BloggerView #1: Rui Carmo
I couldn’t have a better start. My first BloggerView is with one of the most read Portuguese bloggers. His name is Rui Carmo, author of the bliki “The tao of Mac” (http://the.taoofmac.com/space/), where he talks about technology, with several nice tips, always in english. It’s not a easy task to follow him, but I can ensure you that if you want to follow the news on technology this is a blog that you can’t miss.
1.When did you start blogging? What were the main reasons that take you start blogging?
Rui Carmo (RC): Way back in 2001 or so. It all started because a friend invited me to write online for http://na-cama.com (which was completely different back then). I started out doing small chronicles and a the odd bit of creative writing (in Portuguese), but I eventually got tired of "blogging" – despite the creative writing bit, it quickly became about writing my own content management software and creating a sort of online notebook.
Then one day (on September 2002) I decided the best way to get my act together was by customizing a Wiki to such an extent that it both looked as a regular site but also worked as a scrapbook, and that was pretty much it.
I don’t really thing of myself as a "blogger" – I simply take notes of what I find interesting or do as a hobby, and I’m still amazed at the amount of people who find that interesting enough – and, in fact, the site’s evolution was very much driven by my readers, who pretty much forced me to add comments, set up archive pages, commented upon the layout, etc.
2. What were your reasons to christen your blog as you did?
RC: Ah, that. Well, the short version can be found in the site FAQ, but the longer one is a bit more interesting.
The site was originally called Mac.against.org, since I hadn’t yet picked a domain name for myself and it was, well… catchy. People still remember it, and some even complained when I changed it.
Somehow, Mac users (especially Switchers) are still perceived as people that want to "cut against the grain" of mainstream computing and suchlike nonsense, and that name pretty much pinned those ideas down.
To add some fun to the situation that name was in complete contrast with what I thought about using a Mac (I am no platform zealot, and use whatever is handy), so it was interesting to kick off the site under that name.
One day, however, we had some DNS issues and I thought it was time to change things a bit – so I fired up a graphics program and started playing around with words and logo layouts.
Now, I’ve always been keen on using words as logos, since an interesting aspect is that the words become the logo – i.e., you get a very strong vehicle for your "brand", as it were, if you can hit the right balance between simple, memorable, powerful words and lettering layout.
As it happens, I’ve always been partial to Eastern philosophy, and Taoism was the closest thing I could find to using a Mac – once you’re used to it, the computer vanishes to become what you do, and you can stop trying to fight the operating system to get what you want done.
At least that’s what happened to me. So after fiddling around with the lettering a bit, I settled on "The Tao of Mac" for a name and dropped the "The" for the site logo – and you’ll notice that it actually emphasises the Tao bit.
3. Do you have any specific goals or objectives you want to achieve with your blog? What are they?
RC: Well, the site’s tagline tries to summarize as much of a goal as anyone can possibly have with a web site… Actually, I have a lot of trouble thinking of web sites as having "goals", because personal objectives are something I’d rather pursue in real life.
But besides keeping track of the stuff that interests me and sharing some of the code and ideas I have, there’s not really any goal, more an underlying theme of sorts.
And that’s where the tagline comes in. "Tech Made Simple" pretty much summarizes that I strive to do when I write – besides the news and commentary, there is an underlying attempt at demystifying technology and making things as plain as possible.
You’ll notice, for instance, that I only publish small, understandable pieces of code, or that when I write a HOWTO of some sort I strive to write it in a way that is as simple to follow as possible and yet leave some margin for people to explore a bit better.
It all boils down to ease of reading – extensive detail isn’t the best way to teach things when people have so little time to spare, and if people get lost or make a mistake when following what you write, they’ll try to find a clearer explanation.
Technology isn’t complex, people are – and they often fail to understand technology not just due to their own preconceptions regarding it, but also due to other people snubbing them and not explaining things properly.
4. In your opinion, what role could blogs play in the future, for instance at companies or at schools?
RC: I have a very dim view of the role of "blogs" in the future. Despite using the term myself, I don’t care much for "personal journals" (except when they’re about creative writing, which is where I started at), since people tend to go on and on about all sorts of personal issues that often have no place in a public site.
Anonymity was the usual mechanism to cope with that, but I think anonymity is pretty much extinct these days – and that people should learn (or, more likely, be educated by friends and family) to establish a clear distinction between whatever they feel like writing about (even if publicly) and their own personal life – otherwise, you don’t even have a personal life, and that’s just sad.
That said, I do like to read some blogs. Mostly developer and industry commentary blogs, which are more interesting to while away what little free time I have these days.
I have mostly steered away from corporate blogs, since they all read like plastic, cloned PR writing "downgraded" to what passes for "informality" these days. And "downgraded" and "informal" is precisely what I heard a PR person who writes one say about her work once, so you can imagine how blogging is actually becoming just another marketing vehicle for companies (mostly small and medium-sized ones, who see it as a neat and "trendy" way to hawk their wares).
As to schools and inside companies, I think it depends a lot on the particular setting. I honestly don’t think school blogs are of general interest (although they are interesting when a student uses them to get feedback on his/her work on a specific topic), and see companies as being able to make much better use of Wikis and other Web-based collaborative tools than blogs.
So, in a nutshell, I think that the "personal scrapbook" (a Wiki in all but name) will be much more useful (and popular) than the "personal journal", regardless of whether it’s on a personal or company scale.
5. What do you think will be the future of blogs over the next couple of years?
RC: I think that the Bliki concept will win over the standard blog format.
People have shown, time and again, that they don’t just want to write in a linear sequence – they want to write, sure (and the common "personal journal" format is very useful as a baseline) but they want to annotate and cross-link what they write, add media in context, etc.
I see Flickr and other web-based tools as ways for people to explore what else they will eventually want in their site, although they are still at a very early stage. One day Flickr itself will become the secondary way to look at photos, and you’ll be able to integrate most of it in your own site in a relatively seamless way.
That will raise some branding issues, of course, but Web services are here to stay, and companies who sell (or give away, or rent) web services will surely find a way to get around that.
6. How many feeds do you have on your news aggregator? What news aggregator do you use? Why?
RC: Well, this one of those times when I have to go for the "Tech Made Simple" approach… Besides 96 "full" feeds, I have a rather complex setup of filtered feeds that I only see when a script matches some keywords in posts and sends those items to me.
All told, I have 184 feeds that I track as I write this (maybe a few less when this is published, since it is high time that I cleaned up some of them, and I just removed a couple during the count…).
As to the aggregator, I’ve long given up on using specific software to read RSS feeds, since I can be using a Mac today, a Windows Machine tomorrow, plus three or four mobile phones during the week, etc. – so keeping track of which feeds I read where was impossible without centralizing and organizing things quite a bit.
Most people are used to reading feeds on a specific application, but these days I only do it for testing or to keep track of, say, a CVS commit log or something like that.
So I read all my news as e-mail, via newspipe. Newspipe is a program that parses feeds and converts them to e-mail, and I have two instances of it running – one with all my "full" feeds and a simple Web interface I can access via any mobile phone or PDA (in case I’m traveling, commuting, etc.), and another instance with a set of custom scripts that gather, parse and filter the other feeds.
These other ones are mostly Technorati or Google queries for specific keywords, such as "802.11 and standard", etc., and I only read them at home – they’re not about current news or stuff that I actively track, so to all intents and purposes they’re sort of a weekend supplement for my news reading (and with all the filtering, I get something like seventy, eighty new items a week from those, one tenth of what I get all day).
The big advantage of this setup is that there is, for all intents and purposes, one mailbox to hold all my news, and only one place (an IMAP mailbox, accessible from anywhere in the world) to keep track of things, regardless of which device I use to access the mailbox. I can easily keep track of read/unread items, file things away in folders (complete with images and full formatting) for archival, etc.
Newspipe can also make digests of feed contents (instead of filling your inbox with many short items, you get a nice digest with everything in one message, and it can be configured to pick up and send me national news in the morning, industry news throughout the day and more in-depth tech stuff just before dinner.
So I can start the day reading news on my PSP or PDA over breakfast (and believe me, that will be the first thing to be replaced by a decent eBook reader when I get a cheap one with Wi-Fi), skim my news on a cab and flag something to forward to my colleagues when I get to the office, etc.
7. What do you think about RSS? What role do you think RSS can play in future, for instance in the relation between government and citizens?
RC: I really don’t think it will be of any consequence for government or the average Joe – not while the vast majority of people are unaware of what an RSS feed is.
I also don’t see the Portuguese government (for instance) publishing RSS feeds of its edicts, especially considering that there have been ten years of intense lobbying from universities and research institutes for the government to get their act together on much more fundamental bits of technology, and we all know how far that got to.
As to commercial ventures, I’ve been noticing a very steady decrease in overall quality (both in terms of content and of writing) of most "news blogs" – and the recent trend for including utterly obnoxious advertising in RSS feeds has pretty much convinced me that the "serious" media, if they ever take up RSS in any serious way, will pare it down to summaries in order to force people to visit their sites.
And outside the media, there doesn’t seem to be much point. You can subscribe to a bug report or event calendar from a specific site, sure, but it’s much better to get the bug feedback by e-mail and the calendar via iCalendar.
So I think that RSS will largely become a "teaser" item to drive traffic to sites, with the odd content-related use (such as podcasting, electronic program guides, etc.).
Obviously, other people will disagree, but I think that aside from a few creative uses that nobody has envisioned yet, this will be the broad picture.
8. What do you think is the most important thing happening in the Web, now? Why?
RC: I’d pick three things, not just one.
The first is video downloads, because it’s by far the most interesting content out there – people like to watch video, it’s a monetizable service, and there is obviously a lot of demand for what I like to call "the personal TV channel" – stuff that you want to see, when you want to see it (although not necessarily in the way or format that you’d like to see it in).
It’s too bandwidth-demanding for us here in Portugal right now (I can’t even watch movie trailers from the Apple web site, and I’m supposed to be on a broadband connection with the same effective throughput as my friends in England), but it’s definitely where the money is going.
The second is IM/VoIP convergence. I won’t go much into that for professional reasons, but I think that despite it not making much headlines, the way in which IM has made it possible for people to keep in touch over the past few years and the way in which it has changed the way people work and live is vastly more important than, say, blogs.
I’m personally skeptical about the VoIP portion of the equation, but it is a necessary ingredient to boost its popularity right now. No, the main thing about the new IM models isn’t just voice or video, it’s the way in which both presence and the choice of communication media is available. You can discuss work issues without swapping e-mail, you can chat away quietly in the evening with friends, or you can open a voice or video link (however flaky and noisy) to another office, a distant relative, etc.
And you know, instantly, if people can take your "call" or not. Presence is the key here, and integrated presence across several media is the one thing that I think will change the way we communicate.
But since neither of those are really "the web" as I see it, I would say that the new trend towards simple, easy to use web-based applications (such as Google’s many offerings or 37Signal’s brilliant web-based tools) is the most important .
9. Beside blogs, do use other social software, like Flickr, Del.icio.us, Diigo, LinkedIn, or any other?
RC: I pretty much gave up on Flickr, since I don’t like the idea of my media being at someone else’s whim. I used Del.icio.us a lot until the Yahoo! acquisition, but am now looking at alternatives (just in case), and I’m somewhere in LinkedIn, but I don’t really care for any sort of social networking – again, due to my belief in establishing a very clear separation between my personal life and what I put on the Web.
10. What do you think about the new Macs using Intel Microprocessors? What do you think will be the most important advantages to the final users?
RC: I think that the most important benefit for end users will be faster, more power-efficient Machines (especially on the laptop front).
Anyone with a relatively modern Mac will know that they are already pretty quiet, fast and efficient, but with the shift towards laptop purchases, Apple will want to ensure they can do well in that market (and no, I won’t go into the "media center" rumors, no matter how cute the Mini looks besides a TV).
Apple has pulled this sort of stunt before (they made the transition from 680×0 processors to PowerPC in the past) and changed very little about either their pricing strategy or market positioning, so I expect the Intel transition to work out about the same way.
Although I’m not a typical Mac user (I think of it as much along the lines of a very flexible and smooth UNIX workstation than as a pretty GUI with cool apps), I don’t think there will be a sweeping change or major advantage, because in the end, you don’t buy a Mac for the hardware alone – you buy it for the whole experience (both hardware and software).
And as far as the OS is concerned, there is ample evidence on the web of Mac OS X running perfectly on Intel (or as perfectly as possible considering what was changed to make it run on off-the-shelf Machines), so I don’t expect any surprises there.
I do expect future versions of the OS to be very tightly coupled to the new hardware (to avoid it being run on generic Machines), and have a feeling that Steve has something up his sleeve as far as overall design and form factors are concerned… But I’ve learned to stop trying to predict what they’ll do.
The bottom line is that whatever they put out, it will be a Mac regardless of the chips inside.
Of more interest to me is what people will do when the marketing message gets across, and considering that in two years my office has gone from two Mac users to twelve (and those are just the ones I know personally), I’m very curious to see how that will pan out.
I have no illusions where it regards overall market share, but an Intel-based Mac with VMware (or similar) opens up a lot of possibilities…