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License To rel

If you thought XFN or VoteLinks were the last (or only) word on lightweight semantic link annotation, think again.  Tantek writes about the idea of adding a license value to indicate a link that points to licensing terms.  In his post, the expression of this idea is centered around Creative Commons (CC) licenses, but as he says, any license-link could be so annotated.  Apparently the CC folks agree, because their license generator has been updated to include rel="license" in the markup it creates. Accordingly, I’ve updated my CC license link for the Color Blender to carry rel="license", thus making it easier for a spider to auto-discover the licensing terms for the Color Blender.

Tantek also said of the idea of applying CSS to documents that uniquely styles license-links:

I wonder who will be the first to post a user style sheet that demonstrates this.

Ooo, me, me!  Well, not quite.  I don’t have a complete user stylesheet for download, but here are some quick rules I devised to highlight license links.  Add any of them to your user stylesheet, or you can use these as the basis for your own styles.  (Sorry, but they won’t work in Internet Explorer, which doesn’t support attribute selectors.)

/* simple styles */
*[rel~="license"] {font-weight: bold;}
*[rel~="license"] img {border: 3px double; color: inherit;
  padding: 1px;}

/* add a "legal" icon at the beginning of the link */
*[rel~="license"]:before {content: url(legal.gif);}

Here’s my question: should the possible values be extended?  Because I’d really like to be able to insert information based on what kind of license is being referenced.  For example, suppose there were a c-commons value for rel; that way, authors could declare a link to be rel="c-commons license".  Then we could use a rule like:

*[rel~="c-commons"]:before {content: url(c-commons.gif);}

…thus inserting a Creative Commons logo before any link that points to a CC license.  At the moment, it’s highly likely that the only rel="license" links are going to point to CC licenses, but as we move forward I suspect that will be less and less true.  I hope we’ll soon see some finer grains to this particular semantic extension.

If you don’t like using generated content for whatever reason, you could modify the rule to put the icon in the background instead, using a rule something like this:

*[rel~="c-commons"] {background: url(c-commons.gif) no-repeat;
  padding-left: 15px;}

The usual reason to avoid generated content is that IE doesn’t support it, but then IE doesn’t support attribute selectors either, as I mentioned.  So don’t add any of these rules to an IE user stylesheet.  Use Firefox, Safari, Opera, or one of the other currently-in-development browsers instead.

In other news, I was tickled pink (or maybe a dusky red) to see that for sol 34, one of the “wake-up” songs for the Spirit team was The Bobs’ Pounded on a Rock.  My hat’s off to you, Dr. Adler!  I’ve been listening to that particular album recently, mostly to relearn the lyrics.  I’ve been singing to Carolyn when I feed her, and some favorites of ours are Plastic or Paper, Now I Am A Hippie Again, Corn Dogs, and of course Food To Rent.  It’s awfully cute that she smiles at me when I sing to her, mostly because I know one day she’ll grow up, learn about things like “being on key,” and stop smiling when I sing.

In the meantime, though, she’s perfectly happy to rock on! Carolyn, sitting in a chair with her lower half covered by a blanket, raises her left hand above her head with the index and pinky fingers extended, exactly in the manner of hard rockers and head-bangers the world over.

Seeing What’s Out There

A relatively recent addition to the XFN What’s Out There? page is the XFN Dumper favelet, which lists all the XFN-enabled links in a page along with their XFN values.  I decided that I wanted a different presentation and a little more information, so I hacked up ben‘s XFN Dumper v0.2 and came up with XFN Dumper v0.21, which is currently in beta due to its problems running in both kinds of Internet Explorer.  If you’d like to try it out anyway, you can find it on my new XFN Tools page.  Once it exits beta I’ll move it over to the GMPG site.

I’ve spent the last two weeks (minus repair time, of course) running NetNewsWire Lite, and I’ve discovered that it’s addictive in exactly the wrong way: hard to give up, even though I really want to do so.  This is no reflection on the program itself, which is excellent.  The problem I have is with the fundamental experience.

Allow me to explain.  In order to visit all my favorite weblogs/journals/whatever, I had a collection of home page URLs in a group in my favorites toolbar.  That way I could open it up and go straight to a site, or else command-click on the folder to open them all up in tabs.  The whole group would open up, each site to its own tab, and then I could close each tab as I read what was new, or else determined that there wasn’t anything new since the last time I dropped by.

Now, of course, I have an RSS aggregator that tells me when something new has appeared on a site.  Thanks to NetNewsWire, I’ve become much more efficient about keeping up with all the weblogs I read.  I’m also losing touch with the sites themselves, and by extension, with the people behind those sites.

What I’ve come to realize is that half the fun of visiting all those sites was seeing them, in enjoying the design and experience that each author went to the effort of creating—the personality of each site, if you will.  Sure, I’ve seen The Daily Report a zillion times; who hasn’t?  I still got a bit of an emotional boost from dropping by and feeling the orange, even if Jeffrey hadn’t written anything new.  The same goes for mezzoblue, and stopdesign, and all the others.  Maybe it’s the same impulse that makes me play a record I’ve always liked, or re-read a favorite book for the twentieth time.  It doesn’t matter.  Part of my connection to the people behind the sites seems to be bound up in actually going there.  Using an aggregator interrupts that; it lessens the sense of connection.  It distances me from the people I like and respect.

And yet, thanks to that same aggregator, I can keep up with all those weblogs and half again as many news feeds in one tidy package.  The latest Slashdot Science and Apple news, xlab OS X, the W3C, and more feeds come pouring in.  I don’t have any connection with those sites, so that doesn’t bother me; in the case of Slashdot, I actually prefer getting the feeds because it means I can visit the referenced sites without subjecting myself to the comments.

The obvious solution is to strike a balance:  to use the aggregator for news, and go back to my tab group to read personal sites.  I’m going to give it a whirl, although the raw efficiency of the aggregator is so compelling that I feel a deep reluctance to unsubscribe from the personal-site feeds.

That’s what I mean by the experience being addictive in exactly the wrong way.

I suspect that what I may do is keep all the feeds, but when any personal site is updated, I’ll go visit them all by command-clicking the bookmark group.  That way I’ll catch up with the folks who have something new for me to read, and at the same time visit everyone else—just to say, if only to myself, “You’re still there, and I’m still dropping by to see you, and that’s how it’s supposed to work.”

Social Spam Shield?

I expressed a faint hope yesterday that the spam problem would be solved, and wouldn’t you know it, a proposal along those lines popped up in my RSS feeds.  A couple of researchers have published a paper describing a way to use social networks as an anti-spam tool.  In brief, the idea is to build e-mail cluster maps.  As reported in Nature, the researchers:

…decided to tackle the problem by taking advantage of the fact that most people’s e-mail comes from a limited social network, and these networks tend to be clustered into clumps where everyone knows each other.

If I understand the concept correctly, those of you who decide, on a whim, to e-mail me with a question about CSS or to comment on something I’ve written would never get through if I were using such a system.  If you’re nowhere near my cluster, then I don’t see how you’re going to get through.  If the only criterion for being assumed a ‘real person’ is that you’re sending from a cluster, then all spammers would have to do is form their own clusters.

I’m quite interested in social networks these days, but I’m not sure that spam is one of the problems a social network can really fix.  At this point, I’m coming to believe that e-mail delivery fees are the only possible solution, and I have grave doubts it would work.  I’ve seen this idea described a few times, and here’s how it generally works.

  • Everyone gets to set a cost for accepting mail.  I could say, for example, any message has to have a 10-cent delivery fee paid for me to even accept it.  You might set the threshold at five cents, or 50 cents.
  • When sending a message, you authorize up to a certain amount to be paid for delivery.  I might say that I’ll attach three cents to every outgoing message.  For any account with that delivery fee (or lower), the message will reach the inbox, and I’ll be charged three cents.  For any account with a higher delivery fee, the message is bounced back with a “needs more money to get through” error.
  • Anyone can choose to refund the delivery fee, either one at a time or by creating a “free entry” whitelist.  So I might set my delivery fee at 50 cents, but permanently give my friends a free pass into the Inbox.  For random correspondents with legitimate inquiries, I could give their delivery fee back.  For spam, I could read it and collect the delivery fee.

It sounds great, and the technology could probably be created without much difficulty.  The general idea is that if you don’t want to see spam, you reject all messages with too low a delivery fee; if you want to stick it to the spammers, you read their messages and collect their money.  I still see a few problems with the idea.

  1. If a spammer manages to fool my system into thinking the spam is coming from a friend, it gets in for free.  If the mask is good enough, I never get a chance to collect the fee.
  2. Who’s going to volunteer to run the micropayment system that would have to underpin the whole setup?  And if there are no volunteers, then where’s the business model that would be needed to get a company to do it?
  3. How does one keep the spammers from hacking, bypassing, or otherwise fooling the micropayment system, and wouldn’t any effective techniques to do so work just as well for the current mail system?
  4. Assuming there is a micropayment structure in place, what’s to keep large ISPs from charging everyone a cent to pass a message through their servers—thus making e-mail no longer free for anybody?

Maybe that last point would be an acceptable price to pay for ending spam.  It would pretty much kill off listservs, though, and that would sadden me quite a bit.  Even at a penny per message, every post to css-discuss would cost $35.67 to deliver to all the subscribers (as of this writing).  On average, we get about 50 posts per day, so that’s $1,783.50 daily, or $650,977.50 annually.  If I had that kind of money, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t spend it on a mailing list.  I’d buy a Navy fighter-bomber instead.

On the other hand, with a delivery-fee e-mail system in place, I could very easily set up an account where people could send their CSS questions for a delivery fee of, say, $29.95.  If I accepted delivery, that would get you a detailed answer to your question, or else a refund of the delivery fee if I didn’t answer (or there was no answer to be had).  So that would be kind of cool.  I suppose I could approximate the general idea today using PayPal or some such, but that would mean going to the effort of setting it up, which isn’t something I’m likely to do given that I have no evidence that there’s any real demand for its existence.  Actually, the presence of css-discuss pretty much says that there isn’t, since it’s a whole community of people providing help for free.

So I got started on all that because of the idea of using social networks for spam countermeasures, and like I said I’m interested in social networking these days.  In that vein, I was rather amused to see myself at #2 and #4 on rubhub’s new Top 10 lists, and not in the least bit surprised to find Zeldman sitting atop both lists.

I was also quite fascinated by Jonas’ ruminations on how XFN, VoteLinks, and related technologies can easily form the basis for rudimentary trust networks.  Jonas, a sociologist by training, has been writing some very interesting things about the semantic web and social networking recently, which is why I’ve just added him to my blogroll and RSS aggregator.  As he points out, combining XFN and VoteLinks would be a snap, and has the potential to enrich the semantics of the Web.  Instead of just counting links to a page, a community assessment of that page could be tallied.

What interests me even more is the next step.  What else can be done with link relationships, and how will the pieces fit together?  How many small, modular metadata profiles would it take to begin semanticizing the Web?  I suspect not too many.  This seems like a clear case of emergent properties just waiting to happen, where every incremental addition dramatically increases the complexity of the whole.  John Lennon once said that life is what happens while you’re making other plans.  Meaningful technological advancement seems to be what happens while committees are making other plans.  It could very well be that the Semantic Web will come to pass because the semantic web arose on the fringes and paved the way—that the latter will become the former, simply by force of evolution.  That strikes me as rather poetic, since it means that the principles Tim Berners-Lee followed in creating and defining the Web would become the keys to where he wants to go next.

Confess! Confess!

Okay, so I can’t count.  I claimed yesterday that there were three new XFN tools, and then listed four.  Plus I missed one.  So… among our many XFN tools are rubhub; Rubhub It; Autoxfn; the MT template; Daniel Glazman‘s Nvu, which supports the editing of XFN values on links as part of the UI; and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

Based on the feedback to my question yesterday, it seems the #1 reason to link to your Amazon wish list is to help out family members who can’t seem to remember what you like whenever a birthday rolls around.  The other reason given was to provide a window into your interests, which is felt to help foster a sense of familiarity in what can sometimes seem an impersonal medium.  Fair enough.  I did something along those lines when I added the “Reading” feature (with archive) to my personal page.  Perhaps the only real difference is that I’m giving a current and backward glace at my interests, whereas the wish list link provides a forward look.

A couple of people also wrote to say that they actually have had random passers-by send them something off of the wish list, sometimes in thanks for a favor they’d done online, and that it was pretty neat.  I’m not sure I’d feel the same way, but I thought I’d pass along their feelings on the matter.

Speaking of passing things along, I promised that I’d summarize the suggestions I received regarding books presenting reasonable arguments for the conservative point of view.  Here’s the summary.

  • Letters to a Young Conservative by Dinesh D’Souza
  • Radical Son by David Horowitz
  • The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele
  • The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce
  • First Principles: A Primer of Ideas for the College-Bound Student by Hugh Hewitt
  • The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski
  • A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat by Zell Miller

I also received e-mail from liberals who had been looking at the same issue, and wanted to mention some books they thought were good.  They are:

  • Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell (for a look at both sides)
  • The 2% Solution by Matthew Miller
  • The Politics of Rich and Poor and other books by Kevin Philips

Please note that I have not read any of the books I just listed, and so am neither recommending nor condemning any of them.  Similarly, I’m passing along an unchecked recommendation for The Weekly Standard, not to be confused with The Weekly Standards.

Those of you more interested in the latter of those two links will probably also be interested in the Web Standards Awards, with three awards to be given every month.  You can submit any site for consideration, whether it be your work or someone else’s, but be sure to check the competition criteria first.  The first three winners are already listed on the site.  Check them out—there’s some great work there—and then go check out Wasabicube.  It’s elegant, lovely, and I love the current-page effect in the sidebar.  Now I want to redesign meyerweb again, except if I did it would be a ripoff of Peter’s design.  So I’d probably better refrain.

Feeling Friendly

The Web is getting more and more friendly.  In the past two weeks, there have been three XFN tools that were announced: 

Can you feel the love?

While I was trawling personal sites. I kept seeing something I that I just don’t get.  There seems to be a small trend toward posting a link to one’s Amazon wish list.  What’s the goal?  Is it just a convenient way to say, “Here’s what I like”?  Do you assume, or hope, that a random passerby will decide to buy you something off of the list?  And wouldn’t it be kind of creepy if they did?  Somebody clue me in.  I mean, yeah, social networking is interesting and I’m all for the spread of information, but this seems like it might have crossed a line.  I only wish I could decide which one.

Building Blocks

Imagine my surprise to discover that an off-hours bit of work done with a couple of colleagues got a mention in the mainstream press.  XFN, which seems to be spreading through the blog world and is generating some very good feedback, was mentioned in a Seattle Times article titled “Social networking beginning to take shape on the Web.”  I’m amused that years upon years of work on CSS, which is arguably a cornerstone of the modern Web, netted me (so far as I know) exactly zero newspaper coverage, while something to which I made minor contributions merited ink within a month of its launch.

With that article still fresh in my mind, I received something like my fourth or fifth invitation to join LinkedIn, which was mentioned in the very next paragraph after the bit about XFN.  Since I’m rather interested in social networking technologies these days, I decided to set up an account and experiment a bit—do some compare-and-contrast between LinkedIn and XFN, from a user’s point of view.  It’s interesting, but I’m not sure I quite grasp the point of it.  Are links intended solely to deliver prospective clients to vendors?  Or is it supposed to be a way to show who you know, and thus who they know, and so on?  For myself, I’ve decided to limit my connections to people with whom I’ve had some contact professionally.  So if you’re a member and want to invite me, go ahead.

One of the people I did invite to link to me is George Nemeth, Cleveland-based superblogger extraordinaire.  I dropped by his site to see what he’s talking about, and spotted a link to a LEGO® recreation of M. C. Escher’s Relativity.  The same people also did Ascending and Descending, and a few others besides.  Color me impressed!  From there, I visited some other LEGO®-sculpture sites, finding at one point a really large model of a stegosaur, which was even more impressive, both from a sheer achievement point of view as well as a testament to the amount of free time some people have available.  And check this out: the guy who came up with a model of the Nebuchadnezzar, a mostly working badger, and a whole bunch of other LEGO® sculptures besides, lives right here in Cleveland.

Like how I came full circle with that one?

Friendly Discussions

We’ve gotten some interesting feedback about XFN, as well as a number of blogroll adoptions and even tools that offer XFN support!  Two commentaries in particular drew me in:

  • Richard Tallent pointed out that XFN could be a key component of building trust networks between blogs.  He also had some gripes about the syntax and scope, which is fine, as we don’t envision XFN as being complete by any means and are very keen to see what people suggest.  My responses can be found in the comments section of his post.
  • Leigh Dodds took me mildly and quite fairly to task for some minor inaccuracies in the XFN/FOAF comparison article I wrote, and also had some great observations and ideas regarding XFN.  Leigh’s comment that he finds XFN to be elegant was especially satisfying, because Matt, Tantek, and I worked hard to keep it that way.

One of the things I forgot to point out in my announcement yesterday is that not only can you add XFN values to your links, but you can do so and still have your HTML validate— see, for example, the validator report for the main page of meyerweb— because XFN uses an existing HTML attribute (rel) in a way that HTML itself allows.  In other words, XFN enhances the Web without breaking it, very much in the spirit of Tim’s original vision of interlocking technologies that worked together to create a social medium.  That’s an important aspect of XFN, and one I didn’t want to overlook.

Of course, XFN isn’t constrained to HTML.  Any XML language can also use XFN, given the right hooks are included in the language’s DTD.  Thus, we’ve created something that works today as well as tomorrow.

We’re still very interested in suggestions and constructive criticism, so keep those posts coming!

XFN

Put a human face on your linking: XFN.  Originally designed for blogrolls, but useful in any situation where you link to a personal Web site, XFN is a grass-roots social networking tool that anyone can use at any time on any site.  I’m using it on my blogroll right now, in fact.

The goal of XFN is, quite simply, to make it possible for links to carry information about the human relationships behind the linking.  It lets you designate which links are to the sites of people you’ve met, which are to those who are your friends, which ones represent your sweethearts, and quite a bit more.  Best of all, it does all this with just a few simple values that can be added to any link.  The great thing, from my point of view, is that it adds a lot of interesting semantic value without being overly complex or difficult to understand.  Check it out!

(Update: you might also like to see what Tantek and Matt, who were really the driving forces behind XFN, have to say about it.)

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