing things along?

Not me.

Many of the right pieces seem to be close at hand. Some are technology and some are ideas that we're all buying into:

  • Interactive TV (remember back in the pre-netscape Jim Clark/SGI days?)
  • Tivo and Internet-connected PVRs
  • Media Center PCs
  • BitTorrent
  • Search as a commodity

It's going to be an interesting story to watch unfold.

Who is going to build the iTunes Music Store of the video world?

Posted by jzawodn at 09:22 PM

Gallup Makes Me Puke

Well, if I took it seriously it would. Luckily I'm jaded enough to know better than that.

For the second time in my 4.9 years at Yahoo, I have the pleasure of taking part in one of their self-assessment systems. To start, they send you an e-mail message (and by "e-mail message" I mean word document attached to an empty message with a vague subject line like "Gallup SF34 E-Learning" instead of "Instructions for completing the Gallup on-line assessment").

The attached document contains the following paragraph:

This is the beginning of a journey of strengths discovery that has the potential to enrich your personal life and accelerate your professional growth and performance. Through this process you will gain valuable insights about your own best formula for success and acquire a new language for talking about talent with other people at Yahoo!.

And that's where the gag reflex begins.

Having been subjected to their "Strengths Finder" self-assessment before, I'm less than excited about this "journey" and how it's likely to "enrich my personal life".

In reality, it's like a standardized test with 180 questions. The differnce is that you spend time trying to answer multiple choice questions when, in reality, the best answer is rarely even there. So you either have to approximate or make a selection based on what you think they're after. And you're not really answering them as much as you're stating some vague notion of a preference. And you have only 20 seconds to decide on each question. Then, when the results come, you realize that you're just like unique--just like everybody else.

Maybe this time around I'll post the results here. That could be amusing.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:25 PM

New Web Server Running

You shoudn't notice any real difference (except maybe a speed boost), but I just upgraded the web server running this site as well as several others hosted here, including

I've finally stopped rolling my own Apache server and am using the standard Debian Apache 1.3. I've added in mod_gzip support, so my RSS feeds should all be compressed (yeay!) and my pages may load a tiny bit faster. I'm also using APC version 2 to cache compiled PHP pages. I also have mod_throttle (about which I have some doubts) and mod_log_sql running too.

Anyway, like I said you shouldn't notice anything. But I've been around the block enough to know that you probably will. So e-mail me at if you notice any problems.

Update: Well that didn't take long. I'm back on the old server because something PHP related seems to be causing lots of segfaults. Boo! :-( This never came up in my testing. I'll try again later today after removing some suspect modules.

Update #2: As Danne suspected, it was a mysql client conflict between mod_log_sql and php. Grr. Now I need to build PHP from source, which partly defeats the purpose of using the all Debian approach. Grr.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:19 AM

November 28, 2004

Where I can buy MP3s online?

I'm a loyal user of the iTunes Music Store (222 tracks and counting), but there's a lot of stuff they just don't have.

Say, for example, I have a sudden and irrational craving to own a copy of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" (yes, the song from the original National Lampoon's Vacation). Where can I go to buy it?

I honestly don't know and it really bothers me. I figure there must be a few great places, but I just don't know any of 'em. If this was the year 2000, I'd just grab 'em off Napters, but the era is long gone. I don't mind paying for this stuff. I've done so 222 times so far. I just don't know who to give my 99 cents to this time.


(Oh, just FYI: John Hughes and Harold Ramis are both gods.)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:04 PM

A great way to spend the last Sunday in November...

No, not shopping at the mall. It's to fly for about 4.5 hours in and out of the wave and top the day off with three loops.

Hey, we had to burn off a bit of altitude somehow. :-)

Anyone else do anything interesting?

Well, it's back to work on Monday. These four day weekends can really spoil me.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:18 PM

4.5 Hours of Hollister Wave and Random Lift

Darryl called me last night to see if I still had an open seat in the DG-1000. I was planning to go in search of the wave (just like last Sunday). I had an open seat, so we agreed to meet at 10am to get going. The forecast has the highest wind speeds at roughly 1pm coming from about 350 or so.

We managed to launch almost right at 11am. The scene wasn't pretty. Winds on the ground were lighter than I expected and not as northerly as I'd hoped. Unsure what to try, we towed toward the east hills and tried to feel things out. There was clearly lift and sink around. We saw 2 knots up on tow and also saw the vario pegged at times.

I released at 5,400 with the vario pegged, did an immediate right turn into 4-6 knots of lift. Wheee! We spent the next 45 minutes or so in a small area just past the east ridge, taking 1-3 knots of lift higher and higher.

The lift topped out at 7,500 so we expored a bit and contacted lift again a bit farther to the west. I managed to zero in on that small band of lift, so we played in it and took turns flying. But eventually we realized that the net result was close to zero sink--each time we got out of the lift, we ended up losing as much altitude as we had gained. Ugh.

Just a bit before we headed in Steve had released nearby in his glider (OU). As we headed in to land, I wondered how he'd do.

Back on the ground, we hit the restroom, chatted with a few folks, and decided to switch seats to head up again. Since this would be Darryl's second flight in the DG-1000, we decided to swap seats. We were just going to do a short flight or two, but I called up Steve to see where he was--8,000 feet and climbing.

With that we knew we had to go catch him, so we tried to do just that.

When we released near the microwave towers, I called Steve on the radio again. He said he was over 9,000 feet, so we knew we had our work cut out for us. We searched and searched near the Three Sisters and Henrietta but couldn't find more than scraps of lift.

We heard the other guys over by Casa de Fruita and Pacheco Peak, so we headed that way and found the ride to be quite easy--a fair bit of lift here and there. We then worked the area around Casa de Fruita and Pacheco Peak for at least another hour or so. We never got higher than 5,400 feet, but had some fun playing in the light lift.

Toward the end of the flight, Joel found us over Frazier Lake and got to watch us loop the DG-1000 three times. Then we tagged along after him, flew up close to JH, and headed home.

So far we've had two wave Sundays in a row... And the season is really just starting!

Posted by jzawodn at 09:11 PM

Are bloggers really that dumb?

I'm not sure if I should be insulted, disappointed, or both. There's a lot of noise out there right now about some dummy data that ended up the website. Steve Rubel goes so far as to call this a PR crisis in the blogosphere. Even Scoble is complaining.

Jesus Fu@%ing Christ, people. It's a stupid mistake. Are we too screwed up to realize that companies are composed of people and that people sometimes make mistakes? I don't know about you, but I see really big differences between this and the Kryptonite "pick a lock with a ball point pen" crisis. (Hint: It actually was a crisis.)

This is just stupid. If Fox News wrote sensationalized blog entries, it'd be about stuff like this this Target mistake.

The real "crisis" here is people not thinking. I don't honestly believe for one second that target it selling illegal drugs. Do you?

I suspect that if someone bothered to tell them about the problem instead of using this as an opportunity to blame their PR folks for not reading blogs, they probably would have fixed it and gone on with life. Making fun of them on your blog is all well and good, but calling this a crisis strikes me as being over the top.

Update: As others noted, I shouldn't have said Scoble was complaining too. Whoops.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:02 AM

November 24, 2004

Today's Mystery

I have no idea how or why, but I woke up at 5:00am on the dot today with no assistance from an alarm clock. Mind you, this is a full hour earlier than I normally get up. This is a mildly troubling development.

On the plus side, I can read a bit more of Knoppix Hacks, which arrived yesterday, before getting read to trek up to the office. It's either that or write the rant about how we never go after the good and obvious ideas anymore. (Don't ask me how long we've been "discussing" those internally.)

Posted by jzawodn at 06:03 AM

November 23, 2004

Crossing the Line with Advertising in RSS Feeds?

David Fletcher is talking about advertising in RSS feeds and says:

If some entrepreneurs have their way, it won't be long until RSS feeds are filled with advertisements - just another commercial channel like html, email, etc.  I just don't want them to find a way to force their subsciptions upon me as another spam channel.  Moveable type spam was bad enough and I don't have time to figure out how to block everything.

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few months (big surprise, right?). I'm of two minds on the issue.

  1. Publishers who depend primarily on advertising to make a living should offer two feeds: a summary-only feed without ads and a full-content feed with ads. That leaves the choice up to the user.
  2. I don't want to have to choose between ad-laden full-content feeds and the pain in the ass summary only feeds. Anyone whose ever tried to catch up on their reading while on an airplane or train gets this.

But if television, radio, print media, e-mail, and the web at large have taught us anything it's that we're going to end up with #1 if we're lucky. Realistically, I expect the majority of publishers not to bother offering a no-ads summary feed.

There's a part of me that's waiting to see how the web-based aggregators like Bloglines react. Do they try blocking the ads? Inserting their own? Charging subscription feeds? Work out revenue sharing agreements with Feedburner and the other RSS ad networks that are sure to pop up?

We'll see.

Maybe I'm just cynical about all this, but something tells me I'm right. I just hope we get to enjoy this relatively ad-free time while it lasts. And I hold out hope that most bloggers will be able to resist the temptation.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:58 PM

November 22, 2004

Blogs as Professional Lubricant

I've seen at least one mention of something I said a couple days ago when I mentioned that Russell will be Yahooing Soon:

This is further proof that blogging can help smart people get jobs.

This got me thinking a bit about the effects of blogging on the job hunt. While the reaction (to my post and to Russell's post) has been overwhelmingly positive, a few folks have suggested that he would have never gotten in front of Jerry Yang if he didn't have that blog.

That's true, but I don't know if anyone really thinks about why that's true.

Who You Know

At least around these parts, it's fairly well understood that some of the best job referrals come from friends, family, and past colleagues. In other words, the good job leads come from your social network.

This is not new--at least in the tech world. I've seen many examples of folks who got jobs because of contacts they made on e-mail lists, in newsgroups, and at technical conferences. And it's common around here to see groups of people who've worked together in previous jobs. For example, there's a group of engineers who all left SGI in the same timeframe and ended up at Yahoo. This happens quite often--especially with startups.

What You Say

I also know of folks who are in their current jobs because of things they've said to largish audiences. They build up an audience by writing for a magazine, trade publication, or maybe by writing a book. In doing so they established their reputation and people began to see them as thought leaders in a particular field. That made them more valuable to the publication and more valuable to potential employers.

Traditionally, this type of publicity and opportunity has been limited to a much smaller group of people. There are fewer slots available and the barriers to entry are higher.

Weblogs Combine These

The interesting thing about weblogs is how they are able to enable both of those while lowering the barriers to them at the same time. By starting a weblog and sticking with it, you find yourself knowing more people who you'd have otherwise never met. But more importantly more people will come to know you. And at the same time, you're writing and writing frequently. If what you say is interesting to enough people, that reputation builds quickly.

Earlier this year a friend of mine joked that I probably wouldn't need to bother keeping a resume up to date anymore. He figured that instead of having to look for a job, people would come seeking me.

He was right.

I'm not going to detail the job offers or inquiries that I've fielded in the last year or so. That's not the point.

I've talked to a few other folks that have experienced this too. Blogs significantly reduce the friction involved in establishing professional connections. They're lubricant for your professional social network--the one you didn't even know you were going to have.


So, how's this relate back to Russell?

Without his weblog, I probably won't have ever heard of or met him. (His blog is one of the first I began reading a few years back). That means I wouldn't have been able to make the introductions at Yahoo. And even if I had somehow, I wouldn't have been able to easily point at his writing and provide some of the instant credibility ("see, read these posts!") that can make the difference in situations like this.

Blogs make it easy to establish connections, a reputation, and do both with nearly infinite reach compared to the traditional approaches.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:43 PM

Not bad for a Sunday

I started the day by finally writing a column that I've been trying to write, but other things kept getting in the way. From there I went on to a 3 hour wave flight to get the day going. We topped out at 9,400 feet, which isn't too bad for the first good wave of the season. Then follow that with a late lunch, good nap, and a trip to the theater to see The Incredibles with Joyce and Sterling. Excellent movie--very entertaining.

It really is too bad that weekends are only two days. Imagine what I could do with three days. Well, at least I will. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 12:05 AM

November 21, 2004

Wave Sunday at Hollister

This is the message I just sent to the hgcgroup mailing list.

Given the brisk northerly wind, thanks to the low pressure system to the south, we got lucky.

We launched just after 11am and released around 5,100 feet a bit south east of Christiansen in light lift. Miguel provided some good GPS navigation and excellent instincts. We spent the next hour or so exploring a small band of lift that took us up to 9,400 feet.

The lift was between 0.5 and 2 knots most of the time. We found 3 knots now and then, and briefly saw 4 a few times. So we had to be patient.

From there we pushed into the wind, crossing the first and second ridges. We pushed thru a lot of sink hoping to find good lift on the other side, but found mostly turbulent air. So we crossed back toward Three Sisters where we were joined by Brett and a student in 87R. We flew around each other for a bit, climbing here and there.

Miguel snapped a few pictures of them while we played. We managed to chat with a glider flying out of Crazy Creek as well. They had wave too.

Eventually we got bored of that and headed back to where the good lift had been. We arrived fairly low--4,500 feet or so and found little scraps. Upon landing a bit later, we found that the wind had shifted direction a bit and decreased in speed.

We were up just under 3 hours. Not bad for a quiet Sunday at the gliderport.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:52 PM

November 20, 2004

Taking my backups more seriously...

After my most recent brush with Murphy (in which I lost the hard disk on my T23), I decided it was time to actually do something with my new SATA hard disk controller (the Promise Sata150 TX4 I asked about) and those three 250GB disks I bought.

Linux Archive Server

I've added the controller and three disks to the Linux box that has served as my workstation from time to time. It already has two 80GB IDE disks, a DVD-ROM drive, and a CD-RW drive. So I had to visit Fry's to pick up some power cable splitters. Luckily the case has a beefy power supply.

Using a Knoppix 3.6 CD, I've booted with the 2.6.7 kernel so that I can talk to the controller--my 2.4 kernel had no driver. I used cfdisk to put a primary partition on each, set the type to FD (Linux software RAID auto-detect), and created an /etc/raidtab that looks like this:

raiddev /dev/md1
  raid-level      5
  nr-raid-disks   3
  nr-spare-disks  0
  persistent-superblock 1
  chunk-size      128
  device          /dev/sda1
  raid-disk       0
  device          /dev/sdb1
  raid-disk       1
  device          /dev/sdc1
  raid-disk       2

Then I ran mkraid /dev/md1 to create the array. I built a ResierFS filesystem and let the array sync while I ate dinner.

From there, I ran an rsync to copy the data on the existing disks to the new array. With that done, I will wipe the the 80GB disks and create a RAID-1 array of them. It will house the operating sytem and home directories for the system. The larger RAID array will be mounted as /raid used to archive copies of files from my other machines.

Then I'll automate the process of using rsync to keep local copies of all my remote data on the RAID array. Given the available space, I'll likely use rsync snapshots to maintain several versions of each machine that I remotely clone.

The end result is roughly 460GB of usable space for backups and archives of those backups. Two years from now, I'll probably be able to swap in new disks to get 2TB of space for the same cost. And the old disks will still be under warranty.

Powerbook Backups

Inspired by Mark's posting on Super Duper, I finally found a solution that works well for my Powerbook. I've had an external Firewire disk: a Maxtor OneTouch 300GB model that I bought with the Powerbook. The disk came with Retrospect, but I've found the software to be rather lame.

Super Duper does exactly what I need. It provides an easy way to incrementally update a full backup of my laptop--one that I can even boot from and restore with if it dies entirely. In other circumstances, I can simply mount the backup volume and grab the files I need.

It's definitely worth the $20 registration fee and highly recommended.

The Thinkpad

After IBM replaces the disk in the Thinkpad, I'll probably sell the machine. They seem to be fetching prices in the $800 neighborhood. It's still under warranty, has 768MB of RAM, and a Wifi card with a great antenna.

That means I'll probably be running SeeYou and the software required to talk to my LX5000 flight computer on my company laptop (all praise the company!). I'll probably take two approaches to backing it up, aside from whatever the standard procedure at work is.

First, I'll use a Knoppix CD to simply copy the entire hard disk over to my archive server once in a while. Since that's a pretty brute force approach, I'll probably backup the most important data on a more regular basis. To do that, I'll probably revive my batch file scripting skills just long enough to set something up. It'll copy the important stuff over to the archive server either using Samba or WebDAV through Apache and mod_dav.

Any advice on this?

Laptop Stolen!

One thing I hadn't thought of is the possibility of my laptop being stolen. It recently happened to Rasmus.

My nice new T42p was stolen by some loser at a PHP conference in Paris. It is amazingly inconvenient to lose a laptop like this. It was from inside the conference hall and there was virtually no non-geek traffic there. If a fellow geek actually stole my laptop from a PHP conference then there is something seriously wrong with the world. You can steal my car, my money, my shoes, I don't really care, but don't steal my damn laptop!


I can't believe that someone at a PHP conference would steal the laptop of the guy who created PHP. Something is, indeed, wrong with this world.

It's more motivation to make sure my backups happen frequently and in a reliable manner.

Rasmus: if you need any advice on a Powebook, I know you won't be shy about asking.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:25 PM

November 19, 2004

Jeremy Cole will be Yahooing Soon too!

One of the conditions on taking my new job was that I find my replacement to handle many of Yahoo's growing MySQL related needs. I worried that it was going to take a long time, because good MySQL folks are scarce. If you've ever tried to hire one, you know this. That meant I had to either get lucky or spend quite some time doing double duty.

By some quirk of fate and excellent timing, Jeremy Cole was available. He visited Yahoo recently, we offered him a job, and he's starting December 6th.

You may have seen him speak at conferences past. He spent over 4 years with MySQL AB and knows MySQL inside-out.

Welcome aboard!

The good news is that other Yahoo's don't have to learn a new name. They can still think "MySQL question... I'll ask Jeremy." :-)

How about that? We got Russell and Jeremy both recently. Who's gonna be next?

Posted by jzawodn at 06:33 PM

Russell will be Yahooing Soon

As Russell announced on his blog, he's going to be coming to help Yahoo out. His post details some of the twists and turns that led him to where things are today--give it a read.

I couldn't be more happy about this. If you don't already know, Russell is one of those folks who really, really, really seems to get this mobile stuff. He's so far ahead of almost everyone else (especially me) that I just take most of what says on my faith in his vision.

Me? I just signed up for web access on my phone 3 days ago. And I think it really sucks. But that's a topic for a later discussion.

Welcome aboard, Russell!

This is further proof that blogging can help smart people get jobs. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 03:50 PM

Yahoo RSS Intentions Are No Secret

Over at, Rich takes note of my recent posting for an RSS Hacker position at Yahoo.

I'm not sure if he let out a secret about Yahoo's RSS plans or not, but I certainly would choose my words more carefully when calling for "RSS hackers" to send in resumes.

Rich, you've lost me there. What sort of secret do you think I'm hiding? And why do you think I did not choose my words carefully?

Remember, we're serious about RSS. Why would we try to hide that?

As I've said before, we're helping to take RSS mainstream. Not only do we produce hundreds of thousands of RSS feeds, we've given literally millions of users access to syndicated content via My Yahoo. And we're not stopping there.

Either way, thanks for the coverage. It helps cast a wider net for stuff like this. Thanks also to others who picked it up, including The Unofficial Yahoo Weblog, The RSS Weblog, and InsideGoogle.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:48 PM

November 18, 2004

Rolex Watches with Viagra

If e-mail and attempted weblog comment posts are any indication, Rolex Watches are all the rage. And since Viagra is still popular, I have to wonder if anyone has attempted bundling the two.

Just think, you could use that fancy new Rolex watch to time the long-lasting effects of those magic little pills!

Or maybe not.

Maybe a time release Viagra system, powered by a Rolex watch core? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:03 PM

November 17, 2004

Come to the Yahoo Party at Webmaster World

If you're in Vegas for Webmaster World, come on over to the Palms hotel for the big Yahoo party tonight. It starts at 7pm and will be a blast.

If you're in town for Apache Con, gimme a call. I can probably get a few folks in. At least one Apache Con attendee is coming by that I know of. Cell number: 408-685-5936. SMS works too.

I'll try to shoot some pics during the party and get them on-line later. Maybe much later, depending how much fun *I* have. ;-)

Posted by jzawodn at 06:20 PM

Made it to Vegas

Vegas from the Air I made it to Vegas for Webmaster World (a previously mentioned). The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino seems like a decent place. The Wifi is fast, but it ought to be for $12/day. As soon as I take care of a few things, I'm headed up to the convention center to see what's going on.

I'm trying to put all my photos on Flickr and will tag them with webmasterworld2004.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:12 PM

November 16, 2004

Come Hack on RSS at Yahoo. Get Paid.

Remember when I said we're serious about RSS?

Good, because we're looking for a good RSS hacker with some large systems and scaling experience to help with our RSS backend systems (aka, our "content aggregation platform"). Here are some tidbits from the official job listing.

Ideally, we're looking for someone with solid experience in:

  • large-scale distributed databases
  • caching system design
  • distributed systems
  • designing with security, reliability, and resilience in mind
  • C++, Perl, Unix, Apache

And, of course, it's best if you like RSS and syndication technologies. We're bringing RSS to the masses and need your help. We have big plans for content syndication.

If you've got experience with Web Services, FreeBSD, and Internationalization that's even better.

If you're interested, send your resume in text, PDF, or HTML to and put "RSS Engineer" in the subject. Send along your blog URL too. You've got one, right? :-)

The job is on-site in Sunnyvale, California. Relocation assistance is available.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:56 PM

November 14, 2004

Why do I taunt Murphy?

I should have known better. Earlier today when I suggested that I had paid my dues to Murphy, I thought I was being smart.

Not so.

I sat down to write my monthly MySQL column for Linux Magazine, planning to bang out a few month's worth covering MySQL Administrator and the MySQL Query Browser. But then I discovered that there's not Mac version of either one!

They do offer Linux and Windows versions. But my Linux "desktop" is offline for maintenance (that's a polite way of saying I need to perform a disk swap and re-install). But I have a Windows laptop!

Except that my trusty IBM Thinkpad T23 has just decided that its hard disk is no longer interested in functioning without making loud *click* *click* *click* noises and refusing to let Windows complete the boot sequence.

The bad news:

  • I know exactly what it means when hard disks begin that clicking routine: You're already screwed.
  • I still have an article to write, so I either need a new topic or need to get a Linux box up ASAP.
  • I have no backups.
  • I spent the last several hours (has it been 3 hours?!) attempting to salvage the machine. I'm pretty convinced that's a lost cause at this point.

The good news:

  • I only used it for running a single piece of software, so the lack of backups is not a major problem.
  • The machine is probably still under warranty, so IBM will likely replce the hard disk at their expense.
  • This may finally motivate me to sell that machine--once the new drive is installed with a fresh OS on it. I recently got a Windows notebook at work that's quite capable of running SeeYou.

Oh, well. I've learned my lesson.


Anyone got an idea for the MySQL column I need to write in the next 24 hours? :-(

Posted by jzawodn at 10:08 PM

Does reading my blog affect your perception of Yahoo?

This has been a repeated source of discussion and some debate among some folks at work as well as bloggers at a few other companies. So I figure I'll just ask the simple questions here--in this very unscientific self-selecting and ultimately meaningless forum. My goal is to get a bit more understanding how my writing about my job, workplace, and employer matters.

  1. Are you a regular reader of my blog?
  2. Has reading it changed your perception of Yahoo?
  3. If you answered yes to question #2, how has it changed?
  4. If you answered yes to question #2, why does reading this affect your perception of Yahoo? If you answered no, why not?

Question #3 may sound like a strange thing to ask, but if you think the answer is clear or obvious, you may be in the minority.

Fell free to answer any (or none) of those anonymously. If you'd prefer to keep your responses even more privte, feel free to mail to provide any feedback you might have. If there are private responses, I'll gladly remove any identifying data and summarize the results in a follow up post.

Thanks for your honest feedback and any time you spend writing it. And if you're a regular reader/contributer, thanks for that even more.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:14 PM

Playing catchup on everything...

It's a bad sign when you're playing catchup on everything. Here are some random related thoughts...

I just spent he last 5.5 hours trying to catch up on some e-mail and reading RSS feeds. In the past week I've unsubscribed from several mailing lists and earlier today I worked on pruning my RSS subscriptions and making better use of search/keyword based subscriptions.

I made a good sized dent in the e-mail problem but am not even close yet. I am, however, caught up on RSS matters.

It's a nice day outside. I should go for a long walk with a nice audio book, take a shower, write a magazine article, go to the grocery story, and then take my glider down to the airport. The drive to and from Reno yesterday was uneventful this time around. I guess I had paid my dues last time around.

One of these days I'll get around to my MT upgrade and a few other related matters.

I'm considering a new rule for my schedule at work. No more than 2.5 hours worth of scheduled meetings per day (for semi-obvious reasons, I hope), and no less than 30 minutes of time in between meetings. I've noticed that back to back meetings are a real pain in the ass. By the time I'm done with the series of meetings, much of the first meeting or two has already escaped my poor little brain.

Being a bottleneck sucks. Doing busywork sucks.

My goal is to do far less of both--as soon as I figure out how.

Anyway, off for that walk now while the Sun is still shining. Stop reading this and go outside too. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 11:44 AM

Dinosaurs and Blogrolls

Several months back, a I removed my blogroll from my main blog page. I did this for several reasons.

  1. It was always out of date because I was too lazy to really automate getting it out of NetNewsWire and run thru my custom script
  2. Who I read is really my business. You'll know who I really like by who I link to anyway.
  3. I don't want to get mail from folks if they suddenly notice themselves removed. This has happened.
  4. I don't want to get e-mail from people suggesting others I should read based on those I had listed. Yes, believe it or not, I don't actually subscribe to Dave or Joi. I think many so-called "A-list" bloggers are overrated. I guess that makes me an un-blogger or something.
  5. It was too long and got in the way of some visual changes I thought I wanted to make.

In Steve's Who's On My Blogroll? I Say Who Cares? I see that I am not alone in this. Luckily nobody has ever gone so far as to call me on the phone about such a trivial matter.

Anyway, I was realizing that I don't have a good way to figure out what I'm not reading very often. I'd like to get myself down below the 200 feeds mark in NetNewsWire again. Then I remembered the Dinosaurs Window. It'll show you feeds that haven't updated recently. That doesn't help with the feeds that do update but I never read, but it's a very good start.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:33 AM

November 13, 2004

Efficiency vs. Relevancy in Search: A Tough Choice

In a continuing discussion of Microsoft's Search Beta, Fred ran a query against several search engines and found that:

I think in this one example Yahoo!'s results are the best, followed by Google, with Microsoft in third largely because they didn't get the artist high enough.

And also notes that:

Another thing I noticed was that Google was able to show six links "above the fold", whereas Yahoo! was only able to show three, and Microsoft was only able to show two.  That is because both Yahoo! and Microsoft choose to take up valuable screen real estate with sponsored results.  My guess is that choice will hurt them with users in the long run.

It's funny. I just realized that Microsoft is making more work for me. You see, before I switched into my new job I used Google for search. But now I run nearly every search on Google and Yahoo to compare the results. It's easy to do with a 20" LCD monitor. But now I need to start checking Microsoft's as well. You know, the one that doesn't compete with Google (yeah, right).

Anyway, it's interesting that Fred doesn't speculate about his observations a bit more. If you're forced to choose between efficiency (the Google results page, with more "above the fold") or relevance (the Yahoo results page, with a better mix of results), what do you do?

I tend to go with what's fastest--especially if I already know what I'm looking for. The faster I can scan the page and realized it's not there, the faster I can click to the next page or refine the search.

When I'm not sure what I'm looking for, I'd probably choose relevancy.

But I really want both.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:00 PM

November 12, 2004

From Cubicle to Bullpen

For a while now I've joked that Yahoo should have bought S&M Moving quite some time ago. You see, today (Friday) was cube move day. In fact, every Friday for the past few years seem to have been cube move day. Each time, the big moving trucks converge on campus and a bunch of guys begin the ritual of moving boxes, furniture, computers, and so on.

In theory, that means I had the afternoon off. In practice it means I was working anyway, thanks mostly to the wireless network and having a space to squat. Though it was pretty damn loud with all the demolition going on.


Yeah, they were tearing down a lot of cube walls to transform our normal sized cubes into what lovingly refer to as bullpens. We're basically out of space, so you knock down a cubicle wall and the space that used to hold 2 worker bees now holds 3.

The wall in my old cube was taken away yesterday. The lack of a wall where there once was one is rather disconcerting. Sound travels really well, so you can year every keystroke, phone conversation, and so on.

On the plus side, there's this communal area in the middle now. Perhaps I should invest in a bean bag or something. Some of the Image Search folks have a little pool table in theirs.

I shudder to think how much we've paid S&M for their services over the years. A friend of mine who has been at Yahoo about 4.5 years recent moved for his 13th time. That's about one move every four months. It's no wonder he's not managed to accumulate much random junk at his desk--well, other than boxes and labels.

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who names their company "S&M". It's brilliant, really.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:22 PM

November 11, 2004

Going to Webmaster World next week?

If you're going to be at Webmaster World in Las Vegas next week, lemme know. I'm speaking on a panel about "Blogs, Community, and Search" on Wednesday afternoon.

This session will look at some wide-ranging issues related to community building. A community is not just a forum or a blog. There are a range of community features from directories to simple website feedback forms. This session will look at the opportunities for promotion that occur whenever communities grow.

If you've got ideas of what you'd like to hear from me and/or Yahoo during that session, send 'em my way. (Yeah, talking to a room of SEO and SEM folks about blogs should be... interesting.)

And if you are coming, be sure to come to the party that Yahoo is throwing on Wednesday night. It sounds like we've got some good stuff going on for that.

This is both my first time to Webmaster World and my first time to Vegas (yes, really). So I'm looking forward to it.

Heh. I just noticed that my bio is already out of date.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:55 PM

How far would you walk for an $8 beer?

If you're me, Scott Johnson (Feedster), and Ray (Feedster), quite a long way.

Ray and I headed up to San Francisco on Wednesday evening so that I could check out Feedster headquarters. We met up with Scott, checked out the place, talked about my gadgets, and then headed out for dinner. But we made one mistake. Well, two mistakes really.

  • We left the building without a plan more specific than "wander around San Francisco until we find a good place to eat". Bad idea.
  • We let Ray lead. Ray has a, uh, well... an "unusual" navigation style. Let's just leave it at that.

Needless to say, we probably walked around for an hour before settling on a place. Along the way realized it was a lost cause, asked a homeless guy for advice, stopped outside the only decent place we could find, and tried calling Mark--figuring that someone who lives in San Francisco would have some good advice. But he wasn't around. We toyed with the idea of calling Russell. However, thinking of him made us realize that we had three mobile devices that had varying degrees of Internet access.


In short order, we found some real problems with Yahoo! Local on Scott's Treo and took that as a sign to just eat where we were: The Public. (Mental note: Talk to mobile and/or local folks about that Treo problem.)

The end result was a pretty good meal and desert. The only real surprise was getting the bill and figuring out that Ray and I each paid $8 for a bottle of Newcastle!

After dinner, we headed back to Feedster central where we found Scott Rafer (Feedster's CEO) and chatted for a bit. I told them about my idea for a service to build on top of Feedster: "meme tracker" or "influence tracker". It's the same one I told the Technorati folks about last week. I should blog that sometime.

So now I wonder who will build it first... :-)

Oh, we also snapped some amusing Channel9 guy pics. One outside an adult entertainment establishment, some near our food, and assorted others. I'm sure Scott will have those on-line soon.

Speaking of soon, it's 2:30am. Bed time! I'll play with the new MSN Search Beta in the morning, since it's just spewing errors as me now.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:27 AM

November 09, 2004

Firefox 1.0 on Mac OS X: It's all good!

A while back I got a fair amount of traffic to my Firefox on Mac OS X Annoyances posting, iin which I complained about the screwed up key bindings and other things.

The good news it that with the release of 1.0, that's been fixed! It minimizes just like it should. I'm finally able to switch from Safari to Firefox as my default browser on Mac OS X--just like I use on Linux, BSD, and Windows.

As I said in my Is Firefox for Seearch? post on the Yahoo Search blog, thanks to the worldwide Firefox developer community. This is a real milestone. We've come a long way since the great disappointment.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:32 PM

When blogs attack people...

In Attack Mode, Tim Bray ponders using his blog for evil (or good, depending on your point of view, I guess):

Suppose I posted a piece here whose title was that person’s name, laying out in succinct but forceful detail the nature of the bad behavior, solidly illustrated by pointers to online examples. Suppose I offered a calmly-worded opinion that nobody in their right mind should consider hiring, or doing business with, or dating, this person. Suppose some other people who shared my opinions saw fit to point to the attack and perhaps chime in a bit. Given the way search engines work, I’d say that such an attack would be extremely damaging, and very hard to recover from. Would I do this? I don’t think so, unless it was a matter of life or death. But I sure do think about it sometimes.

Well, Tim... You're not alone. I've thought about it more than a few times. I suspect that many of us have. But there's a line there that's best not to cross. I can't say exactly where it is and how close I've come to it on occasion but it's there.

The few times I've used a person's name in my blog post titles, it ends up having an effect I didn't quite expect. Luckily Andy had a good sense of humor about it.

I usually save my blog lashings for companies rather than individuals. And looking back over my posting history, I do this quite often. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo,, Santa Clara Municipal Utilities, Citibank, Atlas OnePoint, Sun, RedHat, etc.

I attack companies partly because I know how big companies tend to work--it's often hard to place the blame on any one person. However, and this is the weird part, when some attacks Yahoo on their blog I find myself taking it more personally than when someone attacks me. Personal attacks just don't bother me that much.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:27 AM

November 08, 2004

My Reaction to Feedburner's Amazon Ads in RSS

As part of his ad experiment, John Battelle had some amusing run-ins with Google. He also recently started using Feedburner to inject ads directly into his RSS feed. The screenshot at the right shows what those look like in NetNewsWire (where I read most of my feeds).

My thoughts on this:

  • The ads are irrelevant--unrealted to the content of the post. Unlike AdSense, they don't fit in with the context at all.
  • The ads are pretty big.
  • That space is not well used. Instead of branding, why not show an album cover there? That might get me interested. Maybe.

The bottom line is that if I see this happening on a lot of feeds, I'll probably start trying to figure out how to block the ads--just like we did with the most annoying ads on web sites. Yes, I know they're not animated flash ads that mimic Windows alert boxes, but they just don't seem to fit in with the feed reading environment yet.

As much as I hate to give money to Google, AdSense seems more appropriate here. (Then again, Google technically pays me to run ads too.) Besides, ones of Amazon's biggest strengths, their recommendation engine, is not showcased in this form of advertising. That's a pity.

I suspect this isn't paying off for John well anyway.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:57 PM

Dear Moronic Coworkers

Please stop replying to the new mailing list you were added to to ask why you were added. If the 40+ messages in your inbox from other confused coworkers haven't made this abundantly clear, nobody knows. And we're all sick of hearing about it. There are over 3,000 of us.

I fail to understand how this sort of thing happens. This is almost 2005! Have you never used e-mail before? Do you not understand that a ton of us are possibly getting this? Do you realize that there's probably a human who owns the list?

Please contact that human or just chill out.


This leads me to wonder what the worst example of this particular problem is. Anyone seen one of these little eruptions go more than a few hundred messages?

Update: How could I forget Bedlam 3?!

Update #2: I guess I'm not the only one to find this amusing and frustrating at the same time.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:18 PM

November 07, 2004

Google Image Search has that "not so fresh" feeling?

According to a Slashdot story, Google's image index is quite a bit out of date. Chris DiBona himself responded on behalf of Sergey, saying:

In short, There is no censorship here. We are embarassed that our image index is not updated as frequently as it should be. Expect a refresh in the near future. In the meantime, you can just search on Google Web Search for [abu graib photos] [abu graib photos] [] to get plenty of what you are looking for.

Well, Sergey, do I have a deal for you!

Remember back in the days when Yahoo was one of your biggest customers? You know, paying to let our users use your search technology and content?

Why not bring that back? I could probably put you in touch with someone in business development at Yahoo's Image Search (where they have over a billion images indexed) to discuss a similar arrangement.

You don't have to act fast or anything. Take some time. Think about it. What would be best for your users--the folks looking for a fresh and comprehensive image search?

No pressure. Really. I don't even work in sales.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:33 PM

November 06, 2004

Charities that accept Compact Discs as Donations?

Does anyone know of a charity that takes compact discs as donations?

I've given about 125 books to the local library this year, but would also like to seriously reduce the size of my CD collection--it's around 475 right now and I think I can get it down under 75. If you know of a local (Bay Area) charity that'd be happy to take 'em off my hands, I'd love to know.

Otherwise I'll have to try my luck with those used CD stores. I fear that they offer only in-store credit and that does me no good. I don't want to buy more CDs. It's so 1992.

Update: I see that the San Jose Public Library (the folks I gave books to) also accepts "gently used books and media", which probably includes CDs. But I'd still like to know of there are other organizations. Why not spread the donations around a bit?

Posted by jzawodn at 11:12 PM

November 05, 2004

Friday Savings Time

One of my coworkers just informed us of the time shifting he does on Fridays. Referring to it as Friday Savings Time (great name), it means getting to work earlier than normal, eating lunch at his desk quickly, and being out the door in the early afternoon before traffic gets really nasty.

I really like that idea. When the flying season kicks in next year, I may just have to adopt something similar. Then I'd be able to get there before sunset on Friday.

Anyone else have a special schedule on Fridays?

Posted by jzawodn at 04:05 PM

November 04, 2004

The Girl Next Door

Bill says he watched Meet Joe Black and liked it. Well, Netflix delivered The Girl Next Door to me today. I finished it about an hour ago. I had only seen a preview for it once or twice and had no idea what it was actually about. I nearly stopped watching after the first 10 minutes, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The movie was quite entertaining. I just took a bit of time to get moving.

Thanks to the wonders of IMDB, I discovered that I'm not nuts. The whole time I kept thinking "she looks a lot like that girl that Mitch wakes up next to in Old School" (another classic american film). So after it was over, I checked. Bingo. Both are Elisha Cuthbert.

Mystery solved.

And in case you're wondering, yes. This is the only thing I've thought to write in the last few days. With the election raging, it was nice to take a blog break. And there was so much less to read in my aggregator too. Anything election related, I simply skipped.

That, my friends, is freedom.

In other news, I have more Gmail invites. Apparently they're still in demand. Tell what you'd most like to see from Yahoo! Finance and I'll give you an invite.

Hmm. Maybe I should give this guy one? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 12:27 AM

November 01, 2004

Ubiquity in the Internet Age

These are some half thought out ideas I've been considering recently...

Why is Microsoft the big and successful company is today? One reason goes back to the original vision that Bill Gates was preaching back in the day. While I couldn't find an exact quote on-line, it was something like this:

A PC in every home and on every desktop running Microsoft software.

Given their nearly complete dominance of the market for PC operating systems and office productivity software, they've come shockingly close to achieving that vision--at least in some countries.

Yesterday's Lesson

Bill realized early on that there was great power (in many forms) to be had in getting on as many desktops as possible. The resulting near monopoly has allowed them to crush competition, make record profits, and enter other lines of business as a force to be reckoned with.

As the installed base of Microsoft software grew during the late 1980s and early 1990s, their ability to extract more money from it increased even more. Their growing power and abuse of it resulted in the famous anti-trust case brought by the United States Department of Justice.

The lesson was clear: To become ubiquitous was to become insanely profitable and powerful.

In Today's World

But we live in a different time. The PC is no longer the only battleground. The Internet is the new medium and it has the effect of leveling the playing field. While this isn't a new insight, let me say it in two specific ways:

  1. The web enables infinite distribution of content without any special effort or infrastructure.
  2. The web extends the reach of our apps and services as far as we're willing to let them go.

Both notions come back to ubiquity. If your stuff (and your brand) is everywhere, you win. The money will follow. It always does.

The closer to everywhere you can reach, the better off you'll be.

Where is everywhere?

The notion of everywhere has changed too. It's not just about every desktop anymore. It's about every Internet-enabled device: cell phone, desktop, laptop, tablet, palmtop, PDA, Tivo, set-top box, game console, and so on.

Everywhere also includes being on web sites you've never seen and in media that you may not yet understand.

What to do?

So how does a company take advantage of these properties? There are three pieces to the puzzle as I see it:

  1. do something useful really really well
  2. put the user in control by allowing access to your data and services in an easy and unrestricted way
  3. share the wealth

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there are very few companies who get it. Doing so requires a someone with real vision and the courage to make some very big leaps of faith. Those are rare in today's corporate leadership. Startups are more likely to have what it takes, partly because they have less to lose.

Let's briefly look at those three puzzle pieces in more concrete terms.

Kicking Ass and Taking Names

Without a killer product, you have no chance. Three companies that come to mind here are, Google, and eBay. Each has one primary thing they do exceptionally well--so well that many users associate the actions they represent with the companies themselves.

Need to buy a used thingy? Find it on eBay. Looking for some random bit of information? Google for it. Shopping for something? Check first.

The financial markets have rewarded these companies many times over for doing what they do very well. And users love them too.

Web Services and Syndication (RSS/Atom)

Giving users the ability to access your data and services on their own terms makes ubiquity possible. There are so many devices and platforms that it's really challenging to do a great job of supporting them all. There are so many web sites on which you have no presence today. By opening up your content and APIs, anyone with the right skills and tools can extend your reach.

Two good examples of this are and Flickr, the up and coming photo sharing community platform. provides web services that make it easy to access much of the data you see on their web site. With that data, it's possible to build new applications or re-use the content on your own web site. The end result is that Amazon sells more products. It also reinforces the idea of Amazon being the first place to look for product information.

Flickr provides RSS and Atom feeds for nearly every view of their site (per user, per tag, per group, etc.) and also has a simple set of APIs on which anyone can build tools for working with Flickr hosted photos. The result is that Flickr is becoming increasingly popular among early adopters and the Flickr team doesn't have to build tools for every platform or device in the world. (Of course, it helps that their service is heads and shoulder above other photo sharing services like, say, Yahoo! Photos.)

Giving users the freedom to use data and services they way they want gives them a sense of ownership and freedom that few companies offer. It helps to build some of the most loyal, passionate, and vocal supporters. And some of them will put your data to work in ways you never dreamed of.

If this stuff sounds familiar, maybe you picked up on the Web 2.0 vibe?

Affiliate Programs

The final ingredient is money. It's the ultimate motivator. If there's a way to let your users help you make more money (there probably is), you need to find it, do it, and give those users a cut of the action. Affiliate programs are one way of doing this, but not the only way. has been doing this for a long time now. Their affiliate program provides an easy way to earn credit at Amazon in return for leads that result in sales. Affiliates advertise or promote products that Amazon sells and provides the referral link.

eBay provides cash if you refer a bidders to their auctions. However eBay's program hasn't resulted in the sort of huge adoption one might expect. I won't speculate on the cause of that here.

A relative newcomer, Google's AdSense program has provided thousands and thousands of small publishers with cash on a monthly basis in exchange for advertising space on their sites. Oh... and a bit of Google branding too.

Companies that do all Three

Let's briefly look at three companies that are exploiting all three of these ideas. built the gold standard of on-line shopping. They followed up by providing easy to use web services that allow anyone to get at much the data on Amazon's web site. This, coupled with their affiliate program, gives them very wide distribution and a good chance at capturing the long tail of users on the Internet.

eBay's auction platform is used by millions of people every year to buy and sell anything you can think of. Their incredibly large audience has served to cement their lead in this area over the last few years. Sellers have access to an API that makes listing their goods trivial. Hopefully they'll begin to offer RSS feeds or very simple web services aimed at making their listings more accessible to the other half: buyers or small publishers who'd like to refer them. That could greatly enhance their reach into the world of users who'd be willing to pimp a few eBay auctions if they can get a percentage of the sale.

Google followed the same model too. They began by setting the new standard for how web search should look, feel, and work. With that position solidified, they rolled out a web service to provide access to their search results. They also launched their wildly successful AdSense program. The fact that Google's ads are contextually relevant without any extra effort on the part of the publisher means puts them in the lead position to monetize that long tail.

User Generated Content

I didn't list this separately as a necessary ingredient because it's really part of point #1, building a great service. However, it's worth calling it out here to reinforce its importance. As you look around the web to see which services you use over and over, it can be hard to truly appreciate the effects of user generated content.

Amazon? Sure, they have reviews and ratings of products. But look deper. There's wish lists, the recommendation engine (it would be useless without without data from others), list mania, and more.

Flickr? Users own the photos. But they also do the tagging, organize the photos, leave comments, form groups, and so on. Flickr provides the platform.

The more your service can be affected by user input, the more users are likely to come back again and get involved. This is personalization taken to the next level.

What's this all mean?

We're in the early days of all this, so there are still huge opportunities. Luckily a few companies have shown us the way--the new formula that works. But they each have room to improve.

Who will be next on the list?

Beats me. Your guess is as good as mine. But I'd like to see Yahoo on that short list by this time next year. Microsoft and AOL both have potential but I've seen little evidence from either. Apple is an interesting case. With iTunes, the iPod, and the iTunes Music Store, they've done #1 and #3 but really need to figure out how to open up their stuff. Netflix has done #1, part of #2, and none of #3 yet (that I've seen.)

In the blogging world, Google's Blogger has hit all three of the requirements. TypePad from SixApart has #1 and #2 nailed. I wonder what they'll do about #3. Maybe just AdSense integration?

In Summary

Go forth, build a great service, open it up, and share the money. The best services will win. And so will the users.

See Also:

Posted by jzawodn at 06:48 AM