Friday, August 17, 2007

Truveo -- specialized, programmable video search

The first search engines simply looked for key terms in Web pages. Searches quickly became "smarter" -- giving more weight if a term was used in a first line or heading, looking at the proximity of search terms, etc. (These techniques were developed and tested by people like H. P. Luhn in the late 1950s). Google rose to prominence by using the number of links to a page as a measure of its popularity and hence relevance. Search engines are becoming ever more sophisticated.

We are also seeing the rise of specialized search engines. A good example is Truveo. Truveo only searches for video clips, but it is comprehensive with searches of given categories, channels (like CNN or ESPN), tags, etc. Perhaps more important, the application programming interface allows developers to incorporate Truveo searches into their Web sites.

Can you find other, specialized search engines? If so, do they have application programming interfaces that allow them to be used by others?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Desktop-Internet integration

We have seen the evolution of development platforms from batch processing systems through timesharing, personal computers, local area networks and now the Internet. In a recent Dr. Dobb's Journal article, Michael Swaine discusses the return to the desktop.

Swaine outlines four phases of development on the Internet platform:

  1. Static HTML pages
  2. Dynamic behavior exemplified by AJAX and Flash
  3. Application integration -- mashups
  4. Integration of the desktop with network applications
He gives capsule descriptions of development tools that are facilitating network-desktop integration: the dojo Javascript toolkit, Adobe AIR, Google Gears, Microsoft Silverlight, and Joyent Slingshot. With these tools, one can build applications that can store data on either the server or desktop, enabling users to work on-line or off-line.

You can experience this today using Google's RSS Reader. Reader uses a beta version of Gears to transparently store 2,000 items on your desktop for access when you are off-line. The premier version of ThinkFree, built using Slingshot, let's you work with Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents whether they are stored on locally or on the Internet. The beta test is currently closed, but will open shortly.

Is anything wrong with this picture? Since these applications save information locally, a bug or malicious program might cause harm. (As you see here, Gears warns the user). Performance might also be a problem. (Synchronizing for off-line operation with Google Reader takes just over a minute over my slow DSL link even if I made no changes while on-line). But, if your network connection and the speed of your desktop PC were fast enough, you would see equal performance performance regardless of where a file was stored. (That is not the case today for most of us, but what about ten years from now)?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Synchronous collaboration in virtual worlds

Virtual worlds like are used for synchronous communication. Here we see a panel discussion in a virtual classroom belonging to the Harvard University Berkman Center. Each panelist and attendee designs an avatar, which they control and move around in the virtual space. We see the panelists’ avatars seated at the front of the room and those of the attendees are seated around them. There are also shared spaces like the “flipchart” to the right of the panel. Organizations are experimenting with meetings, press conferences, concerts, and other synchronous events in Second Life.

Second Life is one of many virtual worlds. Some are geared toward a particular user group like children and others are focused on a game. tracks such developments and has lists 18 virtual worlds in this post.

Ning, a high-level development tool for social networks

We have spoken of varying levels of abstraction in a development platform, and seen that white-label social networking systems provide a high level of abstraction. is a good example. I used Ning to create a demonstration site. As you see, the site has a typical three column layout. I selected the color scheme and layout by clicking on one of several templates. The left column has links to threaded discussion forums and audio, video and photo libraries. I added them by dragging and dropping four icons. I added the blog in the center with another drag and drop. Note the Google Map mashups showing the locations of the photo and video. A single click could change the menu language from English to Spanish.

Creating the site, selecting the template and features to include, and uploading the library material took less than 30 minutes. There was no learning curve -- a wizard lead me through the steps.

I created this test site using the free version of Ning. I could have turned off the ads and used my own domain name for an additional $25 per month.

Ning is one of several white label social network tools. TechCrunch has published an excellent comparison of Ning and eight others.

Tools like Ning enable you to create complex Web sites with a few mouse clicks. Is there still a need to learn HTML and Web development tools?

An excellent review of white-label platforms for social networking

We have seen the evolution of development platforms from batch processing systems through timesharing, personal computers, local area networks and now the Internet.

Of course, there are varying levels of abstraction within a platform. One could program a batch processing application in assembly language or one could use a high level report generator like FARGO which gave you less control, but made application development much easier.

Today, the Internet is emerging as a first class development platform, and there are high and low-level tools. White-label social networking systems represent a high level of abstraction -- they are the FARGO's of today's Internet. "White-label" is a term taken from retailing, where, for example, a PC manufacuter places the retailer's brand name on their generic PCs. There are several vendors of general purpose social networking programs that allow the user customization.

An excellent review and discussion of these programs is available at Be sure to check out the feature chart accompanying the review. The list of features is a good planning checklist for any Web site.

I kicked the tires on one of Ning, one of the white-label programs, by creating a demonstration site with a blog, forums and audio, video and image libraries. Building the site took under 30 minutes. That illustrates what I mean by a high level of abstraction. (Read more and see the demo site here).

Have you seen other high level tools that enable you to create complex applications without programming?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quick eye candy for Web page images

swFIR is a simple tool that let's you transform images and render them in Flash. You can easily rotate an image, frame it, have it grow and shrink as the user resizes type, etc.

A hand-held projector -- for your cell phone?

Explay has demonstrated a hand-held projector that they plan to market in 2008. If the images are as bright as the one shown here, and the price is low, they will become ubiquitous. The display electronics fit on one chip, so your next cell phone (or the one after that, or ... ) might contain one of these projectors.

How could you use one of these projectors?