There ought to be a web hacker Oscars

February 28, 2011 | 1 comment

eggshell scriptCongratulations to all the winners at last night’s Academy Awards. I haven’t managed to see Black Swan yet, but I will before the week is out.

So here’s a thought: there should be a web hacker equivalent. No, not the Webby Awards, nor the Crunchies, but a bona fide celebration of bedroom hackers, coffee shop startups and people slinging really great code, libraries and projects – the people who really make the web tick. Categories might include:

  • Coolest API
  • Best documentation
  • Best hardware hack
  • Most disruptive idea
  • Best development essay
  • Best open source community
  • Best hackspace

Aside from kudos, prizes might include a small “+1” statuette, a selection of development tools, and cloud hosting. I bet some savvy infrastructure providers would be willing to sponsor the whole thing.

What do you think? What would you add?

Photo credit: eggshell script by Rakka, released under a Creative Commons license.

Where to find me at SXSW

February 27, 2011 | Leave a comment

I’m stoked to be at this year’s South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin.

As well as enjoying the talks, attending events and enjoying wandering around one of my favorite cities in the world, I’m appearing as part of two panels:

The Why & How Of Decentralized Web Identity with Blaine Cook and Christian Sandvig (March 12, 11am in the TX Ballroom 2-4 at the Hyatt)

Wikileaks, the Web, and the Long, Strange Journey of Journalism with James Moore and Scott Braddock (March 15, 9:30am in the Town Lake Ballroom at the Radisson)

Power!In both cases, these are part of a stream. If you’re interested in decentralized identity, you’re probably going to want to start with Federating the Social Web, a panel with Status.net’s Evan Promodou, TummelVision’s Kevin Marks and Socialcast’s Monica Wilkinson, which starts at 9:30am in the same room. Meanwhile, if you want to hear more about Wikileaks, you may want to stick around for Wikileaks: The Website That Changed the World?, with Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, Vanity Fair contributing editor Sarah Ellison, and ProPublica managing editor Stephen Engelberg, which takes place in the Town Lake Ballroom at 12:30pm.

I’m very excited about working with the participants at both events. I’m pleased to say that James Moore, my co-panelist for the Wikileaks event, is a colleague at Latakoo, and it’s a pleasure to have found another way to work with him. You may know him best for his book Bush’s Brain, about George W. Bush and Karl Rove’s role in his presidency; he’s made a name for himself as an incisive political commentator in print, on television and in documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11. Here are his not inconsiderable contributions to the Huffington Post. For his Wikileaks panel, he’s brought Edward R Murrow award-winning investigative journalist Scott Braddock on board, and I’ll be there to provide technical and web culture context.

Blaine Cook, meanwhile, was the primary author of both OAuth and Webfinger, which are two of the most important building blocks for the decentralized social web; they’ve been influential in how web applications have been designed and built over the past few years. Formerly lead developer at Twitter, he’s now part of Osmosoft, a part of British Telecom that works on open source, web-based collaboration tools. As well as kindly asking me to join him on his panel on decentralized identity, he’s secured the wisdom of Christian Sandvig, who is Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Finally, although I won’t be speaking at this one, my colleague at the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab Rohan Gunatillake will be speaking with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s CEO Kath Maitland about Edinburgh, Austin and the Future of Festivals on March 14th. If you’re interested in digital and the arts, or my work as Geek in Residence at the festivalslab, this will be worth your time.

If you’re in Austin this March, I’d love to see you at either of these events, or anywhere else. I’ll be heavily using Twitter during the festival, so you can always message me there, or drop me a note here in the comments. It should be a lot of fun.

Why HP’s take on WebOS could be a very big deal

February 10, 2011 | 4 comments

Jon Rubenstein introduces new HP TouchPadYesterday, HP finally delivered an iPad competitor I can get excited about, not just by creating an elegant piece of hardware, but by taking a step back and outthinking their competition. Unlike the iPad, the TouchPad is part of a seamless technology ecosystem that also encompasses smartphones, PCs and printers, all running the same operating system and sharing through the same wireless infrastructure.

Printing, file-sharing, synchronization and even charging just work without cables or configuration. It’s clever stuff, and only a company like HP – with well-accepted products in virtually every technology market segment – could have pulled it off. Not only does the TouchPad run their recently-acquired WebOS; so do their Palm Pre phones, and so will their desktops and laptops.

Before the iPad, tablets were a jokey afterthought in the gamut of home devices, largely governed by Bill Gates’s pen-bound vision for how those devices should behave, and Apple’s previous failure with the Newton. With the iPad, Apple turned them into a must-have accessory that made most domestic computing tasks easier. The 3G version beat expectations by eschewing contracts, making mobile Internet use both more attractive and affordable. As soon as it launched, it seemed like a wonderful progression. I love mine: it’s been used to write code, fix servers, write and read articles, read entire novels, watch movies and kill time on the plane. It’s not that I couldn’t do without it. I wouldn’t want to – even despite the crashing applications, slow sync times and horrible iTunes user experience.

But competition in the market is healthy for consumers. It drives prices down, quality up, and gives us all choices. But for some reason, nobody’s managed to provide a satisfactory competitor to the iPad. This may relate to the app store model: because Apple takes 30% of all app store sales, it can sell its devices at a lower margin than its competitors. Android tablets, on the other hand, really need to use the Android Market, which is shared between them – and while cellphone carriers get a cut, tablet manufacturers don’t. That means, for example, that the Motorola Xoom will cost $799 – $300 more than the cheapest iPad. Because everyone expects the Apple device to be at the top end of the market, Android offerings need to be priced below it, particularly when they’re directly competing feature-for-feature. It’s beginning to seem like this might be impossible.

What’s cool about the HP offering is that it doesn’t just create competition: it actually makes the iPad look clunky, which is something nobody else has managed yet. What’s more, they have an Apple-like advantage in their homegrown App Catalog, and by including printers, they’ve brought ink cartridges into the pricing ecosystem, so the up-front cost should be low. The seamless wireless integration between devices makes it perfect for business as well as home use, and WebOS’s reliance on web technologies makes it attractive to developers like me.

That’s the key. It’s not just that I’m excited to use them; HP have made me excited about developing for WebOS devices. Taken in conjunction with Android’s growing dominance, not to mention the rumor of two new iPads before December, it’s going to be a very interesting year.

Photo: Jon Rubenstein introduces new HP TouchPad, by Robert Scoble. Shared under a CC license.