The beauty of the Web

Yesterday I talked about Anneli Rufus’s book, which closed its chapter on technology with a rather lyrical sentence about the Web, still true today (give or take a few video sites) even though the book was written in 2003:

“[…] The keyboard is a forest, is a meadow, is the open sea, a habitable planet, a pot of gold, an island, the palace where the prince is looking for a princess, Shangri-la, the Serengeti, Swedish lessons twenty-four hours a day.”

I was reminded on an even older piece of commentary, published in 2000 in Harper’s Magazine, an admittedly rather overwrought excerpt from David Berlinski’s The Advent of the Algorithm, a book whose fortunes weren’t helped by today’s buzz about algorithms (it wouldn’t be out of print if it had only even sold one copy per Google employee):

“Dawn kisses the continents one after the other, and as it does, a series of coded comunications hustles itself along the surface of the earth, relayed from point to point by fiber-optic cables, or bouncing in a triangle from the earth to synchronous satellites, serene in the cloudless sky. There is good news in Lisbon and bad news in Seoul, or the reverse; mountaineers reaching the summit of K2 send messages to their fearful spouses and then slip into sleep, laptops beeping until their batteries (and their owners) go dead; there is data everywhere, and information on every conceivable topic: the way in which raisins are made in the Sudan, this history of the late Sung dynasty, telephone numbers of the dominatrices in Los Angeles, and pictures, too. A man may be whipped, scourged, and scoured without ever leaving cyberspace; he may satisfy his curiosity or his appetites, read widely in French literature, decline verbs in Sanskrit, or scan an interlinear translation of the Iliad, discovering the Greek for “greave” or “grieve”; he may search out remedies for obscure diseases, make contact with covens in South Carolina, or exchange messages with people in chat groups who believe that Princess Diana was murdered on instructions tendered by the House of Windsor, the dark demented devious old Queen herself sending the order that sealed her fate.”

Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto

If you’re on the introverted side – if, like me, you enjoy quiet libraries better than crowded parties, and have shied away from free hugs – it must have happened to you that others have not really understood why. If you’ve turned down a dinner invitation because you preferred an evening at home, you must have been criticized as antisocial. I’m probably not an extreme loner, but my inborn temperament is way out there; it is only thanks to a good degree of conditioning and practice that my behavior – I’ve been told – might even, on occasion, seem that of an extrovert.

That’s why I have immensely enjoyed reading Anneli Rufus’s Party of One, a book that (1) confirms that there are others like us out there, (2) makes it clear that such preferences are largely imprinted in our genes, and (3) argues passionately that a loner is just a loner – not necessarily a sociopath, a pervert, or a serial killer, as lazy media and inaccurate police profiling would have us believe. If you have someone who loves you but doesn’t understand you, give them this book.

Author Anneli Rufus, a loner herself, will take them on a rather exhilarating ride through popular culture, movies, advertising, friendship, love and sex, art, literature, religion, sanity, crime, fashion, travel, childhood and more. The lightest chapter is the one on technology, which does not probe all that deeply in the impact that the Web has had in opening up lifestyle choices for loners (hey, I suspect even the gregarious Tim Ferriss might be a loner, deep down), but gets one thing absolutely right: “The Internet is, for loners, an absolute and total miracle”.

I read the book while sunbathing on a crowded beach. My body was displayed for all to see, but I wasn’t there. I was hiding behind big dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Thanks to noise-canceling Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones, which I discovered thanks to my colleague Paolo, I didn’t hear any of the ambient noise. And I was listening to the moody songs of Jason Molina, which my friend Claudio first recommended to me. I was a loner on a beach. It was a perfect day.

Who wants to buy a German Twitter clone? is a German startup that has developed a microblogging application inspired by Twitter, currently in public beta.

Apparently, personal differences have forced the founders to halt development and list the site for sale to the highest bidder. (Maybe they read Marc Andreessen’s post referenced below, and decided to throw in the towel?)

If you’d like to take a look, here is the auction – it runs until June 27.

eBayers are a colorful bunch

ebay-live.jpgI am borrowing this picture from my good friend and colleague Dennis, who has a Flickr photostream from these past three days at eBay Live! 2007 in Boston – check it out here.

It is incredibly gratifying to hear members of our community tell us their stories. For many sellers, trading on eBay is the most empowering thing they’ve ever done in their life.

There are kids who gross a million dollars at 23 because they have found their niche in the eBay marketplace, and now teach others how to find their own. There are single moms who make a living by running their eBay business from home. Yesterday, I heard a disabled gentleman in a wheelchair say “eBay was a life-changing event for me”.

I guess Google employees have other perks, but they don’t often get to hear this kind of stuff.

Shopping, product review sites, and policies for treating unladylike words

There seems to be a new crop of “Web 2.0 product review” sites, whatever that means, and it’s hard to tell which ones can stick around for the long haul. Some of these seem to gain momentum, then flounder in the space of a few weeks; they may be designed by people with nice ideas, but no clue about a traffic-building strategy.

Cute little fuckers - Locher's blouseAs a side note, they have different policies for treating unladylike words.

Here’s a product: a pretty embroidered blouse by Swiss-Parisian designer Nicole Locher, whose motto is “Perversion with a touch of class”.

On the designer’s own site,, the name of this style is “Cute Little Fuckers”.

On, it shows up as “Cute Little F*ckers”.

On, it is garbled into “Cute Little &%&#@”.

I love most of Locher’s models, especially “I don’t play nice”, “I like it rough”, “No time to fuck”, “Insatiable little thing” (hey, you’ve got to have different shirts for different moods), and “I can only please one man a day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow does not look good either…”.

Still, it doesn’t look like the policies at those review sites actually help you find cool stuff like this. If I read “Cute Little &%&#@”, my eyes just sort of glaze over it.

And the pretty blouse is never found.

Ah, the eternal dilemmas of good manners and censorship.

I love libraries

I love libraries and I think in another life I might easily have become a librarian. Here is a new page from the excellent librarians at the Stanford Graduate School of Business Jackson Library: GSB Blogs/Podcasts. It will need some more organization and navigation features as it grows, but it’s a nice start.

In the greater scheme of things, Stanford University lectures and interviews have been available for a while on iTunes: see Stanford on iTunes U. If you commute to work and listen to podcasts on the way, give it a try!