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File: 2006

Apple, Domains, Web Development
2006-12-29 :: Kevin Murphy

It seems Apple is one of the parties contributing to the lack of comprehensive domain validation in web forms.

Apple’s otherwise pretty good guide to JavaScript form validation, which ranks pretty high for Google queries such as “javascript form validation”, contains this pearl of wisdom:

Next we want to see if the email address the user entered is real… With JavaScript we can check to see if the email string looks like an email address. We want it to follow this format: some characters, then an at symbol (@), then some more characters, then a dot (.), then two or three more characters, and that’s it. [my emphasis]

The regex it suggests to achieve this is /^.+@.+\..{2,3}$/

This works fine if you’ve got a .com or .co.uk or .biz or whatever. Sucks if you’ve got a .info or .travel or .mobi email address, or any address with more than three characters after the last dot. Any site that implements this advice, as I almost just did, will tell users they have not entered a valid email address, when they have.

I have a .info email address, and this kind of thing drives me barmy. I expect the folks at Afilias, owners of .info, get pretty annoyed too, as it makes their product less functional than a .com domain.

Perhaps somebody at Afilias could call somebody at Apple and get this bogosity corrected?

I know for a fact that Apple’s not the only site giving out this advice, but it’s the highest-profile one I’ve come across to date.

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Blogging, Journalism, Microsoft, PR
2006-12-28 :: Kevin Murphy

Apparently Microsoft has been giving $2,000 Vista laptops away to bloggers for free.

Two points.

1) If you’re a blogger who sees himself as an objective reporter and you think there’s a legitimate question about whether receiving a free gift from a vendor compromises your objectivity, then please stop blogging now. We don’t need your input. You clearly haven’t got what it takes. However, if you merely think there’s a legitimate question about the perception that your objectivity will be compromised, you may have a point, so feel free to send the laptop back to Redmond or donate it to a school or something.

2) Please, Microsoft, can I have one? It’s got to be better than the $500 piece of shit I’m writing on at the moment.

328 comments  ::  Read on

Blogging, Bottom Feeders, Journalism, PR, Second Life, Web 2.0
2006-12-28 :: Kevin Murphy

Bloggers are all scum. All of them.

I feel justified in saying this because Clay Shirky is telling everybody that “the press”, and specifically the tech/business press, are a bunch of credulous buffoons, and if he can lump together an entire profession and make sweeping generalizations about them, and then have lots of people agree with him, then I reckon I can get away with making the same kinds of insulting generalizations about bloggers.

Shirky, in a few recent ValleyWag postings, comments on what he calls “the state of business reporting in an age when even the pros want to roll with the cool blogger kids”. Apparently, the “credulous” business press has been turned into “a zombie army of unpaid flacks”.

Pretty serious charges. Flacking is the Dark Side in the mind of any serious hack.

I was happy to ignore his post when it first appeared, for three reasons. a) It’s ValleyWag, so I assumed Shirky was merely being jocular. b) smart-arse trivia-obsessed gloryboys are ten-a-penny in the blogosphere, and c) I’m trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to control my temper when I hear self-righteous bloggers banging on about how “the media” or “the press” is shit.

But Shirky is pimping his pomposity like he’s got a serious point to make, and it’s getting traction from a mainly agreeable blogosphere. The straw for me was when Boing-Boing just carried a goodly portion of his rant, adding their own criticism of the press as “sloppy”.

What’s Shirky’s beef? It’s almost too tedious to recount.

Ok. Second Life says it has about 2 million subscribers, but that only about 800,000 of them have logged on in the last two months. About four reporters carried the first number without reporting the second.

That’s it.

On that basis, that singular factum, the press are a bunch of mindless chumps when it comes to Second Life.

Maybe worth a quick 200 word ValleyWag snipe? Nope. Shirky stretches it out into two or three posts and a couple thousand words, including a mind-blowingly patronizing piece of armchair psychology in which Shirky presumes to get inside the heads of tech reporters.

We’re apparently credulous, willing to prostitute ourselves for Linden Labs, because we’re naive starry-eyed youngsters who haven’t been around long enough to cut through obvious hype. But that’s ok, because “virtual reality is conceptually simple”, so we can get our little heads around it. Especially when people give us press releases about it to make it easier for us.

So Shirky’s analysis goes — all based on the debateable fact that roughly four journalists neglected to report a single number that really wasn’t important to their stories.

I’m going to ignore the merits of his argument’s solitary factum for the moment — it’s simply too trivial — and will just look at his logic.

A small number of journalists reported one number, but not a more-important number, so the business press en masse are a bunch of mindless zombies.

Interesting logic.

I’m a business reporter. Having read his ValleyWag posts, I now think Clay Shirky is a tosser. So, logically, it follows that “the press” en masse also now thinks that Clay Shirky is a tosser.

Fortunately for Clay, it doesn’t matter whether I or we think he’s a tosser or not (and I certainly don’t have enough evidence to come to any serious conclusions about his tosserness; I expect he’s probably a perfectly nice chap when he’s not blogging for ValleyWag) because we’re paid to largely shut off our personal opinions when we’re reporting.

However, his arguments are also bollocks.

First, his argument that “the press” is deliberately not reporting accurate numbers in order to hype up Second Life is simply incorrect.

Second, his argument that generally positive coverage of Second Life is predicated on it having 1.x million to 2.x million “residents” is also demonstrably false.

Here are some examples of recent articles that report subscriber numbers more reflective of Second Life’s actual regular user base, most of which are also just as positive in tone as those that Shirky selectively quotes.

PC Magazine: “In the past 60 days, according to the company, nearly 700,000 people have used the service”

BBC News: “Although they have two million signed up users, at any one time only around 15,000 people are logged on.”

CNet: “No one knows how many Second Life users there are. Estimates range from 200,000 to 600,000, and Linden Lab, the virtual world’s publisher, posts regular updates about how many users have logged in within the last 60 days. As of Thursday, that number was 809,960.”

Globe & Mail: “Second Life, a fascinating world where more than 400,000 participants socialize, entertain and transact in a virtual environment fabricated almost entirely by its users.”

Boston Globe: “According to Second Life’s Web site, about 2 million people have signed up, and about 227,250 have logged in during the last week.”

MediaPost: “But if Pontiac succeeds in creating a “car culture,” it’ll be reaching, at the high end, 700,000 people, the number of residents who’ve logged on in the past 60 days.”

CNet: “Of course, the question of how many Second Life users there are has always been debatable, since anyone can open an account for free. The company attempts to address that by publicising the number of accounts that have been active within the last 60 days. And at the time of writing, that number was 405,931.”

That last one was written by Daniel Terdiman, the dude from CNet that The Register’s Andrew Orlowski is constantly ribbing for allegedly being a Linden Labs whore.

You can prove any point with selective quoting. I hereby prove that “the press” has been perfectly accurate in its reportage to date, and infer from that that Clay Shirky has some kind of undisclosed axe to grind.

From none of the above should you infer that I think Second Life is good, or that Shirky’s numbers are wrong.

I essentially agree with Shirky’s analysis of the data, I just disagree, vehemently as you may have guessed by now, with the way he tried to turn the noting of an essentially trivial oversight into a broad attack on the integrity of the business press. It simply wasn’t called for.

(I also have a Second Life account. I think it’s crap, and I’m not surprised the churn is so high.)

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Blogging, Journalism
2006-12-07 :: Kevin Murphy

The more I hear about the emerging economics of the blogging-oriented media, the more I despair.

When I hear about sites like TechCrunch pulling in six figures each month, it makes me feel like perhaps there’s a future in blogging. But almost every other scrap of financial data I come across makes it seem like an overwhelmingly losing proposition.

It was once reported that Nick Denton’s Gawker bloggers, such as ValleyWag, get a base wage of $2,500 per month. Considering how widely read and influential ValleyWag is, and how many postings Nick Douglas had to make each day, $30,000 a year seems pitifully small, really.

Tom Foremski has also been pretty good at breaking out the numbers relating to his blogging adventure, over the last year or two.

Back in February, he said that his own Silicon Valley Watcher site could get as many as 850,000 page views a month, but could only make $20 from Google Adsense over the same period.

This week, he’s saying that posting his content to ZDNet’s blogs has never earned him more than $500 a month, and that he believes other ZDNet bloggers are in roughly the same earnings bracket.

But he says that ZDNet’s bloggers can be paid over and above the $500 base, based on the number of page views their blogs generate. In my interpretation of this factoid, the bloggers are paid poorly.

So, what are the benefits of this model of work?

“Look at the coverage on ZDNet on Yahoo’s reorganization. The news was released late in the day, about 6pm Pacific Time, which is just about heading home time for the salaried journalists. But the ZDNet bloggers kicked up a storm of coverage, well into the night and early morning.”

Great for the readers, who get to read the coverage sooner. Sucks for the reporters/bloggers, who are working into the early hours for poor compensation.

And what of Tom’s perceived drawbacks?

“In theory, such a system of reward for content performance could encourage sensationalist headlines and posts.”

Indeed it could, though Tom says it hasn’t yet, and I’m inclined to agree to the extent that I read ZDNet blogs (I subscribe to about four of them). Tom says the Apple guy gets $4,000 a month, or eight times the amount other bloggers are getting. Stories about Apple, along with Linux, are big traffic drivers everywhere, so it makes sense that the Apple guy would get more.

Pay-per-view bloggers could be nudged into dodgy territory, given time.

Anyway. Tom gets to a criticism of the ZDNet experiment:

“I could do with some basic support on the production side of things, such as a copy editor to look over my shoulder and correct those things that we become blind to because we have to edit ourselves.”

No copy-editing? Bummer.

This next quote wasn’t Tom’s conclusion to his post, but it will be mine:

“Although the financial performance of the ZDNet blogger group is not known, I will bet it is far more profitable than ZDNet’s dwindling group of salaried journalists.”

I would expect that is correct, for the following reasons:

1) the writers get paid $500-a-month base salaries.
2) no need to pay production staff salaries.
3) no need to pay salaried journalists to work on late-breaking stories.

I don’t know what it is about this trend that depresses me the most — the fact that it is happening, or who it is that appears to be cheerleading it.

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Apple, Blogging, Google, Microsoft, Security, Spam, The Internet, Web 2.0
2006-12-07 :: Kevin Murphy

Around this time of year, security vendors start making dull security predictions for the following year.
Fucked if I know
There’s an art to doing this. You don’t want to say anything that can be proved wrong 12 months from now, and you don’t want to give the bad guys any ideas. So it’s best not to say anything too interesting.

At the same time, you need to shift some product, so you’d better make it sound pretty scary out there. No point saying “Email worms are history in 2007″. Much better to say “The IM worms are getting worse!” (as vendors have for the last three years).

So what you do is just list a bunch of things that are already happening, predict they will continue to happen and, if you’re feeling daring, say they will get worse.

McAfee’s 2007 predictions follow this fence-sitting strategy exactly. Even the one interesting item, about hacking with MPEGs, is already happening today. Postini’s five predictions are pretty dull too. There’s more of them out there, and I expect we’ll see many more before the year is out.

With that in mind, I shall here attempt to go against the grain and make some unusually specific security predictions for 2007, in no particular order. You can hold me to them on December 31 2007, and I will eat a hat* for every prediction that was wrong.

  • Apple forced to ‘Do a Microsoft’. I’m not a Mac user, but if Apple’s attitude to its operating system security is as lousy as its attitude to Quicktime security, then the company will have to start taking security disclosures and updates a little more seriously soon or face the same kind of backlash Microsoft did five or six years ago. There will be one or two big Apple security incidents in 2007, and its reputation for being more secure than Windows will erode. If company is smart (and I’m not claiming it is), it will start being more like Microsoft when it comes to security. Apple fans will support the company regardless of what it does.
  • Patch Tuesday goes cross-vendor. I’m getting sick and tired of having to patch-and-reboot several times a month, whenever an application I’m running needs updating. It would make a lot of sense for users if software makers started pushing out patches coordinated with Microsoft on Patch Tuesday. I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already. I think it will start slowly. In Microsoft Update, Microsoft will publish links to recent patches for third-party Windows applications, starting with popular applications such as Acrobat Reader or Quicktime (which really shouldn’t need to have their own irritating update managers). Eventually, Microsoft will also offer to directly bundle and deliver these third-party patches to end users, but not until the cost, legal, testing and support issues have been ironed out.
  • Sales of Norton Confidential will be miserable. Few people will want this Symantec product. Most of the interesting features are already in the browser or existing security software. There won’t be a 2008 version.
  • A worm will spread through mashups. As more web services are mashed up via open APIs, hackers will find that compromising a single site can help spread malware to thousands of users via dozens of mashup sites. It’s not unprecedented. They’ve done it with banner ads before now. In 2007, they’ll do it via these newfangled web services APIs too.
  • TechCrunch will get hacked. During 2007, somebody will break into TechCrunch and post a fake item, probably about some two-man startup with a silly name being acquired by Google for a ridiculous figure. It will show up in the feeds but not on the front page. Robert Scoble and/or Om Malik will repeat the news on their own blogs. Dozens of B-list and C-list bloggers will repeat the item. One B-lister will notice more spelling mistakes than usual in the TechCrunch post, and speculate on its authenticity. TechCrunch will notice the fake item and delete it. Scoble/Malik will correct their items. Player-haters will say the incident proves A-list bloggers cannot be trusted. A-listers will respond that the fact that the item was removed so quickly shows that the blogosphere is intrinsically self-correcting. Tom Foremski will write a think piece about the fragile nature of truth and reality in a metaconnected social mediasphere. This will all happen in the space of three hours. A week later, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal will carry a lengthy piece on the incident. Nothing of value will be learned.
  • VoIP security will get reality-checked. At some point in 2007 the security industry’s collective consciousness will realize that a hacker using VoIP to call somebody up and ask for their PayPal password is not a VoIP security problem, it’s a user IQ problem. Similarly, we will realize that VoIP spam is not a VoIP problem, it’s a telemarketing problem. (As soon as these facts are raised on C|Net, this prediction can be considered accurate.)
  • Prevx, DriveSentry and Sana Security will get acquired. These endpoint security firms have good ideas and decent technology, but consumers and enterprises really don’t need any more damn security applications on their desktops. These firms will all get bought by antivirus vendors.
  • NAC will remain “almost there”. In the last quarter of 2007, at least one article will be published in a widely read trade rag in which a vendor or analyst claims that network access control technologies are “almost ready for the mainstream”, or “ready to go beyond the early-adopter phase”, or words to that effect.
  • Google will get whacked by its first major security incident. I don’t know what it will be, but Google is long overdue for a major security incident. Sure, it’s had its fair share of minor security blushes, but 2007 will be the year for the biggy. It’s too big a target to not get whacked sometime soon. We’re talking massive user privacy compromise, significant service downtime, major data theft. Something like that. Noticeable enough to go front-page and freeze its share price climb for a few days, at least.
  • In December 2007, security reporters will be flooded with press releases about security predictions for 2008. I’m ending with the easy one. This is guaranteed to happen. 100% probability. Trust me.

*or hat-shaped edible foodstuff

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2006-11-22 :: Kevin Murphy

New polling plug-in installed, so now it’s your chance to guide the future of texturbation.

You can vote as many times as you want. So if you really, really have a strong opinion, you can stuff the ballot box as you please.


Update, December 6th — I guess I have my answer. 26.

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2006-11-20 :: Kevin Murphy

I wrote this post yesterday, before Rupert Murdoch made the call to pulp OJ’s book. I’m just publishing it now for curiosity’s sake. Everything below is now irrelevant.

What if there was a way for the blogosphere to really mess with sales of OJ Simpson’s mercenary tome “If I Did It” without breaking copyright law?

As far as I know, the Fair Use doctrine under US law allows anybody to quote up to 400 words of a copyrighted text without being held liable for copyright infringement.

Apparently, Simpson’s book had only one chapter in it that anybody is really interested in, the chapter in which he discusses, “hypothetically”, how he would have murdered his wife and her friend, if he’d done it.

Regardless of whether he really is the murderer, the fact that he is to indulge in such speculation, and doing it for cash, makes him a despicable scumbag in pretty much everybody’s eyes.

What if there was a way for the blogosphere to cut into those sales?

What if hundreds or thousands of bloggers all decided to quote one paragraph from that chapter, and use tagging to indicate which paragraph they have quoted?

If enough people did it, they could cover the whole chapter fairly easily, reducing the need of people to actually go out and buy the book.

If, for example, the chapter in which Simpson talks about murdering the mother of his children, starts on page 152.

I could quote the first paragraph on that page, and tag it with the Technorati tag “quoteoj-152-1″. Somebody who quoted the second paragraph on that page would tag their post with “quoteoj-152-2″.

If somebody quoted the first paragraph on the second page of the chapter, they would tag the post “quoteoj-153-1″.

The first new paragraph on each page would be counted as 1, the second new paragraph would be counted as 2.

A blogger could end her post with a link to Technorati thus:


obviously substituting the tag for whatever tag comes next in the sequence.

Of course, this actually requires some bloggers, at least at first, to actually buy the book, so they have the source material to quote.

I can also conceive of many ways people could spam the system.

But still, worth thinking about. Could the blogosphere, thousands of independent entities acting in concert, carry off a sweet piece of symbolic copyright theft without individually breaking the law?

Rare example of an old fuddy-duddy like me thinking outside the box.

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Linux, Microsoft
2006-11-20 :: Kevin Murphy

Well, damn, nobody saw this coming.[/sarcasm]

Novell’s obviously terrified that it’s pissing off the Linux community by jumping so eagerly into bed with Microsoft, now that Microsoft’s going off telling anybody who’ll listen that it owns patents on bits of Linux.

Microsoft is sticking to its guns, of course. It’s not about to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars to Novell — and start reselling Linux, for chrissake — if it can’t fuck with the Linux community just a little bit. Get its money’s worth, you understand.

I can’t help but feel that Microsoft has done a total number on Novell. But at the same time I can’t believe Novell never saw this coming.

Matt Aslett is correct. Somebody should sue somebody and get this sorted out, at least before 2010.

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Blogging, Finance, Silicon Valley, Yahoo
2006-11-20 :: Kevin Murphy

In all the blogosphere coverage of the Brad Garlinghouse memo I’ve read so far, there’s nobody who seems particularly concerned about the fact that the Yahoo veep wants to make 2,200 people jobless.

Whatever happened to the blogosphere’s lefty tendencies?

In liberal Europe, where I come from, somebody proposing to lay off two thousand people is the news, simply because two thousand people stand to lose their jobs.

Here, everybody, even the bloggers, focuses on how it will affect the bottom line and competitive positioning. Job cuts are something to be warmly welcomed as an indicator of a streamlined, more profitable company. Shareholders love that stuff.

That news angle is par for the course with the business media. But for some reason, naivety perhaps, I expected more tech bloggers to be concerned with Garlinghouse’s plan to swing the layoff axe so severely.

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2006-11-17 :: Kevin Murphy

From Slashdot:

“Nick Douglas was dismissed from ValleyWag, Jason Calacanis bolts from AOL, and co-founder Duncan Riley abruptly departs from b5media. Where do we get the real story? From The New York Times, or not at all. If we’ve come to expect honesty and straight talk from blogging icons, it’s because so many blogospheric leaders have told us we should. And now suddenly we’re getting the snarky insider accounts of blogospheric dirt from The New York Times?”

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