Tags: sxswi2006



Mashing up with microformats

Back in March, during South by Southwest, Tantek asked me if I’d like to sit in on his microformats panel alongside Chris Messina and Norm! The audio recording of the panel is now available through the conference podcast.

I’ve taken the liberty of having the recording transcribed (using castingWords.com) and I’ve posted a tidied up version of the transcript to the articles section: Microformats: Evolving the Web. You can listen along through the articles RSS feed which doubles up as a podcast.

I’ve also posted the transcript on the microformats wiki so that others can edit it if they catch any glaring mistakes in the transcription.

During the panel I talked about Adactio Austin, a fairly trivial use of microformats but one that I’ve been building upon. I’d like to provide some cut’n’paste JavaScript that would allow people to get some added value from using microformats. Supposing you have a bunch of locations marked up in hCard with geotags, you could drop in a script and have a map appear showing those locations.

Perhaps the geotagging won’t even be necessary. Google added a geocoder to their mapping API two weeks ago. The UK, alas, is not yet supported (probably because the Post Office won’t let go of its monopoly that easily… Postman Pat, your money-grabbing days are numbered).

Unfortunately, Google Maps isn’t very suited to the cut’n’paste idea: you have to register a different API key for each domain where you want to use the mapping API.

The Yahoo maps API is less draconian about registration but its lack of detailed UK maps makes it a non-starter for me.

Maybe I should step away from maps and concentrate on events instead. It probably wouldn’t be too hard too write a script to create a calendar based on any hCalendar data found in a document. Perhaps I’ll investigate the calendar widget from Yahoo.

Ultimately I’d like to create something like Chris’s Mapendar idea. If only there were enough hours in the day.

Upcoming webolution

At the risk of becoming API-watch Central, I feel I must point out some nifty new features that have been added to Upcoming.org.

Andy and the gang have been diligently geotagging events using Yahoo’s geocoder API. Best of all, these latitude and longitude co-ordinates are now also being exposed through the API. Methinks Adactio Austin won’t be the last mashing up of event and map data I’ll be doing.

On the Upcoming site itself, you can now limit the number of attendees for an event, edit any venues you’ve added and edit your comments. This comes just a few days after Brian Suda mentioned in a chat that he would like to have the option to edit this comment later (right now he’s looking for somewhere to stay during XTech).

Feature wished for; feature added. This is exactly the kind of iterative, evolutionary growth that goes a long way towards what Kathy Sierra calls creating passionate users. By all accounts, her panel at South by Southwest was nothing short of outstanding. Everyone I spoke to who attended was raving about it for days. Muggins here missed it but I have a good excuse. I was busy signing freshly-purchased books, so I can’t complain.

Design, old and new

One of the very first panels on the very first day of South by Southwest was Traditional design and new technology. The subject matter and the people couldn’t be faulted but there were some technical difficulties with the sound. I was at the back of the room and the dodgy mics made it hard going at times.

Khoi and Mark had some really good insights into the role of traditional design disciplines in the brave new media world. I enjoyed the fact that the panelists weren’t always in agreement: I like it when things get stirred up a bit.

Towards the end of the discussion, a question came up that turned the subject on its head: how has new technology affected old media. I didn’t get the chance to mention it at the time, but I immediately thought of last year’s Guardian redesign.

There are a lot of very webby touches to the new-look Guardian: blue underlined “links”, sidebars with the acronym FAQ, etc. Perhaps it’s a result of this webbiness, but I really, really like the paper’s new look and feel.

I’m not the only one. When Shaun came to visit, he was quite taken with the Guardian. The custom made typeface — Egyptian — sealed the deal.

I didn’t post my initial reaction to the paper’s new look because I wanted to allow some time to live with it for a while. My feelings haven’t changed though. I still like it a lot.

I do wonder, though, whether my emotional response to the design stems from the fact that I’m web-based kind of guy with a web-based aesthetic. It would be interesting to compare my reaction (or Shaun’s) with that of someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time browsing websites.

Talking about microformats

My Adactio Austin mashup proved to be very useful during South by Southwest. It was very handy having instant access to the geographical location of the next party.

Austin being Austin, I didn’t have to worry much about getting online: the city is swimming/drenched/floating/saturated in WiFi. After attending Tantek’s birthday celebrations at La Sol Y La Luna restaurant, which is not located downtown, a bunch of us stood on the street and began hailing taxis to get back into the town centre. In an attempt to ascertain exactly where we needed to tell the cab driver to take us in order to reach the next party, I whipped out my iBook, hoping for a net connection. There were five networks. That’s my kind of town.

While I had anticipated that Adactio Austin would make the evenings run smoother, I had planned on it affecting my daytime activities. As it turned out, my little experiment landed me a place on a panel.

When Aaron and I were preparing our DOM Scripting presentation for this year’s conference, I made sure that we nabbed ourselves a slot on the first day. I wanted to get the work out of the way so that I could relax for the rest of the conference. It was a good plan but the use of in my mashup prompted Tantek to ask me to sit it on his Monday morning panel. That’s how I found myself sitting behind a microphone together with Tantek, Chris and Norm, talking about the practical implementations of hCard and hCalendar.

I have to say it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable talks I’ve ever given. We began the morning in a cafe geeking out about microformats, then we were in the green room geeking out about microformats and finally we were on stage geeking out about microformats. The movement from one location to the other went so smoothly that I felt as relaxed on the panel as I did in the cafe. I’m really glad Tantek asked me to say a few words.

Mind you, I probably came across as a complete booze hound. Tantek talked about the philosophy behind microformats, Chris talked about the tails extension for Flock, Norm talked about microformats at Yahoo! Europe… and I talked about where to go to get free beer. At this stage, I had also been doing some practical research in the field so I suspect my voice was somewhat raspy.

It was really interesting to compare the change in the perception of microformats within the space of one year. At South by Southwest 2005, there were two standout presentations for me: Eric and Tantek independently gave talks about this new fangled idea called microformats. At the time, I hadn’t even heard of the concept, so it was a real eye-opener for me. This year, microformats were a recognised, exciting technology. One week after SXSW, Bill Gates announced that “We need microformats”. That’s a lot of recognition.

From my experiences with my own humble experiments, I think there’s a lot of value to be had with mixing up events (using hCalendar) and mapping (using ). Throw into the mix and you’ve got some pretty big steps towards a good lowercase semantic web.

Think about it: if you’ve got some kind of application that’s native to a web of data (as Tom so succinctly puts it), you’ve already got addressable objects (using the most basic RESTful interface of all: URLs). Now, if you can add geographical, temporal or semantic data to those resources (using geotagging, hCalendar, and tagging, respectively), you can increase the value of that data exponentially. Just think of all the mashup potential of that content.

Dammit! In hindsight, I wish I could have nabbed Tom, Reverend Dan, Thomas and Tantek in Austin to have an impromptu brainstorm in the corridor about this stuff.

A proper podcast for South by Southwest 2006

The South by SouthWest website erronously lists a series of downloadable audio files as “podcasts”. Hugh, don’t make me come over there and give you a patronising scolding like the one I gave to Ryan.

Confusingly, there is an RSS file available but it doesn’t use enclosures so podcast playing software like iTunes can’t find the audio files.

Jason Landry to the rescue. He’s hand-rolled an RSS file with enclosures pointing to the audio files. Point your podcast subscribing software of choice at the SXSW 2006 Interactive Panels Podcast.

Back from Austin

The interactive portion of South by Southwest is over. It’s been quite a whirlwind.

It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. Wherever I went, I met great people and I was able to put more faces to blogs I read. If I had one complaint it was that there just wasn’t enough time to really talk to everyone. I wish I could have cloned myself for the duration of the conference. There are a lot of people I would have liked to have spent more time with.

To anyone who came up and introduced themselves to me, thank you. Thank you very much.

To anyone who I went up to and introduced myself to, sorry. Extra special apologies to the woman whose foot I stood on while I was having a fanboy moment with Derek Powazek. I finally get to meet the person responsible for me “getting” the web all those years ago and I go and ruin the moment.

Just about everyone who was in Austin last year was back again this year except for Dan, Doug, Elsa and Joe who were greatly missed. Those who did attend came en masse. To paraphrase Bruce Sterling, people were showing up in buddy lists.

Attendance was up; way up. Fortunately everything scaled up pretty well. The rooms were bigger and the venues booked for parties were expanded. The Brit Pack contingent was at least twice as big this year, but we’re being given a run for our money from The Oz Squad.

The really gratifying thing about SXSW this year was the increase in the number of women attending. As Leslie put it, it’s a very good sign when there’s a queue for the women’s toilets at a tech conference. Compare and contrast to the Carson Workshops Summit here in England where, out of 800 attendees, the number of women was a low single figure percentile.

I think BlogHer helped enormously in raising the profile of women at SXSW this year. I really, really hope that this trend continues and spreads to other conferences. It just remains for us men to get over the ‘boys will be boys” jokes and downright sexism that rise to the surface with depressing predictability.

For the most, I kept myself offline for the duration of the conference. I kept my laptop firmly closed during every presentation and enjoyed them more for it. I’m relying on the audio files and Cindy’s l33t liveblogging skillz to refresh my memory. I have lots I want to talk about: microformats, tagging, accessibility and more on the role of comments and online communities.

Expect to see some rambling posts prompted by panels and corridor conversations.