Thursday, November 10, 2005

A solution

With the holidays approaching, I was thinking lately about wish lists.

I've got one on Amazon, as I'm sure everybody capable of reading this does. I also have a few scattered around on various merchant sites I frequent (mostly 3-D model & software sites like DAZ3D and Renderosity.) But there are a number of other merchants I like, and they all have their own web sites, which may or may not include wish lists.

The problem is, suppose someone wants to buy me a present. How are they supposed to know where to go on the web to find things I might want other than those listed on Amazon?

I considered looking around for a gift registry website. My wife and I used one in the past ( for my daughter's baby shower.It worked well enough for that task, but it didn't have all the features of Amazon's list.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the perfect gift list app existed already -

In case you haven't heard about this free service, it's pretty much a public list of browser favorites or bookmarks. You can easily add favorite web addresses to this list, and not only can you annotate them and access them from anywhere, but others can see them too.

The most powerful feature of this service is the ability to tag each item on the list with one or more keywords. This makes searching, sorting and filtering the list trivially easy, and does away with all that nested-folder malarkey found in the browser's bookmark managment component.

Because you will wind up using many of the same tags that others use, this service also becomes a powerful way of sharing and rating websites. If you have three bookmarks that are tagged with the keyword "photoshop", chances are good you will be interested in sites other users have tagged with the keyword "photoshop." Chances are also good that you might be interested in other sites tagged by users whose lists of keywords are similar to yours.

I realized this is also the perfect medium for public wishlists. You can link directly to the product pages for items you are interested in, add a line or two of descriptive text, a la Amazon, and tag items using keywords. You might have keywords for the type of gift - clothes, software, tools, toys, etc. You might have keywords for your level of desire for the item in question - "liketohave" "lovetohave" "needtohave" "pleasepleaseplease" and so on. Your wishlist is in a simple-to-remember format: for example.

It seems like a good idea - the only problem I can see is that since all keywords are public, and are ranked according to usefulness, the main ones would quickly become meaningless. If everybody's wishlist had one or more "lovetohave" keywords, that might quickly become the most popular keyword on the service. But unlike "photoshop", the "lovetohave" keyword tells you nothing about the nature of the link or the person who posted it. So I suppose its possible this idea could pollute - or perhaps dilute is a better term - the pure concept.

I think I'll give it a try anyway. ;-)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Strange days indeed

It wasn't too long ago there was a bit of a tempest in the world of online gaming, because one of the popular online games, World Of Warcraft by Blizzard, began to install software on user's computers for the purpose of spying on them. The software is called Warden (creepy, huh? Don't wardens mostly watch prisoners?) and it raised hackles because it invasively watched EVERY SINGLE THING running on your computer. Browsing the web? Warden can see the title of the web browser window. Composing a steamy e-mail? Warden can see all those saucy terms of endearment you've crammed into the subject line.

Blizzard claimed it wasn't really spying - Warden simply checks it's little black book to see if any of the programs running on your PC are cheat programs that give you an unfair advantage when playing World Of Warcraft. Some people don't believe them. Some people say, "So what? Your program is still taking up space on my PC and slowing it down." Whatever the reason, a lot of people are pretty miffed about it.

Then came the news that certain Sony/BMG music disks install a highly-cloaked system monitor called XCP with certain music disks. The purpose of XCP is to prevent casual copying of Sony CDs - it watches your system and blocks attempts to make copies of the music. But there were big problems with this scheme. For one, the software was installed silently using some very sneaky techniques that are usually reserved for bad guys trying to make mischief. Also, part of Sony's attempt at cloaking was to neglect to mention that they were installing anything on your PC, even in the legal agreement (EULA) for the disc.

Neglecting to provide a way to uninstall XCP was also part of the plan, I guess, since not only didn't they provide one, but they continue to make it difficult to do. (One procedure Sony provides to people who want to get rid of XCP actually installs an UPGRADED version of the program.)

Here's the weird angle on all of this. The Sony cloaking technology is a bit sloppy, and can easily be used to cloak any kind of program you want. Just change the name of a file to begin with a certain sequence of characters, and XCP will grab it and hide it so well that you need to be a software engineer to even suspect it's running on your computer. What this means is that you can use XCP to hide cheat programs from Warden!

Along with other geeks of my vintage, I still fondly remember the days when Lotus and Peter Norton gave up on their lame copy -protection schemes, with the rest of the software industry soon following suit. Copy protection just proved to be too much bother for legitimate users and too little hindrance to pirates to be worth anyone's while. Today's copy protection is no different, but it seems every generation must learn the same lessons over again for itself.