Categorydev

Weekly log: Projects I’ve worked on this week

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Feel free to ignore.

As an ongoing record for myself, I’ll try to post a brief log of the projects I’m actively working on week over week. ALL UPPER CASE are project code names for not-yet-ready, exploration-phase things. (I’m using quite possible the nerdiest name space for project names, but I’m not going to link to it.) In the future I’m going to try to post these on Fridays.

Active/production:

  • NEXT Berlin
  • ThingsCon
  • UIKonf
  • SALAMANDER
  • ISELIN
  • POINTLESS ALBATROSS

Exploration/thinking/conception:

  • SAPIENT PEARWOOD
  • COUNTING PINES
  • LAND EEL
  • HERMIT ELEPHANT

Announcing: Things, a 2-day event on hardware business

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Just the briefest of announcements of something we’ve been working on for a while:

 

Things will be a kickass event for the hardware ecosystem (hardware as in connected devices, IoT, and the related fields). Focusing not on private tinkering but on building and scaling hardware businesses, and working towards establishing Berlin as a (emerging but one day leading) hardware hub, it’s going to be two days of conference plus a wide range of relevant satellite events.

Copy & paste from our temporary website:

 

Berlin, May 2 & 3.

An international line-up of speakers will cover everything it takes to turn garage projects into scaling companies. Additional demo sessions will give exposure to some of the most interesting hardware companies in Europe. Plus plenty of space to foster community, collaboration and exchange of ideas in Berlin as one of Europe’s top emerging hardware hubs.

 

More information soon! Until we have a real website, sign up for updates over at thingscon.com

Second Life goes open source (this time, for real?)

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According to mashable.com, LindenLab will open up the source code for Second Life servers, too. (Awhile ago, the client software was open-sourced.)

As if there weren’t enough freedom on Second Life (letting avatars fly), now the virtual land will operate much like the actual Internet itself. Linden Labs, private owner of Second Life, is making the back end available, allowing for the creation of non-trusted areas for avatars to venture into. It could be the epitome of a Wild West effect, given the potential for the service to be hosted on other servers, and incorporating the use of open protocols. Second Life says that they will not succeed if the service is controlled by one grid.

Opening up the backend, too, i.e. the servers, means opening up the Second Life grid itself. This has been discussed in the community for quite a while. (I’ve ranted about the issue before as well.)

With an open-source grid, particularly with the above-mentioned non-trusted areas, come both problems and opportunities.

Problem-wise, we’ll face all kind of chaos, scam attempts, and all the other things we see on the web on a day-to-day basis. No doubt about it.

However, open-sourcing the grid can solve Second Life’s two top problems: Ownership of the world itself (LindenLab vs “the community”), and performance (more eyes produce better code; open code means more servers running the software). Also, it’ll provide a basis for a incredible outburst of creativity – I don’t even dare imagining what kind of hacks we’ll see within the first few months after the code is opened up!

(Now the only thing that’s missing is the official confirmation by LindenLab – so far, there’s been no public announcement of any sorts, is there?)

Link

Jimdo launched their international (i.e. English) version

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login jimdo[1]Usually, web developers and real netheads wouldn’t really touch a point & click & drag & drop kind of online website creator. (Although admittedly, Google Pages is pretty good for a start.) But since I get asked pretty frequently about easy-to-use tools for DIY webdesign, here you go: I’d recommend Jimdo. (Don’t you dare tell anyone I recommended a point&click service.)

Jimdo is an all web 2.0-mashup-feed-me-anything kind of service where you can really easily just go ahead and drag and drop your text boxes, Flickr images, RSS feeds and what not right on your page. You can move it all up & down & around, no learning curve necessary.

Thomas aka DJ Stylewalker, who first pointed me to Jimdo, has tried it for a little project and was more than happy. And since he also mentioned the Hamburg-based team to be decent guys, I’m quite happy to pass that on. (This is what a 3 min drag & drop version of The Waving Cat would look like.)

That’s good stuff – Congrats, Matthias, Fridtjof and Christian!

WordPress & blip.tv

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Ok, I admit it: WordPress & blip.tv are driving me crazy.

Nope, that didn’t come out just right. Something the way WordPress is parsing embedded code snippets like the one YouTube, Revver and blip.tv use keeps cutting out essential parts of the code. So every time I re-open any of the postings, the whole posting gets dumped. Frrrrustrating. Until I have figured out a solution for the video snippets of Larry Lessig’s talk, please bear with me (and manually click on the links in the posts themselves.)

Any ideas, or even better, open source video-sharing platforms without that kind of trouble?

Update: Just got email from blip.tv & their hints made it all work fine. Thanks, Mike!

3 simple rules to keep in mind…

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…if you’re developing software, a service, a tool. Not that I made these up – this is very basic stuff. It’s supposed to serve just as a reminder to come back to if you’re stuck in the process. (And for myself, too, of course.)

In order of priority, from low to high:

  1. Networked rules over isolated
  2. Open rules over closed
  3. usability rules over everything else (yes, also over ‘features’)

If you’re developing anything remotely web-related, stick to those simple guidelines and you’ll be on a good track.

(I’ve been involved in developing a content management system for the last 5 years or so. And even now we’re nowhere near the usability I’d wish to have. It’s in my own hands, but restrictions (mainly of time, partly of coding skills) just don’t allow me to make it as axcellent as it could be. It all started out the usual way: We needed a tool to make our own work quicker and easier, and then it started growing from there, so… Anyway, we’re two people developing part-time, so we do have an excuse. And still: It drives me crazy. But it won’t stop us from improving until, at some point in the distant future, it’ll be as good as we envisioned it. So much for my experience there. To cut a long story short: I see these guidelines as a process that keeps improving our tool.)

Just ask yourself:

  1. Is the usability of your service/tool/software exellent? Are you looking forward to using it? Really? Then you’re on a good track.
  2. Is it an open system? More people (not just ‘users’) can – and will – join an open system. Also, it allows developers to build nice additional apps, plug-ins, mash-ups. That’s not only cool, it also enhances the range of potential uses. Most importantly, though: Open systems can link more easily into other (open) systems. Think integration. (Don’t forget that open-ness also includes documentation both inside and outside the code, as otherwise it’s unnecessarily hard to really access the code and tool. We’ve been struggling with this from the beginning, as it’s both time-intense and not even remotely as fun as implementing some neat new feature. But it’s no less important, really.) Your thingy is fun and open? Great, time to move on to rule 3.
  3. Does it network? Now, this is the only rule that might allow exceptions. (But then again: not really) We’re on the web. You’re going to be on the web. Your users are going to be on the web. It’s a network. Use it, and thoroughly. If your product doesn’t network, why is it online? Make it a stand-alone software. Good networking increases productivity and it’s good fun. Again: Thing integration.

There is, you could say, a fourth rule. But this is so general and all-encompassing i wouldn’t even list it above. It’s more like the basis for everything said above:

4. Listen to your users. Let them have a look at your product early. Ask friend. Yes, non-developer friends, too. Do they understand what your tool/service/software is about without much explanation on your behalf? No? Don’t try to make them understand. (a) They’re helping you out, so they don’t deserve to be bullied. (b) If they don’t get it, others won’t, either. It’s not their fault, it’s yours. Re-think all steps before you go ahead. Maybe it’s just the interface, maybe it’s the whole concept that’s faulty. I recommend the “mom & dad test”. Take your parents (or any other not-too-techy person you know who’ll tell you in the face if they think it’s crap) and let them have a look. Do not get in a fight. Again: They’re helping you out here, not the other way round.

If at any step your test users lose interest quickly, or if they get stuck, or if the let you know they don’t like some element or wish another one, fix it or build it.

If you stick to all these simple guidelines and don’t compromise on your users’ wishes, it can’t go too wrong.

identity 2.0

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Sitting in a seminar today, my mind started wandering about and I started to think about identity 2.0. As of lately, quite a few people have written about it or presented about it, but there’s still not as much research going on as I’d expect, or maybe I just haven’t happened upon it.

To a large degree, Identity 2.0 works similar to Identity 1.0. (No kidding, huh?) There are some major factors influencing how we identify ourselves in relation to the world around us. Some of those factors have gained, other have lost impact. A whole new aspect – I just labeled it the Extended Self – is brand new and so-to-speak value added

Anyway, here’s a first quick sketch of what I think constitutes Identity 2.0.

Remember, this is a quick (and first) draft. So please bear with me and stay constructive …

Identity 1.0   Identity 2.0
    ‘Extended Self’
  • social networks
  • information
  • identity
  • semi-private identity
  • self-constructed / in-flux identity
  • access to knowledge networks
  • memberships
  • collaboration / participation / productivity
  • tech/cyborg
Social groups
  • security
  • values
  • identity
  • status
  Social groups
  • identity
  • values
  • membershups
  • access
Nationality
  • identity
  • model of society
  • security
 
  Nationality / Jurisdiction
  • legal framework
Family
  • Security
  • Identity
  • Status
  • Values
  Access
  • to networks, social groups, extended self etc
  • where/when/how you can live out your identity
Religion
  • Status
  • Values
  • (Societal framework)
 
Region
  • level of development
  • proximity of other cultures
  Timezone
  • proximity of peer group
  Region
  • level of development
  • access

(note: By making the boxes above different sizes, I’ve tried to show how much I think they impact. Maybe an HTML-table isn’t exactly the right tool for that kind of graphic…)

Identity 2.0:

  • much more complex, wider
  • more in flux more flexible
  • to a large degree self-constructed
  • fragmented, yet integrated. Not necessarily always coherent.
  • Towards the periphery, complexity and density decline. Blurry borders.

Notes:

Access

Replaces religion and family insofar as they used to allow or prohibit access in any way (because of belief, money etc.)

Extended Self

  • new category which virtually didn’t exist before
  • mix of social network, self-constructed and self-communicated identity, memberships, activities, participation in collaborative projects, access to knowledge networks etc (compare Luhmann’s idea of external memory etc)
  • Extended self and social groups can’t be clearly distinguished, the border is blurry; both overlap. Depending on involvement, face-to-face time and level of access to each other’s offline identity among others
  • To get a basic idea of what kind of stuff constitutes the extended self, check out Dick Hardt’s great OSCON 2005 Presentation 2.0 where he gives a good overview of what identity 2.0 emcompasses.

Nationality / Jurisdiction

  • Nationality is losing its imporance except for the legal framework it provides. The classic constructivist view used to be: “Nationalism is the cultural framework of modernity; it is the main cultural mechanism of social integration and therefore, construction”. (Greenfeld 1999) –> Nationality hardly adds to a feeling of identity anymore. Instead, it’s the jurisdiction that counts. In other words: Where your body is, you can get sued.
  • Nationality is also a fairly recent concept and not one that is essential. Compare Liah Greenfeld: “For millenia, humanity was able to do without [nation], and this represents a good reason for presuming that it an be avoided again.” (Greenfeld, “Is Nation unavoidable? Is Nation Unavoidable Today?” 1999
  • Note that the focus here is clearly a legal one. Even more so, as national borders may not even be legal borders: Take for example the European Union. Any European resident won’t only be affected by their country’s law, but by the EU’s law as well.

Time zone

  • In a heavily mediated and interconnected society where social contacts are maintained online to a large degree, geography and physicality plays a smaller role than time zones. To interact with your peers, it is relevant to be online at the same time as they are, no matter where they are or where you are. In other words: It is more important when you are online than where you are online. (Cory Doctorow develops this idea in-depth in his novel Eastern Standard Tribe.)

Update: Gender is, of course, another essential determining factor of our identities online. There’s plenty of material out there, too. Recommendations? Also, I’m not sure which way this factor developed from 1.0 to 2.0. It certainly got a bit more blurry and flexible. Also, I’d assume the gender impact decreased quite a bit, but I’m not absolutely sure about it. Ideas?

Feedback? Drop me a line: peter.bihr at gmail.com