BBC Open Earth Archive gets a BAFTA

A bit late in posting this, but the BBC Creative Archive team were given an “Interactive Innovation” award in the British Academy Television Craft Awards a few nights back for their work on the BBC Open Earth Archive project.

Here’s Grant Bremner (CA’s Producer) holding the BAFTA:

Grant holds the BAFTA

There seems to be a steady flow of people coming round to the office to see the BAFTA and have their photo taken with it (the Creative Archive guys should charge £1 a pop I think!).

Congrats to the guys.

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iDon’t.com Part I: an poor response to an important issue

For those who have missed it, SanDisk have launchediDon’t.com“, a propaganda site with the following call-to-action:

Calling all free thinkers, contrarian’s and malcontents. The time has come to rise up against the iTatorship To resist the monotony of white earbuds and reject the oppressive forces of culture conformity.

(BTW: someone should tell SanDisk that using apostrophes in urls that are not actually valid is a very bad idea)

    

iDon’t.com’s aim is clearly to persuade people to consider buying MP3 players other than Applei iPods. However the site falls short of any ‘fact’-orientated reasons why non-iPod units should be considered. Instead SanDisk duck-out by linking to third party sites to do “the dirty work”.

Aside from parody sites the best SanDisk can come up with is iPodsDirtySecret.com, which highlights the problem with iPod batteries often only lasting 18 months and being hard/expensive to replace. I’m not a big fan of iPods, but even I have to admit that I believe this issue has been resolved in more recent iPod generations.

Other than that, the site seems to be light of any facts, and somewhat perversely relies on the same kind of “pseudo-slick marketing” that they themselves have a problem with Apple using.

This is post could also be titled “How not to run a ‘skunkworks’/’blackops’ site”.

  1. Don’t get your corporate marketing department to build the site. This site reeks of it!
  2. Harness the power of the blogosphere. This site has done nothing to get itself part of the blogosphere. It’s got a blog but it’s hidden and under-used
  3. Don’t use Flash. How can bloggers (or anyone else) link to key parts of your site? Also, if you want to be “dahn wit’ da kidz” AJAX is the way to go. This site could certainly have been built with AJAX if they had found the right design team
  4. Get your facts right Have facts. Get some balls and take on the real issues like DRM. These types of sites are aimed at a highly discerning and cynical crowd. Don’t treat them like idiots.
  5. If you’re not going to “implicate” your company by mentioning it at all on the site, at least register the domain such that the whois doesn’t say it’s registered to your company!

People who read my blog will know that I hate iPods, both for the fact they’ve become an exclusivity-item (it’s just a bloody music player!) and more importantly the long-term issues of the public’s lack of awareness around the DRM lock-in that the iPod has created.

The latter issue seems such a missed opportunity it makes me want to weep. In Part II I’m going to outline the real issues a secondary MP3 player like SanDisk should be focusing on.

Follow up to New Scientist article on Mashups

The New Scientist has written an article about the Mashup panel I participated in at last month’s CHI 2006 conference. It’s not a premium article, so you can read it here if you don’t want to buy a copy of the magainze.

New Scientist logo

NS has decided to focus on the “security issues” associated with Mashups, which were raised part of the way through the panel by Hart Rossman, chief security technologist for Science Applications International of Vienna,

At this point I’d like to point out that both Bret Taylor (of Google) and myself were a little concerned about the participation of a security expert because neither of us feel security is (currently) a significant issue in the Mashup scene.

Don’t get me wrong, Hart was a really nice chap who definitely knew his stuff – but the issues he raised either missed the point of Mashups or applied to any-and-every-other data transactional website, be it Mashup or otherwise.

(you can read some of Hart’s concerns in the New Scientist article)

The thing about Mashups is that they are experimental. Many of Hart’s concerns stem from the fact that people might think they are “fully fledged services”, and I guess he has a point on that one. But the answer is to make people aware of what they’re using, not bog down the innovation with restrictions.

I was asked for a few quotes by the New Scientist journalist after the panel and unfortunately he decided to only include the one where I agreed that people having to log into third-party accounts via Mashups were an opportunity for spoofing.

My other point that much of this was about experimentation and innovation, and not the creation market-ready products, was sadly omitted.

JP Rangaswami of the excellent Confused of Calcutta blog was understandably disapointed with the article and in turn the panel. His take on it:

..the headline: “Mashup” websites are a hacker’s dream come true. Most mashups are derivative sites and could perhaps reflect the so-called security weaknesses of the originating sites. Sounds like someone trying to sell me more Information Security consulting.

And most interestingly of all he concludes his post with the following:

We need to ensure that the weeds of DRM are not allowed to choke the mashup flowers. Let a thousand mashup flowers bloom. We need new answers to identity and access, but we are not going to get them by constraining new ways of doing things with old ways of stopping things.

JP is spot on – and this let me tell you is coming from the CIO of investment bank DrWK (although he was writing in a personal capacity).

These guys are doing some amazing stuff in this area, and are very forward thinking (check out my previous post about some of their work).

I hear they are using wiki’s and RSS as part of their knowlege management and internal communication infrastructure. For an investment bank, that’s a pretty amazing stuff.

MacBook keyboad really sucks

I’ve just got back from the London Apple Store, having wanted to try out the MacBook for myself.

I’ve got a few notes, but the main headline for me is how much the new keyboard sucked.

MacBook keyboard

The MacBook sports an all-new keyboard consisting of flat, square, widely spaced keys. They look beautiful and minimalistic (AppleInsider has some great shots).

But as soon as I got down to typing on them… eeek! In order to reach the keys it felt like I had to splay my fingers out really widely. Try holding your hands in front of you and splay your fingers so that they are as wide apart from each other. That’s how it feels to type on this keyboard. I don’t have particularly small fingers either.

I was still able to type, but my speed and accuracy was reduced drastically. Aside from the wide spacing, the flat keys offer no tactile confirmation of your finger being on the centre of the key – a really important thing if you’re a touch-type like me. Most keyboards, including my Thinkpad X32, have ridged keys that dip in the middle so you know where the centre lies.

I wasn’t the only person voicing keyboard concerns around the MacBook display either. I wonder whether it’s going to become an issue, especially for those who have ordered online without even trying the new machine out first?

A few other points to note:

Black Casing
I have to say the black casing does look very cool. That’s partly because it’s reminiscent of the old-school black Mac laptops and partly because I’m known for my love of black.

However I’m a bit concerned about the fact it’s matte-black. Those paying the extra $200 for the dark aesthetics may find that their purchase looks dated in a year or so compared to the more time-less white. I think it’s because it’s not glossy-black like the iPod black option.

Glossy screen
The high contrast glossy screen is new for Apple, but has been a feature of many laptops, including Sony VAIO’s, for sometime. However under the bright halogen lights of the Apple store the, the glare was really annoying.

The Apple sales person kept setting the MacBook to show a photo gallery of highly optimised photos (which looked wonderful on the screen). But whilst trying to type on a high contract black-text-on-white-background environment like MS Word, the glare became a little annoying.

Upsell
I’ve not spent a great deal of time in Apple stores – I went to the one in San Francisco (hey it’s practically a tourist attraction) and I’ve been in the London one once before. However I was really taken aback at the upsell, near-hardsell, I was getting from the Apple staff. (is that normal?)

“Hey, well this is really more for students – you should think about the MacBookPro”

…was the line I got twice from the sales guy. I was really taken aback because he hadn’t really asked me what I was going to use it for so I wasn’t sure how we would know that a MacBookPro would be more appropriate.

He also got really funny about things when I said that I wanted to remove OS X and put just Windows on it “because the MacBook was a good Windows option for for the spec you for the price”.

Clearly I had offended his Apple’y feelings by diss’ing his beloved OS!

Conclusion
So I don’t think I’ll be buying a MacBook. I just can’t get on with the keyboard, and in many regards it’s form-over-function taken too far (IMHO). It’s also given me a reality check as to why I don’t like Apple hardware.

You can check out MacWorld’s review for an alternative perspective.

The MacBook is launched

Apple have launched the much-rumoured 13″ MacBook, which comes in both White and Black versions (albeit for $200 more for the latter – a “vanity purchase” as one colleague described it).

Two MacBooks in Black and White

Well, this certainly makes my laptop purchase decision even harder. Whilst I would immediately scrap the MacOS install on a MacBook and load Windows XP (and probably Ubuntu), the cost of the MacBook is still very competitively priced compared to rival options on the market.

The other laptop I’ve discovered since my original post is the LG T1 Express Dual – which is a sexy (ahem) little piece of kit too.

LG T1 Express Dual

Back to the MacBook, I have to say I am very tempted – if only because it seems competitively priced (£967.03 for the black MacBook with BBC discount vs £1,028.99 without discount). That’s still heavily marked up against the $1,499.00 (£795.20) + tax cost for the exact same model in the US market. Welcome to rip-off Britain.

But I won’t be buying right now if only because I wouldn’t touch first-generation Apple products. Did you know that the MacBookPro is already onto it’s 4th revision? That scares me, and makes me wonder whether I really want to be Apple’s guinea pig beta tester on what would become my main workhorse machine?

F’ked over twice by Skype “free calls” announcement

Skype may have announced free calls to all US/Canadian registered landlines and mobile phones… but it only applies if you’re also calling from US or Canada.

By introducing this limitation they’re actually fucking those of us not living in North America twice!

You see, the only difference between me calling a given US landline from London, and someone else calling the same US landline from New York is that my call has to go some extra distance in the IP network. But that’s the bit that’s FREE!

So that’s me fucked over #1

But then when I do start talking to my friend on the landline, I’m still getting charged the same “SkypeOut” rate that I always have been (SkypeOut is the cost for routing the call onto the traditional PTSN phone network).

Well, clearly Skype have negotiated a vastly discounted (or free) deal with a national PTSN carrier to make their “free calls” announcement viable. So when I make my landline call now Skype are making an even bigger profit because I’m not seeing any reduction in my call charge!

That’s me fucked over #2!

So, economics (or just money moans aside) it got me thinking. Doesn’t this caveat completely turn it’s back on the “power of the network” – he very concept Skype was based upon?

The whole point of VoIP is that geography doesn’t matter – you don’t need to know or care where you are calling from, or where you are calling to.

Well, that combined with the fact that IP-to-IP calls costs nothing to serve, and that you only need to start paying when you need to use a PTSN node to route your call the traditional phone system.

Suddenly that’s all changed. Geography now does matter (again?). And something that is free (the IP-to-IP portion of the call) is now having an indirect charge placed upon it for certain customers in certain circumstances.

Clearly the “North-American callers only” caveat is not a technical issue, it’s a matter of economics. But equally, why do I want to be treated like a second-class customer?

There’s plenty of other VoIP provides out there to furnish with my business.

EXCLUSIVE: BBC ‘cab driver’ was really there for a job interview!

The soon-to-launch (currently internal-only) BBC News Editors Blog has an exclusive insight into the BBC News 24/’Cabbie’ expert fiasco.

(check out video)

It turns out that the fake “Guy Kewney” (the music download expert) was actually Guy Goma who was expecting a totally different kind of interview: a job interview!

He is not a cabbie after all, but a graduate in Economics and Business Studies who was waiting in the BBC Television Centre reception to be interviewed for a “Data Support Cleanser” position in the Business Information Department!

Guy Goma (the ‘fake’ Guy) has stated that he is “Happy to speak about any situation” on TV again, but rumours that he is to be offered his own weekly “expert’s corner” on BBC Radio have not been confirmed.

BBC gaff #2

So, you can’t have members of the public in studios for the (public) performance of music…

…but you can interview random members of the public (or just cab drivers) about the recent Apple iTunes/Beatles music download ruling.

This story was going around the BBC last week, but didn’t realise it was now “out”…

“He is the BBC’s latest star – the cab driver who a leading presenter believed was a world expert on the internet music business.

The man stepped unwittingly into the national spotlight when he was interviewed by mistake on the corporation’s News 24 channel.

With the seconds ticking down to a studio discussion about a court case involving Apple Computer and The Beatles’ record label, a floor manager had run to reception and grabbed the man, thinking he was Guy Kewney, editor of Newswireless.net, a specialist internet publication.

Actually, he was a minicab driver who had been waiting to drive Mr Kewney home. “

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(Sorry for my virgin link to the Mail on Sunday website…)

Bit Torrent legal loophole?

Bit Torrent (and other p2p applications) transfer files by splitting them up into smaller chunks and sending each chunk independently from the rest. Chances you receive chunks for a given file from many different seeders.

It suddenly occurred to me – as a seeder, if you don’t – or can’t — transfer all of those chunks, can you still be held liable for transferring a copyrighted work?

After all, unless you transfer 100% of the ‘chunks’, the file is probably useless. If you’ve uploaded less that 100% of the file, have you actually transferred a copyright work, or just a load of garbled data?

In cases where people have been accused or convicted of transferring copyrighted works, I wonder whether it was ever established that they transferred the whole file? After all it’s probably good enough to say that they could have done – they were offering all of the file for download.

So here’s my suggestion: Bit Torrent clients should ensure that at least one ‘chunk’ of each file you share cannot be uploaded. Clearly this needs to be a randomly chosen chunk so that different seeds offering the same file withhold a different chunk (and thereby not adversely affecting the integrity of the swarm).

By proving you’re a running software that will never offer 100% of the file, I wonder whether you can be still be accused of sharing copyrighted works, or at the very least subject to far less serious accusations and potential consequences?

I might ask my legal friend Ria for her thoughts…

Web 2.0 doesn’t work in the mothership, but…

Introduction

I attended a workshop organised by Microsoft on Tuesday entitled WAX (Web Architeture… no idea what thee X is for), which was described as…

a strategic cross-industry workshop that will provide an open forum for architects and thought leaders to examine the changes underway in both the consumer and enterprise space.

It was a strange event – partly because of the mix people who were invited and partly because despite the workshop itself being a bit of a damp squib, some really useful and insightful discussion occurred anyway.

The attendees were mainly people who represented Enterprise (which was nicely described by MS as a company with >4000 employees) – either directly as employees, as consultants or as software vendors.

It’s clear that “The Enterprise” wants to adopt the perceived benefits of the Web2.0 era into its business, but clearly there are all sorts of challenges.

Well, based on the discussions we had and also some thinking I’ve had over the past couple of months, I am now writing this blog post about this very subject.

Web 2.0 doesn’t work in the mothership, but…

So let’s me start by putting my flag in the ground: Yes, I do think “Web2.0 stuff” (however you choose to define it) has a place in big business/enterprise/etc. But I don’t think it can occur as part of the enterprise itself. (caveat: unless that enterprise is already working a radical way unlike other 99.9% of enterprise setups in existence)

I’ve worked and developed in an enterprise environment. It’s a slow, methodical, complicated business. It has to be. Generally speaking enterprise systems are expensive to develop, require high reliability and have complex architectural and stakeholder structures.

This is not how “Web2.0″ works, but you didn’t need me to tell you that – it’s kind of obvious. Oh, and whether you like it or not, you will always have enterprise systems – the world will always need massive, sophisticated systems.

These systems tend not to suit the aspects of Web2.0 such as social software, rapid development and the permission to experiment with the potential of failure (albeit failure fast).

So if you want to add a bit of “Web2.0″, my quick and straight-to-the-point suggestion is to do your “Web2.0 stuff” in a satellite operation at arms length from the rest of your operation.

Define the goals, create a team of suitable* people and set them free away from the constraints of your enterprise.

That might sound like an R&D department to many, but this is about working on potentially customer-facing, real world projects – not bluesky thinking or stuff that isn’t ready to bring to market.

Sure, it depends on what you want to build as to whether this option is suitable, and ultimately depends on how integrated to your enterprise the project needs to be.

But think about it – do all your projects really need to be that integrated to your enterprise systems? Are there opportunities where a small set of the right APIs could allow suitable projects to be given a greater freedom to evolve organically and take a direction different to the rest of your operation?

I’m still baking this idea, and trying to devise examples of where this might have worked that are outside the BBC (BBC examples might be NDA’d, or just inappropriate to divulge).

This is just some “initial thoughts”… Will post more when I have a clearer idea of what this all means!