In 1996, Paulina Borsook wrote a story that, frankly, really pissed me off. In "Cyberselfish," published in Mother Jones and eventually turned into a book, she wrote about how new have-it-your-way technology was creating a generation of spoiled brats with computers.
I took umbrage. Not only was I a proud member of the generation she was lambasting (a generation that is now oldschool on the internet, for whatever that's worth), but I had personally observed just the opposite. I witnessed people using new digital tools to collaborate. I saw more selflessness and altruism online than off. From the Open Source movement of the nineties to the mashup culture of today, I see a web that plays well with others. If the medium really is the message, I think the internet's core message can be summed up in one word: Share.
Nowadays, people get that a lot more than they used to, and there are a host of new companies built to enable this sharing. But I fear that, in our rush to embrace the contributory culture of the internet, this new crop of startups is forgetting one thing: Paulina Borsook wasn't wrong.
So today I found myself at home, sitting on the couch, plugged into my laptop. I was talking to a gentleman in Australia, where it was already the next day, over the internet with Skype. We talked about the web, blogging, and community, while his daughter squealed in the background. He recorded the conversation and has now made it available to his listeners as a Podcast.
Is this what it's like to live in the future?
As a designer, I like big challenges. Sure, you can pay the bills endlessly tweaking a pixel here and there, but it's much more fun to be on the bleeding edge. In my career thus far, I've been lucky to have had a hand in some pretty major web happenings: HotWired, Electric Minds, Blogger. Some failed, some succeeded, but they all had one thing in common: They were doing brave things, well ahead of their time.
Technorati, where I've been the Senior Designer for the last 15 months, has been another fantastic challenge. The first seven months of my employment were spent reimagining the entire product - branding, logos, features, and functionality. Since the redesign launched, in addition to evolving the design, I helped conceive of and create new features: Tags, Blog Finder, Explore, and now Favorites.
We released some cool new stuff over at Technorati last night. We now have interactive charty goodness for any keyword search, and we're handing out the code to blog the graphs. For example, here's the last three months of the word, oh, I dunno, how about ... "Powazek".
And with that, Technorati ushers in the age of the Ego Chart. Give it a try! You know you want to.
It's been six months since we added Tags to Technorati (where I'm Senior Designer), and as it turns out, it was a pretty big deal. So before we get too far away from it, here's the story of how it came about. From my perspective, anyway.
Firstly and most importantly, Technorati did not invent tagging. We were inspired by the tags that Flickr users were using to describe their photos, and the tags Delicious users were using to describe their bookmarks, and the many tagging adventures that came before them. We thought bloggers should have something similar - an open standard for adding tags to their posts. If there was such a thing, we could display all kinds of different kinds of content on the same page - photos, links, and posts - grouped by tag.
Secondly, it's important to note that many people at Technorati worked on various tagging solutions at different points. So credit goes to the company as a whole. We're a small company now and were even smaller six months ago. Just about everyone had a hand in our tags implementation.
For me, it all started with New Year's resolutions. In Fray, we've always had a New Year's resolutions story, and it was always a big hit with posters. In December 2004, I was in my second month at Technorati, and I had an idea: Why not encourage people to post their resolutions to their own blogs, and then use the power of Technorati to gather them all together on one page?
Over Technorati's winter break, Tantek Çelik, Jason DeFillippo, Bradley Allen and I met at Crepes on Cole and banged out the Resolutions 2005 page with help from Kevin Marks and Aaron Bannert who were there via IM. The page was set up to show any post that contained a link to it - in other words, if you linked to that page, then your post appeared on that page.
The page went up on December 29 and we encouraged people to post their resolutions and include a link to that page. And they did! Hundreds of posts came in. It was great. But the system we'd devised had one critical flaw.
There were two kinds of posts that linked to our resolutions page. The first was what we'd wanted - people posting their resolutions and linking to our page for more. But the second was different - it was just people saying "look at all those resolutions over there." It was not a participation in the theme - it was just a pointer.
What we needed was a simple way to tell one kind of a link from the other. Tantek mentioned the "rel" standard for hrefs that he used in his XFN work. Basically, the rel attribute was a way to describe the relationship implied in a link. With XFN, I could say that Tantek is a friend of mine by putting "rel=friend" in a link to his site. I suggested we just do the same thing here, using "rel=tag" to allow a blogger to say "with this link, I intend to tag my post as being about the subject I'm linking to."
The best part about this technique was we could read the tag from the location in the href. So if someone wanted to tag their post "iPod" they could link to any URL that ended in that text, whether it was our tag page (technorati.com/tag/iPod) or the product page at Apple (apple.com/ipod) or the Wikipedia entry (wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipod). All would result in the post getting tagged as being about iPod.
We were making the taggers do a little bit of work to be included, but it made sense to ask the people who wanted to participate to do the work, instead of the people who just wanted to make a pointer.
In the first week of January 2005, Technorati founder David Sifry and coder Kevin Marks sat down and kicked out a beta version in a weekend. Dave wrote a service that grabbed the feeds from other tag providers, Kevin coded up a spider that would crawl blogs looking for those rel tags. Kevin also added an awareness of categories in RSS and Atom to the spider, so people could use those, too. I designed some templates to encourage fun browsing.
Tagging in Technorati was released on January 14, 2005. And we knew at the time that any search service could read the rel=tag standard. We wanted them to! The success of tags would be good for us, good for bloggers, and good for the web in general.
Since then it's been one of our most beloved features, and not just because it's a browsing experience as I wrote back in January. It's because tags are carefully created visible metadata that, for the most part, you can trust. When a blogger says their post, photo, or link is about iPod, you can generally believe it.
Together we're creating a web that's both more organized and more human. A web where the content creators are in control of how their words are categorized, not some academic in an ivory tower. A web where the difference between a reader and a writer gets blurrier every day.
And I'm so happy I could play some small part in helping it along.
After months of work and weeks of beta testing, The new Technorati is alive! Among the notable improvements are:
And lots more. Check it out!
Cool! But, um, what do they do?
These people weren't rubes. My tribe are some geeky folks. Bigtime bloggers, hardcore nerds, and computer-enabled professionals all asked me this. And translated through my filter it said one thing loud and clear: Houston, we have a problem.
I answered their questions as best I could, but I decided then and there to make it my life's goal to do everything I could to make it so that I never, ever have to answer that question again. The site should explain what it does, not the people who work there. Today we took the first step toward that goal and released the new Technorati beta.
This is a huge revision to the site, and the product of some of the most talented people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I'd especially like to call out Jason DeFillippo who was literally coding with bandages on his fingers, and Ben Jenkins who came on a month ago and has been our ace in the hole ever since. Thanks also to CSS jedi Eric Meyer and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Bishop for lending their talents. And of course the real heroes are the engineers and ops crew who make it so people like me have something to design at all.
But enough with the acceptance speech. There are a ton of changes in the new site. In fact, just about every bit of frontend code has been rewritten. And all toward the goal of making the blogosphere more understandable, more fun, and more accessible to people who don't even know what a blog is.
I'd say more, but right now I'm so tired I'm literally about to fall over. So just go check it out. And, of course, that "beta" slug up there is on purpose - we're still working the bugs out and there's lots more in store. But please do check it out and be sure to let us know what you think.
And now I must sleep.
Sorry for the business intrusion, but we've got a contract position to fill at Technorati. So if you're a hardcore xhtml/css wonk in San Francisco and you're interested in a 1-2 month, in-house contract, read on!
UPDATE: Position filled!
Now that I've been working at Technorati long enough for the Kool-Aid to kick in, I decided to trick out my blog a bit with some nifty Technoratiness. Here are the highlights:
1. Search! Google may have this site indexed back to 1997, but it can take weeks for new entries to show up there. If you're looking for something I said in a blog post, Technorati's got my posts indexed within minutes. So I added the Technorati Searchlet to all the index pages.
2. Technorati This! Each post now ends with a "Technorati This" link. Click it to see if there are any other blogs out there talking about (and linking to) the post you're on. It happens!
3. Technorati Tags! This is the one I'm really excited about. I rejiggered the way I use Categories in Movable Type to be more tag-like. Now, after each post, you'll see a list of the tags I applied to that post. Click the quote bubble icon to go to the Technorati Tag page for that word, or click the text to see all my posts tagged with that word. It's the best of both worlds: you can choose whether you want to hear more from me about it, or more from everyone about it.
More tricking out to come.
Or: Why you're gonna be hearing the word "tag" a lot
Think about these two words for a moment: "Search" and "Browse." They're words that are used frequently to describe things we do on computers. But consider their traditional associations:
Browsing is shopping, strolling, flipping through a magazine. Browsing is fun, casual, entertaining.
Searching is mechanical, trial and error, frustrating. Searching is work.
There's a powerful emotional difference between the two. Now let's talk about tags.
Lots of smart people have been buzzing about tags lately, and for good reason. Tags are like categories or subjects - a general description of a thing. So, for example, I might tag this photo of my dog with the words: Dog, Chihuahua, and Bug.
Once I've tagged my photos, they can be easily collected on a page - I can see all my photos tagged Chihuahua, thanks to Flickr. Take that to the next level and I can see everyone's Chihuahua photos. Neat! Take that aggregation one step further and you can see everything tagged with Chihuahua anywhere. Even neater.
Everybody send the Technorati Team some good vibes as they pack our servers into a van and move them across town to a new colo. Hardcore ops stuff like this makes me glad the worst I have to deal with is Photoshop crankiness and CSS trickery. Good luck, guys!
Update: They're Flickring the move!
So I've been working at Technorati for about three weeks and I'm just starting to get my hands dirty. Some tweaks I made to the home page and log in process went online today. Now the homepage will welcome you back if you're a logged-in member, and tell you a little more about what we do if you're not (bonus points for anyone who knows what "yak shaving" means). Small steps, sure, with many more to come, but it's always nice to make improvements and release them out into the wild. If you've visited the site and didn't quite know what to make of it, try again and let me know if the changes helped.
Three things I said I'd never do again:
1. Work at a startup company.
2. Have a dayjob.
3. Tap dance.
One out of three ain't bad, I guess.
Today is my first day as Senior Designer of Technorati. Yes, it's a startup company. Yes, it's a dayjob. No, I'm not tap dancing for them. I haven't done that since grade school, and frankly, the less said about it the better.
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts about Technorati, including:
Design for Selfishness
11 April 2006
I Live in the Future
23 March 2006
Technorati, Favorites, and Moving Forward
22 February 2006
Bring on the Ego Charting!
17 January 2006
How Tags Happened at Technorati
25 July 2005
20 June 2005
The New New Thing
9 June 2005
Web Developer Gig
23 April 2005
4 February 2005
Searching vs. Browsing
19 January 2005
Technorati in Transit
18 December 2004
14 December 2004
Here We Go Again
22 November 2004
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Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
Join the POWlist to receive the occasional note.
Design for Selfishness 11 April 2006
I Live in the Future 23 March 2006
Technorati, Favorites, and Moving Forward 22 February 2006
Bring on the Ego Charting! 17 January 2006
How Tags Happened at Technorati 25 July 2005