Imponderables from a galaxy far, far away...
Thursday, April 30th, 2009
A nice description of RDFa ...but once, just once, I would like to see someone use an example that *isn't* contact details or events—situations already handled by microformats.
A visualisation of Twitter messages designed for display in public spaces. From the mad genius that is Cameron Adams.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009
This looks like a nice book reading app.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
Phil Gyford on why he will miss Geocities. "It’s only thanks to the efforts of people like the Internet Archive and Archive Team that we’ll have a record of what people, rather than companies, published in the past. As companies like Yahoo! switch off swathes of our online universe little fragments of our collective history disappear. They might be ugly and neglected fragments of our history but they’re still what got us where we are today."
The manager of Brighton's Duke of York's cinema has a blog.
The Death and Life of Geocities
They’re trying to keep it quiet but Yahoo are planning to destroy their Geocities property. All those URLs, all that content, all those memories will be lost …like tears in the rain.
Jason Scott is mobilising but he needs help:
I can’t do this alone. I’m going to be pulling data from these twitching, blood-in-mouth websites for weeks, in the background. I could use help, even if we end up being redundant. More is better. We’re in #archiveteam on EFnet. Stop by. Bring bandwidth and disks. Help me save Geocities. Not because we love it. We hate it. But if you only save the things you love, your archive is a very poor reflection indeed.
I’m seething with anger. I hope I can tap into that anger to do something productive. This situation cannot stand. It reinforces my previously-stated opinion that Yahoo is behaving like a
dribbling moronic company.
You may not care about Geocities. Keep in mind that this is the same company that owns Flickr, Upcoming, Delicious and Fire Eagle. It is no longer clear to me why I should entrust my data to silos owned by a company behaving in such an irresponsible, callous, cold-hearted way.
Update: As numerous Yahoo employees are pointing out on Twitter, no data has been destroyed yet; no links have rotted. My toys-from-pram-throwage may yet prove to be completely unfounded. Jim invokes Hanlon’s razor, seeing parallels with amazonfail, so overblown is my moral outrage. Fair point. I should give Yahoo time to prove themselves worthy guardians. As a customer of Yahoo’s other services, and as someone who cares about online history, I’ll be watching to see how Yahoo deals with this situation and I hope they deal with it well (archiving data, redirecting links).
Like I said above, I hope I can turn my anger into something productive. Clearly I’m not doing a very good job of that right now.
Monday, April 27th, 2009
A nice concise look at the ampersand.
The perfect person for the job—George will be working on the Internet Archive's Open Library project: a webpage for every book ever published.
A sobering article on the cost of being a truly global website. This gives some context to Last.fm's recent pricing model decision.
"We're done with the tired old fontstacks of yesteryear. Enough with the limitations of the web, we won't have it. It's time to raise our standards. Here, you'll find only the most well-made, free & open-source, @font-face ready fonts."
A blog of all things webkit, itself showcasing some of the CSS niceties in the rendering engine.
A thoughtful piece by Cennydd on the state of UX in the UK.
All Our Yesterdays
I opened up proceedings with a talk entitled All Our Yesterdays. I know it’s the title of a Star Trek episode, but I actually had Shakespeare in mind:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Usually my presentations follow a linear narrative but this was a rambling, self-indulgent affair. So I used a non-linear presentation tool this time; the Flash-based Prezi. You can view the presentation at prezi.com/35967.
I can’t really summarise the presentation—you kinda had to be there—but there were two main points:
- Think about what you would put on the gold disc attached to Voyager; now publish that material online.
- Use web standards so that we can build a space elevator.
Along the way I took in the history of writing from the Rosetta stone to the Gutenberg press via the Book of Kells, potted bios of Leibniz, Babbage and Turing, the alternative hypertext systems of Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson, and a fairly emotional rant about the ludicrous state of affairs in the world of copyright and so-called intellectual property. There’s a bibliography of further reading tucked into the corner of the presentation:
- How The Irish Saved Civilisation by Thomas Cahill
- The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
- The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade
- The Code Book by Simon Singh
- Weaving The Web by Tim Berners-Lee
- Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig
- The Fountains Of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
- Murmurs Of Earth by Carl Sagan
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
URLs mentioned during the presentation include:
These are some of the historically important geographical locations I mentioned:
There were three video excerpts in the presentation:
- The IT Crowd by Graham Linehan,
- 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick and
- Fahrenheit 451 by François Truffaut.
My disjointed ravings on cultural preservation and space exploration would have seemed far-fetched in any other setting but after the talk, when I was wandering through the Bucky buildings of the biomes, they seemed positively tame.
If you were at Bamboo Juice, I hope you liked the talk. If you weren’t there, sorry; you missed a beautiful day at the geodesic domes.
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
Hilarious interview with Ev and Biz from Twitter.
An excellent take on font-linking from someone who designs typefaces for a living.
Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
This week, when I’m not battling the zombies of the linkrot apocalypse with a squirrel, I’m preparing my presentation for Bamboo Juice. I wasted far too much time this morning watching the ancillary material from the BBC’s The Speaker in the vain hope that it might help my upcoming public speaking engagement.
My talk is going to be a long zoom presentation along the lines of Open Data and The Long Web. I should concentrate on technologies, standards and file formats but I find myself inevitably being drawn in to the issue of copyright and the current ludicrous state of things.
If you feel like getting as riled up as I am, be sure to listen to James Boyle as he speaks at the RSA or is interviewed on CBC. Or you could just cut to the chase and read his book, The Public Domain. If you want to try before you buy, you can read the entire book online in PDF or HTML format—I recommend reading that version with the help of the fantastic Readability bookmarklet.
As if any proof were needed that this is an important, current, relevant issue, Tom reminds me that the future of our culture is under threat again tomorrow. I have duly written to some of my MEPs. Fortunately, I have a most excellent representative:
We’re talking about a gigantic windfall for a few multinational companies, taking millions of pounds from the pockets of consumers and giving it to the record labels. Also, the artistic cost of making songs from the last 50 years public property, thus allowing endless sampling by DJs and other artists, must be taken into consideration.
The UK Greens are committed to a system known as Creative Commons, which offers a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors and artists. We want to encourage innovation and prevent large corporations from controlling and benefitting from our cultural legacy.
Caroline Lucas MEP » Blog Archive » Green MEP Joins Forces With Music Legend To Protest ‘Corporate Bully’ Copyright Proposals In Euro-Parliament
My representative in the European Parliament is full of WIN!
Mark Pilgrim knows the score.
Monday, April 20th, 2009
This is me battling the zombies of the linkrot apocalypse. With a squirrel.
A good piece from Steven Johnson on the future of e-books but alas, it completely ignores DRM which is a show-stopper to the bright future he imagines.
Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Ethan follows up his Fluid Grids article with an equally excellent piece on resizing images.
A nice overview of Glenn's XFN Firefox plug-in.
Here's a different kind of browser stats graph. It shows numbers instead of percentage. Percentage-based graphs don't show just how much the pie has grown over time.
This is kinda sneaky but quite clever. Subtly encourage IE6 users to upgrade.
Saturday, April 18th, 2009
I think the first song that I ever heard by The Decemberists was Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect:
And here I dreamt I was a soldier
And I marched the streets of Birkenau
And I recall in spring
The perfume that the air would bring
To the indolent town.
I was hooked. I sought out the back catalogue of the hyperliterary band and found nary a dud. When they opened their last album, The Crane Wife, with the strumming of a bouzouki (my instrument of choice), they won me over completely.
Their latest album is The Hazards Of Love. A Decemberists album usually consists of a series of perfectly crafted pop songs but The Hazards Of Love is more like one extended narrative, to be listened to from start to finish. No, it’s not a rock opera or a concept album necessarily, but it does have an unashamedly prog rock feel to it.
As if it weren’t ambitious enough to record a whole folk-prog opus, they proceeded to play the entire saga live at this year’s South By Southwest. Fortunately NPR were on hand to record the event. You can listen to the whole concert.
Friday, April 17th, 2009
I think Scott McCloud would enjoy this.
Blast from the past
In preparing for my talk for the Bamboo Juice conference at the Eden Project in Cornwall next week, I find I’m doing a lot of WWILFing. After spending far too long reading about Stanford Tori and Bernal Spheres, and editing footage of a Von Braun-inspired orbital habitat, I got completely sidetracked into trying to figure out the storage capacity of the gold-plated record attached to Voyager 1.
I still haven’t found an answer—I’ve asked Voyager’s cousin for help—but I did stumble across a gem of a document from 1995. It’s by Simon Pockley and it’s called Lest We Forget or Why I chose the World Wide Web as a repository for archival material. Written in the infancy of the web, it makes for fascinating reading. It’s like a seedling of the semantic web. Some of the projections were way off but some of them were eerily prescient. Here’s my favourite passage:
Technological obsolescence is only a part of the problem in the preservation of digital information. The World Wide Web is a flexible carrier of digital material across both hardware and software. Its ability to disseminate this material globally, combined with its inherent flexibility, allow it to accommodate evolving standards of encoding and markup. Survival of significant material on-line is dependent on use and use is related to ease of access.
The document contains a number of hyperlinks to related material, all of which are collected into footnotes at the end. What’s heartbreaking is to discover how many of those links no longer resolve. Just a handful from the original list remain:
- Preserving Digital Objects: Recurrent Needs and Challenges by Michael Lesk
- From Digital Artefact to Digital Object by Ross Harvey
- Preservation Roles and Responsibilities of Collecting Institutions in the Digital Age by Maggie Jones
- Long-Term Management Issues in the Preservation of Electronic Information by Maggie Exon
- Culture and Cultural Memory: Challenges of an Electronic Era by Eric Wainwright
Four fifths of those links resolve to a single domain, that of the National Library of Australia. So much for our distributed repository of archival material.
Thursday, April 16th, 2009
This could be a handy iPhone app for the Clearleft office.
Pictures of some prototypes of the clock of the Long Now.
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
An editorially managed collection of type-related goodies: "Think of it as FFFFound for all things type, typography, lettering, & signage."
Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
A quick round-up of typographic best practices applied to the web.
Remy explains how to get Firefox 2 and Camino to recognise HTML5 structural elements.
Monday, April 13th, 2009
Blaine is doing his bit to battle the great linkrot apocalypse with an archive of short urls and their corresponding endpoints.
The New York Times covers Everyblock, Outside.in, and their ilk.
Sunday, April 12th, 2009
An online animated spaceship and experimental aircraft art magazine. Gorgeous.
Saturday, April 11th, 2009
I was away in Berlin for a few days, delivering a DOM Scripting workshop to the good people at Aperto. I had a good time, made even better by some excellent Spring weather and the opportunity to meet up with Anthony and Colin while I was there.
Excellent! I’d just like to add one piece of advice to anyone implementing or thinking of implementing
rev="canonical": if you are visibly linking to the short url of the current page, please remember to use
rev="canonical" on that
A element as well as on any
LINK element you’ve put in the
HEAD of your document. Likewise, for the coders out there, if you are thinking of implementing a
rev="canonical" parser—and let’s face it, that’s a nice piece of low-hanging fruit to hack together—please remember to also check for
rev attributes on
A elements as well as on
LINK elements. If anything, I would prioritise human-visible claims of canonicity over invisible metacrap.
Actually, there’s a whole bunch of nice metacrapital things you can do with your visible hyperlinks. If you link to an RSS feed in the
BODY of your document, use the same
rel values that you would use if you linked to the feed from a
LINK element in the
HEAD. If you link to an MP3 file, use the
type attribute to specify the right mime-type (
audio/mpeg). The same goes for linking to Word documents, PDFs and any other documents that aren’t served up with a mime-type of
text/html. So, for example, here on my site, when I link to the RSS feed from the sidebar, I’m using
href="/journal/rss" rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml". I’m also quite partial to the
hreflang attribute but I don’t get the chance to use that very often—this post being an exception.
rev="canonical" convention makes a nice addition to the stable of nice semantic richness that can be added to particular flavours of hyperlinks. But it isn’t without its critics. The main thrust of the argument against this usage is that the
rev attribute currently doesn’t appear in the HTML5 spec. I’ve even seen people use the past tense to refer to an as-yet unfinished specification:
rev attribute was taken out of the HTML5 spec
As is so often the case with HTML5, the entire justification for dropping
rev seems to be based on a decision made by one person. To be fair, the decision was based on available data from 2005. In light of recent activity and the sheer number of documents that are now using
rev="canonical"—Flickr alone accounts for millions—I would hope that the HTML5 community will have the good sense to re-evaluate that decision. The document outlining the design principles of HTML5 states:
When a practice is already widespread among authors, consider adopting it rather than forbidding it or inventing something new.
The unbelievable speed of adoption of
rev="canonical" shows that it fulfils a real need. If the HTML5 community ignore this development, not only would they not be paving a cowpath, they would be refusing to even acknowledge that a well-trodden cowpath even exists.
The argument against
rev seems to be that it can be confusing and could result in people using it incorrectly. By that argument, new elements like
footer should be kept out of any future specification for the same reason. I’ve already come across confusion on the part of authors who thought that these new elements could only be used once per document. Fortunately, the spec explains their meaning.
The whole point of having a spec is to explain the meaning of elements and attributes, be it for authors or user-agents. Without a spec to explain what they mean, elements like
A don’t make any intuitive sense. It’s no different for attributes like
rev. To say that
rev isn’t a good attribute because it requires you to read the spec is like saying that in order to write English, you need to understand the language. It’s neither a good nor bad thing, it’s just a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.
Friday, April 10th, 2009
Dave Gorman understands Twitter. Many do not.
Vintage advertising of science and technology.
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.
John Gruber provides a PHP-based way of busting out of Digg's 90s-style framing. I shall be implementing this forthwith.
Chris Shiflett gets behind the rev="canonical" movement. This thing is really gaining momentum.
Thursday, April 9th, 2009
A person-specific portal generated using Google's Social Graph API. And it's less than 5K!
Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
rev="canonical" has a posse.
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
To paraphrase XKCD, someone not on the internet is wrong.
Exhibit A: Rupert Murdoch wants to stop Google indexing newspaper content, asking
Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights? As Danny Sullivan points out, Mr. Murdoch could save himself a crusade by simply writing a
Exhibit B: Some hack in The Guardian puts paid to the myth that newspapers publish “quality content” by writing a screed entitled Google is just an amoral menace. The problem here seems to be that Google is too powerful for its own good because it does a great of job of aggregating content and making it easy to find. This problem statement is so absurd that even other journalists can see it’s wrong.
Whenever I see stalwarts of a dying business model rail against Google in this way, I can’t help but think that what they’re really angry with is the web itself.
Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel. They tend not to be any good at debate.
At least all of this nonsense shows that the newspaper industry has moved from “denial” to “anger”. They just need to get through “bargaining” and “depression” before they finally reach “acceptance”.
Monday, April 6th, 2009
A lovely set of letterpress printing
In one of those instances of convergent online evolution, the subject of URL shorteners has been popping up a lot lately. You know; TinyURL, bit.ly, tr.im, and the like. I suspect a lot of this talk was prompted by the launch of the DiggBar and its accompanying short URL service that serves up your content in an
David Weiss writes about the security implications of URL shortening services. Meanwhile, Joshua Schachter talks about the danger of link rot:
The worst problem is that shortening services add another layer of indirection to an already creaky system. A regular hyperlink implicates a browser, its DNS resolver, the publisher’s DNS server, and the publisher’s website. With a shortening service, you’re adding something that acts like a third DNS resolver, except one that is assembled out of unvetted PHP and MySQL, without the benevolent oversight of luminaries like Dan Kaminsky and St. Postel.
We need to prepare for the day when N of the URL shorteners go out of business. When that happens a large part of the web will die. It will not be a good day.
Take the case of Twitter. Messages on Twitter are archived and addressable. If those messages contain links, they are shortened using TinyURL. If TinyURL were to disappear, it would leave a swamp of unresolved endpoints. Jason Kottke has a modest proposal:
In cases where shortening is necessary, Twitter should automatically use a shortener of their own. That way, users know what they’re getting and as long as Twitter is around, those links stay alive.
That would definitely work for that particular case. Of course Twitter could disappear, taking its archive of messages with it, but that’s a different situation. The loss of shortened URLs would be tightly coupled to the loss of the original messages.
But Twitter is just one example. What about the rest of us? Right now, if someone wants to pass around a shortened version of one of my URLs, they could use any one of the many URL shortening services out there. The result is potentially a score of different short URLs leading to the same endpoint. If some of those services disappear, link rot spreads.
Ideally, I should be able to specify a desired short URL for my content. This is something that Dopplr is already doing with its dplr.it domain.
Kellan says that they’re also putting together a URL shortener over at Flickr. He’s thinking about how to specify a short URL for a document: some way of specifying
here’s the short URL for this page in the same way that we can specify
here’s the stylesheet for this page or
here’s the RSS feed for this page.
rel attribute is used for stylesheets and RSS feeds so perhaps that’s the way to go. Something along the lines of
rel="alternate shorter" in the same way that we can point to an alternate stylesheet with
rel="alternate stylesheet". But in this case, we’re actually pointing to the same resource but with a different URL. So maybe something like
rel="alternate shorter self" would be more accurate. Heck, we could probably throw the
bookmark value in there too:
rel="alternate shorter self bookmark".
rel="canonical" recently. It’s a way of pointing from an alternate URL back to the canonical URL of the current document: the relationship of the linked document to the current document is “canonical”.
If you’re linking from the canonical URL to an alternate URL (like, say, a shortened URL), you could use
rev="canonical": the relationship of the current document to the linked document is “canonical”.
This certainly seems to be the more semantically correct way of pointing to a shortened URL. Alas,
rev is a beleaguered little emo attribute: no-one understands it. At least, that’s the claim of the HTML5 community, who plan to drop it completely.
Personally, I share Paul’s intuitions:
HTML is a living language and the HTML5 WG should behave more like the OED rather than the French Government.
So if enough of us publish documents using ARIA roles,
rev attributes, they will not go gentle into that good night.
Should the idea of distributed, rather than centralised, URL shortening take off, I can imagine a situation where short URL auto-discovery is as commonplace as RSS auto-discovery. So if I paste a link into a microblogging site like Twitter, or choose to “Mail this page” from my browser, then the website or mail client could check the head of the document for a preferred short URL. It’s a little bit like OpenID delegation: I could either create my own URL shortening service or specify a provider I trust.
Update: Kellan has now implemented
Update 2: …and Dopplr have duly implemented
rev="canonical" which works a treat with Kellan’s auto-discovery tool. Here’s an example.
Update 3: This just keeps getting better. Now there’s a blog devoted to
rev="canonical" which has already documented not one, but two Wordpress plugins.
A logo designer accused of ripping off his own work — kind of like what happened to Dan.
Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Trust Tom to use the Guardian's new API for the purpose of answering those pressing questions, like "is fuckknuckle *really* the new cockbadger?"
Let the right tweet in
As with most twittering organisations, the stream has news of future events, such as the impending visit by Charlie Kaufman. But rather than simply using Twitter as another channel for announcements, the people behind the account are using it to have a proper conversation with the cinema’s audience. Hence the requests for movie marathon suggestions or late night shows.
A couple of weeks ago, they posted this irresistible tweet:
anyone that fancies seeing Let The Right One In at a spooky late night screening on Thursday 2nd April DM us for tickets
So I did. That’s why I found myself in the Duke of York’s cinema at 11pm last night, sitting on a comfy sofa up in the balcony, drinking a (free) Swedish beer, watching a mesmerising, beautiful, frightening film (imagine if Twilight had been directed by Bergman).
Watch this film. If you live in Brighton, you know where to go.
Equations to live by.
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Allow your Twitter location to be automatically updated from FireEagle. The process of connecting you, FireEagle, and Twitter is beautiful: 1 x OpenID + 2 x OAuth.
Step by step instructions for making your own Internet Explorer voodoo doll to stick pins into.
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
Help keep your culture error-free by proof-reading small pieces of literature from Project Gutenberg.
The UX Brighton website is sporting a new lick of paint and looking rather lovely.