Phil Ringnalda moves to WordPress

Perl frustrations aside, I probably wouldn’t have left Movable Type if it hadn’t left me first: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it becoming what it is, but it’s no long the software all my friends play with, it’s now the software most of my friends sell to big companies. That’s a wonderful thing, for them, but it’s really cut into the fun I have playing with it.

Moving from MT to WordPress has been an obvious web trend over the past two years, and Phil Ringnalda was the most obvious Movable Type holdout. Obviously “big companies” are where the money is, but seems like a real shame for Six Apart that they’ve effectively lost the visible, excitable, innovative blogger audience who made them in the first place.

More microformats – show me the mon^H^H^H real-world usage!

This was just going to be a comment replying to Ryan King’s comment on my blog, but it got a bit long, so here it is as a full post:

Hi Ryan thanks for replying.

Easy to implement and “easy enough” to parse are a side-issue to my question.

Firstly I’d dispute that nofollow is a microformat, although I understand where a similarity could be drawn.

hCard and hCalendar conversion is an interesting usage, and I think one with plenty of scope, but I don’t see any actual usage of the converted information, and your comment was that they’ve been proven to work in practice. Without usage, it’s just so much of an experiment.

Tagging is more intruiging, and a good example but I’m not sure if I’m sold on it as a solid application of the technology, although I can see that it clearly works in practice. I think I’m mainly distrustful of tagging in an open system, where gaming starts to come in to it in a far less controlled manner than say, closed systems like del.ico.us or flickr or for someone organising the posts on their own blog. Maybe I should make that clear – I’m distrustful of the utility of tagging in open systems. Too much chaff and too little wheat.

I’m not looking for an industry application usage, or some massive business usage, that’s not what I tend to care about anyway – I just want to see where I can use them. At the moment, they just sound like so much hype, so little substance.

It’s like Mark Pilgrim’s GM scripts to post discovered microformat data to an Atom store. It sounds like a massively impressive script, but would I really want every hCard I come across stored? No. Would I want every event I come across stored? No. I couldn’t care less.

On the other hand, I can see a massive potential for usage inside of my feed aggregator. If someone posts about an event and marks it up in hCalendar, I probably do want to know about it. If someone posts a review and marks it up in hReview, then I probably do want that stored somewhere so I can see what people I know (and people I subscribe to) are up to, and what they rate. As of yet, however, I haven’t seen any aggregators that do this.

I was going to make my hacked copy of FeedOnFeeds use the XSLT you link to and Alf Eaton Danny Ayershreview2rdfxsml to pick out reviews and calendar events, but I can’t find any in the wild, so why I should Ido this? Again to clarify: I haven’t found any instances of hReview in feeds in the wild, including the sources mentioned in the examples in the wild section on the hReview page on the microformats wiki. If I have missed one, I welcome pointers! So slightly chicken and egg here – if no-one is doing it, why should I bother adding the functionality to my parser?

Microformats in practice

In Re: Educating Others, Ryan King says:

we’ve *proven* that microformats (at least, the ones developed so far) work in practice, we just need to show that they work in *theory*.

Can someone show me where they work in practice? Not just where someone’s using a microformat, but how someone else is using that data?

TIA,

Phil

p.s. I know about the Greasemonkey scripts

More than del.icio.us – Item 3

Mark Nottingham does a lot of good work.

This isn’t as important, but quite fun: Emulating W3C ,tools with mod_rewrite – a series of mod_rewrite rules for making it more convenient to be able to validate your pages and so on. I’ve added the rules to the .htaccess for this blog, so that visiting http://philwilson.org/blog/index.html,validate should show you whether my blog validates or not.

More than del.icio.us – Item 2

The “notorious” Marc Canter has written a piece called Breaking the Web Wide Open! in which he talks about the difficulties facing larger companies when it comes to opening access to their data, the nub being:

Should they adopt these tools and standards, painfully cannibalizing their existing revenue for a new unproven concept, or should they stick with their currently lucrative model with the risk that eventually a bunch of upstarts eat their lunch?

He also points out where he thinks all the interesting developments will be taking place:

Identity
Attention
Open Media
Microcontent Publishing
Open Social Networks
Tags
Pinging
Routing
Open Communications
Device Management and Control

which sounds reasonable enough. Anyway, overall the article is a nice overview of openness, where’s it been, where it is now, where it’s going and what to keep an eye on.

More than del.icio.us – Item 1

Normally I just del.icio.us everything that interests me, and assume people will pick it up from there, but what this has really led to is a lack of commentary and a display of the things I’m following. Here’s where I start making up the difference:

kellan has written Del.icio.us Actually Getting Social which talks about the forthcoming “networks” in del.icio.us. That’s interesting, but not as interesting as:

Digital Lifestyle Aggregation: Using My Friends
I’ve had this persistent idea, nagging me, that somehow I should be able to use my Flickr contacts to filter the overwhelming amount of data that gets pushed at me, with the small idea being if I had a way to capture the del.icio.us accounts of all my various contacts, then I could at least build a smarter del inbox. I had started to sketch out a tool (I was thinking ning) called “theyisthey” to keep track of relationships I know between people’s various identities. (43people subscriptions are one step in this direction, and certainly an indication of how social software can be used for purposes more interesting them high score lists.)

The quick link to make here is to Identity Burro, a Greasmonkey script which links a username on one service (Flickr, 43x, del.icio.us, webjay, technorati, last.fm etc.) to the same username on the others. If you could load this, locally, from a datastore, and/or edit it as you go you could construct a personal directory of someone’s online accounts. Which sounds similar to Leigh Dodds’ FOAF Online Account Description Generator, which, please remember, you can pipe through his “Subscribe to My Brain” tool to get an OPML file, and thusly an inbox of your friends’ activities. I suspect there are dots that can be joined here.

BBC to show TV series online

THE THICK OF IT
Programmes contain strong language

NEW SERIES
The second series of Armando Iannucci’s acclaimed comedy set in the corridors of power sees MP Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) continue to contend with Whitehall bureaucracy and the PM’s enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi).

All episodes will be available to watch online after broadcast.

Emphasis mine. Childlike excitement also mine.

Emergent, discoverable relationships

Someone sent me a message on Last.fm pointing out that I’m the top fan for A Stroke of Genius by the Freelance Hellraiser (and in fact the top fan for Freelance Hellraiser on the whole of last.fm which surprised me). The other top fan is a user called russeljsmith. One of russeljsmith’s last.fm friends is behemothpuss who is also one of my last.fm friends.

Visiting russeljsmith’s Flickr profile page I see that not only is one of his contacts Leeds Guy, who in turn has me as one of his contacts but that russeljsmith and behemothpuss (Emma B on Flickr) are mutual Flickr contacts, and Emma B and I are mutual contacts.

It’s quite possible that there are a number of other points of contact between myself and this person which I’ll never discover.

Looking at the categories on his weblog, we have quite a few interests in common (web development, usability, games), although he doesn’t post frequently enough for me to actually subscribe. What’s really intriguing is the prospect that there may be other people I’m linked to in a similar manner, but will never find.

There’s virtually no chance that without the initial prompting I would ever have discovered russeljsmith, so how could I have done so automatically?

Flickr-FOAF tools could have revealed the links, but they’d also reveal links to many, many other people as well. I don’t think there are currently any tools to extract a list of people with common musical taste from last.fm, or rather, other top fans of bands for whom you are a massive fan (it does have a set of webservices so these could possibly be leveraged to provide what’s necessary, but I’m not sure – just getting a list of overall “musical neighbours” for a user isn’t enough). After that, if you still have a list of, say, thirty people then the only thing for it is to run their homepages through a keyword extraction tool like Yahoo’s (there’s another popular one that launched recently but I can’t quite remember what it is – it seemed to judge my blog as being about Web 2.0 which, as you can imagine, made me terribly bitter 😉 ) and compare the keywords against a list of your interests. Still, I can’t imagine that the results are likely to be any better than shaky.

What else could be done to mine these systems for user-user recommendations?

A visit to Linux

Tux, the Linux penguin

A few weeks ago I decided it had been too long since I’d last checked out the state of desktop Linux, and hey, my TV card doesn’t work on Windows, and it just might under Linux.

I downloaded and installed the following distributions:

SUSE 9.1 Professional

SUSE Linux logo

I actually have the boxed edition of this, so thought it was about time I got around to installing it. I realise that SUSE 10 is out, but I already had the DVDs and manuals ready, so I wasn’t about to waste them.

Installation onto my second hard drive was a smooth process, with no intervention from me other than “what’s your username, password, location“-type questions which is just the same as a Windows installation. Once installed, the OS worked straight away, and the choice of installed software was good and included OpenOffice, media players, and all kinds of other things. KDE was the desktop environment that SUSE installed by default.

Once up and running, I wanted to install Firefox and ScummVM. ScummVM was a completely smooth installation, which involved loading the SUSE package manager, YAST2, typing “scumm” into the search box, selecting ScummVM and clicking install. It didn’t create any icons for me, which was annoying, but I was expecting that.

Firefox was a different matter. The latest version for SUSE 9.1 was 1.0.somethingold and I wanted the latest version. Pointing YAST2 at the installation source for SUSE 10 didn’t seem to do me any favours so I had to download the Firefox non-standard installer from Mozilla’s website and run it myself. Which failed. Which again, I was expecting because last time I tried to install Firefox under RedHat it failed too. I switched to root and installed it into my user’s home directory and this time it worked, but it felt clumsy and awkward to have to do, and again I had to create my own shortcut icons in the not-Start menu (which pointed to the binary in a directory in my home dir. eww).

About half-way through my trial of SUSE, I went out and bought a 19” TFT monitor to replace my 17” CRT. I got home, plugged it in, my monitor turned on…..and then off again. My new monitor hadn’t been detected and X was still trying to run with the refresh rates of a CRT (which are much higher than a TFT, and in this case beyond my monitor’s range). I’d already put my CRT away, so I wasn’t going to get it back out so I could look up my problem on the web, so it was lucky that I had the SUSE manuals, which told me exactly where the config file for X was that I needed. Armed with that and my monitor manual I got KDE to start up and ran a manual hardware-detection which did pick up my new monitor and select the correct settings. Still, I must admit that I was slightly disappointed about this since Windows (on my primary drive) had started up just fine.

Other than this, I Was very happy with my SUSE install, and (but for one thing) could quite happily have kept using it as my day-to-day desktop: my TV card worked without any intervention from me; I could burn DVDs more easily than I could under Windows (once I’d realised what the option to not truncate filenames was), and other than general unfamiliarity which could be easily countered with time, it felt good.

The one issue I had was with installing new software, and this was true for all of the distros I tried out.

I install a lot of software on my Windows box, because I do a lot on it: video encoding; software development in many different languages; word processing; image processing and the list goes on (and on, really). For most of these tasks I use free software that comes bundled with .exe or .msi installers; one double-click and I’m away. The same just isn’t true of Linux, and it drove me batty. Overall the experience was better than the last time I looked to switch (far less “configure; make; make install” for a start), but still a dearth of easily-installable apps. It was source code this, dependencies that, and overall I just didn’t find the range of software available that I could for Windows. Nobody was more surprised about this than me, let me tell you.

Just before you get angry at me, I did actually run a Linux-only PC for a number of years (firstly running Enlightenment, then KDE and Gnome if you care), and so had I been really desperate, I could have installed whatever I wanted from any number of application respositories – I’m no stranger to building my own apps – but I don’t have the time for that any more. I have a girlfriend; I have a job, other things take up my time. I need to double click and install. No messing about.

I actually ran this SUSE installation on my desktop for about two weeks before I got tired of having to switch back into Windows to fill in my application gaps.

Phew, after that, let’s see what else I looked at.

Symphony OS Alpha 4

Symphony OS logo

A friend recommended I have a look at this (mainly so that he didn’t have to), because as their blurb says Symphony provides what we consider to be the easiest to use Linux experience there is.. Well gosh, that’s quite a lot to claim.

Sadly, it doesn’t live up to it. Symphony is a Debian and Knoppix-based distro. Like SUSE it installs very smoothly and without hassle. Symphony uses a desktop system called Mezzo which is, as far as I can tell, unique.

Mezzo disposes of standard concepts like “The desktop is a folder” and nasty nested menu systems that are hard to navigate and harder to manage and instead presents all needed information directly to the user via the main desktop and four desk targets for tasks and files related to System, Programs, Files, and Trash.

This works quite well once you get used to it, and the four desk targets are actually the four corners of the desktop (the four easiest places to hit), which is great.

But then it lets itself down by not having a default Window Manager which reflects this usability – in fact, the build I tried had rounded corners, so that when I maximised a window, I couldn’t go to one of the four primary desktop locations to grab or resize it. Very poor. Overall, using Symphony feels very much like using the Alpha software that it is. It has some good core concepts, but usability problems, graphical incosistencies and incompleteness means that it’s got a long way to go before it can be considered “the easiest to use Linux experience there is”.

Tomorrow: Linspire, KnoppMythTV and Windows Media Centre.