Firefox 1.5 is out

Except, no British version yet. Pfah. Where are those translators when you need them?

Anyway, Firefox 1.5 (note the move to the .com for the main Firefox page from the old .org) is, er, OK. Certainly from an end-user point of view it doesn’t justify skipping out Firefox 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4. It may well now use Cairo for rendering, have native SVG, support the canvas tag, have E4X support, and re-orderable tabs (I think that’s all the main features – did I miss anything?), but to be honest, new users aren’t going to care about any of that, all they’ll know is that the UI has got worse.

The toolbar menus now have a load of extra white-space for no apparent reason, which makes them look completely awkward, and like they were put together by a first-time UI developer. The much-vaunted new options window is a joke. Really. In fact, I can’t understand why it was changed. OK, that’s a lie, I do understand why it was changed. What I don’t understand is why it was changed to something less usable and harder to interpret than before. If ever Firefox wanted to look non-native, this was the way to do it. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever used on Windows that looks like this. Along with the bizarrely-padded menus, there is now no way you could mistake Firefox for a native Windows app.

I’ve been using Firefox 1.5 for a couple of months now, and whilst I’ve seen it get more and more stable, I’ve still got almost all of my extensions disabled because I got bored with it crashing ten times a day.

If I could recommend 1.0.7 to people without it telling them to upgrade to 1.5, I probably would.

Microformats (ab)used

The output from Person Finder, the University of Bath‘s staff and student directory is now marked up with hCard. For example, check out my entry. The amount of information available to people accessing the service from within the University’s network is far greater, and that is also all marked up appropriately. I think that’s at least 12,000 new hCards.

I realise that I’ve forgotten to define the profile on the head, but I’ll fix that later, and the data is still usable via the usual Greasemonkey scripts, XSLT and bookmarklets.

Consider this my 0.1 degrees Centrigade contribution to that ocean boiling 😉

Stupidest Gmail feature ever

Months and months ago there was some commotion amongst Gmail users because suddenly they could choose their “from:” address when sending mails. Excellent! This would make replying to mailing lists much easier!

Except it never appeared for me. There was supposed to be a new tab called “Accounts” on the Settings page. It wasn’t there.

Today I was reading pinksocks.co.uk which I haven’t checked for ages and Hanni has a post called Gmail Features Rollout in which she explains that this feature is only there if you sent your language to en-US. Good grief! What’s wrong with having this for en-GB?

So now I’ve changed my language setting, and I now have access to this feature.

Sigh.

Peer-to-peer social networking

Social networking sites and functionalities are a means to an end. Personally, I want to use a social network to describe, filter and prioritise information in an aggregator (or, if you like, a “Digital Lifestyle Aggregator”).

Boris Mann has written Distributed Social Networking a nice speculative piece on the use of XMPP as a transport for passing XML-formatted data, quoting from and linking to Ton Zijlstra’s How to Get P2P Social Networking.

The key to successful networks, and online networks in particular is that they require an object to connect them. For example people are linked in Flickr by photos, in del.icio.us by bookmarks and in the real world by the school they went to, their job or their hobbies. This is why, in “pure” social networking sites like Orkut and Friendster, communities form; where people are linked directly to other people, they need to artificially recreate the bonds between them.

Ton specifcally says FOAF isn’t ready for this kind of thing I think, which is interesting. I don’t think that RDF is the panacea for all web ills, but I do think that FOAF has some strong and clear benefits, such as simple and flexible integration of different data sources, in particular ones which come from different social networking applications and which use different objects as their pivot point, which would make its use as the default import/export to and from social networking tools seem sensible. In particular what could be useful is the work that Dan Brickley and Leigh Dodds have been doing on SPARQL-over-XMPP which allows for querying RDF data stores (such as FOAF) using Jabber clients; of course, the tool doing querying and display doesn’t have to be a chat client, just a tool which uses XMPP as its communication protocol.

I’m not entirely sure what Ton’s peer-to-peer bit is all about. If you are to provide your network data only whilst you are online and using a particular app, as opposed to publishing your network on the web somewhere (with appropriate encryption), then anyone one else in the network trying to glean meaningful data from the network is going to have a tough time. Instead, the publishing of data and querying over XMPP seems like a more reasonable approach.

There is already a JEP for representing a user profile (JEP-0154) which stores all sorts of weird and wonderful things such as whether you’re a smoker or not (which seems a slightly bizarre thing to define – why this and not other things such as left/right-handed/ambidextrous?), but nothing, as far as I’ve seen for representing links between people (or XMPP resources), and I think this is correct. It would probably be a mistake to try and define this with a JEP, instead using another specialised format for the definition, but using XMPP for the transport (much as PubSub use Atom-over-XMPP).

Google Analytics

Google have a new service out called Google Analytics, a web site stats and trends analyser which is probably based on the code of Urchin, who they acquired earlier this year (although it has at least one bug so far). The tracking is cookie-based and works by inserting a JavaScript fragment into the head section of the pages you want to be monitored.

In the interests of science, I’m giving it a go, which, according to the Terms and Conditions (section 8.1) means that I have to put this somewhere:

This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc. (“Google”). Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States . Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity for website operators and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage. Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google. You may refuse the use of cookies by selecting the appropriate settings on your browser, however please note that if you do this you may not be able to use the full functionality of this website. By using this website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.

So now you know.

Unless it turns into an unparalleled success I’ll probably remove it in a couple of weeks.