Saturday, October 11, 2008

Grassroots rail support

I've travelled on trains, planes and automobiles for so many years now and one thing that has yet to be resolved is telling you what is happening as it is happening. You are often left to try and guess what the problem is, or when the train will arrive - and this is worse at night when there's often no-one around to ask. Well, for years I always intended to build a grassroots support network for transport as the profilferation of mobile devices enabled more people to become involved using SMS and mobile browsing.

Well, below is a rough sketch (it's not too detailed as my son is pushing me to watch an Indiana Jones puppet show he has created, but you'll get the idea).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thoughts on the Cloud API

I have seen quite a few diagrams on cloud computing but not something like the one below - (please tell me if you know of more and i'll update!).

You see what many leave out is that if you build your service on a third party service in the cloud and it closes down, you're screwed. Well, currently you are. You need to find a new provider, swap your data, change the api, modify your internal code. Which in simple terms, means your're screwed.

Now, it's not such a big deal if Amazon is your service (although this should still be a consideration) but if the POINT of all this open web stuff and open source and api's etc etc is to allow the little guy to provide services, then it IT a big deal. The little guy will just NOT get the trust for many businesses and it is a shame. Once their ideas are bought by a bigger company then they get exposure. But surely this is a shitty way to do things. Why not let the little guy in?

A good way for this to happen would be for the "cloud" (and in Scotland we have cloud computing every day of the year, with torrential rain computing thrown in) to support common (i hate saying standard!) API's. oAuth is arguably the most successful example of that to date (with PoCo to come), but OpenID is also another good example (oAuth is not used seamlessly by many a big company).

But surely we need to look at common API's for all services - or at least the service providers do. I want to use provider A today and provider B tomorrow. It should be a configuration change for the client (and a "swap provider" checkbox ;) ).

Internally however there should be a service provider data exchange API that allows swapping of data (and arguably hot swapping for back up - imagine service A and service B backing each other's data up whilst providing the same service!?). So when i ask to move, i can have all my data moved to the new provider (for a fee of course). Here's that API :

OK, so it's a little more complex than that, high level is a good place to start. I also like the idea of a higher level cloud API that provides common services for all kinds of cloud services. I know there has been lots of work on various SOAP style services at W3 and so on (transations, instrumentation etc) - not sure how this thinking all fits in with the cloud stuff but would love to hear/read about it.

One Web, Many Cultures - Reaching Out

I'm not entirely sure where this post is going, nor do i have any conclusions in mind. I have simpy been thinking about this for some years and feel like writing it down. I'm not sure what tone it will have for the person reading, but it is intended to ask some questions rather than make any kind of statement! Let me first say that i am from Scotland and have live in England, Italy, Canada and Chile in the last 15 years - i wrote books and used the web constantly in each.

I listened to Kevin Marks interview with Jemima Kiss at the Guardian and other than Kevin sounding incredibly similar to a friend of mind, the part that jumped out of me was his comments that many of the big social networks have done well out of users they just didn't expect. US technology companies growing "execpectedly" from string user bases in Russia, Brazil, China and so on - in other words from users NOT in North America.

So, I wrote on Twitter :

"that was an interesting interview Kevin. Given the cultural luck many networks
have do you think we need to put more work in involving other cultures right
from the start rather than once the technology is ready?"

Kevin Marks of Google made the point to me on Twitter that :

"the technology is ready, and has been for a while. Finding people to
bridge app ideas to other cultures and language is still hard."

My wording wasn't great (140 characters isn't much!) so this is what i meant....

Much of the technology driving the web is coming from specific locations in the US - mostly California - there is some input from the rest of us through discussion groups and so on, but primarily it is driven offline. This is understandable on many points due to the huge concentration of top people over there who are much like myself - driven and excited by the potential of the web as a platform that can fit into the daily life of everyone on the planet - in the many different ways people will use it. Also, at the moment virtual working groups are still a work in progress.

Now, oftentimes i get frustrated that i'm not amongst it - i had hoped to some years back startig with OpenID - (every week on twitter there is another cool event somewhere in the US where all the guys and gals get together to push these things forward). However, something that must be more frustrating is little involvement other cultures in the rest of the world must feel - at least i speak (bad) English and can follow in the forums and blog posts (and every so often post in the forums). What if you speak Chinese and want to use oAuth? Or Spanish? Say you want to add to it or suggest a change? There are a few involved, but this is very much the exception and if you check the board membership for most of these initiatives you can see they are based in the US and often (but not always) part U.S. web companies.

I think it is a problem waiting for a solution - the problem is how to integrate other languages and cultures so that the open web can be something that fits for everyone. If Orkut surprisingly managed to get a dominant user base in Brazil, was there something different to what other social networks were offering which made this happen? Does anyone know? In Africa it is suggested the uptake of mobile phones will continue to be huge - how do these efforts fit into their plans for a social web?

There are many of these folks who do a lot of evangelizing for these efforts so perhaps they can get to know active people who could get involved in the core specifications from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and so on. It's worth remembering this IS one web, but has many cultures and what fits one may not fit all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thoughts on Using Netflix’s New API

OK - I have read through Using Netflix’s New API: A step-by-step guide by Joseph Smarr and tried out a few of the things mentioned.

My only irritation in the excellent efforts Netflix have done are around the anomalies you can see in the API workflow.

i'm sure they have some good reasons for diverting from the "standard" process and perhaps some view to these may be useful.

In addition it may suggest some extension points are needed that could be added to oAuth so that rather than hacking these things we could simply add some optional extensions (which are generic such as "dynamic parameter" rather than "userid") and can be plugged into any oAuth library.

The fact this can even be done is excellent but in using it it would be nice to just have a graphical pipeline for every site that shows where they may have used some of the optional filters during the oAuth process.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Copy and Paste between OpenID's

In case you missed it i've added a new feature that allows you to Copy and Paste data between OpenID's.

More information can be found here.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

TESCO miss the point on the web and PR

Tonight we were expecting a home delivery from Tesco in Glasgow at 5pm. At 7.55 PM with the kids wandering where their milk was, we got a call saying they won't be coming due to "staffing issues". I am furious for obvious reasons - none worse than the fact i now need to go shopping to get breakfast for the kids for tomorrow and it is really late and pouring outside.

I am writing to them in response to an email i received so i will keep you updated and see how things progress (or don't).


Mr. Livingstone here. I included Terry Leahy in this and additionally will blog what happens at :

Are you taking the piss? We have a 2 year old and a 5 year old who were waiting on milk before bed time because you were due to deliver before 7. You phone 1 HOUR late on a Saturday night to tell us this, asking if we can "come get it" !? You had from 5pm at the very,very latest to know of any apparent staffing issues.

What is WORSE is this pathetic general letter you have sent us - you never even took the time to send something personal. We never even had an opportunity to file any complaint and "you have been dissatisfied" is an understatement.

I would have been irritated at a cancellation earlier, but calling 1 hour later than the latest it was supposed to be here combined with a pathetic general letter (I assume the typists also had the evening off due to the rain) means we will no longer bother doing business with you and move to Asda or equivalent.

Additionally, I am a high profile online UK blogger and Internet consultant so you can bet a few people will hear about it and i will be looking out for someone at Tesco who can look into this.
Now I have got to go out into the pissing rain at 8 PM on a Saturday night to get milk for tonight and the kids breakfast for tomorrow morning.

For what it's worth - you don't need to concentrate on staff issues - you need to look at your PR... a phone call earlier in the day would have saved hassle for all of us.


> From:
> Subject: Tesco Online Vouchers
> Date: Sat, 4 Oct 2008 19:51:19 +0100
> Dear Mr Livingstone
> Thank you for notifying us of your complaint. We value our customers' feedback, which helps us to monitor and improve our services.
> We are sorry to hear that you have been dissatisfied with the service you recently received from Tesco. As an apology we would like to offer you a ? 10.00 eCoupon, with our compliments, to spend on your next grocery order on To use this eCoupon simply type in the code XXXXXXXXX when you reach Checkout. This eCoupon can be used from 4 Oct 2008 to 4 Jan 2009
> If you have any questions, you can also e-mail us at Or you can contact our Customer Helpline on 0845 722 55 33 between 9am and 11pm Monday to Friday, 9am and 8pm Saturday and from 10am to 6pm on Sundays.
> Best wishes,
> -
> Tesco.Com Limited
> Company Number: 3942522
> Registered in England
> Registered Office: Tesco House, Delamare road, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire EN8 9SL

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Syndication in 2009

Had some thoughts on what could be done with Feed Aggregation sites such as and where it may all go. I decided to consider where we are, the problems we currently have and the inevitable move towards syndication for all.

This is a picture of where we stand today - a very much limited set of pre-defined feeds we can subscribe to (some such as twitter are doing some good work on improving this for their search).

So where are we going? Well, everyone needs to open up - and there are a whole load of good advantages to doing so. Personally, i think the fact we will be able to write complex queries is a major advantage - users are just never going to learn anything more than AND/OR - but we can improve their results by employing the advanced capabilities of search engine logic and API's.

Additionally we want to start using the Semantic Web, but how a user would work with Google Base or FreeBase etc isn't entirely straightforward. It really comes down to either providing an interface they can build upon or writing the queries for them - perhaps in a templated more to substitute their specific query (ala OpenSearch).

Whatever method is used people want RSS/Atom. Feeds just now are starting to get out of control because even a reliable source have a small percentage of data you really want. We now need to be able to write custom queries to request exactly what we want. To join, filter, deduplicate and so on.

I fully expect in the next year or so that the advances that have already started in these areas will only gain momentum and make it a hell of a lot easier for us to get results.

Will be see a "RSS" button on each page of the Google Search results by the end of 2009?