Interesting stuff from around the web 2008-11-24

Google map of London with Flickr shape data overlaid by Matt Biddulph. Used under license.
Google map of London with Flickr shape data overlaid by Matt Biddulph. Used under license.

The Shape of Alpha – using mass data to reveal the perceived shape of geography [Code: Flickr Developer Blog]
“Plotted all the geotagged photos associated with a particular ‘Where On Earth ID’ (a database of places and bounding boxes, which describes the spatial hierarchy between places) to generate a mostly accurate contour of that place. Not a perfect representation, perhaps, but something more fine-grained than a bounding box.” How cool is that!?

Neighbourhood Boundaries [tomtaylor.co.uk]
Using the Flickr shapefiles to show you where the world thinks its neighbours are. Tom has written a bit about it here: “Of course, it’s not always right, so Flickr give you the option to override the place they guessed, with a more accurate name, as you perceive. For example, a photo taken near South Bank might better be described as Waterloo, or Embankment. Over time, this database leads to a more accurate representation of the shape and boundaries of the places in question, comprised of thousands of people photographs. Flickr are good enough to release this data in the form of shapefiles.”

The First 100 Days – what past US Presidents did in their first 100 days [goodmagazine.com]
Interesting to see how the first 100 days appear to be a good indicator for the tone and direction of the rest of the presidency. I now know what all Presidents and PMs should be made to answer “what will you do in your first 100 days”.

The BBC have hired a full time MusicBrainz server developer! [MusicBrainz Blog]
Just the sort of thing we should be doing. Helps the Web, helps the MuiscBrainz community and helps the BBC.

How to Price Your iPhone App out of Existence [Safe from the Losing Fight]
There will be an iPhone app bust. The current prices simply aren’t sustainable. Either developers will crash out of the market when they discover they can’t make a living off their current prices, or the gold rush developers will lose interest and leave when they realize they can’t make a quick buck off the store. The developers left standing will be the ones who set reasonable prices for their applications.

Users, Twits and Cameramen Under Fire [Nick Reynolds At Work]
Wise words from Nick – who continues the good fight in the war to kill of the UGC term. It is such a rude and self limiting term.

Life in the Linked Data Cloud – Calais Release 4 Coming Jan 09 [OpenCalais]
OpenCalais is to release its data as RDF and join it to the LOD cloud.

Interesting stuff from around the web 2008-09-29

Yay! It's official we're 'doing the web right' BBC programmes and playcount data joins the Linked Open Data cloud.
Yay! It's official we're 'doing the web right' BBC programmes and playcount data joins the Linked Open Data cloud.

Interesting new approaches to search coming out of Yahoo!

Yahoo! Glue – a new web search interface
When you perform a search on Yahoo! Glue you get a sort of Topic Page – automatically transcluding relevant info onto a single page with a clean URL. For instance, a search for ‘yahoo’ would be at: http://in.glue.yahoo.com/page/yahoo. Curiously these pages are being indexed by Google. There are currently 159,000 ‘glues’ in the Google index – that’s more than knol.

BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) Yahoo!’s open search web services platform [yahoo! developer network]
Use Yahoo’s search API to build your own search UI. Useful and it might be a smart move in the fight with Google, but more likely it won’t be causing Google to loose much sleep.

Whether or not Captcha is broken, it is a human problem

Captcha is broken – now what? [The Guardian]
“Ultimately Captchas are useless for spam because they’re designed to tell you if someone is ‘human’ or not, but not whether something is spam or not. Just because something came from a real human being doesn’t mean it isn’t spam, which is why content-based solutions like Akismet are the only long-term solution to the spam problem.”

The new guardian.co.uk infrastructure is letting them do some interesting stuff, the right way

guardian.co.uk are doing a really good job rebuilding the site – the new user pages are now at lovely semantic URLs
The main page of a user’s contributions (at http://www.guardian.co.uk/users/username) now contains a list of the most recent comments and clippings they’ve made, while the sub-pages /clippings and /comments contain exactly what their names might hint at.

Just down right scary…

Web of Debt – It’s the derivatives, Stupid! Why Fannie, Freddie and AIG all had to be bailed out
The dominos go down in a cascade of cross-defaults that infects the whole banking industry and jeopardizes the global pyramid scheme. The potential for this sort of nuclear reaction was what prompted billionaire investor Warren Buffett to call derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” It is also why the banking system cannot let a major derivatives player go down, and it is the banking system that calls the shots. The Federal Reserve is literally owned by a conglomerate of banks; and Hank Paulson, who heads the U.S. Treasury, entered that position through the revolving door of investment bank Goldman Sachs, where he was formerly CEO.

Don’t know what’s going on here – but these two are bonkers [news.bbc]
And how they didn’t die is a mystery.

links for 2008-04-03

links for 2008-03-07

Flickr Places and URL geekery

Flickr have just launched Places – which is basically a way to explore Flickr via geo-specific pages. Each page includes a map of the area, the most interesting photos, a tag cloud, photo groups and, for towns, the current weather. But that’s not the most interesting thing about Places – the most interesting thing is how they implemented their URLs.

Flickr Places

Creating a good URL schema is not easy. As Michael, a colleague of mine, reminded me “good URLs should be persistent and hackable, but most importantly they need to be persistent”. This is because if you can’t reliable point to a resource you can’t join it to other things on the web, you can’t add context to the resource, you can’t manipulate it. And if you can’t do that then the webpage is no more than a piece of brochureware, it’s not a web 2.0 citizen.

Now the folks at Flickr have done a great job of creating persistent hackable URLs. What they have done is created a URL schema that looks like this:

flickr.com/places/:country/:territory/:city

Which for London is:

flickr.com/places/United+Kingdom/England/london

These URLs are easily hackable – for example you can get to the England page at this URL:

http://flickr.com/places/United+Kingdom/England/

Even if some of the URLs are a little US centric.

Now to pull this off is very impressive. As Dan Catt explains:

…turning essentially a record ID from the backend into something that a human can understand, and yet the backend can once more turn back into the same record ID wasn’t as easy as I thought it aught to be when we asked Kellan to do it : ) and lots of effort went into making it so.

Basically you have to ask the backend, where something is the ‘child-of’, to build the hierarchy. However as we don’t have full control of the backend you often get a city, let’s say London, belonging to a place called Greater London, which, as far as I can make out from the bounding box, is about 2 inches taller and wider than London. Or York (in England) belonging to something like Duke Elligton’s Marginal Lower Land Barrows of the Kidsworth Council Academic Elective Region. Because that particular piece of geographic data was extracted from the government’s parish records from 1895. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that some towns in England were a child of a mobile library’s service region.

Anyway, hidden away from me in a black box constructed by Kellan and Aaron is all the complex magic that works out what’s important and what to miss out.

All very impressive.

Future Of Web Apps, London – review

Future of Web Apps logoAs I mentioned previously I went to the Future of Web Apps conference this week. The conference had the usual mix of interesting, not so interesting and sales pitches – here then is my take on the interesting.

Simon Willison gave a great, very entertaining, presentation on OpenID – which for those that don’t know, is a framework for creating a decentralised service to manage your online identity. OpenID uses a single website URL, instead of a username and password, to identify yourself with a site. There are a number of OpenID providers or you can setup your own, if you’re that way inclined.

Over the last few weeks both AOL and Microsoft have come out in support of OpenID – and I would love the BBC to replace their Single Sign On service with OpenID. Anyway, at FOWA both Digg and Netvibes announced that they too will support OpenID, this is great news; I suggest you should take this as a sign to find out more – 2007 will surely see an increasing number of services adopting OpenID and new business models enabled by it.

Netvibes also announced that they will launch a Universal Widget API (UWA) with the objective of “build your module once, deploy everywhere [Vista, Mac, Google, Yahoo!]”. As part of the UWA Netvibes are releasing:

  • An open source Javascript runtime environment
  • A UI library for widgets
  • Netvibes also want to build a community of APIs

All interesting stuff but I fear that the UWA won’t be compatible with the proposed W3C widget standard which would be a real shame, anyway more information over at Techcrunch.

Other consistent themes included the importance of building an API into your web app from the outset, the use of attention data and being open and honest with your users; of these attention data is, to me, the most interesting.

When you pay attention to something, or when you skip it, data is created
(Matthew Ogle, Last.fm).

I suspect that we will start to hear a lot more about attention data in the coming year both in terms of functionality and generating revenue. For example, Flickr uses attention data to calculate which photos are ‘interesting‘: “We looked at how many times was a photo commented on, viewed, blogged about, and saved as a favourite” (Bradley Horowitz); or how Last.fm uses attention data to moderate the importance of user tags (if you listen to a piece of music your tags count more than if you don’t). And of course if someone knows what you pay attention to, and what you don’t, that data is incredibly valuable to advertisers.

Yahoo! Pipes – the genesis of Googlezon (maybe!)

Pipes LogoEarlier this week Yahoo! released Pipes an online service that allows anyone to pull together, or mash-up, third party feeds (RSS, Atom, XML), modify them with user defined filters and output the result to a webpage, aggregator or widget all using a visually attractive editor (you use a drag and drop interface to connect feeds, process them, and redirect the output).

So for example the ‘New York Times thru Flickr’ “takes the New York Times homepage, passes it through Content Analysis and uses the keywords to find Photos at Flickr.” And ‘Aggregated News Alerts‘ retrieves news from Yahoo!, Google, MSN, Findory, Bloglines, and Technorati on any topic, and merges all the feeds into one.

Last year Apple announced that Leopard, the upcoming version of Mac OSX, will provide tools to create your own Dashboard widgets based on RSS feeds:

“Create your own website widget using Web Clip in Safari for Leopard. Just visit your favourite site and click the “Open in Dashboard” button in Safari. Dashboard launches a new clip of the site in a customizable widget. From there, you can resize your Web Clip and choose from a handful of window themes. And since your Web Clip is always live, it acts just like the website it was clipped from. Dashboard for Leopard also introduces a movie widget that finds movies and showtimes in less time than it takes to make popcorn.”

All this points to an interesting development: non-technical, or at least less technical, web users being given the tools to start building their own mash-ups.

I think this may be very significant because until now the majority of users have been reliant on a relatively small number of technically savvy users to build (in the main) point-to-point mash-ups (i.e. combining two data sources to create another website). But with the advent of tools like Pipes anyone can build their own mash-up – pulling in whichever feeds they choose, applying their own filters and rules, and delivering it to wherever they want – a browser, a desktop widget or a feed aggregator.

If these tools become popular, and even easier to use, it will mean that websites will increasingly be seen not as destinations but data sources – with users pulling in data and services onto their desktop or browser rather than hopping from one site to the next.

Maybe we are seeing the genesis of Googlezon! ;)