Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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New Years Best Wishes

Just wanted to wish all my family, friends and readers a happy and healthy New Year (that includes Jean-Pierre and Jean, who I found out have been keeping up with me here). Thanks to everyone for everything (I know it’s general, but hey). For those new friends, it was great to meet you, and for those old ones, it was great to stay in touch. (For those of you who are readers and don’t personally know me, drop me a comment or an email and say hi.)

I hope everyone, has as good a 2005 as I had a 2004.

Be safe and have fun!

December 31, 2004

Barebones Mac on Its Way?

I’ve been talking about the potential for Apple to get Windows users to make the big switch for a while. A recent rumor makes it seem as though Apple is giving this some serious thought (and how could it not?). According to Think Secret, Apple is going to release a $500 barebones G4 with no display to compete with inexpensive Windows PCs. The article points specifically to targeting Windows users who own an ipod (and love it).

“Think of your traditional iPod owner,” said a source. “This new product will be for a Windows user who has experienced the iPod, the ease of use of the iTunes software, and has played around with a Mac at an Apple retail store just long enough to know he’d buy one if it were a little cheaper.”

Apple executives announced on October 13 that 45% to 50% of its retail store customers bought a Mac as their first PC or were new to the platform in the fiscal fourth-quarter. The company has refused to divulge more exacting figures on iPod buyers who also buy a Mac, for competitive reasons.

According to sources, internal Apple surveys of its retail store customers and those buying iPods showed a large number of PC users would be willing to buy a Mac if it were cheap enough, less of a virus carrier (which all Macs already are), and offered easier to use software solutions not available on Windows-based PCs. Now, Apple feels it has the answer.

I love this idea. There’s obviously a huge market of iPod users who are in love with the device and a huge portion of those are Windows users. While I don’t have an iPod myself (I have an iRiver, which I prefer for it’s recording function), I have decided to make the switch to Mac myself. However, for me it’s the money keeping me away. I want a Powerbook, but I simply can’t plunk down the cash for one at this point (and I am wondering when a G5 powerbook will come out . . . anyone have any insights?). Given this new $500 option I imagine I would buy it as a second PC, just as the article says. Why not? For $500 I could leave the computer in my bedroom and have my laptop for my coffee table (where it has been a fixture for the last month-and-a-half anyway). I already have a display and it’s currently just sitting on my desk looking lonely, so why not hook it up to a nice, cheap G4? Come on Apple, give me something to work with until I can afford to buy myself a shiny Powerbook.

December 29, 2004

Facebook Questions (Round Two)

This morning there was an article in The Washington Post about the Facebook. The article was titled “Click Clique: Facebook’s Online College Community” and discusses the impact of the Facebook, especially at GW. Much of the article talks about how people on the Facebook use their number of friends to figure out social standing. “You can compare the number of “friends” you have listed in your profile to the number of “friends” your roommate has, to calibrate how good you should feel about yourself,” the article says. Overall the article is interesting, but nothing extraordinary. A while ago you might remember that I asked anyone who used the Facebook to explain how they used it. Well, lots of people responded and I’ve decided to bring a second round of questions based on those responses. You’ll see someone’s comment indented followed by my own comments/questions. If you could post answers in the comments section that would be great.

This whole project comes from my trying to understand why the Facebook is so much more successful than Friendster. Of course, I don’t have the numbers to back this up, but this seems like a very serious trend in colleges and I want to understand. I suspect much of the reason is that the Facebook takes social networking and makes it local. It actually adds some useful elements because everyone who uses it is in the same place. It’s also interesting that entire school communities are open to viewing, in comparison to Friendster where you can only view profiles of friends.

Without any further ado, here are you comments and some more questions to answer (I pulled certain sentences from some comments and did minor editing such as correcting spelling):

Ben:
The way he explained it to me, he used it to promote parties, study groups, bowling outings, breakfasts, etc. While I’ve never used it, it seemed to me like he was using it as a more local Craig’s List (where you can see pictures of people) or some type of interactive Evite.

The Evite comparison is interesting. What makes Facebook better/worse than Evite? Does anyone use both?

Laju:
(if you register your cell phone, everytime you get “poked” it’s an obnoxious text message on your phone) . . . the Facebook does work well for sending out invitations about events, but then again so does Evite.

There’s that Evite comparison again. What about the cell phone thing, is that useful? Do you find it obnoxious? Do you think having your cell phone number on there is dangerous in any way?

Chris:
I think that “the Facebook� gives college students the much needed ability to communicate with their old High School friends, and keep a constantly updated list of their “new� friends. When many students venture away from the comforts of their structured homes, some for the first time, and leave their friends behind staying in touch becomes hard. “the Facebook� allows them to send messages instantly without the hassle of dealing with finding e-mail addresses. I find that it also helps, more towards the beginning of the year, to keep track of your new friends. Meeting 30 people in a day can be changeling, but compound that every day for the first week and it is impossible to remember everybody’s name and room. By going and “friending� people it provides an accessible list of this information as well as other interesting things (i.e. favorite movies, music, books, and home town). Another widely used feature of this innovative site is the “group� part of the site which allows people to create a blog-like forum that people from the same university can join to meet people with similar likes and dislikes. This feature is widely exploited by promotion companies who advertise their parties by sending messages through the “groups� or by posting to the message board. On a whole the usefulness of “the Facebook� is just beginning to be seen, as more schools are included and integrating into the network the potential is exponential on many levels.

The email point is very interesting. How much do you use email? How often do you check it? I’ve been reading recently that young people are increasingly moving away from email, often seeing the technology as antiquated. Is there anyone else who uses the Facebook instead of email?

Do you use groups? If so what groups and why? Is this useful? Also, what about these promotion companies? Are they students? Have you gone to parties of theirs?

Finally, speaking of this potential, where do you see the Facebook going? What would be good features to add?

BJ:
Well I personally use the face book as a tool to help me waste time when I’m trying to get some work done. But for others that I know it has become an addiction;
people are on it for hours searching random things and people.

What is it that’s addicting? Why do people enjoy this? How have you avoided it?

Beth:
Ok heres how it works… Its basically like an AIM profile with a picture. You post your likes/dislikes, etc. and then everyone on Facebook can look you up and ask you to be their friend. After gaining a few friends you can see which friends you are connected to through other friends. You can also join groups within the site to find people with similar interests as you. The whole thing is kind of pointless, but its fun to look at when your avoiding homework/studying. I guess the whole point of it is to connect people from high school and college. I actually found a guy from elementary school which was kind of funny.

I think the AIM comparison is interesting, I know it’s easy to get obsessed with checking away messages. Are there other people who see these similarities? Any other comments on them?

Any other stories about meeting someone you haven’t talked to for a while through Facebook?

Matt:
The biggest comparison i can make is that its like AIM, its just a more elaborate and detailed form of checking away messages and AIM profiles. People can waste lots and lots of time just checking away messages, the Facebook is the same thing, instead with the Facebook I can waste time and be like, “oh, Matt’s favorite movie is so and so . . . huh never knew that”. . . or “that movie sucks” . . . thats basically it. I hate The Facebook, but yet i must admit ive kinda gotten addicted to checking peoples profiles, and different kinds of groups, but i could live without it.

AIM profile comparison comes up again. What about the favorites section? Why is it fun to find out people’s favorites? Also, anyone else not like it yet find themselves addicted?

Travis:
As far as the Facebook goes, I agree with everyone’s comments that it is addicting and a big time waster, but it provides a way for meeting people other than a party, bar or class. As a relatively shy person myself, and since I am friends of people who don’t like to go out to big parties, its hard for me to meet girls, and with this facebook thing, I have been poked and messaged by a handful (which is a few more than I expected). Now some of these girls I didn’t even think twice about but last year I met two in person after they contacted me through the facebook and it has lead to some interesting experiences. Neither of these worked out but I did learn a lot and it presented me with situations I wouldn’t have been in otherwise. It was weird to think that I could end up dating someone I met on the internet and it ran through my mind how it would sound explaining that to people I know, but I think it is a wave of the future and there is no harm in having some fun meeting new people.

So I guess to me the Facebook is an online community where you can meet people at your own school easily, and at a large school like mine it gives you a chance to meet people you may never see otherwise. It also allows you to put a face to a name when a friend is telling a story, or asks if you know some one, you can “facebook them� and see who it is.

What do other people think about meeting dating partners on Facebook? Is this a weird idea? What about compared to internet dating in general? Has anyone else dated someone they met on the Facebook? What happened?

What about this idea that it helps provide community to large schools? That’s fascinating because I know at NYU it was incredibly hard to feel any sense of community. Do those of you that go to large schools feel the same way? How and why does it achieve this?

Here’s a quick recap of the questions:

1. What makes Facebook better/worse than Evite? Does anyone use both?
2. What about the cell phone thing, is that useful? Do you find it obnoxious? Do you think having your cell phone number on there is dangerous in any way?
3. How much do you use email compared to Facebook messages (or just in general)? How often do you check it? Why is Facebook better/worse than email?
4. Do you use Facebook groups? If so what groups and why? Is this useful?

5. Also, what about these promotion companies? Are they students? Have you gone to parties of theirs?

6. Where do you see the Facebook going? What would be good features to add?

7. What is it that’s addicting about the Facebook? Why do people enjoy doing this? How have you avoided it (if you have)?

8. Are there other people who see these similarities between the Facebook and AIM? Any other comments on them?

9. Any other stories about meeting someone you haven’t talked to for a while through Facebook?

10. What about the favorites section? Why is it fun to find out people’s favorites? Also, anyone else not like it, yet find themselves addicted?

11. What do other people think about meeting dating partners on Facebook? Is this a weird idea? What about compared to internet dating in general? Has anyone else dated someone they met on the Facebook? What happened?

12. What about the Facebook helps provide community to large schools? Do those of you that go to large schools feel the same way? How and why does it achieve this?

Thanks for the help.

December 28, 2004

Wiki Publishing

Lawrence Lessig is really cool.

For those that don’t know him, he’s a Stanford law professor, author and the man behind Creative Commons (the new copyright system with “some rights reserved”). In his latest move of coolness, Lessig has decided to take his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and open it up for revision. Lessig explains the project in a recent post:

Beginning in February, we’ll be posting Version 1 of Code to a Wiki. “Chapter Captains” will then supervise updates and corrections. Depending upon the progress, sometime near June, I will take the product and edit and rewrite it to produce Code, v2. The Wiki will stay live forever (under a Creative Commons license). The edited book will be published in the fall. I have donated my advance for Code, v2 to Creative Commons. All royalties beyond the advance will be donated as well.

. . .

My aim is not to write a new book; my aim is to correct and update the existing book. But I’m eager for advice and expert direction. If you’re interested in volunteering, email me at this address.

For those that don’t know what a wiki is, it’s a space where people can collaborate on a project. Anyone can write or delete what they want in order to create a better document. It’s a great tool that’s only beginning to be used effectively. Wikipedia is probably the best example of a wiki successfully at work. Here’s the Wikipedia definition for wiki:

A Wiki or wiki (pronounced “wicky”, “weekee” or “veekee”; see pronunciation section below) is a website (or other hypertext document collection) that allows a user to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows that content to be edited by anybody.

So Lessig is going to use the technology to revise his book. Since I haven’t actually read Lessig’s book (though I own it and have been meaning to), here’s the description of the book from Amazon:

“We, the Net People, in order to form a more perfect Transfer Protocol…” might be recited in future fifth-grade history classes, says attorney Lawrence Lessig. He turns the now-traditional view of the Internet as an uncontrollable, organic entity on its head, and explores the architecture and social systems that are changing every day and taming the frontier. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is his well-reasoned, undeniably cogent series of arguments for guiding the still-evolving regulatory processes, to ensure that we don’t find ourselves stuck with a system that we find objectionable. As the former Communist-bloc countries found, a constitution is still one of our best guarantees against the dark side of chaos; and Lessig promotes a kind of document that accepts the inevitable regulatory authority of both government and commerce, while constraining them within values that we hold by consensus.

Lessig holds that those who shriek the loudest at the thought of interference in cyberdoings, especially at the hands of the government, are blind to the ever-increasing regulation of the Net (admittedly, without badges or guns) by businesses that find little opposition to their schemes from consumers, competitors, or cops. The Internet will be regulated, he says, and our window of opportunity to influence the design of those regulations narrows each day. How will we make the decisions that the Framers of our paper-and-ink Constitution couldn’t foresee, much less resolve? Lessig proclaims that many of us will have to wake up fast and get to work before we lose the chance to draft a networked Bill of Rights.

I think this is an amazing and pioneering project. Lots of people are talking about citizen journalism, but this is citizen publishing. Lessig is effectively using the democratizing power of the internet to democratize publishing (at least in a small way). It take a lot to get published and Lessig is leveraging his name to help your average netizens get their thoughts into print. I think the day Code V2 is released will be an important day for the web. What will all the librarians say about internet research after that book is released? All of a sudden there’s this book that will have been written collaboratively by all these random people that (most likely) is far more authoritative than most of the other books on the subject (and the whole thing will be available online . . . for free).

I wrote about librarians threatened by Wikipedia in August and in the entry I included these thoughts:

The idea of socially collaborative software, like Wikipedia, is one that stands in opposition of what a library stands for. Libraries are the home of a whole bunch of books whose authority tends to rest in its binding, rather than the information inside it. All the information found inside Wikipedia is up for revision; if anyone finds incorrect information they can go ahead and correct it. What happens when someone finds something incorrect in a book? (Dare I mention that some books are imperfect?) They are left to try to find a publisher to print their retort? In the end I guess should never expect a librarian to get along with a tool like Wikipedia, but it upsets me that these people guard the connections to information for America’s children.

Part of this entry was based on some of my personal experiences with librarians (and teachers in general), who are intimidated by the web (I know my mother, a school reform consultant, has also run into these issues). I really wonder what my old high school librarians would think about this project. Would they blow it off? Would they be scared of it?

In the end, I doubt the average librarian who scorns the net will think about this, but I really hope everyone else will.

December 27, 2004

Best Man Decathalon

My good friend Jimmy has gotten engaged (congratulations) and he needs to pick a best man. He’s narrowed down his groomsmen to three fine choices (with yours truly included), however, he can’t decide who should be his best man. As a possible solution, I suggested we have a best man competition, with events, points and everything else that comes along with it. This idea then turned into a decathalon and we began to talk about some event possibilities. We can’t come up with everything, however, so we’re going to open up the voting to the world. So if you’ve got any ideas just leave them in the comments section or, if you really want to, email me at nb@noahbrier.com. (After we come up with a list we’re going to do some voting.)

Here are some possible event ideas we came up with:

Video games
Eating
Drinking
Floor excercise (ala Old School)
Trivia
Potato sack race (thanks for that one Kim)

We need at least ten, so start thinking.

Let the competition begin.

December 27, 2004