It’s a good thing that we have weather, that hearty support of flagging conversations across all climates and cultures. A world without weather would be a sad place indeed, devoid of all but the most meaningful conversations. Consequently, high tech gadgets don’t make weather go away. They just make it that much easier to talk about the weather.
For instance, I know at this very instant that it is 24 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now (or at least it is outside the WBZ newsroom just down the street from me) because I installed a little app called Weatherbug on my desktop after reading an article over at SFGate.com: Weatherbug may rain on Weather.com’s parade. I think the Weatherbug folks have got the mix right with the interface: you get a realtime updated temperature display on the bottom corner of your desktop, and the forecast is exactly one click away. When it comes to weather, you always want to see pretty much the same thing. I feel like I’m wading around more than I need to with sites like AccuWeather or Weather.com. This way I’m in, I’m out, and I’m off (wearing the right coat). Weatherbug has a nifty business model, too. You can buy one of their weather stations at a good price (okay, it’s still $12,000) and then you become part of their network of information providers. The network gets smarter, which brings in the crowds, which brings in the advertisers, and everybody is happy. Using your customers as both providers and consumers (think Ebay) is the ultimate leveraged web play.
More on the LazyWeb: Clay Shirky, one of the forces behind the LazyWeb project, writes about it at OpenP2P: LazyWeb and RSS: Given Enough Eyeballs, Are Features Shallow Too? There’s some good stuff in there, including this tasty little pretzel from Stefano Mazzocchi: “Good ideas and bad code build communities. The other three combinations do not. This is extremely hard to understand; it’s probably the most counter-intuitive thing about open source dynamics.” It’s an intriguing thought.
While we’re on the topic of speeding up community cross-pollination and feedback, take a look at netmood.net [via kottke.org]. The idea is to provide stock ticker style feedback to people who visit your site. How much do you like my site? How much do you like it now? How about now? This exercise may seem a little silly, but there’s no mistaking the fact that that which gets measured improves. Maybe netmood widgets will fuel dramatic improvements in web sites over the next year. It reminds me of a recent Bill McKibben article about the new Honda hybrid gas-electric car: Small Change (Orion Magazine). McKibben points out that once they put a gauge on the dash that says what your gas mileage is, you naturally want to start keeping score (“What’s my average today? Is that better than my brother-in-law?”). I happen to know that my friend Nabeel does the same thing with his his sleek Audi A4. Here’s McKibben.
What if your thermostat gave you an updated oil consumption readout every time you went to turn it up? What if your faucet showed you how much water you’d used in the last day, and how it differed from your annual average? Would you change your behavior? I think you likely would — that you’d reach for a sweater if it was just a tad chilly around the house, that the average shower would get a little shorter. Not because you cared about the environment, or even the money you were burning in your furnace, but because — well, because it’s a number, and our instinct is to improve it, to notch it up. You’d meet the neighbors on the street and just happen to mention that you’d gotten through the winter on 44 gallons of crude, thanks to the nifty new cellulose insulation in the attic.
Now this is a good idea. Samuel Pepys (remember for the sake of your next cocktail party conversation that his last name is pronounced “peeps”, as in the phrase “Closer than my peeps you are to me“) was an Englishman who kept a detailed diary of his life in London from 1659 to 1669. In that span he had a front row seat for plague, fire, restoration, and enlightenment. More to the point, his records provide a wonderful window onto daily life in seventeenth century London. Since it is already presliced into day-sized morsels (and is safely past the snares of international copyright law), Pepys’ Diary has been set up as a blog by a clever fellow named Phil Gyford. The site is well-designed and well-executed. I particularly like annotations that people add to it. For instance, if Pepys mentions that he nearly ate a sack-posset, someone may well sign on and tell you what it is and how to cook it. Tasty! One question remains: would Pepys have blogged had he been alive today? It’s hard to say, since his diaries were kept in cryptic shorthand. Perhaps he would have preferred privacy.
One of the best ways to build something that you don’t have time to do yourself is to describe it on a blog and wait for somebody else to build it. This has happened enough times for somebody to give it a name, the LazyWeb. Names are legs for memes, and this one is off and running. I first noticed the LazyWeb concept on Steven Johnson’s site. That pointed me to Matt Jones’ site for an earlier reference to the same concept: if you wait long enough, someone will write/build/design what you were thinking about.
More recently, in an interesting fit of automemesis, the LazyWeb willed itself into existence as a site.
LazyWeb.org was created by Ben Hammersley because somebody else, invoking the LazyWeb, said it would be a good idea. Now all you have to do is say the magic word on your blog and the all-seeing LazyBot will scoop it up and deliver into the waiting brains of clever people around the world.
My USB to Mini-USB cable came in the mail yesterday (see my Froogle post of 12/31 below), and I’m very pleased to report that it works perfectly. So there’s another reason to like the svelte little Zire: no need to buy a fancy-pants custom cradle-n-cable for your machine. A $3.25 cable from PCTek Online will do just fine.
APOD has a lovely snapshot from our friends in the International Space Station of Mt. Etna spewing ash and lava across the Mediterranean.
Here’s something we’re (sadly) going to see a lot more of: digital stalking. A Wisconsin man is accused of stalking his former girlfriend by attaching a GPS device to her car. GPS device used to stalk woman (CNN.com). It’s too bad that so many creepy disaffected stalker-types are also technically skilled geeks. [Seen on Gizmodo]