Please, keep it simple

February 24, 2012 | 6 comments

I really feel like Microsoft turned a corner a few years ago, and I’ve been impressed with their decision-making for a while. Windows Phone? Pretty neat, actually. “Authentically digital” interfaces? A thousand times yes. Simplified Windows 8 branding? Completely agree.

Their decision to simplify their application line-up is another smart move. Your Windows Live ID is now just your Microsoft account; Windows Live Mail is just Mail; Zune Music Player is just Music. And so on.

Just as they’re removing all those bevels and shines with their authentically digital Metro interface, they’re removing the gimmicky branding that’s dogged software naming over the last ten years. Names like Windows Live Photo Gallery are confusing, they smack of design-by-committee, and, contrary to the presumed intention, they sap the product of any discernible personality. Just freaking call the thing Photos and concentrate on making it useful.

Kudos to Microsoft on making that decision.

Startups should also learn from this. Don’t try and invent your own vocabulary: your users won’t thank you for unnatural branding that clutters up your interfaces and forces them to think about what your feature actually does. If it’s a photo gallery, call it Photos, or, y’know, Photo Gallery. If it’s a music player, call it Music. And concentrate on making it fantastic.

In other words, differentiate your product by making it the best damn product of its kind. Anything else is disingenuous.

Update: Note that I’m not arguing against brands here! But minimize your brands. Twitter has tweets, because a tweet was a new thing (a 140-character status message). But Instagram has photos rather than Instaclips, Asana has tasks, etc etc. I’m not arguing that Google should have been called “Search” at all – but Google Docs is a reasonable name, rather than Google Pro Suite or something.

Another update: Stephen Downes got in touch with me to let me know there’s a racist meaning for this phrase. As Stephen pointed out to me, according to Wikipedia, the phrase predates the racist version – but nonetheless, I will avoid it in future. Racism is against everything I believe in, and I apologize to anyone who may have been upset by the association. I’ve altered the post title.

How to stop your images from being pinned to Pinterest

February 20, 2012 | 9 comments

Pinterest screenshot

Pinterest is an interesting tool, and a lot of people I know love it.

This is how it works. You maintain a set of pinboards for different kinds of images – for example, I’ve got pinboards for logos, app wireframes, and interesting visuals. If you visit a site that has an image you’d like to keep, or share, you click a “pin it” button in your browser, and that image is copied to one of your pinboards.

Obviously, not everyone loves this. It arguably pushes the envelope of fair use, and will probably torch it completely once the owners attempt to monetize. Although images are linked to their origin pages, the attribution isn’t visually striking, and it’s not like the web is actually shared under an attribution license. I’m not a lawyer, but some people might see it as copyright theft.

To answer this, Pinterest have created a meta tag that you can stick at the top of your site: meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin”. If it’s present on the parent page, Pinterest will refuse to copy your images (although I presume you can get around that by loading an individual image in the browser). Hackers are, rightly, protesting that this sets an unmanageable precedent: imagine having to individually opt out of having your content copied by thousands of different applications by having to stick thousands of different meta tags at the top of every page. It’s dramatically unscalable.

Pinning is not a million miles away from Tumblr‘s reblogging, and it seems reasonable that there should be a meta name=”republish” content=”no” meta tag that covers all of these services.

Until then, here’s some dubious fun you could have at your own risk (if you don’t want to include the meta tag). This was pretty common about ten years ago, when hotlinking images could cause major bandwidth bills for the owner.

  • Currently, the HTTP user agent for the bot that actually copies images for Pinterest is Pinterest/0.1 +
  • The JavaScript bookmarklet works through your browser, of course, but it sets the HTTP referer for the page to a URL starting with

I’d detect Pinterest based on user agent, not referer – there are many situations where referer could be stripped out. This is true for user agent too – this isn’t guaranteed to work 100% of the time, and depends on your server setup – but there are only two parties to worry about in this scenario: your server, and Pinterest’s. (If you’re filtering the bookmarklet, you also have to worry about configuration changes in the user’s browser.)

All you need to do is filter requests by user agent in your web server’s graphics folder. If you’re running Apache with mod_rewrite, you could create an .htaccess file in your graphics folder with rules like:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Pinterest.*
RewriteRule .*\.png$ copyright.png

The above rewrites any requests for PNG files to copyright.png. The contents of that graphic will be pinned to Pinterest instead of the intended image.

(PS: want to try it out? Try pinning the image illustrating this blog post.)

Pinwheel, Outmap and the literally global web

February 17, 2012 | Leave a comment


When I said my final goodbyes to my team at Curverider and switched off for the day, I sat on my sofa and asked myself: what am I going to do next?

I had the beginnings of an answer already. People were beginning to take the web out into the world, rather than consume it at their desks. It seemed reasonable to create a geographic database of stuff – everything from photos and notes through to scientific readings. I called it Outmap. You would be able to browse these thematically, share them privately, or just see what was near you. Free users could post simple pre-defined kinds of content (which could be commented on and shared, of course). Paid users would be able to create new fields and potentially store entire databases with Outmap as their core. Each set of notes could be crowdsourced (e.g. to create a map of free wifi hotspots) or published (for your own notes, memories and photos).

Technologically, it was the right moment. Google Maps had become one of the most-used APIs on the web. The iPhone 3G had come out the previous summer, and was the first really mass market smartphone to have onboard GPS. And the HTML5 geolocation API had just been released, allowing any web page to ask for the current physical location of the user.

Business-wise, I had strong interest from environmental organizations, rights groups, top-tier universities and other great enterprise users. But alas, for non-technical reasons too irritating to get into here, I had to shelve it. (I did briefly reuse some of the back-end code for Onflood, an experiment in geotagged conversations.)

Three years later, enter Pinwheel.

I don’t know the team and had nothing to do with the product. Nor do I want to imply that this is what I would have released – Pinwheel looks beautiful, and the team (one of the co-founders is Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr) seem to have imbued the concept with a scrapbooky, airy quality that complements the name. But I am pleased that someone has built a service with a similar thought process.

I can see people leaving notes for their friends around the cities that they love. I can even see sending a set of mapped notes to Celia (“do you remember when we ..?”). It’s a lovely concept, that is one great use for the location web.

We’ve been so focused on social for the past ten years or so, that we seem to have forgotten the other networks that tie us together. Locations are interesting: you can represent them as discrete data (a latitude and a longitude), they have strong ties to who we are (where we were born, where we grew up, where we had our first kiss, our favorite view, etc), and can be used with social information to allow you to both express yourself and discover new things and places. Review sites and apps like Foursquare have only scratched the surface; in the future, the location web may be a new fabric of information that almost literally sits on top of everything.

Introducing the latakoo iPhone app

February 13, 2012 | Leave a comment

We launched our iPhone app today. By compressing your video before you upload it to the web, latakoo Flight Mobile makes it easier to send high-definition video from your iPhone over a cellular connection. And because it’s latakoo, your video is private, sharable, and beautiful.

latakoo iPhone app

Here’s the official press release.

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