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20060312 Sunday March 12, 2006

Winning Feels Good

A few victories to report:

Winning isn't everything, but when you're playing (or watching) the game, it's the outcome you want. That was my weekend, good stuff.


( Mar 12 2006, 09:12:32 PM PST ) Permalink

Etech Highlights

I know this is late coming and everybody's already moved on to SXSW. Sometimes I just leave things dangling a little too long but I have some scattered Etech notes and may as well get them out of the way.

So here we go. This years Etech Conference in San Diego was a real treat. The speaker sessions, the usual running into friends of past and present and the sunny reprieve last Wednesday were overlaid by a recognition of how much the technology world has changed in the last year. As the novelty of tags, AJAX and Ruby On Rails are wearing thin, people are getting down to business building real applications. The hype wake that's followed Yahoo!'s Web 2.0 acquisitions last year has spun up a lot of innovation -- a lot of tinkering projects are growing up and some are getting funding. Yes, a treat; albeit at times in a scary too-sweet-like-bubblicious way; see Building to flip is building to flop (via Marc Hedlund's excellent session Coder to Co-Founder). I can't do justice to the whole conference (see the Technorati Etech06 post stream) but heres a review of my highlights.

The Live Clipboard demo at Ray Ozzie's Tuesday keynote was truly awesome. Microsoft is vivificating data out of web pages that can interact with other services and applications. Contact information embedded in web pages as hCards will transparently be manifested as vCards. Events expressed as hCalendars will be manifested as iCals. With the potential for microformat expressions of the basic building blocks of many import human-centered entities being conjured up by Microsoft Internet Explorer, the web becomes a much more valuable medium.

Chatting with Tantek about it the next evening, I wondered if Microsoft's commitment to the technology might extend as far as making contributions to Mozilla so that Firefox and Thunderbird users can enjoy benefits comparable to those promised to MSIE users. Tantek seemed confident that the Mozilla community will soon enough implement the same capabilities. On Thursday, Bart Decrem seemed to imply as much; when Flock loads a page it recognizes microformats and can conjure the data so that it may be sent to other sites and applications. As Decrem put it, it's part of Flocks support for "roundtrip attention." He demonstrated Flock in that session (with Chris Messina) dragging web entities (inline images, highlighted blocks of text for citation, etc) to Flock's "shelf" and incorporating it into blog post authoring. And Flock does the right thing; text cited is marked up in the blog post as <blockquote /> tag with a cite attribute. Flock is an IDE (integrated development environment) for micropublishing and remixing on the web.

Also at Tuesday's keynote (2006-03-07), Jeff Han showed off a tactile multi-input touchscreen device. Tablet PC's are nothing new but these applications weren't your garden variety touchscreen tricks where you use a stylus to doodle and scribble (hoping that the handwriting recognition mistake rate is tolerable). He used his hands, his finger tips were employed as multiple styli that could manipulate data gesturally. There was an incredible playdough-with-pixels application programmed with fluid physics. He grabbed globules of stuff, squished it, pulled it apart, mushed it together and rolled it around while creating currents and eddies within a virtual oil-and-water lava-lampscape.

For years, starting with Windows 95, I've longed to see the replacement for the traditional desktop metaphors that operating systems use. Accessing data as files, via folders, dragging to trashcans, clicking on notepads and cutting/pasting to ethereal clipboards... we've trained ourselves to think within the confines of deficient interfaces. No doubt there's rhyme and reason to these metaphors but as humans we're always conforming to their constraints. Instead of us training ourselves to think that way, the computers should be taught to accept input and provide output that agrees with how we already think. Children don't need to be taught how to fingerpaint, they stick their hands in the goo and do what comes naturally. We should all go back to preschool from time to time, lest we forget how.

Han's other application was photo browsing. On a plane that served as a virtual light board, he used his fingers to zoom in and out, slid them around the board, stretched and shrunk pictures and arranged them manually. This was drag and drop without starting and ending points, without mouse pointers or mouse-downs.

It was truly awe inspiring to see him gesture his way through the data. OK, enough real and proverbial gushing, check this out.

Bradley Horowitz discussed Yahoo!'s embrace of user generated content (nothing really new there, right) and the epiphanous embrace of user distributed content. The beauty of Flickr isn't just in the community's folksonomic organization of the content it generates, it's in how widespread it's distribution reach is through mashups (like Technorati's tag pages, though he didn't cite us specifically) and blog post embedding. Yahoo! is clearly on a roll with the fabric of feeds that they produce, consume and remix.

Another highlight for me of course was my preso at the Data Dump. I showed that "Web Pages Lie But The Numbers Don't" by demonstrating how blog spammers reveal themselves when you watch their publishing metrics. Normal publishing operations have consistent characteristics, there are baselines to measure against, as far as their blog creation rates (in the case of domains that host blogs), post creation rates, link creation rates, tags and so forth. After my swim through the data underlying SEO dirty business, David Hornik provided a humorous wade into what VC's really do: email about schmoozes and meetings, shmooze about email and meetings and meet about emails and schmoozes. Such grueling duties, the object of which oftentimes boiling down to an email with "Introduction" as the Subject:, requires taking frequent breaks (Hawaii, Cabo, Hannukah, Aspen, etc) but provides fodder for other email Subjects.

Microformats and Flickr seemed to be the big winners at this Etech. Between people jazzed by Cal Henderson's geek out How We Built Flickr tutorial on Monday, to Antonio Rodriguez showing off Tabblo to passers-by, to Bradley Horowitz' singing the praises of Flickr and the emergence of Yahoo!'s FUSE vision (find, use, share, expand) and countless other cites in various sessions -- Flickr was ubiquitously on the lips of Etech speakers and attendees. Ray Ozzie really energized the interest in microformats with his morning keynote, by the time the evening rolled around, the microformats session had a packed house. The audience wasn't just listening, they were participating; observed all around were people creating hCards, reading about hCals and whispering to each other about the application potential.

Enough speaking of Flickr@Etech (again), see it. James Duncan Davidson's Etech Flickr stream is a good photographic chronicle of this years conference. Doc's is good too. That was my week.


( Mar 12 2006, 02:22:48 PM PST ) Permalink