links for 2006-12-21

Semantic diffusion

Martin Fowler wrote a nice blog post on semantic diffusion. It’s a term he coins for describing the effect that the meaning of new terms tends to diffuse as people start using it without paying too much attention to the original definitions. As examples he uses web 2.0 and agile, both of which have suffered from a lot of semantic diffusion due to the associated hype and buzz.

I’ve noticed the same with the the term “software architecture”. This term was first coined by Perry and Wolf in 1992. Soon after, people started using it. And of course every self respecting software firm suddenly had “software architecture”, even the ones that you might say were “architecturally challenged” in the sense that they had the equivalent of Stonehenge (piled together rocks) rather than, say, the Eiffel Tower. Also, by the late nineties, every software architecture conference/workshop/symposium, some person would come up to kick off a discussion on “hey what do we actually mean by software architecture”. This was fun the first dozen of times but I found that the discussion resets itself as soon as you leave the room. Nobody reads up and especially the older stuff gets ignored a lot.
However, the trend is turning around. A lot of serious software architecture books, businesses and tools have emerged that allow us to separate the men from the boys when it comes to software architectures. The type of discussion as listed above still surfaces at basically any related conference but you can now end it quickly by pointing out a few good references and asking a few simple questions about practices,  tools, etc.
This is how language works. Semantic diffusion is a crucial linguistic concept that causes languages to constantly evolve and change. New words and concepts are added on a continuous basis and old ones are re-purposed as well. Good words survive and have their definitions sharpened and eventually documented in dictionaries, encyclopedias, literature and other reference material.
I sure hope this web X.0 ends soon. I’ve already seen people blogging about web 3.0. Essentially the semantic web people have already recognized that they are missing the boat for 2.0 and are now targeting 3.0 :-). Of course it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing web 4.0 being coined by which time the actual meaning of web 2.0 will have diffused to “so 2006”.

Dumping bloglines for google reader

I’ve used the popular Sage extension for all my RSS reading needs until a few months ago when I discovered bloglines.com. Essentially the advantage of an RSS aggregating website vs an offline RSS aggregator is twofold:

  • You don’t have to worry about polling the various sites
  • You can use multiple computers to visit the website and not see the same stuff twice. In my case I use my laptop (work), my pc (home) and sometimes my phone (Nokia E70) or somebody else’s computer.

Bloglines.com was nice while I used it but I had some issues from the beginning:

  • A lot of time appears to pass before bloglines updates its feeds.
  • Sometimes stuff is presented as unread while in fact I already read it
  • Sometimes that was months ago
  • Sometimes it is everything in the bloody feed
  • All of the above seems to be happening a lot lately. I’m not getting updates from sites that have multiple updates when I visit them manually (including the sites that I visit multiple times per day normally). The same stuff from the same sites keeps reappearing as new when I know for a fact that those sites are not experiencing technical difficulties. Also it seems to affect a lot of sites.

So basically it broke both reasons why I was using it in the first place! Bye bye bloglines and hello Google Reader. I exported my feeds as opml from bloglines and imported them in Google Reader. When I tried it a  few months ago it basically sucked (hence I moved to bloglines) but they’ve made loads of improvements since then and it is now pretty damn good.

  • It’s got nice AJAX features so it doesn’t waste my time letting me wait while it fetches the same page.
  • Navigation is excellent, fast and intuitive. I had some minor issues with pages not refreshing though.
  • I disabled the mark read when scrolling feature. This feature basically marks stuff as read when you scroll downwards using the scrollbar or your wheel mouse. Since I scroll before actually reading stuff (to get an overview of what is on the page) that means stuff gets marked read that I have only glanced at of 0.5 seconds. Not good, should be off by default.
  • With this annoying feature disabled, the behavior is quite nice. You can click an item or scroll to the next with the spacebar. Doing so marks it read.
  • There’s a mark all read at the top of the page. So what I do now is review the new stuff (in chronological order); middle click stuff I want to read (on the original site) and then mark all read.
  • So far I’ve not been able to catch Google Reader to be more than a minute or so behind on my favourite site. Pinochet died yesterday and I knew almost right away because the relevant feed updated immediately. I saw the post on a blog within 20 minutes after it hit the news. With bloglines, I would probably have been ignorant of the whole thing until I bothered to visit the site myself. Probably google is hooked up to pingomatic and has enough capacity to download updates more less right after the ping arrives.

So far, I like Google reader a lot better than bloglines, even when it was working properly.

links for 2006-12-10