Exploring the Interwebs (Part 1)

I, like most people, explore the web through search engines and links, and barely enter into any interactive, web 2.0 based (1) activities, other than social networking. And then again, I did that mostly through facebook. My twitter account is famously inactive: I sometimes just don’t see the point, but I know the problem resides with me and my user habits.

If you’re not currently a mega-web-geek, but would like to be one, and explore more of what the web has to offer, and give your feedback about it, welcome to the club. I first realized how much I was missing when i first heard about delicious (del.i.cious), technorati.net, RSS feeds, and so on. I thought I’d explore the web to see how I can use the web to explore the web, and I might as well let you in on what I find and how that goes…

So what is Web 2.0? Basically, the term coined by Tim O’Reilly refers to the idea that the web should be transparent and interactive, allowing user-generated comments, rating and content to be readily available to other users and site administrators. It should be a platform for exchange rather than a database of ready-to-consume content. The following websites somewhat enable and exemplify this philosophy of web service design.

Digg
Digg is a website where links can be submitted and either dugg (liked), or buried (disliked). The site’s home page will show a selection of the most dugg websites, pictures, documents or newstories. Digging an entry brings it to the top of the pile, burying it pushes it down. Wikipedia presents Digg as a social news website, and states that Slashdot (/.) was the pioneer in this area.

Slashdot
Slashdot is also a social news website, a precursor of the popular Digg. At a glance, one of the niceties of Slashdot, as compared to Digg, is the presence of a large segment of text from the related article or news story, which allows one to start reading before following the link to an entry. The general design of Digg still seems smoother though.

Scribd
Scribd is a website for sharing or selling written documents. If one is looking for a source for an academic paper, some information on a subject or a specific document, a quick search on Scribd is recommended. Also, if you have difficulty being published and want to be read, you can push some of your work through Scribd. Academic memoirs and theses are being put on Scribd as well. A great tool for scholars and readers.

Go 2 Web 2.0
A website I found quite by accident doing research for this post, it is a Web 2.0 app index. I’m guessing it’s an index of apps (applications) for web services and websites to use and implement to make their gimmick more “Web 2.0”. More for designers than users I guess. If someone know how a user can benefit from this, please tell me in the comments below.

Read Write Web
This is a technology blog with a certain amount of success, traffic and content. The style of presentation is nice, and it covers mostly technology news, but also news accessible through technology, like the recent (January-February 2011) protests in Egypt.

Technorati
Technorati was the first blog search engine. It now produces news content, indexes and searches blogs, and evaluates them for their influence and their authority. It is linked to a media company (Technorati media) which also owns BlogCritics.org, a journalism website with multiple contributors, and Twittorati.com, which follows trends in tweets (or twitting) and compares them to blogging trends.

Delicious
Delicious is a social bookmarking site that allows you to store your bookmarks online rather than in your browser, which allows you to access them from anywhere and share them with anyone. It now belongs to Yahoo. You can get the Delicious add-on toolbar for Mozilla Firefox here.

TechCrunch
Tech Crunch profiles web-company startups, reviews Internet products and covers tech news. I think it belongs to AOL. It is best known for breaking the news that Google was buying Youtube.

Techmeme
This website uses algorithms and limited human editorial input to sift through tech news on the internet and to identify the most relevant trends. An RSS feed would do something similar I guess, but it wouldn’t prioritize anything (I guess).

Literati
I found this one accidentally while looking for Technorati. It is an invite-only network for published authors, but if I understood correctly, book reviews are accepted by anyone. Not very Web 2.0 then.  The website looks bad and feels very 90’s in its design, and has probably been run by the same person since its inception in 1998. However, it might be an outlet for some of the contents I develop in my upcoming “Library Project” (the name might be different… “All These Books” sounds ok too…).

Shelfari
Shelfari is an online repertoire of books run by its users. Users create social catalogs of books they own, have read, or intend on reading, and can share these and network with other users. Book entries are made in a wiki format which gradually builds up a common encyclopedia of book covers, titles, authors, with information and reviews readily available. I intend to start using this one soon for my own Safari into my bookshelves (which might also wind up on Bookshelf Porn, who knows) for my Library Project. Since I’ll be dedicating a post to this topic soon, I’ll postpone the entries of Library Thing, Good Reads, or aNobii, the latter of which serves to review books and recommendations, and find users of similar tastes rather than inventory books, reads and wishlists. I found even more such sites on About.com, such as Book Crossing, Reader 2, Booktribes, ReaderNaut,  Revish, ConnectViaBooks, Bookrabbit, etc.

RSS Feeds

RSS Feed Icon

Originally abbreviated as RDF Site Summary, then Rich Site Summary, it now most likely means Really Simple Syndication, and like many tech names it seems the abbreviation is more of the name than the words it stands for. RSS feeds give you constant updates either in an application or in a browser-based viewer of recent changes to sites whose RSS feeds you are following, all in a single place. This allows you to stay posted to changes taking place on several sites without having to visit every site. It seems like a good way to follow blogs, and I’ll probably put one up in the near future. Take a look at Feedzilla, a country by country directory of free RSS feeds. It seems to offer aggregated (by topic), rather than site by site, RSS feeds. There is also a small blog about what is RSS that explains the basics and gives links.

Compete
This company monitors web traffic of various sites on the Internet (up to 1 million). They offer a free service, by which you can get traffic information (number of visitors) to up to 5 web sites, and  a paying service, with a full search analysis and whatnot. Could be good to know the traffic to a small unknown site for example, as many large sites already monitor their own traffic through other services.

Reddit
Reddit is a social news website, much like Slashdot and Digg. It also allows you to publish original content into the same up/down vote structure the other sites use. It equally allows you to view news as pertinent to sub-communities and networks of people.

Alternet
Alternet is an alternative, progressive independent news service, focusing on grassroots movements, liberal agendas, solutions to social problems and activism. They have been online since 1998.

Metacafé
Metacafe is a video-sharing online service that functions very differently from the popular Youtube. It eliminates duplicate entries and uses metadata to determine which videos are most popular.

Vimeo
Vimeo is also a video-sharing online service, that only allows user-made content.

Youtube
Youtube is the now Google-owned video sharing service that has had the greatest success.

Flickr
Flickr is a once-Canadian online photo sharing service. It initially aimed to inventory existing web images, but moved on to user-generated images being subbed to the site. It allows for the group sharing of photos, marking favorites, and tagging photos. Think it was bought by Yahoo.

Photobucket
Photobucket is another online service for sharing photos and videos. It has very restricted free accounts and relatively restricted paying accounts. It offers the options of creating photo albums, slideshows and scrapbooks. It is also used by other web services, such as Facebook, who outsource to it for discretely hosting photo albums.

Tumblr
Tumblr is a micro-blogging service, halfway between a blog and twitter. It limits the length of posts, like twitter, and allows you to “follow” other users, also like twitter. However, it also allows you to have multiple pages on your blog, to blog slightly longer posts, to sub images and video content (not just linking or embedding content from another host). An interesting feature is the queue, which allows you to release content at a later time, allowing you to release several entries over a period of time without returning to your blog, keeping it active while you are at work or away for the weekend, for instance.

Tag Cloud
Tag clouds, like the RSS feeds, are not technically speaking a single web service but a family of web services and tools. That is why I linked both these entries to wikipedia. Tag clouds are a visualization of the relative importance of different tags posted on a site or to a link. Users, not webmasters or administrators, decide which tags they give to which sites, reversing the pre-existing top-down ontology, which required that everyone use the same category scheme to which they could not implement changes. In a tag cloud, information is weighed. If a site is tagged as “tech” by users twice as much as it is tagged as “internet”, the word “tech” would appear twice as large (or larger by another non-geometric ratio) than the word “internet”. This allows you to rapidly “see” how the collective intelligence of other viewers “sees” the web page you are consulting. Technorati, Delicious and Flickr famously make use of tag clouds, Flickr being the first major site to do so. This Blog uses a category cloud, and I haven’t figured out how to implement tags, if I can. Some help in the comments section would be welcome :P.

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is self-described as a computational knowledge engine. Basically, it uses mathematica (a program for mathematics) code in a web-based format to compute data on search querries, and it gives the data directly as the result of the search, rather than linking to sites that might have the data. Obviously, numerical values and objective, static facts (such as the capital of a country or its main spoken language) are easier to compute than, say, news stories or recipes.

Google
Google revolutionized the search engine world by using algorithms that took into account data other search engines previously were not using, such as links between sites and informational hierarchies. From its success, it also uses data from the massive amounts of searches made on the site to further refine its engine. The company itself is very busy in several projects, including gmail, googledocs, youtube, googlemaps, googlestreetview, googleart, etc. Google also recently (2009) launched DeeperWeb, a method of searching using tag clouds which can be integrated with its regular search engine results.
Also, despite their slogan, please be warned, and assume that Google IS evil.

Yahoo!
Yahoo was among one of the first successful web search sites. It once functioned as a directory, but now uses a fully-functional search engine, and its web directory is hidden on its site, far from its home page. Yahoo’s original directory had an ontology of categories made by Yahoo itself, where users submitted links to websites and classified them by category, with, if I remember correctly, a final screening by Yahoo employees. Yahoo also offers a mail service with group options, and has bought several other web services.

Zinf Answers
Part of the Zinf website is dedicated to linking users with questions to experts with answers. Create an account, ask a question, wait for an answer. Good for getting the info search engines won’t get you.

And More…
As I was writing up this post, I saw the immensity of the subject, and so I resigned covering it all in a single post. You’ll hear more from me soon on the same subject though…

BUT WHY?

Part of my project is registering profiles for this blog to all or most of these sites, learning to use RSS feeds to follow them without having to log in to each one individually, learning how to use them to push forward my own blog and other projects,

Methodology of this search: Much of my source material for this was either wikipedia.org or the About sections of the different web services I am presenting. Some were described also from my own experience of them, when it warranted such an approach, and some of these services have articles or reviews on each other, which I also used. I tried to focus on meta-web services, that facilitate searching or using the web, as well as services that accept user generated content.

(1) Some people feel that Web 2.0 means nothing, that it is an obscure notion. But I believe that it now refers to a collective shift of Internet users and administrators towards a new range of possibilities for network activity, the ones that were seemingly less intuitive at first (except to some visionary people like Ivan Illich). This shift would have happened even if it didn’t have a name. However, since it has a name, it allows a form of marketing for web businesses to sell their revolutionary ideas to web-illiterate investors with a simple nametag. “Do we do Web 2.0? Of course we do… come this way, and let’s talk business. What do YOU think that YOU need?”
(2) RSS feeds are a great example of IT allowing information management so that the massive amounts of information available in the current social structure are actually usable by human beings.
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About annotatedgabbs

I have books and computers. I doodle and I write. I laugh and I cry. I think and I speak. I eat and I sleep. I live and I die.
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