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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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Nat Friedman & the Personal Cloud: “Personal data warehouse”

Ximian co-founder and intrepid technologist with SUSE Linux, Nat Friedman recently blogged about a “Personal data warehouse,” stating:

What I want is a giant elastic bit bucket in the cloud, with a powerful search engine on top of it.

He goes on to describe several capabilities that he wants the search capabilities to have, essentially bringing together several disparate services available on the web today–such as face recognition (Polar Rose) and Optical Character Recognition  (OCR, the simplest form right now may be Evernote‘s)–in order to make his data imminently accessible and usable.

Nat describes several other aspects, all of which in my view comprise not a single service, but a data platform. This Personal Cloud concept really cannot be delivered well by a single service provider–you don’t want it to be. Once you have your personal data in the cloud, the next step is to have a selection of relevant applications to choose from for helping you to manage your Personal Cloud. That means APIs that allow developers to offer best-of-breed services, such as face recognition, as applications that you can use with your cloud-hosted personal data.

All of that reminds me that I really need to write up a post about the necessity for data owners (you and me as individuals) having ultimate control over who can access our data (and what data they can access).


The Rev’s Next Gig

Into Bell Labs
I’m now working within Bell Labs, which is part of the recently merged company Alcatel-Lucent. Bell Labs is renowned for its venerable history of major R&D innovations (such as the transistor, the solar cell, and the laser, and of course, the Unix operating system).

Where in Bell Labs would someone like me fit? Bell Labs has a start-up organization called Alcatel-Lucent Ventures, which is chartered with advancing Bell Labs’ innovations and other ideas into commercial products and services. One of the venture groups is a lean team (like, barely into double-digit headcount) called touchatag, and that is my new home.

About Touchatag
Touchatag is working in a space that is sometimes called “The Internet of Things,” a vision in which real world objects have online identities. By putting an identifier tag on any object, you can use that object in many new ways, such as accessing web-based information about it.

teds-social-business-card-qr-code_90Today, touchatag gives you two types of tags to work with: 2D barcode tags (also called QR codes), and a type of RFID tag for use with Near Field Communication (NFC) readers. The QR code shown at right is my “social business card.” If you have QR code reader software on your phone or computer, you can use it to take you to a web page showing many ways to find out more about me.

touchatag tag

RFID tags are the solid-state complement to QR codes. Small stickers, each embedded with a unique RFID, give you a more durable and less easily copied identifier that can be applied to any object. The scenarios currently available for use on touchatag’s site today is a mere pinhole glimpse at the breadth of possibilities that this technology will eventually yield…which brings us to my role at touchatag.

Assume Innovation Occurs Elsewhere
What do you do when the uses for an emerging technology’s potential extend far beyond what you can possibly deliver? Quoted in various ways, Bill Joy’s law advises:  “Most of the bright people don’t work for you–no matter who you are. You need a strategy that allows for innovation occurring elsewhere.” Perhaps Bell Labs, so well known for innovation, would be an unexpected source for that sentiment. Nevertheless, it’s why I am now at touchatag.

Developer networks are one of the more  powerful programs that companies use in order to accomodate Joy’s Law. Rather than trying to deliver everything for a technology or service unilaterally, providing developers opportunities and interfaces into that technology allows innovation to run far and wide. A well run developer program fosters mutual success and/or prosperity between the company and the 3rd party developers who adopt the company’s services.

Touchatag is building an online service that we hope will make it easy for developers to innovate extensively in the emerging space of NFC or QR codes, and the larger Internet of Things. My charter is to define and direct touchatag’s developer network.

For now, I’ll stay out of the details and simply say that the touchatag team and I have  a lot of interesting work ahead of us.

But What About Open Source?
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you may notice that I’ve dropped the old title “Open Source Advocacy with Reverend Ted.” While I still hold many of the ideals of Free Software, I hold other ideals that are much more dear to me.

When I was half my current age, I became conscious of environmental conservation, particularly the survival of species. Through 15 years of building a career in technology, I deepened my passion of the natural world by working to become more scientifically literate. I became increasingly focused on human consciousness and how it came about. In the process, I also developed a fascination for the Great Apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. These wonderful creatures, all severely endangered in the wild, are humanity’s closest kin. I never want to see our world without them.

Heidi Contemplates an ApeThis past summer, I met Heidi, a beautiful and intelligent woman who shares my interest. It’s both her hobby and her field of study. Together, she and I have formed a partnership in which we can collaborate on a shared cause. With Heidi, I see a path ahead in which my work in technology can contribute to something that is intensely important to me.

There are important ideals and ideas in the Free Software movement–I see it as a Humanist cause. But many of its proponents become singularly absorbed in its ideals, perhaps at the expense of more pressing issues. Poverty. Diseases, such as AIDS and malaria. Global human rights. Extinction. Climate change. There are serious problems in the world for humanity to address. I want to apply my efforts to affecting positive change.

I hope that those who come here for any reason will continue to read my posts about technology, but also my periodic posts about this other subject too.

Get a Touchatag Starter Kit
Touchatag Starter PackageIf you’re interested in checking out out how touchatag works, you can start using QR codes online today at no charge simply by registering on the touchatag website.

If you’d like to get into the RFID side of things, get yourself a Touchatag Starter Pack, which gets you a USB reader and your first 10 tags. (For my interested OSS bretheren, contact me about a Linux client.)
Thanks for your readership, especially during the long silences that have plagued this once very active blog.

Identi.ca: What’s the Point?

Note: Contrary to the title’s implication, this is not an anti-microblogging post. Originally a skeptic, I’m converted to the value of microblogging.

Addendum: Please be sure to read some of the very thoughtful comments made by Bob Jonkman, Hein-Pieter Van Braam, Craig, and Odin Omdal Hørthe. They managed to sway my opinion about Identi.ca.

A listener of the Linux Action Show left a comment about a statement I made on the show, something to the effect of, “I’m not on Identi.ca, because…what’s the point?”

I knew right after saying it that would rub a few people the wrong way. I don’t really have anything against Identi.ca. The glib tone of that comment is rooted in something I have asserted many times in my advocacy of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). I’ll state it again, this time in the context of web applications and services.

Let’s first lay out a couple definitions:

  • Identi.ca is a microblogging service that is very similar to Twitter
  • Laconica is the FOSS offering that powers Identi.ca

Onward we go…

Is Laconica Cloneware?

Long, long ago, I posted some thoughts on “cloneware”: free software that simply knocks off the functionality of a proprietary offering mainly for the sake of replicating the proprietary offering. Typically, what results is a cheaper, crappier version of the original. There are notable exceptions, and I hardly mean to suggest that its wrong to replicate just for the sake of doing it. But if the only goal is to replicate–meaning there is no other driving reason such as new innovation–then I don’t expect a very inspiring offering. (SourceForge is littered with many such dead-end projects.)

So is Laconica cloneware? No, I don’t think it is. Laconica is useful. For example, with Laconica organizations can freely implement their own microblogging hosts for whatever need they may have, such as hosting a confidential microblog. Laconica also demonstrates innovation. As an example, it allows you to federate your Laconica host with other Laconica hosts. So, if Laconica perhaps started off as mere cloneware, it then demonstrates that cloneware can beget innovation.

So, my “What’s the point?” comment was not at all aimed at Laconica. It was about Identi.ca. Why would I use Identi.ca?

Religiosity & FOSS: Why I Use Twitter instead of Identi.ca

I disagree with those who feel that we should all use FOSS for the principle of it. That sentiment is arrogant B.S. promoted by those who spend too much time enagaged in technological omphaloskepsis. Sure, you can make a case for how we all need to support OSS at every opportunity, but to me, it starts to sound a lot like religious dogma after a certain point.

I love innovations that provide me with a new and useful tool that just works. So while I advocate Free Software as a great delivery mechanism of new innovations, I have no issue with using a proprietary service that gets a job done. Twitter is a great example of such a service.

Twitter costs me nothing. Usually, it just works. For the price, I’m okay with when it doesn’t. It has an API that gives sufficient freedom for my data. Twitter also has a user base that dwarfs any other Microblogging service, which is very important. Much like Facebook, I can find almost every wired person in one place. The originators of Twitter were responsible for the advent of microblogging, and consequently they have a massive user base. I see nothing inherently evil with Twitter. In my opinion, they earned their success, and I’m comfortable to be one of their millions of users.

So, when I asked “what’s the point?” about Identi.ca, I was being deliberately provocative because I don’t see any advantage to using Identi.ca. Identi.ca cannot lure me away from Twitter merely by virtue of its use of a FOSS offering instead of a proprietary system. As I see it, Identi.ca is simply a knock off of a well-established service. Unlike Laconica, I don’t see its purpose.

Thoughts from eBay Dev Con

Over the past few years, demand for APIs into web-hosted services has increased enormously. Fewer and fewer big, web-based companies can resist the market imperative to provide API access into the services they offer. The number of APIs tracked by Programmable Web—from companies large and small—continues to grow.

Here are some stats to chew on, direct from the eBay Dev Con keynotes on Monday:

  • Total active users on eBay: 84,000,000
  • Developers in eBay Developer Network: 70,000
  • Developers employed by eBay: ~2,000
  • Number of applications using eBay platform: 12,000
  • Frequency of listing updates on eBay: 500 per second
  • Transaction volume on eBay: $2,000 per second
  • Number of people who make some or all of their income through eBay: 1.3 million
  • Amount earned by eBay’s top 10 affiliates through listings last year: $20,000,000 (yes, that’s averaging $2 million each)

What I found particularly interesting is the marketplace for developers. If you’re a developer looking to make money by developing to the eBay platform, the primary target market is not getting items to buyers. Rather, it’s providing the right tools to sellers. Independent developers and smaller development firms have provided everything from tools to get listings up faster, to tools to analyze data and optimize selling techniques.

In general, for the Amazon.coms and eBays of the world, providing web APIs supplements revenue—often from channels previously inaccessible via their main web storefronts. By opening APIs, these companies found that independent developers would willingly augment their platforms in numerous, innovative ways in order to exploit opportunities either too small for the companies to pursue themselves. Consequently, the APIs of these companies have created new opportunities for small shops and independent developers, benefitting both themselves and the API providers. By opening up APIs into their platform, eBay has increased its own success.

What I’m saying in general is: expect this trend of increasing data access through web APsI to continue. The model works.