Aaron Swartz is dead. It appears that he took his own life. He was facing prosecution, and the possibility of jail time. I didn’t know him personally, but I am grateful for much of what he accomplished in his too-short life. I knew of him best for his co-founding of Reddit, but obituaries and other accounts of his life show that his energy and achievements went far beyond software development and entrepreneurship.

One of the outcomes of Aaron’s death has been a petition to remove from office Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, “for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz.” The petition is directed to the Obama administration, which appointed Ortiz.

I have signed the petition. I did not do so lightly. It first occurred to me to sign when I read the following quote from Ortiz in a recent Guardian article.

Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.

My reaction was (and is) that if Ortiz said this in the context of the Aaron Swartz case, I don’t want her anywhere near such a case. It is alleged that he copied documents. Copying documents, leaving the originals intact, is not the same sort of taking as stealing money, leaving the victim poorer. To introduce a economic term, copies of documents are not rivalrous goods.

Notice the if in the previous paragraph. It occurred to me that Ortiz may have been misquoted. I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that she had said something so ridiculous. So I Googled the above quote. One of the many sources I found for it was a web page with the title “USDOJ: US Attorney’s Office – District of Massachusetts”. So the web site of Ortiz’s own organization “credits” her with that exact quote.

My objection to Ortiz as US Attorney is manyfold. First, she is actually responsible for the ridiculous statement quoted above. Second, she sought to have someone convicted of a felony and imprisoned on that ridiculous basis. I’ll stop here, partly because I am in no position to measure Ortiz’s share of the blame for Aaron’s death.

If only there was a good way to keep track of people and organizations. The good news is that there is. The bad news it that there are many such ways.

This post focuses on three web-based services for managing contacts: Highrise, Nimble, and Contactually. To be more specific, the focus is on free web-based services for managing contacts. You may not need such a service to be web-based: indeed, you may find an address book, made from dead trees, to be more than adequate. You may have decided that your email service gives you all the online contact management you need. But the premise of this post is that you want a contact management service other than the service provided by your email.

Each of the three services (again, that’s Highrise, Nimble, and Contactually) is freemium: there’s a free version, and one or more versions for which you pay, and which give you more than the free versions gives you. I focus here on the contrast between the free versions. I’m trying them out for contact management. So I provide here a view from the low end of the target spectrum, since they are mainly services for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which the respective vendors are selling into businesses.

Highrise is Simple CRM by 37signals: that’s how 37s describes it. I’ve been using the free version for contact management for a while. I haven’t had problems, but will bump against the 250 contact limit for the free version if I use it in earnest. 37signals is keen to upgrade me to a paid option such as Plus (20,000 contacts, $49/month) or its suite, in which Highrise is one of four services.

Nimble proposes that you “Turn Your Social Communities into Customers”. It brings together contacts, calendars, and conversations from services including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The free version allows up to 3,000 contacts, which will be more than enough for me to be going on with; the paid version is $15 per user per month. Nimble was recently written up at TechCrunch and elsewhere, since it raised $1m in funding from notables including my former colleague Don Dodge.

Contactually (also recently at TechCrunch) is the newest of the three CRM/contact management services. It proposes that you manage relationships “right in your [email] inbox”. I haven’t had time to use it much yet. I should note that I emailed support soon after singing up, and receiving a helpful and friendly reply a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning. That’s not due to a different timezone: Contactually is a local (to me) business, being DC-based.

Now, I should stop writing this, contact some contacts, and look out for any comment you might wish to post here…

Favorite Photo of 2011

December 21, 2011




Flora in Foreground, Fauna in Background

Originally uploaded by AndWat.

… Was taken by my daughter Maddie, 7. I am the fauna in the background.

So, you’re on the web (or you wouldn’t be reading this) and you need to identify yourself to various web services and to various web readers, many of whom are real human beings. I was enthusiastic about OpenID a few years ago. But OpenID resonated with only a small and rather specialized subset of people.

Most people want to use an online identity they already have, or are already considering having, rather than forging a new “one identify to rule them all”. That cuts the field down rather drastically.

Maybe you want an identity that is lightweight, in the sense that it doesn’t carry the burden of private information. That’s an argument against Facebook, which seems to want to be your identity and to gather somewhat private stuff about you.

Fred Wilson argues that the lightweight criterion suggest Twitter as identity provider.

Twitter is default public and everyone knows that’s what it is. Your Twitter identity is the lightest weight, most public, and therefore the best identity on the web.

I’m inclined to agree with Fred. How about you?

In the years I’ve been blogging about social media, even before we thought that Web 2.0 was a cool and cutting-edge term, ReadWriteWeb has been among the feeds I follow. So I knew (or at least emailed and otherwise interacted with) Richard MacManus when he was an ambitious and hardworking blogger. I continued to follow RWW as it became a new media property (whatever that means) and added staff, such as Marshall Kirkpatrick.

I’ll continue to follow RWW as it moves into the third stage. Having been a blog and a media property, it’s now part of a media empire. RWW has been acquired by SAY Media.

Richard, sincere congratulations. I hope that this is a very profitable event financially. I also hope that it is not an exit from RWW for you as a blogger.

It’s time to stock up on t-shirts, and also time for a sale at Threadless. The sale end is due to end at the end of tomorrow (Monday), and the design is “Larry the Fox Doesn’t Feel So Clever Anymore.”

I see that today is the 6th anniversary of my very first Threadless order. Back in 2005 I lived in Boston and had only one kid; now I’m in Bethesda, Maryland, have two kids, and have seen a lot of other changes in those years. So has Threadless, although still has its community rate the submitted shirt designs.

Another social media site so old it can remember when Web 2.0 was a trendy term is Reddit. I see that I’ve been a redditor for 6 years. Mu current favorite subreddit is Breaking Bad, to which members submit links relevant to the excellent TV show of the same name.

The image shows one of my favorite recent submissions. It turns out that the original was sold on Etsy, “the world’s homemade marketplace”, and another older-than-6 social site. By the way, I did search for Breaking Bad t-shirts, and there are some out there, but none of them edged out the shirts I liked at Threadless.

This very blog is currently hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic, another social web company that passes the rather arbitrary 6-year test. Congratulations to the four above-mentioned veteran firms, and to other who have been around that long: it’s been a long and interesting passage of time.

Google Music launched to a rather lukewarm reception. Don’t Be Too Disappointed By Google Music’s Lackluster Debut was the advice from TechCrunch. Here’s How Google Music Plans to Compete So Late in the Game was the slightly-perkier reaction from RWW. GigaOm was rather more upbeat:

The service mirrors smilar offerings from Apple and Amazon, with a unique social twist: Users will be able to share their purchases on Google+, giving their friends and followers a chance to listen (one-time only) to singles and complete albums for free.

So essentially it’s a music locker linked to an MP3 store (i.e. Android Market). We can browse, sample, and purchase. The browsing works fine. The sampling, not so much, when I tried it on iPad: the browser-based player seemed to think it was playing, but there was no sound. Playing is fine on the Windows/Chrome setup I’m currently using. The Google Music/Android Market apps won’t work on my Android phone, but then, not many recent apps work on a G1…

I tried music purchasing in two ways. First, I compared Android Market MP3 prices with Amazon. Amazon was usually less expensive; for example, Laura Veirs’ Tumble Bee is $9.49 in the DroidMart, rather than $7.99 at Amazon.

But I did already make one purchase from Android Market: Los Campesinos!’ Hello Sadness for $5.99. I’ll get round to making a Google+ playlist including tracks from this, and other music I own, soon. Right now, I’m uploading a lot of music from disc, while barely making a dent in the 20,000-track Google Music allowance.

I feel rather overwhelmed, in a good way, by the options open to the web-based music listener. I’m not blown away by Google’s offering right now, but will keep on comparing it with Amazon’s – and with Apple’s, and Spotify’s, and with other – and plan to post as I compare. I’m interested in your comparisons also, so feel free to post them as comments here.

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