Google Wave

I loved the Google Wave demo, but probably for all the wrong reasons. I loved the fact that it was an honest demo, ok so that means it breaks, but I prefer to forgive a few bumps in the demo than see canned demos that are so slick I'm left wondering if it was all faked up.

Google Wave made a lot of noise when the demo video was released, and understandably, anyone with an ounce of geek in them keeps an eye on what the big guys are up to. I love how Chrome has changed the way I browse the web and I'm interested to see how Wave might change behaviours too.

For the most part Google Wave, while technically a huge accomplishment, is really the next generation of the web (whatever we might call it), it is a natural evolution from where we are now.

I like the concept of simultaneous conversations; I’ll often have at least two concurrent conversations with an individual via instant messaging, and being able to thread that could be really useful. However I can imagine not wanting to share everything I type straight away. I find the thinking time typing allows me to be really useful. Interestingly I might not turn off the functionality – and give the game away – but rather think more before I type. Typing becomes more transparent like talking, but still lacks the other sensory cues we use in communication.

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I’m interested in the concept of collaborative working, with multiple people working on the same document at the same time. I can’t think of another example where people could work so dynamically together in a virtual space. However this level of collaborative working raises its own issues. The goal of any collaboration needs to be clear for it to be effective, but this is even more so when working in the context of Google Wave.

Enabling sharing of photos, media and information is a fundamental part of how we interact online. Wave seemed to offer some some nice tweaks to improve this experience. But the demo didn’t really explore for me the relationships between the people that are interacting. Are they all already established contacts that are part of your network? How to you grow your network? It maybe that you don’t, that you just use existing networks such as Facebook and Twitter and consolidate them in Wave, but for such an application that is fundamentally social it would be odd to not support a means of growing your network in a more direct fashion.

Overall Google Wave looks very impressive; it has certainly broken some technical barriers and shown us what the next step for the internet holds for us. But for the most part it is an evolution, rather than a paradigm shift. Although I imagine it will change the way we collaborate online and our expectation around web interactivity and responsiveness.

Girl Geek Dinners is relaunched in Nottingham

At last the ball is rolling…

I'm really excited that at last I have managed to get the ball rolling and Girl Geek Dinners are back up and running in Nottingham. I have to say a massive and huge thank you to everyone who has been really supportive. I've never run an event like this before, but what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to ask questions.

If you want to be kept up to date about these events then either email me or follow @NottsGirlGeeks on Twitter.

Ada Lovelace Day: Molly E. Holzschlag

If you are reading this then you are probably already aware of Ada Lovelace Day, but just in case; it is a day dedicated to blogging about women we admire in technology:

I'm choosing to write about Molly E. Holzschlag, and why I admire her. (Disclaimer: fangirl moments are therefore to be expected).

Molly Holzschlag

I've been working with the web for all of my professional career and it became very clear, very quickly that web standards were fundamental in making writing code easier, while more importantly being necessary to create an open and accessible web that was capable of what we hoped and imagined it could do. Although she doesn't know it Molly has been with me every step of my journey, writing about best practice and web standards, shaping the way I and many others work. I started way back with a HTML and CSS textbook and A List Apart and WaSP.

Molly was leader of WaSP (Web Standards Project) from early 2004 through to the end of 2006 and in that time drove real change by recognising that it is not enough to be evangelical about your subject, you need to make connections with and influence those that create the tools and the code inorder to affect the change you want. She helped build relations with Macromedia to influence the tool that web designers were using, and connections with Microsoft to help improve the browser that most people were using. Coming from a history of hacking Dreamweaver to try and force it to write valid XHTML while struggling with browser inconsistencies, it was good to know someone was talking to these corporate giants and refusing to be ignored.

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In 2007 Molly worked with Microsoft to help try and improve web standards support in IE, which filled me with hope despite the mammoth task; anyone who has worked in a large organisation will know they are difficult beasts to change. But she was never afraid to ask the awkward questions even to the man at the top: http://molly.com/2006/12/14/who-questions-bill-gates-commitment-to-web-standards/

Last month she moved to Opera, which I can only imagine to be a complete change and I look forward to seeing what work comes out from that, when she can achieve so much in the face of such adversity I really have to wonder what might be done in a company that offers support for those ideals.

However the reason I admire Molly goes beyond her hard work with web standards, it is also about her ability to build connections; her openess and honesty that comes across online. She doesn't fall into the traps of just code samples (although these have their place), single-minded ranting or blindly insisting that everything worked well, but has an ability to see the bigger picture and to enlighten us in such a way that motivates us to join her in trying to make the web better. Thanks Molly.

But Molly isn't the only woman I admire working in technology although she may be among the most renowned, so I'd like to take this chance to give a bit of recognition to a few others as well:

  • Beatriz Stollnitz (nee Costa) – Part of Microsoft's WPF team, and the go to gal on Databinding. Also a lovely person who was kind enough to let me pick her brainss at TechEd 2006.
  • Sarah Blow – Founder of Girl Geek Dinners and developer. Has always been supportive and helpful in my quest to get Girl Geek Dinners in Nottingham up and running again.
  • Leah Culver – developer at Six Apart, but one of the few female technical speakers I've seen at a conference, thanks in part to her work on Pownce with Kevin Rose.
  • Jo Stray – I've worked with Jo for sometime now and her indepth understanding of usability has been a great guiding compass for me.
  • Susan Hallam – A fountain of knowledge about all things SEO.
  • Aleks Krotoski – Games journalist at the Guardian, but it was her work on Bits many moons ago that had the most impact on me personally, as I realised that girl gamers were more prolific than I knew and they were smart and entertaining too.
  • Jemima Kiss – Tech and media journalist at the Guardian and prolific twitterer, she has an understanding of the web and an ability to write about it coherently and convincingly.
  • Nichola Musgrove – The first designer I worked with, when I was just starting out, she was a great mentor.
  • Amanda Gaynor – One of the few women developers I've had the priveledge of working with. Her enthusasm for her subject and her compassion make me honoured to also have her as a friend.
  • Alice Taylor – By day she is the Commissioning Editor for Education at Channel 4, but I have followed Alice more for her fellow game girl status and her ability to blog about the way gaming influences a wider culture, especially crafty gamers. It might be niche, but it's my niche.
  • Leisa Reichelt – I first heard Leisa talk at FOWA about ambient intimacy which beautifully described the changing way in which we interact, but more than that her work and approach have informed my own, especially in regards to her enthusiasm for agile user centred design.
  • Danah Boyd – Writes about the social side of the web, particularly in regards to teenagers. Some very interesting and well informed writing.
  • Emma Jane – The woman to speak to about anything front end Drupal based.
  • Jean Baird – A photgrapher, but single-handedly responsible for getting me interested in semantics, back in 1999, way before I'd even heard of the Semantic Web.

Role of Social Media in the Credit Crunch

The one good thing about this recession is that I can actually walk around and get my Christmas shopping done in relative peace. But it is a little alarming to see most shops offering 20% off and yet still find shopping centres quiet.

As a strange form of torture at work, Sky News is broadcast all over the place and offer repeated and constant coverage of the financial crisis (NB: Why CNN find it hard to cover – can also be applied to Sky News). In fact the press has been doom and gloom about the economy for some time now, with some making comments about the Web 2.0 bubble bursting. We all know that between the rising fuel and food costs and the house prices sinking things are pretty gloomy right now.

Financial Tracking charts from Wesabe

Wesabe charts personal finances.

However I am interested in what role the web will have in helping us deal with this. We’ve had recessions before, but like American elections I don’t think we’ve had one where the web will play such a significant role, especially in how we cope with it. Firstly there is our connection to the internet both emotively and economically; while fuel bills sore the cost of broadband costs continue to fall, also we feel the internet is essential and not a luxury we can cut to save costs. So we aren’t going to us the web less now.

We already know that the internet has made us more informed consumers, thanks to price comparison sites and communities offering advice. But now most of us are feeling the pressure to have more control over our finances, so what tools can the web offer us to help us manage our financial affairs? There are some good free tools that offer some helpful budgeting and financial management services, here are some for the UK:

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Wesabe / money.telegraph

Wesabe has been around for a few years now and offers support for most major UK institutions. They offer an aggregation service, allowing you to see all your financial data in one place. There is an active community around the service, as well anonymous data aggregation, allowing Wesabe to offer advice based to you based on your particular spending trends in the context of the wider community. Other functionality includes putting statements in “plain English” and aggregating this information across the community; so if a user identifies retailer TSC1238934 as Tescos, then if you were to shop there you will automatically see Tescos in your statement.

Wesabe have released an API and offer automated tools for downloading statements as well as various widgets to make your information more accessible. Recently the Daily Telegraph has partnered with Wesabe in the UK, further adding to its credibility.

Kublax

Kublax is new to the UK market, however it is powered by Yodlee, who is one of the biggest service providers in account aggregation, having partnered with large corporate banks too. Plus because it is UK specific it supports most of the UK financial institutions. It has similar functionality to Wesabe allowing you to compare spending and to get advice based on your own spending habits, with a focus on localisation. But it doesn’t offer an API for developers to create more tools. It has some inbuilt fraud detection and alerting.

Buxfer

Buxfer’s functionality is limited in comparison, but offers budgeting tools that are particularly good at managing money between people and can automate splitting costs and tracking debt, which can be useful and relieve social tension when finances are tight.

Wigadoo

Wigadoo is a UK service for sorting out events with a group of friends. Although it is not directly about managing your own personal finances, it is a useful tool for when you have to sort out the money for a trip with a group of mates and it avoids one person having to shell out for the cost for the whole group and they then take all the risk that someone will cancel or not pay their share. You no longer have to nag friends for the money they owe you, or have to feel guilty about not paying them back yet. Making these social money situations easier is always helpful when money is short and it is easy for it to become a source of tension.

In addition to better tools to help us manage our finances, the web offers alternative ways of borrowing money to the traditional bank loans; at a time when banks are reducing risks and lending far less, peer to peer lending continue to loan money and offer a way of raising necessary cash.

Zopa

Zopa is peer to peer lending that started in the UK and has spread globally. The principle is that you can borrow or lend money from other individuals rather than from institutions. As a borrower you make a pitch about what you want the money for and how much you need, and as a lender you decide who you want to lend to, how much and at what rate. The borrower can choose the best rate from the offers made.

Although technology will be hit by the financial climate too, you need only look at the staff cuts going on across the board in tech companies to see that, I think that through these Web 2.0 offerings we can better empower ourselves with the tools to help us weather this storm.

Services like Wesabe and Kublux enable us to gather advice from a community as well as from our own actual spending data. By having all your information in one place you get a complete picture of your financial situation. However this isn’t without any risk; since your data is aggregated it is important to be considerate of where you are storing your financial information, but there are huge advantages to be had by participating, both in convenience and in access to information otherwise unavailable. There are plenty of good services out there, but I have tried to look at ones I know will work for the UK, if you know others or have any experiences with any please let me know how you have found them.

Next generation wishlists for Christmas

Writing letters to Santa has changed over the years… normally about this time of year I have to vet my Amazon wishlist and co-ordinate with my family via http://www.alliwantforchristmas.com/ to swap wishlists. The site works, but it's done nothing new in the four years I've been using it, at best it offers some possible sites you might find the item you are looking for. The advantage it offers over Amazon's service is that you aren't tied to one retailer and you can offer a link to the best place to buy an item.

There is a new site in town with appropriate Web 2.0 name too; Wishli.st is a site created for the UK market. It has some great unique features, but also some critical downfalls. It breaks the mold by allowing micro-payments towards gifts on your wishlist, so you can pick the things you really want and allow your friends and family to chip in until you have the funds to buy the item outright. The shortfall is that items have to be chosen fromand puchased at a limited list of retailers, meaning you can't find the cheapest on the market and you are restricted on the items you can actually choose.

The existing retail partnerships are predominantly with the websites like Firebox and I want one of those, sites that are aimed at people buying presents, the problem is the stuff they sell tends to be lowcost or at least fun and frivolous with a wide target audience, rather than the kind of items you want to add to a wishlist i.e. specific and specialist items that often relate to a hobby or an interest – where you need that expert existing knowledge to know which item is appropriate. I don't see the point in adding stuff from Firebox; pretty much all their stock is passable and fun, thats the point, but none of it is stuff I really want – it's the stuff i'd buy someone if they didn't have a wishlist.

The micro-payments concept is a good one, but for the idea to succeed they need remove the dependancy on retailers to allow it's use for niche markets. A Web 2.0 app that ignores the Long Tail needs to reconsider it's approach.

Future of Creative Technology Conference

Today I made a trip to DeMontford University to attend their one day conference on the Future of Creative Technology. The morning kicked off with a technology workshop with Jerry Fishenden from Microsoft. He seemed to have a bit of an agenda to push Surface, which seemed unnecessary given the audience, but he did demonstrate something I hadn't seen from Microsoft Research, that allowed 2D space to be plotted into navigable 3D space, in this case Modern art works. But there was no information given on how the data was extrapolated or an envisioned uses of it were. It lacked the crowd computing factor of Photosynth as it used a single image source.

There was a discussion around institutions versus individuals; with the idea of individuals walking away from luddite institutions to setup their own businesses. However I felt this view was rather na

Power of Recommendation

Recommendation has always played a significant role in purchasing decisions. This is why customer service is so important; because you knew if someone had an exceptionally good/bad experience that they would be in the pub that evening telling all their friends. So along comes the internet and suddenly that highly vocal individual can be shouting your praises/damnation to a much wider audience and much quicker. Even if the individual involved doesn’t contribute to a blog, the internet and technology means we are much more connected through means such as text message, instant messenger, Twitter, Facebook etc; meaning we have a much wider circle of influence.

Circle of Friends application on Facebook

It is much easier to maintain relationships with people over greater distances in time and space than ever before, as we aggregate our relationships and syndicate our own personal status. So now we can share with a much wider circle our opinions, as they relate to a product or service, or politics. Facebook is particularly interesting in this context because it is viral by design, pushing out your actions across your network and vice versa.

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So currently we can maintain very wide networks, but we have very little control over the depth of the network. Everyone is blanket labelled a ‘friend’ and it doesn’t reflect that there are some people with whom I’d be willing to share far more information than perhaps I would want to share with the more casual acquaintances on my network. We are just beginning to be able to start adding this depth through services like Plaxo; where we can aggregate our online presences and push them out to filtered groups. Currently the groups are very restricted to just Family, Friends, Work Colleagues. This is a gross simplification of our real very complex relationships. However as we see our ability to connect online develop we are sure to see more complex dynamics reflected. We have already seen some Facebook apps try and make a start at this e.g. Cirlce of Friends and Facebook recently introduced the feature where you can filter your news feed, weighting it more heavily towards certain people and reducing the amount of news you get from others.

Once we have this meta-data layer defined against our network, any recommendations that come out of our network can be weighted appropriately. So if a close friend says she has found a fabulous new product, this will naturally carry more weight with you. Also if a friend who works in a particular field recommends a something related to it then they are already an established voice on the matter and their reputation gives this recommendation more value. We have already seen companies paying individuals with good reputations and networks to recommend their products. However this can be detrimental to reputation as the individual is no longer seen as offering impartial advice, but rather being a walking talking advert.

This dimension of reputation occurs in a tangible way in e-commerce websites like e-Bay . but being able to define a value to a relationship, either through individual and pro-active choice, or through a passive analysis of meta-data then we can add further value to these interactions. This is quite an unusual concept to us currently – to give our relationships a value; it is something we tend to do in a subconscious way and it may seem harsh to us now, but our attention is increasingly valuable and as such I think it is inevitable that we will want to filter the information from our network.

Purchasing decisions need no longer be based on anonymous reviews of third party websites, but by drawing on the knowledge of your network. In some ways we have come full circle from when we were in the pub getting advice from our friends, only now the network we can draw on is much larger and much faster.