Innovations


6
Aug 11

Happy Birthday, Interwebz!

20 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee published the world’s first website at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. The Internet had been around since 1969 and the original proposal was drafted in 1989, and you could also argue that it wasn’t really “born” until there was a second web-server online, in December of 1991, making the World Wide Web a distributed network. That said, today’s a pretty good day to mark as the tipping point in the development of our digital world.

Early screenshot of http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html using the NeXT browser

What, no AdBlock?

On that day, the world found a new way of sharing information and connecting beyond borders and boundaries and with no barrier to entry. In twenty years, it’s grown to be the single most important innovation for civilisation since electricity. So important, Berners-Lee has called for it to be recognised as a fundamental human right: “It’s possible to live without the Web. It’s not possible to live without water. But if you’ve got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger.

Big talk, but if anybody can claim to have shaped the 21st century, it’s him.

Here’s to the next 20, wherever they take us!

Follow Shane on Twitter: @shane_casey

11
Mar 11

Show & Tell #7: Mission to Molehill

i can has hardware accelerashun?Here’s a run-down of what we covered last night. It’s link heavy so you’ll find lots more info if you go exploring a bit more. If it doesn’t make sense shout out in the comments and I’ll catch you up on anything you missed.

 

Molehill

This changes everything. Again.

This week Adobe released their pre-beta (they call it an ‘Incubator’) release of what will eventually be Flash Player 11. Codenamed ‘Molehill’ it caused massive excitement at Adobe Max (see previous Lab post here) and it’s making waves all over again because now we can play with it ourselves. So if you’re feeling adventurous (this is pre-beta software remember, I’m taking no responsibility if your machine melts down), download the Incubator Flash player and join in the fun.

If you’ve already got Flash Player 10.2, you should already be seeing performance boosts on video sites such as YouTube and BrightCove thanks to the new StageVideo API. StageVideo hands off the processing of video to the GPU so there’s less strain on the CPU. Get it? If not, trust me on this, utilising hardware acceleration like this dramatically improves performance. PixelBender was a start, and 10.2 continues this approach.

Molehill is taking the focus on improving performance on to the next logical step, 3D. You can see the performance in this video with some pretty hardcore environment mapping and interactive reflective surfaces.

If you’re playing along at home, you can try out the rippling water and the reflective figure yourself.

One of the areas that I’m expecting to see some really exciting innovation is in web-based gaming. The Max Racer demo that I featured in the previous post looks really incredible and I love this one… Zombie Tycoon.

3D gaming in the browser has come on loads in recent years, the main players being Unity3D and Shockwave (and possibly Virtools) but they’ve all struggled to gain widespread penetration. Others like Quake Live have developed their own bespoke browser plug-ins that have some pretty impressive performance but have stubbornly remained stuck in their niche. Flash has lagged behind with 3D performance but Molehill has changed all that. Combine that with Flash’s 99% penetration and super-fast upgrade adoption and you’ve got a perfect storm for game developers.

If you fancy playing with some more demos, check out Lee Brimelow’s collection of links to lots more cool Molehill demos. Hours of fun!

This is a part one of Show & Tell #7′s round up. Check part two here.

Follow Shane on Twitter: @shane_casey

31
Dec 10

Mobilising the Web – A necessary evil?

The mobile ecosystem is extremely diverse with more and more devices being released using a variety of different software. Although the iPhone is having the most impact on the mobile industry over all else, mobile web browsing still only accounts for around 4% of webpage views (Dec 2010). And despite all the noise, the iPhone’s not the only one out there.

Of this 4%, Mobile Safari only commands 23.44% of the market (17.51% on the iPhone, 5.93% on iPod Touch) – not much of a lead on Opera Mobile, Nokia & BlackBerry’s browsers. In fact there are 5 very different mobile browsers within 4% of each other, making a very fractured ecosystem.

Browser Market Share
Safari 23.43%
Opera 20.1%
BlackBerry 17.87%
Nokia 15.68%
Android 13.23%
Other 20.1%

With the constant growth in mobile devices, client requirements / briefs for creating mobile friendly services are commonly very vague. Many things need to be considered before building for multiple devices. For example:

  • What devices are we building for (desktop/tablet/smart phone/WAP)?
  • Defining device groupings based on device capabilities (e.g. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Video, Flash support etc)?
  • Create functionality, restraints and support for each device grouping.

This can prove frustrating to clients as sacrificing important functionality for differing devices can be a bitter pill to swallow.

This approach can also be increasingly confusing, frustrating and discouraging for traditional ‘desktop web’ developers and consequently focus on optimising their sites for just one device… the one in their pocket. Ironically, if you suggested to a developer that they only built for one desktop browser they’d look at you like you just insulted their mother.

With the mobile ecosystem being as fragmented as it currently, it is hard to see clients spending the time and money on developing specifically for the 5 big name browsers  individually. So what is the way forward? Do we just develop versions with Safari and Opera in mind and cover as much of the market share as possible? Or will we see a move towards building sites which degrade gracefully throughout the mobile browsing ecosystem?

Follow Rob on Twitter @robert_lowe

24
Nov 10

Show & Tell #5: The Final Frontier

So much to cover this week… we started with Marine’s animation presentation and here’s the rest of the news…


Google Vs Facebook… again

As Russell pointed out, we spend a huge amount of time at Show & Tell talking about Facebook. The truth is though, with a user-base of 500 million and some of the most aggressively pursued ambitions in the sector, it’s impossible to ignore the moves they make.

In a lot of ways, Facebook is shaping up to be the new Google. Recent statistics have shown people are spending more time accessing the Internet through Facebook than ever before and, as ever, the marketing spend follows the crowd. For advertisers, targeted marketing is where the smart money is and Google and Facebook are natural competitors in this space. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, put it well when he said “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”. Google has unparalleled information in profiling our behaviour online, but with Facebook becoming more and more people’s portal to the wider web they’re building valuable data to add to their existing knowledge of the Social Graph.

Last week Google announced they were cutting off Facebook’s ability to import Gmail contacts, calling Facebook’s system a one-way street of data – Facebook encourage users to pull contact lists from all the major email providers to find your contacts, yet they don’t allow you to do the reverse and export a list of your Facebook contacts. And Google have a valid point about Facebook’s hypocrisy; we’ve seen the exact same move when Facebook shut down Twitter’s ability to find contacts through your Facebook profile. Not only that, they do allow certain partners to access this data – just not their users.

Facebook messaging

All of this was precursor to Facebook’s big announcement at … that they’re rolling out @facebook.com addresses to their users. However, this isn’t just email – the new Facebook messaging combines email, IM & SMS communication into one conversation. The idea is that we shouldn’t have to try to figure out what communication method to use when there are so many available. Send a message through Facebook and the recipient can set their preferred mode and your message gets automatically routed to mobile phone or inbox for you.

Sound good to you? Me neither. This really feels to me like Facebook are solving a problem that doesn’t exist – except for them. More data = better advertising revenue for Facebook and they know that any communication out of their ecosystem is lost to them.

The blogosphere has been full of the same ‘Gmail killer’ narrative that fits so conveniently with all of the recent clashes between Google & Facebook. Gmail is the most rapidly growing email services, mainly because it’s excellent. Google were the first to set virtually unlimited storage limits and threaded email conversations have spread from Gmail to other email systems the way tabs did to browsers. My problem with the notion that Facebook mail will damage Gmail is that they’re different user-bases – the average Gmail user is the more tech-savvy email user while Facebook’s demographic trends toward students, teens and “soccer moms”. Facebook does infringe on Google’s data monopoly but realistically I expect to see more of an impact on Hotmail and Yahoo!’s numbers than Gmail’s.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook can attract people to their system as their primary email provider but I’d predict the real market is the under-20s. If you haven’t left school or university yet, odds are that most of your communication will fit quite easily to the channels of your existing social graph through Facebook. But the real obstacle is the corporate perception of Facebook as a time-waster, not a productivity tool. Huge numbers of workplaces block Facebook and realistically that will make an @facebook.com email address unworkable for millions of people.

Personally, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’d have any sensitive information dependent on Facebook. How long will it be until Zuckerberg decides that email privacy is something only old people and squares worry about and exposes everyone’s inboxes to 3rd-party marketing?

iAds

Another regular topic for us is Apple’s iOS platform. This week we had a look at the Apple’s iAds system that allows full-screen, interactive, HTML5 ads right inside an app.

Launched with iOS4, the iAd platform is Apple’s first foray into the advertising market and yet another front in their ongoing war with Google (spotting a trend?). Check out this video to see what they can do…

Essentially you can build an app inside an app. iAds give huge scope to advertisers to do create interesting engaging content, capture data, play video and more, without having to kick the user out of the app to the browser.

So, where’s the catch? Well, first off there’s the 60:40 split with Apple. That’s right, 40% of all advertising revenue through their platform goes to Apple and the remaining 60% to the app developer. And as ever, Apple retain final control over the ads served on their platform and that’s ruffled a few feathers.

Last month Adidas cancelled their $10m campaign, with sources quoted as saying “Apple CEO Steve Jobs was being too much of a control freak.” Earlier in the year, Chanel also pulled a similar sized campaign from the network for similar reasons. Apple claim to have signed up over half of the top 25 of the top advertisers but it remains to be seen whether this the Adidases and Chanels they lose are worth losing to maintain that high-quality ‘Apple experience’.

#IAmSpartacus

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

That was the tweet that (five days later by the way) was picked up by the authorities and led to the eventual arrest and trial of Paul Chambers in what’s become known as the ‘twitter joke trial’. The judge however, didn’t see the funny side and viewing it as “clearly menacing” has resulted in Chambers losing his job, a criminal conviction and fines and legal costs of over £3,000.

The twitterverse, predictably, has erupted in outrage over the ruling. 1,000s have retweeted and made their own similarly ridiculous threats using the hash-tag #IAmSpartacus in Kubrickian solidarity. Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers’ fine and numerous fund-raising efforts.

On a similar note, a Chinese woman who retweeted a satirical call to attack the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo was summarily snatched up by the Chinese authorities. She’s been sentenced to a year of ‘Re-education Through Labour’ by the Chinese authorities, which I’m sure is every bit as scary as it sounds. As if being sentenced to a year’s hard-labour without trial wasn’t bad enough, she was arrested on what was supposed to be her wedding day and no-one knew what had happened to her until this week. Let’s see how many tweets this story gets.

Surrendering control

And finally, we watched this TED talk about Mr Splashy Pants the whale.

It’s a great story about the importance of realising you can’t control the Internet. The web is by its very nature distributed, anarchic and organic. Putting your message out online requires a certain amount of faith that your message will survive, no matter what social networks do with it. This is a scary prospect to any brand but it’s a core part of any viral success.

Follow Shane on Twitter: @shane_casey

26
Oct 10

Takin’ it to the MAX

Short of a couple of sneak peeks, the Adobe keynote at this year’s Flash on the Beach really didn’t give much away… they save the good stuff for MAX. Yesterday, they certainly delivered on that.

One recurring theme though, throughout the Flash on the Beach, was that no matter what happens with HTML5, Flash will always be ahead of the curve.

HTML5/CSS3 may be moving in as heir apparent to take over basic video content delivery, prettier fonts, basic animation etc but Flash has always been doing things that couldn’t be done without the use of a plug-in. In many ways, it’s responsible for pushing the boundaries of what people expect from the web and this week they’ve been pushing that even further.

Anyway, back to the cool new stuff…

Real 3D in Flash

Check this out.

Introducing the new Molehill 3D API. Molehill means full-textured 3D models, made of hundreds of thousands of triangles rendered on the fly in Flash with hardware DirectX & OpenGL 3D acceleration. And these capabilities are available to use with existing 3D libraries like Away3D and Alternativa3D.

Not only that, this will be available in the browser too, not just through Air on the desktop. Awesome.

Air 2.5 – Coming to a screen near you

Also revealed at MAX was the new release of the Air run-time. Air 2.5 is really mobile focused, with support for Android 2.2, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry Tablet OS, – and obviously, it’s running on Windows, OSX and Linux – but the new version is also compatible with set-top boxes and works with Google TV.

That’s right, Flash on your TV and the results look pretty impressive so far. Adobe’s aiming to have Flash/Air on every screen and they’ve made lots of enhancements to APIs to help account for the lower-processing power of mobile devices and set-top boxes.

The desktop run-time has also moved on with greater support for CSS in HTML-based Air apps. You can use TypeKit now and newer CSS features like drop-shadow and @font-face.

For further reading, you can check out all the details are in the Air 2.5 release notes.

So, where’s it all going?

All of these are really positive steps for Adobe, in my opinion. They may have been late to the party on mobile but everything we’re seeing here is right on the money. A lot of people have been really quick to write off Adobe but all of this is adding up to:

  • a solid offering on mobile/tablet/set-top platforms;
  • packaging of ActionScript based apps for iOS devices;
  • increased support and integration with HTML5/CSS3;
  • hardware acceleration cross-platform;
  • and still more features that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Even InDesign is pulling its weight in digital with the Digital Publishing Suite! (Mashable has a good overview here)

I have to say, I’m impressed with what’s coming out of Adobe at the moment. Innovative solutions, in all the right areas. Long may it last.

Postscript: From the Bleeding Edge

Also, you’ve gotta check this out. Adobe have been working on a visual prototyping tool for HTML5/CSS/JavaScript powered animations. Codenamed “Edge” it looks pretty damn handy and Adobe was always the logical place that this kind of a solution would come from. Watch the video from the Adobe DevNet anyway and let me know what you think.

Follow Shane on Twitter:
@shane_casey


23
Sep 10

Show & Tell #3: With a Vengeance

Show & Tell yesterday covered everything from blancmange to viruses so let’s get stuck in and re-cap some of what you missed…

Are you human? Have you been paying attention to our ad?

First off was a novel solution to “banner blindness” from the clever folks at Solve Media, called TYPE-IN. Skyscrapers, MPUs, leaderboards – standard banner formats are all so played out at this stage that we don’t even see them when browsing the web. TYPE-IN forces the user to actually process the ad before they continue.

They’ve put together a lovely animation that explains the concept nicely, check it out.

Sure, it’s much more aggressive than a standard banner and places a barrier between the user and the content but we’ve seen time and time again that users are willing to tolerate interruptions as long as they’re getting something in return. Solutions like this could be a step towards solving that pesky paywall problem.

Following on from that we had a brief discussion about the “Captcha” technology that TYPE-IN is based on. ReCAPTCHA is an initiative from Google in their quest to digitise (and index!) the world’s books – one poorly scanned word at a time.

Oh, the irony

What’s cool about it is that of the two words shown to you, one is giving their character recognition software problems and by typing them in you’re helping preserve knowledge. I guess humans still have a purpose after all.

Google Instant

Speaking of Google, the search giant has been making waves again this week with the introduction of their latest feature – Google Instant.

Not content with suggesting what you’re trying to type, Google has taken it a step further and is now performing searches for you as you type. The technology behind indexing all that information and serving it up faster than you can type is impressive, to say the least.

The experience, however, I’ve found to be at best distracting, at worst damn irritating. Charlie Brooker put it better than I ever could:

“It’s the internet on fast-forward, and it’s aggressive – like trying to order from a waiter who keeps finishing your sentences while ramming spoonfuls of what he thinks you want directly into your mouth, so you can’t even enjoy your blancmange without chewing a gobful of black pudding first.”

Whether you find it a time-saver (really? that busy?) or irritating, there are bigger considerations here too. Google’s drive to predict what we’re looking for can have only one outcome. The most popular search results appear more frequently and higher up meaning search results will get ever more homogeneous and dominated by the larger players (read: payers). Even “God” comes second to “Godaddy” now in Google Instant search results.

Praise be to GoDaddy

In other search news – Yahoo! search is now powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine – putting Bing up to 28% of US market share. Not too shabby.

Once a giant among search engines, Yahoo! have said this move will allow them to focus their efforts more on the direction they want be developing the company in a last-ditch struggle for relevance. If only they could get a bit more crap on their homepage, it might all turn round for them.

Another one that slipped quietly into the ether this week is Cuil. Once heralded as the “Google-killer”, Cuil’s search results were so bizarrely unrelated that the Cuil has now become the Internet’s unit for measuring abstraction from reality. Do yourself a favour and read what I’m talking about here. Hilarious.

Greplin: The missing element in search

So as one star fades, another is rising. As more and more of our information is stored in the cloud, there’s no central point for us to find what we’re looking for. How often have you thought to yourself: “Now, where did I see that? In my email? Or was it on Facebook? Twitter?”

Enter Greplin. Greplin fills a gap in the search space that amazingly no-one has previously addressed: personal search. Create an account on Greplin and you can add all your favourite services for it to index. Gmail, Google Docs and Calendar, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, EverNote, BaseCamp and more are supported already and I’m sure more services will be added.

One handy search bar will let you find what you’re looking for, quickly and easily.

Your passwords stay secure, as the site uses OAuth, the open authentication protocol, to allow access to your data but not your log-in details. OAuth is going from strength to strength (all Twitter applications, for example, now have to use OAuth and Google are looking at adopting the protocol across their services) but to index your data, Greplin still has access to your data. Not sure how the security and privacy issues here will pan out yet but they seem to be approaching it the right way.

Developed by an 18 year-old, Greplin is already looking good to make a huge impact on the web – having already secured $700,000 in venture capital. It’s in private beta at the moment but create an account and they’ll notify you when they let you in.

Twitter virus

Other big news this week was the world’s shortest ever virus, spreading itself like wildfire across Twitter. On twitter.com a vulnerability was reintroduced that allowed users to post Javascript to their Twitter feed which would activate when one of their followers rolled over the malicious tweet.

Thankfully, Twitter’s tech team closed the hole within a few hours but even the White House’s Twitter feed fell prey to it. Most abuses of the vulnerability were pretty harmless but it was an embarrassing lesson for Twitter to learn.

Adobe built apps on iPhone

And finally, Apple announced a dramatic relaxation of their app approval terms, allowing apps developed on non-Apple software to be approved.

“We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.” (Full statement here)

Apple famously pulled the rug out from under Adobe, 3 days before their launch of CS5, including the Packager for iPhone feature of Flash CS5. We wrote about it here back in April and I’m glad to see this unexpected reversal from Apple. It’s still not Flash on the iPhone but giving developers the freedom to use their tools of choice and utilise their existing expertise can only be a good thing.

Russell and I are off to Flash on the Beach next week and I’m sure we’ll see lots of happy faces there after this announcement! We’ll definitely have lots of cool stuff to report from there too, so watch this space.

See you at the next Show & Tell!

Follow Shane on Twitter:
@shane_casey


19
Sep 10

IE and HTML5 together at last?

With Internet Explorer 9’s release fast approaching on the horizon, web developers have been anticipating the new technologies / languages (HTML5, CSS3) they can start to implement for everyday use. So the release of IE9 beta last week gave us all a sneak peek into the pros and cons of the new ‘Big blue E’. The big selling point for me was IE9’s increased compliance & compatibility with HTML5 and other more modern web standards.

This HTML5 selling point is illustrated by: Never Mind the Bullets an example of an interactive ‘comic strip’ style narrative (A HTML5 parallax powered story). The HTML features it includes are:

Where we're going... we don't need roads!

• Font face loading
• SVG background
• Header & Section layout
• JavaScript acceleration
• CSS3 Multi-background
• Editable content


Another example of Microsoft pushing the new functionality of IE9 can be seen here: http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/

IE9′s adoption of newer technologies such as HTML5  makes it look like it is trying to catch up and even overtake a lot of the other rival browsers such as Firefox and Safari. However, even though IE9 is finally embracing ‘aspects’ of HTML5 it still needs to include more features in order to keep up with rival browsers, as you can see here: http://html5readiness.com/

However, Microsoft’s approach to integrating HTML5 with IE is worth mentioning. Whereas established, approved, stable HTML5 features such as video, audio and canvas have been fully adopted by IE9, Microsoft are less keen to include newer features such as geolocation and animations.

But, the signs are good! More compliance than ever before, improved performance and a cleaner look makes IE9′s release in 2011 something to look forward to rather than fear.


6
Sep 10

HTML5 – out of the wilderness and into the fire | Cross Post

Aesthetically and technologically spellbinding, The Wilderness Downtown is an interactive visualisation of Arcade Fire’s new single, We Used to Wait.

Personally, I couldn’t be more delighted the wait is over. This bleeding edge mash-up of HTML5, Google Maps and music gives wider audiences a glimpse of just what is possible using the latest web technologies.

Now let’s not split hairs here, yes it does take a little while to load and it only fully works in Google Chrome and Safari. But as this is one of the first attempts at mainstream promotion using advanced technologies specific to HTML5, I think we can forgive them.

For those of us who have been keeping a close eye on the advancements and inclusions of HTML5, The Wilderness Downtown is a welcome demonstration of the possibilities opened up by this emerging web standard. The audio, video and canvas tags are synchronised brilliantly. The HTML5 Canvas 3D engine renders flocks of birds that react to the music, and the new HTML5 audio tag manages the track and keeps record of key points to synchronise both canvas effects and HTML5 video windows. This, combined with the Google Maps API used for generating different street view perspectives, creates a truly immersive and memorable user experience.

Arcade Fire are not exactly new to using the latest web technologies for self-promotion, on August 3rd 2010, the band teamed up with YouTube to put on a live-streamed show at Madison Square Garden, the stream was watch by 3.7 million users and included loads of cutting-edge interactive features including ‘Choose your Cam’ and fan-provided photos. In support of this, Amazon advertised the band’s album The Suburbs at the discounted price of $3.99 during the week of release. A week later, it held the number one spot on Billboard’s album chart.

From a marketing perspective, are these bleeding-edge technologies a good way to draw attention? Clearly, it’s an effective tactic to attract word-of-mouth promotion. And even though HTML5 is not yet universally supported by all browsers, the chatter around The Wilderness Downtown is largely pro-HTML5 rather than “Why isn’t this working in IE???”


31
Jul 10

Cross-post: Scaling the paywall…

Sign-up... or I shall taunt you for a second time!

Sign-up... or I shall taunt you for a second time!

This week, I’m guest-blogging on the mother-ship’s blog at http://www.mzl.com/our-blog/2010/07/scaling-the-paywall/ about The Times’s new paywall.

Check it out, post a comment or whatever and get involved.


30
Jul 10

HTML5 – And why we should all care

I stumbled over this rather interesting (if not slightly busy) HTML5 infographic and it got me thinking about where HTML5 currently stands for us developers.

HTML5 Infographic

Firstly as a developer, yes, there are HTML5 features that you can use today, but it would be wrong to say than you can use all of them. As the HTML5 info-graphic above shows there are features of HTML5 that are compatible among all browsers (e.g. Cross-document messaging & WYSIWYG editable elements) however most features work in some browsers but not others.

It will be no surprise to many of you that older versions of IE (8 and older) only support 26% of HTML5 features and is the main reason why HTML5 development isn’t more prominent now (although IE9 will be far more accommodating). However, I don’t think this should put us off altogether, new HTML5 features are generally designed in such a way that they degrade gracefully in legacy browsers. For example, new HTML5 controls such as video allow you to fall back on object or embed in browsers that don’t support video.

Full browser support for HTML5 will take a while, so I can’t realistically see myself using HTML5 consistently anytime soon. However, this will not stop me using it where I can (compatible & degradable features) in order to future-proof my work.


Blog WebMastered by All in One Webmaster.