Seeing the connections

This demo of Parallex, a plug-in for Freebase, shows multi-faceted searches which you can visualise on a map or a timeline. The narrator snidely comments that you can’t do that on Google, but actually you can with Google Experimental, as well as the Google Visualization API. Nevertheless, it’s still pretty impressive.

Freebase Parallax: A new way to browse and explore data from David Huynh on Vimeo.

Natstock 08

robot uprizin
Awesome robots courtesy of Verb

Thanks to a few truly dedicated people (I’m looking at you Mike and Tash) Wellington just played host to a geek orgy of supreme quality. First rate speakers, venue, schwag, branding, web site, and perhaps most importantly coffee…mmm…people’s coffee.

A couple of Yahoos

I was particularly looking forward to sessions by Cal Henderson (slides galore), Tom Coates (notes and old slides) and Michael Lopp (notes and more notes). Each delivered a superb presentation. I was hoping for a few radical new ideas to completely rock my world, but it was predominantly a refresher course on “the web as platform”. Which was still excellent and inspiring.

Tom Coates’ sneak peek of Fire Eagle was pretty interesting (tho what’s up with the lame name?). Fire Eagle aggregates and broadcasts geo-data, so other apps can retrieve or publish your geolocation at any given moment. The implications of this concept were nicely amplified by Nigel Parker’s 8×5 session on privacy and pervasive online tracking – some kids (his…doh, mine too) have been online since they were in the womb, while other people are implanting RFID tags under their skin, and a few people currently broadcast their geolocation via GPS.

Local boys

The fireside chat with Sam and Rowan was fun. Rowan roasted Sam with a hilarious video from the nascent days of TradeMe, when Sam was just a young pup. They waxed nostalgic, but also dissected the TradeMe deal starting with how Sam struggled to get investment funding and then buggered off on his OE just when it started to break even. Upon his return the business started taking off. He got serious buyout offers from Yahoo and Telecom, but upped the ante and ultimately landed the Fairfax deal.

Usability for evil (aka profit)

My world did get unexpectedly rocked by Amy Hoy. Her session was about coercing people through design and language (excellent notes from her session here). For somebody in advertising, this might have been a basic refresher. However, Amy made it especially relevant and compelling by presenting great offline and online comparisons. For instance, I’ve always wondered why Amazon presents people with an overwhelming and chaotic array of information and options on every page. Where’s the usability and good design in that, right? It’s intentionally that way. For the same reason that malls (and casinos, for that matter) are designed with burrowed interiors: to get you wandering around, somewhat lost. It’s there to keep you busy and distracted, because it’s well known that the more time you spend in a store, the more money you spend.

A few gripes

On the downside, many of the sessions were tediously academic. Too many bullets points. Too much bleating and pontificating on theory. There was a frustrating absence of demos and real world case studies from the trenches. It should be an absolute requirement to show demos, which must include a breakdown of the design/dev/business decisions that lead up to the finished work.

Simon Willison was the only person I saw who did a real world demo with live code, showing Django in action. It was interesting and impressive, but not where my head is at these days. His session on OpenID was excellent and it definitely caught my interest, but it still didn’t leave me with huge confidence in the OpenID standard, as it currently stands.

Another serious downer was the Wifi situation. It was utterly disgraceful and humiliating to watch so many prominent visitors from across the globe unable to get a working internet connection. At a web conference. It’s like having a world conference on electricity and we don’t have enough power to keep the lights on. How bad does it need to get in this city and in this country before internet connectivity becomes an angry-mob-inducing crisis? (as I’m writing this my TelstraClear connection has been down for hours – now’s good, huh?)

That’s how Apple rolls

As always, there were sessions I was frustrated I couldn’t attend. I heard from many people that Mike Lopp’s session on design management was fascinating. Sadly, it’s also one of the few that will not be made available online. Damnit! Apparently, he described how Apple creates 10 different pixel perfect prototypes for each new piece of functionality in their software! I can’t say I buy into that approach. I know how much time it takes to finesse every little gradient, drop shadow and icon. I appreciate how important those details are in the final product, but when you’re exploring new ideas you tend to lose the plot when you focus on fine tuned pixel pushing. Worst of all, you get way too precious with your design, since you’ve invested so much time and energy.

Rocking out

Nothing could have capped things off more perfectly than the happy coincidence of Phoenix Foundation playing in Frank Kitts park. It was a beautiful night, the buzz of the crowd was blissful and the band rocked hard. It was purely intoxicating.

To finish things off here’s a short, but brilliant clip from the show…

Crowning achievement

Visionary of the Year

If George can anoint himself “The Decider” then I can confidently take the title of “The Predictor”. I was just crowned (literally, I have the tiara to prove it) 2008 Visionary Of The Year by Unlimited Potential. Which is pretty impressive, considering it happened in the first month of 2008.

It was another fun event and my fellow predictors had plenty of prescient and witty insights. Hopefully UP will post all the predictions somewhere.

The following is my outlook on the year to come. It contains a fair dose of wishful thinking, but sometimes technology and events do sneak up on you quicker than you expect.

2007 Greatest hits and misses

DRM finally goes away
Hit. Woot!

Wellington weather will be shit
Miss. Woot!

2007 Report card

User generated video advertising
Good progress: LiveRail, BrightRoll, YuMe,, VideoEgg, Adotube, Google/YouTube

Enterprise SaaS
Good progress: Netsuite IPO,

Web OS
Good progress: Macbook Air, gOS, CloudBook

Mobile Media Centers
Not so much: iPhone + Apple TV

2008 Better mobile experiences

3G iPhone with GPS, still won’t be available in NZ

Mesh networks start catching on thanks to Wireless USB (WUSB)

Somebody will provide a standard wifi billing platform (think OpenID + Paypal)

Presence detection gets real, gets fun:
get pinged when social network in proximity,
“scan” a party, cafe, club, biz conference to see profiles,
mixing and mingling privately while standing in a crowded room

2008 Hyperlocal on the homefront

Oil nears $200 a barrel, travel increasingly becomes a luxury,
people start thinking and acting a lot more local

Biofuels start becoming more efficient, demand surges
Aqua Flow becomes a leading provider

Working and learning from home becomes more and more of a necessity, collaborative web applications thrive in response

Lending networks thrive, microloans help ease economic turbulence

Home bio scanners start to hit the market – letting people scan food, detect viruses and germs, capture and analyse medical data, send data to a remote expert for further analysis

2008 Geeks Robots rule the earth

Portions of Google Earth and Streetside become available as realtime video

Mashed on top of this “open surveilance” framework will be
massively multiplayer game experiences

Hardware widgets and software widgets will converge producing very hackable, very personalised, interoperable device components (Buglabs, ThingM, Chumby)

New software driven materials interactively, physically reshape on command

2008 will go down in history as the year the robot uprising started taking shape

2008 Politics

Obama wins by a landslide

Helen wins (barely)

Kerry resigns in disgrace over conflicts-of-interest scandal

Tom Beard becomes the new mayor!

Finally, in my acceptance speech I predicted that next year the panel will include a woman!

Car navigation – follow the virtual cable

Virtual Cable

This navigation system paints a virtual line over the road which appears on your car’s windscreen. It’s like living inside a Google Map! All the other nav systems seem to force you to think and can easily be misread. This seems so obvious, natural and unobtrusive.


eBoy meets Google Maps on steroids

Hong Kong 3D pixels

Hong Kong 3D pixel-art interactive map. Be sure to spend time exploring it and using the tools!

Google Interactive Driving Routes

Google Driving Routes

Google have released interactive driving routes (found via Human Factors).

I’m certain this is either heavily influenced or entirely based on the Eyebeam NYC Subway map project. It’s using the same Flash overlay technique.

There are more video demos on personalising maps. This lets you add in photos, videos, even ads (see details here).

When I tried mapping across the two islands of New Zealand it also took into account the ferry crossing. Customising it is amazing. Drag and drop simplicity. Right-click context menu. Scroll wheel zooming, with crosshair centering. It’s another piece of mind blowing design from Google.

Grant and I both worked on driving routes for back in the Web 1.0 days. We know how complex maps and routes can get, even in the simplest implementation. That was later updated to include some Flash interactivity first developed by Andy Biggs and more recently given a major overhaul by Barry Hannah which includes extensive geo-coding. They even integrated it with Google Earth.

When I worked on the biggest user request was always more maps, maps, maps. Wisely, Tourism NZ invested a lot of money into building better maps. They could have never predicted (and certainly never relied on) Google developing technology like this. Now it seems like they should be integrating Google maps into, with photos, videos, and driving routes, rather than continuing to use their proprietary system. Of course, they can still take advantage of the database and technology they’ve built, while leveraging Google’s incredible technology and global reach.

Of course, I can only imagine how useful this is on the iPhone. Could some lucky iPhone owner tell me how it really is (cough Wayne cough)? When we were coming up with blue-sky ideas for mobile and mapping were always the big dream. It’s getting much closer to becoming reality, yet it’s still frustratingly out of reach. Especially considering the price of mobile data.

Surface = superficial. Streetside = sick!

UPDATE: Thanks to Grant for this link to a video demo of Photosynth (the concept I refer to below). It doesn’t get sicker than this…

Two emails went flying around yesterday. One about Google Streetside and a follow up about Microsoft Surface.

My reaction to Surface

Kiosks 2.0 (because kiosks 1.0 were so great)

It was pretty easy to predict video billboards the day that LCD screens became available. Being able to get movie times from a movie billboard (note: not a concept I saw in the Surface demos) is something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. This “vision” of “surface computing”, to me, seems like a very limited, one-trick gimmick. I think paper thin screens will be far more useful and ubiquitous. I seriously doubt that surface computing – in the sense of a dedicated table – will ever go mainstream. Some underlying concepts are likely to persist – ie, some types of gestural interactions, device synching, but those aspects of Surface are no any way revolutionary or unique to this product.

My reaction to Streetside

It’s stunning. Incredible implementation. Absolutely gobsmacking. I was able to look in the doorway (and window) of my old apartment in San Francisco!!


I went down the street where my old office was and I didn’t recognize it since I haven’t been there in 5 years and things have changed. Very trippy.

And it just works. Click around a few times and you know how to use it in all its glory. Yet, it’s quite sophisticated. Amazon did some streetside mapping that was kind of cool, but Google’s implementation is absolutely jaw dropping. The shear scale of data, the elegant game-like interaction, the speed, the depth, the dynamic contextual layers.

I worship Google.

The only thing I wonder about is the usefulness – whether it’s really worth the effort. It’s an extremely cool experience, I can see a few practical uses, lots of impractical uses, but compared to Gmail or even just street maps, I’m not sure there’s such a big pay off beyond bragging rights and cool factor.

However, combine it with a mobile phone and GPS – then I could see it being extremely powerful. Combine Streetside with Microsoft’s dynamic 3D stitching – then I could take a picture with my camera phone and in realtime it gets posted to Google and it’s a form of personal memory mapping and user generated real time mapping. Google could pinpoint where I was, when I was there, and even show me the photo. If, years later, I meet somebody who was at the same place at the same time then we could see how our paths literally crossed. Of course, there’s all the geo-tagging opportunities (this restaurant was rated by your friend Joe last week, there were 3 late night muggings in this alley in the past week).