Before I begin this post, I want to lay a little ground work to show where I am coming from. I have no degree in any *”ology” and these ramblings reflect only my own musings. I am an avid futurist and technologist, in particular, web technologies. I am a believer in its ability to change the future in major ways, largely for the good, as it has already done over and over.

You always know when things are changing because people are talking about that which is in flux. And we are talking now more than ever about technology, progress and in particular the web and how it integrating with our lives.

I found myself happy to hear of schools introducing the iPad to classrooms replacing heavy, expensive text books. More information on this can be found here at ipadinschools. I still think that this is a wonderful change, but it got me thinking about where we may be heading.

What will happen to the physical things? The books, CDs, photographs, newspapers etc. And in the process of replacing them, what is it that we risk losing?

Does a physical photograph mean more, and have more value than its digital counterpart? Does a physical book have more value than a book downloaded to your tablet? I think for the large part the answer is a resounding no, but occasionally it is a yes.

My family has boxes full of photographs and attics full of “stuff”, very few of these items have any real meaning other than to map out the past as a timeline represented as things. This can be achieved far better in the digital realm; and in my opinion, the digital realm provides more relevance and connection, particularly in a spatial/temporal sense.

But there is something to be said about having and holding something which has had time and craft put into it through purely physical interaction. A physical object can create the sense of a physical connection with the maker of the object. When I hold a scrapbook, made by my partner or hold a drawing done by my daughter, I know that they have held, touched and created this object and that means something; and I have yet to feel that “something” from their digital counterparts. So perhaps the first thing lost is the tactile properties of an actual object. Feeling and touching that shared object adds a level to the shared experience, as stated, the giver/sharer has also touched the object. Perhaps other elements lost are rarity and uniqueness. These elements add a great deal of value to an object, but in the digital realm, there is almost nothing which cannot be easily reproduced, either by copying it to many places or by replicating it through some digital tool. There is no risk of loss of something important with these digital objects. Almost all of us have some form of back up of our important information.

Of course, the information contained and shared is more important than how we choose to share it. Yet I do worry that, even though a piece of information shared is clearly important, we treat it with less reverence purely because of the sheer amount of information being shared with us at any one point in time. This may well be due to our lack of experience in dealing with this volume of information, and maybe it something we will become much better at over time.

However an interesting question and problem is raised: if we accept we are losing something, how do we create and share something of worth and value in a digital format? How can we impart and understand the time and effort expended to create that which is being shared? I’m not sure whether these questions are truly important, but they matter to me and I hope to some of you too.

 

If you have’t heard Mozilla identity labs has introduced a new way to login into sites called browserid. We have all become familiar with the “sign in with twitter” and “connect with Facebook” buttons on sites that enable us to have a centralised login to many of our favourite web services.

These centralised logins are very useful, but are ultimately controlled by a company. So into the breach steps Mozilla offering an openid type login service. Browserid is open source and you can choose to use mozilla as an authentication service or you can set up your own. I’m going to show you how to setup this service as a login and using Mozilla as the authenticator.

So assuming you have a login image with an Id attribute of “login” the following code should work in most modern browsers. I’m using jquery as the javascript framework.



$('document').ready(function (){

$('img.login').click(function(){
navigator.id.getVerifiedEmail(gotVerifiedEmail);
});

});
//this function is called in the above function
function gotVerifiedEmail(assertionObj){
If(assertionObj){
//Ajax to a login controller
$.ajax({
url:"/yourcontroller/youraction",
data:{assertion:assertionObj},
dataType:"json",
type:"post",
success:function(data,textStatus,jqXHR){
// do your thing
},
error:function(){
// something went wrong with ajax call
}
});
}else{
// something went wrong
}
}

So that’s the JavaScript part however we still need to verify the assertion with Mozilla. You can do this with JavaScript too. In the above code you would replace the call to your controller with
The following URL:
“https://browserid.org/verify?assertion=”+window.encodeURIComponent(assertionObj)+”&audience=”+window.encodeURIComponent(window.location.host);

In my controller class I do the following in a grails app:

def browserIdLogin ={

If(params.assertion){
def url = new URL(
"https://browserid.org/verify?assertion=${URLEncoder.encode(params.assertion)}&audience=
${URLEncoder.encode(request.getHeader('HOST'))}");

def jsonResponse= JSON.parse(url.text)

Println jsonResponse
}

}

// this will output something like [audience:localhost:8080, issuer:browserid.org:443, email:[email protected], status:okay, valid-until:1310908947530]

So you now you are dealing with an authentic user with authenic email address. Now you can do as you please. if this user already has an account you can load up their account details and set the session parameters etc or if they have no account you can send them to complete an account creation (if you need more details than the email address). After they complete this they can then sign in without needing to remember a password etc.

In php you could use the CURL library or open a socket etc or you could even just use


email;
?>

Anyway hope this is helpful. There is plenty of info on browserid and they also have example code.

 

I have been toying with some new ideas lately and trying to focus on how I can make tech and the web do more good, thats not to say it doesn’t already do good of course. So an idea that I struck upon while thinking about the power of location, socially connected networks and the saturation of smart devices, was helpfinding.me.
what is helpfinding.me? Well, as i hope the title suggests, this will be a tool to leverage the connected nature of our society in order to try and help find missing people within the bounds of your location.
I often hear that the first 24 hours of someone going missing are the most important. This smartphone app will try to leverage that.
so here is the scenario, a family are out on the beach or at a park or at a large public event when they suddenly notice one of their children has not come back from playing. They start to look around but do not find the child. The park/beach is large, they get worried and start asking people have they seen such and such and show them a picture. This is where I envisage helpfinding.me coming in. In the simpelist way possible, a picture would be added to the app plus a brief description of clothes etc, the app would pick up location and post it to the server which in turn would post a notification to every registered device within the area. Any people with the app would recieve the notification and be able to view that someone had gone missing near them and so become more vigilant and aware, and hopefully someone would spot the child/person.
I think there are two difficult problems. The first is gaining app saturation, but this is more a marketing problem as i feel people will be open to downloading the app and and have it sit largely silent on their phone. The second problem is handling discovery. You don’t want a situation where you are sending parents/Concerned parties on wild goose chases. I envisage this problem will become easier to solve as saturation increases. A potential solution could be leveraging existing connections between people to create levels of trust. Also of course there is a group effect too; if several people report sighting the missing person in a location, the likelyhood of it being a hoax is relatively small. Also the device saturation level could be used: if there are only six devices in the area and one of them reports a sighting, then this is highly relevant. There are more things which will come to light, I’m sure. Got any thoughts on this? Please leave a comment or get in touch via @maleck13. I think its important to remember that the average person is good and is unlikely to want to cause a person extra distress by posting a false sighting.

Has The Web “pivoted”

 Development, Ideas  Comments Off on Has The Web “pivoted”
Jun 212011
 

According to recent study done see here -> source we are now spending more time on mobile applications than on the web. While I don’t claim that this is a definitive study, it does show what I believe is a trend that will only continue to grow. We like our data in nice neat, “app” size, packages. Has anyone ever really enjoyed the alternative: searching through ad filled pages, with different and often irritating ways of presenting their information to you?
However some are pointing to this as a sign that “the web is dying or dead”. Wired magazine did a good piece on this web is dead article and I think they highlight some very good points. However I feel that web is far from dead.

A large majority of these apps that we use, are powered, at least to some extent, by web services/apis (application, program interface). Many point to these as not being indexable and so not helpful to the web because the data can’t be linked to. This is true, to a certain extent. However, if you are anything like me, some of the apps that I use most, I use to discover links being shared with me in a social context. I can safely say, that I have visited and discovered more websites and articles of actual worth via these service consuming apps than through any other medium, and yes that includes google. The web evolves quickly, maybe more quickly than any other medium, and we as its consumers, creators and curators, are constantly try to gain the most from it.

I would also point out, that there is no reason why if we use the RESTful model more on REST in building web services, that these Apis/ services can’t be used for front end consumption as well as empowering 3rd party apps. Putting it in a simple way, when I use the GET method why not let the default be to render a HTML version of the content, but if I add a parameter to that GET request of ?type=json , then it renders the content as a json document for consumption by apps and so on.

So perhaps the web has pivoted and has become a web service provider, but I would argue it was never anything more than that . The browser after all is a data consuming app. And along as we hold dear the http protocol in order to help us share our data, the web will remain our most important invention.

No, it is not the native apps that pose any threat to the web, but there is a monster out there lurking and parading a being a part of the web, but keeping everything behind locked doors. I am of course talking about Facebook. It makes me immensely sad when I see a link in a tweet etc pertaining to something that I may find very interesting, only to find that when I follow the link, I am met with a Facebook login page. It is my hope that we will find ways to liberate this information and replace Facebook, with a more open and web friendly alternative.

More on substance context and relevance – Better information for everyone

 Ideas  Comments Off on More on substance context and relevance – Better information for everyone
Jun 132011
 

So how can we leverage the great benefits of a socially connected web into creating more relevance, substance and context? Well I believe that our individual consumption of information can be harnessed to create better information for everyone.

I think we have to start by accepting that how we consume information is rapidly evolving. There is more and more information at our finger tips and it is constantly available. This is a good thing, but in turn it leads to some, and I would believe them non trivial, problems. Important information can easily go unseen, we can become disengaged from the information we are actually quite interested in, we become glutted on so many other tit bits of information, that we no longer have the stomach for the main course, and so lose some, if not most, of our ability to focus when we do try to partake of something a little more meaty.

While google and twitter and Facebook provide us with good tools to find and discover new information via our “friends” and by search, the shear amount of information becomes just noise and information pollution or “infostatic” . I have spent, and continue to spend, quite a lot of my free time contemplating this problem and trying to find a way to cut through the infostatic so that I might find and read the best information that is available on my chosen subject(s).

It is important to me that I don’t feel limited. If I want to stream in articles and information from thousands of sites or follow thousands of people on twitter or friends on facebook, I want to be able to do that, and use all of those sources to gain the great information that many have on offer, but without the infostatic. Our social networks don’t really allow this.

However social curation, as a network, is certainly part of the solution, but there is a whole lot more that can be done in this area. We tend to group sites and people, lets call them sources, into categories and subjects, but what of the work others have done to group and organise things around this subject? Why can’t we benefit from this work? I see no reason why this cannot be done.

As stated earlier, our individual viewing and intaking of information can benefit everyone. Just as an example imagine browsing a new hypothetical information timeline, and seeing lots of relevant information but without the chaff; and not simply questions and answers (as in quora, stackoverflow both of which I love) . Not only would there be less chaff but, based on social curation and some algorithms, new tweets, articles and comments would appear in your “timeline” based on your current preference in subject.
To give an example: perhaps you are interested in a new piece of technology and you are clicking on and viewing tweets about this new technology and searching different search engines for information. You can be sure there are a lot of people out there who are also interested in that technology. So what if, based on their “information reputation” / “social credentials” in that subject, certain sources would have their information injected into your stream? And visa versa, you would, if deemed well enough informed on a subject, have your choice of information propagated out to those interested in and researching a particular subject.

So who decides who is relevant and who is not? You do of course, and just as your individual viewing of information can help everyone so too can your individual labeling of information sources. That information would be shared, anonymously, and used to help decide which sources are offering the most relevant information.

I do believe that this is how our information will reach us in the future, regardless of the platform; in fact I would eventually like to see some form of peer to peer system that would propagate this information and the social credentials of its users. This system could perhaps sit feeding your browser information that would then present to you the most valuable information? I don’t know for sure, and something like that is a much longer term and more radical change.

However I am going to start doing something about all that I have talked about, its going to be experimental and a bit rough around the edges, but if you want to join me and see what becomes of it, you can register your interest at srcd.me. It really is just a personal experiment at the moment, but perhaps it could become something more.

Substance & context: a problem facing the web

 Development, Ideas  Comments Off on Substance & context: a problem facing the web
May 282011
 

Substance and context. There is something of a contradiction in the web. It is well known that once you put something on the web, it is essentially there forever; in one form or another. And yet I find that while the web offers me a huge number of resources, and new information, it sometimes feels very shallow, transient and without context. often I find myself agreeing with a blog post or tweet without really understanding the motivation, history and persuasions of the information and the provider of the information.
It also very difficult to retrace information. Have you ever found yourself trawling google in order to try and find a page that you had come across in the past, that now seemed very relevant to something currently in your focus. the web is fragmented by nature, and this makes it hard to connect the dots, as it were, that link lots of information together and provide a full picture.
so how can we address this? Well right now I’m not sure, but it is a problem that is occupying my mind and perhaps soon, I will have an idea on how to solve it.

My Choice in stack for Eventzin

 Development  Comments Off on My Choice in stack for Eventzin
May 092011
 

I thought I would write a little about some of my choices in tech for Eventzin and some of my reasons for those choices.

Front End
On the front end I have chosen to go with Grails The Grails Site . For those who don’t know what Grails is, it is a web framework built ontop of some of the best Java web technologies such as Spring, Hibernate and Site Mesh, but also leveraging the power of Groovy. I have traditional spent my time working in PHP however with PHP, there have been things that I have loved and others which have constantly irked me. An example of this is the lack of being able to specify return types and also not also being able to specify a basic type as an argument for a function. I found myself at times wanting PHP to be statically typed, while also enjoying its loosely typed freedom. In short, I wanted the best of both worlds. Often critical actions require the relative safety of statically typed languages, while views very much want to be dynamic.
And along came Groovy. Groovy is a language built to run in the JVM and can leverage all that power of Java while implimenting its own features, which include dynamic typing and closures. I had been playing with Java for a year or so, and while I quite liked it, it also quite often felt as though, in order to do something small, I had to write far too much code. So when I found groovy, I very quickly started embracing it.

Backend
The backend of the site is built on pure java. it is a RESTful api, which the frontend site uses, along with the Android app and IOS app. We hope to make this open for developers in the future. I am using Hibernate for the ORM, which I really enjoy using and which sits ontop of a MYSQL database. In the future I am looking at moving this api to use JAX-WS and also to use a nosql database system, as the site and api feels quite suitable for this.

IDE
I have always been a big Fan of the Netbeans IDE. It has great java support and good grails support, however the Groovy support is a bit slow and not so great. I am sticking with Netbeans for the time being but have been looking at the IntelliJ IDE lately.

So.. Here We Go- Eventzin

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Mar 302011
 

For the last 4 months or so, I’ve been working almost solidly on new project. This is a project that I feel as though I have been slowly working towards over a long period of time.

So what is it? Eventzin is a location based, event sharing and discovery tool designed to help you get more people to your events and also to help you find out the best of what’s going on around you. That may sound a little cliched, but bare with me.

The idea was born from often being unsure of what was going on, when on a night out in my own city and also when travelling to other cities, and even if I did know of events happening, not knowing which was the best to spend my limited time and money on. I also wanted to know which events my friends were interested in going to, without all the effort of a whole lot of texting.

I also wanted to harness the power of the new social wave currently engulfing the web.

I mean, sure you can go to regular events website’s that lists a wild assortment of what is going on, but how do you know which is the best local band to go and listen to or which event is getting the attention of the people in the know ~ ie The Locals? Or maybe there is a great event happening that hasn’t made it onto your site of choice. It comes down to this: the people who know are the people that are involved, and in touch with the different scenes within a city or town.

I wanted to be able to walk into town (any city or town) for that matter, on a night out and find out quickly and easily what and where I should go to have a great night. I wanted to know what people were excited about on a Friday night and so where in turn I should be pointing not only my feet, but also the feet of my friends.

Ontop of this, to embrace the social elements, I really wanted to be able to set up my own events, which, in turn could revolve around other events that were happening, send my friends invites and have them send on invites to others. I wanted and want to try and allow people to plan a night out, but also be able to be on a night out and pick up on an event in the area that was creating alot of excitement or “buzz” if you will.

So it was out of these core ideas that eventzin was born. And I along with my brother, Phil have been working hard ever since to try and get a decent prototype together that can encapsulate these ideas.

Just last week we released a private alpha. It’s a bit rough and ready, but it illustrates what we are trying to do. We are now working hard to get to Beta. I will keep you posted over the coming months of how I’m getting on, the lessons learned and the developments made.

 

Craig (Co Founder Eventzin) @maleck13 | @eventzin

 

 

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