So much for the Next Big Thing

Yesterday, I saw a blog post somewhere (sorry, I forget where, but probably either from Boing Boing or Jason Kottke) about Snap, a new search engine. (No link; we'll get to that later.) The unique and interesting thing about Snap is that it pushes some of the power to the browser. After entering your initial search terms and getting a list of results, you can refine your query by entering additional search terms, and through the power of Javascript, the list of results gets updated as you type.

I've never been a big fan of Javascript; my initial experiences were unfavorable (e.g. the energy you had to expend just to deal with differences in implementation between browsers), and the payoff was minimal (e.g. fiddly little UI tweaks that ran more to "look what I can do" than "really useful"). I'm starting to come around, though, thanks to useful browser-side scripting examples like TiddlyWiki and (I'm told) GMail. And Snap.


Cory Doctorow read far enough into Snap's website to discover that Snap has a "unforgivably stupid and evil linking policy". So no linking to it here. I'm feeling a little guilty about even describing Snap—not for legal reasons, but because bad publicity is still publicity.

Maybe they'll come around, and embrace openness in linking. Or maybe we'll just keep referencing Snap without linking, as a cautionary tale.

HTML without style

From Eric Meyer: Really Undoing html.css. He describes how to turn off all the default CSS styling in your web browser. Since it involves messing with files on your hard drive, it's not exactly something you can use in your website template, but it looks like a good way to learn what assumptions the authors of our browsers (and, by extension, we who use them) make about how our HTML is presented. It makes me nostalgic for the days of disassembling executable files to peek at the machine code, back when people still knew what those terms meant. :-)

Update. Eric has a followup article called Fractionally Restoring html.css that describes the minimal reasonable stylesheet (setting the display: block property on block elements, for instance). He also floats the idea of having a copy of your favorite browser with minimal styles, and testing your websites to ensure that the styling is coming from CSS and not from markup (in other words, embedded in the HTML).


It's del.icio.us

I don't know what took me so long. After seeing any number of posts on various weblogs about del.icio.us, I finally took a look. Then took the plunge. Now, I think we can safely say, I'm obsessed.

For those of you even later to the party than me, del.icio.us is an online bookmark manager, sort of. After you create an account, you can start adding URLs to your list through a form on their site or with a handy bookmarklet. Your bookmarks are stored in one place, available from multiple locations or even multiple browsers on the same computer.

If that's as far as you look, you probably won't be impressed. Rather than trying to present your bookmarks in some kind of fancy dynamic tree structure, they get dumped into a simple list. The real power (and fun) begins with the tags you can add to each URL.

Think keywords—more precisely, think terms you would use if you were searching for the URL. For instance, I used the tags "food cheese england" for the URL http://www.teddingtoncheese.co.uk/acatalog/de339.htm, which describes an English cheese called Stinking Bishop. The right side of the del.icio.us page has a list of all of the tags I've used for all of the bookmarks I've stored. I click on "cheese" and get a list of only those bookmarks that are tagged with "cheese".

To quote Al Pacino, "I'm just gettin' started!"

When you click on a tag, like "cheese", you also get a link to other URLs, from all users, that have the same tag. If a URL has been added people besides you, you'll get a link under it that reads "and X other people"; click on it and you can see what tags other people used for that URL.

Whether or not they intended it, the people behind del.icio.us have created something in the gap between Yahoo! (or DMOZ) and Google. Maybe the thing it's closest to is that "people who bought X also bought..." feature at Amazon.com.

Update. No sooner do I post this than I check NewsFire and find that Tom Coates has said it better than I have, and goes on to do something useful with the idea rather than just blathering on about how neat it is. (Thanks to Jason Kottke for the link.) Just another reminder that I either need to learn to write better or get out of the writing-in-my-spare-time-for-the-fun-of-it business.


Blink and you'll miss it

This is hardly news at this point: SpaceShipOne has unofficially won the Ansara X-Prize. You can read more, better commentary about it than I can provide, so I won't try. Instead, I've got a slightly different perspective to share.

When I remembered that the second flight for the X-Prize was today (should I be embarassed that it wasn't the first thing I thought of when I woke up?) I hustled downstairs to look for live coverage on TV. NBC? Nope. Fox? Nope. ABC? Nope. CBS? Nope. The Discovery Channel? CNN? CNN Headline News? Fox News? (I hope you can see the pattern.)

I finally found coverage on MSNBC, about the time that White Knight was taking off. They didn't go to minute-by-minute coverage until shortly before SSO separation, but I can't blame them for that; there's only so many times and ways you can say "they're still circling to gain altitude". However, they did go to continuous coverage a few minutes before SSO separation, and stayed with it until touchdown.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd have thought (or, rather, hoped) that one of the major news networks would have been following this. After all, they saw fit to broadcast the entire funeral procession for Ronald Reagan. I'm especially surprised that The Discovery Channel wasn't all over this. Yes, I'm sure they're not normally set up for live broadcasts, but IIRC they're owned (at least partially) by NBC, so it's not like they don't have access to resources.

(It just occurred to me that the fact that MSNBC was covering the flight may have had less to do with the "NBC" part than with the "MS" part, what with primary funding for SpaceShipOne coming from Paul Allen, one of the cofounders of Microsoft.)

I'm reminded of a night a month or so back when tornado sirens started sounding in our city. We were watching TV at the time, so we started flipping around the local affiliates for weather information. (How to identify a Kansas City resident: if tornado sirens go off in the daytime, we go outside to see if we can spot it; if they go off at night, we turn on the TV to watch the storm coverage.) Everybody was broadcasting regularly scheduled programming. Finally, one of the affiliates broke in with weather coverage, and stayed with it until the storm had passed. Only one.