Blog Archive for December 2007

Google To Start Publishing Knowledge?

Late last week, Google unveiled via their blog a new service currently called "Knol". Udi Manber, VP of Engineering, says that this "free tool" is based around a "'knol', which stands for a unit of knowledge." Also, "The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted."

As a web developer, I've known this for a long time. I started publishing content on GeoCities a decade ago, and it didn't look pretty. And, not surprisingly, most who try to make their own website can't do much better. Plus, starting your own website can be a huge hurdle to get over. Google has helped make it easy to publish on the web, but their two main products are Google Pages and Blogger. Google Pages is like the web portion of .mac, where it is easy to post little personal pages to share with your friends. Blogger is more for the day-to-day bloggers and reporters, not as much for knoweldgeable, scholarly works. Both of these tools are used by persons to publish their scholarly works, but they're not the ideal method.

Therefore, it makes sense to me that Google would work to give learned people of all backgrounds a chance to let their voice be heard. With Knol, authors can get their content published easily online and their name will be featured prominently with the article. The knol is published on a professional-looking webpage without the use of any HTML, and will also allow people to comment, propose edits, and ask questions. The author may even add Google advertisements to the page and they will get a cut of the ad revenue.

This seems to me to be a natural and very worthwhile extension to Google's services. This may someday come to replace the industry journals, or at least many scholarly articles in industry journals will first pop up as a knol. Of course, because it's a Google service and because Google is taking over the world, the publishing community is trying their best to discredit the product.

Many detractors seem to believe that services such as Yahoo! Answers and the mammoth Wikipedia as well as a number of up-and-coming services are going to be competitors to Google's Knol service. Naturally, the mainstream media saw that they could put "Google" and "Wikipedia" in the same headline and got trigger-happy. For example, the New York Times wrote "Wikipedia Competitor Being Tested by Google", which I think is a very misleading headline. Knol, as it has been proposed, is a competitor to Wikipedia in that both will have knowledgeable articles, but that's about where the similarities end. Wikipedia is a publicly-editable page written in collaboration with everyone who is interested in the topic, while knols will most likely be written by one person. Google says they will not promote or edit the content in any way and the content will be owned by the author, while Wikipedia is basically free of copyright by definition. Many other writers equate Google Knol to Wikipedia despite the vast differences.

Probably the most intelligent article on the Knol service is from Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. Sullivan, the leader of the burgeoning Search Engine Marketing/Optimization field, worries that Google will have trouble ranking knols in tandem with the rest of the content on the web. In other words, Google or other search engines may see knols as inherently better quality because it is on the Knol website. Sullivan worries that, between Knol, Wikipedia, and a couple other smaller competitors, it may be impossible for an author who has created his own website to get his content to show up in search engines. However, Google knows that the better the results, the more people will use their services and the more money they will make.

In the end, we will just have to wait to see if Google even launches Knol past the current testing phase and if it will gain momentum among the scholars of the world. It seems to me to be a solid service that will help many Internet neophytes get their name out on the web.


The Dark Knight

This past weekend in theaters before I Am Legend there was the exclusive preview for The Dark Knight, next summer's sequel to Batman Begins. The trailer has now surfaced online, and it's pretty exciting. Here's what my friends had to say:

Josh: preview = awesome

Joe: dude yes!

David: uh huh
2008 is finally on its way
about stinking time

Colleen: DUDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who knows? It might be a decent movie. In my book, it's going to be surprising if it beats Wall-E for best movie of 2008, but it's a bit early to say for sure..


Merry Christmas from Dinkytown

Last night, we wanted to go caroling, but it was pretty cold out, so we didn't. Instead, we decided to bring some caroling cheer to the online community. Here it is:

UPDATE: This video was removed from YouTube due to "artistic differences".

We shot it pretty quickly, and within a half hour we had the title added and some cut out by using the new iMovie 7. It was really easy to use once I figured out the interface. There was a nice integration feature with YouTube, but we weren't able to use it because YouTube was slow and down at times. In the end, though, it was a nice, quick little video.


Movie Rental Experience Improves with Redbox

The past couple years, I've not had much time to watch movies, due to having a full-time job and being involved in the People of Praise, among other things. Three or four years ago, I was a Blockbuster member and rented a couple movies every week. I spent about the same amount using Netflix the year after, and it was great to not have to stop at the local Blockbuster to pick up movies. Now that I don't watch movies, though, it's painful to rent movies. I can count on my right hand how many times I've rented movies this year, and that's mostly because I don't want to pay $4.50 to rent a movie. It's just not worth it, plus the last time I rented a movie, the DVD was almost broken and only worked in my computer and not a friend's.

Redbox PhotoOver Thanksgiving break, I was introduced to Redbox. My dad and I walked into McDonald's and requested a copy of Live Free or Die Hard, one of my favorite movies of the year that I definitely don't want to own but liked. To rent it, I just swiped my credit card and gave them my zipcode and e-mail address. The Redbox clearly stated that it was due tomorrow by 9pm. It only charges us $1 per day. And, I could bring it back to any Redbox anywhere if I wanted.

When I got home after renting, I was very glad I gave Redbox my e-mail address. They sent me a nice confirmation e-mail of my purchase and reiterated the information about the rental. The next afternoon, an e-mail reminding me to return it found its way to my inbox as well. And that evening, I asked a friend to return it for me, and later that evening I got a final e-mail saying that it was successfully returned. Oh yeah, and I enjoyed watching Die Hard 4 for the third time as well. (I think my parents enjoyed it too.)

At this point, I was very impressed with the slick service and, of course, the price. But what remained to be seen was their website. If Redbox was going to be cool, it needs a good, functional website. And, yes, the Redbox delivers there too.

Redbox Online Rental and Pick-UpBack when I used Blockbuster, you used to be able to look a movie up online and see if it was at your local Blockbuster location. Redbox does one better than this: you pay for the movie online, and it stays reserved in the Redbox. For popular movies, you could get to your local Redbox and find it's all out of Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End. But if you check online, you can find out if it's available and reserve it, so even if those who walk up to the Redbox can't get a copy, there's one hiding inside the machine with your name on it. (If you don't pick it up within a day, it automatically gets "returned".) Now that's the functionality you need on a slick-looking movie rental website. I also love that Rebox's site has attitude, saying "Yes" in about 10 different languages in their FAQ and advising you to "Lean over the keyboard whilst entering your password to foil spies" during login.

There are a few drawbacks, though. Of course, unlike Blockbuster, they only have space for a couple hundred movies in the Redbox, not thousands like at Blockbuster. For this reason, it seems, they limit themselves to fairly new releases. I saw a couple releases from up to a year and a half ago in my local Redbox, but don't expect it to be there if it didn't come out recently. Also, when searching online, it seems that one of the nearby Redboxes is "unavailable" at any given time. I don't know if that means that the local McDonald's don't have a good internet connection or if they bring the online features down when someone is requesting a movie, but it's pretty annoying to not always have it available. (One time last night it went offline while browsing the title selection on their website and the website just stalled for a couple minutes instead of giving me an error.)

My local Redbox is just as close as the local Hollywood Video dive, but for the price and the convenience, I'm going to check first if I want to rent a movie.