Context is everything, as this collection of unfortunate juxtapositions shows.
Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
Come join the slowest-growing religion in the world.
Facebook is ageist. Which sucks. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, you're only as old as the [woman/man] you are interested in [random play/networking/whatever you can get] with.
There was a quake in San Francisco last night. The correct response to this situation is to Twitter it.
The text of Mark Pesce's excellent presentation at Web Directions South.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Return from San Francisco
With a mixture of regret and anticipation, I boarded my flight from San Francisco back to London. I was looking forward to getting back to Brighton and seeing Jessica again. But I had such a good time in San Francisco, it was hard to leave.
It’s funny to think that up until this year, I had never been to Shaky Town. And now I’ve just returned from my third visit. I was ostensibly there for the Voices That Matter conference but if truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have attended the conference if it weren’t for the location—especially considering the speakers’ fee (or lack thereof).
During the conference proper, I was staying at a very pleasant hotel downtown. That was bookended with a few days on either side staying with Tantek. I couldn’t have asked for a better host. He showed me around the neighbourhood, shared his WiFi and generally showed me a good time.
The day before I skipped town, I went along to the geek picnic that Ariel organised in South Park. Nibbling on a nice selection of cheeses while Hugh McLeod churned out a cornucopia of cartoons, we enjoyed the last of the Summer sunshine in the epicentre of the geek mindhive.
That evening, I attempted to repay Tantek for his kindness by cooking up a pot of my signature chili while he organised guests for a little dinner party—the second in as many days. My last two evenings in San Francisco were spent eating good food, sipping good wine and enjoying really good company. It’s always fun to hang with the people who make the web apps I use—Blaine from Twitter, Leah from Pownce, Ted from Satisfaction—ply them with booze and then slip in a feature request or two.
All in all, this trip to San Francisco was the perfect mixture of seeing old friends and making new ones. Thanks to New Riders for giving me the opportunity to visit one my favourite places and thanks to everyone else for making me feel so welcome. As always, visual documentation is provided for your viewing pleasure.
Dear Santa Claus, I have been a relatively good boy this year. Please may I have a t-shirt that actually detects and displays WiFi signal strength? No, I'm not kidding. Give my love to the elves, Jeremy.
Just rub it on and watch it grow. Gauranteed to satisfy your client.
Did you know that you could use del.icio.us to bookmark colour palettes? Neither did I.
Monday, October 29th, 2007
WebKit continues to steam ahead. Now with CSS transforms; you can scale and rotate your elements.
No, this is not a joke. This really is the DCI Counterterrorist Center "Terrorist Buster" logo. Un. Be. Lievable.
John Logie Baird: the home of the inventor of the medium has been reduced to rubble - Independent Online Edition > Media
With a disgusting disregard for history, the Bexhill home of John Logie Baird has been demolished. Here's a potted biography of the proto-geek who steampunked his way into our living rooms.
I saw Steven Pinker give a talk recently and he spent a fair amount of time talking about swearing. He has written up that part of the talk into an article for the New Republic.
Saturday, October 27th, 2007
See, I'm not the only one who thinks that this is what she's singing.
Best. Domain name and associated tagline. Ever.
Friday, October 26th, 2007
Colly is being transfered from prisoner cell-block 1138.
Scientists want to get into your pants, museum unable to locate crab louse for collection (Shake Well Before Use)
Every time you wax, God kills a crab.
Recipes in 140 characters or less.
Actually, maybe this is the best picture on the internet. Take this picture brother, may it serve you well.
Perhaps the best picture on the internet.
Voices that natter
The Voices That Matter conference just wrapped up here in San Francisco. My talk was the last one of the day apart from a lightning round of two-minute takeaway points from a phalanx of speakers, moderated by myself.
My presentation was entitled Microformats: what are they and why do I care? You can download a PDF of the slides. The presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license so do with it as you please.
The talk went okay—I have the horrible feeling that there were quite a few “um”s and “ah”s peppered throughout. I made sure to leave plenty of time for questions and, as usual, the questions turned out to be the best part. Tantek took notes of the Q&A and I’ve published them on the wiki page for the event (if you were at the presentation be sure to add yourself to the list of attendees).
When he wasn’t taking notes, Tantek was diligently folding cheat sheets for the attendees. They were popular. If you weren’t lucky enough to get a pre-folded one, you can always print out and fold your own pocket cheat sheet courtesy of Erin.
And now, with my speaking duties fulfilled, I’ve got a day to spend in San Francisco before I head home. I intend to make the most of it. If you’d like to join me in soaking up the last of the California sunshine, come along to the picnic tables in South Park at noon tomorrow (Friday) for a geek picnic. Be there or be even more square.
Thursday, October 25th, 2007
The jolly japes continue in San Francisco. Sitting in the Tonga Room last night, Steve introduces Jina to Stephanie: “You two both work at Apple.” At that point, someone points out where Steve works: “LinkedIn!”
Well, I thought it was funny. But maybe that was just down to the cocktail I was drinking from a pineapple.
Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
A natural language interface onto Wikipedia. More of this kind of thing, please.
I just learned from Kelly that Webkit is supporting local storage and database queries, as proposed in HTML5. Kinda like Google Gears. Potentially excited for the iPhone/iPod Touch.
Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
A conference all about, well, widgety goodness. In Brighton of course—home to all the best conferency goodness.
Sunday, October 21st, 2007
Closed open data
I arrived in San Francisco yesterday after a smooth flight (I bumped into Malarkey on the plane—how did I not spot him at the airport?). Now I’m on the ground, staying with Tantek for a couple of days—I’ll be moving into a hotel room once the conference starts.
I have a few days on either side of the conference to explore San Francisco. I’ll probably end up walking around a lot. It might be fun to make use of one of the newer features of Google Maps: put yourself on the map. If this feature had existed when I was in Chicago for An Event Apart, I would have plotted my explorations of that city.
If I do map my movements while I’m in San Francisco, you’ll be able to find them on my profile page. That page also has an hCard… sorta.
Alas, the hCard is contained within an embedded iframe. This means that most microformat parsers—bookmarklets, plugins, converters—won’t find the hCard because they parse at the URL level, reasonably enough. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for using an iframe. This is exactly the kind of embedding that’s normally done on the server before a page is served up to the browser.
The guys over at Google are smart so I’m sure they’ll get this sorted out but I can’t help but feel that it’s a perfect example of why it’s important to use POSH markup before adding microformats. If you aren’t using the right elements to structure your content to begin with, it’s probably going to be more of a struggle to implement that extra sprinkling of microformats.
Saturday, October 20th, 2007
David Recordon announces a new developer tool for tracking status changes on social networking sites.
So there I was, getting ready to head to bed, blogging my travel plans when I heard some annoying noises from outside. It sounded like somebody was kicking a can around. Irritated, I went out on the balcony and saw two hooded yoofs looking nervous whilst a third rummaged around inside a car.
I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. It could have been their car. But it sure looked like two people keeping watch while the third was up to no good. The engine of the car started. From the hurried and harried manner in which this was done, it was pretty clear that this wasn’t the car’s owner. One of the lookouts saw me, told his friends and started beating a retreat.
At this stage, I was on the phone and I was being put through to emergency services. The car began to pull away, bumping and grinding into some other cars in the process. Jessica had the presence of mind to read off the car registration and write it down. I was able to pass this along down the telephone line.
Before long a police car raced up the street in the same direction as the stolen car. Meanwhile, I started giving a description of the miscreants to the policeman on the other end of the line. At one point, he interrupted to say, “Wait, I think they’ve spotted it and… yeah, we have a runner.”
Sure enough, the car-thief came sprinting back down the street with the police following. But they weren’t following close enough to see him duck into a front yard and hide. They continued right past so I asked the policeman on the other end of the ‘phone line to excuse me while I shouted out, “Hey! In there! In there!”
Five or six officers converged on the hiding place and despite a struggle, the ne’er-do-well was soon in custody.
I was thanked profusely by my telephone confidant. I got the impression that they don’t often get such immediate results from a crime report.
I spent an hour in Hove police station giving a statement when I really should have been in bed getting a good night’s sleep before a long day of travel. I guess I can sleep at some time during the ten hour flight.
If this tale of police telephone action sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not the first time I’ve given the police a blow-by-blow account of the criminal activities on my street—and then immediately Twittered and blogged about it once I got off the ‘phone.
Another day, another airport. This time I must brave the maw of Heathrow. That’s where I’ll be catching a ten hour flight to the centre of geekdom on Earth.
I’m heading out to San Francisco for the New Riders Voices That Matter conference which runs from Monday to Thursday. I’ll be giving a presentation on microformats on the last day of the event. That should give me enough time to get my presentation together.
That still leaves me with plenty of time to be a tourist before and after the conference. If you’re in San Francisco and you want to show me around, give me a holler. If you send me a direct message on Twitter I’ll get it on my ‘phone so that’s probably the easiest way of getting in touch. Of course I’ll be updating Twitter with my movements and posting holiday snaps to Flickr.
Like a bad comedian, I’ll be here all week.
Friday, October 19th, 2007
Contribute to the pool of data by inputting how much time you've wasted watching the spinning beachball of death.
Looking for an ironic t-shirt?
Thursday, October 18th, 2007
Remember the video of that Cadbury's ad I linked to a while back? It turns out that there's a transcript of the video on the website.
Arcade Fire and Bruce Springsteen together at last.
This is good news. You can expect Gravatar service to get faster and better.
Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
New from Moo—postcards. Yay!
A new feature on Matthew Somerville's brilliant train timetable site. Just put /fares at the end of any URL to get the cheapest available fare.
A super simple lightweight piece of forum software from Stuart in just one PHP file. Drop it in a directory and you're done.
To counter the creationists' lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" here's a list of scientists named Steve who support Darwin's theory. (via Steven Pinker's Q&A after a lecture last week)
Compare and contrast Last.fm's chart with the "official" UK chart. It's as if Radiohead doesn't even exist in meatspace.
Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
For those times when you need to validate your markup but you don't have a 'net connection.
I want a thingamagoop.
What would happen if Google tried to apply SEO techniques to itself?
Monday, October 15th, 2007
A nice little extension to jQuery from Michael Heilemann for displaying unobtrusive feedback messages.
Ignorance and inspiration
The topic of accessibility on the Web is, for any professional developer, an important topic. While there are differing degrees of knowledge and experience when it comes to Web accessibility, I was under the impression that it is generally acknowledged as being a good thing.
Then the Target lawsuit came along. The overwhelming response was from ignorant, ill-informed people was that this was a frivolous lawsuit—an example of political correctness gone mad. What really depressed me was reading those opinions in the Sitepoint forum, the kind of place where you would expect Web professionals to congregate. Ignorance and greed were the order of the day:
Depressing stuff. Now that the Target case is going ahead as a class-action lawsuit, it’s back on the radar. Techcrunch picked up the story and has spawned some unbelievably FUD-laden comments:
As well as confirming my suspicions about the kind of pond scum who choose to frequent TechCrunch, those comments made me depressed all over again.
There’s a series of videos on the AssistWare site. They’re all worth checking out if, like me, you want to dispel TechCrunch’s whingers and moaners and listen instead to the inspiring stories of people getting on with it:
- One Thumb to Rule Them All showcases the l33t skillz of Mike Phillips, a freelance technology journalist.
- We Can Because We Think We Can describes the workflow of Graphic Artist, Leigh-Anne Tompkins.
These stories remind me of the transformative power of technology. They also serve up a nice big dollop of perspective. Frankly, keeping websites accessible is one of the easiest ways to help improve the world a little bit every day. If that’s asking too much of the SitePointers and TechCrunchers, then they really have no good reason to build websites in the first place.
Click on the "What's the helicopter doing over my house?" link to get the latest eye-in-the-sky reports. The latest is: "Person trampled by cows" on the South Downs.
Have I told you lately how much I love this microformats bookmarklet? Yes? Well, I'm telling you again.
It's easy for us to take technology for granted. This video shows how transformative technology can be. I am humbled.
David Smith has written a brilliant overview of how the perception of the Web is converging towards Tim Berners-Lee original vision of a read/write environment.
Lobbycon: The practice of schmoozing in lobbies at expensive technology conferences, often without paying. The term is inspired by the lingo of conference names, the titles of which sometimes end with "con."
Sunday, October 14th, 2007
When I write here at adactio.com, I often sprinkle in some microformats. As I wrote in Natural Language hCard, I’ve developed a sense of smell for microformats:
Once I started looking for it, I started seeing identity and event information in lots of places… even when it doesn’t explicitly look like cards or calendars.
If I’m linking to somebody using their full formated name, then it’s a no-brainer that I’ll turn that into an hCard:
<span class="vcard"> <a class="fn url" href="http://example.com/"> Joe Bloggs </a> </span>
But what if I don’t want want to use the full name? It would sound somewhat stilted if I wrote:
I was chatting with Richard Rutter the other day…
When you work alongside someone every day, it sounds downright weird to always refer to them by their full name. It’s much more natural for me to write:
I was chatting with Richard the other day…
I would still make his name a hyperlink but what can I do about making this text into an hCard? Should I change my writing style and refer to everyone by their full formated name even if the context and writing style would favour just using their first name?
I can write “Richard” in my body text and use the semantics of (X)HTML to indicate that this is the abbreviated form of “Richard Rutter”:
<abbr title="Richard Rutter"> Richard </abbr>
From there, it’s a simple step to providing an hCard containing the formated name without compromising the flow of my text:
<span class="vcard"> <a class="url" href="http://clagnut.com/"> <abbr class="fn" title="Richard Rutter"> Richard </abbr> </a> </span>
Now a parser will have to do some extra legwork to find the formated name within the
title attribute of the
abbr element rather than in the text between the opening and closing tags of whatever element has a
class of “fn”. But that’s okay. That’s all part of the microformats philosophy:
Designed for humans first and machines second
Specifically, humans who publish first, machines that parse second.
If I were to link off to Richard’s site from here, I’d also combine my microformats: hCard + XFN:
<span class="vcard"> <a class="url" rel="friend met co-worker" href="http://clagnut.com/"> <abbr class="fn" title="Richard Rutter"> Richard </abbr> </a> </span>
Now I’ve got a bounty of semantic richness:
- an abbreviation—the W3C’s semantic data extractor is a nice way of checking the semantic richness of your documents,
- contact information—this can be converted and exported using Technorati’s service, the Operator plug-in for Firefox or the cross-browser microformats bookmarklet and
- relationship data—this can be plotted visually using XFN graph.
All of that in one word of one clause of one sentence:
I was chatting with Richard the other day…
A language blog from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A clever little periscope-like device that allows you to use your Macbook's iSight facing outwards.
Saturday, October 13th, 2007
The definitive response to continuous partial Christmas.
Friday, October 12th, 2007
A handy tool for grabbing the geocoordinates for a location.
Looks like Apple are trying to redefine the term "web app" to mean sites created for the iPhone. The revisionism is completely barefaced.
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
I can only see the dancer going clockwise. Jessica saw anti-clockwise at first but was then able to change direction. I can't do that.
The password anti-pattern
Design patterns are useful. They enable us as developers to encapsulate recurring interactions and refine them. From simple pagination right up to Ajax requests, patterns allow us to codify common conventions.
Inevitably, conventions can lead to a cargo cult mentality. Clients start to request
Allowing users to import contact lists from other services is a useful feature. But the means have to justify the ends. Empowering the user to import data through an authentication layer like OAuth is the correct way to export data. On the other hand, asking users to input their email address and password from a third-party site like GMail or Yahoo Mail is completely unacceptable. Here’s why:
It teaches people how to be phished.
This issue was raised by Tantek at Fundamentos Web. Rigo Wenning—privacy activity lead at the W3C—was quick to back Tantek’s position. While we can’t protect people from themselves, we have a duty not to deceive them into thinking that throwing passwords around like confetti is acceptable behaviour.
Oh, don’t worry… the terms of service for Google accounts puts the responsibility in the hands of the user:
- Your passwords and account security
- 6.1 You agree and understand that you are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of passwords associated with any account you use to access the Services.
- 6.2 Accordingly, you agree that you will be solely responsible to Google for all activities that occur under your account.
…but this isn’t a question of legalities.
The Facebook thing isn’t a smart way of connecting members, it’s a horrible precedent that teaches users to be phished. Unfortunately that kind of feature is so prevalent now that you’d be foolish to launch a new social network without it, but from an ethical point of view it’s distinctly unpleasant.
He’s right. The issue for us as developers is a moral question. Do we blindly follow the dictates of clients looking to “add value” to their applications even when we know that the long-term effect is corrosive? I don’t think we should. We can collectively make a choice not to erode the long-term stability of our users’ data. Sure, the particular site you’re working on might not have any nefarious plans and the next site might claim to be secure, but over time we’re creating a climate conducive to cultivating honeypots.
Morality (or ethics) is not something that’s usually discussed alongside Web development. But Jeff Veen pointed me towards this great quote from Jamais Cascio’s talk at the Singularity Summity that illustrates the underlying truth:
To put it bluntly, software, like all technologies, is inherently political. Even the most disruptive technologies, the innovations and ideas that can utterly transform society, carry with them the legacies of past decisions, the culture and history of the societies that spawned them. Code inevitably reflects the choices, biases and desires of its creators.
So here’s what I’m going to do: even if it costs me a contract in the short-term, I will refuse to implement any kind of interface that involves asking the user for a password from a third-party site. I urge you to do the same. And if you feel equally strongly about this, make your thoughts known: blog about it, talk about it… you might even want to make your position clear in your terms and conditions. As the Naked Yak blog so eloquently puts it:
With the endless possibilities of the social web it is easy to fall into the trap of going for broke, applying everything in life to a particular application or piece of software that seems to enhance it. From now, I will always ask the question “Will this have a positive effect on my world?” rather than “What could I pull into this new tool?”
Update: For all the people saying
yeah, but no, but yeah, but we need access to users’ data, please read the post again and this time, pay attention to the part about OAuth. See also:
I don’t know how much clearer I can make this: the end result of exporting data is desirable; teaching users to hand over their passwords to any site that asks for them is not. There is no excuse for asking for a third-party password on your website. You’re doing it wrong. That authentication must happen on the third-party site.
A series of infographics comparing Chinese and German culture. Amusing and astute.
Yes, you have to be a bit of a database geek to find this funny but if you are, this is very funny indeed.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2007
Put a sheet over someone and then photograph them jumping into the air. The result is startling.
Ian Lloyd gets search results for curry houses in Swindon from Google Maps to his phone in less than 60 seconds. All thanks to hCard.
Dear Auntie Beeb,
Like countless pedants before me, I am sad enough to take some time out of my day to point out a minor error in the article On the road with wi-fi and video:
Nokia’s gadget suffers the sins of many of its mobile phones — confusing menus and a sluggish response make it irritable to use.
While I have no doubt that having a journalist constantly pressing its buttons would make any device irritable, I suspect that the intended meaning is that the device is irritating to use.
Insert standard closing remark about license fees and education standards including the words “in this day and age” somewhere.
Irritated in Brighton.
I returned from Spain at the weekend after a really enjoyable time at Fundamentos Web. The conference was very well organised and had a nice grassroots feel to it (helped, no doubt, by the very, very reasonable ticket price of just €130 for two days!). My sincerest thanks to Encarna, Martin, Andrea and everyone else who helped put the event together. It was an honour to be invited.
After the conference proper, Tantek taught a one-day microformats workshop. I might be a bit biased but I thought he did a great job. But I think I was even more impressed with the audience and the smart questions they were asking.
In fact, the best thing about the conference wasn’t any particular presentation or panel—it was the people. The language barrier didn’t get in the way of having a good ol’ natter with fellow geeks. I was introduced to a Spanish web standards community called Cadius. They have meetups in various parts of Spain to drink and discuss design and development… my kind of people.
I count myself very fortunate to live somewhere where there’s a vibrant real-world community. As I’ve said before, Brighton seems to have an inordinately high number of geeky gatherings. Why, on the very night that I got back from Spain, I found myself playing Werewolf thanks to Simon and Nat. The night after that, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Steven Pinker (hey, language geekiness is still geeky).
The most recent Brighton geek meetup I attended was the £5 App where local entrepreneurs and developers get together to showcase things they’ve built. This time, it was my turn. I gave a talk on the past, present and future of The Session.
As it turned out, I had quite a lot to say. Without really intending to, I spoke for about two hours, occasionally demonstrating a point by playing a quick jig or reel on the bouzouki. I’m sure I must have bored everyone senseless but once I got started, there was no shutting me up. I touched on some of the technical aspects of the site but mostly I focussed on the community side of things, recounting how sites like Fray inspired me to start getting stuff out there—if there was one downside to being at Fundamentos Web last week, it was that I didn’t get to see Derek Powazek who was in London for The Future Of Web Apps.
I decided to forego slides for my £5 App presentation but I did put together an outline of points I wanted to make. I hope I managed to put the site in context of the aural and written history of Irish traditional music, focussing in particular on the rip-roaring tale of Francis O’Neill. For the record, here’s the outline in XOXO format:
- Irish traditional music
- Itinerent harpers, e.g. Carolan composed tunes.
- Traveling dancing masters. Pipes, fiddles, flutes and whistles.
- Dance music:
- Jigs—East at Glendart
- Reels—The Wind that Shakes the Barley
- Hornpipes—The Rights of Man
- Slip Jigs—Hardiman the Fiddler
- Usually no known composers.
- Aural transmission.
- Francis O’Neill
- 1848: Born on August 28th in Tralibane, County Cork.
- 1865: Ran away to sea. Mediterranean, Dardanelles, Black Sea.
- Liverpool to New York on the Emerald Isle (meeting his future wife, Anna Rogers).
- New York to Japan on the Minnehaha.
- Shipwrecked on Baker’s Island.
- Rescued by the Kanaka crew of the Zoe: 34 days to Hawaii.
- 1869: Teaching in Missouri before moving to Chicago (sailing the Great Lakes).
- 1873: Sworn in as a policeman. Shot a few months later by a gangster (bullet never removed).
- 1901: Chief of Police.
- 1903: The Music of Ireland.
- 1905: Retires.
- O’Neill’s 1001: “The Book”.
- Pub sessions
- 1947: The Devonshire Arms, Camden, London.
- No set lists. Not the same as jamming.
- Folk Revival
- 1960s: Sean O’Riada, The Chieftains, Planxty.
- 1970s: The Bothy Band.
- The Internet
- Mailing lists like IRTRAD-l.
- ABC format.
- The Session
- 1999? Original site with no domain
- Very little interaction.
- Weekly updates: a new tune.
- Email subscribers.
- Relaunch, June 3rd 2001, thesession.org
- Member profiles and tunebooks.
- User-submitted tunes, recordings and links.
- 1999? Original site with no domain
- Community management
- One rule:
- A little attention every day.
- Benevolent dictatorship.
- One rule:
- Tech specs
- LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP
- Edit in place for admins… just me.
- Ajax for pagination.
- Lean, mean standards-based markup is good for SEO.
- Minimal use of graphics means speed, even on dial-up.
- Show me the money!
- Tip jar.
- Amazon shop.
- The Future
- More network effects from more user data.
- Travel section?
- Better back-end code. An API?
- Expose more data like most popular tunes.
Monday, October 8th, 2007
Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. I'm glad it's not just me.
Bad Science » Madeleine McCann, the Observer, and their special magic quantum DNA box (with secret energy source)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Bad Science blog deserves a medal.
Even though it breaks up after just two seconds in the air, the moment of take-off is pretty awesome.
Saturday, October 6th, 2007
NetNewsWire now supports microformats.
Here's the in-depth lowdown on the CSS Eleven supergroup announced by Andy at Web Directions South last week.
Friday, October 5th, 2007
I'm a cartoon, which feels kinda weird. Brits... collect 'em all: Budd, Hicks, Malarkey and me.
Lock up your data
There have been a number of experiments carried out to investigate the effects of video on communication. I recall hearing about one experiment done with mothers and babies. The mothers were placed in one room with a video camera and the babies were placed in another room with a monitor showing a video feed from the mother. The babies interacted just fine with the video representations of their mothers. Then a one second lag was introduced. The babies freaked out.
I was reminded of this during the closing panel on day two of Fundamentos Web. Tim Berners-Lee dialed in via iChat to join a phalanx of panelists in meatspace. Alas, the signal wasn’t particularly strong. Add to that the problem of simultaneous translation, which isn’t really simultaneous, and you’ve got a gap of quite a few seconds between Asturias and Sir Tim’s secret lair. The resultant communication was, therefore, not really much of a conversation. It was still fascinating though.
Some of the most interesting perspectives came from George and Hannah—the people who are working at the coalface of social media. George asked Sir Tim for advice on the cultural side-effects of open data—how to educate people that publishing on sites like Flickr means that your pictures can and will be viewed in other contexts. Interestingly, Sir Tim’s response indicated that he was more concerned with educating people in how to keep their data private.
This difference in perspective might be an indication of a generation gap. The assumption amongst, say, teenagers is that everything is public except what they explictly want to keep private. The default assumption amongst older folks (such as my generation) is the exact opposite: data is private except when it is explictly made public. The first position matches the sensibilities of Flickr and Last.fm. The second position is more in line with Facebook’s walled garden approach.
I was really glad that George raised this issue. It’s something that has been occupying my mind lately, particular in reference to Flickr.
Flickr provides a range of ways of accessing your photos; the website, RSS, KML, LOL… and of course, the API. It’s a wonderful API, certainly the best one that I’ve played with. I had a blast putting together the Flickr portion of Adactio Elsewhere.
Using the API, I was able to put together my own interface onto my photos and the latest photos from my contacts. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about that—there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of third-party sites that use the Flickr API to do the same thing. However, a lot of those sites use Flash or non-degrading Ajax. But I use Hijax. That means that, even though I’ve built an Ajax interface, the fundamental interaction is RESTful with good ol’ fashioned URLs. As a result—and this is just one of the benefits of Hijax—the Googlebot can spider all possible states of my application.
You can probably see where this is going. It’s a similar situation to what happened with my pirate-speak page converter. Even though I’m not providing a direct interface onto anyone’s pictures, Google is listing deep links in its search results.
This has resulted in a shitstorm on the Flickr forum. Reading through the reactions on that thread has been illuminating. In a nutshell, I’m getting penalised for having search-engine friendly pages. I, along with some other people on that thread, have tried to explain that Adactio Elsewhere is just one example of public Flickr data appearing beyond the bounds of Flickr’s domain—an issue tangentially relatred to intellectual property rights.
In this particular sitution, I was able to take some steps to soothe the injured parties by creating a PHP array called
$stroppy_users. I also added a
meta element instructing searchbots not to index Adactio Elsewhere which, I believe, will prevent any future grievances. As I said in the forum:
If a tree falls in the forest and Google doesn’t index it, does it make a noise?
I think the outburst of moral panic on the Flickr forum is symptomatic of a larger trend that has accompanied the growth of the site’s user base. Two years ago, Flickr was not your father’s photo sharing website. Now, especially with the migration from Yahoo Photos, it is. If you look at some of the frightened reactions to Flickr’s pirate day shenanigans you’ll see even more signs of this growth (Tom has a great in-depth look at the furore).
As sites like Flickr and Last.fm move from a user base of early adopters into the mainstream, this issue becomes more important. What isn’t clear is how the moral responsibility should be distributed. Should Flickr provide clearer rules for API use? Should Google index less? Should the people publishing photos take more care in choosing when to mark photos as public and when to mark photos as private? Should developers (like myself) be more cautious in what we allow our applications to do with the API?
I don’t know the answers but I’m fairly certain that we’re not dealing with a technological issue here; this is a cultural matter.
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
Day one of Fundamentos Web just wrapped up here in Gijón.
I got my talk out of the way pretty early on: I was the second speaker, right after Bert Bos. He invented CSS; I… um… build websites… sometimes.
Not everyone was listening to the simultaneous translation. I estimated that less than 50% of the audience were wearing headphones (I’m assuming that they weren’t all listening to their iPods). Either way, I made a conscious effort to speak slowly. In fact, I overdid it a bit and over-ran. If recollection serves, that’s something I’ve never done before.
I played it pretty straight, leaving out a lot of jokes and culturally-specific references. I couldn’t tell whether the audience was completely bored or just paying close attention. People came later and told me they liked it so I hope it was the latter.
One person who told me that I made Ajax understandable was my interpreter. I thanked her for the compliment but I was kind of surprised. When I’ve talked to interpreters, I got the impression that the key to simultaneous translation is to become a conduit—to remove yourself (literally your “self”) from the equation. So I’m amazed that my interpreter, Priscilla, was able to translate and pay attention to the content at the same time. But then, I’m somewhat in awe of the ability to do simultaneous translation. As Priscilla said, when it’s done really well, it’s invisible—kind of like what Jared says about good design.
I wonder how Priscilla managed to cope with the talk after mine. If you’ve ever seen Jeff Veen talk, you’ll know that he’s quite animated. I must find out how she translated “Tingle Fizz.” Jeff managed to out-do my pitiful attempt at localisation: I just translated some slides; he gave a short speech in Spanish (although that’s still not quite as impressive as Joe’s Icelandic benediction).
I noticed a certain dichotomy in the panel (dichotomy is a milder word than hypocrisy).
There was a lot of talk about standards and innovation and debates about what features browsers should implement. The general concensus was that browsers should implement what the developers are asking for… or, even better, implement what developers are actually doing.
That’s fine. It sounds great in theory. But the reality that I saw was that each browser vendor had their own hobby horse. For some, it was SVG. For others, it’s canvas. The actual technology is irrelevant. That reality conficts with the theory: instead of implementing what’s relevant, browser vendors sometimes push their own agendas. That’s all well and good but the real problem arises because those browser makers are W3C contribitors. Those hobby horses don’t get checked at the door. The result is that browser verndor politics end up having a big influence on the W3C process—they become W3C politics. And who gets the blame? The W3C.
I started typing this in the hotel bar in Gijón and, as I was writing, the browser representatives one-by-one showed up. So now I’ve ended up having this rant IRL as well as having a good ol’ blog rant.
Ah, that feels better.
Update: You can download the slides of my presentation and scoff at my attempts at localisation.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
I’m about to head off to Gatwick airport and catch a flight to Spain. I’m going to the Fundamentos Web conference in Gijón in the prinicipality of Asturias, somewhere I’ve never been. I was asked to speak last year but it was right after Web Directions South and I didn’t want to cut short my trip to Oz. This year I face no such dilemma so I jumped at the chance.
I’ll be speaking about Ajax. Nothing new there. What is new is that most of the audience will be non-native English speakers who will be relying on an interpreter for simultaneous translation. I wonder if I should adjust my presentation style accordingly (like, maybe slow down a bit). I’ve already tried to localise my slides; because most of my slides consist of one great big word, I’ve tried to get that word translated into Spanish (of course that doesn’t apply to coding terms like
XMLHttpRequest). It remains to be seen how successful my attempts at cultural sensitivity turn out to be.
I’ll be landing in Asturias fairly late this evening and then speaking early tomorrow so I’ll need to hit the ground running. Pre-presentation nervousness has already begun and I haven’t even left Brighton yet.
Monday, October 1st, 2007
Your brain is hardwired to respond to the shape of a face.
Radiohead are distributing their next album themselves. You'll be able to download it for the princely sum of... whatever you feel like paying.
An excellent overarching article looking at the current state of microformats adoption.
One of many code-snippet sharing sites out there but this one has some nice features like tagging and popularity. The interface is yuck though. dpaste,com is nicer but more ephemeral.
Microsoft in London
Microsoft threw an invite-only gathering at its London offices: something about start-ups and Web 2.0. For some reason, I was asked along. Myself, Andy and Simon got on an early-morning train from Brighton to Victoria from whence we shuffled our way down the street to the glass lair of the Redmond giant. Once there, we were ushered into a room to listen to a series of talks.
For me, the whole day was like an anthropological exercise. I was getting a glimpse into a strange alien world of business plans and venture capital—the kind of stuff that I normally have no contact with. Here are the notes I took…
Lars Lindstedt, Microsoft
Here’s a bunch of Arial-filled slides.
Microsoft research labs, like the one in Cambridge, produce swathes of intellectual property that gets licensed to selected partners in the UK. Whoop-de-doo.
There’s a disparity between developed and developing worlds. Technology should be able to help (not if you’re demanding money for IP, it won’t).
Those crazy kids on Bebo who aren’t watching TV should be out kicking a ball around. Point is, it’s not just about a web browser on a PC: it’s about multiple channels.
And now, a graph. It slopes downwards from left to right therefore it must be showing something bad. It’s the UK labour productivity rate. Software increases labour productivity apparently.
All this Arial is making my eyes hurt.
Brent Hoberman, lastminute.com
What made lastminute.com successful? A great original idea. Outrageous ambition. ‘Cause this is meant to be fun and exciting.
Go after a huge market (so much for the long tail). The Web is a market where technology can really help.
When you get a good idea it seems so blindingly obvious that your first reaction is “surely somebody has done this already?” The second reaction you want is when you describe it to people and they say that they would want to use your service.
Then you’ve got to execute your idea. It’s really hard. Each individual slice of what you do is fairly easy to replicate but putting it all together is like a puzzle. You’ve got to balance supply and demand and marketing.
Speaking of marketing, how do you create buzz? Look at people like Facebook and Bebo (Bebo again?) who haven’t spent a penny on marketing. How do you distill that? Sure, luck is a big part of that but there are things you can do. For example, user interface is so important. The new marketing is just to make your product so good that you don’t have to shout about it. Cut the marketing budget in half and put that back into differentiating the product. Invest in tools that customers can use that are better and easier to use than anyone elses.
Brent’s new startup was born out of personal experience of frustration with interior decorating or something like that. Forget about market research. It’s just justification for somebody’s job. Your business should have a culture where failing is okay. Fail quick and fast so that you learn from your mistakes. Big companies have cultures of fear and consensus.
The hardest bit is the interface between business and technology, getting those people to talk to each other. You can’t just write down an idea and hand it over to the tech guys and get them to give you an estimate. Break it down and find out where the bottlenecks are and take them out. In small companies, you can have that dialogue. But big companies have so many layers that it’s hard to communicate.
Beware of data. As an ex-consultant, Brent knows how data is used to justify what the boss wants to hear. But do harvest as much data as you can about what your customers are doing. His biggest fear with his new project is that he’s sure he won’t get it right the first time. But the key thing is that his team is excited to react to what customers are doing so it will get better quickly.
There’s time for some questions.
Question: What are the differences between US and UK business attitudes?
The UK is actually a great place to do business even though there is something in the British psyche that is more cautious and less gung-ho. The media, who are quite important, are kind of schizophrenic—they promote stuff but at the same time, they love to see people fail.
Question: What are the problems associated with growth?
Innovation can go out the window. You get stuck in marketing (wasting money on TV) and fixing things rather than adding new features. Before launch, write down all those great ideas you’ve all got so that you can revisit them later because you won’t have time to think about this stuff after you launch.
Question: How did you survive the bust?
It made things less fun. Focus on the business even when everyone is telling you it won’t work. Stick to your guns. And don’t forget, outragous ambition will keep everyone on your team excited.
Question: What current trends to you see?
Customers are using better, quicker, more advanced tools; like uploading video to the Web, for example. Mobile was overestimated in the past but in the long term, it is very important. Social networks are powerful. You don’t want to launch a business that’s just a social network but it can be a prominent part of your service. Getting customers to do your work for you is exciting.
Question: Is content still king?
Building great tools so that customers can create content is great. Blending professional content with user-generated content is also great.
Question: Hire superstars or mold them?
Hire primadonnas. Put together a great team and then keep them. Molding them is very hard.
Question: How do you incubate innovation at a big company?
Stop obsessing about return on investment. Have some people who are allowed follow their instincts. The tricky thing is marrying that up with your market. Have a nutcase CEO like Jeff Bezos.
Steve Balmer, Microsoft CEO
Let’s talk about the evolution of software.
The first question that’s often asked is “What do you mean?”
Oh, the sentence continues, “…when you say software plus services.”
Well, here are some more Arial-rich slides.
There’s desktop, servers, online and devices. Each of these models has its advantages:
- The desktop PC allows most control for the user.
- Server (or “enterprise”) computing is good for security.
- People love the internet; just click and run with no intallations.
- Devices… um.
Ooh, Brent’s phone is ringing now, as if on cue. Glare, Steve, glare.
There’s a bunch of different user interfaces from the richness of the desktop to the reach of web apps, and there’s handwriting and voice recognition on devices. Not everything needs to be a web app or a Silverlight app. Office has some new online capabilities but that doesn’t make it a web app.
Then there’s enterprise stuff (I’m going to have to take a break from note-taking to tick off a bunch of squares on the Buzzword Bingo I’ve got open in my browser window).It’s all about cloud services apparently. It sounds like the stuff that Amazon are already doing. Ooh, he just said that! It’s like he knows what I’m thinking.
Mashups live at this REST level which is simple and easy and great. But we want sophistication and security apparently so forget that stuff—Microsoft have got a great model for talking to Windows-based clients, browsers and Silverlight. Let’s have a product demo from Mark.
Mark (didn’t catch his last name)
Let’s look at some tools with cool-sounding names. Here’s a Sliverlight flight-planning app. Having a plane whizz around a page is more compelling than text it seems.
Steve interrupts to say something about richness.
Back to Mark. This has reach; Windows, Mac, DRM (he snuck that last one in there quite cleverly).
Popfly is a mashup for consumers with a Silverlight UI. Here’s a Flickr component (of course! what mashup demo would be complete without an example that uses the Flickr API?). Mash it up with Virtual Earth. Page-turning animations are also an option. Ahem. Anyway, it’s about lowering the barriers to entry for people to make mashups.
Now what’s this? Looks like a barcode. Zoom in and it’s actually the complete works of Charles Dickens. Zooooom right in on one word. Applause! It’s a monstrous amount of data. This is Seadragon. No matter how big your data and objects are, you should be able to seamlessly flow into it.
There’s another zooming tool: Photosynth. Here’s the Venice example; a 3D model created from people’s photos. Zoom right in. Look, it’s Stephen Hawking on holiday.
Back to Balmer
The emphaisis is on seamlessness.
Uh-oh. Slide problems. Lars comes to the rescue and starts closing a bunch of windows ‘till we’re back to Powerpoint plus Arial.
Here’s a list of “services” and “partner opportunities.” The titles are so unsnappy I’ve forgotten them already. Most of them end with the word “Live” (like advertising a good seedy strip club). I think he’s starting to bore himself now.
There’s a bunch of partner programs. The startup accelerator program begins in the UK as of today. Talk to Lars for more.
Here’s the key point before questions from the audience: there’s been an incredible evolution in software. The model of what we do in creating software is morphing in incredible ways. We have to keep pace with that.
Question: What’s the future of consumer software? Ads?
A lot of things will be ad-funded. People don’t like paying for things. But some things are too expensive to be delivered through advertising and others where advertising is too invasive and painful. For example, basic internet connectivity won’t be ad-funded. Online publications, on the other hand, probably will. There’ll be a mix of things.
Question: want to talk about open source?
Microsoft believes in a commerical model; that’s how they can rent out this space we’re sitting in. But there’s room for different models. Microsoft’s strategy is to compete when they have open-source competitors. It would be great to see open-source innovations happening on top of Windows. The battle isn’t business model to business model: it’s product to product. Microsoft also pays a bunch of lawyers to buy IP and sue the ass off people. Open source people should play along and pay Microsoft money. That would be an IP framework (man, that’s some flavour of bullshit he’s spinning).
Simon Willison: This event is about startups but these days you can’t build anything without patents but you can’t buy patents unless you’re one of the big boys. Should there be a reform?
The patent system is pretty good but it needs overhauling. It’s unclear who benefits more from the current patent regime; the small company or the big company. Probably the small company (huh?). The bigger issue is how unpredictable the current system is. Who qualifies? How do you know about this stuff? The system was designed for mechanical things but now it needs to be reformed for software in the same way it was for the pharma industry (yikes! that’s some precedent to mention).
Question: Does Microsoft have any plans to support startups with revenue-linked licensing plans?
Microsoft have looked at that like the big guys have done (like Sun) but Microsoft’s stuff tends to be a lot cheaper.
The questioner interrupts to talk about SQL quad processing stuff, yadda yadda.
Any other questions, write to email@example.com.
And with that, he exits stage right and out the door.
Panel discussion with Saul Klein , Ben Way and Cary Marsh , moderated by Ryan Carson
Ryan: Cary, you’re in a crowded market—online video—how do you compete?
Cary: We made a lot of mistakes. We should have provided a free trial and subscription services. We burned through a lot but we learned from that.
Ryan: Saul, you also run Seedcamp. How do the companies that get €50K use that money?
Saul: We ended up funding six business. The first six months are critical. You probably won’t be paying people, you’ll be motivating them through stock (Bwah-ha-ha!… Oh. He’s serious). You can use Amazon’s services to save money. It’s all about conserving capital and managing cost. You’ll always need more money than you’ve got. Do you need an office? Can you work in your living room?
Ryan: Ben, what tips can you give Web startups?
Ben: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Here in the UK, we are quite risk-averse. I failed when I was younger and I was scared of telling people but now I use it to my advantage. The other important factor is people, the people you choose to work with. Key people in key roles is… key.
Question: An article in The Guardian says that startups should act like mega-corporations. Is that at odds with what you guys are saying?
Ben: There’s a balance to be had. You’ve got to be innovative and fast on your feet but you’ve also got to keep an eye on your cashflow.
Saul: There’s nothing wrong with thinking big. You should think that you can be as big as Google or Microsoft. But that doesn’t mean you should spend money like them. That article sounds crazy to me.
Ryan: Anything good that’s happened to our business is because of relationships with people, not how big or small we are or appear.
Ryan: Saul, how are Seedcamp companies generating publicity?
Saul: Publicity is the beginning of a wider conversation you can have with your customers. Start blogging. Reach out to other people in your community like influental bloggers. The blogosphere is your first PR tool. There are blogs like Techcrunch and Read/Write Web that cover startups. But the most important thing is to start having conversations with the people who are relevant to your community.
Ryan: Ben, what’s been your biggest mistake in spending money on marketing?
Ben: The biggest mistakes come when you get a lot of money in the bank and you feel you must spend it. You get so used to not having money that when you get some, you go crazy. That can be an issue with VC funding. A cashflow situation would be better.
Ryan: Cary, can you share with us how much you spend on marketing?
Cary: Nothing apart from some ad words. Getting rid of the “business development” person and just getting a PA for myself, so that I can talk about this stuff passionately, was a great move.
Question: Cary, how do partnerships work out?
Cary: We’ve got a big partnership with Microsoft Windows Movie Maker. That made us global. Microsoft can introduce you to a lot of people. It’s difficult as a startup to knock on doors but if you have a big partner, they can help you.
Question: Saul, when is the right time for a company to raise finance?
Saul: People focus on the money aspect of financing but the people side of things is also important. You’ve got to get along with the investors. Early on, you can identify those people. They can give you advice and credibility when it comes to raising venture money. Raising venture is an important watershed moment for every company and it’s not necessarily right for every company. Try to find the right people first and they will find the right kind of money for you.
Ryan: I see a lot of people starting Web apps that aren’t skyrocketing but they’re doing okay. How do you know when you’ve failed or when you’re succeeding?
Ben: For me, I’m so passionate about an idea that I’d have to hit rock-bottom to give up on it. Honestly, a true entrepeneur keeps going until they can’t go on any more.
Cary: I agree. The one thing that all sucessful companies have is that they never gave up. You’ve got to be so focused but also flexible—be prepared to change and adapt.
Question: How do you maximize your shares when you go and get VC money?
Much mumbling from the audience; this is clearly a contraversial point. But I don’t understand any of it.
Saul: If you want ownership, you’re going to want the best people working with you and the best people investing in you. There’s no magic answer but I’d prefer to have a small share in Google than a very large share in a small company. I think the first fifty people in companies are co-founders, whether they’re called co-founders or not. Be generous with them.
And with that, the event wraps up and we all shuffle out for some sandwiches, sushi, coffee and water (from Microsoft branded bottles). There are a lot of people in suits but like water finding its own level, I end up chatting with Mike Stenhouse and Matt Webb.
Apropos of Mike’s pale skin, Matt looks out at the miserable London weather and comes up with a great idea: umbrellas that have UV lamps built in so that every time it rains, you get a tan.
Now that’s a startup worth funding.
A nice overview of avoiding clutter in web design. It's not just about whitespace; the number of edges and gradients can also add up to an undifferentiated design.