Categories: technology, web

HTML5 Audio Tag Mess

Good news: in the new HTML5 spec, you don’t need Flash or another plugin to play audio files from standards compliant browsers. Instead, you can put your audio link between <audio> tags, and all should be well.

New releases of Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all support the audio tag.

Bad news: Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera all support the tag, but they don’t all support the same codecs – or kinds of audio files. Here, from HTM5 Doctor, is a list of current support:

HTML5 browser codec support


You can solve the problem by offering all the codecs between the tags, so:

<source src="librivox.ogg" />
<source src="librivox.mp3" />
<source src="librivox.wav" />

Anyone have a better explanation for such a jumble?

Categories: technology, web, writing

Good Links (Weekly?)

I had lunch last week with Mitch Joel (t/w) and Alistair Croll (t/w). Amid lots of brain-exploding chatter, Mitch had a nice idea: how about each week we each pick a good link for each of the other two guys. So, every week, six good links, specially chosen. Our own personalized weekly Givemesomethingtoread, that other people might enjoy as well.


The Gartner Fellows Interview with James Burke.

This is a great interview with James Burke, which I think Hugh should read. Burke is brilliant, and if you get a chance to watch The Day The Universe Changed and Connections (all available on the james burke web channel on YouTube) it’s time well spent. (Alistair for Hugh).

Mixing Memory – Fart Spray (And Disgust) Makes Moral Judgments More Severe.

Mitch, you mentioned (rightly so) that while a pay-for-change-of-opinion model might work for big-ticket, highly branded, associated-with-self-worth products, there are many things that fall below this, where we have loyalty but aren’t talking about it much because it doesn’t affect our social status (thanks, Alain de Botton.) In that realm, I would submit that there are many hard-to-compute factors involved. Here’s a good write-up on disgust – simulated through a fart smell (no, really) and a messy office – polarizes moral judgments. (Alistair for Mitch).

City Of Sound – Emergent Urbanism, or ‘bottom-up planning’.

Alistair works with start-ups and innovators, and was partially responsible for setting up the informal co-working space that my company has been in for a little over a year. This article explores a more formalized (yet still grassroots) project that answers the question: how can you revitalize an empty downtown while encouraging start-ups? Answer: get cheap rent in empty buildings, wire up the buildings with a free wi-fi network, and offer start-ups rolling monthly leases. (Hugh for Alistair)

The Atlantic – Learns To Out-Innovate Itself.

I recently attended, with Mitch, a panel on the future of the magazine, at the Summer Literary Series. Panelists included: the fiction editor at The New Yorker, the associate publisher of The New York Review of Books, and an editor from The Walrus. The panel was a dud, with very little talk of the present, let alone the future. In counterpoint, here’s a short piece on how The Atlantic has reinvented itself, by taking this radical approach: ‘If our mission was to kill the magazine, what would we do?’ (Hugh for Mitch)

SlideShare – Design For Networks

You were talking a lot about what we should be measuring online – especially for Marketers. And, while I think that is critical, we also need to better understand why humans do things and design the technology around their needs. One of my team members (Sean Howard) sent me this great SlideShare presentation, and I think this will help you moving forward. (Mitch for Alistair).

Niemen Journalism Lab – Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus”: Is creating and sharing always a more moral choice than consuming?

I’m cheating here a little, both Hugh and Alistair should check this out. It’s a great review of Clay Shirky‘s latest book, Cognitive Surplus (Shirky is also the author of Here Comes Everybody). I’m almost finished reading Cognitive Surplus and this book is dog-ear marked and written in as if it were one of my notebooks from high school. It’s filled with great thoughts about the Web (with great examples) about how we share, connect and collaborate – which is all topics that drive how you develop new businesses and your perspective on the publishing industry. This review is awesome and the book is better. (Mitch for Hugh & Alistair)

Categories: books, technology, web

Sifting Through the Books

I have a post up over at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change blog, Sifting through all these books:

…We have a massive and growing supply and demand imbalance in the book business. And, as the technologies for creating and distributing books becomes trivial, the supply of books is just going to keep growing exponentially. There is a whole other article to write about the business implications of these numbers, but I’m interested here in some ideas about how our info systems might manage this huge pile of books. That is, how are people going to sift through all these books to find what they want?…


Categories: technology, web

Death to Design? Death to the Banner Ad?

We are getting to a point where all data – web sites, books – are accessible as raw, structured datasets, to a point when we users can/and will do as we wish with the outputs. This is the case with web sites now. You can force your browser to display things in a particular way. Or, you can do as I do: install the Readability bookmarklet – which strips all the junk off a web page, and gives you text on white, easy to read. Apple’s Safari browser just implemented a similar feature, based on the Readability code. You can also use Instapaper, which downloads the text from a page to your iPhone, and displays it, again, in a simple format – black text, white screen – that’s easy to read.

I rarely read anything on the web without using either of these tools, because both provide the best reading experience. This is going to become the norm for all kinds of reading: someone gives you the text, and you decide how you want to read it.

UPDATE: Matt just pointed me to Today’s Guardian – a simple display of all Guardian articles on any day, built by Phil Gyford, using the Guardian’s (revolutionary) Open Platform API.

Sample inline advertising: Buy Hendel’s On Book Design from Amazon

What’s happening here is that “design” is starting to fall away as a responsibility of the producer/distributor of texts. Their role is becoming more as a provider of an API to access the data. And then on the *other* end the reader is starting to choose the tools that deliver a design they like, how they want to consume that content.

Among other things, this should *kill* banner advertising. It will also obviate lots of book design.

Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Land, has taken issue with Readability – or at least the way it was described by Rich Ziade on the Arc90 blog. Says Danny, in Readability’s comment thread:

I have ads because they help support the quality journalism my blog provides. I have related links because, news flash, sometimes readers like to read related material.

If we’re talking about due respect, here’s the “harsh reality” for those readers who want to be left alone. Ads pay for what you read. Since most readers don’t want to pay for subscriptions — don’t even make voluntary donations when asked — those ads underwrite content that they consume.

Now this is kind of interesting. Danny is a seasoned, and savvy web/media commentator, part of a web-native industry that tends to criticize mainstream media for trying to defend dying business models in the face of consumer choice and technology.

And here it looks like Danny, of the web, is defending a business model in the face of consumer choice and technology.

I don’t begrudge Danny at all – as a business owner, when you see a technology that might kill a major revenue stream (eg. banner ads), certainly you’ll get nervous.

So, are banner ads dead? I for one hope so. I hate them, and they get in the way of what I want to do: read.

But, what am I willing to pay in exchange for no banners? How am I willing to pay it? It’s not clear to me. I do know that I click on one banner ad in perhaps a gazillion impressions, so I’m not a consumer that’s generating any value for banner ads either. When I read your stuff, your banner ads bug me, and I sure as hell don’t buy anything from them. So what’s the point in having them there when I read your stuff? I’d say, there isn’t much.

But I also don’t know the alternative. I do know that asking me not to read comfortably is likely to work as well as asking my friend Tom not to watch television on TVShack.

Categories: technology

Stuff for Your Mac

I had lunch with Mitch today; he’s a new convert to Mac. He asked for some suggestions of software that I love, so I sent him this list (that leaves out a few obvious ones that he’s already using – eg Skitch):

1password: encrypted password manager, changed my life … have not got it working on my iphone tho :/

Jumpcut: clipboard buffer, lets you copy lots of things to your clipboard, and paste just the things you want.

Dropbox: all my files get backed up here, synced on all machines, incl iphone … peace of mind. (I also back-up my 1password database there).

Grand Perspective: shows you what’s on your hard drive.

Handbrake: for putting DVDs in usable digital format (eg. mp4).

Things: an excellent/simple to-do manager, syncs w iphone.

Also, just one other thing that makes life amazing, is the QuickDrag plugin for Firefox, which lets you just click & “fling” a link to open it in another tab.

Categories: books, technology

Best books about the digital, the web & culture?

I’m doing a little informal survey. I’d like to know what you think are the three most important books about the web, the digital, and its cultural implications. These could be books about technology, about sociology, about philosophy; but generally books that have helped, and will continue to help us navigate the future as it becomes increasingly digital.

That is, what three books have you read about computers and culture that have stood the test of time, and deserve to be read, or reread again?

I’ll get the ball rolling, with three that have had a profound impact on my thinking:
* Wealth of Networks, by Yochai Benkler
* Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig
* Programming the Uviverse, by Seth Lloyd

If you have suggestions, why not post comments here, or Tweet with the hashtag: #digitalculturebooks.

Categories: books, technology

An Open, Webby Book-Publishing Platform, Based on WordPress

Ever since Book Oven shifted focus in November 2009 to Bite-Size Edits, I have been wanting to write about one of the major reasons for the shift: my realization that:
a) the world needs an open book-publishing platform
b) rather than building from scratch at Book Oven, we should have started with WordPress, and built atop it.

I just published my thoughts about this on O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing blog. The key points are:

The key insights behind Book Oven were the following:

* publishing a book is (almost always) a collaborative enterprise
* online tools (should) make collaboration on making books easy(er)
* if you build a “book” in the cloud, using structured mark-up, then expression of that book in various forms (print, epub, pdf, mobipocket, html, etc), on various devices (including paper & print) becomes arbitrary, and should be nearly trivial
* further, if the “book” exists in the cloud, then the range of things that can be done with this “book” multiplies significantly
* if a system built on these ideals is implemented well, it will be transformative, both for professional publishing workflows, and for the emergence of a new grassroots of indie publishing.

I am still deeply committed to this vision. But I have shifted towards a belief that the above-described platform should be open source. Or at least, an open source version of such should exist.


WordPress, it seems, is an ideal candidate as a platform on which to build an open source, online, webby, book-publishing system. There may be other likely candidates, but WordPress has the following characteristic which suggest to me that it is an excellent place to start:

* it is a familiar and comfortable tool to most writers and publishers who are at all engaged online
* it is a stable platform that can handle just about any scale of traffic you can throw at it (the New York Times, for instance, runs on a heavily-hacked version of WordPress)
* it is open source
* through its plugin architecture, it is infinitely extensible
* through its template architecture, it is infinitely stylable
* through WordPress Mu, it isinfinitely scalable it has a huge, world-wide community of committed developers
* existing plugins and plugin suites already achieve much of what would bewanted in a WordPress-based book publishing system.

And elaborating more fully, here is a list of plugins such a system would need:

1. robust version control
2. (based on the old commentpress)- to allow para by para commenting for editors, and later, if desired, for readers
3. wordpress –> epub conversion
4. wordpress –> ~LaTeX –> print-ready pdf conversion (or similar)
5. wordpress –> InDesign-compliant mark-up conversion
6. book-friendly front-end template(s) (including Table of Contents, Title page etc)
7. generation of a download/(sales?) page that lists available formats (epub, html, pdf etc)
8. table of contents generator
9. a book metadata generation/management tool (ONYX, OPDS compliant?)
10. …etc.

This list of plugins can continue, subject to the interest of developers, and the needs of users of such a system.

You can read the whole thing here.

And props to John Maxwell and his students at the Simon Fraser Masters of Publishing Program for actually building a protoype and publishing a book with it. Also, do head over to and see another implementation of something similar.

Categories: books, technology, web

Thought: the Internet and Books

I just posted this to Twitter, but I think it might be important enough to commit in the hard stone of a blog. And the thought is the following:

The distinction between “the internet” & “books” is totally totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years. Start adjusting now.

Categories: technology

Why Instapaper Is Amazing

Instapaper on the iphone is the best reading medium for long articles of non-fiction. It’s always been that way, but Matt Forsythe just revealed one reason why it’s so amazing. Because years of experimentation has settled on a standard magazine/newsprint column-size and font size, optimized for reading.

And, lo, Instapaper replicates that column and font arrangement almost exactly. See:

Think the iPhone isn't big enough to read a magazine?

[Photo by Matt]

Categories: technology, web

Why “Talk” Culture Ruins Everything

In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani takes on the Internet, remix culture, post-modernism and the technology-induced Decline of Western Civilization. She quotes the usual suspects: Jaron Lanier, Andrew Keen, Nicholas Carr as well as Cass Sunstein, Farhad Manjoo.

Picking on traditional media has become a tiresome sport. Much more interesting to explore successful new models than complain about the old gang aren’t getting it right.

Still, it’s hard to swallow an article made up almost exclusively of quotes from various other thinkers, about how dangerous mash-ups are. If “cherry picking” ideas and mixing them into a shortened digital version, quotable at the water-cooler, or on Twitter, is such a terrible thing, what is Kakutani doing writing a mash-up of cherry-picked ideas and mixing them into a shortened digital version, quotable at the water-cooler or on Twitter?

The “problem,” I think, is humans themselves. Unfortunately, this is what we like to do with information: we absorb it, process it, shorten it, and reassemble it… and then share and comment and talk about it.

It always surprises me that there aren’t more articles about the dangers of one-on-one conversations: after all – shouldn’t we be worried about, “the fragmentation of data that the conversations produce, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into verbal words and sentences shared between people at cafes everywhere; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses of the person in front of you; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our discussions; and the emphasis that conversation places on subjectivity.”

The real danger to the future of humanity is not the web, it’s much deeper: it’s is lurking in every conversation over a coffee or beer that anyone has ever enjoyed. The real danger isn’t bits and bytes, it’s our desire to talk about the things that interest us. God help us all.

If Kakutani & her sources can figure out how to eradicate our urge to communicate, they’ll solve the lesser problem presented by technologies that let us communicate as we always have.

There are many reasons that we should carefully consider technology, and figure out how to use it to do more interesting things. But finding ways to stop people talking about things they care about, and making art out of things they love, or contextualizing information with commentary and curation, is not high on my list.