@madpilot makes

The Original Social Network…

I just gave this presentation to the PRIA Young Guns –  a group for younf marketing and PR people, along with Justin Davies and Ronnie Duncan (from Meerkats – sorry, haven’t got a link).

As you all well know, I’m very much from the technical side of the web, and have been known to be a little critical of some of the more, let’s say, marketing focused people, so the focus of my talk was to show that social networking isn’t all about selling, it’s about interaction. At the end of the day, online social networks should be an extension (not a replacement) for real-life networks and should be treated as such. In real life, if you only call on friends when you want a favour, you aren’t going to have any friends left – and the same applied to online social networks.

I got asked a number of times “How many hours do you spend on social networks?”. It really is the wrong type of question to be asking, because I hang put on Twitter and the port 80 forums (Yes – forums are social networks too) because I have a genuine interest is what is going on with in these groups. It’s not about ROIs or won leads, it’s about conversation. If work comes out of that (and it does) – then fine.

So how was this relevant to a bunch of marketing kids? Well, the point I was trying to make was that interaction creates an association with your and your product, which encourages online “word of mouth” marketing. It’s less in your face and more targeting that whacking whopping great ads all over numerous sites. It’s probably a little harder to quantify, but it is still a solid methodology (says the man with the Computer Science degree).

It really enjoyed listening to Justin and Ronnie. Justin has a marketing degree, but is currently working heavily in the technical side of things, which acted as a great conduit between my talk and Ronnie’s. He made some really interesting points about the changing face of PR (So what would have happened if Apache Gas had a blog?). Ronnie comes from the old school of marketing and advertising (that is the creative, clever side), and although he admitted himself that he had a long way to go to fully grasp what can be done with Web 2.0, his attitude to what can be done was pretty refreshing.

My slides are here.

Proposal: An open inter-conversation microblogging protocol

Spurred on by Gary’s discussion on the number of micro-blogging sites around, the “Is it Distributed?” question made we wonder if we are going about this wrong. Cameron Adams was right when he said there is only one social network, so why are we flicking between a large number of them? Why aren’t we running out own?

Beyond a number of small superficial differences they all do the same thing – you add friends, post what your doing (usually in an arbitrary 140 characters or less) and read what others are doing. There really is no reason why this can’t be truly distributed, i.e. I can run my own micro-blogging site, and all my friends can run their own micro-blogging sites – all that is needed is some glue (a communication protocol) to bring it all together. The great thing about this, is we already have systems to make this happen – get your buzz-word bingo cards out people…

RESTful XML

The first part of this system is a RESTful API that allows friends to post information in your timeline and you to post to others. Everytime you post to your microblog, it will iterate through your list of friends and forward the message on to them. The same thing happens if you delete a post – if notifies all your friends to remove the post from their local database. To ensure that random people can’t spam our feeds, we can use OAuth to give “friends” permission to send us information.

Your own timeline

The reason that your microblog would need to be notified of other peoples posts would be so you can cache these posts on your own microblog, which gives you a twitter style public timeline. The advantage of this is that there is basically no database load to display YOUR feed – the only information in your database are the posts that you want to read!

Adding friends

So how can you add friends and allow others to follow you? This is actually pretty easy using OAuth – by adding your microblog to your friends microblog authorised list, they know that you need to be notified on an add or delete command. This gives us the side effect that we can manage not only who we follow but who follows us – if you want to stop someone from following you, you just de-authorise them. So what happens if a new friend adds your microblog to their timeline? A simple GET command could be made to receive all of the posts by the new friend, effectively syncing up the two databases – all future posts will obviously push to the new friend (and vice-versa) so there is no expensive polling.

Other peoples timelines

If someone has a public timeline, this is a no-brainer. Each persons microblog would just be available and others can just read it. But what about private timelines? Enter OpenID. If each of your friends provide an OpenID URL, they would be able to login to your microblog to read your private feed – no password required, but is still totally private.

Discovery services

Many twitter users scour the public timeline waiting for people to post things that they are interesting in. This is actually quite easy to implement on a distributed system – have a read only super node that everyone posts to. Voila, instant public timeline. This also means that you can easily create “channels”. Instead of only having one public timeline, you can have many based on different topics.

Unlimited extensions

One of the value-adds for Pownce is the ability to share attachments and events. In reality, all it does is provide a link to a file on a remote service. If you wanted to add this function to your microblogging site, you can quite easily – as long as you post the link to others. This means you have complete control over what your microblog does, as long as it still talks the protocol.

Advantages

  1. The obvious one is you aren’t at the mercy of servers doing a twitter (ie. being up and down like a yo-yo). If your friends server goes down you miss out on their posts, but no one elses.
  2. You have control over your data – you don’t have to worry about a service disappearing overnight and you not being get at it. It all on your server
  3. Distributed data – your server dies and your harddrive explodes, your data can be rebuilt from the data that is stored on one of your friends databases

Disadvantages

  1. If someones site is down they may miss some updates, so you would need a method for re-syncing all friends posts from a certain date – no biggie.
  2. It does make completely removing your account difficult as you can’t really ensure your friends are going to respond to delete commands correctly

So what do people how don’t have their own server to run this on? This is the kicker – you can still have hosted versions of the system. This works for blogs (I host my own, but some of my friends use systems like Blogger.com) and OpenID which makes it much more accessible.

If there is some interest in this, I’m sure we can start drafting some specifications. I’d be interested in your thought.s

Hot or Not

Call it lazy blogging, but the beginning of a new year is a perfect opportunity to write a list post. I’m not going to call the list below predictions for 2008 as there is absolutely no scientific basis for any of this, so I’m calling it Hot or Not – stuff that I think/want to be hot in 2008 and stuff that I would love to see head to the big TCP/IP stack in the sky.

OAuth: Hot. Anything that brings some sort of order to the big bad world of web APIs is a good thing. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a specification that describes a method for token-based access to third party applications. So now there is really no excuse for that confounding social network to ask for your usernames and passwords to all of your other confounding social networking sites, just so it can spam have access to all of your friends.

Confounding Social Network sites: Not. OK. That is enough. I am over been bamboozed at the sight of another social network that has no direction, meaning or business model. The concept behind a social network is cool – we used to call them forums, remember – but it is now officially out of control. To the “entrepreneurs” behind them – stop trying to kill Facebook, they have more money than you and careless less about their users than you ever could (Exception: Spock – You are still Satan’s spawn).

Software as a Service: Hot. It’s kinda like Web2.0 but this time with meaning. Bring back computing to what it was meant for – helping humans to do what they do. The web is the perfect delivery method for a lot of the desktop software we use everyday. Google has already shown us what can be done with apps like GMail and Google Docs and there is a myriad of web applications that have made the leap (If I can build one, anyone can). Pay for what you use, don’t worry about license fees any more, don’t worry about what happens when you hard drive crashes, or about deploying to all 500 machines in your organisation.

Advertising as a Business Mode: Not. The darling child of Web2.0/New Media/Social Networks. Unless your site is already doing the traffic of Google/YouTube/Facebook or your are a porn site, go and erase the “we will pay for our hosting via advertising” line from you business plan. Seconds thoughts, if you are Facebook, you should probably do the same (Nice work on beacon – at what point did that actually seem like a good idea?). Advertising only works if there is eyeballs a LOT of eyeballs on pages and if your target audience is the type that clicks on ads. And since every man and his dog has released a social network this week, you aren’t a unique snowflake. Get a real business plan first.

Mashups: Hot. Yeah, I know – these have been around since the first beta of Web 2.0 but it has never really extended much beyond adding a Google Map to your site. I think 2008 and will see some really cool productivity apps built leveraging the webservices of other web sites. I think that it may even spill over in to the corporate world – I’d love to see company intranets using webservices to customise workflows.

Getting VC funding then hoping to sell to <insert large company name here>: Not. Now, I have no problem with the concept of funding, or the hopes and dreams of having a large company with a bank balanace bigger than your phone number (including country and area code) throw you some bones, per se. Where I do draw the line, however is pitching with a business plan that can’t really pay back a return to the investor unless the business get bought out. Mind you, the investors really should know better – or maybe they are just much smarter than I am, who knows. Regardless, when this whole thing collapses in on it’s self, I’ll be dancing like it is on sale for $19.99…

Mobile: Hot. This is the next frontier for the web. Everyone has a mobile (some people two or three) and they are generally on their person at all times. Extend the SaaS idea to these small devices and you really will be able to get your stuff done when it suits. Again, this isn’t new, but there have been some advancements in technology and some new players who understand the web much better (that’s Google if you were wondering). I think 2008 is the year that see the mobile platform as a first-class netizen rather than something that the work experience kid gets to work on.

Using user data with out permission: Not: You would have by now seen my (MANY) rants about Spock and Facebook. Those playing in the dirty, back alleyways of social networking really need to take a long hard look at themselves. It’s my data, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t sell my browsing habits to the highest bigger. And don’t even think about scraping my data from other sites without my permission – they asked nicely, you didn’t.

Company-as-a-Service: Hot. Haven’t heard of this? That’s because I just made it up. We have seen Software-as-a-Service, Hardware-as-a-Service (eg Amazon EC2), so why not have have companies that can shrink, grow and churn as required? There are so many freelancers and consultants out there, as well as a huge number of micro businesses. If they all grouped together, they would be able to work on sites ranging from the very-very big to the very-very small. Many places kind of do this already (this is why contracting was invented) but I can see this working in a more peer-to-peer sort of way – you aren’t contracting for someone, you are contracting with someone (there is a remarkable difference).

New years lists: Not.

Leave a comment – Is this Hot or Not ;)

What the hell has happened to the Internet

I love the Internet – I live and breathe it everyday. It is arguably the biggest triumph of this century – never before has so much information been so readily available, no to mention the ability to contact and converse with people from all over the world with in just a few mouse clicks.

So why is this current “social networking” trend pissing me off so much?

I realise that when you spend so much time on the ‘net, your life is basically out there for all to see – google my name and there is a shit load of stuff out there. THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN USE IT FOR OWN DEVIOUS PURPOSES. Today, someone added my to their “trust” network on a site called Spock. From what I can gather (and I’m not sure – the details of the site are pretty thin) it scrapes the Internet for information about you and tries to build a profile of who you are associated with, what you do and how many porn sites you visit. What the fuck? If I wanted to all of my information on one site I would create some sort of webpage- Oh hang on, I ALREADY HAVE ONE. And guess what? The information on my website (let’s call it a blog) is the information that I WANT TO RELEASE. I mean seriously. So some muppet on a website makes a comment about you at some point and all of a sudden it is on an aggregation site for all of your other (probably legitimate) friends to see.

Of course, Spock isn’t the first website to try to cash in on utilising your information for their obvious financial gain (C’mon, you think they are doing this for fun? Web 2.0 isn’t about bringing people together anymore) – Facebook managed to see the dollar signs embedded in your personal information with Beacon. Why does Facebook or Spock think that have the right to analyse my shopping habits from other sites? Look, my hatred for Facebook is pretty well known – it does a brilliant job of allowing you to contact long lost school buddies, but that isn’t what it is being used for anymore, which brings my to the guts of this rant.

Take your mind back 18 months – blogs started to take off, flickr was starting become mainstream, Facebook was still limited to people at Harvard, people on the web, knew about the web – they were happier times. People were hungry for knowledge, there was exciting stuff happening, because a lot of the stuff that the average web developer uses everyday was bleeding edge. AJAX was impressive, we would marvel at the tech behind Meebo and would boggle our minds at Google ability to find us stuff and Techcrunch was actually relevent.

Now, it is all about how much angel funding you get on your second round of VC. Oh, what’s that? You’ve burnt the GDP of a small country on a free social network site that takes websites and translates them in to an ancient Hindu language? Oh, now your investors are asking for a return – advertising not working for you? Well go and sell some user data. Your users won’t mind, especially if they don’t know about it. For fuck’s sake. I’m not an economist, but last time I checked, you need a freaking revenue stream to make money. And if I have to hear about another startup that is counting on click-throughs to cover their $10,000 a month hosting bill, I’m going to hit someone – probably the person that is asking for it to be developed.

However! These leeches aren’t the solely responsible promoting the stereotype that skinning some tables based forums package, adding a rounded corner and gradient will make you a bazillion dollars – if people didn’t get sucked in to these sites, then these people would be pumping their business-plan creating time into something else – probably spam. Which brings me to the awful realisation that we, much like the way Viagra emails are an everyday part of ourlives, will just have to put up with this crap until the Internet self-implodes under the bloat of another loser posting a video diary to Seesmic under the misconception that anyone cares.

I for one, will be quite happy to un-subscribe from all this bullshit and get back to making sites that help people to makes their lives easier. Let’s bring the web back to the people, not to the wallets of fly-by-nighters that are just out to make a quick buck.

ByteMe!, PerthMassive and Freelancer Friday – take me where the web goes.

We are hurtling into the wacky end of the year – before you know it, we’ll all be drinking egg-nog and having seedy older men/women hitting on us at office Christmas parties (or vise-versa if you are said seedy man/woman). Well to celebrate, the Perth digital content community is throwing some awesome events over the next couple of weeks: Namely ByteMe! and PerthMassive,

ByteMe! is the brainchild of Kat “I must be taking something because it is impossible for one person to do the amount of stuff I do within a 28-hour day, let alone with in the bounds of current time” Black – it is a free week-long festival that will be show casing the best 1’s and 0’s of the Perth digital community. Not only that, there are some pretty god-damn kick-arse speakers (See for yourself). It it December 2-9 and did I mention free? Oh and AWIA will be running a BarCampNano on the Sunday from 1-4pm – so if you have anything you want to show the world in 20 minutes or less, rock up between those hours to the Perth Town Hall.

Speaking of AWIA, please note that there will be NO Port80 in December because of the biggest digital Christmas party this side of Omnicrone-4, Perth Massive is on! So free up your schedules for the 6th 4th of December 2007, and head over to the Library in Northbridge (The niteclub, not the repository of books) and meet-up with others that like to do what you do (Unless what you like to do is macrame – unless the macrame usergroup shows up). Also free. Free as in beer. And there is Free beer. Which is free as in – beer. Make sure you go and register though, so the organisers knowhow much free beer to get.

Oh, whilst I’m at it, We are having the next installment of our exciting Freelancer Friday initiative at the Silicon Beach house on Friday 30 November 2007. We had about half a dozen people last time which was awesome and since the last one have knocked down some walls and stuff (shh, don’t tell the landlord) so there is heaps more desk space now. If you are interested, drop me an email, or throw your name on the Work@Jelly wiki under Work@ Jelly Perth – Freelancer Friday.

So get your dancing frocks and red (Reebok) pumps and lets rock this Popsicle stand!

See you facebook. Thanks for the spam

Goodbye facbookI have given facebook a chance – longer than most web apps. Hell, so many of my peers use it, surely I just haven’t had that gotcha moment that will make me become addicted it. Nope. Sorry. I still don’t see the point – oh, other than allowing people to spam their friends with pointless “applications”.

So it is today that I bid you adieu. It’s been a gas.

RIP.

Edit: Fix typos – thanks to all that pointed them out :P

Facebook suicide pact

Ok, for all those who are sick to the teeth of getting spammed by your friends by “applications” on Facebook, I propose a mass Facebook Hari-kari tomorrow.

When: 28/09/2007 at 5pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (+10GMT).

The steps are simple.

  1. Login to your soon to be defunked Facebook account
  2. Click “accounts”
  3. Click “de-activate account”
  4. Revel in the fact that you are making the web a better place to be.

Pass this on to friends.

Time tracking for freelancers and small firms made REAL easy.

I have just launched a new web site called 88 Miles. I was sick and tired of trying to juggle excel spreadsheets to maintain my client timesheets – I ended up having to double input (Because it was too much of a pain to enter the time directly, so I would write them down first) and would usually leave the task until the end of the week. Not suprisingly this part of my week wasn’t my favourite.

Punch-in punch-out demoEnter 88 Miles. This little system that I have designed is meant to be REALLY basic. There is no invoiceing system or task system and this is by design. I wanted to make it’s primary role – that is entering time – extremely quick.

When you go to the site, you click punch in to the project you are starting. When you have finished the job, click the corresponding punch out button. That’s it. Really.

At the moment, the system is in beta so it is missing some of the other features that I plan implement before the official launch (Aiming for 1 June 2006) like RSS, an API and some desktop applets, but please feel free to go and have a play with it and let me know what you think!

As a bonus, those of you that sign up before the 1st of June get the first two months of access for free if they decided to continue after that point!

Prices look like they will be $24/year for the premium account – standard accounts will be free but limited to three companies and five tasks at any one time.

The tech:

The system is built in Ruby on Rails and is running on Textdrive.

Flogging a dead horse – technologies that don’t belong on the web

The web has come a long way since it’s inception. No longer is it a mismash of ugly looking static pages, posted by scientists. Ecommerce has gone nuts, allowing people to perform online banking and shopping. The advent of blogging has allowed anyone with a net connection to become an author and post their opinions on stuff. Web 2.0 social websites have brought the net back to the people – all in all a pretty exciting time.

However! There are some technologies that seem to be gaining steam because that is what everyone expected the web to do two years ago. The reason that these technologies will fail is because they are trying to force a paradigm where it doesn’t fit. This technique was fine a couple of years ago, but now that the web has started to find it’s feet, the incompatibility is becoming clearer.

One that immediately comes to mind is video-blogging (vblogs). Ever since people realised you could download a video off the net, on-demand video has been touted as the next big thing. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen. Why? It is an old medium. It is still one-way. You can’t interact with the video – you are forced to sit and watch and listen to the story. You can’t skim view it, nor can you do other stuff while watching it (You can almost get away with listening to it and doing something else, in which case, it would make more sense to listen to an audio podcast). Not to mention the speed issues – broadband still hasn’t gotten fast enough to really make it work. We young and part of the now generation – we don’t want to wait for for a video download only to find out it is crap.

Another is online newspapers. Sure, these have been around for a while but they have really missed the mark on the web. What is the point of setting up a newspaper to look and feel like it’s real-world counterpart? If I wanted to read my news like that, I would go and buy the paper. The way slashdot distributes it’s news is much closer to the mark. Give me tidbits from every story. That way I can make up my mind straight away if I want to continue reading. Trying to “flick” through a paper online in a traditional sense is too much effort.

What other technologies can you think that are being pushed, but don’t really belong?

Web 2.0 frameworks – fundamental or fluff?

Over at Port 80, we recently added a Ruby on Rails forum. This was met with both excitement and doubt from forum members. There were those that were excited about a new framework that promises to reduce development time by taking the tedium out of development. There were those who were doubtful about a system that has had a lot of hype, but hasn’t had the market infiltration to match it. Many people think that anyting that rises so quickly will only fall just as quickly. Will this happen to rails? No idea – only time can give us the answer.

However, I think there is an underlying factor here that has been over looked. The idea of frameworks designed specifically to speed up web development is what we should be getting excited about.

Web development, and to a degree, software development has changed. Customers are more than ever expecting cheap software that is good. It doesn’t make sense for us as developers to waste our precious time re-implementing the same parts of a system for different jobs. Introduction of frameworks that do this simply can only be a good thing.

One hurdle for many professional coders is the lead-time required for learning a new framework. Be the very definition, frameworks expect the coder to do things in a certain way. This may put many coders off, because they have to spend time learning, not coding and this costs money. What they may not realise, though, is that every hour they spend re-coding form validators instead of learning a framework that does it for them, adds up over time.

The old adage of work smarter not harder is extremely relevent here. There will never be more hours in a day. Trying to use all of them is impossible. Trying to improve productivity with out changes in thinking won’t work. We as web programmers know how this web thing works. The designers of these frameworks know how this web thing works. We really should be working together to work smarter.

Next