Sunday, March 30, 2008

Web-based Random Generators: The Future

My god, there are a lot of random generators out there now. Band names, insults, British town names (!?). There are portals with nothing but random generators now.

My poor old Random Logline Generator is feeling a bit under-appreciated. Been wanting to bring it into the modern world for some time now. I've been thinking of the ideal system for generators (including the RLG) since 1996 or so. Though I do admit sometimes too much grand thinking gets in the way of actually implementing things (Project Xanadu, anyone?).

Still, the random generators out there are fairly primitive (even compared to mine in some ways, which is written in old-school Perl). Sure, they're much prettier, written in PHP or Javascript, and some have extras like letting users submit words and their favorite results. But behind the scenes, things have not progressed much. For example:

Inflexible (Fixed) Grammar Sequences
Most of these appear to be using fixed patterns, typically just one to make a result. RLG's backend can support dynamic sequences.

Proprietary & Closed
While some of these newer generators can be made into widgets usable on various platforms (blogs, Facebook, etc), there's no standard way to grab results or portions of the results to make your own mash-ups of random things across sites.

No Editing of Results
All of the sites I've seen, what you get back is it. You want something else that's similar to what you got, but maybe you don't want "sexy accountants", you want something else but keep the rest? Not possible. Your only choice is to shuffle everything, getting a totally different result. (RLG had a klunky interface to do editing but I took down because few could understand how to use it.)

Here's what I propose: an open-source approach, akin to RSS and Atom, for getting randomized content at the atomic (word or image) level and at a sequence level, from multiple sources.

In plain English, this would enable the ultimate hat full of cards. Each "card" deck classified by what kind of thing you wanted, and as big as all the cards your "friends" or you had in the deck when you asked for it.

So if someone wanted to build a random anything generator client, they would make calls to the API requesting the tagged thing itself (e.g "occupation") and would be able to include their own lists of things, optionally making those lists available to everyone else too via subscription.

The interface should be RESTful, offer both JSON and XML results, and anyone with a web server should be able to host lists.

However it works, it needs to be fast enough to aggregate the results from all the sources, while maintaining the information needed to shuffle any subset of the results.

How about it, Google? Yahoo!? Anyone?

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posted by Brian at 1:37 PM 1 comments links to this post

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is Your Neighborhood Walkable?

Here's a neat website where you can find out whether your current neighborhood or one you're thinking of moving to is a good place for walking. Interestingly, my previous apartment in San Francisco is ranked 97. My current place is 91, which isn't bad for L.A. My parents house in Texas is a mere 27, because although the neighborhood itself is very lovely to walk around, there are no reachable businesses or restaurants nearby.

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posted by Brian at 6:03 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Google asked the World How Email Works


and now you know!

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posted by Brian at 1:20 AM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Before there was YouTube, Sony's Screenblast.com

Right about when I started working for Sony, I found an intriguing website called screenblast.com. Sony had just purchased a music and video software tool company called Sonic Foundry, creators of a program dear to my heart, ACID. I remember when an office building (called "Smith" for some reason) next to us over at Sony Pictures Imageworks was being cleared out (around 2004) to make room for more of us, but it had formerly housed folks at Sony Pictures Digital including screenblast.com. Indeed, all that's left is a Screenblast poster hanging inconspicuously as one enters the building past the security guard.

The vision (back when Sony had such a thing) was just slightly ahead of its time: sell near-professional level tools at a cheap price for making videos and then encourage creators to upload them for free to a website for distribution. Sounds like a great idea, no?

Unfortunately, it didn't take off. The software business aspect already had stiff competition. Apple acquired Final Cut Pro and Logic, and with its great brand was able to make these de-facto standards in content creation tools. (They in turn helped sell Macintosh computers because they were exclusively available on them, not Windows PCs). In contrast, ACID and Vegas, while great, are still not nearly as popular.

I never used the Screenblast site itself, but I don't recall it having a particularly easy to use interface. If anyone out there tried it, I'd love to know how it compares to YouTube. (Their interface beat out even Google's own service, enough to where Google decided just to purchase the whole company.)

Meanwhile, right around that time was Sony's mind transplant. Sony acquired BMG Music, and found itself confused -- are we a hardware/software company enabling people to become creators in their own right? Or are we concerned about piracy and locking down our Intellectual Property? Much of the original brilliance at the top left in a huff as Sir Howard Stringer (the hired Axe-man) took over. Screenblast was one of the casualties, perceived as a waste of money, presumably.

But whether or not screenblast's web interface was good, there was no "killer app." No content went viral from it, as did the Saturday Night Live sketch "Lazy Sunday" in 2005 which made YouTube a household word. Somehow I doubt it offered the ability to show videos in blogs, like YouTube.

Poor Sony. It's a bit late in the game, but they bought up Grouper last year. Ever heard of them? Hmm, not so much.

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posted by Brian at 6:05 PM 0 comments links to this post