Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pownce to shutdown

Social networking site Pownce is to shutdown on the 15th December 2008.

According to their blog, pownce have already stopped accepting new users requests and as of the 15th December will be shutting down their service altogether. To ease migration the pownce team have created an export tool to help users move their posts to other blogging services like VOX, Typepad or wordpress. Pownce have said that they will soon be emailing pro members with further details of what will be happening with their accounts.

Pownce founders Leah Culver and Mike Malone have been taken on by Six Apart, the company behind such blogging software as Movable Type, TypePad and Vox.

Is this the just another start up that failed to get off the ground, an indication that there isn't currently room in the maket room for the vast number of social networking sites and services or the first signs of the credit crunch hitting tech industries. Whatever the reason, its a shame to see them go, they have built up quite a community and its always a shame to see communities collapse (whether in the real world or online).

Many thanks for the time and effort you put into the project guys, it was great while it lasted.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


Earlier this year I blogged about going to Barcamp North East. This was a stark contrast to the codeworks thinking digital conference, earlier the same week.

Barcamps sometimes refered to as unconferences tend to be the habitat of the stereotypically geek. There is no set itinerary in advance of the event, there is no charge for the event, everyone is encouraged to join in, and everyone has to contribute something to the event.

One of the great things i found about barcamp was that they are all about sharing, sharing ideas, sharing knowledge, sharing experiences even sharing equipment. No matter what your background, what your age, what your sex, what your experience or what your position in your day job. Everyone is equal at bar camp.

One of the most unfortunate parts of barcamp is that at the moment it is still a bit of an underground movement, widely heard of in the techie community, but less well known to the rest of society. The are also a hardcore of barcampers that travel great distances to attend as many barcamps as they can afford to get to.

So what is so special about this event in Sunderland? Well firstly it isn't a bar camp as we know it. It is in the bar camp tradition of being free, not having a predetermined speaker list or itinerary, but it differs in the way that its been promoted, there is no wiki, its not stricktly first come first served, certain groups and individuals are being specifically invited. But the reason for this is quite a good one. This event is not just aimed at the geeks among us, its aimed a getting a perfect balance between local community groups, local geeks and local councils, and to encourage them to learn from each others expertize.

Social networks are springing up all over on the internet, and while these groups have the technology to enable people to share and communicate they often don't understand how to build and sustain a strong community environment. Similarly local community groups often know all about their local communities and how to organize local services, activities and events, but are quite often lacking the technical know how to take that to the next level reaching to larger audiences and providing extended services via the internet. Local councils quite often want to help these groups and have the technology infrastructure in place to provide all sorts of assistance but without those groups providing them with the intormation they need, they are unable to help.

This community camp in Sunderland, is one of the first
i have heard of, of its kind, and there are very high hopes for the event, not is it taking some of the barcamp philosophy to the masses, but its doing it in a very specific environment, where with a bit of luck there can be some very tangible benefits.

Sunderland is a city that has a very strong industrial history in shipbuilding and coal mining, so while there has always been a strong community feel, its maybe not the place that springs to mind when you think of cutting edge technology, but maybe that is about to change.

Tara Hunt one of the original barcamp founders said that this kind of event that she likes best, where is its not just 'geeks' but also members of the local community, she also said that these sort of events are really hard work but that they can be really rewarding.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Scour pays users for what they already do, search!

Scour say their purpose is to "bridge the gap between searchers and relevant results". Results from the 3 largest search engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN Live are agregated, in a rather slick interface, showing a summary of the page alongside which engines have indexed the result and how they have ranked the page. It also provides a platform for the user to vote and comment on relevancy, searchers connect with one another creating a social search community.
Unlike some of the other search engines that combine alogrithyms with user rating, the interface is extremely simple there is a thumbs up or a thumbs down for each result and an option to add a comment.

Founded in 2007, Scour was originally known as Aftervote.com, a 1 year later, it was acquired by Internext media, owner of the ABCSearch Network and re-branded as Scour.com

So, how does the paying users to search thing work? Well it appears to be quite simple, you get 1 point, for each serach, vote or comment you add, and you get 25% of the points of anyone you introduced to scour. There are also a few bonuses, for thins like downloading the toolbar or inviting friends. Once you aggregate 6,500 points you can cash them out for a $25 Visa gift card, which you can spend on whatever you want.

Earn money with Scour!

To get started simply click on the link above, set up an account and start searching.

My guess is this will be a bit like airmiles, in that while many of us will collect the points not many of us will ever make enough point to cash them in, and i'm not sure i really want to add another tool bar to my browser. Having said that the interface is quite clean and easy to use, and i do quite a lot of searching, so i might just give it a go.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Flocks RSS Feed Folders

At long last I have started updating my website and my world of it blog, which are both well overdue a face lift and a bit of fresh content. As part of the process of deciding what I wanted to do with these spaces, I've been looking at lots of other interesting blogs and
website. Anyway, I decided pretty early on that I might as well add the rss feeds of the ones I found useful to the feeds tab in my browser as i went along. Pretty soon i'd got quite a selection, so I thought i'd better organised into folders to make finding them for a bit easier in the future.

Quite serendipitously, i discovered that flock deals with rss feeds in a really lovely way. If you have a number of feeds organised into a folder, it aggregates them for you. So when you click on a folder, you see all the entries from all of the sources within it sorted by date/time. This makes it really simple to see whats going on within that whole area, of course if you are interested in a specific feed, go can click on that particular feed and get just the data from that feed.

This may seem a really small thing, but like they say small things, please tiny minds, and i guess given the amount of time we all spend online these days, your choice of browser is a pretty personal thing. As far as i can tell explorer, firefox don't do this.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Introducing the Recommendation Engine

One of the problems with the internet has been that there is so much information out there, and so much being added every second, that its not possible to keep up. So how to you see through all this clutter to the information that matters to you?

Well, the answer is that you use social bookmarking sites like ma.gnolia or del.icio.us or content sharing and discovery site like stumbleupon, digg or mixx. These work by allowing you to see what information other people are looking at, or finding interesting. In effect its like a giant popularity contest the more people recommending a link the more likely it is to be displayed on the main page. Recently Yahoo introduced 'buzz' combining their search analytics with user recommendation.

In recent years there have been all sorts of interesting improvements to social discovery, in terms of the ways that information is displayed digglabs coming up with the stack, swarm, bigspy and arc and most recently pics options. While these are all really fun, they are still more entertaining than labour saving. Sure splitting the information into groups is useful, but its still not accurate enough to make it really useful.

I spend most of my day connected to the internet in one way or another, so its no surprise I have tried most of the social bookmarking and content sharing sites, and one of the things that i have always wished for, was the ability to submit a url to a site and have the site come back with recommendations on related information that i might find useful.

It would seem that this request was at last been answered, Digg.com just launched a Beta of a service they are calling the recommentaion engine. The recommendation engine works in a quite complex way cross referencing what it knows about you, with what it knows about people with similar tastes to you, and what it knows about the url you submitted to come up with links to relevant information.

Flickr Update Home Page

Ahead of the role out of its new look home page to all users, flickr are offering users to option to opt into the new look design. The new layout is not to dis-similar to the original design, in fact i had to look several times before i could see where the changes were. Some elements have been move around a little, there is a great new stats option (bit more about that in a moment), there is an option to toggle between recent updates and recent activity and there are a couple of sections that display a random sections, so sometimes you'll see group images and othertimes interesting images from the last 7 days etc.

The biggest change that i found was the addition of the stats section, this shows a small graph of the hits to your site on the home page, when you click on the link you'll get an array of stats ranging from a graph of hits per day, to summary of how many images, sets and collections you have, where links came from, which are most popular and how many images have been favourited or are yet to be viewed. All of which I actually found very revealing.

In my opinion while the changes have been nicely done. Because on the surface they appear to be slight, you retain familiarity with the page, but what they have changed has add a great deal to to
the functionality of the page, putting even more information at your fingertips.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Facebook and Live Search

Facebook this week teamed up with Microsoft Live Search, to provide an internet search facility within the facebook platform. The search facility has been in the header since the introduction of the new look layout a couple of months ago, but previously only returned results from the facebook site, friend, group or application information that kind of thing.

Most browsers now have search bars these days, and many sites have a search the internet box somewhere, so why its not exactly heartstopping news. In fact Facebook didn't even make a big this of its introduction, so why have i bothered to blog about it? Well... there were 2 things that interested me, firstly its interesting that facebook chose to go with microsoft, not google when it came to search technology, and secondly was that fact that they chose to provide the results in there standard facebook formating. The implication being that facebook is becoming so large and portal like, that some of its users are more comfortable with their formating than they are with the standard google or msn search pages. In some ways reminiscent of the way AOL presented the internet in the 90's.

I have to admit that i wasn't a fan of the new facebook layout when it came out and I'm not convinced that this is a feature that i'm going to use. But I am beginning to see where they are going with the new layout and little by little, its becoming more usable.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Picasa Introduce Facial Recognition

In contrast to hype surrounding of the launch of Crome, Google’s new web browser, Picasa web album another of the Google family, very quietly launched an interesting technology of their own, this week.

The new Picasa technology, referred to as ‘name tagging’, takes some of the pain out of adding tags relating to the identity of individuals in your photographs. If you share photos on the internet, you’ll be used to adding tags (or keywords) to your images. Tags help you find your images within sets or collections on your site and allow search engines to catalogue them effectively.

One of the best things about the new name tagging technology is that it sits very comfortably with the old site, a new button has appeared giving you the option to add name tags. There is no need to reload images that you have already uploaded.

The name tagging process, automatically identifies what it thinks are faces within your images, it then asks you to put names those faces. Once you have named a person a couple of times, it will learn to identify that person for you and automatically tag them for you in future uploads.

To make tagging easier, Picasa automatically links to your gmail contacts and predicatively tries to fill names for you as you type. Another technology enhancement also allows “geo tagging” or adding geographical data to shots, by allowing you to drag and drop images to Google maps.
The application works best with higher resolution images and images that are taken from a similar angle to shots its already seen, and in some cases will ask you to confirm the identity of a person that it does not recognise.

Of course, you have the option to keep images private or to share them, but being a Google related technology, if you choose to share your images they will very quickly be picked up in Google searches, and if you are using the Google labs advanced search tools, the location will be picked up by the geographical filtering.

Picasa has been around for a while, but its always been overshadowed by yahoo’s flickr. Will this sort of advancement in technology be enough to tip the balance in Picasa favour.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Google Crome Goes Beta

Google Launched Chrome, their new browser in a slightly unusual way this morning (02 Sept 08), sending a cartoon strip (drawn by Scott McCloud) to google based blog site blogoscoped. They later said that this was an error and that the comic should not have been sent out prior to the launch. The 38 page comic explained how browsing the internet was changing, the technology behind their new browser, why they had built it from scratch and what it meant to the user. This was not only a very creative approach to explaining very complex technology, but a very effective one.

The Beta which is available for download now, is limited to the pc platform at this time (mac and linux versions promised to follow shortly).The Beta launched in 100 counties simultaneously, and is available to all users, rather than being invite only or users having to sign up to a waiting list.

Google's website states 'Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier' .

Sundar Pinchai, VP Product Management, and Linus Upson, Engineering Director say on their blog "all of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends - all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there. We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build."

Many google watchers have been speculating that google would introducing a browser for some time, building on their knowledge of the search engine industry and web aps. Initial response to the release has been good, with many key bloggers and technologists giving it great reviews already. My experience has been that the beta seems to be not only stable, but very fast.

Some of the key features are; the One box for everything, essentially the search bar and address bar have been combined so you can enter a url or a search term into the same box. They have managed to make this simple and intuitive, in a very elegant way, using colour and shade, so that while the whole url is displayed the root part of the url stands out, so you know exactly where you are.

Crash control, these days tabbed browsing is pretty much the norm, but the more tabs you have open the more chance that one tab will freeze, and usually when that happens the whole browser freezes, but chrome operates each process in its own memory, and offers a task manager like control over these processes.

Incognito Mode, sometimes you may not want to have your browsing saved in the browser history, or to have store cookies stored (for example if you have a family computer and want to purchase a surprise gift for your wife online without her knowing) but you may not want to delete your whole history or all your cookies. Incognito mode allows you to easily switch between privacy levels.

Open source, the code for chrome is available to developers, so they can write their own plug-ins and add-on, increasing the functionality of the platform.

So i guess the big question is will i be switching to chrome? While i would love to answer that with a simple yes, i'm going to have to answer with "its complicated!". For a start i do some of my work on a mac, so i can switch quite yet, also by favourite plug in's are not yet available for chrome, and it doesn't have the functionality of flock for social networking, or run some of the new microsoft products like live mesh or photosynth. So while i'll certainly be doing some of my browsing (especially when doing research online) i won't be using it for everything just yet!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Live Mesh Tech Preview

Following a successful but limited trial (tech preview) , Microsoft have extended Live Mesh to a wider trial, removing the waiting list for US and UK trial user .
Live mesh allows users to create a mesh (or collection of devices) and then synchronize folders across all (or selected) devices. Ensuring that you always have the latest version of a file or folder wherever you connect. At the moment live mesh only supports xp/vista based devices, (mac and mobile devices are planned). The mac client in particular is rumored to very close to completion, one rumor goes as far as saying that a version was recently posted on the Microsoft website, but later removed.

Live desktop is a web based interface that allows you to access your (synchronized) shared files and folders over the internet. You can choose to keep these private or share them with friends. Live desktop also shows you a list of your devices indicating which are currently online, and giving you the ability to remotely control those devices.

Both Live Mesh and Live Desktop are based around not only synchronizations but also security,
and as part of the Microsoft live family integrates with existing Microsoft live accounts.

For those of us with growing number of devices and personal networks or small businesses's its the ideal way to keep you at the centre of your digital world and ensure that the information that matters to you is seamlessly and consistently up to date wherever you happen to be.

I saw this technology demo'ed by Steve Clayton of Microsoft at thinking digital, back in May
and it look fantastic. The tech preview has certainly been no less impressive.

For those of us with both macs and pcs or even just a desktops , laptop and a mobile, it will certainly take the pain out of keeping versions of files consistent across those devices. Add to that the fact that you can remotely take a file from your camera in the office, sync it to your home pc, then remotely control the home pc to push it to a wireless photo frame in your living room, and you'll get an idea of the power of the mesh.

But i can't help wondering if this is all coming a little late. I'm already using on line services for my email, contacts, calendars, bookmarking, and file sharing, this allow me to keep my files online, so they are always up to date and available wherever i connect . So the question for me is, how much of a benefit is it to have this all in one place? and does that merit persuading all my friends that share this data to move from those services that where already using to live mesh?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

User generated mash-ups in the Browser?

Since the term web 2.0 was coined by tim o'rielly, we've become more and more used to the idea of mash ups. Up until know though, mash ups were mainly thought as a server side technology. The web developer would write the code into the page and the user would see the results. However Aka Raskin and the guys over at Mozilla labs have applied the same logic to the browser itself, allowing the user to write a mash up, in simple language, in the browser as they go.

Ubiquity, is a firefox plug its available for download now, from the mozilla labs site. The developers describe Ubiquity as "an experiment into connecting the Web with language, in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily. "

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Monday, 25 August 2008

magnolia.2 announced

Working in IT, i work on a variety of different machines, both mac and pc, in the office and at home, at my desk and at other peoples desks. So social bookmarks really are a must have for me, by storing all of my bookmarks online i have access to them wherever i can get the internet. Not only that but as i have added keywords or tags to all of my bookmarks i can also search them, so finding a bookmark is a lot easier that scrolling threw an endless list.

There are a lot of social bookmarking sites out there, but my preferred option is ma.gnolia Its certainly not the biggest, but it is fast, reliable, easy to use and contains all the key features i want, its searchable and scalable, it supports friends (contacts) as well as user groups it allows public and private bookmarking, it plays well with other allows import and exports, works with other social networks like facebook and is based on industry standards, it supports signing in with open ids.

So if i am so happy with ma.gnolia already, why a i excite that Ma.gnolia are kicking off development of Ma.gnolia 2 (or M2 for short).

Well, for one, magnolia is about 3 years old now and they learned quite in that time, so having the opportunity to produce a ground-up rewrite means thay can re-creating features we love today, but also correct some of the areas that didn't work as well as they would have liked. But even more significant, M2 will be an open source project that can be downloaded to remix and run as your own. So its likely that there will be even more great stuff built on it in the future

For any further details, stay tuned to the Ma.gnolia blog, or check out http://ma.gnolia.org/.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Photosynth Launches

A little while ago I talked about microsoft live lab's astounding photosynth technology. This is a technology based on silverlight that allows you to create virtual environemts from collections of still photographs. At that time this was only available as a demo to view some pre built environments however, the full (and free) version launched today.

Simply upload a selection of images and photosynth will do the rest to stitch them together and make them navigatable. As high numbers of high resolution images are required you are going to need a decent internet connection and even then its likely to take a while, but believe me its worth the wait. A standard use account allows up to 20Gb of server space so you should be able to upload quite a lot and the more you upload the better the results.

This truly is one of the most amazing technologies i have seen for a while, however there are some issues, at this time only Windows Xp and Vista are supported, and i have had a couple of blue screens of death while playing with it (which is very rare for xp).

Monday, 11 August 2008

zipping it up

I just went to submitted a file to a flash showcase, one of the requirements was to send a zipped file containing the original fla (the wording document containing the editable animation) my first reaction was to think whats the point of zipping a file thats only a couple of hundred k, but i guess some complex files may be alot bigger so it sort of made sense. My next thought was guess i'll have to wait until i get to the office and can zip the file on my pc, zip being a pc thing right? then i googled zipping mac files. Looks like i was wrong, while pc users have to purchase a copy of something like winzip, its built right into the mac tiger and above. All you do is select a file or collection of files, click ctrl and select compress...instant zip file. I am so loving my mac again.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The Internet Effect

It struck me a few days ago that while the internet has had a prolific and pronounce affect on many aspects of society, one of the strangest is the effect on the accessibility of people.
For a start there are now millions of us that carry mobile phones with smart technologies or pda's that allow us to have access to the internet and email 24 x 7. But this also means that people have access to us 24 x 7. People even take there phones to the beach when they're on holiday. The last time i went away, instead of the relaxing sound of crickets and the surf all i could hear were mobile ring tones.
Then there's google, you can get a huge amount of background information from google, so much so that its almost common practice for people to google candidates before an interview, or meeting. I've even heard of people googling potential boy or girl friends before dating them and or after a break up.
But possibly the strangest area that i've noticed a change is that it would seem a lot easier to get access to people high up in some of today biggest businesses. Through services like twitter and get satisfaction, and lots of other online communities. I've posted comments to some top people in companies like microsoft, apple, wikipedia, twitter, slideshare and magnolia and to my amazement i've got responses and sometimes responses from company founders. Just a few years ago this would have been completely unheard of a series of pa's and secretaries would almost certainly have vetted this kind of stuff long before it got that high.
I'm not sure if this is because attitudes are changing or because technology is making it possible or even if its because businesses have to be more agile to survive these days, but it certainly seems to be changing.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Getting Satisfaction

One of the most frustration aspects of working in IT is that sometimes you just can't get a piece of hardware or software to work the way you want it to. Most of the time you can sort it out yourself, but sometimes , just sometimes you need to call someone and ask for help.

Nine times out of ten this means looking on the internet for a generic email address or calling a helpline, and then the fun really begins, you will be passed from pillar to post to find someone that can help you, and by the time you find the right person you have lost the will to live.

There are people out there though that do have the answers and are happy to help or that can pass your comments on to someone that can help...the problem is finding these people.

This is where get satisfaction comes in the site links users with questions, suggestions, ideas and suggestions to other users and to contacts within companies that can provide answers or point people in the right direction.

So far i have used the site about a dozen times, each time i've had a response to a problem or a reply to a suggestion within a couple of hours. In a couple of this cases, i got responses directly from the owner/creator the the service, and in somecases by suggestions for the services were implemented into future versions.

The service seems to work best with young and dynamic sites and services and technologies, and i can't help but think that the more it takes off the less useful it will become as more people asking questions means less access to the people that can help, but for now it seems t be working.

Next time you have to give a help desk a call and start to get frustrated with being put on holg again, give get sificfication a go, and see if it lives upto the name.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Beta for business?

One of the greatest things about the internet is its speed of development. With the amount of open source code and application development platforms around, its becoming increasing easy for developers to produce new web based services and applications. It’s also becoming more common for these products and services to be produced by smaller companies without the resources to fully test them in-house prior to launch, so they come out as a public or invite only beta's first.
So what does it mean to be a beta tester? Typically a vendor will give you full access to their product or services before releasing it to the rest of the world, so you get to see it first and can work out if you can use it to your advantage before your competitors, in exchange you’ll have to report any bugs and give them some feedback.
Other advantages include, having the opportunity to have a say in the development of the service, it’s more likely that developers will include features you may want to see added, if your talking to them as they develop the service.
On the other hand this does come at a cost, the product is likely to have a few bugs, you may loose some or all of your data, the service is likely to be down at least some of the time and may be changed without notice, the service may even be dropped altogether, it could cause your machine to crash more often and you’ll have to spend a bit of time giving them feedback.
I have been Beta testing operating systems, applications and internet services for the past 10 years or so, and as an IT manager this has been OK on the whole. Sure I’ve been up half the night rebuilding my workstation or recovering lost data on more than one occasion, but i’ve also learned a lot in the process and its helped me find some fantastic solutions for my uses.
Would I like my users to become Beta testers? Probably not. It’s not only that they would need more of my time to support them, or that managing support would be that bit harder, but typically because when users want to beta test a product its because they want to work differently to their colleagues which causes real problems when implementing working practices.
There are beta version of new web based services and applications coming out everyday, the question is how many of these could really make a difference to your business, and is it worth making the effort to try, or should you leave it to other s and wait for the final release.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Finally given in to Broadband

As i sit at a computer (well technically several computers) all day, the last thing i want to do when i get home is turn on the computer. Quite oven i have to, but thats another matter.

So i have always fought the temptation to sign up for broadband, and until this week when i finally gave in. There are a couple of reasons for this, one is that while i use a computer all day my wife doesn't so i guess it would be nice for her to join us in the virtual world, without having to worry about how long she is online on a dial up connection, another reason is is its so cheap these days , (for the first time dial up would cost me more a quarter than broadband) and the final reason is that it will simply make live a bit easier, having wifi throughout the house, i should be able to connect the laptops, the wii, the ipod and the mobile to each other and to my online friends.

Bridging the Tyne

I'm not sure that this blog is really the right place to talk about this project, (as it has no technology as such involved in it at all), but i'm going to write about it anyway, as its going on right outside my office.

For the past few weeks, a team of riggers (mainly from Australia) have been hard at work on the quayside in Newcastle / Gateshead, building a bridge out of bamboo. This bridge in some ways is a symbolic bridge, and i've heard Anna (the designer on the project) describe it as a bridge of aspiration. But its also a very real bridge, and its caused a bit of a stir, with mixed opinions as to what it's all been about, and whether its a thing of beauty or a blot on the landscape.
Admittedly during the day it seems a little light weight sitting next to the huge hulking steel creatures that are the tyne, swing, high level and millennium bridges, but last night (18th July) they lite it up with 400 fire pots and it looked stunning!

The bridge is only going to be up for 3 days during the Summer Tyne festival , but i'm sure its something that will live on in the memories of the people of Newcastle and Gateshead for a lot longer.

I've been privileged enough get to know some of the team and to spend some time on the site over the last few weeks, and i have thoroughly enjoyed it, so thanks guys! and also Thanks NGI, great project.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Joining the twiterverse

Although i have had twitter for a while now, i never really used it, until last week that is, when i went to the Codeworks Thinking Digital conference and discovered full potential of tweeting.

The conference was a technical one, so maybe there were a slightly higher than average percentage of geeks attending , but around a third of the delegates were tweeting (using twitter) on their laptops, smart phones and pda’s. This connected the delegates in a very unusual way, they were able to discuss what the speakers were saying while they were saying it and trade examples of how this worked for them. They were also able to swap reference websites and arrange meeting up after the conference.

I went to the conference knowing a handful of other delegates, and got to know another handful in the networking portions of the conference, but l ended up connecting to several dozen via twitter, and even after the conference finished i’m still following many of those users and sharing knowledge with them.

For those of you not familiar with twitter it works a bit like the status up dates in facebook. You are limited to 140 characters, that are broadcast to the internet. If your friends are connected, it works a bit like instant messaging or SMS, but instead of a the private conversation between 2 individuals, it’s more like a group discussion, where many people can take part.

Because the status updates are broadcast there are many additional bits of software or web services that can manipulate the date in all sorts of ways. Some of the main ones are search services like summize, but there are also some really fun ones like twistori.

Another use of twitter is something called microblogging, as the name suggests this involves feeding the status updates straight to your blog, so your blog is frequently updated with small bits of information, especially useful if for example your are attending a conference or even a sports event.

Like texting twitter has a language and a culture of its own, with users adding @ symbols to talk to each other and #hashtags reference particular events so that they can collate there post with other tweets on the same subject.

My advice to first time twitter users would be to download a twitter client like twirl or twitterific and to begin by following tweets like the bbc news or technology tweets, to start tying your tweets into your facebook status updates, then to persuade a few friends to join you once you have the hang of it, after that start looking at friends of friends within in your areas of interest.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Barcamp NorthEast 08

In contrast to the hyper organized Thinking Digital conference, the first Barcamp NorthEast took place this weekend. Barcamp is has been described by some as the Wikipedia of conferences (in that they are user created) but i'd say is probably best described as sort of Open Source training.

Barcamp NorthEast was held in the Artworks art gallery, set up by Alistair and Gareth, and attended by Tara Hunt (or missrogue as she is sometimes known, one of the founders of the original barcamp in the states). There was no admission charge, projectors were borrowed from a local business, the food stored and prepared in a local church, chairs came from the SVDP charity across the street and each of the attendees did a talk for free (including some of the same speakers that presented at thinking digital). There was a real buzz to the event and genuine feeling of community, people borrowed each others power packs and adaptors, and worked together to come up with presentation graphics.

In many ways this was the simplest way to run a conference in the world, in other ways a completely unique experience. I met some very interesting people, added some new contacts to twitter, and learn't some very cool stuff. It was both a pleasure and an honour to attend.

Thinking Digital 08

I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Codeworks, Thinking Digital conference last week. The conference consisted of a mix of home grown and international speakers, talking about everything technical from the latest nano technologies, to the environmental damage technology is bringing to the deep seas. There were discussions on social networking, the need for happiness, risk management, and the future of media and entertainment. With talks from leading on entrepreneurs and case studies on areas like micro financing and international arts projects.

The 3 day conference at the Sage Gateshead and Baltic, saw around 400 delegates, visiting the region. This provided a great opportunity for some social networking of the traditional kind, and of the twitter variety. For those of you not familiar with twitter, twitter is a bit like instant messaging, but rather than being a private chat between 2 people (tweets as they are known) are broadcast, so that any number of followers can pick them up at the same time. With a room of say 150 people, there were at points maybe 50 people with laptops, pdaís and smart phones having a parallel discussion about the talk, as it went on. One of the strangest aspects of the phenomenon seemed to be the openness of the group at least a few of those that were using twitter were the conference speakers themselves.


Monday, 12 May 2008

Search Engine Technology

While there has been a lot of speculation in the press recently about the Microsoft offer for Yahoo, Google have remained the unchallenged market leader for quite some time, with around 60% of the market (for english speaking counties anyway).

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been taking another look at search technology to see what's new and improved. I found several companies with products in private or public beta testing. There are 3 main areas of development; semantics, clustering and visualisation.
(to see the full presentation on search technology click here.)

Changing the way that search engines display their results, can have a dramatic effect on the speed a user can sort through vast quantities of data to find the answer they require. Microsoft tafiti uses silverlight combined with live search to allow stacking of results to different searches and dragging and dropping of data, media and sites, to a sidebar. Microsoft have also improved their integration of mapping data. Sites like Lygo return thumbnails of each website making easier to recognise sites at a glance.

Clustering was been around for a while, but recent developments in technology have made it far more effective. Sites such as Clusty provide a number of clustering options ranging from the source of the data to the content. Clusty not only uses clustering to group results, but it also uses the same complex linguistic technologies when performing a search, knowing what words or phases have the same meaning, and where the same word can have different meanings.

Quintura use clustering in a very different way, producing navigable tag clouds, that can be surfed from term to term, until you find the data you are looking for. For example i ran a search on myself, found some race results for a fell race i ran, linked to a local running club, and from there to details on the club members and finally to their blogs and websites.

The final area of development, is that of semantic searching. The current holy grail of searching is the ability to get real answers to real questions. For example you could ask "when was Elvis born" and you would probably get a fairly accurate answer. Where this seems to fall down is when the question is more subjective or where there are lots of matches, asking "when was i born" would be much more complex, as would "when was John smith born" as there are many many possible correct answers. Askwiki and wikiasearch both have beta's that work to some degree, true knowledge also have a very interesting public beta. Another key problem with this type of search is that it takes a huge amount of time and man power to enter the required data.

In many ways search engines are far superior to humans, they can reference and cross reference billions and billions of bits of data instantly. But in many ways humans still have the advantage, we start collecting data from infancy, and we are far better at understanding more subtle references. For example a human would recognise a photographic reference or a really abstract reference to a movie or popular song lyric (even if that was slightly different to the original - for example if you whistled a movie theme), a computer would find this far more difficult.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Removing Remote Desktop

Since the remote desktop client 6.0 release candidate timed out a couple of days, I have been unable to access my servers remotely. I was getting a message saying that I need to install the updated full release. Unfortunately because i am also running the XP service pack 3 release candidate, the installer for the update for Remote Desktop will not run on my PC.

Normally I would have use add and remove programmes facility to remove this version of Remote Desktop and revert to the original version, however as this is a release candidate there isn't an option to uninstall. I knew that the 2 files that make up remote desktop are mstsc.exe and mstscac.dll , so in theory if i replace them with a copy from a machine running the older version of remote desktop it should be OK, but when ever these files are replaced manually they revert to the newer files automatically, even if completely deleted in safe mode.

After searching the microsoft sites and not finding an answer i resorted to some trawling of the internet and discovered a site called geekswithblogs.net where i found some instructions for removing the remote desktop.

Go to C:\WINDOWS\$NtUninstallKB925876$\spuninst and run spuninst.exe. Once the new version is remove the older version will automatically return unless you manually uninstalled it, in which case just download it again from the microsoft site and reinstall it.

This provided two very useful lessons, firstly don't install pre release candidate on machines that you actively use, or you might find yourself needing to flatten it and rebuild from scratch (and avoid installing multiple pre release candidates on the same machine unless you have lots of time on your hands) and secondly if you know the kb (knowledge base) number for microsoft updates then you can uninstall them using the spuninst.exe file located in the corresponding folder in the hidden NtUninstall directory.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Photoshop Express

The mighty Adobe have entered the social networking arena with a beta service called photoshop express.

Long time industry leaders Adobe, have always been ahead in photo manipulation and editing on the desktop and have even had desktop file storage and organization in the form of Adobe Photoalbum, but they have never realy competed with the likes of flickr, photobucket or picasa, until now that is.

The new services is currently in beta, and is so far limited to users in the US, but already has 16387 galleries (as on 29th march 08). It looks to be the kind of feature rich product you would expect from the "house of Adobe" .

The free package has a whopping 2gb limit,and the ability to link into your images from facebook, photobucket and picasa. While a little shallow in respect to its social networking capabilities, it more than makes up for this in its editing abilities.

Editing is split into 3 categories, basics, tuning and effects. Unsurprisingly, these give not only the standard abilities to crop and rotate that all of the online photo sharing sites offer, but also the ability to do some very high end manipulations (for a free on online service), adjusting the hue and saturation, white balance, sharpness, soft focus etc, then there are the effects with everything from tinting and pop colour to stetching and distortion effects and its all surprisingly each to usel.

The gallery side of thinks is pretty standard, with the ability to store your private images in my photos and share and manage them in the form of galleries. You can add background images to galleries and you can choose to download, email or embed images which are all nice features, There is also a favourites feature and a basic search facility,but at present there doesn't seem to be much in the way of commenting, groups or blogs.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Yahoo buzzing

Yahoo launch a new service/site this week (25th feb), buzz yahoo.

The site still at the beta stage, is a sort of cross between a search engine and a web popularity contest. It ranks content by a combination of user votes and search engine scores (from yahoo obviously). The top stories from buzz make it to the yahoo home page.

It's very graphically rich, displaying the latest feeds as images only with roll over speech bubbles giving a summary of the content. The top stories are split into sections, entertainment, world etc and show a thumbnail of the site along with a brief description and the option to vote or "buzz up" the story.

The search is also quite slick, giving you the option to restrict the search to specific sections , entertainment, technology, world and specific periods like a day, a week and month or a year, cutting down on the number results returned.

This is the latest offering in what is fast becoming a "war of the search engines" with tafiti, mahola and clusty all starting to offer a bit more competition to market leader google. According to the Alexa website, yahoo hits actually exceeding google this week.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Installing Windows and SATA

I have recently had cause to reinstall windows on a couple of pc's, in order to run some software that wasn't supported on the version of windows i was running. This seems quite a simple thing to do, yes?
I checked the website and it seemed the os would run on my hardware. I expected to purchased the appropriate licenses for the version of windows i needed (xp 32 bit or x86, i was running the 64 bit eddition that came with the pc) then i thought i'd just start from the cd, select my harddrive, reformat and do a clean install, should be done in an hour or so...
Unfortunately it wasn't that simple. My Pc (as most modern pc's) has a SATA hard drive, and in fact mine had a SATA dvd/cd drive too, unfortunately the install cd that comes with xp and previous versions of windows only supports install to ata/ide drives. So you don't get the choice to install to it.
It would seem the manufacturers have had to create specific installer disks or restore disks that recognise the SATA disk, these are often specific to their hardware (make and model) so if you have a cd for an hp it don't work with a dell.
I tried several tricks like installing a second sata drive and running the installer from the running install which obviously has the sata drivers, and even tried starting from dos floppies and loading the sata drivers, but as the installer only looks for ata/ide it still greys out the option to install.
I could of course reinstall the existing os from the original install cd that came with the pc, but that still left be with the original problem the software i needed to run won't work with the 64 bit version.
What is more interesting is when i did a bit of digging around on the internet, i found that this raises some serious issues, firstly you have to have the specific installer disk for every sata pc you own, you can't rely on using a generic windows installer, secondly many of these manufacturers disks are very specific about the hard drive set up and partitioning so you can't create dual bootable os's and if you want to replace a damaged disk you have to ensure you get exactly the same size of disk, similarly you can't install a larger hard drive.
Luckily i'm an it manager and could swap some pc's around to free up a machine with the 32 bit processor. But it did raise some very ugly possibilities.
As far as i am aware vista does come with support for sata disks - so if you are happy to run with vista you may be lucky.