Friday, February 21, 2003

Social hacking techniques: WIRED writes how people use psychological ruses on AOL staff to gain access. If a client pesters you about security in something you're building, then have they already taken care of cases like these...?
Audio ads: Advertisers say "it gets results", because they can measure an uptick in clickthrough. But they're not measuring how many people get disgusted with the product or the site (or the poor innocent technology abused in such a fashion). I know I'm dreaming, but suppose the Flash Player context menu had a "Complain about this site..." link in it to send an email to the administrator, so that they could do a job of completing their feedback loop...? ;-) (Me, I keep sound off on my computers, and only turn it up or put in earplugs if there's actually something I want to hear.)
SWF Searching: These "Webmaster Guidelines", part of Google's info for webmasters, may help. I've seen multiple discussions this week about searching for sites which use SWF, probably as a result of that SearchDay article I linked to last week. Part of the confusion is because I can't say the exact algorithm each of the various search engines uses internally. I do know they can extract text and links from SWFs, and I know that many use it, but I don't know how they use it... that's why I'm vague here. But for Google, Teoma and other link-evaluating engines, one of the key ideas in getting good placement is to make sure you have good links pointing at you. The engines know SWF, so they won't assume it's just a talentless hack, but it's more important to clearly let the spider know what the content is than to feed them every little word or outgoing link within it.
Macromedia to buy Microsoft: For what it's worth, I haven't seen any indications of this myself. I do not know what evidence the writer is basing his conclusion upon.... ;-)
Open source and Flash: David Vogeleer has an essay on FlashMagazine about the blend of for-free and for-pay that we're all morphing towards. Providing more opportunities on each side of that balance seems like the way to go.
Do you own your email? This is a long, yet readable, lawblog entry of someone who found their email forwarded without their consent. Once you create digital content, do you implicitly control it, or can anyone who sees it reuse it and recopy it in any way they wish? Towards the bottom he draws parallels with the music industry... we've got the same issues with site design, applet design, any type of delivered code. For Rich Internet Applications some of the guts remain on your own server, but then we've got reuse of web services to think about as well....
"Dogfood and showstoppers" Scott Guthrie from Microsoft has another interesting post about software release. "Eating our own dogfood" means relying on the same software customers rely on... a "showstopper" is a problem found during release-candidate stages which prevents shipment... making sure the software works is a different task than making sure it works in all conditions and uses... the first step in addressing an intermittent problem is to find a way to reliably reproduce it... some of these problems and processes you'd recognize from any site/project release, but there's an additional layer atop that when the release can be used to make other releases.
Technology blogs: Jon Udell searched Google on phrases "microsoft blogs" (46 hits), "apple blogs" (105 hits) and "linux blogs" (691 hits). I got curious about the phrase "macromedia blogs"... found 781 hits. The term "flash blogs" got a ridiculously high number, but I suspect this included a lot of repeat citations and irrelevant false hits.
A monster, not a robot: Ben Hammersley started a conversation on new RSS reader NewsMonster, and the comments sparked a lengthy debate on whether such new ways of consuming web content should follow the Robots Exclusion Protocol which tells search engines which pages to ignore. If you put information on a website, you would not expect someone to copy your design or text. But suppose they scrape the text out of your HTML and link to you -- is that okay? Or suppose they download your graphics and stylesheets in case someone wanted to read your source presentation offline -- is that okay? Suppose this drives up your own bandwidth costs -- is that okay? The music industry has already been forced to deal with rights to digital content, but I think we've all got a lot more to think through here still....
Jon Udell on MS Office XML: This article is a sneak-peek at Microsoft InfoPath (formerly XDocs, or NetDocs), but also contains detail about the types of XML the Office applications use for communication. I'm assuming there will not be barriers to creating non-Microsoft applications which access and create such data-sources... assuming we'll eventually be able to create alternate views into business processes.
On2 video reporting: This isn't directly germane to what we do, but I think it's a good indicator of the general trend. ABC News has licensed from On2 Technologies the "Laptop News Gathering (LNG) system--technology that compresses video files at high bit rates to achieve broadcast-quality playback... [to help] TV correspondents to report live from a location using only a small camera, a laptop and a satellite phone". TV-quality video is encoded at a rate of 750KB/second, and I'm assuming the source material is something like 16-bit NTSC 544x372@24fps, or just about 10M/minute... maybe a 6:1 ratio of compression-to-action, if I didn't miss a decimal somewhere.... ;-)
Map of digital theft: This Forbes infographic by Nina Gould brings together data for the International Intellectual Property Alliance, the Business Software Alliance, and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Mousing over a country gives 2001-2002 data on uncompensated use of software, films and music (they don't yet include stolen site design however). The theft proportions seem to follow the same curve as environmental damage... percentarge rises in developing countries, then lowers as more become enfranchised. Anyway, Nina's graph is a good example of combining several text sources into one visual display can increase accessibility.
Media molds thoughts: The recent Guardian article about how PowerPoint shapes ideas got a lot of play, as people discussed how the nature of the medium itself can shape the ideas which get expressed. I hadn't seen Aaron Swartz's translations of Robert Frost and Martin Luther King text until just today, though. He also cites Peter Norvig's Gettysburg Address translation to Powerpointese. Graphics, animation, audio and video can expand expression beyond just text, but each medium can also influence the thoughts themselves as well....
Blog notes: Sorry for the absence this week... spent time writing, handling a number of things. I'll be moving soon to an internal blogging system, like Mike Chambers and the rest of the gang... for the HTML blog will get you to the right place regardless. (I'll have the RSS address when it goes live.) The commenting system will function more reliably then too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

"Persuasive Design": This interview at User Interface Engineering goes a step beyond "usable design" ("Can the visitor use the site successfully?") and focuses on ways to help achieve the site's goals. A key tactic is to make sure that the visitor can get the information they want, rather than just making the information you wish to provide more usable. "Professional services, such as doctors and lawyers, tend to be the sites that miss the persuasive design boat the most. They often just provide basic office information without emphasizing why someone should choose them as a service provider." Related articles: John Rhodes interviews Jesse James Garrett, and Persuasive Architecture.
[via WebWord]
NewsMonster: Looks great -- a clientside aggregator built atop the Mozilla platform. Fast download. I can't get it to work, though... keeps saying it can't find its .JNLP file, and it doesn't display Help contents to send out a problem report. I'm in Mac OS 9.x... I don't see that they tested there. Will play with it more later. But I was impressed at how easy it was to install something built atop a platform... don't know if I'd do this all the time, because Mozilla's sandbox isn't as restrictive as a plugin's sandbox, but it's really nice to be able to quickly install just the instructions to give new abilities to software I already installed.
Camphone problems: CNN describes the "unusually high demand" for mobile phones with cameras, with the result that early models are being rushed to market -- too many buttons and knobs, networks which don't interoperate, lack of standard interfaces. "... despite the problems, 8.4 million such phones were sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2002, compared with 5.2 million in the third quarter -- a rise of 62 percent... 'It's no secret that multimedia interoperability is not there yet. Any new technology is complicated because there are many different vendors trying to make it work together. However, we should have all the major problems solved by the end of the year....'"

Social aspects of mobile phones: Lots of fascinating stuff in this BBC article about a 3-year university study... biggest angle was how mobile connectivity let people exercise more control over their own environment... phones with cameras may result in people having to visually prove what they say... they see "increasing acceptance of pushed content" (spam? you're kiddin' me!)... voice is seen as richer and, in some cases more desirable, than text... "Losing your mobile seems to equate to losing control". My favorite line: "Children used their mobile phones to ask their friends for advice. They also tended to have strict views on the use of mobile, seeing parents using text messaging as inappropriate."
Consumer-level SWF presentations: Show.Kit is an approachable tool which uses themes and a tree-view of presentation slides to plug text, image and audio content into Flash files. (There are preview presentations available.) I haven't installed the authoring tool, but from the results it looks like content that could also be displayed in HTML, but with higher production values and a nicer feel than you might get from markup. Not for everyone, but if you have a client that wants to "update my own files", then this might be just the ticket.
[via Simon Barber]
Macromedia tools, blog improvements: Kevin Lynch is soliciting comment on how Macromedia tools can change to help in creating, navigating, and displaying weblogs. If you've got an idea of how things can be different, please drop by and leave a note, thanks.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Google Client: This is an old article from John Rhodes at WebWord (Sept01), but I didn't realize that before I got fascinated."What if Google built something that was very much like a browser but was mainly used for searching for information. What if they built a tool that was focused on searching for answers to your questions first, and looking at web pages second. Wrap your head around that. You have search needs. You also have unique search patterns. You have ways of looking for information that are very interesting and personal. Where are the tools that help you search? You are probably thinking of search engines, like Google. But search engines are server based. Why not bring the power of the server to the desktop?" Right now we navigate among web pages, in a document browser. Suppose you just wanted to find information, without the hassle of someone else's presentation and additional messages?
[via Anil Dash]
Drag images in Mozilla: This bookmarklet from Simon Willison sounds dorky, but if you're running a Mozilla-based browser it can be lots of fun. Once you drag this link to your toolbar it can rewrite HTML pages to make the JPGs and GIFs draggable. No practical purpose, but it makes reading the news a lot more creative, and April Fool's Day is right around the corner.... ;-)
[via WebGraphics]
Flash to phone: The upshot of this FlashCoders thread was "aww, that's old hat", but I bet consumers would be surprised to send a Flash widget in a browser page automatically send a message to a phone like this....
AMF in PHP? Stewart Butterfield writes here about an opensource project to reproduce the binary client/server ActionScript Message Format within a PHP backend. I had seen threads about this on FlashCoders but didn't have any additional legal or technical info myself. I'm highlighting this discussion here in case any Macromedia lurkers can provide additional info in comments. (Sidenote: I know that writing a format for others to use, and then documenting it and handling whatever questions arise, is a significantly more complex task than just doing something which works... if you've commented code for a tutorial you know the difference.)
Real on digital media: Rob Glaser of Real Networks lays out his ideas on the copying of digital content. Things that jumped out at me were how he took an anti-prohibition approach on filesharing ("if you try to outlaw it, then it will just come back in some other form"), and how he seemed to suggest towards the end that the way to insure compensation to the creators is to make it more convenient for people to use (presentations tailored for devices, highlights, etc). I'm still not sure why the publisher chosen by the creators could not get edged aside by publishers who purloin the creators' content, however.
AOL-TV goes dark: This could mean that it's another example of people using their TV time for either multi-tasking or vegging-out instead of interacting. Or it could mean that, with its massive financial losses, AOL/Warner/Time/Turner is focusing tightly on areas where it knows it can provide services of value. I can't read the tea-leaves beyond the obvious, that they don't see money in it this quarter.
Web blackout: This is actually somewhat on-topic. I've been thinking lately about what I'd do if the web, and all electronics, were suddenly fried in the San Francisco Bay Area. Perish the thought, of course, but the changes in North Korea force a recalculation... a missle exploding a few hundred miles above the Bay could destroy electronics the same way that Hawaii was affected in 1962. I'd lose my MIDI accordion, but could still play the acoustic ones. I could also catch up on technical reading on paper. Not sure what else I would do. If you suddenly lost all electronic circuitry, what would you do...?
Globe & Mail on Contribute: I usually don't flag reviews here, but this one was actually written from the author's perspective instead of just recycling product info. If you're evaluating implementing a solution with Contribute then this could be a novel and useful perspective.He sees it as Dreamweaver graduated out of the "novices welcome" category with the MX release, but Contribute takes up the slack, and he'd like to see it become more of a general authoring tool than just content contribution. (fwiw, the Contribute team has been hard at work at integrating early feedback, but I'm not sure yet what changes will go public when.)
David Weinberger on protocols vs formats: As David Stutz pointed out earlier this week, we're moving towards a place where there are multiple "black boxes" on multiple machines, which speak through agreed-upon protocols. Special file formats and in-house apps are giving way to being able to interoperate with any other application on the network. There are still particular uses for special formats (think Flash Communications Server, for instance), but as we get more and more of a backlog of programming solutions, the value in working freely with other components increases more quickly. David's one of the Cluetrain gang, and the topic of "decentralization" brought up at the recent Supernova conference is starting to spread into "empower the edges", but there's still a ways to go into realizing the implications of this (see London crime trends, eg). David also compares his experience of using the Flash and Acrobat web players, noting that Flash feels less intrusive because there's less lock-out, but the download and hassle factor may be a larger issue in such a difference in experience. Worth a read.
Threedegrees: CNET describes an upcoming Microsoft communications project. They're apparently considering the social aspects before the technical aspects, which seems promising. The technology is apparently based on Windows XP, so I'm not sure when they plan to go mobile. The ability to narrowcast image and audio files implies that someone in the group can dump data onto other machines. I'll be interested in hearing how they handle security and other unanticipated uses.
"This means war!!" Long unreadable posts, some willful ignorance, plenty of misrepresentations and ad-hominems, but this thread on a stock board does contain useful arguments from people who are actually invested in communications servers. If you initiate projects with Flash Communications Server, then this discussion could be useful in understanding objections and sharpening the fit of project to task. People at risk of actually losing something can often get emotional and off-track, but they also bring up useful points more than recreational arguers do.

Monday, February 17, 2003

DEMO 2003 sessions: Want a quick overview of new technologies that investors and technologists consider interesting? This list from the annual show is a handy checklist. (I haven't gone through all these myself yet, but will be browsing them over the next week.)
Update: CNET has an overview of this year's presenters.
Update: More overview from Dan Gillmor.
Shrinkwrap development cycle: Scott Guthrie of Microsoft opened up a new blog this week, and in this entry discusses the different stages of a typical development cycle. This isn't exactly the same as the cycles used inside Macromedia, but gives a good idea of what's involved. Note the need for automation of testing on core functionality -- there's an entire set of tasks which, because of the multiple versions delivered, are best tested automatically. (This is particularly true when delivering each language to different platforms.) One addition I'd make is that external beta testing is particularly helpful in finding problems which could not be predicted for automatic testing -- new releases need to accommodate a range of existing workflows; it's not just features that need testing. Another set of internal tests, particularly for web players, is going through a wide range of external files in-house. His description isn't an exact match, but it's a good read if you're interested in such things.
Update: Corrected the URL... sorry folks, thanks Ian!