Catching the Wave (Oh I know it’s not original!)

I’ve been exploring using Google wave as a tool to help scaffold our work around Digital Scholarship Hackfests. My idea is simple –  i.e. to use wave a tool to capture the ideas forming that takes place before, during and after the hackfest – To help define the context of the work, to help support the discussions and provide a back channel during the development. The next hackfest is planned for the 24th so I’ll keep you posted of how we get on – key things are to get the group on wave, to get the discussion flowing freely and to keep the wave a reasonable size and shape.

I have only been trying wave for a short time but I’m enjoying it. It very simple conceptually but it does seem to have it’s own position. I was suggesting that it will form part of peoples online experience as time evolves.

At the moment it feels a little sterile as most of the conversations are about wave itself, or are people testing the water. It also feels a little chaotic and experimental. All of these things are fine in an emerging technology and I remembering feeling the same way when first experiencing email and conferencing many years ago when they were unrefined and raw. I think that ideas forming may be a crucial part of wave, as will it’s ability to mange complex relationships that used for be part of multiple email threads/discussions. It will also come of age when more people are on board and when etiquette is sorted out around privacy versus openness, and around whether you’re invited or can self join waves (I’d like a model like mail lists where some are open and some require you to be joined by the list moderators). I think the embedding is also fascinating and the ability to embed content from a range of sources will also help this mature into an extremely useful tool, it seems like it may have design applications, also CRM applications, it may replace wiki’s as a media for group and community led creations and it may also extend and complement email and twitter as a tool to manage complex organisational interactions. Finally it may be a tool that will help scaffold discourse and discussion, a bit like cloudworks.

I hope however it finds a home and does something new and that I haven’t thought of yet, something I didn’t know I needed until I used it in anger. Like twitter it enhances my life in small but very pleasant ways.

Future of Web Apps 2008

This isn’t a philosophical rant about what constitutes the future of web apps but rather a quick plug for the extremely informative FOWA conference which takes place in October (8th to 10th) in London. I’ve already booked my place and I thoroughly recommend it to others.

These conferences can sometimes be all hype and no substance but this one is full of great content. If you still don’t believe me then read my Blog post on last years event.

I’ll see you there.

I’m registered as both an academic and a manager this year, that should give me a confusing and interesting choice of ‘buddies’!


Posting from MS Word 2007

I’m testing the posting ability from Microsoft Word 2007. So far in the last ten minutes I’ve crashed Word and it restarted telling me it has retained my data but of course the blog post I’d been working on had disappeared, so it seems a bit flaky.

That aside why would I choose to use word over the WordPress editor? – I’m not sure. It’s nice in a way having the ‘usual’ office toolbars although that said the blog toolbars are a bit different. It’s not nice that it transmits your login info over the net each time you post but I’m getting used to that sort of thing. I’m also not convinced that most people used to Facebook, WordPress and other tools won’t just prefer to use them in a multi tabbed browser rather than use the one tool for all editing. I can’t see how for example I would add tags to my post. I can see how I might add it to categories which I’ve just done. In my opinion it’s a poor relative of the blog editor I’m used to.

Speaking of Web 2.0 stuff  – I’ve been in LinkedIn network for some time and recently got requested to be added to Plaxo too, there seem to be a plethora of these sites around all sharing my contact information amongst them and I’m getting used to adding myself to them every couple of weeks but not yet sure what the point of them all is. I’m still the same person as I was a few weeks ago so surely I should be able to put that somewhere and Plaxo, Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn etc. all have a talk in the background and say ‘oh yes I remember you, you’re that chap with the weird accent who hasn’t got many friends’ or the electronic equivalent of that…am I talking about OpenID you ask? – Probably OpenID with frills. Anyhow it would be nice not to have to fill in so much stuff each time you join a new site.

 p.s. I added the tags in afterwords…

Future of Web Apps (day 2)

Day two of the web apps conference was much like day one and I could describe the talks which would perhaps be interesting but nothing more than looking on the FOWA site and checking the tools out.

I met up with some colleagues and after the morning sessions (on SlideShare by Rashmo Sinha and The Future of Presence by Jyri from Jaiku and Felix Peterson of Plazes) and we discussed the fact that there are a plethora of tools that are aggregating feed of other services to provide you with a presence generater (where am I what was I doing, what do I intend to do) this can be a very good or very bad thing and people seem to be divided on whether it’s useful or not for them. For example why do I want to be part of the dopplr community when I don’t do any serious travelling (this is the further I’ve been in a couple of years) and those people I know that do travel has someone (usually their secretary or partner) who knows where they are! :^) – I can see how it would be good if I was part of a crowd of frequent travellers, so dopplr has a user group but it’s just not for me.

This made me think about the themes emerging form the conference so I’ll share these instead and they actually correlate with some of my predictions which I included in my earlier future of content blog. This is pretty good since you can assume that about 80% of predictions never come to pass.

So here are the themes I took away

(i) Entropy and Chaos – Website builders can’t predict how people will use their sites. You can’t simply throw people off since this makes them come back with a vengance so rather you need to ask why are they using the site in this particular way? – it could be that they have an idea that needs to be pursued. This is how Dogster and Catster came to being because people wanted to share pet profiles with each other but couldn’t do it on other “about me” type spaces (they tried and the administrators remove the pet ones, ha!). You need to adapt to users needs and keep control to a minimum at least on social networking sites.

(ii) Omni-visual-presence – (almost but not quite godlike!) – having your presence available to everyone in the world, “where am I”, “what am I doing”, “where am I going”, “where have I been”. Big mashups are being created around presence and the aggretaion of dynamic content (calendaring, twitter, mobile location sensing (plazes) and so forth) to create a real sense of the real you.

(iii) Semantic web or just screen scraping? – The semantic web is still proving a pig to bring to life and the demo’s I saw around it were disappointing to put it mildly. Slightly clever screen scrapers. It doesn’t mean it wont happen but it’s not here yet.

(iv) Web apps developers are still extremely geeky – Not a problem really just an observation. There were a lot of navel gazers and people with silly tee-shirts.

(v) The big players are still running the show – I think that Google in particular is doing so much that it would be foolish to ignore the big ones and focus in on the tiddlers.

(vi) A lot of the ‘ideas’ were variations on a theme – There were a lot of similar developers working on Facebook Apps, Social networking sites and spinoffs, ‘washing lines’ or ways to collect together data for you (aggregators), publish on demand systems and presence helpers (twitter et al).

Future of Web Apps?

I went to the Future of Web Apps conference today in London – It was an interesting day but as with many of these things I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t have got much of this by just researching on the web, it’s good to talk to the people involved though as I always like to hear the “what not to do’s” which are sometimes more important and something that people don’t like to admit to unless you’re talking to them in person.

The speakers I enjoyed were Heather Champ founder of JPG and Community Manager as Filckr. She did a duet with Derek Powazek of JPG and they had a good talk about what builds communities (or drives them away) with some common sense advice including the fact that ranking can be a big negative as it engenders a “gaming” to the community where they start to compete and also even those in the listing with high rankings tend to feed off the fact that there are others above them so it generally a no-no except in special cases. I discovered this myself when we started a top ten ranking of things in our Knowledge Network (a system we developed for Knowledge Sharing at the OU) – we discovered that if we ranked it top to bottom people always clicked on the top one always enforcing it’s status as the top, therefore the list becomes self perpetuating. We decided instead to gather the popular sites and then randomly display these in random order on the front page to show a variety of popular sites but which was fresh and different. …Anyway they had much more to say and I recommend their talk.

 The other speaker I enjoyed was Matt Mullenweg the funding developer of WordPress (and I’m not just saying that cos I use it!) – He looks about 12 and his powerpoint presentation is not special but what he says is real and his advice is sound in my opinion.

In general the speakers were all good although some a bit to techie for me (the Dojo, Ajax and Google Gears stuff was great but I nearly lost the thread (multi threading in javascript by the way – cool) a couple of times when he displayed a few code pages. Some was a bit too commercial, all about ‘monetizing the web’ but largely good.

The things that disappointed me were that I was bombarded with a hundred different ‘sponsors’ or mini site vendors Blurb, widr, yuuguu, wakcopa, pluck, baagz, zend, etc. so why the stupid names guys?!? – It was a bit overwhelming, I’m just about getting my head around Facebook and MySpace and now I’ve got aobut 50 more to explore (if I get the energy!). They weren’t disappointing in themselves, it’s more that I know that nine out of ten of them will be gone in a year or taken over by Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.

Second thing to disappoint me was that the presentations were largely ‘death by powerpoint’ – These so called designers and web app develoeprs actually put togehter pretty ropey presentations, I’ve seen my colleagues give much better ones and I was surprised that more presenters didn’t rely on a more off the cuff approach and a creative talk that was more dynamic, but then again I probably wouldn’t do that myself if I was speaking to several hundred peers!

Those things aside the conference is good and Im looking forward to tomorrow once I recharge my batteries. I do think that as one speaker said ‘even in the virtual world people like to end up with an artefact, something real and so it’s worthwhile thinking about how you can give them that’. I think the conference gives us that – it’s the reality around all the virtual.

The Future of Content (Part 4) – Version 0.9

I’ve been asked by Martin Weller to comment from a technical perspective on the future of content as part of an experiment as explained by Martin here we are jointly creating a series of posts about the future of content.

Already there is Part 1, Part 2 and a reply Part 3, and here is Part 4.

Martin has a very optimistic and Utopian view of content and I think he is arguing from a content providers view. I’d like to explore things from a users viewpoint, in particular I think that the integrity or authority associated with the content is an important part of deciding how it might be used. It’s worth looking here at how Wikipedia lives alongside The Encyclopaedia Britannica for example? Wikipedia has come in for a lot of flak about the inaccuracy of data or the credability of it’s authors, Patrick McAndrew points to the “faking it” approach to knowledge. Jim Giles contends that it is as accurate as Britannica according to an expert led study conducted by Nature magazine. This was of course contested by Britannica and depends very much on the data and techniques used. The issue for me here is not that Wikipedia isn’t a great resource and can’t be used alongside Britannica but that it cannot be relied upon without having some complex method of screening and giving authority to content and publishing. I’m not contending that it isn’t accurate, what I’m saying is that it’s can’t be guaranteed to be accurate.

 Take the analogy of a car, you can buy from a dealer with a guaranteed warranty and peace of mind of knowing that if things go wrong then someone else will sort it out for you. You can buy second hand from a non dealer network and have a limited warranty and less comeback or you can be given a car for free, which seems excellent until it goes wrong or is found to be riddled with holes. Content provided free on the web can also be riddled with holes, however it has it’s place and I said earlier how Wikipedia sits alongside Brittanica because they both have their place.

Cory Doctorow gave a speech in which he said “New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at. Books are good at being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable. Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it into your IM session or turn it into a page-a-day mailing list.”

 And here’s where I pull the content issue forward a step. In the “good old days” people with visual impariment had to make do with books and someone interpreting or reading to them or alternatively converting to braille and eventually audio tapes were produced. Now people with accessibility issues can interact with media in ways they never could previously and share with others their new found knowledge, we are using devices like screen readers, eBooks, talking books, MP3 players and PDA’s to bring old media to much larger group of people than ever before. Surely this can only be a good thing? – Martin Weller contends that  the thought of having his book store digitally looks tempting to him “I like having books as objects on my shelves, but I used to like having vinyl albums and CD’s also, but now I only have MP3’s”. I think that books will always have a place in our society but maybe like vinyl they will be relegated to being object of wonder rather than regularly used items.

I want to talk about some ways print media is being reinterpreted for a web audience. In particular Print on Demand (Amazon et al) as a method of providing a traditional media (books) with reduced overheads that you can pass on to the consumer in a way that people can get what they want, when they want at a reduced cost, but not free! This works well and I think is a compromise between the corporate “publishing control” of the big publishing houses and the Utopian but potentially flawed free and open access materials. There is also of course a growing number of people using MySpace and YouTube for publishing material at the lower end of the spectrum. Sam Jordison writes a thought provoking piece on the subject, in particular he says “Most attempts have been doomed to failure because the website just doesn’t offer the same advantages to the printed word as it does to music (after all, it’s far easier to listen to a three-minute song than to read a novel, or even a short story, on the site’s notoriously badly designed blog interface). Nevertheless, these literary MySpace pages, complete with links to samples of their work, attract a large network of online “friends” who share similar tastes and interests.”

He then goes on to add “with the net the worst that can happen is that you’ll hurt your eyes. “There’s also every chance that you’ll be find something you like, you can put it in your favourites to watch how the writer develops and follow the links he or she provides to more like-minded authors. That’s the beauty of it.”

In my opinion there is something to this but also to Ray Corrigans contention that information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. I worked on a project last year looking at creating a bartering room on the web to allow companies to ‘buy-in’ to academic knowledge delivered personally for them. This project was based on a model developed by a Dr Hans-Peter Barmeister in Germany who had companies such as Boeing and Hewlett Packard clamouring to work with them but who wanted to pay for the information because they wanted (a) Exclusivity , (b) A guarantee on the integrity of the study and information provided and (c) A tailored summary or extract from a wider research  study. The counter argument that this was largely freely available anyway and they could ‘filter’ it themselves doesn’t hold water, they want to pay for expert knowledge, expertly extracted.

This leads me on to a subject of security and integrity. If a community is closed then control over that community can be managed easily. As the community grows so does the complexity of the information, therefore eventually and control mechanism will break. According to Schneier’s law anyone can come up with a security system so clever that he can’t see its flaws. The only way to find the flaws in security is to disclose the system’s workings and invite public feedback.

So where does that leave us? – You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned web 2.0 yet and I don’t intend to, why? – Because the internet and the web are evolutionary concepts and what interests me is not a collection of current technologies branded as 2.0 but rather the  directions the web is taking (and content thereof). So in conclusion here is a potted list of predictions based on what I’ve been involved in researching..

(1) A cashless and cacheless society

As knowledge becomes increasingly ‘on demand’ the need for caching information disappears, there is no such thing as a TV schedule in the traditional sense, information is provided to individuals as they need it, just in time. transactions take place in the background (look at the ‘touchless payment’ cards being brought out now for a preview of the future).

(2) Personalised filtering

There will be better ‘background intelligence’ services developed to filter content, providing “authority” information, ensuring quality of resource and integrity of content, they will be user centred and adaptive to suit individuals. Look at where the semantic web is going for a preview of this and what Google in particular is doing to leverage the capabilities of it’s powerful search engines in more tailored ways. This will inevitably lead to the merging of the “Wikipedia” and “Britannica”.

(3) Ambient and Ubiquitous

Two words I hear a lot and really describe how the content providers and services will disappear from sight but at the same time be everywhere we need them providing us with tailored and contextually aware information. The intelligent fridge is an example of this but a more useful one perhaps is the use of geocaching for tourism, where you can provide an interesting and tailorable guide around a place (city, village etc.)

(4) A smaller divide between the “have” and “have nots”?

The web will grow tremendously and more content will be freely available I think that our society will be less divided than ever (at least western societies) because people from low income families will now begin to benefit from the advances through more public and free access to media. Access to technology may increase but the ability to use it correctly remains a problem that needs to be addressed.

(5) Those who think they control information will get a wake up call

As the amount of information increases and access is widened then governments that seek control of that information will find that the more they try to control the more things squeeze out at the edges.

(6) Systems will target viruses not everyone else

The current system for dealing with viruses (lets put up a firewall and close everything down!) is fundamentally against the original principles of the web and is deconstructive. I believe that the use of localised security measures will soon be abandoned in favour of ‘search and destroy’ targetting and isolating viruses, this may mean an intelligent “turn out the lights” approach virus control. I believe that in the future we’ll get so good at it that viruses cease to be an issue (I wish!).

 (7) People will become the user interface.

There will be no such concept as a good user interface because we’ll be that interface. The way we want to see stuff will be completely our domain and controlled by the individual.

(8) Technology will diversify not integrate?

A controversial one here but I think that the integration of everything onto a single device is reaching it’s limit and in fact people are waking up to the fact that using a mobile phone for watching video is like listening to radio on the TV, a bit gimmicky and something people rarely use or only in cases where no alternatives exist. I think there will be much more in the way of alternatives and people will have more freedom of choice of devices and technologies.

(9) Combining in new ways for added advantage

I think that things like combining eInk (electronic Paper) and ePen technology will bring us around to providing added advantage over traditional technologies and we will see this coming of age when issues about power and wireless network access cease to be limitations to their use. I think we’ll find they improve on the traditional and allow us more freedom.

I think I’m waffling now so I’ll stop but I’ll add more useful references to this and possibly proof read it when I get more time, in the meantime back to you Martin!