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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What Time Is It There?

Gchart is a nice little Google Maps mashup that allows you to input the names of countries or major cities and find out what the local time is as well as international calling codes. Right now it’s 10h45 AM (tomorrow morning!) in Wellington, New Zealand — I’d love to be there.

Adding to Information Overload

If you are a total newsfeed and IM junkie, you can combine these to add to your own personal information overload by using Using this site, you can be notified via MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Jabber, and AIM/ICQ of things of interest in your news feeds. From their site:

Use to be notified instantly when:

* news on a certain topic is posted
* your competitor does something of interest
* something interesting happens with a favorite sports team
* your name or company is written about
* you receive new email

The second to last bullet seems a tad on the Narcissistic side, but, hey, every one has different needs.

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 to see what the next generation of tool might be able to do for you.

Yahoo and TiVo

Not sure what the big hubbub is over the the Tivo/Yahoo announcement. Apparently, you can now schedule TiVo recording from the site. When TiVo introduced the Home Media Option a few years back, online scheduling was always something you could do directly from the web site. Having to traverse the flash advert laden Yahoo gauntlet for anything is torturous at best (and for me, simply to be avoided).

I was curious to see if there was more to this, so I followed the registration link. I stopped cold at the prompt that wanted me to enter my TiVo credentials into a field that read:

This one-time step links your TiVo® box(es) to your Yahoo! ID, so you can schedule recordings from Yahoo! TV any time.

So, if I proceed, then it would appear that Yahoo would now have access to my Tivo viewing habits (and giving nothing of value in return). Of course, I am making an assumption here about what the nature of this ‘linking’ is.

Additionally, Yahoo continues to show it’s disdain for Mac users by creating a registration page that causes Safari to crash unnecessarily.

No thanks, Yahoo.

Google Maps Go Mobile

Earlier today Google released a version of Google Maps called local for mobile that runs on most Java-enabled mobile phones . I was able to easily download the app onto my Nokia 6620 and start making use of it. The experience was much more seamless when I finally found the setting in Nokia’s AppManager to not prompt me every time the app wanted to connect to the web (which was a lot).

One downside that I found is that there is no apparent way to ‘bookmark’ locations (say, your home, or place of business) to make it easier to zoom to places where you commonly find yourself. For that matter, bookmarking would make it easier to get directions though the service because you would commonly want directions to/from your home or place of work. Bookmarking would be a great addition, as I find that anything that keeps keying and mousing to a minimum on a mobile device makes that app/service all the more valuable.

I found the Google offering much snappier (speed-wise) than the previous app that I was using on my 6620 called MGMaps. MGMaps basically served the same function in delivering Google Maps to mobile devices. It may be that MGMaps may go away altogether now that Google has introduced its own mobile application.

Mac Browsers

Use a Mac and tired of your current browser? (or maybe just have too much time on your hands)? Apparently there are 83 or so browsers to choose from. Some of these are a bit of a stretch calling them browsers (realplayer, netNewsWire) just because they have some rudimentary HTML display capability.

Of course, all of the usual suspects are represented in the form of Netscape, Mozilla, Firefox, Camino, and Opera. There are also some interesting variants like the ‘Eric Shore Baur’ browser that in instrumented to measure page load times and allows for playback of web actions.

The State of Public Web Services

A Snapshot of Public Web Services” (warning PDF) appeared in the March 2005 issue of the SIGMOD Record. It discusses how many of the publicly available ‘web services’ are really just data retrieval services or search services. Available services also tend to be fairly poorly documented (fewer than 10 words) and in more cases than not, contain malformed WSDL. In fact, many of the services reported on tend to be more at the ‘Hello, World’ end of the spectrum — their existence in the directory more out of experimentation than utility.

It should be noted that the services in question were trawled out of and the like, so they don’t represent the services or APIs that sites like Flickr, Google, Amazon or others expose.

I believe that it would be very valuable to have an inventory/registry of proper/richer services that are available on the Internet. This would certainly facilitate the growing trend of people wiring up one sites functionality with another sites services to create something altogether different. Such a site could enforce some level of validation and even provide semantic web capabilities such as OWL-S description and composition facitlities to aid the systematic discovery and usage of said services.

Riya Photo Recognition Site (Alpha)

Techcrunch has an article about a new startup called Riya (formerly Ojos) that has some pretty astounding facial and text recognition that you can apply to your uploaded pictures. Aside from the ‘visual’ tagging you can also apply other tags to the pictures as well (which are fully searchable). The screenshots on techcrunch are not to be missed.

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 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.

Flock Developer Release

Not really much there yet. Many of the functions only sort of work. I had trouble with the blog editor, flickr bar and delicious links (all of which are supposed to be ‘core’ function of Flock. I can still do most of the things Flock does from Firefox with a couple of bookmarklets.

Certainly not willing to give up on it yet, but this is NO where near living up to the hype (guess that is the problem with generating a bunch of hype).


Semapedia is a very interesting idea that combines mobile devices and a physical form of ‘tagging’. The idea is that you can create a 3D bar code ‘semacode‘ that you stick on a physical place/thing (say, like a museum or historical site) — with permission of course. A person with a camera equipped mobile phone loaded with the semacode reader software could ‘scan’ the semacode which would resolve to a Wikipedia URL that would tell them more about their current tagged location.

One obvious disadvantage is that the paper printed barcodes are just too easy to destroy either intentionally or by being exposed to the elements. There is also the stigma/paranoia that some may have around having this somewhat cryptic thing attached to their building (associations with war driving abound).

I think it makes a lot of sense for more controlled environments were patrons can use their phones to get more information rather than having to carry around a brochure or the like. In any case, a very creative use of mobile technology and ‘tagging’.

LibraryThing Import

I have commented previously about LibraryThing and mentioned how a nice import utility for data from DeliciousLibrary or other tools would be a great improvement. The developer has contacted me to let me know that just such an import utility exists under the Extras menu item in LibraryThing.

I tried it out over the weekend with my exported data from DeliciousLibrary and it works as advertised. In fact, faster than advertised; it told me that my queue of 177 ISBNs would take several hours to import. They completed importing within 10 minutes.

A great service just keeps getting better! I have added a link to my LibraryThing catalog in the right hand section of this blog, if you are at all curious.

Online To-do List: rememberthemilk

I quite like the functionality of rememberthemilk, an online to-do manager. I find it very straightforward to add, modify, and prioritize tasks. I really like the flexibility in entering dates. For example, you can just enter ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Friday’ and it will input the proper date for you. There is additional functionality to have reminders sent via SMS and email. Calendars/Lists can be shared with other contacts and you can even subscribe to them via iCal on the Mac or via an Atom feed.

I am still exploring what rememberthemilk can do. Everything that I have seen thus far is most impressive and truly useful.

More On Flock

This Business Week article has a bit more substantive information about what the Flock browser is and what it will do:

The Flock browser, which is expected to be released to the public in test form in about two weeks, does everything a regular browser does, but with several important additions.

For one, it makes blogging a snap by eliminating the need to do arcane coding in order to post, change fonts or add photos. Right click the mouse on a Web page, and a blogging wizard comes up that automatically creates links, citations, and quotes that are ready to insert into a blog. A horizontal bar on the browser also can load photos from the photo-sharing site Flickr, so they can be simply dragged and dropped into the blog post.

Moreover, Flock makes it easy to create online bookmarks for Web sites. Visit a Web site and click a “+” button on one of the browser’s toolbars, and that site is saved to a personalized list on the social bookmarks Web site

Those bookmarks can be tagged with useful descriptions and shared with others. Flock also lets people create watchlists of people whose bookmarks they like and form groups with people who link to particular tags. Flock also keeps a history of every Web page a user visits, so they can be found easily later.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this and see how it does with all of the ‘stuff’ in my own infocloud.


I just discovered another custom web page creation site called protopage. It seems that it is (for now) really only intended to be a startup page (unlike the more functional netvibes). As such the functionality is limited to creating groups of web page links and small note snippets. Still, it seems great that being able to create web pages has gotten this easy.

Yet Another Cool Web App

LibraryThing is sort of like flickr for books. You can enter in titles and it will search the Library of Congress and Amazon for matching information to allow you to build you library without having to manually enter in all of the fiddly little details.

What would be really impressive is if something which allows you to easily scan bar codes for books (like Delicious Library) would also allow you to export to LibraryThing, the upfront input ramp-up for LibraryThing would be greatly eased.

Netvibes Rocks!

I stumbled across netvibes this morning. This is very cool. Though Netvibes is currently in early beta, you can create your own web page that aggregates RSS feeds, local weather, gmail, and the ability to add notes to your site (sort of like web stickies. You can drag and drop to arrange things as you like. There is definitely a huge amount of potential here to make this a very compelling tool.

Alas, no Safari support (yet). Firefox for OS X works fine, though.

Looking around a bit more, this seems to be very similar to functionality wise. Start suffers from being a MS sponsored project as well as not having as clean an interface as netvibes.

I also discovered meebo , which is apparently trying to be a web-based IM aggregator (much like I wished that google talk was web-based).

Overall, it looks like commercial grade AJAX apps are starting to take off. And, no, Microsoft, we don’t need your bloated, ill-conceived, proprietary ‘rich client’ software. Thank you very much.