Twitter / MarsPhoenix: Are you ready to celebrate?...
In the future, all great scientific discoveries will be conveyed in 140 characters.
In the future, all great scientific discoveries will be conveyed in 140 characters.
Pausing for breath is for pussies. Simon's slides illustrate how to pack everything including the OpenID kitchen sink into 45 minutes.
The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.
So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.
Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)
The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.
I can has Arduino?
For those of you who attended my XTech talk yesterday (and, indeed, for those of you who didn’t), here are a few jumping off points I mentioned:
I’ve been a very bad conference attendee. I slept in this morning ‘till 11am and missed the opening keynotes. I was looking forward to seeing what Adam Greenfield had to say but I guess I was more tired than I realised.
It’s not like I had a particularly late night last night. I spent a very pleasant evening in a cosy bistro with Jessica, Brian, Andy and Gavin.
By the time I made it over to the conference venue, the morning sessions were wrapping up so I had lunch for breakfast. Once I was all caffeined up, I started getting ready for my talk.
I gave a presentation called microformats: the nanotechnology of the semantic web. I enjoyed myself and I think other people did too. I might have pushed the nanotech anology too far but I got a kick out of talking about buckyballs and grey goo. I talked for a bit longer than I was planning so I didn’t have as much time for questions as I would have liked but I also think I managed to anticipate a lot of questions during the talk anyway.
I should have really stuck around in the same room after my talk to listen to a presentation on RDFa and GRIDDL but I dashed next door to hear Gavin’s presentation on provenance. I loved this. He’s thinking about a lot of the same things that I have in terms of lifestreams and portable social networks but whereas I just talk about this stuff, he’s gone and built some proof-of-concept to illustrate how it’s possible today to join up the dots of identity online. I really wish he was coming to Hack Day.
Speaking of Hack Day (it’s just a month away now), I fully expect to see plenty of hacking on hardware going on. Before XTech, this was unknown territory for me but I know I’d really like to roll up my sleeves and get hacking (and I haven’t even heard what Matt Webb has to say yet).
Today I was introduced to a piece of hardware with a difference: the Nabaztag—a WiFi-enabled rabbit with flashing lights and movable ears. I want one. The Nabaztag presentation also included the quote of the day for me:
If you can connect rabbits, you can connect nearly everything.
I’ve been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly lately. Last week I was over in Dublin for an Ajax seminar; the week before that I made a trip up to Rochdale for a workshop. Usually these trips involve an airplane at some stage of the journey and, while I don’t hate flying, the glamour of it has certainly worn off.
This week I’m in Paris for XTech 2007. I didn’t have to go anywhere near an airport or an airplane to get here. Myself, Andy, Jessica and Brian came over on the Eurostar. I know it’s not exactly a hi-tech mission impossible mode of transport any more but I’m still so thrilled to be able to get on a train in London and get off a few short hours later in Paris. The future is here and it doesn’t involve turbulence.
After a fun geek dinner on our first night, I got up bright and early to head over to the conference venue for registration. The conference proper doesn’t kick off ‘till Wednesday but it was preceded by a day of tutorials and a special ubicomp track. I went along to check this out and I found it all to be quite fascinating… though I’m not sure if I was even supposed to be there (there’s some byzantine system that explains who can get into what but I couldn’t follow it).
I caught the tail end of the first presentation which was by Dave Raggett. From the little I caught, it was stuff that would have gone way, way, way over my head. Dave then stuck around to ably steer the rest of the ubicomp talks.
Timo Arnall gave a superb presentation called Physical Hyperlinks comparing Bluetooth, SMS, RFID and barcodes. What really made this talk different was that he didn’t just talk about the technical aspects of each technology, he also examined the user experience and cultural nuances. Thought-provoking stuff.
A jetlagged Paul Hammond then told us all about location-based services and how the technology still sucks. I really like Paul’s pragmatic approach: at last year’s XTech, he pointed out the potential downsides to open data; this year, he outlined all the problems with geocoding. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of his insights was so blindingly obvious, it had me slapping my forehead: instead of trying to use machines to figure out where someone is, just ask them to tell you. That’s what Flickr did with their mapping interface: by dragging a photo onto a map, you’re telling the machine where you took the photo instead of the machine trying to extract geo information from your phone, camera, computer, or whatever.
Right after Paul, Matt Biddulph came on to talk about Second Life. But he didn’t stop there. He took the lessons of Second Life—quick and easy prototyping and hacking—and brought them into the real world, showing us how anyone can cheaply build real-world interactive objects. His enthusiasm is infectious and now I want to start making bluetooth-controlled toys just for the fun of it.
I skipped out the middle of the day to explore a bit of Paris with Jessica but I made sure to get back in time for Aaron Straup Cope’s talk on The Papernet: small pieces of paper loosely joined. Again, this was a very pragmatic presentation that pointed out the many advantages that a simple piece of paper has over a laptop or mobile phone. It all depends on context of course but there’s no denying the robustness and portability of plain ol’ paper. He also demoed some fun online toys that I’m going to try to find time to play with.
The day wrapped up with a talk from designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. Her perspective on things—coming from product design—was invaluable. This kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination can really help to shake things up. It was a great way to wrap up the day.
So plenty of inspirational stuff was offered up and the conference hasn’t even officially kicked off yet. Considering the subject matter, it was ironic that the WiFi is more or less non-existant at the venue. C’est la vie. Fortunately the hotel where I’m staying has a free connection. That’s where I’m blogging from right now.
I think I’d better call it a night. I need to get some beauty sleep so that I’m in a fit state to give my presentation tomorrow. If you’re at XTech and you’re curious about microformats, come along tomorrow right after lunch. À bientôt.
XTech 2006 is over and with it, my excursion to Amsterdam.
All in all, it was a good conference. A lot of the subject matter was more techy than I’m used to, but even so, I found a lot to get inspired by. I probably got the most out of the “big picture” discussions rather than presentations of specific technology implementations.
Apart from my outburst during Paul Graham’s keynote, I didn’t do any liveblogging. Suw Charman, on the other hand, was typing like a demon. Be sure to check out her notes.
The stand-out speaker for me was Steven Pemberton of the W3C. He packed an incredible amount of food for thought into a succinct, eloquently delivered presentation. Come to think of it, a lot of the best stuff was delivered by W3C members. Dean Jackson gave a great report of some of the most exciting W3C activities, like the Web API Working Group, for instance.
I had the pleasure of chairing a double-whammy of road-tested presentations by Tom Coates and Thomas Vander Wal. I knew that their respective subject matters would gel well together but the pleasant surprise for me was the way that the preceding presentation by Paul Hammond set the scene perfectly for the topic of open data and Web Services. Clearly, a lot of thought went into the order of speakers and the flow of topics.
Stepping back from the individual presentations, some over-arching themes emerge:
The case for declarative languages was strongly made. Steven Pemberton gave the sales pitch while the working example was delivered in an eye-opening presentation of Ajax delivered via XForms.
Tim O’Reilly is right: data is the new Intel Inside. Right now, there’s a lot of excitement as to do with access to data via APIs but I think in the near future, we might see virtual nuclear war fought around control for people’s data (events, contacts, media, etc.). I don’t know who would win such a war but, based on Jeffrey McManus’s presentation, Yahoo really “gets it” when it comes to wooing developers. On the other hand, Jeff Barr showed that Amazon can come up APIs for services unlike any others.
Standards, standards, standards. From the long-term vision of the W3C right down to microformats, it’s clear that there’s a real hunger for standardised, structured data.
Put all that together and you’ve got a pretty exciting ecosystem: Web Services as the delivery mechanism, standardised structures for the data formats and easy to use declarative languages handling the processing. Apart from that last step — which is a longer-term goal — that vision is a working reality today. Call it Web 2.0 if you like; it doesn’t really matter. The discussion has finally moved on from defining Web 2.0 to just getting on with it (much like the term “information architecture” before it). The tagline of XTech 2006 — Building Web 2.0 — was well chosen.
But the presentations were only one part of the conference. Just like every other geek gathering, the real value comes from meeting and hanging out with fellow web junkies who invariably turn out to be not only ludicrously smart but really, really nice people too. It helps that a city like Amsterdam is a great place to eat, drink and talk about matters nerdy and otherwise.
I’m sitting in a big room at XTech 2006 listening to Paul Graham talk about why there aren’t more start-ups in Europe. It’s essentially a Thatcherite screed about why businesses should be able to get away with doing anything they want and treat employees like slaves.
In comparing Europe to the US, Guru Graham points out that the US has a large domestic market. Fair point. The EU — designed to be one big domestic market — suffers, he feels, by the proliferation of languages. However, he also thinks that it won’t be long before Europe is all speaking one language — namely, his. In fact, he said
Even French and German will go the way of Luxembourgish and Irish — spoken only in kitchens and by eccentric nationalists.
What. A. Wanker.
Update: Just to clarify for the Reddit geeks, here’s some context. I’m from Ireland. I speak Irish, albeit not fluently. I’m calling Paul Graham a wanker because I feel personally insulted by his inflammatory comment about speakers of the Irish language. I’m not insulted by his opinions on start-ups or economics or language death — although I may happen to disagree with him. I’m responding as part of the demographic he insulted. If he just said the Irish language will die out, I wouldn’t have got upset. He crossed a line by insulting a group of people — a group that happened to include someone in the audience he was addressing — instead of simply arguing a point or stating an opinion. In short, he crossed the line from simply being opinionated to being a wanker.