Tags: 2008

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Oh Nine

At the start of 2008, my past self wrote down a few resolutions for my future (now present) self:

  • Reduce and/or offset your non-renewable energy output.
  • Give blood.
  • Lose some weight, you fat bastard.
  • Play more bouzouki.

Let’s take them one at time…

Reduce and/or offset your non-renewable energy output.

Yeah… um… so that didn’t really work out all that well. Yes, I did fit energy-efficient light bulbs. Also, I don’t drive a car. That’s something of which I am not just proud but downright smug. But I did end up doing a helluva lotta travelling. Some of that was offset—all the Web Directions conferences are carbon neutral, for example—but I’m still responsible for a lot of jet fuel. My Dopplr animal is a squirrel, for crying out loud!

Still, I made the most of all that travel. Thailand and Japan—both new destinations for me—were certainly highlights but I also loved getting back to San Francisco and any trip to Alaska is bound to be good.

This year I’ll be cutting down on my travel. No, really! I mean… of course I’ll be going to South By Southwest again and I will be speaking at An Event Apart in Boston in June but apart from that, I’ll be staying close to home. Honest.

Give blood.

Score! I did this. Twice. I would have done it more but all that travelling makes it hard—they don’t like you to donate if you’ve just come back from somewhere exotic like, oh, the USA. Apparently it’s just awash with the West Nile virus in Summertime.

Seriously though… please, please, please give blood. Not only will you be doing a great service but I guarantee it will restore your faith in humanity to see the cross-section of society there with you.

Lose some weight, you fat bastard.

Alas, no. If anything, I might well be portlier now than I was this time a year ago. I need to start taking brisk walks along Brighton seafront and practising portion control in my food intake.

Yeah, we’ll see how that works out.

Play more bouzouki

Again, no. I played plenty of bouzouki with the band but my proficiency with jigs’n’reels is lacking. Being in Ireland for Christmas, including two days in Galway, has been a timely reminder of just how much I love trad music. I need to maintain that enthusiasm throughout the year and maybe even get out to a session or two.

So that was my scorecard for 2008. One out of four.

Given this woeful result, rather than add or replace any resolutions, I’m going to carry them over into 2009. I’ll start fulfilling them tomorrow. Or maybe Monday.

Please don’t hate me, future self.

Supernova 2008

. A cathedral to geekdom. The aisle of divides the city in two. The spire of the soars through the fog. The city rests on the , a bedrock as safe and secure as the new economy. Erstwhile home to the gold rush of ‘48, San Francisco is now the epicentre of a whole different land grab.

I showed up on the weekend and spent a few days with Cindy checking out the street art in San Rafael, sampling some excellent sushi and making a fool of myself on the Wii. By Monday morning I had transferred over to Port Zero and together with Tantek, I headed out to the opening of Supernova 2008.

This was a very different conference to my usual diet of design and development. There was a definite whiff of “thought leaders” in the air, tinged with the odor of entrepreneurs and consultants. The day got off to a good start with the inimitable Clay Shirky followed by Esther Dyson. Things took a bit more of a corporate twist when Rob Iannucci from Nokia began boasting of the company’s market share. My usual reaction to hearing these kinds of statistics is the same as seeing the latest music or movie charts — to me, it all just reinforces .

The downward spiral continued with a panel devoted to television and advertising, two crappy flavours that taste crappy together. I don’t hate these subjects because they are outdated and doomed;I hate them because they are boring. Once again, Buzzword Bingo saved the day. At least three people in the front row (myself, Tantek and Kevin) were shooting buzzword fish in a buzzword barrel to save us from having to gnaw our own legs off.

Then, just when I thought that things couldn’t sink any lower, Arrington The Hutt waddled on stage, sucking the last remaining vestiges of cool from the room, leaving only a slime trail for attendant VCs to eagerly lap up. But at the last moment, the day was saved with the utterance of those two magical words: “free booze.”

Day two was very different. It started off with one of the best panels I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. BJ Fogg expertly moderated the clumsily-titled People: What We Know, and What it Means? featuring Charlene Li, Eszter Hargittai and Elizabeth Churchill. Not only were all three excellent speakers, but they also brought a wealth of research with them to support their findings on user behaviour. The panel was entertaining and stimulating; the perfect antidote to the previous day’s channelling of by Rob Iannucci, who was convinced that all motivations were transactional in nature …a creepy, misguided viewpoint that completely fails to account for the rich tapestry of emotions that drives our activities.

The afternoon was taken up with a themed track of talks called Open Flow which had been put together by Tantek. In a nod to the spirit of openness, he projected a backchannel onto the wall: any Twitter postings containing the words “supernova2008 open flow.” Ariel and I rickrolled it just once or twice.

Tantek took the moderation reins for a panel entitled Whose Social Graph?, a title that prompted an absent Zeldman to propose a breakout session on advanced webcockery, my favourite comment of the day. The panel featured Kevin from Google and Dave Morin from Facebook, very deliberately separated by Joseph from Plaxo. Tantek pulled up David’s blog post entitled It Seems that Google and Facebook Still Can’t Get Connected and watched the sparks fly. Arguments around privacy and terms of service were tossed back and forth between Dave and Kevin until Dave finally played the lawyer card and refused to discuss the situation any further.

I was due to moderate the final panel and, much as I like to stir the shit when I’m the gamesmaster, I knew I could never follow the perfect shitstorm that Tantek had so cleverly whipped up. I could, however, have some fun.

A few times during his panel, Tantek confused Google’s Friend Connect with Facebook’s Friend Finder …or maybe it was Frend Feed? Anyway, it’s an easy mistake to make. It seems that most of the hippest new technologies are named by simply combining positive-sounding words like “connect”, “friend” or “open”. So while the other panels were still going on, I hacked together The Social Buzzword Generator (it seems to have tickled the funny bone of at least one journalist at the Wall Street Journal).

When it was time for my panel, I debuted the buzzword generator and also pulled up buzzword bingo, encouraging the audience to play along with both toys. The panel was called Bottom-Up Distributed Openness and I had Tantek, David, Chris and Leah lined up. The order of the line-up reflected the age of each technology I had them speak about:

  • Tantek described microformats—three years old this week.
  • David talked about OpenID—less than two years old.
  • Chris gave the skinny on OAuth—a specification since November.
  • Leah described oEmbed—just a few weeks old.

I was interested in finding the commonalities and differences between all these communities. As we delved into the inner workings of each one, it became clear that they were all “open” but to a deliberately limited degree. But that’s no different than, say, the open source movement. It’s clear that Linus Torvald’s contribution to Linux is going to count more than a complete stranger’s. I posited the idea that it was no different for each of the panelists in their respective communities. The term “benevolent dictatorship” was tossed around. A comment on Twitter summmed it up nicely: Open is as open does.

All in all, it was a good panel and a good day. Best of all, there was a visual journalist on hand throughout the afternoon, doodling all the ideas and connections that were flowing.

So Supernova was a bit of a mixed bag overall but when it opened up to real people who genuinely had something worthwhile to say, rather than company shills pitching their products, it really shone. Kevin put a lot of work into organizing this conference and it was a pleasure to be a part of it. In some ways, Supernova is the perfect reflection of San Francisco …warts and all.

XEN

I’ve published a transcript of the panel I moderated at South by Southwest this year. The subject was Building Portable Social Networks and I had a blast moderating, mostly due to my great co-panelists, Chris Messina, Leslie Chicoine, David Recordon and Joseph Smarr.

During the panel, I made reference to an ongoing joke by Brian and myself to do a negative version of — an XHTML Enemies Network. I always thought of it as a frivolous idea but sometimes I wonder if there might be the occasional real-world use case.

Suppose, for instance, that I wanted to link to Mike “The Dick” Arrington’s latest bit of bollocks over on TechC*nt? Well, now I can add some extra semantic richness to that link by throwing in the appropriate rel value.

I give you the XEN 1.0 profile.

Please note the fine print:

XEN is not a microformat. It is a joke.

FooVid

At the end of the that I was at two months ago, the good folks at O’Reilly offered attendees the chance to share their thoughts on the weekend. So after 48 hours of sleep deprivation, some of us looked into a camera and performed mini braindumps.

Sand E. Eggo

I’m in San Diego for Jared’s Web App Summit. It’s my first time here and I find myself quite won over by the city’s charm. It’s a shiny sparkly kind of place.

The conference kicked off with a day of workshops. I should have tried to gatecrash Luke or Indy’s sessions but with the weather being so nice, I bunked off with Derek, Keith and Cindy to venture across the water from Coronado to explore the city. With no plan in mind, we found our path took us to the USS Midway, now a floating museum. We spent the rest of the afternoon geeking out over planes and naval equipment.

I got my talk about Ajax design challenges out of the way yesterday. It seemed to go pretty well. It might have been a little bit too techy for some of the audience here but I’ve received some very nice comments from a lot of people. As usual, the presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license. Feel free to download the slides but the usual caveat applies: the slides don’t make all that much sense in isolation.

With that out of the way, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day. The highlight for me was listening to Bill Scott talk about interaction anti-patterns. I found myself nodding vigourously in agreement with his research and recommendations. But I must join in the clamour of voices calling for Bill to put this stuff online somewhere. I would love to have a URL I could point to next time I’m arguing against adding borked behaviour to a web app.

The conference continues today. Jason Fried kicked off the day’s talks and Keith and Derek will be in the spotlight later on (it’s always convenient when Derek is on the same bill as me because I can fob off all the Ajax accessibility issues on him).

Before making the long journey back to the UK I’ve got a social event I’m looking forward to attending. There’s a microformats dinner tonightTantek is in town too for a CSS Working Group meetup. Come along to Gateway to India at 9520 Black Mountain Road if you’re in San Diego. We can combine a vegetarian Indian buffet with semantic geekery.

Foo through

I’m back in Brighton after my brief sojourn to California. My workload didn’t take a break while I was away so now I’m in catch-up mode.

The Social Graph Foo Camp was pretty darn great. I was nervous going into it that having one single topic would be too constricting but I needn’t have worried: the word “social” meant that the floor was open to quite a wide range of sessions. As well as the technical talks, there were some great discussions on the nature of society, and play. I could sit and talk with people like Kevin Marks, Gavin Bell and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden about this kind of stuff all day.

The invitation list for SGFoo was put together by David Recordon and Scott Kveton. They did an excellent job, shrewdly ensuring that no one person would know more than 25-30% of the other people there, which meant that everyone had the opportunity to meet lots of new interesting people. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to make it onto the list but I’m very grateful.

My only point of reference for this event was the BarCamps I’ve attended. While there’s a lot of similarity in terms of energy and enthusiasm, there are also some differences—the exclusivity being the obvious one. I think that the two models complement each other very well. A BarCamp is like going down to your local boozer: anyone can get in, you’ll meet your friends but you’ll also meet some new people with whom you have a lot in common. is more like a dinner party: you’ll still meet a mixture of people you know and people you don’t but everyone there has been invited by the host. I like the idea of a social life balanced between pub-going and dinner parties.

Foo fighting

The bulk of SG Foo Camp was staged on Saturday with talks from 10am to 10pm.

It was interesting to get a feel for the recurring issues. The really big issues are social in nature: user expectations, data ownership and, of course, social network portability. On the technical side, I was struck by how big XMPP has become. It’s something I know next to nothing about. It was really gratifying to see how established has become. It came up time and time again as key component in glueing social networks together. It’s going to really explode now that the has launched.

Speaking of which, the day kicked off with Brad Fitzpatrick and Kevin Marks answering questions about the API. The unanswered question right now is also the most exciting: how are people going to use it?

After that, Chris and Steve did a run-down of . During the following break, I was having a nice chat with Rohit Khare about social objects. Somehow we got onto the subject of Hackfight and I mentioned Justin Hall who was a big inspiration. I looked around and who did I see but… Justin Hall! Cue the next conversation.

Matthew Rothenberg from Flickr asked me to come along to a discussion on user expectations to share my story of the Adactio Elsewhere shitstorm. Then I listened to Tom share his excitement about Fire Eagle before slipping out to join in a discussion about games and play.

During the dinner break, I took the opportunity to gather together my fellow South by Southwest panelists, all of whom are here. I have feeling that the panel is going to be teh awsum.

After dinner, it was my turn to host a session. My subject was the password anti-pattern. Brave representatives from Facebook, Plaxo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dopplr and Pownce showed up to be named and shamed (though most of the shame was reserved for Google in not providing an API for contacts). I can’t talk too much about some of the things that were said but it was by turns frustrating, exhilarating, inspiring and depressing. Someone pointed out that the session was like a bunch of oil barons gathered around a table discussing the impact of environmental issues on the bottom line. I guess I was the tree-hugging activist.

All in all, it was quite a day; full of good chat with interesting people. Needless to say, I’m now exhausted. I don’t know if I even have the energy for Werewolf.

SG Foo Camp schedule

Thanks to my life-saving inflatable mattress, I managed to get a decent night’s sleep. A full day of sessions is about to kick off so I’m going to fortify myself with plenty of coffee.

But markup comes before coffee. I’ve copied down the schedule (as it currently stands) from the whiteboard and turned it into a nice portable hCalendar:

http://icanhaz.com/sgfoo

If you’re here, you might want to subscribe to the schedule and stick it on your phone (or any other device with a calendar).

Foo camping

The day that I was flying to San Francisco, Simon and Nat were flying to New Zealand for Kiwi Foo and Webstock so we shared a bus to Heathrow. They both look knackered because they had attempted to “get on New Zealand time” by staying up all night. We parted at the airport: See you in Austin I said. Good luck decentralising the social graph he replied.

Since arriving in San Francisco, I’ve spent most of my time trying to meet up with as many people as possible. A hastily-convened microformats/geek dinner helped to accomplish that.

Now I’m in Sebastopol for the SG Foo Camp. The letters SG stand for Social Graph, which is unfortunate—I’m not a big fan of that particularly techy-sounding term. That said, I’m really looking forward to hearing more from Brad Fitzpatrick about the new Social Graph API from Google. It isn’t the first XFN parser but it’s the only one with Google’s infrastructure. The data returned from spidering my XFN links is impressive but the fact that it can also return results with inbound links is very impressive, although it takes significantly longer to return results and often times out.

For most people, today’s big news was Microsoft licking its lips at Yahoo but that was completely eclipsed by the new API for me. While I was waiting at Tantek’s for Larry and Chris to drive by and pick us up, I spent my time gleefully looking through the reams of information returned from entering just one URL into the API. Just now, I was chatting with John Musser from Programmable Web and we were thinking up all the potential mashups that this could open up.

I’m not going to build anything just yet though. I’m far too tired. I need to find a nice quiet corner of the O’Reilly office to unroll my sleeping bag.

Rolling

Happy New Year!

At the beginning of 2007 I listed some resolutions:

  • to get back to some “real” work,
  • to keep travelling and speaking (I do love it so!),
  • to not write a book,
  • to play more bouzouki.

Three out of four ain’t bad. While I didn’t play nearly enough bouzouki, I enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and diving back into HTML/CSS/JavaScript, I really enjoyed not writing a book and yes, I certainly did plenty of public speaking:

  • Web Directions North Web Directions North in February
  • BarCamp London 2 BarCamp London 2 in February
  • South by Southwest South by Southwest in March
  • Highland Fling The Highland Fling in April
  • Web 2.0 Expo Web 2.0 Expo in April
  • XTech XTech in May
  • @media America @media America in May
  • Reboot 9.0 Reboot 9.0 in May
  • @media Europe @media Europe in June
  • Hackday Hackday in June
  • An Event Apart An Event Apart in August
  • dConstruct dConstruct in September
  • BarCamp Brighton BarCamp Brighton in September
  • Fundamentos Web Fundamentos Web in October
  • Voices That Matter Voices That Matter in October
  • Web 2.0 Expo Berlin Web 2.0 Expo Berlin in November
  • @media Ajax @media Ajax in November
  • BarCamp London 3 BarCamp London 3 in November

As a result, I did plenty of travelling. I paid inaugural visits to some wonderful destinations:

  • Whistler Whistler
  • San Francisco San Francisco
  • New York New York
  • Chicago Chicago
  • Asturias Asturias

I’ve already got some more travelling lined up for 2008. I’ll be making at least one return trip to San Francisco and needless to say, I’ll be in Austin again for South by Southwest. But not all of my sojourns will be web-related—Jessica and I will be making a trip to Thailand in February that I’m very excited about.

I’m going to start cranking up this year’s odometer in a few hours when I make my return trip across the Atlantic from Arizona back to Brighton. I think one of my new year’s resolutions should be to plant a forest in an attempt to assuage the guilt I’m feeling about my carbon footprint.

For my future self throughout this coming year, here are those resolutions you were looking for: