Still Struggling to Define Web 2.0

I really enjoy the World Wide Words web site. A recent entry is struggling with a familiar issue: how does one define ‘web 2.0’. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) they don’t have much more success than others who have tried.

That aside, I find the site fascinating — but, I have always been interested in linguistics and word origins. For example, you can find out why the abbreviation for pounds is lb, and whether the word shot (as in a shot of whiskey) has anything to do with cowboys buying liquor with bullets.

They have a site feed, so why not give it a try? It may be just the thing to get some beneficial stimulation for your brain.

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Websites in a Blink

I really enjoyed Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink and noticed that a recent article in Nature provides further evidence that all it takes is a ‘blink’ to decide if a web site is worthy of attention or not.

Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with the briefest glimpses of web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and asked them to rate the websites on a sliding scale of visual appeal. Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, roughly the duration of a single frame of standard television footage, their verdicts tallied well with judgements made after a longer period of scrutiny.

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Google Homepage And The March of Widgets

Google has added some new content and options to their personalized home page. In addition to drag and drop screen layout, probably the biggest news is the creation of an API to allow for developers to create their own widgets and content. It’s no netvibes, but it is getting better.

First Apple introduces widgets behind the desktop with Dashboard, Yahoo recently provided widgets on the desktop (as well as on newer Tivo DVRs), Opera is pushing widgets on mobile devices and now Google (not surprisingly) is pushing widgets in the browser (or on the web, if you will).

I believe that there is room for all of them; consumers will decide where and how they want their functionality and information delivered to them.

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Free Hostname For Your Mac

nonstopmac has a detailed description of how you can use DynDNS to obtain a free hostname for your Mac.

Why would you ever want to do this? Well, its one way to make it easier to connect to your home computer when you are away from home. As the Internet is a wild place, you also need to take adequate precautions regarding what you expose and how. From the nonstopmac writeup:

For those who are still wondering what am I talking about, DynDNS can be used for giving your IP address a good-looking hostname. This is especially useful in situations where you are using dial-up access or ADSL connections with dynamic IP addresses. By using the DynDNS service with a combination of their software installed on your computer, you can be always available through the same host name. You can use this setup when you are hosting a web server on your local computer or when you want to use service like Virtual Network Computer (VNC) to access your desktop from a far away location. In both of these scenarios, you will need a static address, so the DynDNS service comes quite handy.

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Sun Microsystems Giving Away Software

Sun has announced that they are giving away (providing for free download and use) of all of their server side software and developer tools. I assume that they hope to make money off of services and support (like Red Hat). This also allows them to claim some karma by now having ‘free and open source software’ while making a last ditch effort to compete with Windows.

Frankly, it feels like an act of desperation, as they have seen the open source community eating their lunch in the software arena and Intel in the hardware arena. It also feels like a real opportunity for anyone with an interest in Sun software to download and have a look.

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Mobile Ajax with Opera

Opera has released a beta of their Opera Platform SDK that allows developers to more easily create web applications for mobile phones. The big news here is the ability to create AJAX-style applications where the meat of the application can reside on a server rather than on the phone. I foresee this being a huge benefit as it will allow for the repurposing of existing web services for providing mobile services. Hopefully, this will translate into a flourishing of mobile apps for smartphones.

Along with this announcement, Opera has apparently synched all of the versions of its browser to make it easier to do cross application development. I updated the Opera Mobile browser on my Nokia 6620 to version 8.5 and noticed a bit of a performance increase, the welcome addition of a password manager and the ability to zoom web pages. It should be noted that the 8.5 browser release is different that the Platform described above.

I also have to wonder what Nokia’s reaction to this will be. They recently previewed some screen shots from their Apple webkit-based browser, but there was no mention of an SDK or framework to leverage AJAX-like development. Nokia’s new browser is also only compatible with their newest phones (many of which probably won’t see the light of day in the US market for upwards of a year). Perhaps this will serve as a wake up call to the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world to help developers more easily create mobile apps (and leverage existing resources in the process).

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Sun Java Studio Creator Now Free

If you have been even remotely interested in trying out JavaServer Faces, you might want to pick up a (now) free copy of Sun’s Java Creator IDE (was $99USD). Versions available for Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris and Windows.

If that version of Creator floats your boat, you may want to sign up for the Early Access program for the Creator 2 over at java.sun.com to see what the next generation of tool might be able to do for you.

Online Web Services Programming Class

There is a free online Web Services Programming Class hosted on Yahoo Groups that is starting up today. Note that to participate, you are required to have a Yahoo Groups ID (free, but causes some heartburn to have to sign up).

A free online “Web Services Programming” course is about to
begin on Oct. 26th, 2005 for anyone who wants to learn
Web services programming. In this 13-week course, attendees learn
basic Web Services standards such as SOAP and WSDL, and Java
API’s for Web services such as JAX-WS, SAAJ, and JAXR. The
principles of SOA and relevant technologies such as JBI and
BPEL are also addressed. They also learn how to use NetBeans
IDE effectively for building and deploying Web services.

This course runs very much like a regular college course in
which the attendees are expected to do weekly homework and final
project but it is free and can be taken online. There is
also class group alias where attendees can ask/answer questions.
The complete set of course contents (StarOffice slides with
detailed speaker notes and some audio files, homework assignments,
reading materials, code samples, FAQ etc.) are available on the
website of the course.

The only thing you have to do in order to join the course is
sending an email to

webservicesprogramming-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

For detailed information about this course, please go to the
following class website.

Course website: http://www.javapassion.com/webservices
Course schedule: http://www.javapassion.com/webservices/#ClassSchedule
Course group alias:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/webservicesprogramming/

Sorting through the hype 2.0

The hype-laden rollout of Flock has got me thinking about all of the stuff that is being rolled up and paraded about under the umbrella of the what’s-cool-now ‘Web 2.0’ moniker. Having lived (and worked) through this the first Internet gold rush, it’s a bit puzzling as to what is at the heart of this and if it is really paying attention to other dynamics in the web-space.

There certainly have been some improvements in the end user experience through the evolution of CSS and the ramp up of AJAX interfaces, but this, in and of itself, hardly seems a revolution (sort of reminds me of when web design evolved from frames, to tables, to CSS with a brief detour through detestable flash-only site interfaces).

In addition to more dynamic interfaces, another attribute that most of these new apps share is some sort of an API which allows them to be extended, mixed and aggregated in ways that the original developers never intended or imagined (think google maps). This appears to be another expression of the growing traction of web services and it’s underlying emphasis on interoperability. Besides, once I have my information on the wire, I want to be able to selectively share it at other venues as well. Not that I make use of APIs explicitly to do so, but one of the driving reasons for creating this site was to have a place to link in all of the ‘stuff’ that I have on the web (aka my InfoCloud).

Being able to share and replicate ‘my stuff’ is one of the things that was initially attractive about Apple’s .Mac offering. I could keep bookmarks, calendars, etc in synch between various systems and have them available via the web. To do so, I also need to have my data bottled up in and dependent upon .Mac (and pay an annual fee). Now that reasonable substitutes are appearing, I can see making more use of them and becoming less reliant on the .Mac offerings.

Many of these ‘2.0’ apps seem to be simple-minded extensions of the web-based email systems that have been around for years — except now with a focus on news feeds. How many newsreader applications do we need? It seems that every week a new one is being announced. Thus far, the only newsreader that I have seen that makes a difference is searchfox. Searchfox pays attention to what I pay attention to and presents my feeds based upon what I really want to read. With close to 200 feeds, that is a big value add for me. The relevance seems to be a bit more intelligent than the amazon.com recommendations wherein you buy one CD by, say, David Sylvian and it recommends you all of his CDs rather than artists that are similar to or related to him (as if you couldn’t find all of his CDs by searching by name for them). The creator of searchfox, Esteban Kozak is also genuinely interested in feedback (and very responsive in implementing the best suggestions). I like this app enough that I am in the process of going ‘cold turkey’ with NetNewsWire lite on my Mac at home and Sharpreader at work by converging all of my feeds into searchfox.

Following in the parade after news readers are calendar, events and to-do apps. The best one of these that I have come across is rememberthemilk (which I have commented on previously). I find this app to be truly useful and elegant in its design and execution. The ability to share the lists via the web is of great value. One of the things that the site needs is an API to make it easy to integrate its functionality with other apps (as mentioned above).

Unfortunately, what most ‘web 2.0’ developers seem to miss is the ever growing mobile population in the world. Just try accessing one of the sites on a mobile phone. Prepare yourself for a ugly and frustrating experience. It seems obvious to me that one of the reasons for web-based tools is that I can have access to my information just about anywhere via a browser. The next (obvious) step is to make it available to me anywhere I have my mobile phone/device. Having the functionality of a site available through an API creates an opportunity to create a mobile version (or mashup) of the site.

Another apparent mis-step is around ignoring the aging of the population. I wonder what effect this new style of development will have on accessibility, particularly those who are blind or have low sight that might need a machine reader to be able to take advantage of the Internet at all. Is this, perhaps, where microformats and other tagging technologies take a role in providing a richer experience for those with sight impairment?

In a cynical moment, I could believe that this is just the same greed and me-to attitude ten years on, with developers trying to create something/anything and flip it for a profit. For the time being, I plan on seeing how it evolves and figure out how to apply the best of it.

Learn From The Webgoat

If web security is at all of interest to you then get yourself over to the webgoat project at the Open Web Applications Security Project. Installers are available for Linux, OSX and windows.

WebGoat is a full J2EE web application designed to teach web application security lessons. In each lesson, users must demonstrate their understanding by exploiting a real vulnerability on the local system. The system is even clever enough to provide hints and show the user cookies, parameters and the underlying Java code if they choose. Examples of lessons include SQL injection to a fake credit card database, where the user creates the attack and steals the credit card numbers.