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WDN Scholarships

January 11

I'd like to draw your attention over toward the Web Directions site, where we've (finally) announced our scholarship program.

If you're a full time student in a field related to the web industry and not currently employed with a related company, have we got a deal for you. For $195, you can attend two days of the Web Directions North conference if you act quickly. We've only been able to open this offer up to 30 individuals, and they won't last long. (Please ensure to read the full details before registering, however.)

Why are we doing this? The four of us organizing Web Directions have been speakers and attendees at many conferences ourselves, so we're well aware of what a positive impact that going to one can have on your career. The inspiration, the ideas, the general vibe can all go a long way to refreshing your own work. But the price for a top notch conference is usually well out of range of students, who could benefit most from it. We believe today's students are tomorrow's leaders, and so we feel it's important to provide opportunities where they can be exposed to today's brightest thinkers.

This is something we've wanted to do for a while but weren't quite sure we'd be able to, then finally decided in the end to make it happen however we could. We were hoping for sponsorship to help cover our costs, but the timing and logistics didn't make that possible. So we're going ahead anyway and doing it on our own. (If your company is interested in sponsoring this program however, we sure would love to hear from you.)

I'll let the official announcement explain the fine details, but suffice it to say, we think this is going to be a huge boost to the careers of 30 lucky students. It may just be a first for our industry, but we sure hope it's not a last.

Web Directions North

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iMobile

January 9

So we've all heard by now of the new goodness that is Apple's iPhone, right? Wow. The wait is going to be painful for this one, it will be at the back of my mind every time I reach for the old Treo. I have a short checklist of things I absolutely need from a phone, and it delivers. I have a much longer checklist of things I really want from a phone, and it delivers in spades. I think it's safe to say that what Apple announced today far surpasses anyone's wildest expectations.

I have no doubt the iPhone is going to be a huge kick in the mobile web pants. It doesn't run a stripped-down mobile browser that delivers a sub-par experience, it runs Safari — a customized version with special UI tweaks, but that's still WebKit under the hood. It will render your site the same way your desktop does. Multi-touch is an inspired new interaction method that makes using a mobile phone a less painful experience than what we've had thus far. And with an accelerometer built-in, the switch between viewing a web page in portrait or landscape mode couldn't be easier. Just flip the thing over.

iPhone

In fact, mobile web expert Brian Fling expects that if competition manages to catch up to it, this pretty much spells the beginning of the end for WAP 2.0. Provided using the web is a seamless experience on the iPhone, I have no doubt this will be the case. There will be no need to continue referring to a "mobile" web.

There are a few reasons why I could see this not quite going according to plan however. The device itself is brilliant, but the services that will support it are traditionally horrible. Somehow there has to be reconciliation between a bandwidth-hungry device like the iPhone promises to be, and the bandwidth-stingy mobile plans that many of us are stuck with. It doesn't seem likely that buying an iPhone will make much sense without a relatively generous data plan to match.

Given that the new visual voicemail that requires special carrier integration that has resulted in a (currently, hopefully temporarily) exclusive partnership with Cingular in the US, it seems like Apple might be making inroads into changing business-as-usual. I'm hoping that carriers will start climbing over each other for a chance to offer it to their own customers, giving Apple leverage to dictate their own terms for supporting service plans.

However, for a customer to get the phone when it launches, they will need to sign a two year contract with Cingular. The price point revolves around that assumption. That it's an exclusive to Cingular at the moment suggests that, at least at launch, the phone will be locked to one provider. This is typical for the mobile industry, but disappointing for those of us who'd prefer to buy an unlocked phone at cost and transport it to our network of choice, visual voicemail or not. (Which is particularly relevant when, say, you don't live in the US...)

So I guess the question is, was the contract a method of offsetting the original price and driving up demand? There's no way this phone was going to come cheaply at first. I suspect even an entry price of $499 seems high to many people, but this is certainly down from what an unlocked phone would cost. Or, is the contract a sign that Apple needed to make concessions to partner with existing service providers, and the telcos will end up calling the shots?

Time will tell. It's comforting to have the precedent of Apple's taming of the music industry, and their in-progress repeat with the film industry. If history is any indication of what they can pull off with mobile carriers, the mobile web is going to be a very big story indeed. Hey Cameron, does this mean a new chapter in the book?

Update: It looks like Canada might be getting it around Q4 2007 or Q1 2008, and both Rogers and Telus are making noise. (Thanks Paul) If Telus gets it, that means a CDMA version is forthcoming. Interesting.

It still remains to be seen whether anyone will offer a special iPhone service plan, or whether carriers will continue calling the shots. Non-Canadians really need to see Rogers data plans to understand why this is such a concern here (the rest are equally as bad).

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AAPL vs. PALM/RIMM | January 9

Palm makes the Treo. RIM makes the Blackberry. Apple just announced the iPhone. This is the fallout.

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WDN Extended Discount

January 4

Just a quick one to let everyone know that due to all the craziness of the holidays over the past few weeks, we decided to extend the Web Directions early bird deadline to January 14th. So if you haven't gotten your ticket yet, there's still time to qualify for the $895 early price before that changes.

And just to make it a sweeter deal, if you sign up by tomorrow, January 5th, you’ll get a chance at winning either a free spot at one of our workshops, or one of two spots on our post-conference ski trip. (Just like when you buy a TV, you can even register now and pay later if you want!)

In case you missed it, we also announced our closing keynote speaker just before the holidays: Jared Spool of UIE, SIGCHI, ACM, IEEE, and many other acronyms. He joins our already stellar lineup, so if you're thinking about coming, delay no longer. It's going to be a good one.

Web Directions North

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Borderline

January 3

They continually adapt their tactics to avoid counter-measures meant to eradicate them — that could describe a lot of unpleasant things, but I'm talking specifically about spammers here.

I think 2003 was the year that blog spam really started to take off; at first it was a bunch of obvious link dumps meant to encourage click-throughs. When blog software finally started building in spam tools, the tactics changed. Spammers posted less-obvious tangential comments and flattering praise, in order to remain undetected while sapping some of a blogger's PageRank for themselves. Enter the controversial nofollow attribute. These classic forms of blog spam are still around, but if you have a relatively modern authoring tool like Akismet or what's built in to the latest versions of Movable Type, you're probably not exposed to them anymore.

Movable Type Spam Interface

I believe it was last year or possibly 2004 when people started noticing that spammers would simply copy a comment made previously in the thread. If you didn't notice the duplication (or the URL that the comment pointed back to) you'd likely never realize what was going on. Around the same time, there was a rise of simple comments designed to appear on-topic at a glance, so if you weren't paying attention you'd completely miss their intent.

It's this last one that's been a major thorn in my side, and it seems to be getting worse. I've seen a lot of comments on this site recently that look relatively innocuous at first, if somewhat useless or redundant. The URL the commenter has left behind doesn't look particularly spammy, but it is a commercial site. (A disproportionately high number of them have been from .de and .pl TLDs, oddly enough.) At one point in time I'd have left them alone, but I find myself deleting more and more of them.

There might be an argument to be made that these are legitimate comments. A URL pointing to a commercial site isn't cause alone to suspect spam. However, the overall trend seems to indicate that some people are trying to get a free ride out of sites with higher PageRank, and the general quality of the comments usually isn't good enough to justify keeping them around.

Yep, legitimate comments do get deleted sometimes. But to me, the line is blurring. I'd prefer to throw out the throwaway comments and keep the overall dialogue quality high, than assiduously maintain an unfiltered comment thread and allow these junk comments to persist. If there's cause for doubt, I'll simply remove a commenter's URL and let the comment stand.

When this redesign launched, I reduced the comment policy to basically "quality over quantity". I feel no qualms about clicking the delete button anymore.

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