Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cool demos at the Vista/Office launch

If any of you are going to be in Phoenix, AZ Wednesday for the Vista/Office launch event, be sure to go to the “Better Together” event at 11:00am.  I will be there with Lane Mohler (our enterprise product architect), and we’ll be doing some demos in the session. Among the things we’re showing are:

– NewsGator Enterprise Server 2.0 – this is a really early build (it’s not even in beta yet), but there’s so much cool stuff in here we can’t help but show it…including the cool new integration with Sharepoint 2007. This will be the first public demo of this product – prior to this, I can count the people on one hand who have seen it.

– and a brand new product, which we’ve never even TALKED about. This one is also super cool, and you’ll not only see it in the demo, but you’ll be able to play with it yourself afterwards if you’re at the show.

So come on up and say hello if you’re there, and let us know what you think!

Five things most people don’t know about me

Yikes…I got tagged with the meme – gosh, thanks Nick. ;-) Not one to spoil the party, here are my five things:

1. I live in Colorado, but I haven’t been on snow skis in probably 10 years. This is one of those “oh, you live in Colorado! Do you ski?” questions that’s for some reason inevitable when meeting folks that live near an ocean. :-)

2. When I graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do…but the one thing I knew I did NOT want to do was write application software. Funny how things change.

3. My biggest pet peeve is people who throw cigarettes out the window of the car. For a long time I’ve wanted to get out, go pick it up, and throw it back in their car, but I’ve never worked up my nerve to do it.

4. The three artists most likely to be playing on my computer at home are Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Lindsay Lohan. Somehow, a while back, I convinced myself I liked their music, and now I actually do.

5. I used to race cars – specifically, a Spec Racer Ford in SCCA club racing.

Ok…now I get to spread the fun. There are a bunch of NewsGator folks with blogs now, I just _know_ they will love doing this, and I’ll get to see their faces when they realize they have to. :-) So my gift of meme goes to John Carmichael, Karyn German, Brian Reischl, Glenn Berry, and Anita Taylor.

Office 2.0 is not about online spreadsheets!

This morning at the Office 2.0 Conference, I think I saw demos of at least four or five online web-based word processors and spreadsheets.  Eek.

I don’t think Office 2.0 is about displacing Microsoft Office on the desktop.  Let’s face it, folks – as much as we love to complain about it, Office is about to ship its 12.0 version – that’s a lot of evolution there.  It’s a very mature product, it works, and even a guy from Google this morning said if you want to build a financial model, you ought to be using Excel.

I just don’t see the incentive to have an online word processor or spreadsheet.  I mean, sure – the technology is cool.  Who doesn’t love seeing super ajaxy applications?  But at the end of the day, these standard office applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc) work great on my desktop.  Even when is down (amusing anecdote – gmail was down for a minute this morning during a demo, much to the chuckle of the audience).  Even when I’m on a plane.  Even when I’m on an island with no cell service.  They just work.

But that’s ok – because replacing desktop applications is NOT what Office 2.0 is about.

It’s about Collaboration.  Community.  Sharing.  Give me better ways to work on something with a team.  Give me ways to take my Word document and collaborate on it.  Give me ways to distribute content widely within my organization.  Give me ways to generate content myself within my company – and give us ways to have a conversation about it.  Give me ways to tear down the walls between parts of my company, and get everyone working better together.

GIve me desktop applications that use the power of the network to deliver a better experience…but still work fine without the network.

Give me Web 2.0 – inside my firewall.

And don’t take away Excel.  It works fine.  Even on a plane.

Grill the VC’s about syndication!

As some of you may know, I’m moderating a panel at the Syndicate conference next week.  Here are the session details:

A Look at the Horizon: A VC’s Perspective on Syndication
05/16/2006, 3:45 PM – 4:40 PM
Greg Reinacker, Founder & CTO, NewsGator Technologies, Inc.

Seth J. Levine, Principal, Mobius Venture Capital.
Richard Levandov, General Partner, Masthead Venture Partners.
Richard Fishman, Managing General Partner, RSS Investors.

Venture Capitalists have identified syndication technologies as a broad new area that’s ripe for investment. In this session, hear from the VCs that have invested the how’s, why’s and where’s of their interest.

What’s on your mind?  What questions would you like to hear the panel address?  Post a comment here, or post on your own blog and trackback me, and I’ll bring your questions to the conference and we’ll discuss them!  Here’s your chance to really get inside their heads, and ask the hard questions!

RSS “security”, part deux – Web-based aggregators

Last time I wrote about this (seems like yesterday, but it’s actually been a while!) I talked a bit about security for RSS feeds, and in particular authentication, authorization, and encryption.

At the end of that post, I promised to follow it with another post talking about how an online aggregator should be dealing with this stuff. So here we are. :-)

There are a number of problem areas for an online, web-based aggregator when dealing with authenticated feeds (that is, feeds that require authentication to access). I’ll take them one at a time.

Dealing with URL’s and credentials

This is the most visible problem with some online aggregators, and the one that has given authenticated feeds a bad name. Or more correctly, given online aggregators a bad name.

The fundamental problem here is that the aggregator needs to access the secured feed on behalf of the user, which means it needs the user’s credentials for the feed. So immediately we have a trust issue, but we’ll assume we’re past that.

Some aggregators in the past have used the following “URL” format to access feeds that require credentials:

This is a shortcut way to save a URL with “embedded” credentials – but here’s a secret.  It’s not really a URL.  It’s just a shortcut way to mark it up.  When the request goes out on the wire, it doesn’t look like that – it gets split into separate credentials and URL, and the authentication handshake actually happens behind the scenes as you’d expect.

But, for aggregators that don’t support credential management, this was a cheap easy workaround to access feeds that require credentials, if your users were clever enough to figure out this shortcut format.

But here’s the problem.  Users routinely expose their OPML files to themselves, their friends, their blog, or wherever else.  And in this case, guess what would show up in the OPML file?  Yep, that whole credential-embedded-URL-thing.  Not good.  If a user puts that OPML on his blog as a blogroll, he’s basically advertising his username and password for that feed to the entire world…and the worst part?  He probably didn’t know he did it.  Users will go to some effort to protect their private information – but not if they don’t know they’re exposing it.

How to fix this?  Don’t build an aggregator this way.  Prompt for credentials in separate fields on your interface, and store them separately.

Content isolation

Big problem #2 is the fact that a secured feed may have different content for different users.

Fundamentally, web-based online aggregators work by retrieving each feed once, and distributing that content to all of their subscribers.  For unsecured content, given a particular feed, the content in the feed will be the same if you retrieve it multiple times, so you only retrieve it once.  This is, in general, very efficient for an online aggregator.

But suppose I have a feed that requires authentication, at

If I access this feed with my credentials, and you access the feed with your credentials, we may get different content.  This is key.

What does it mean?  Content from secured feeds generally needs to be isolated to the particular user it has been retrieved for – and not shared with any other user (unless they’re sharing the same credentials).


Problem #3 is related to indexing content.  This one is easy…basically, if you retrieve content using a user’s credentials, that content may be private – and thus must not be indexed in a shared index store.

Incidentally, NewsGator Online follows the best practices outlined in this post.  It supports separate credential management, it sandboxes/isolates content, and does not index private content.

So that’s it for this chapter of the RSS security saga.  I’m not sure what the next chapter should be about – are we done?  Let me know what you think!

RSS “security”

I was on a call the other day with some folks in the industry, and someone made a comment to the effect of “we really need to come up with some kind of solution for securing RSS feeds – then we can really do some cool stuff.” Before I could get on my soapbox, someone else on the call concurred with the first person.  When I mentioned that this stuff has been figured out already, and started describing the existing widely-used mechanisms, they were both a bit surprised, and suggested I write something about it.  So here we go. :-)

There has been much talk about “RSS security”. The problem is, that’s such a vague term, and you can’t really make much progress until you actually break that down into what you really mean. So let’s give that a shot.

When most folks are talking about security with RSS, they tend to mean three things (or any combination of these):




Let’s take these topics one at a time.

Authentication – this basically means that you want to be able to identify the user who is requesting your feed. There are well-known solutions here – in particular, the tried-and-true HTTP authentication mechanisms, including Basic and Digest. These are the same authentication mechanisms we use on the internet for subscriber-only web sites, and they are equally applicable to RSS.  Behind the firewall, you could add NTLM/Kerberos authentication for Windows networks.

Most mature RSS aggregation tools (NewsGator Online, NewsGator Outlook edition, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire, lots of others) support these widely-accepted authentication mechanisms.

And for those using Windows servers, I’ve even written some sample code for .NET that implements these protocols on the server side, without using the built-in IIS implementation with Active Directory.

Authorization – this means that once you know who the user is, should they be allowed to access the content they are requesting?  This is the easy part…once you’ve authenticated the user requesting the feed, you know who they are, so you can now decide whether they should be allowed to access the content.  Again – just like regular web sites.

Encryption – this means that if someone is watching my network with a network sniffer of some sort, or they’ve managed to insert themselves in the network path between the client and server, then they would be able to see the content going by…so we encrypt it.  The easy way to do this is with SSL – again, exactly how we do it for regular web sites.  And this is usually as easy as adding a certificate to your web server(s), and changing your URL to https.

Piece of cake. Use the mechanisms that have been around for 10+ years securing web content, and you won’t go wrong.

“But wait,” you say. The authentication and encryption mechanisms I mention above are tied to HTTP.  What if you want to transport a feed via some other protocol?

Well then you’d have to think of something else.  You’d likely see what authentication mechanisms are supported by your new transport of choice, and leverage those.  Hmm.

My advice for now?  Don’t worry about it.  RSS today is transported via HTTP.  Sure, you could use other protocols – but almost no one does.  This same argument came up some time ago about SOAP web services…a lot of work went into making sure everything was portable enough to deliver SOAP messages through any arbitrary transport.  But in real life?  Almost no one is doing it.

We don’t need more protocols. We don’t need yet another encryption standard. We don’t need yet another authentication mechanism. Use what works today – it’s proven itself already.

I’m going to write some more about this in the next few days – first, about how an online aggregator should and shouldn’t implement this, and what to watch out for as a user.  There have been some serious problems in the past with flawed implementations of authenticated feed handling, and it’s caused some problems in the community for users…so I’ll write about that as soon as I get a chance.

Spammers vs. Greg – back to even

A few months ago, this blog was crawling with comment spam. Yikes.

Spammers – 1.  Greg – 0.

So around that time, I implemented a CAPTCHA validator here on my blog, so to leave a comment you’d have to actually read the funny letters, and type them in. All was well for a while…this actually eliminated comment spam here for about two weeks.  Woo-hoo!

Spammers – 1.  Greg – 1.

Then the spammers came back, armed with a new resolve.  And my comment feed became useless again, filled with spam before I could delete it.

Spammers – 2.  Greg – 1.

So now, I finally broke down. Comments on posts that are older than 14 days are now moderated. I’m hoping this takes care of most of the problem, since 99% of the comment spam here is on older posts. If the spammers actually take time to read this post and start spamming the recent items, then, well, I’ll have to think of something else.  But in the meantime, there’s been no spam for 30 minutes! :-)

Spammers – 2.  Greg – 2.

Anyway, if you’ve said goodbye to my comments feed in the past due to comment spam, come back!  It should hopefully be much cleaner now. And if you’re using NewsGator Online, here’s a handy link to get it back. :-)

BusinessWeek – Best of the Web

As Steve says, BusinessWeek is looking for votes for the Best of the Web awards.  Be sure to go vote!

BusinessWeek Nominates Blogs, Podcasts for Best of the Web

BusinessWeek magazine has opened its Best of the Web Awards for reader voting. There are ample nominees to choose from, including several of my faves …

For best @Work blog – Robert Scoble among others

For best @home blog – Gawker among others

For best @Home podcasts – IT Conversations and Adam Curry and more

For best Podcasting tool – iTunes, Podcast Alley and more

For best Blog Tools (i.e. aggregators) – Bloglines, Newsgator and more

For best collaboration tool – BackPack (which I nominated), Socialtext and more