Alex Barnett blog


December 2006 - Posts

This is so obvious, but I still cried with laughter.
This is so obvious, but I still cried with laughter.
Posted: Dec 22 2006, 05:07 PM by alexbarnett | with no comments
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5 Things You (Probably) Don't Know (Or Care to Know) about Me

I woke up this morning to find both Nathan Weinberg (of Inside Google and Inside Microsoft) and John Tropea (Library Clips blog) tagged me with the '5 Things You Don't Know About Me' meme.

5 Things You (Probably) Don't Know (Or Care to Know) about Alex Barnett

I used to be a professional cricketer (for 8 years), playing for Middlesex and Lancashire. I think my proudest moment is getting 5 wickets in a match for Lancashire against the Austrailian 1993 touring side in the only game they lost on that tour. A word of advice to any aspiring young Middlesex cricketers reading this: on your second morning of your first week on joining the staff,  do not walk across the hallowed turf (Lord's Cricket Ground) while the Middlesex Cricket Committee is in session. Especially wearing a torn leather jacket and jeans. Expect your first team captain to have a word in your ear and explain that the rules have now been formalized regarding appropriate attire while convening at the Home of Cricket, thanks to you.

My Xbox gamertag is alex101.

I have a fear of heights. Trying to overcome this, at the age of 16 I decided to follow my uncle up a rock face. It was about 100 meters high - the idea was to get over a waterfall on a river we were trecking up in southern spain (near Nerja), without equipment. Without a doubt the most stupid decision I've ever made. About half way up I came to the realisation that the rock face was 'crumbly' and about 50 meters below me were rocks and certain doom if I slipped. I spent the next 40 minutes contemplating my fate, before finally mustering the courage to continue up the face. Once I made it to the top I didn't feel I had 'conquered' anything. If anything, I learnt that I was capable of doing really stupid things.

My chess 'claim to fame' is that I drew a game with a British Grandmaster, in a cafe in Chalk Farm. I set out to bore him to death, and it worked.

I hate doing 'DIY'. I mean really hate it. Anything related to tinkering around with real world objects just puts me off. Give me software to fix anytime, and I'll be as happy as larry. Give me something physical to fix, and a small little dark cloud magically looms over my head. Even the prospect of replacing a lightbulb is enough to remind me of that feeling you got when you put off the 6 weeks school holiday homework until the night before - urgh!. I follow a subconcious strategy of accidentally on purpose screwing up simple chores around the house as a guarantee that won't be asked again in the future. Fortunately, my wife loves fixing real-world stuff.


So to continue the meme, I've decided to tag some of my favourite Microsoft bloggers: Betsy Aoki, Raymond Chen, Joshua Allen, Kim Cameron, and Andy Edmonds. Over to you!

On Web Dev Trends in 2007

Richard MacManus et al have published their web predictions for 2007 (prompting me to update the list I've been collating).

Great post and lots covered, so I'd like to comment on some of Read/Write Web's crystal ball gazing relating to web development.

"RSS will go mainstream in a big way"

It's funny, but we've been saying this for years now. However, with the integration of RSS in IE7, Vista and Office 2007 and other mass-use consumer products, it might actually happen (even if users don't realize they are using RSS). Arguably, it has already gone mainstream in the online publishing world and web development space - almost every commercial site I've visit these days provides RSS feeds.

"structured data will be a big trend next year"

Beyond the reasons given (such as microformats), a key driver to a more structured web of data is the increasing availability of web APIs into the content and data sitting on the network. Many of the APIs are not just exposing functionality...These web Content and Data Programming Interfaces will continue to be key feature of the modern commmercial internet. By the way, I don't think Google's recent decision to deprecate their API is a sign of things to come (what an opportunity for Yahoo! and Live Search! ) - this is counter to the megatrend.

So, more APIs = more structured data on the web. And the more structure there is to the data on the web, the more semantic the web will become, another trend R/WW sees for 2007. But it is still early days...I agree with Dan Farber's take on the Semantic Web for 2007:

"the Semantic Web is going to be an important element in the evolution of the Web, but next year will still be about planting seeds, not harvesting crops."

"The consumerization of the enterprise trend will start to infiltrate corporate IT"

Dion Hinchcliffe's review of Enterprise 2.0 in 2006 sums up the progress made this year and highlights some of the cultural issues inloved here. I agree with R/WW and Dion that we'll continue to see the technologies and trends of the consumer web bleed into the behind-the-firewall space. Specifically, more lightweight development and web orientated design patterns (such as REST) will rise in popularity amongst the professional developer community in the coming year. Devs are lazy - they really do want to do more with less and do it quicker.

"Rich Internet Apps will be a major force in 2007"

Yup, but still early days here. As I understand it, the RIA meme has the Occasionally Connected Computing (OCC) theme running through it - think of this as hybrid of desktop / web apps. I think the buzz will certainly be there for RIA in 2007 but it will take time (years) for development tools that enable these scenarios to become even close to mainstream for the developer communities. Lots of experimentation, no doubt, but the number of implementations will be few and far between compared to the progress in the delivery of rich experiences delivered purely via the web. Ajax for 2007 - my bet here is that pure play brower-based app development will be the winner of 2007, 2008 and 2009 :-) 


When I wrote on Thursday night that there was storm raging, I wasn't joking.

Here's a pic courtesy of the appropriately named Slam team:


I saw a fair amount of damage driving around yesterday while trying to find a hot meal. Richard Sprague saw some carnage too. There was plenty, what a mess.

The power cut out on Friday morning, 4:37 am, according to my alarm clock and came back on after 24-hour power cut. I was one of around 800,000 without power.

Like other Microsoft bloggers, this has been the longest cutout I've experienced. Being a Londoner and all that, the NW of US can seem like quite an adventure, scary sometimes. There was talk on the radio of the cutout lasting a few days, so 24 hours doesn't seem so bad now, but I admit I was getting worried with the prospect of days without electricity. Fortunately, the little one and his mother are already in the UK for holidays, so I only had to worry about myself. No power, no ISPs. The radio became my friend, as did the log fire, some candles and Tilly, our newly adopted cat.

But it makes you think...Sadly, I read this morning that four people died due to the storm, one woman drowning in her own basement in the middle of the night. Horrid.

Posted: Dec 16 2006, 08:53 AM by alexbarnett | with 2 comment(s)
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2007 to be a big year for 'Rich Internet Applications'

The following is a short description of Adobe's play for 2007 - Apollo - big news in my opinion:

"Apollo, the code name for “a cross-operating system runtime” is a platform that will allow developers to create to desktop applications using existing web development skills such as Flash, Flex, HTML, JavaScript and Ajax."

A big play indeed.

Things I heard in this TalkCrunch podcast interview by Michael Arrington and Steve Gillmor with Adobe's Chief Architect, Kevin Lynch: Cross-platform client runtime (Windows, Mac, Linux), supports Occasionally Connected Computing (OCC) scenarios and local data storage. No 'direct' revenue model - devs can use Eclipse IDE, but the strategy seems to be to have Apollo drive sales for designers ' developer tools Flex, Blaze ('better tooling support for Apollo') and media server sales and to drive end user adoption of other Adobe products (runtime is free for end user - Flash, PDF authoring tool Acrobat). Currently in beta, Adobe might be v1.0 by July / August timeframe.

Apollo was touched on during Adobe's latest earnings conf call, Larry Dignan reports:

"Chizen told analysts to think about Apollo the same way they would characterize Adobe Reader or Flash Player, its a client that can be used to help others build unique applications and allow Adobe to sell more tools."

With the development of Adob'es Apollo and Microsoft's WPF/E and the continuing rise of Ajax, 2007 is destined to be a very interesting year for Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

Update: Amyloo found this recorded presentation by Adobe's product managers introducing Apollo.

A storm over my head.

Redmond, WA, 10:07pm PST. It's raining. It's windy, I mean really windy. The sound of the wind as it swirls and whips around the house is very eery (I don't think the plywood roof was a good idea). The lightning, ooh, I can almost smell it.

The lights in the house are flickering, more regularly now. Momentary darkness, each time a little longer and slightly scarier than the last. I've got my torch next to me and one of those loggy burny-type things I can stick on the fireplace just in case. The battery on the laptop is fully charged so I should be able to at least get light from the screen for an hour or two if needed.

I've got my cocktail shaker, ice bag, key ingredients (including olives) and a clean martini glass by the sink if it comes to that.

Of course, if the lightning, the wind, or the rain does happen to knock out the electricity (it feels real close to something happening...), I'll have no internet conne

Posted: Dec 14 2006, 11:00 PM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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10 Random Thoughts # 5. Not Blogging About Blogging.

10 Random Thoughts, # 5. Not Blogging About Blogging.

Some people seem to get very irritated when they come across a blog post where someone is blogging about blogging. Some of them then blog a post about how blogging about blogging irritates them so.

What I'd like to know is do the people who blog about not blogging about blogging realize they are blogging about blogging, and are therefore probably irritating people who get irritated by reading blog posts about blogging about blogging and posts about blogging about not blogging about blogging?

Posted: Dec 14 2006, 09:59 AM by alexbarnett | with 8 comment(s)
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StumbleVideo - a sign of things to come

Mash-ups will be big. Yet, as Dion Hinchcliffe points out, the number of mash-ups released per day may not be huge today (three per day, according to the data on ProgrammableWeb). But they will be on the increase, and the more APIs there are available, the more mashups we'll see.

Some of these mash-ups will take off. Most won't, but that's the nature of experimentation.

Ultimately, the driver of the mash-up scene will be the driven by the ability to create new experiences developed by merging content, data, functionality and services to create create new value out of exisiting parts whilst finding a business model that can work.

The following will be an interesting case study to track in all these respects. Steve Bryant wrote earlier this week:

"while YouTube's "most viewed" will always be an appealing curiosity, what we really want is the best content and the content that appeals to us as culling and directing us to the best content will be the next big success stories"

Yup, dead on. So, from theory to practice: if the content is there, and the APIs are available, and if Steve's observation is true, then it seems inevitable that someone will run with this idea and make it real by 'adding value' along the way. On cue, in steps StumbleVideo - over to Andy Beal:

"For those of you not familiar with StumbleUpon, it’s a fast growing community founded in 2001, with 1.6 million people “Stumbling” roughly 4 million times each day. When joining, users select topics of interest and then asked to rate web sites presented to them, with a “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down”. Users can also share their favorites, view their friends’ content, tag and submit new web pages."

I've played around with it tonight. It has a lot of promise - think of StumbleVideo as 'people who liked also liked this'. Collaborative filtering for online video content. As Pete Cashmore of Mashable describes it:

"Just like Pandora or, StumbleVideo uses your ratings to find more videos you might like, and it also allows you to email a link to your friends. What’s more, StumbleVideo can connect you to people who also enjoyed that particular clip."

 Simple. Brilliant. Obvious. The timing is perfect. A missed trick by YouTube/Goolgle?

Back to Andy who points out a potential stumbling block:

"the question of what reaction MySpace, YouTube and Google will have to their content being displayed by a competing video provider. While StumbleVideo doesn’t have any direct relationships with the content providers (Feller says they are working on it), they are using the APIs provided by each of the video hosts. This arrangement should be acceptable, after all, why provide an API, if you don’t want companies to develop mash-ups. However, it would certainly be in Stumble’s best interests to establish formal syndication relationships ASAP, just in case Google or MySpace decides not to share their toys or place limits on the API."

Key point, to repeat:

"why provide an API, if you don’t want companies to develop mash-ups"

Sure, YouTube could switch the APIs off. From what I know, I've not seen anything of interest that has taken advantage of the their APIs to date that would be affected if they did this. The kneejerk, old economics reaction would be to do what Andy hints at - cut a deal or get choked off. What has YouTube got to lose by turning off the API lights? Distribution. The networks are getting behind YouTube/Google. They'll want their cut.

And what for Stumble? Here's the thing. Stumble has a huge user base and YouTube is one of many. What if the Stumble folk didn't want to 'cut a deal', the kind of deal based on some kind of exclusivity. What if they wanted to work with others and do a revenue share with many? That might make sense.

So what about the amateur content creators, the real force behind YouTube? Wouldn't they want a cut? Maybe not, if all they are after is a decent place to host video content and ability to share.

I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do know this StumbleVideo move will be significant and a further sign of things to come. What an interesting example of how many opportunities are emerging in this increasingly networked world.


Update: I pinged John Musser of ProgrammableWeb about the Mash-up numbers above and he explained the 3-per-day number is for six months - for the past two months the average has been 5.2 per-day on his, the range being 3 to 10 per day.

"There were 21 mashups tagged "video" in the first half of the year, and 52 so far in the second half. So, essentially over twice as many per month using those APIs, essentially mirroring the rise in popularity of video online."

Robert Scoble's got an interview with StumbleUpon's chief architect, Garrett Camp, and David Feller, VP of marketing.

The demographics of 'fart'

I tried out the new Demographics Prediction tool provided by Microsoft adCenter Labs (via Steve Rubel), and suprised to find that if you happen to be using the word 'fart' whilst using MSN Search there is only a 0.53 level of confidence that you are male. Essentially 50/50. I thought men would do better than that.

Rather more surprisingly: if you are search for an 'old fart' there is a 0.70 level of confidence that you would be a male in doing so. This confirms a suspicion of mine - women aren't really on the lookout for them.

Posted: Dec 13 2006, 10:31 PM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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Why I love Flickr even more

<Forward: Some of you will need to forgive me, as I realize that if you enjoy photography and you already use Flickr, then this poast is very much a 'duh!' for you (there's a typo I've left in the last sentence, I think its cute, especially since the 'o' and the 'a' are on opposite sides of the keyboard...)..>

I recently bought a second-hand Nikon D70 and am having some great fun with it. It's the first 'proper' camera I've owned, and although I've always enjoyed taking pics, I've never been bothered to study the mechanics of photography, let alone had a camera that allows me to tinker around with the configurations so I can completely ruin a perfectly decent shot. The more I'm playing with it, the more I realize how much there is to learn.

One thing I've realized on this little journey so far, is how seriously cool Flickr is. I've used the service since 2004 and I've enjoyed the sharing of photos with friends, the ability to subscribe to friends' and contacts' pics and its utility as a photo storage service for my blogging. I've written and talked about how Flickr's 'openess' through its APIs use of RSS and tagging is a great example of Web 2.0nessness and all that, but I've just come to realized that I've missed more than half the point behind the success of Flickr.

I never really got the 'Groups' thing until this week. Sad, but true. And I'm loving it. There is a new depth to Flickr I'm discovering that seems simply amazing to me.

Here I am, now 'getting into' photography, trying to learn and experiment with the medium, and so I turn to the web. But the web seems like an awfully big place to try and find likeminded people - likeminded as in: I like photography and / or am getting into it and want to revel in it. I want to see lots of pics and lots of 'good' ones. And right under my nose is Flickr, where there are thousands - no, hundreds of thousands of people all playing around with their cameras, converging in clusters of passionate photographers arounds themes, things and topics of interest (including, of course, photography).

I'd like to be 'good' at photography. By that I mean I want to be able to create and develop images that are interesting for me and others to looks at, both from an informational perspective but also an aesthetic one too. I want to learn about how to get the best of out my camera. And how do you get 'good' at anything? To practice. But my problem has been what to practice? There are an infinite number of things I could practice, to the point of not knowing where to start. You know, meandering. And how can I practice with people and not feel I'm on this learning journey alone?

This is where the Flick groups come in. There are these groups, thousands of them (some of them are silly) but most that have 'themes'. Some of these theme groups do nothing but the same theme, always. Example is the 'split screen' group. You can only submit photos that contains a split screen - and horizontally only, preferably 50/50 split if you please (thanks to Tommy for finding this one for me). Other groups change their theme weekly or monthly. The theme for this week for the 'Weekly Theme' group is 'numbers' (it has over 2,000 members and some 11,000 pics). I love this idea, it gives me something to focus on, to experiment and hone in but with some purpose - a virtual photopgraphy assignment. Perfect.

Is there a point to this post? Maybe this: that sometimes the coolest stuff is right under your nose, you just need to see it.

This is the kind of stuff that makes YouTube great.

This is the kind of stuff that makes YouTube great.

Thanks to Tommy for the pointer.

Posted: Dec 13 2006, 02:58 PM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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UK's top entrepreneurs under the age forty

The Daily Telegraph has 'revealed' 2006's most successful entrepreneurs in Britain under the age forty.

Number 36 on the list is Ajaz Ahmed, founder of interactive agency AQKA, with a reported personal value of £51m (just shy of $100m USD at today's exchange rate).

After a stint at Apple, Ajaz started AKQA the London-based company in 1995 and has since expanded the agency's presence to NY, San Fran, Washington and SIngapore. It has even established a presence in Second Life, seeing it as a place to recuit early adopters and trend setters.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Ajaz while I was managing the Microsoft UK online site. AKQA were one of the two agencies we had on the roster and the team was great to work with - they loved opportunities for innovation and had great people working on our account doing excellent work. More recently, they landed a 'dream brief' - to design the Xbox360 UI. I use the 'Blades' creation daily...

I've admired Ajaz and AKQA since the early days. While at Bluewave, I often found AKQA on the competing pitch list. Let's say they were hard to beat. Throughout the 90's, they were one of the top web design agencies in the UK. Then came dotcom bust, were many of the web design and development companies died off, but not AKQA. Ajaz did a superb job of navigating the company through those tough times and get it to the other side, merging with San Fran based Citron Haligman Bedecarré in 2001. In retrospect, a brilliant move - he's now employing over 400 talented, smart and creative people around the globe and continues to work for some world's top brands.

He's also a genuinely nice guy, so it's great to see Ajaz recognized for his achievements.

Posted: Dec 13 2006, 10:20 AM by alexbarnett | with 1 comment(s)
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Call me on Blog Talk Radio

I'm on Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday night, Dec 13 at 6pm PST / 9pm ET (Thur 2am GMT) and will be interviewed on the Alan Levy Show.

It's a live streaming show with phone-ins, the Dial In Number (347) 677-0649. I have no idea what we're going to talk about (just the way I like it!), so you could help out by calling in and asking a few questions...

btw, If you can't listen live, it will be archived.

Hope to hear from you!

Posted: Dec 12 2006, 07:22 PM by alexbarnett | with 3 comment(s)
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Raymond is writing a book after all

Thanks to Lilia Efimova, I saw Raymond Chen's news of a book he's publishing in Jan, 2007: 'Old New Thing, The: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows'. You can pre-order it here.

Raymond works in the Windows team as a problem-solving ninja master - the hardest issues / bugs are assigned to him to go and figure out. He's seriously smart, seriously funny and a seriously nice guy too.

The book is apparently based on his blog writings, so if that's anything to go by, it'll be very entertaining and informative (er, that is if you're interested in operating systems, and why things are the way they are in Windows). Remember this classic?

"Help text is not the place to put logic puzzles."

Nice one Raymond!

Jon Udell joins Microsoft

I did a classic double take when I read this headline on Techmeme this morning - 'A conversation with Jon Udell about his new job with Microsoft'.

If you don't know who Jon Udell is, he is what I consider to be the ultimate modern technology journalist. The topics he covers have been on the cutting edge, and the media he uses to communicate his thoughts have made compelling viewing / listening / reading for me. Jon is the pioneer of the screencast, stretching this format to its limits to provide insightful, rich and often educational content.

As you might have gathered, I'm a fan of Jon's. I've also been fan of Jeff Sandquist (the brains and force behind Microsoft's Channel 9 and 10), but now an even bigger fan of Jeff's now that he's managed to convince Jon to join his team. Congratulations to both Jon and Jeff. Very cool.

Q: Your new job is with Microsoft?

A: That's right. My last day at InfoWorld will be Friday Dec 15. On Jan 15, after a month-long sabbatical, I'll become a Microsoft employee. My official title will be Evangelist, and I'll report to Jeff Sandquist. He's the leader of the team that creates Channel 9 and Channel 10, websites that feature blogs, videos, screencasts, and podcasts for Microsoft-oriented developers.

Q: What will your role be?

A: The details aren't nailed down, but in broad terms I've proposed to Microsoft that I continue to function pretty much as I do now. That means blogging, podcasting, and screencasting on topics that I think are interesting and important; it means doing the kinds of lightweight and agile R&D that I've always done; and it means brokering connections among people, software, information, and ideas -- again, as I've always done.


Posted: Dec 08 2006, 08:48 AM by alexbarnett | with 7 comment(s)
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