Friday, September 08, 2006

d.construct 2006

So, I'm down in Brighton for d.construct 2006 - alas, I'd already bought my own ticket by the time that the freebies went round. There's something rather deliciously ironic about being given a schwag bag with a tshirt from your own employer in it - not least a sudden pang of guild about LFP's money... although we'll draw a discrete veil over that one, as I don't think I've yet to comply with big aunties employee blog guidelines. Cough.

We've been through three sessions so far, and I've met a few of the usual suspects, and a couple of folk I know online but not in the flesh. It's a very male audience, but that's not unpleasant as it means queues for the loos are small during breaks. Ah, Dave Winer, eat your heart out.

First up was Jeff Barr from Amazon Web Services. To be honest, it felt like a very shiny hour long sales pitch; there was little information there that I hadn't picked up from generally reading stuff on the internet (appart from some of the technical gubbins, which made a lovely X-wingy noise as it flew over my head). Best Slide: the ten thousand mechanical turk sheep were extremely fine, and it's always useful to get usage figures for big sites:

59 million active customers (logged in and purchased something in the last year)
25TB of business and historical data in warehouse
1,080,000 active seller accounts
180,000 software developers registered over 4 years on AWS.
Alexa web services have 3 100Tb web crawler indices, containing 10 billion pages, that roll over every 2 months

(Oh god, two men are sitting next to me talking about 'how widgets for your blog are the bumper stickers of the internet, and how all they need is to get a VC interested... also, there are people with a stall and matching tshirts and some kind of soft toy cows advertising some sort of JavaScript Application platform.. truly truly it is bubble2.0)

The cheerful travelling pantechnicon of Messrs. Hammond and Willison, purveyors of fine APIs to the masses were up next. They were funny, and mentioned the Yahoo Monkey. they didn't sing the song, though, which was a loss. Their facts and figures

1/2billioon users/month for Yahoo worldwide
200,000,000 have yahooid - active users
Yahoo itself is a coallition of 40 smaller product groups

Best Slide: they have one of the biggest problems with hackers in the world - they are the worlds' most hacked website. They illustrated this with a picture of a radical haxxor with his laptop, sitting on a streetcorner. The face was pixellated, yet he looked strangely familiar...

They talked about the internal benefits of a web services framework within a big company; not just the fact that the developer community love you and build stuff, but that actually it frees up innovation within a company - you can prototype stuff fast, without having to ask permission and build on something produced by another business unit. It gives you agility in your innovation and development, and makes testing ideas a quick, easy and creative process. You encourage an internal mashup culture; it allows large organisations to build new products faster, and with lower 'communication overheads'. This is an appealing thing, particularly within the BBC where we're just begining to crack open our systems internally. Nicest thing they showed was the potential to use a flash API (gasp!) for a mapping service, demonstrated by Justin Everett-Church's Pirate and Radar maps. Their key message was 'Find a way to contribute back to the ecosystem' - and that the improvements on international mapping for Yahoo maps were coming soon - in the order of months, rather than years. The most compelling argument for external APIs from a business case was that unless you unlock your data, you offer a market opportunity - and potentially market share - to your competitors. Ordinance Survey take note...

(ooh, apparently the Widget men know someone who 'did fucking insane things when the BBC were going fucking mental setting up their ISP which was madness and there was this Monkey called Babbage as the Icons... all you do is go round your mates in big corporations and bamboozle them with new tech...'. Gosh, I do hope they get the money they want from MySpace.)

An interesting point was raised in their questions; How does one ensure that web APIs remain available in the future? By comitting to build on someone else's platform, and create a business relying on that data, where do you have a long term guarantee that that source will remain there. There isn't an answer to that, but it raises interesting issues about the mayfly existence of web sites (and web2.0 ideas, perhaps). I found myself wondering if Brewster Kahle and the internet archive should start capturing back end server architecture so creative sites could be accessed in twenty, fifty, a hundred years time. Something like flickr could become the Doomesday laserdisc project of the next twenty years unless someone starts capturing script and code and server 'snapshots' going forward. I often wonder what happened to flickr's real time picture IM service...

Next up was Jeremy Keith, on the Joy of API. His talk - from the point of view of the lone developer learning to make products around others' APIs - was excellent. he made an interesting point that his joy reactions to sites over the years have been emotional reactions to the story possibilities therein - when design follows the story, and story flows from design. best slide - a ZX81. His comments on MicroFormats and classes such as hCard and hCalendar turning the whole web into an API were... inspiring. I need to do more research here, though.

So, now it's lunchtime. I'm guarding Yoz's laptop whilst we steal hot 'lectric juice to power our lightup thinking books. More later on this afternoon's sessions if the RSI holds out. And I can get the wifi to work properly on the laptop.

There is, incidentally, a horrible rising queasiness about sitting in a room full of alpha geeks, and realising that you shouldn't have brought the boyfriend's MacBookPro instead of the tablet PC - you might be getting an additional 2 hours battery life, but you'll feel like a complete twat when the rows behind you watch you struggle to work out how to make it connect to the free wifi. Thank god Yoz was there to inform me it was DHCP playing silly buggers, and not just onrushing senility... Tags:


Anonymous said...

A brilliant write up of the day so far, it has been both informative and fun. Looking forward to the rest of it. :)

Tom Anthony said...

A brilliant write up of the day so far, it has been both informative and fun. Looking forward to the rest of it. :)

Bunker said...

well, indeed a very nice round up.

Very interesting to find the question of the person next to me, my buddy from Belgium exactly, on your blog.


Simon said...

Nice to hear I asked an interessting question and indeed, there is no clear answer yet. Think with had a different view from Aral Balkan. See you around.

Ian Betteridge said...

Kim asks: "How does one ensure that web APIs remain available in the future?"

By them being fully documented, and thus being recreatable. This is one of the core problems in computing today - how do we ensure that what we do can still be read/used in 10, 20, 100 years time. It's one of the reasons that I'm switching all my documents to Open Document formats, and why I'm mildly avoiding services that don't provide fully documented APIs.

Ivan said...

OK, I think I have to 'fess up to being one of the widget men. Cos we were going on a bit about them (me and Steve Bowbrick). Snipperoo, actually. But we're not alpha geeks, and it's nothing to do with MySpace, and it's been underway since last year. And you link in your sidebar to MOMB where we are the 18th most anticipated (with 39 people anticipating, natch). And that BBC stuff, well, we've been around for a long time. We remember when the beeb didn't have a website, when they wanted to be an ISP, when their mascot was a monkey called Babbage. But the main thing is - your write up is brilliant, hope I didn't spoil your day.

Ivan said...

Hey Kim, don't you want to publish my friendly comment?

kim said...

Happy to publish your comment Ivan. I just happened to be away for the weekend (because my partner's Dad was rushed to hospital on friday) so regular blog tending wasn't top of the agenda. I mean, not that it is anyway, but this weekend was a bit patchier than usual...

Yes, I remember the days of the BBC pre website too. I've got the drama website from 1996 carefully saved at work... I think the ISP was actually a BBC Worldwide project, ie. the BBC's commercial arm. I'd agree with it being a bit of an odd idea, but the giddy heights of the dotcom boom did funny things to common sense across the board, it seems in retrospect.

Ivan 'Widget Man' Pope said...

I think Babbage was just the good old BBC - we could ask Julian (, he'll know.
Or look here:
'Three years later, on April 13, 1994, the BBC Networking Club "opened for business" at Commissioned by BBC Education to support the BBC2 series The Net--the first program with an online forum via the "Auntie" bulletin board--it was aimed at introducing viewers to the Internet: what it was, how it worked, and what it had to offer. Membership cost 5 [pounds sterling] a month, which gave subscribers access to "early-adopter sites" including "Top Gear," "Tomorrow's World," and Radio 4's "Woman's Hour." It also provided nine-day TV and radio schedules and a "Guide to the Internet" introduced by a character called "Babbage." The BBC Networking Club was an Internet service provider, communication facilitator, information supplier, and Web publisher.'
And, you know, there was no dotcom boom in 1994 (or 95 or 96 or 97 or even 98).
Anyway, what would I know, 'cos I'm just some loudmouthed idiot who launched a web magazine in '93, invented cybercafes, launched .net, started the UK web design industry and invented the domain name industry. Heh. Unlike the BBC, who take several billions in mandatory tax, I have to find people to fund my companies, to employ people, to invent things, to make products people want.
Anyway, hope your partners dad got better. Cheers, Ivan

kim said...

Thanks for the information about the Networking Club, Ivan. I did know a little about it - one of my colleagues was involved with it, (he was also involved with the BBC Telesoftware project back in the 80s!), but I'd not read up on it properly.

For the avoidance of doubt: I'm really not looking to get in to a spat with you; I posted the comments (most of which were in fact from your companion, not yourself) because I found them amusing in a rather arch way; I'm sure you'd easily find many more silly-sounding comments to lampoon if you listened to me in a work meeting. Our industry has developed a habit of obfuscating meaning with jargon and bravado; I'm just as guilty of it as the next new media person.

I am slightly confused, though, by your assertion not to be an alpha geek, and your considerable list of achievements in your later post? I may be misreading your sense/intention, of course; the 'Heh' seems to indicate that you've got a healthy sense of perspective about it, which is always a nice thing.

Dad is out of hospital, and fine, thanks for asking!