Twitter URL = Universal Person Locator (UPL)?

Universal Person LocatorI tried Twitter a year ago and either couldn’t "get it" back then, or I was just mentally, philisophically or logicistically in the wrong place to appreciate it. But I recently started Tweeting and all of a sudden I am seeing real value in it and am also seeing how so many others who still are not using it could see value in it too!. And to slightly paraphrase an old saw, "There are none so evangelical as the recently converted…"   ;-)

But rather than blog my full thoughts on Twitter right now I just want to ponder the following; if a web page can have a URL a.k.a. Universal Resource Locator (or for w3c purists, a URI), shouldn’t we establish a Universal Person Locators, for people, or "UPLs" for short? 

I’ve actually pondered this question numerous times in the past as I contemplated one of my many web entrepreneurial ideas.  In one context I’m lucky; there are very, very few people in this world whose name is "Mike Schinkel", and the few I’m aware of are not at all active on the web so I pretty much "own" the "MikeSchinkel" as my universal person identifier.  I’ve so blanked the use of "MikeSchinkel" on the web that there is little change of anyone else actually wanting to use it lest they be confused with me (that is, unless they wanted to create that confusion. But that is another subject.)

But what about my friend David Cohen?  From him I understand that he has the opposite situation.  For him there are hundreds if not thousands of other David Cohens (to link but a few.) Poor guy; how does he get his name known for being him? But I digress.

Yes we can all have our own domain names, like I have http://mikeschinkel.com and my friend has http://davidcohen.com (can you believe he got that domain, with all that competition?!?), but so many people don’t have their own domain and for some people it takes more knowledge or effort then they are willing or able to invest. On the other hand getting a Twitter account is free to create and free to maintain and only requires 5 minutes and then occasional access to an Internet-connected computer which in the USA and most non-3rd world countries can be had at the library or an Internet cafe. Once a twitter account is created, that’s it; no one else can stake that claim. 

Now, thanks to some rather saavy engineers at Twitter and the brilliance of the underlying technology of the web (i.e. the URL) we now have what could potentially become the Universal Person Locator, at least within the subset of people are active on the web.  With someone’s Twitter URL you have a direct way to "locate" them. Minimally you can follow their updates, but for most Twitter users you can relatively easily contact them; just tweet them and most will reply. Just as importantly you can use someone’s Twitter user name and unambiguously refer to them by that unique identifier which behaves for people just like URLs behave for "resources" (i.e. web pages, PDF files, graphic files, .ZIP files, etc.)

Will Twitter ever make it’s way to effectively being the "Universal Person Locator."  Probably not for all people, but at least for the subset of people on Twitter, it is a really interesting piece of infrastructure to consider.  And if you don’t yet have a Twitter account, now’s the time to get one.

P.S. So can you guess my Twitter user name?  "MikeSchinkel", of course.   David Cohen’s Twitter user name?  "davidscohen"; Unlike with his domain name, "davidcohen" had already been taken on Twitter (by a duffus that’s not even using it!) before my friend David Cohen could grab it. Ah, such is life when resources are scarce.

Buzzwords

They say people can’t understand an abstract concept unless they have language to describe it. For example, because Tahitians don’t have a word for sadness they think of sadness as they would a physical illness.

As we are immersed in a world of rapid change we need many new words to describe previously unidentified concepts. And when one of those new concepts inspires the masses, the media latches hold and a buzzword is born. And though everyone scoffs at them, we simply couldn’t discuss so as new concepts without using buzzwords. Like it or not, buzzwords are here to stay as the pace of change accelerates.

Recent examples of Internet buzzwords are ‘AJAX‘ and ‘Web 2.0‘ with the latter often being derided as meaningless and just hype. But ‘Web 2.0‘ is, by definition, not meaningless! Ney, the term ‘Web 2.0‘ identifies the nature and level of activity on the web not seen since the dotcom crash. So if ‘Web 2.0‘ were truly meaningless, there wouldn’t be a buzzword for it! Of course whether or not ‘Web 2.0‘ actually describes anything of tangible value distinct from prior periods is a matter of significant debate. :)

The reason buzzwords are so beneficial and will continue to be used is they give people a shared context in which to efficiently communicate, and that has an incredible value. Of course most buzzwords are merely shorthand for “the next big thing” but that’s just the nature of the hyped-up world we live in.

As an aside, the reason the term ‘Web 2.0‘ has attracted so much derision is it grouped hard-to-pin-down concepts having more in common with the current era than anything else. The shared context for ‘Web 2.0‘ is ‘the period starting around 2003‘ and since there is little value in discussing ‘the benefits of the period starting around 2003‘ the value of the shared context is diminished and dissonance results. It would have been much better had the purveyors of Web 2.0 done more to segment and focus attention on the individual concepts instead of defining the umbrella that covered them. Ah, but easier said than done.

On the other hand when the buzzword defines a concise and well understood concept the shared context can create many orders of magnitude more value than the concept on its own, as has been the case with the term ‘AJAX.’ Of course the downside to buzzwords is that wherever they go hype will follow, and that you just can’t avoid!

GTFK

After 20+ years on Microsoft operating systems, I’m finally considering moving over to the dark side (or *away* from the dark side, depending on who you ask, LOL!). Yes, I’m considering buying a Mac. Actually a MacBook.

I decided to get a Dell 1405 because of it’s purported great battery life and I placed my order Friday night (and I got a 25% coupon, sweet!). Then two things happened on the same day; Dell held my order waiting for me to call to verify it, and I got a MacMall catalog in the mail and decided to read it. Hmmm.

I blogged about the Mac when I first heard of Parallels, and a friend of mine has a MacBook Pro that he runs Windows on so I’ve been considering it for a while. Well, yesterday I went to the store to check it out and it was pretty nice (except for lack of a right mouse button, doh!) but the guy at CompUSA couldn’t tell me about battery life.

No problem, I have another friend with a MacBook and I emailed him to ask about battery life. To which he replied:

I just googled for “mac book pro extended battery” and it
returned plenty of results…

Ouch, Busted! He did go on to relay his experiences, but point taken. :)

Anyway, though I still haven’t decided which laptop to get, I christen thee a new meme in my friends honor while I pay homage to that soon-to-be bygone era where a few people actually did read the manual:

GTFK: Google The F***in’ Keywords

Just to be explicit, there is a proper context for using GTFK. When someone asks you a question that requires a long explanation that they could have easily answered themselves, it is perfectly appropriate to simple tell them:

GTFK!

From this I’m sure they will get the message. ;-)

P.S. I know I don’t have to tell you what the *** stands for.

Conventional Wisdom, Assumptions, and Pot Roast

Pot Roast

Conventional wisdom is filled with assumptions. One of the things that makes conventional wisdom right most of the time is that those assumptions are usually valid. But sometimes they are not. One of my favorite little anecdotes that illustrates this is the tale of the pot roast:

A newly-wed husband noticed that every time his wife cooked a pot roast she would first cut an inch off either end before putting it in the oven. When he asked why, she said “Because that’s how you are supposed to cook pot roast.” Unsatisfied with her answer he pushed until she admitted that she learned it from her mother.

Waiting until a visit with his wife’s mother, the husband asked “Your daughter tells me you taught her to cook pot roast by first cutting an inch off each end?” to which the mother replied “Well of course, that’s how pot roast is cooked.” But the husband was not to be deterred, and after pressing his mother-in-law on the subject she finally admitted that she’d learned if from *her* mother.

This meant the husband had to ask the wife’s grandmother. When he finally got his chance he asked: “Your granddaughter’s mother told me you taught her to cut an inch off each end of a pot roast before cooking. She swore it was a requirement, but I’m dying to know why? Is there any sane reason to throw away two inches of perfectly good meat in order to cook a pot roast?!?”

Laughing, the grandmother said “Oh, heaven’s no! You see in those days we were very poor and didn’t own much cookware. I cut the ends off the pot roast so it would fit in my only pan!”

And so ends the story…

To me the moral here is that whenever someone starts quoting dogma you really should try and explore its origins. You may find that those firmly-held beliefs are based on mostly unconscious and invalid assumptions.