More ways to find the top Boulder twits


Photo by Geckoam

Jeremy Tanner passed along a couple of great automatic lists of top Boulder twitterers. Twitterholic uses raw follower numbers to rank its list of over 400 locals, and Twitter Grader (by one of my favorite bloggers, Dharmesh Shah) has a more nuanced list sorted by influence. When I was building my first draft, I also used Twitter's own advanced search to look at all the updates within 15 miles of Boulder, which helped me discover some interesting people.

I've been digging through all these looking for accounts run by individuals rather than groups, and for people that have a technology connection. Together with some of the Imulus folks, BoulderTwits is up to 50 people, and I'll add more over the next few days.

Want a radically new information tool?


Photo by Compound Eye

Even common knowledge worker tasks like agreeing on meeting times are painfully difficult to accomplish with standard software. There are specialized commercial solutions like TimeBridge that offer new work flows for particular problems, but the SRI/CMU Radar research project is the first attempt at inventing a whole new approach to interacting with your information.

It uses machine-learning to bridge the gap between the unstructured information that flows through your inbox, and the rigid data needed by CRM and other systems you interact with. For example, their Virtual Information Officer acts like an expanded version of I Want Sandy's virtual assistant; you email it "Change John Doe's phone number to 555 313 7172" and it sends back an updated contact profile for you to approve. This natural language interface is designed to work across all kinds of databases, learning as it goes from which updates are rejected or accepted.

Another interesting module is the Briefing Assistant, which takes collections of emails and produces a draft summary report from them. Initially using a set of generic rules, it observes how each user edits the draft and uses that information to produce a better first draft in the future. There's a whole series of other agents, all improving the way we work with mail information.

What makes the Radar project stand out is its sheer ambition. I was lucky enough to meet up two of the team at Defrag, Dr Michael Freed and Teri Elniski. They gave me the rundown on the rigorous user testing they use to ensure that the redesigned workflows and tools allow people to do their jobs faster. One of the scenarios is actually planning a conference, trying to take over at the last minute from an organizer and sort out all the travel, room, equipment, speaker and expense planning. Having frequent and rigorous testing of all their changes has obviously let them experiment with some pretty radical approaches, without the fear that they're heading wildly off the right track.

I haven't been able to play with the tools myself, but the screenshots and documentation are tantalising. It's inspiring to see such a bold effort to reinvent the whole way we interact with our computers, I'm looking forward to seeing this technology develop into something that's on all our desktops.

How to create a one-click Twitter follow button


Photo by Pilipala9

When I was putting together my list of Boulder twits, I really wanted to make it easy to follow anyone who looked interesting. The whole rigmarole of having to go to their home page and find the correct button seems really awkward and very web 1.0. I wanted to create a web-page button that would let you follow someone with a single click, without leaving the current page.

I was a bit surprised I couldn't already find one, it seemed like it would be very useful for people to embed on their blogs and other profiles. Looking at the Twitter API, I discovered that all you need is a REST request to<user name>.xml to follow that user. I created a test link, tried it and got a 404 error. With a bit more digging, I realized that it required a POST request instead, even though no data is sent. That's a bit harder to embed in a web page, but you can do it if you create a hidden iframe, and have a form that's targeted on it. Clicking on the submit button navigates that frame to the right URL. Here's the code:

<form target="hidden_frame" action="; method="POST">
<a href="">Pete Warden on Twitter</a>
<input type="submit" value="Follow" onclick="this.value='Following'; return true">
<div style="display:none;visible:hidden;">


You can download a full example, or try the button below:

To use this yourself, you'll need to change petewarden.xml to the actual name you'd like to follow. If I have time I'll whip up some blog widgets for Typepad, etc, so let me know if you're interested. One disadvantage of this technique is that you can't get the result of the call, but it will prompt you for your username and password if your Twitter website session has timed-out.

After doing this, I also realized that a 'zero click' follow button is possible. In other words, a malicious web page could silently force you to follow someone if you were still logged in to Twitter, just by navigating to that URL! That's a big security hole, but it would also be pretty easy to catch anyone who accumulated followers like that. They ran into a similar bug with status updating, but fixed that by checking the referer, which is hard to fake if you're calling from Javascript in a web page.

Music to program by


Photo by GnackGnackGnack

Back in my youth, I spent hours pawing through the backs of record stores trying to find albums by people like Brian Eno, Pete Namlook, FSOL, and other strange electronica. Then the internet came along and opened up whole new worlds of music. Here's my favorite music to code and drift into space with.

Sleepbot. I first discovered the Sleepbot Environmental Broadcast in 1998, and a decade later it's still my station of choice. Rarely repeating, it sometimes plays hours of of street noise, leopards purring or strange medieval chants, but more usually has a hand-picked selection of haunting electronic tunes. Dan Foley's has a wonderful ear (or at least one that almost always agrees with mine), and he's introduced me to some of my favorite artists like Stars of the Lid, Windy and Carl, Solar Fields, Sigur Ros, Tear Ceremony, and Papa M. Even better, he's accumulated notes on all the artists he plays in the Ambience for the masses encyclopedia.

DroneZone. A lot newer and less eclectic than Sleepbot, I'll sometimes switch over to see what I'm missing. I'm not surprised as often as on Dan's stream, but they do have some dreamy mixes that hit the spot.

Spheric Lounge. With dozens of sessions, all produced live, these spaced-out Germans have let me fill up my iPod with mp3s. It's useful for the rare occasions when I don't have internet connectivity, but more importantly gives me a solid supply of music even if civilization collapses around me. The covers alone are worth the visit.

Low Light Mixes, Somnia, Hydrogen Cafe. I've run across a few artist blogs with long-form mixes. Some of these haven't been updated in a while, but it's well worth listening through their archives.

The Top 40 Boulder twits


Photo by StuffEyeSee

I had lots of suggestions for people to add to the Boulder tweeters' list, so to give it a more permanent home I've created Let me know who I've missed.

I spent a couple of hours turning it into a data-driven script, so now to add people I just need to edit a csv file, making it a lot easier to update. I'm also quite proud of figuring out how to implement a one-click follow button for twitter, keep an eye out for a post on how that works. Or just look at the source if you're impatient

The top 30 Boulder tech twits


Photo by Sarah …

[Update- See for a permanent and expanded version]

With a move to Boulder looming, I decided to dig through my network and find everyone who's twittering from the local tech scene. If you're not following the conversation on Twitter yet, you're missing out.

It's heavily biased to the people I've met, so let me know who I'm missing in the comments or tweet me at

Jud Valeskignip founder

Larry McKeogh – product manager

Andrew HydeStartup weekend

David CohenTechstars

Stan JamesLijit founder

Todd VernonLijit CEO

Micah BaldwinLijit VP

Grace BoyleLijit business developer

Heather CapriMySpaceOrYours founder

Josh FrazerEventVue founder

Rob JohnsonEventVue founder

Jason MendelsonFoundry VC, OpenCoffee maestro

Seth LevineFoundry VC

Ryan McIntyreFoundry VC

Brad FeldFoundry VC

Vikas ReddyOccipital founder

Dave Taylor – All around entrepreneur

Brett R JacksonGeneration Think Tank founder

Austin VeithTravelFli founder

Stepan Mazurov – Developer

Adam SachsIgnighter founder

Carol StimmelTendril Inc product manager

Jeremy Tanner – Entrepreneur

Joe PezzilloMetafy founder

Kevin JT Binderi2 Internet founder

Collin SchaffsmaQuickLeft founder

Brent Ertz
– UI developer

Lindsay YawSwarm Collective founder

Liz founder

Cameron Robertson – Entrepreneur

How do giant companies survive?


Photo by Nicholas Davis

Big firms always contain a big proportion of slackers. How can large companies stay alive like this, when there's always hungry, slacker-less startups waiting to take their business?

The obvious reason is economies of scale, but that's less important for non-industrial companies. The real answer is information. Big companies build up deep pools of talent over many years. Somebody who's retired at their desk might still answer a crucial question that saves man-months of work. Executives watch teams over the long term, learn which are effective, and so can efficiently channel resources to projects likely to be executed well. Innovations in one group can be shared with the rest of the company.

We think of our society being based on competition, but companies are pure command and control hierarchies, more like the polit-buro than a free market. When colleagues help each other out, no money changes hands. When the system works, its because the people making decisions and setting priorities have the information they need.

I'm passionate about building Mailana because I've seen how often this information network fails within large companies. You end up with multiple teams working on the same problem, oblivious they're duplicating work. Management never finds out who really did the work on that crucial deal. Different departments give conflicting demands to an external supplier. Sales reps are chasing the same customer without knowing it.

Giant companies can only beat their inherent slacker tax when their employees pull together. The tools for making that happen are primitive today, but I know we can build something better.

Back up your Outlook account to Gmail with MailShadow


Photo by 3 Blind Mice

I was recently introduced to Cemaphore Systems, who do some very interesting work backing up Exchange stores. Their main product is an enterprise system that replicates MAPI/RPC transactions to a backup server. This replication means that if your main system fails, its simple to switch users over to the mirrored copy, without having to mess around with file-level backups. It's a smart idea, well executed.

Looking through their blog, I discovered they've just introduced a personal version, MailShadow for Google Apps, that backs up all your Outlook mails and contacts to Gmail. Once you've installed their plugin, everything gets copied over to the Google account, and even better, any Gmail messages also appear back in Outlook. This is a really useful tool for anyone who needs the rich functionality and integration of the Outlook and Exchange world, but would like the easy access, searching and reliability advantages of a modern cloud-based service. It's not often that you get to have your cake and eat it too.

How can you mine email and not become corporate spyware?


Photo by DrJohn 2005

When I talk about email data mining, people worry about losing privacy. Mail messages on your work account may legally belong to the company, but most people, including myself, would feel violated if their mailboxes were suddenly revealed to all their colleagues. Even knowing that someone in management or IT was snooping would feel invasive. So how can you persuade people to adopt a tool that exposes email information?

Utility. We publish a lot of previously private information on social networks, like our birth dates, dating status, and these days even our current location. Why? Because in return we are able to connect with our friends in new ways. Any service in the enterprise needs to offer a similar tradeoff for any privacy we give up, or it won't get adopted. Many sales reps don't enter their leads into Salesforce because the benefit goes to their managers, not them.

Control. We choose what information to expose on Facebook, and who can see it. When you've got complete control over both the content and access, it's a lot easier to trust the system. You know you can make decisions to avoid embarassment or offence at a very fine level. Any tool that surfaces email information must have the same guarantee built in.

Transparency. The rules for who can see what in social networks are simple and straightforward. It's easy to have a mental model of what information will appear, and who it will reach. Any enterprise service should have the same simplicity in its protections, or users who don't understand them will overreact by hiding an unneccessary amount of data.