Rich Snippets

As everyone knows last night Google announced that they are now supporting RDFa and microformats to add ‘Rich Snippets’ to their search results page.

Rich Snippets give users convenient summary information about their search results at a glance. We are currently supporting data about reviews and people. When searching for a product or service, users can easily see reviews and ratings, and when searching for a person, they’ll get help distinguishing between people with the same name…

To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages.

That’s good right? Google gets a higher click through rate because, as their user testing shows, the more useful and relevant information people see from a results page, the more likely they are to click through; sites that support these technologies make their content more discoverable and everyone else gets to what they need more easily. Brilliant, and to make life even better because Google have adopted RDFa and microformats

…you not only make your structured data available for Google’s search results, but also for any service or tool that supports the same standard. As structured data becomes more widespread on the web, we expect to find many new applications for it, and we’re excited about the possibilities.

Those Google guys, they really don’t do evil. Well actually no, not so much. Actually Google are being a little bit evil here.

Doctor Evil
Doctor Evil

Here’s the problem. When Google went and implemented RDFa support they adopted the syntax but decided not to adopt the vocabularies – they went and reinvented their own. And as Ian points out it’s the vocabularies that matters. What Google decided to do is little support those properties and classes defined at data-vocabulary.org rather than supporting the existing ontologies such as: FOAF, vCard and vocab.org/review.

Now in some ways this doesn’t matter too much, after all it’s easy enough to do this sort of thing:

rel=”foaf:name google:name”

And Google do need to make Rich Snippets work on their search results, they need to control which vocabularies to support so that webmaster know what to do and so they can render the data appropriatley. But by starting off with a somewhat broken vocabulary they are providing a pretty big incentive to Web Masters to implement a broken version of RDFa. And they will implement the broken version because Google Juice is so important to the success of their site.

Google have taken an open standard and inserted a slug of proprietary NIH into it and that’s a shame, they could have done so much better. Indeed they could have supported RDFa as well as they support microformats.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, Google are a commercial operation – by adopting RDFa they get a healthy dose of “Google and the Semantic Web” press coverage while at the same time making their search results that bit better. And lets be honest the semweb community hasn’t done a great job at getting those vocabularies out and into the mainstream so Google’s decision won’t hurt it’s bottom line. Just don’t be fooled this isn’t Google supporting RDFa, it’s Google adding Rich Snippets.

Interesting stuff from around the web 2009-04-22

Amazing render job by Alessandro Prodan
Amazing render job by Alessandro Prodan

The open web

Does OpenID need to be hard? [factoryjoe.com]
Chris considers “the big fat stinking elephant in the room: OpenID usability and the paradox of choice” as usual it’s a good read.

I wonder whether restricting the OpenID providers displayed based on visited link would help? i.e. hide those that haven’t been visited? It clearly wouldn’t be perfect – Google isn’t my OpenID provider but I visit google.com lots, but it should cut down some of the clutter.

Security flaw leads Twitter, others to pull OAuth support [cnet.com]
The hole makes it possible for a hacker to use social-engineering tactics to trick users into exposing their data. The OAuth protocol itself requires tweaking to remove the vulnerability, and a source close to OAuth’s development team said that there have been no known violations, that it has been aware of it for a few days now, and has been coordinating responses with vendors. A solution should be announced soon.

Twitter and social networks

Relationship Symmetry in Social Networks: Why Facebook will go Fully Asymmetric [bokardo.com]
Asymmetric model better mimics how real attention works…and how it has always worked. Any person using Twitter can have a larger number of followers than followees, effectively giving them more attention than they give. This attention inequality is the foundation of the Twitter service… The IA of Facebook does not allow this. Facebook has designed a service that forces you to keep track of your friends, whether you want to or not. Facebook is modeling personal relationships, not relationships based on attention. That’s the crucial difference between Facebook and Twitter at the moment.

When Twitter Gets Weird… [Dave Gorman]
“The difference between following someone and replying to them is the difference between stopping to chat with someone in the street or giving them a badge declaring that you know them. One is actual interaction. The other is just something you can show your friends.” Blimey – Dave Gorman clearly has a much better grasp of life, the web and being a human than the two people who attacked him for not following them on Twitter. As Dave points out he hopes that Twiiter doesn’t descend into the MySpace “thanks for the add’ nonsense”. Me too.

Google profiles included in search results [googleblog]
A new “Profile results” section will appear at the bottom of a Google search page, when it finds a strong match in response to a name-based search. But only in the US. To help things along remember to use rel=me elsewhere (here’s how).

Shortlisted for a BAFTA, launch of clickable tracklistings and the start of BBC Earth

Look, look clickable tracklistings, w00t!
Few will every know the pain to get this useful little (cross domain) feature live.

We’ve been shortlisted for an Interactive Innovation BAFTA
The /programmes aka Automated Programme Support project. So proud.

Out of the Wild [bbc.co.uk]
Our first tentative steps towards improving the BBC’s online natural history offering. Out of The Wild seeks to bring you stories from BBC crews on location. Eventually this should all form part of an integrated programme offer.

Stuff

Biological Taxonomy Vocabulary
An RDF vocabulary for the taxonomy of all forms of life.

On url shorteners [joshua.schachter.org]
Joshua Schachter considers the issues associated with URL shortening. Similar argument to the one I put forward in “The URL shortening antipattern” but with some useful recommendations: “One important conclusion is that services providing transit (or at least require a shortening service) should at least log all redirects, in case the shortening services disappear. If the data is as important as everyone seems to think, they should own it. And websites that generate very long URLs, such as map sites, could provide their own shortening services. Or, better yet, take steps to keep the URLs from growing monstrous in the first place.”

Interesting stuff from around the web 2009-02-04

Hippos are more closely related to their whale cousins than they (hippos) are to anything else
Hippos are more closely related to their whale cousins than they (hippos) are to anything else

Tree of Life – evolution interactive – Darwin 200 – Wellcome Trust
Want to know the concestor of two species then this is for you. And they have obviously spent time on the visual and interaction design and it’s great they have released it under a Creative Commons license. But, but because they haven’t provided URLs for each of the taxa it’s lost to the web, which is such a shame.

Google Latitude – see where you friends are in realtime [Google]
A service for sharing (primarily via your mobile phone) your location with friends and family and as such it’s similar to BrightKite and FireEagle. If Google integrate this into existing services, that is it becomes a service sat behind Google search and maps, then this could be a bit of a killer if only because that’s where people’s attention is. That said FireEagle is a generative location exchanging service.

How Twitter Was Born [140 Characters]
Interesting read about the birth and early days of Twitter.

Visualising our SVN commit history [whomwah]
Deeply cool.

Listen to Yourself [xkcd]
YouTube comments are a mess — this could the be answer, so might making the site about people and their videos rather than videos with some comments.

Interesting stuff from around the web 2008-11-02

Nabaztag, a screenless, WiFi-enabled bunny, born again with voice-recognition and RFID-awareness in 2007. Interfacing the node between virtual data and the sensory world, Nabaztag fetches information from the Internet, flashes lights on its nose and tummy, rotates its ears, sniffs RFID chips, speaks 36 languages and understands five.
Nabaztag, a screenless, WiFi-enabled bunny, born again with voice-recognition and RFID-awareness in 2007. Interfacing the node between virtual data and the sensory world, Nabaztag fetches information from the Internet, flashes lights on its nose and tummy, rotates its ears, sniffs RFID chips, speaks 36 languages and understands five.

The Internet of things

Internetting every thing, everywhere, all the time [CNN.com]
It’s called “The Internet of Things” — at least for now. It refers to an imminent world where physical objects and beings (like the Nabaztag above), as well as virtual data and environments, all live and interact with each other in the same space and time. In short, everything is interconnected. [via plasticbagUK]

Some recent developments with the the BBC’s new artist pages [bbc.co.uk/music/artists]

Automatically linking artists and news on the BBC Music Beta [BBC – Radio Labs]
On many of the news stories published on BBC News journalists add related internet links. If a story covers a music artist, it might link out to their home page, their MySpace site or even a Wikipedia article. In MusicBrainz, each artist can have several URLs associated to them. By simply cross-referencing each link on a news story with the URLs in MusicBrainz, when we find a match we can confidently say that the news story relates to the artist associated with that URL.

BBC artist page also available as RDF [bbc.co.uk/music]
Either add .rdf to the URL but also with added conneg.

More good news from the open web

Freebase RDF service
This service generates views of Freebase Topics following the principles of Linked Data. You can obtain an RDF representation of a Topic by sending a simple GET request to http://rdf.freebase.com/ns/thetopicid, where the “thetopicid” is a Freebase identifier with the slashes replaced by dots. For instance to see “/en/blade_runner” represented in RDF request http://rdf.freebase.com/ns/en.blade_runner

Google is now an OpenID provider [Google Code Blog]
…but surprise, surprise, surprise they aren’t going to be a Relying Party. You can have too much of a good thing – I now have more OpenID URLs that email addresses.

…and Windows Live ID
At least in this case I don’t have an account so my OpenID count stays in check, for now.

But come on this is just silly – if you support OpenID but not as a Relying Party it’s just marketing.

OpenID usability is not an oxymoron [factoryjoe.com]
Chris Messina considers the four areas he believes OpenID usability needs to be improved: ease of use for developers and end users, branding and marketing, consistency and leadership.

Why the open strategy is a good idea [Matt McAlister]
Nice write up of why an open strategy is good – uses our recent work on artist pages as a case study.

Oh dear…

Greedy BBC Blocks External Links [blogstorm.co.uk]
“In an outrageous act of selfishness and greed the BBC has decided to stop giving real links to the websites featured in the “Related Internet Links” section on the right hand side of each news story.”

Martin Belam suggests an alternative :

“The recent that re-direct is there is entirely about measuring traffic in order to produce charts to show to the top management, and nothing about the wider web eco-system. You are what you measure – the BBC Trust isn’t interested in the BBC passing on PageRank, just in passing on traffic.”

Interesting stuff from around the web 2008-09-21

Eadward Muybridge’s 1878 investigation into whether horses’ feet were actually all off the ground at once during a trot.
Eadward Muybridge’s 1878 investigation into whether horses’ feet were actually all off the ground at once during a trot.

Born To Run – Human Evolution [DISCOVER Magazine]
Biomechanical research reveals a surprising key to the survival of our species: Humans are built to outrun nearly every other animal on the planet over long distances.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Visualisation [James Alliban]
Nice visualisation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma (a classic example of game theory) using Processing.

More Google news

Google Visualization API [Google Code]
The Google Visualization API lets you access multiple sources of structured data that you can display, choosing from a large selection of visualizations.

GAudi – Google’s new audio index [Official Google Blog]
It’s currently in Google Labs and is restricted to content from political sources but it still looks interesting. In addition to being able to search for terms you can also jump directly to the point in the video where the keyword is mentioned.

The social web: All about the small stuff [Official Google Blog]
The promise of the social web is about making it easy to share the small stuff – to make it effortless and rebuild that feeling of connectedness that comes from knowing the details.

More background on Matt’s hack: streaming content to iTunes

Things to do with /programmes #431: iTunes! [BBC Radio Labs]
Matt’s write up of his work on streaming iPlayer content through iTunes.

Very surprised the blog sphere hasn’t picked up on the implications of this hack but there you go.

Interesting stuff from around the web 2008-09-08

BBC hackers

Get BBC Radio on-demands via iTunes with radio2daap [Google Code]
Brought to you from Matt’s bedroom “an rtmp/ daap proxy to expose on-demand Flash radio as an iTunes shared library. For purposes of demonstration it’s exposing BBC national radio.”

Under the hood of Radio Pop [BBC Radio Labs]
OpenID, OAuth, APML and an open API all that and a great web app! Brilliant work from the R&D team (Chris and Tristan).

Taking the Proms to the semantic web [BBC – Radio Labs]
Michael’s hacking with around 112 years of historical Proms data. As you would expect a cool app and a cool approach – letting people see the site develop in the public eye – a genuine public beta.

… find out more and follow the development of Michael’s work on twitter

Mashing up BBC data

Live From Abbey Road is making use of the BBC’s album reviews which are licensed under Creative Commons
Nice to see other people using our data to build useful things.

Some more thoughts about Google Chrome

Google Chrome and the future of browsers [FactoryCity]
I read announcement as the kid gloves coming off. I just can’t read this any other way than to think that Google’s finally fed up waiting around for Firefox to get their act together, fix their performance issues in serious ways, provide tangible and near-term vision and make good on their ultimate promise and value-proposition.

Google Chrome: Impressive! Innovative! Incomplete! [Technologizer]
It’s way too early to declare that Chrome is really a rival to Windows rather than IE, but if traditional desktop applications continue to migrate to the Web and Google is serious about making Chrome the best browser to run them in, the idea of Chrome morphing into the Google OS that folks have talked about for years isn’t crazy.

Google Chrome why?

The Internet is all a buzz with Google’s open source web browser Chrome. But you have to ask why and even if it’s a big deal. Not why there’s all the interest but why Google bothered to build their own browser? After all they could have worked with Mozilla to add these features to Firefox – instead Google went and built their own browser.

Introducing Google Chrome
Introducing Google Chrome

So clearly I don’t know, but I wonder whether Google just got a bit fed up of waiting for the features they wanted and went ahead and built their own browser, while leaving the door open to merge these features back into Firefox at a later date. Google are a big supporter of Firefox and the idea of a Google browser has been associated with Firefox in the past; and Sergey Brin has said he is keen to see Firefox and Chrome become more unified in the future.

It is probably worth noting that they (Mozilla Corp) are across the street and they come over here for lunch,” Brin said of Mozzilla employees visits to cafeterias at the Googleplex headquarters. “I hope we will have more and more unity over time”.

But what features are important to Google? After all, as Jon Hicks points out, from an interface point of view, Chrome brings nothing new – all the features are already available in existing browsers. But I don’t think that’s the point and I don’t think that’s why it’s important. Google want to offer much richer and, more importantly, faster web applications.

The current browsers, including Firefox, just can’t cut it. JavaScript isn’t fast enough (thereby limiting the UX), browsers are single threaded and they aren’t stable enough. If Google want to challenge Microsoft (or anyone else for that matter) in the desktop space they needed a better platform. Of course others have sought to solve the same problem – notably Adobe with Air and Microsoft with Silverlight. Google’s solution is I think much neater – build an open source browser that supports multithreading, fast JavaScript execution and stuff Google Gears into the back end so it works offline. Joel Spolsky suggested something similar a while back:

So if history repeats itself, we can expect some standardization of Ajax user interfaces to happen in the same way we got Microsoft Windows. Somebody is going to write a compelling SDK that you can use to make powerful Ajax applications with common user interface elements that work together. And whichever SDK wins the most developer mindshare will have the same kind of competitive stronghold as Microsoft had with their Windows API

Imagine, for example, that you’re Google with GMail, and you’re feeling rather smug. But then somebody you’ve never heard of, some bratty Y Combinator startup, maybe, is gaining ridiculous traction selling NewSDK, which combines a great portable programming language that compiles to JavaScript, and even better, a huge Ajaxy library that includes all kinds of clever interop features. Not just cut ‘n’ paste: cool mashup features like synchronization and single-point identity management (so you don’t have to tell Facebook and Twitter what you’re doing, you can just enter it in one place). And you laugh at them, for their NewSDK is a honking 232 megabytes … 232 megabytes! … of JavaScript, and it takes 76 seconds to load a page. And your app, GMail, doesn’t lose any customers.

But then, while you’re sitting on your googlechair in the googleplex sipping googleccinos and feeling smuggy smug smug smug, new versions of the browsers come out that support cached, compiled JavaScript. And suddenly NewSDK is really fast. And Paul Graham gives them another 6000 boxes of instant noodles to eat, so they stay in business another three years perfecting things.

Of course the big difference is that it’s Google that have gone and launched the new browser that supports cached, compiled JavaScript.

With the release of Chrome, Google can now release versions of their apps that are richer and more responsive. Chrome then isn’t targeted at Firefox I think that Chrome is more of a threat to Silverlight and Air. After all if you can write a web app in JavaScript that’s just as rich and responsive as anything you can write in Silver-Air why would you bother with the proprietary approach?

Chrome is in effect a way to deliver a Google OS to your desktop, one that lets you run fast JavaScript applications. And if you believe Sergey Brin Firefox will, in time, adopt the same technologies as Chrome; which is of course just what Google want – maximum market penetration of those browsers that support their new rich web apps.