online communities redux

My friend Chris persuaded me to sign up for, an online community/job networking website.


It’s like 1999 all over again, and the web still sucks. Back then, PlanetAll promised to help you manage your contacts so you’d never need to update your address book every again; you just “linked” to someone’s PlanetAll account and any changes to their contact info would propagate to your PlanetAll account. Amazon bought ’em, tried to use them as a vehicle for selling books, and then eventually shut the site down when they couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable.

Then there was good ol’ sixdegrees. That site was designed around the cute concept of “six degrees of separation” between any two people on the globe. You could sign up on the site, but you had to earn enough karma points (or something like that) by getting people to link to you and verify your membership in order to get any value out of the service. I don’t need no stinkin’ website to validate my existence.

Even my employer jumped in the online community game with Yahoo! Clubs. The site combined message boards with photo albums and member lists. I think the most popular section was the Hanson Club; the site was really just a place for 12-year-old girls to hang out and chat about their favorite bands. But after a year or so, folks got tired of having to remember to go back to the site to check for new messages. So we replaced it with Yahoo! Groups, an email-centric service, which is quite popular and still going strong. Mmmm, bop.

All quiet on the Online Community Front for a couple of years.

But now we’ve got the venerable Friendster, with 1.3 million users and a lot of buzz. I’ve seen a demo at the urging of a friend in Seattle, but right now it seems like a dating service in disguise. It claims to be much more than that (“It’s a great way to meet people just to increase your social circle”), but I have my doubts. The site is free now, but they’re going to start charging $8 a month; that’s cheaper than other online dating services, but I lost interested in that scene several years ago.

This Spring, my friend Rachel introduced me to Meetup, an online/offline community site which helps you arrange in-person get-togethers at coffee shops or restaurants. The idea is that people in your geographic vicinity might interested in anything from stamp collecting or Howard Dean, and if only you knew about these other folks, you’d all start a club and become best friends instantaneously. All while drumming up some extra business for Starbucks. Online community meets offline community. Or something like that.

So now shows up on the scene. Despite Chris’ urging, I’m pretty hesitant to join. “Isn’t this just Friendster all over again?” I ask. “I’m a married man, you know.”

“No, it’s not a dating service. This site has got a much bigger emphasis on professional networking,” he replies. “You really oughta see for yourself.” So while Ariella was studying for a Greek exam last night, I signed up and took a look around.

The site is still pretty small, but there’s potentially some value. I even found a classmate of mine from BrownCS through the Brown “tribe”. And a friend of a friend of Chris was hunting around for a JPS Commentary on the Torah. But the guy lives in Utah; wouldn’t it be easier for him just to buy it online than for me to ship it to him so he could borrow my copy? I wonder what the value of a networking resource is (especially in the job market) when most of the contacts don’t live in the my area. does definitely do one thing right. Instead of using a rigid categorization scheme for things like interests or skills, it lets you enter free-form text. The software engineer in me realizes that almost every click on the website results in some full-text query (which has gotta put a burden on whatever search technology they’re using), but the end-user in me likes the fact that I don’t have create my profile based on someone’s preconcieved notion of the universe. You’ll never find choices like Egalitarian Hasidic or Conservadox on a drop-down menu.

If you’re curious, drop me a line and I’ll send you an email invitation to the site. For some reason I can’t get a generic referrer link to post on my website. Hey, no surprise here; the web sucks.

Field Day by Shere

Field Day by Shere I was browsing through my CD collection this morning to find a few more albums to rip to my iPod and I came across Field Day, a funky acoustic pop album I hadn’t listened to in a while.

It’s good. And now that it’s on my iPod, I’ll probably listen to it more. I really like After the Rain and Watching Amy. If there’s interest, I’ll see if I can get permission from the artist to put a full-length sample MP3 up on my site.

Aside from being a talented singer/songwriter, Los Angeles local Daniel Shere is also a screenwriter. His claim to fame is co-writing an amusing short film called George Lucas in Love, a comedy that pays homage to both Star Wars and Shakespeare In Love. You may have seen it floating around the Internet back in ’99 when high-bandwidth content was all the rage.

The website is a little goofy, but don’t let that prevent you from buying a copy of their album. At a total cost of $13.40 ($10.99 plus shipping & tax) it’s a pretty good price for a great album.

I found the cure for hope

The Pessimist's Mug from Despair Inc. Avital laughed at my coffee mug yesterday at breakfast. Although familiar with the genre of “inspirational posters” from the SkyMall catalog, she had never come across the parodies of them. Obviously she had never seen Derek‘s cube.

Back in 1999 when Yahoo! was still a relatively small company, we did a deal with Despair, Inc. In exchange for free stuff (T-shirts, mugs, posters, calendars) we gave them some free advertising in the form of a BooHoo! web portal. They came by and took some photos in our cubes of us wearing their “I found the cure for hope” T-shirts.

The photos they took got heavily Photoshopped. Compare the expression on my face in the photo at the bottom of the phony press release with the original. They turned my smile into a frown!

American Airlines allows cell phones during taxi-in

AmericanAirlines.gif A couple of weeks ago, American Airlines began allowing the use of cell phones during taxi-in (after landing but before reaching the gate).

It’s a very smart move (and one that will be sure to make John Dvorak happy). As a business traveller for the past 3 years, it’s always driven me crazy that the airlines wouldn’t let you use your phone or Crackberry after touching down. On the flights I’ve taken, many folks simply ignored the rule and just spoke quietly enough so the flight attendants wouldn’t hear them or simply listened to voicemail without calling people back.

I hope Southwest follows suit.

The Cathedral, The Bazaar, and Apache

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary A couple of weeks ago I read Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and The Bazaar, a collection of essays about Open Source software. Raymond writes quite well for a techie (either that or he has a superb editor), and the book is coherent. I didn’t agree with most of the book, but I think it’s important to keep abreast of what other folks are writing about the space.

Despite my general disappointment in the book, Homesteading the Noosphere was quite good. In an essay describing how “ownership” of Open Source projects works, Raymond accurately states the previously unwritten code of behavior. Projects have owners. Contributions are welcome, especially when they’re written well. Project ownership can be transferred. Forking is strongly discouraged, although sometimes necessary as a last resort when the owner won’t accept changes and refuses to relinquish control of the project.

apache-feather.gif The Homesteading the Noosphere essay has actually prompted me to think a little bit about what’s going to happen with the Apache HTTP Server. The Apache Software Foundation is currently maintaining two separate versions of this product, 1.3.x and 2.0.x (and is also is working on 2.1.x). Although the 2.0 server has been stable and “recommended” for over a year now, there are lots of organizations that are still using the 1.3 platform. The ASF would like folks to move to 2.0, but the fact that they’re still making 1.3.x releases indicates that they recognize that migrating to 2.0 is no small undertaking. When there are security problems (and sometimes features) these changes are always made in 2.0 first, but need to get “backported” to 1.3.

But what if maintaining two separate products became too cumbersome and the ASF decided to stop making 1.3.x releases? I’ve wondered privately if any of the organizations that have a substantial investment in Apache/1.3 would want to take over the codebase (i.e. fork it). What would happen to the Apache community if someone decided to make an Apache/1.4 release? If the development was split across two projects, would both lose momentum (and therefore market share)? Would the vast majority of folks stand by the ASF and swallow the complexity of the 2.x server, while a “rogue” bunch of hackers simply caused social turmoil with 1.4 but never really made it successfully as a project? Or vice-versa?

Regardless of technical or social reasons, something called “Apache/1.4” couldn’t really happen without the ASF’s blessing. Although the code is Open Source so you could re-use it for another project, the Apache License is written in such a way that derivative products aren’t allowed to use the name “Apache”. But maybe there could be a Hopi/1.4 or a Mohican/1.4 HTTP server…

As Raymond writes in Homesteading the Noosphere, the natural motivation is to avoid forking unless absolutely necessary. In the case of Apache HTTP Server, there are decent technical and social alternatives to this last resort. So I’d hazard to guess that we’ll never see Apache/1.4.

Instead, we’ll probably see at most two more Apache/1.3 releases before the code is officially declared deprecated (which will probably happen right around the time that Apache/2.1 is released). Folks who have put off the 1.3-to-2.0 migration effort will take a serious look at a 1.3-to-2.1 jump, and the vast majority of them will make the move over the next two years. Sure, there will always be some laggards who are stuck using Apache/1.3.31, but by the end of 2005 their numbers will be so small that they’re not worth mentioning.

More headhunter email

I got pinged by a headhunter again today. This happened last month for the first time in a couple of years, but I guess the job market is heating up again.

Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2003 08:48:51 -0400

From: Krista B... <krista@...>

To: Michael Radwin <michael@...>

Subject: Confidential to Michael Radwin

Dear Michael:

I apologize for dropping into your inbox unannounced.

I prefer a proper introduction as I am a consultant based

in Westport, CT and wonder whether you might entertain

a role as a development lead on Microsoft's new next-gen

search engine team. Of course, this would involve a move

to Redmond . . .(Are you based in Santa Monica?)

If you are interested in learning more, simply forward an

updated resume and detail a window or two of availability

for a brief phone conference.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Krista B...

Wesport, CT

PS -Should you like to learn more about our practice,

I invite you to check our credentials at our website at


Another well-written cold call message (aside from the “Westport” typo in the signature). I’m not really interested in relocating to Seattle, but it’s sure interesting to hear about our competitor’s strategy, however. :-)