July 7, 2010

Kathy Sierra: Give your users super-powers

Posted in Future of Web Apps at 07:15 by graham

Kathy Sierra at the Business Of Software conference last autumn. Hour long talk, really worth watching (as the length of my notes will vouch).

Abstract: It’s not about you, not about your product, it’s about how awesome you make your users. If you sell digital cameras, make your users better photographers, through a better camera yes, but also teach them about exposure, light, etc.

(If the embed is broken, see Kathy Sierra at Business of Software)

Here are my notes:

Make the user awesome.

You want them to talk about the amazing thing they did (with your tool).

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May 17, 2009

Speaking at Open Web Vancouver 2009 in June

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Software at 22:30 by graham

I will be speaking at Open Web Vancouver on Thursday, June 11, 2009 and Friday, June 12, 2009. That’s in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. There’s a very interesting speaker lineup, and the whole conference is reasonably priced, so come along, learn, interact, and enjoy Vancouver in the summertime.

My talk will be entitled How and Why to Extend Firefox in Javascript (and Thunderbird, Komodo, and Songbird). I will post the slides here in June.

See you there!

January 27, 2008

Technologies for better web based applications: XMPP, Flex, and more

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Software at 21:39 by graham

The difference between a web site and an application is that an application is more dynamic, more responsive, to the user. A traditional web site is a set of pages you browse through, like an online catalog or brochure. A web application needs to be more interactive in two ways: By having a richer graphical interface, and by having real-time data. Here’s how.

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March 12, 2006

Shaun Inman – "10 reasons why you need to build an API"

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Software at 19:08 by graham

Shaun Inman is the creator of Mint. He gave a presentation at the Future Of Web Apps (futureofwebapps) conference, held in London on Wednesday 8th February. It was a short presentation with little elaboration of the 10 reasons, followed by a lengthy Q&A session.

An API takes a good thing and makes it better. API must not change.

API allows external extension of your application. A plugin architecture allows internal extension.

The 10 reasons are:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Allow users to own their data
  • Build goodwill with developers
  • A perfect excuse for a community
  • Solving programming problems with an API in mind can improve code quality
  • Simplify internal reuse of data
  • Allow others to extend the functionality of your application
  • Alternate input mechanisms
  • Unanticipated applications of your data
  • Turn your program into a platform

    The initial Mint release only supported Firefox and Safari (not IE), to cut down on the support calls by only having technical users.

    See also Larsz’s mind map.

March 11, 2006

Tom Coates – Native to a Web of Data

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Society, Software at 19:45 by graham

This is a write-up of my notes from Tom Coates’ presentation at the Future Of Web Apps (futureofwebapps) conference, held in London on Wednesday 8th February.

Tom Coates used to work for the BBC, and has recently joined Yahoo. He has worked with Simon Willson. Tom had a highly polished presentation. Here are the notes:

  • We are moving from web pages connected by links to data connected by APIs.
  • The Web 2.0 design aesthetic can be summed up as: Rounded corners and gradient fills.

  • The future according to Tom: A web of data sources, services for exploring and manipulating data, and ways that users can connect them together.

  • Mash-up: A network effect of services. Web as a platform. Hybridization of web services together makes both of them better.

  • APIs drive people to your site, allow people to enhance your site. You don’t have to do all the work yourself. People might start charging for the user of their APIs.
  • “What can I build that will make the whole web better ?” The Aggregate Web. **It’s all about data** – owning, exploring, manipulating.

  • Build for normal users (the HTML interface), for developers (the API), and for machines (XML, predictable and consistent URLs and structure)

  • Start designing with data, not pages. Navigable, re-usable, explorable data.
  • Identify core objects that people will refer to. For the BBC, that’s programs, films, events, people. Then make each core object addressable by URL.
  • Good URLs: permanent, readable, and have a 1 to 1 correlation with concepts. Use directories to represent hierarchy. Predictable, guessable, hackable. Reflect structure of data. Only 1 URL for a piece of data. For example the BBC needs to have one and only one URL for a single program. That way all entries on the web will connect to that one URL, and will be connected themselves.
  • Correlate with external identifier schemes (such as ISBN)in your URLs, or coin a standard if there isn’t one. If 100 people are blogging about a film, they need to be connected somehow – if they all link to the same BBC or IMDB page, they will be connected.

  • Build list views and batch manipulation interfaces. Types of page:

    • Destination page (the entry of a film). Make XML versions of these.
    • List page (search results, lots of films). Make RSS versions of these.
    • Manipulation page (comment on a film). If needed, use AJAX / Flash here.
  • Make sure your AJAX / Flash doesn’t break your URLs. Keep it in the page. Only manipulate the concept of that page.

  • Use standard formats where possible. See microformats.org.
  • Make your data as discoverable as possible.

    That’s the end of my notes ! See also a good mind map of this talk

February 18, 2006

Cal Henderson – Building Flickr

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Software at 14:39 by graham

These are the notes I took during Cal Henderson’s talk on Building Flickr at the Future of Web Applications conference in London on Wednesday 8th February.

Lars Ploughman posted a great mind map of the talk.


  • Try and figure out what people need; this is not always what they say they need.
  • Network effect: When people get their friends to sign up, it makes their experience better.


  • Instead of always grouping data by user, we can slice it in other interesting ways:
    • Most recently uploaded
    • Most popular
    • By tag
    • By weighted ‘interestingness’ algorithm

Open APIs

By API the Web 2.0 people mean a web service API: REST, SOAP, XML RPC, etc. You need an API to for your web client anyway, so clean it up and make it public.

The evolution is: web site -> web application -> web service

Clean URLs

Don’t expose internals or physical structure on the URL. They should reflect a consistent, logical structure, the way the user thinks about it. mod_rewrite enables this. URLs should never change, otherwise you break links.


It’s Asynchronous. It streamlines user interactions.


Internationalisation and Localisation. Store, present and receive all textual data as UTF-8.

Desktop / Platform integration

Backed by the API. With an API for your app, you can write desktop apps. Some interactions on the web are difficult and/or slow (such as uploading lots of pictures). Desktop apps can have drag and drop for example.

It doesn’t have to be a full fledged desktop app – use Bookmarklets, Firefox plugins, etc.

Integrate with e-mail; every user has it and uses it daily. It’s often difficult to get data off mobile phones, but they can do e-mail, so provide an e-mail uploader. Send e-mail notifications.

Mobile phones

They mostly support XHTML-Mobile, a cut down version of XHTML. Build custom pages for mobiles because the screens are so small. Re-think what is on the page. Cut down as much as possible.

Open data

Allow users to import / export their data. Include the meta-data as well. This makes people feel safer about using your service.

Open content

When a user uploads something, they still own it. They still control the licensing.


Joshua Schacter – del.icio.us – Things we've learned

Posted in Future of Web Apps, Software at 14:05 by graham

These are the notes I took at Joshua Schachter’s talk at the Future Of Web Applications (futureofwebapps) conference, in London on Wednesday 8th February 2006.

Lars Ploughman posted a great mind map of the talk.

  • del.icio.us started as a text file of 25 000+ links on Joshua’s computer. Each one had a descriptive sentence, that got shortened down to a single word -> a tag. When building an application, it must solve a problem you have. You need passion.

  • Cross browser compatibility is difficult

  • Monitor your app.
  • Optimize: Add database indexes. Cache. Monitor user behaviour to find out what they do. This allows you to optimize certain parts – for example no-one ever goes to search results page 100. Figure out where latency is acceptable and use that; for example the RSS feed can be a few minutes behind the live site.
  • Aggregation of attention is interesting: What are people looking at, etc. Top 10.
  • Your application will be used in unexpected ways, so react to it. Monitoring helps.
  • Learn the ins and outs of Apache, including mod_rewrite.
  • Put a proxy in front of Apache – for example pound or perbal.

  • Build an API, and make sure it is easy to use. Avoid SOAP, CORBA, etc. Stick to simple XML. The API should allow uses to save their data offline, to script your application, etc.

  • Don’t expose internal ids, especially if they are consecutive. Otherwise people will try and iterate over them to get all your data, and overload your site.
  • Don’t add features that already exist elsewhere. For example your site doesn’t need a messaging system – use e-mail instead.
  • Add features that people will use; this is not always what they ask for. Get to the root of each feature request – what exactly is the user trying to do, and is there a better way of doing that than what they asked for.
  • RSS is the web’s native style for a list of links. Put RSS everywhere you have a list. It’s another way for users to get data from your system. del.icio.us has more RSS than HTML traffic.
  • Sensible URLs: They get passed around, bookmarked, mailed, etc. They should be user-friendly, not developer friendly. Don’t include session ids, or implementation specific details on the URL.
  • Release early and often. No closed beta.

  • When you block spammers, don’t let them know. Don’t display an error message, or change visible behaviour. Otherwise they start trying different methods.

  • Understand user motivation. The application has to be useful for user number 1. Users are selfish. Ideally people use the system and evangelise it. They come for themselves not for the data others created.
  • Measure how people react to new features and how long they keep using a feature. Rely on what people do not on what they claim.
  • Do user acceptance testing. Everyone involved in the project should watch this. If you can’t afford a test lab (with a two-way mirror for the team to stand behind), do ghetto testing: Buy people coffee in the local Internet cafe and show them the application. Don’t give them goals, just let them be normal users.
  • Speak the users language: Only Netscape / Firefox users call them bookmarks – IE users call them favorites.
  • Don’t force users to register. Or if you really need to, delay it as long as possible. Give as many public features as possible. Make registration short and afterwards send them back to where they were.
  • Understand the Internet design grammar and choose when to follow it and when not to. For example clicking the logo in top left corner goes back to the home page.
  • Remember that the data is not yours, it belongs to the user, and you’re just borrowing it. Allow users to export their data, delete themselves completely from the system, etc. Having an API helps with this.
  • The clients to your web app aren’t just browsers. Think of everything that can take data from your server: RSS readers, iCal clients, Excel, widgets (Konfabulator and Dashboard) etc.
  • Build a tool, not a community. Unless you are explicitly trying to build a community.