Monthly Archives: March 2009

In the latest Nodalities podcast, Paul Miller talks to Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and a founding Director of the Web Science Research Initiative.

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) is a joint venture between MIT and the University of Southampton to teach the literal academic ‘science’ of the web.

Founded in 2006 alongside Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Daniel J. Weitznerby, Dame Wendy talks with Paul about some of the thinking she and Sir Tim shared that eventually resulted in the conception of the project.

They recognised there are many determining factors outside of pure technology that shape the evolution of the Web. That as a human construct, there is a need for new ways of thinking about the Web, that we need to understand as much about how and what effects humans have on its evolution as much as how the Web effects our society.

The Web is one of the most (if not the most) transformative applications in the history of computing and communications. It’s changed how we teach, publish, govern and do business, studied in anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics – needless to say a lengthy list – and the Web Science is to consider the Web in all these fields (and more) not only as a computer science.

It’s also to intended to anticipate future developments, forsee the good and bad consequences of its change.

They’ve been working with the Web for a long time – since the earliest days of hypertext and hypermedia and with such experience have recognised the cyclical nature of Web trends, that every five years or so sees great advances in the Web’s evolution. Think Web 2.0 for the latest phase – the next (apparently) being Web 3.0 (or the ‘Data Web’ or the ‘Web of Linked Data’) or the Semantic Web – whatever buzzword you want to ply it with. The WSRI, in part, stands to find out what’s likely to come, to inform us and our decisions.

Of course, it was also in part founded to evangelise the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web was and is still Berners-Lee’s original vision for the Web that he had back as early as WWW94 (though ‘unnamed’). These small phases add up to the larger realisation of this original dream – and with that, Dame Wendy discusses her thoughts on how this will continue in its future. She talks about the WSRI’s efforts to create a wide network of key Web Science labs across the globe and their work with curriculum developers and government agencies, also of their training of university teachers and educators to inject Web science into higher education as recognised academia.

Paul Miller also shares some thoughts on his ZDNet blog - at first he was sceptical, suggesting that we really don’t need yet another academic subject just to ‘permit’ us to study the Web, that we’re perfectly well served by enough areas of study (those listed above) that already seek to understand both the Web and its impact upon all of us. But he too, can’t deny that Web Science as a ‘label’ can be beneficial to the Semantic cause in both the evangelistic sense but also by providing ‘institutional credibility’ to their area of research.

I collected a number of Web Science and the WSRI related bookmarks during my thesis research, for further reading:

http://delicious.com/marchibbins/wsri
http://delicious.com/marchibbins/webscience

Yahoo! have announced Yahoo! Updates, their answer to Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect.

I’ve spoken about Friend Connect and Facebook Connect a of couple times already as they vie for the mantle of the primary single sign-on for social web applications, but I hadn’t heard anything about Yahoo! offering an implementation on their part – but it turns out to be a pretty good challenge.

They announced on their Developer Network Blog yesterday, that it’s a collaboration with JS-Kit, a leading distributed social network that currently connects over 600,000 sites through powering comments and ratings services. JS-Kit have already got some huge implementations, including sites for AOL, Evite, and Sun Microsystems.

As the JS-Kit blog explains, in this scenario these third-party sites can share user-generated content (e.g. blog comments) directly to a user’s social connections on Yahoo! via the “Updates from My Connections” feed.

This new capability offers a potentially massive new distribution channel for content and a great engine for driving referral traffic from Yahoo!’s global audience. The integration with the Yahoo! Social Directory API enables these sites to allow users to leverage their Yahoo! identity and display their Yahoo! profile photo with their comments. By enabling commenters to use their Yahoo! profile commenting, publishers can build a stronger sense of community at their sites.

Yahoo! have implemented the OAuth open standard to achieve this, a trusted connection to third party sites, not only making users more willing to add content, but by leveraging the social profile data already stored by Yahoo!, makes the commenting and rating an easier process.

This in turn not only means no need for re-registration (cue repetitive form filling), but also a singular, portable syndication of activity can be aggregated on Yahoo! for those users, which, as Marshall Kilpatrick suggests, could then be used by site owners to access verified information about their readers’ profiles and interests.

If this were possible, this could be used to serve more relevant content to those users as well as offer those site owners assurance as to who is contributing to their sites.

Yahoo! talked about their Open Strategy back in October, so it’s good (and about time!) to see some of this come to fruition. They’ve hit the ground running, but the JS-Kit support won’t win this alone – those sites also support Facebook Connect.

I’m more impressed with Yahoo! for consistently championing open standards, as they do with SearchMonkey also, so hope this will expand to other networks in the future. But as much as I enjoy a third contender to the table heating things up, I hope this doesn’t result in three (or more) incompatible platforms heading in their own directions and we’re back to square one.

Another really cool thing Lee Brimelow spoke about at Flash Camp on Thursday was his London edition of the ‘Master Collection dead drop’.

As he did in Amsterdam and Boston before that, Lee hid a copy of Adobe CS4 Master Collection (worth almost £2,000) in an anonymous location in London and left a string of complicated clues and puzzles for anyone willing, to try and decrypt them.

London CS4 Master Collection dead drop

Yesterday Lee posted a video walkthrough, explaining how all the pieces fitted together. It’s quite complex – here’s how it went:

1. Lee posted an article explaining the dead drop had begun, hiding an unstyled link in the final full stop of the paragraph that this to this wav file.

2. As you might think, it wasn’t just noise – using an editor like Adobe Soundbooth you can see a spectral view of the file where Lee had written in a URL and ‘LEE FLASH’ into the sound levels using Adobe Audition.

Spectral view in Adobe Audition

3. At that URL, enter the username ‘LEE’ and the password ‘FLASH’ you’ll find GPS co-ordinates (51.508034630224635, -0.13934612274169922) and told to ‘Get a coffee and look out the window’ – and there are three form fields to fill in.

Looking out the window - Office To Let phone number

4. This location is a Starbucks in Picadilly, looking out the window you’d see an ‘Office to let’ sign – the phone number of which (020 7935 1653) goes in the above form.

5. That’ll give you a link to an AIF sound file, a flat tone. In spectral view isolate and remove that tone and amplify the very faint remains – Lee reading a link to an image file.

Bush

6. The image was of a bush, zooming in very closely with an image editor like Adobe Photoshop reveals some more GPS coordinates hidden amongst the grass (51.502250, -0.137883) – which is the actual location of this bush in St. James’s Park.

7. Inside that bush was an envelope with another URL and login credentials, which took you what looked like an Apache 403 error, but in fact was a SWF file.

8. When decompiled, this SWF file had an unused image in its library – a satellite image with more co-ordinates in St. James’s Park (51.50635, -0.142883) – the location of the software.

I thought this was brilliant!

The video going through all the clues on his blog is worth a watch – the best dead drop yet.

Ted Patrick has posted a recording of his Adobe eSeminar “Facebook on The Flash Platform” that he presented last Thursday.

Josh Elman, Facebook Platform Project Manager, joins him – offering a little technical history and strategy behind the application platform and Facebook Connect also.

Facebook on The Flash Platform

It’s a good introduction to building Flash applications using the Facebook API. It’s clear that building on the Facebook platform grants developers an equal opportunity to create powerful and successful social experiences.

As Ted and Josh describe, by utilising Facebook users’ social contexts and by the ease of which you can distribute through the social graph, applications can generate a huge amount of traffic – and as Josh puts it, developers can profit wildy. ;)

Ted gives a simple overview of the architecture of a Facebook application, the various application states and talks about FBML, Facebook’s XML mark-up – and shows how to build a simple single-component Flex application that really demonstrates how easy Facebook have made the information retrieval possible via the API.

The Q&A is worth listening to (it starts around 37 minutes), Ted and Josh discuss important development aspects outside of the actual coding – how hosting is managed, handling session keys and such.

But Ted also points to a promising looking Actionscript library designed for Facebook application developers, simply called The Facebook Actionscript API - which definitely sounds worth checking out (no pun intended).

As yet, Facebook only ‘officially’ support their PHP library, but continue to work with developers in the community to support the other languages. Josh claims this will only improve over the next couple of months and through the year – hopefully (it sounded) to develop similar ‘official’ library counterparts.

Ted’s also posted his Facebook on The Flash Platform sample files.

Sometimes it might seem like it was planned.