Identity Woman

I’ve been to Mashup Camp, ETech and MIX in the past month and a half. So has Kaliya, otherwise known as Identity Woman. She calls MS out for a lack of power bars @ MIX06 as well as the lack of an official wiki for the event. She’s right on both counts. I thought some of the logistics of ETech were suspect, but they sure did assume that every single attendee would need power and laid out power strips accordingly.

I kept seeing Kaliya at these events, but I didn’t get to meet her until she came to the SPARK @ MIX session Monday afternoon. She’s one of the organizers of the Internet Identity Workshop. Sounds like a cool event, but it’s right before my daughter Rileyanne’s first birthday and you know Jules would NEVER forgive me for missing that.

ETech Day Three Quick Thoughts

After my marathon blogging session last night and taking notes all day, I’m a bit burnt out on writing. But here are a few quick thoughts. More details to follow.

  • I’m digging the home page and the integrated Live Search. Since I’m on a rented laptop, Live Toolbar will have to wait. Coolest new feature IMO is the Search Macros, though it’s a tight race with the new image search interface.
  • Jon Udell and Michael Goldhaber spoke about attention economy today. I still don’t get it, though Jon had some interesting ideas about metadata. I’ll believe that attention is a currency when I can buy a car with it.
  • I liked the session on the Yahoo! Design Patterns, though the title and abstract of the session were awful. The title was “The Language of Attention: A Pattern Approach“. The inclusion of attention just confused the issue. Why couldn’t they just call it “A Pattern Language for User Experience”? Because it doesn’t have the concept of attention shoehorned into it.
  • I really like Eventful, even though I’m on record as thinking their business model doesn’t work. Their new demand feature is pretty cool, though it doesn’t really help their business model any.
  • George Dyson’s session on “Turing’s Cathedral” was fascinating, though he tried to cover too much ground in the time alloted.
  • I’m not sure what the point of Joel Spolsky’s Blue Chip Report Card was. Apparently the alien from Reddit is cute and Motorola newer cell phones (RAZR and PEBL) are taking Joel’s advice on becoming “blue chip”. This is somewhat related to points the folks from Adobe (previously Macromedia) made, except much more obtuse.
  • I have no idea what the point or business model of Plum is, even though it was featured as a keynote (a last minute promotion it appears from the conference guide). Seems too complex and centralized to actually work.
  • I wrote last night that Casting Words isn’t really a business because nothing stops me from going directly to Mechanical Turk and getting the transcription services myself. Today, I found a Casting Words task on Mechanical Turk so I decided to figure out how much they’re making. The task I found was to transcribe about 28 minute podcast and they were offering $5.41 for anyone willing to do it. That’s about 19.5 cents per minute. Tack on Amazon’s 10% charge brings the total to around 21.5 cents a minute that Casting Words is paying for transcription services. Given that they’re charging 42 cents a minute, that’s just under a 49% profit margin. Exactly what are they doing to earn that profit? What’s their value add and is really worth a 100% markup?
  • Anyone want to start “Cheap Casting Words” with me? We’ll pay 22 cents a minute (11% more than Casting Words) and charge 36 cents a minute (14% less than Casting Words) and keep the 12 cents a minute markup (a 33% markup). 😄

Update: Added Quick Thoughts on Yahoo!, Eventful, George Dyson, Joel Spolsky and Plum. Added more detail about the attention economy sessions from today.

Microformats Panel

I still haven’t seen a good general session on microformats. I’m thinking it’s because any one given microformat is so simple that you can’t really fill more than about ten minutes talking about it. So this panel was about six or seven different microformats. The format of the panel stunk – I lost track of what was being discussed pretty quickly so I spent the time surfing the microformats website.

The idea of microformats is to adorn visual markup (i.e. xhtml) with semantic information about the data underneath. Probably the best example of this is hCard, the microformat version of vCard. Here’s the markup for my hCard (as produced by the hCard Creator)

<div class="vcard">
    <a class="url fn" href="">Harry Pierson</a>
    <div class="org">Microsoft</div>
    <a class="email" href=""></a>
    <div class="adr">
        <div class="street-address">One Microsoft Way, 18/2194</div>
        <span class="locality">Redmond</span>,
        <span class="region">WA</span>
        <span class="postal-code">98052</span>
    <div class="tel">425/705-6045</div>

See how the class attributes provide the semantics for the underlying text? Cool.

I’m beginning to get microformats. At first, I was bothered because I thought they were hijacking the semantics of the class attribute. But I didn’t realize the class attribute could be used for “general purpose processing by user agents”. And the link microformats like XFN and rel-tag are even simpler than hCard.

So again, bad session but cool concept. I really see potential for mashing up Ray Ozzie’s Live Clipboard with microformats.

Michael Kunivsky and Matt Cottam on Sketching in Hardware

For a while, I really didn’t understand where this session was going. Michael spent a bunch of time on the issues of user experience design that I’m not familiar with. I still don’t know why he was talking about the Cuddle Chimp. But then he started talking about the importance of the sketching process to the practice of design. His meta point is that sketching is the root design tool, and different mediums are better or worse at supporting sketching. Drawing, as you might expect, is the best medium for sketching. Hardware is the worst. Michael rated a variety of sketching mediums based on Speed, Provisionality and History Preservation. By this time I figured out they were talking about enabling sketching of hardware.

Then Matt got up. I didn’t get his bio written down, but he is a professor of experience design. And he was talking about a product he’s been involved in to enable rapid sketching of hardware user experiences using simple sensors and motors. The product is called Nada and it supports Flash and Java. No .NET? Nope, but I spoke to Matt after the session about it. The demos were pretty cool. He controlled the opacity of an element in Flash with a hardware potentiometer. He controlled the speed of a fan based on the current temperature reported via a website. He showed a variety of other sensors like light sensors and flex resiststors. These demos weren’t that compelling, but the potential is huge. It can connect to variety of hardware systems including serial port devices, MIDI devices, plus kits like Teleo and Phidgets. I’m thinking Scott needs to check this out for a future installment of Some Assembly Required.

Rod Smith on Do It Yourself IT

This post is a combination of Rod’s short keynote and his breakout session I went to right after lunch. Rod’s meta point is that lots of enterprise applications don’t get built because they aren’t affordable to write. Chris Anderson would call this the long tail of software. Rod introduced the idea of “situational applications” – something you build for a specific situation then you throw it away. I actually prefer the term “disposable application” since it focuses on the fact you will throw it away.

He demoed a proof of concept called QEDWiki. QED == Quick and Easily Done. It seems a lot like JotSpot. You have a palette of components that you can drag onto the page and wire together quickly. They built a slightly interesting application to mashup store locations with weather data in under five minutes.

In the breakout, they got into much more detail on QEDWiki. There’s a wiki programming language – I’m guessing conceptually similar to WikiTalk -and a AJAX-y drag and drop authoring environment that sits on top of it. Pretty cool, but as he got under the hood it seemed pretty complex. The amount of wiki code the visual authoring environment spits out is significant and the implementation of one of the reusable components is massive. Building a wrapper component for the Yahoo Traffic service took “around a day”. That seem large to you?