Archive for June, 2006

Social Semantic Web 2.0 – Peter Mika

June 29, 2006

Lest you think that “Social Semantic Web 2.0” is complete hype and/or the output of an automatic buzz-phrase generator, suffice it to say that there is someone out there who not only talks the talk but walks the walk, i.e. he has actually done it (that is, he has integrated social network analysis with ontology-based reasoning and mix/match/mashups of multiple web services), and won several awards for it to boot: Peter Mika.

See some pointers on Peter’s research page, in particular Flink and “Ontologies are us: A unified model of social networks and semantics”.

Peter is in KMi today giving us a seminar about his latest work. Check out the webcast, live at 2PM UK time, 29th June 2006, or available later as a replay.

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People Aggregator on a roll…

June 28, 2006

OK, People Aggregator is really out the door, and there I am as a shiny recent user.

Sure it may look like YASNS, but its underpinnings are more interesting: federated identity services, structured (microcontent) blogging, bidirectional service capabilities (e.g. you post THERE and stuff appears in your personal blog, or vice versa), and generally speaking a social software enabler as opposed to a social network hub/portal.

At least that’s my understanding of it. Anyway, I’m rooting for it, and will follow how it develops. Good luck and congratulations!

Hey wait a minute: no presence indicators: ok, gonna lobby for that right away – hey Marc (Canter) – great stuff, now time to add in the Yahoo, MSN, Jabber presence statuses!

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Got my shiny PeopleAggregator invite…

June 27, 2006

… but haven’t been able to do anything with it yet… waiting eagerly for the site to open up again… presumably under a bit of strain right now… good luck, guys, wishin’ you all the best, GO TEAM!

(Read the background mantra). As Marc Canter writes

if you’ve contacted me or spammed me in the past 12-15 years – be prepared to be invited into the PeopleAggregator

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IM 2.0 : Stowe and Robin rap it out

June 23, 2006

When Stowe Boyd says of a beta demo “it is really awesome” then you’d better pay attention. One June 19th he blogged about “Yahoo Releases New Messenger: Instant Messaging 2.0” including a few nice examples such as this one:

The single most thought-provoking demo leveraged the Amazon wishlist, and showed how Yahoo is aggressively pursuing a new vision of instant messaging. By selecting a certain person on your buddy list, the Amazon plugin follows through by displaying that person’s wishlist.

Stowe’s long-dreamed-of ‘Nerdvana’ has even been adopted as the code name for internal releases of Yahoo’s forthoming Messenger enancements. But read Stowe’s article in full to get the proper perspective.

Then on June 23rd Robin Good belted out an impressive piece on Instant Messaging 2.0, building on taking issue with some points raised by a David Cameron posting of June 20th, which itself begins…

At the CTC conference yesterday I ran into Stowe Boyd…[from Cameron’s posting]

Hey… small world! So later on June 23rd Stowe posted his own further observations about IM 2.0 and Robin’s article, expressing concern that his (Stowe’s) stance had been both “watered down” and “unattributed”. Robin duly apologised in a followup comment to Stowe, and asked for a bit less harsh personal treatment.

Anyone reading my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of both Stowe and Robin – so I ain’t gonna mediate, other than to say “Hey – knock it off, you guys; now kiss and make up!”. But what the heck… this is blogging, right? There’s plenty of rapid-fire writing and expression of ideas: so actually there’s no battle, no bad vibes, no harsh feelings (I firmly believe)!

More significantly than the vibes, I think both Stowe and Robin have a huge amount to say with respect to the current and future landscapes of social/collaborative media. They’ve got different slants, and I think both are significant (and they’ve both been in their respective fields for a long time, so I don’t think there needs to be an issue about who said what first). In a nutshell, Stowe argues, as he has in the past, that

The buddylist — the representation of our place in a connected, online web of contacts — is the central motif of web culture, and will become a primary foundational characteristic of all successful social tools going forward…

… public instant messaging networks can now serve as the basis upon which an ecosystem of instant messaging enabled social tools can be constructed… The major IM carriers now realize their cornerstone role is different than the model they have been pursuing, and they are looking beyond ad revenue to something much more fundamental: serving as the new plumbing for a real-time, always-on, connected economy

It’s unfair to extract mere soundbytes like those above from the sophisticated arguments that these guys have been weaving for years, but the above quote from Stowe is pretty much directly to the point. Stowe feels that Robin has “watered down” his (Stowe’s) vision by emphasising the collaboration, communication, and business-centric aspects… but this is not inherently “watered down”, just a different slant.

Indeed, “collaboration and communication” are precisely what Robin writes about (Stowe writes about a broader social ecosphere, though inevitably overlapping hugely with collaboration and communication), so that slant is legitimate. Robin writes:

instant messengers [will] become hub points both for collecting and accessing critical content as well as for opening up new communication events and interactions … Web conferencing, video conferencing, co-browsing, application / desktop / screen sharing, live annotation and markup, live PowerPoint / presentation facilities, search, RSS, email, along with new forms of real-time group messaging (swarming) are all converging toward your favourite IM very, very soon.

Robin enumerates a series of specific innovations he sees coming down the highway… but it would be wrong to pigeonhole Robin as just the “collaboration/communication guy”: Robin also talks about generic presence, intelligent awareness, privacy, visual/immersive environments, and numerous other thought-provoking ideas.

So go read em both!

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Naughton tells it like it is

June 20, 2006

John Naughton, OU Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology, gave his inaugural lecture yesterday.

As a great writer, knowledgeable geek, historian, systems thinker, and educator, John is always worth listening to!

He gave us his unique take on why the Internet is even more disruptive than we thought, and how the insights of Cerf and Kahn led to a future-proof technical and social architecture that enabled radical developments even they could not foresee. I won’t spoil the talk for you by giving away any more details, but I heartily recommend you have a listen. Because John uses no special effects or PowerPoint slides (woohoo) the audio track is all you need; but the video is there if you want:

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Living Legends II: Eagles @ Twickehnam 17 June 2006

June 18, 2006

I’ve blogged before about the benefits of going to see legendary performers.

Well, yesterday The Eagles were back in town (London, Twickenham Stadium) — having resurfaced from the grave, or hell, or wherever they’ve been. As a longtime fan, I of course relished the opportunity to see the impossible.

Well, what can I write about perfection? Only this: By the middle of their second set (in their admirably long and stunning performance: hit after hit after spectacular hit, performed flawlessly, and even a couple of great tunes “written in this century,” as they noted wryly), as they ramped up from mellow country rock to driving wailing rock, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, and most of the others even smiled, and finally appeared to be enjoying themselves! That made a big difference: perfection without an element of fun is no fun.

And the crowd thought so too, rising to their feet increasingly as the performances loosened up. Multiple encores, Hotel California with all those guitar parts and vocals that you would imagine could only be done in a studio with multiple recording sessions, but of course The Eagles have all the lead guitarists and lead singers who can simply do it live (no wonder they split up: what a fearsome array of headlining talent to keep bottled up together!). And finally, closing with Deperados, with mobile phone/cameras glowing in the air to replace the matches and lighters of last century… ah…

Earlier in the evening, in a posting from ‘Nemesis to go’ the following interesting observation was made:

A little earlier, I passed Twickenham rugby stadium on my bicycle.

Some sort of event was obviously going on. Crowds of respectable middle-aged people in easy-wear casual gear were strolling casually up to the entrance gates. Families had obviously made an occasion of it: mums and dads were shepherding well-scrubbed children along, to the indulgent smiles of fellow attendees. It was all very nice and…well, respectable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pastel-coloured leisurewear in one place in my life.

There were no posters up; I could see no information to tell me what was going on. I could hear some smooth, singalong-y music coming out of the stadium: it had a vaguely gospel feel. I assumed that some sort of religious gathering was happening. The stadium is often used for big Jehovah’s Witnesses events – this didn’t look like one of those (for a start, nobody was wearing a suit), but I thought perhaps I’d stumbled on the annual convention of the Christian Family Church Of Niceness, or something.

Well, as one of the ‘respectable middle-aged people’ in the crowd, I can’t say that Nemesis’ description was far off – but hey, we had a great time!

UPDATE: some other reviews in, all ecstatic unless noted otherwise:

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(Hmm… keep meaning to do reviews like this using the Structured Blogging WordPress plugin – but I’ve tried it before and not liked it… more on that later)

$100 laptop ‘bakes in’ IM, presence (like OCI!)

June 9, 2006

UPDATE: Chris Blizzard has added a fresh posting about where things are going with presence (so I’ll reiterate: this concept of instantiating social presence at such a fundamental low level in the $100 laptop design is very important, and very exciting) — since comments/pings on that earlier Sugar article mentioned below are closed, I thought I’d better update this and ping him again!

Following my earlier rant about grandma-friendly computers, I thought I’d better nose around a bit to catch up with the $100 Laptop / One Laptop Per Child / OLPC project. The OLPC Wiki took me quickly to some interesting notes by Chris Blizzard, who reflects on the role being played by baking IM/presence and sharing directly into the OLPC software environment (known as Sugar):

We want to make sure that we have a more rich experience than just text can deliver. So we’ve been experimenting a bit with allowing drawing in chat. As time goes on we’ll start to add other interesting types to the chat. We hope that it will be possible to share music that kids have created as well as images that they find. This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds – there’s already a music activity in the works.

Second, the concept of presence. Sadly, Tom (see earlier demo/screenshot — ed.) is alone in the world so other people on the network don’t show up. So he’s missing the most important aspect of the interface. We want this interface to be social. This means that kids can communicate in every app, that they can show each other things, that they can take each other on tours of the web and many other ways of collaborating.

For example the [Share] Button that he mentions doesn’t just share a link with another person. When that person opens the link he or she can optionally follow you as you travel from web site to web site.

Fabulous! Building in low-level presence/IM support is not only a guaranteed winner for the child-learner target audience, it also changes fundamentally the way developers will think about software for the $100 Laptop. The kind of scenarios being envisaged were of course foreshadowed some 35 years ago in the early sketches and cardboard mock-ups created by Alan Kay for his Dynabook — Alan had kids designing space ships, experimenting with alternative gravity fields, and racing around in multiplayer games. (Alan is part of the OLPC team, so this should be no surprise).

I’m excited by the convergence of what Blizzard has written above with the way we’re aiming to bake presence and social software support into the lowest levels of the software for the Open Content Initiative – at least the experimental parts of it that we’re informally calling the ‘playspace’. OCI is conceived as supporting learning by grown-ups, but (a) it will be used by a much wider audience, and (b) a lot of the usability and sociability issues are the same as those faced by OLPC.

Our first crack at this has been to begin re-engineering our Jabber-based geolocation-aware IM tool, BuddySpace , by disaggregating the key elements of it into a super-lightweight AJAX client that we now call MSG. Our first usage-in-anger of MSG takes place next week at the European Semantic Web Conference, as reported here. Should be fun!

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Home page of the Grandma-Friendly Computer …

June 9, 2006

… er, right now, it is apparently this blog posting you’re now reading… at least for the three-word quoted phrase
“grandma friendly computer” (with or without the hyphen) … go figure!

Searching in Google just now for that phrase gives me exactly one hit, referring to someone called gwin who wrote, concerning MacWorld 2003:

Apple is in a great spot with OSX now– with their “iLife” (aka iApps) suite and now a native browser, they truly have the most grandma-friendly computer experience available

Hey, I love Apple, but grandma-friendly? Not yet, I’m afraid. So within a few hours, search engine crawlers being what they are, I confidently expect this posting to start creeping up as the top hit – for a while anyway.

But why so few hits for that phrase? This (easy-to-use computer) is an old old issue – maybe I underestimate the political incorrectness of “grandma friendly computer” (but hey — I’m old enough to be a grandparent, and as you might expect, some of my best friends are grandmothers: yes, they’re all pretty computer-savvy, but nevertheless I think the phrase conveys the right flavour in a very concise manner.)

So what gives? Here’s what triggered this little piece:

I had an interesting experience last week setting up a relative with ‘some stuff’ (laptop, broadband, wireless router, the works), not from a complete ‘standing start’ but rather from a baseline of WebTV / MSNTV2: she had about 5 years of regular, intensive, daily use of WebTV, using it for general web surfing, emailing, genealogy research, and so on. Although WebTV will drive a hardened computer user batty, the fact is that it has damn nice and easy to use interface, given all the constraints. But there are things it cannot do, naturally, and it seemed a good moment to upgrade this relative.

I had failed to do this with other relatives in the past – I just couldn’t find a setup that was simple enough for a normal person to use, without having to rely on me or another relative for backup support (“What does this message mean?”; “Why can’t I do X?”). But I’ve been waiting for over 30 years for the ‘simple setup’ for the computer-phobic, and it’s still not there – all I can say is that Phil Goldman, Bruce Leak, and Steve Perlman who founded WebTV over 10 years ago were right not to wait, but instead to set up a company to ‘do it right’!!

Anyone reading this knows how bad it is out there… just that I had forgotten. I won’t bore you with the details: you can imagine. I shouldn’t be surprised by the state of the art, but I am. One can set up a computer in a kind of ‘kiosk mode’ like you see at some hotels and airports, which restricts it in certain ways but makes it much more robust. This is a classic tradeoff: for family members, you often want that tantalising ‘freedom to expand’ – “just one more plugin, grandma” – but this inevitably opens the door to confusing error messages.

Let’s hope that at the very least a side-effect of the One Laptop Per Child / $100 Laptop project will be a degree of grandma-readiness; I appreciate that grandma is not in their target demographic, but the level of simplicity we’re striving for would be a worthy goal for that project too!

UPDATE: I see that about two years ago, I used similar terminology in this posting about my SliMP3:

UPDATE 2: I’d better bag “grandma-friendly PC” also – there were in fact 2 hits on Google for that one as of June 9th 2006.

come on, guys, can you see grandma having to reboot her hi-fi?

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