ePortfolios and the digital lifestyle

March 31, 2006 | Leave a comment

A TV remote control that can display XML-based widgets? Whatever next?

People have been talking about things like fridges with flat panel displays for just about an eternity now, but I’ve never really seen the point. To-do lists are great, for sure, but I think most families would prefer to buy a $10 whiteboard than a $1000 smart fridge. But what if the kinds of widgets we’ve seen popping up on the Mac OS Dashboard and the upcoming Windows Vista Desktop could be taken with you? So for example, a businessman might want to keep track of his stock, and a widget for that could be carried around and displayed on the devices nearest to him – the fridge, the TV remote, the dashboard of his car, his cellphone, his computer desktop. Pardon me while I disappear into speculateville for a minute or two.

You see, I think this might be an acceptable use for the dreaded RFID, or something similar – and personal profiles in the user-centric Elgg model. Imagine if you carried around a personal profile with you, but every item of data on it was access restricted. So for example, using some kind of affordable computer interface, you could assign some information to be readable by your business partners, others to be readable by your spouse and children, some to be readable by all. And then sensors in the environment – sort of like the ones in new Japanese cigarette vending machines – picked out the information you made available to them and altered their functions accordingly.

So far this isn’t far from what people are discussing already. But let’s add an extra level to this: what if there were lightweight, standards-based software tools embedded in the tag as well? So as you walked from place to place, your stock quotes or assignments tracker followed you around, possibly sensing your location and reacting accordingly (you might want to make your IM widget available in your bedroom, but not the boardroom; you might want a flight arrivals tracker to display on your cell for a certain amount of time only). Similarly, you might have made some of your personal preferences available in your eportfolio, and the environment might adapt to suit them, sort of like Bill Gates’s house does at the moment. Alternatively, you might be able to perform a search, to find out who in the room has an interest in ecology, for example, and perhaps trade some papers you’ve written. The key, of course, is that you control the access to each of these items; in this kind of setting you’d probably want strong encryption on everything else. But imagine the possibilities.

However, at this precise moment in time I would give up this whole read-write web shebang for a cure for the common cold. I hereby ask for your favourite cold remedy while I sip at yet another mug of lemsip.

Hive 7: a virtual world in a browser

March 30, 2006 | Leave a comment

Not to say I told you so, but This is only the beginning – ajax (and, I’m sure, other technologies that will peek out from around the corner before we know it) is on the up.

I really don’t think it’ll be long before the browser is everything we need to get most tasks done, and that’s no bad thing. What it does do is push commercial software into an entirely new age of revenue; open source applications are likely to be less able to keep up a centralised server-based environment, whereas suddenly commercial software vendors can charge a monthly fee to access their product. I’m sure open source software can engage in a more distributed set of hosting – in other words, there might be seventy different places to use a particular open source wordprocessor – but it’s more than likely that 99% of them will be supported with fees or advertising. And to be honest, as people get used to text ads I suspect their price is going to go through the floor, as banner ads did six years ago.

Nonetheless, the implications for universities and public organisations are huge – can you imagine if you could just pick up an open source app and stick it on a central application server? No more license fees, no more compatibility headaches, no more calls to Microsoft Support at $foolish a call …

How accurate is Wikipedia?

March 27, 2006 | Leave a comment

Nature “cooked” its article on Wikipedia, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has claimed. It’s worth noting that The Register, which hosts the linked article, isn’t a bastion of balanced journalism (and often contains anti-web 2.0 invective), but it certainly sounds like something fishy may have been going on. At the end of page 2 there’s the full text of Britannica’s original complaint, which may help you decide.

Personally, I’ll tell you the truth: I’m not that fond of public wikis. They certainly have their uses in intranets and small groups (I actually think a fully-featured wiki can serve as a useful intranet all on its own), but when you invite the general public to edit a site you’re letting yourself in for a world of hurt. Or at least, a world of spam, ego-boosting, competition-eliminating and dodginess.

Although the theory of public editing is sound for articles that lots of people know something about, factual accuracy diminishes for more obscure topics, purely because if something is wrong it’s likely to take longer

On the road again

March 24, 2006 | Leave a comment


Sorry for the slow updates – as you can see, we’re on the road again. We’ve had some very interesting discussions; it’s been great to meet the team here at MIT. Thanks to David Wiley for flying us over.

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