Particls – now you can all pay attention…

Particls on my desktop

The private alpha ends today. Yep the guys from Faraday Media have made Particls available to anyone who wants it. Go get it now.

For those who don't know Particls is an extensible attention platform. It learns what you like to consume and gives you more of that. I have been using it for quite some time now and have found it very useful.

  • For users: Particls is a filtered news reader or widget that learns what you care about and alerts you to important news and information while you work. More at
  • For bloggers and site owners: Particls allows bloggers and site owners to create a custom version of the application. Particls will share revenue with partners. More at
  • For developers: Particls is freely extensible by developers. Reach into corporate databases and web APIs to grab and display data in new and interesting ways. More at
  • How much is it: Particls is a free download with some ads. Later, an ad-free Pro version will be available for a small subscription fee. It is free for Partners to create custom versions.

So Particls is the biggest step forward in the debate over attention. Some of the scenarios people have talked about can be played out in Particls. For example if Particls knows what your browsing about, it can throw up an alert from a site owner suggesting a 20% discount if the person buys that item they were searching for on right now. And thats just the start of things.

I once outlined a scenario where Particls is looking at your Microsoft Money account and whats in your Amazon wishlist. It notices you always get paid on the 28th of the month. So through clever logic pops up alerts with discounts for some of your items on your wishlist when you have enough money to pay for it.

This is quite scary but possible. And raises the issue of people taking control of their attention data. Which is where APML fits in perfectly. One of the things which always impressed me with Particls was the ability to look at the result of their I-AM/U-AR engine in XML and adjust it accordingly. This means you can just erase a large section of your personal attention data without too much hassle. It also means you can import from something else like another attention engine or your keywords from your lifestream for example.

So enough chatter, you can download it for the PC here or check out options for the Mac while they develop their native mac version.

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Math is hard. Scaring ignorant people is easy?

So I recently watched the Panorama programmes on the White flightWiFi and Scientology.

The most recent one was the WiFi one, and its caused once again a huge stir online. The programme tried to delve into the world of radiation but failed badly. For example there was never a mention that Mobile phone signals operate on a much lower band (850 – 1900 Mhz) that wireless (2.4 Ghz). This was critical mistake when assuming the women who were sensitive to mobile phone towers would also be sensitive to Wireless. I also never heard anything about the fact Radiation is all around us all the time. For example the Sun gives of radiation which is very dangerous but some of you still bake in the sun on a good day.

What then bothers me is the school arguments. Its a obvious trick. Don't you want your children to be safe? Yes maybe there might be some long term side effect to wireless but by the time we know we'd have moved on to ultrawideband type communication, etc. This isn't going to be in our lives forever. Even if I'm wrong and next week someone does the maths and works it all out, I'm sorry but the Panorama programme was an obstacle not a helper.

Anyway, Miles found an excellent cartoon of the whole debate.

Very brief comments on the other programmes. The White flight one was quite worrying but interesting none the less. I don't think the problem is as bad down south. Maybe because the property prices are so high you can't be picky. The scientology one I felt was very good. You can see how the team tried to be balanced and open with the documentary but how it got hi-jacked by the scienctolgies in the end. When the reporter snapped my instant reaction was no don't let them do this to you, this is the reaction they wanted and yes I bet it made all the scientology videos this year. It also became clear how much money and resources this cult at its disposal. Its going to require much more distributed efforts to get the low down on whats going on in this cult.

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Video interviews from Xtech 2007

Xtech 2007 in Paris

It was great being at Xtech this year but it wasn't all play. I did actually film a lot and take notes. Ok there were sessions which were a little too early for my liking but that's the way it always is.

Along with all the videoing and write ups about Xtech 2007. I shot a few interviews while at Xtech 2007.

meta-technorati-tags=videos, backstage, bbc, interviews

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Microformats vs the Semantic Web?

So during Xtech there was certainly some underline tension between different tribes (as Molly calls them). XHTML 2.0 working group vs the newly opened HTML 5 working group, old skool application developers vs the nu fashion framework developers vs the rich internet application designers, xml lovers vs json lovers. But one of the most interesting clashes was the Microformats tribe led by Jeremy Keith vs RDF/A lead by Steven Pemberton. When I say clash I really mean a little ribbing here and there but yes it was noticeable. There wasn't a showdown like BarCampLondon2, no that would be silly (smile).

Well its not over by a long shot. When Jeremy shot the video above using my camera at the end of Xtech, I was impressed. The fact it can be done with one extra plugin is great and testment to the Microformats movement. However in the same breath, I was talking to Andy Budd and as he had attended the session about XHTML 2.0? session. He had a new respect for the hard work and hard decisions the W3C have to make everyday, he just wished it could be more open and a little quicker. Another thing happened just after Xtech to do with this debate. Uche who wasn't at Xtech (missed you Uche, but met your friend) posted up a blog entry to put some dynamite in the debateTom Morris has a good response to Uche.

I did a interview with Steven Pemberton and Michael Smith both of the W3C, I want to put it up but it needs a little editing and encoding. I ask some tricky questions including the debate over microformats but whats interesting is Stevens point about the Canvas element. Apple developed the specification then tried to pass it through the W3C. The W3C looked at it and pointed out that it was totally in-accessible. This is the reason why the W3C are very important when looking into the future. They have the long term view in their sights. We may moan about how slow things develop but there quite accepting of Microformats now, and I'm sure even Steven will smile when he see the video from Jeremy.

We're all working in the same direction, lets never forget that…

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A great overview of my talk at Xtech


Its funny to see an overview of my presentation, pipelines: plumbing for the next web in the Guardian. Its is good to confirm my talk did make sense and did make a few people stop and think.

As Ian says, APIs open the silos. APIs are application protocol interfaces and make it easy to pass data between applications and websites. Web services also have revenue models such as Amazon S3. Feeds are everywhere. Widgets and gadgets are starting to become useful. There are the Semantic Desktop projects. The most interesting data is online but it's also on your own computer, bridging the worlds of the internet and one's own computer.

Ian thought someone had to have built this, and then he discussed applications and services that came close to his idea, Touchstone/Particles, Automator and Yahoo Pipelines.

Touchstone/Particls is based on many inputs and outputs. There is only one input type: RSS. It is completely XML driven. It takes all of these RSS feeds, puts it through its own attention engine and then spits out more ordered information including flagging up really important things.

Automator makes it very simple to automate tasks. It has a powerful GUI, levels of abstraction. It plugs into the web, but it's proprietary. It's only on the Mac.

Yahoo! Pipes is the next service Ian reviews. I've used it. As a matter of fact, I used it to create a combined RSS feed of several showbiz and fashion blogs for our Lost in Showbiz blog. It is really, really easy to use, but Ian says that there is no underlying definable language. I find it slightly difficult to understand some of the operators as a non-coder. But that's probably just the limits of my own understanding.

Ian has his own idea for an application: Flow. It allows access to the local file system and anything connected to it. The Flow system has all of these things on the desktop such as applications but also a host of web services such as Twiter, Blip.TV, Technorati and Yahoo. Instead of using a traditional GUI, he suggeted using a widget.

Flow doesn't currently exist. It's not an application. It's not a service. He has partially built it. He uses RSS Bus to pull in XML files and turn it into RSS. It pulls in Jabber, Outlook, output from all kinds of applications. He then uses Apache Cocoon and Widgets. But it's not quite there. It usually crashes.

He wants Flow to be definable, graphical, standard, shareable, open and non-proprietary.

I like Ian's ideas, and I'm not just saying that because he's a friend and former colleague. I am beginning to use the web like this, although Ian is doing this on a more advanced level than I do. But as he says, novices can use other people's widgets or pipelines. This is already happening on Yahoo! Pipe. And people with little idea of programming can actually look and learn at other people's pipelines.

You can already chain together little web widgets and pipelines that do simple analysis to sift masses of information online. I wonder how useful it is for most users. Well, it's not even whether it is useful. I guess it's how much people are willing to invest in creating their own little apps.

But we are moving to a web where people aren't just creating content but also creating widgets, simple, small easily developed applications.

Quoted from the Guardian, but there's more worth reading. Also Kevin has a review of some sessions at Xtech including a video of moi on the stranger blog. I also captured some videos which plan to release on the backstage blog very soon.

Ok enough blogging from this great cafe.

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BBC watching what others are saying

Imp (her name not a nickname) has an extremely detailed post about the BBC iPlayer. I'm going to reserve all judgment till the final thing comes out, plus I shouldn't really be blogging about work things I guess? Some people have asked if I'm on the trial, well I'm not because to tell the truth, I honestly don't need a PVR like service like this.

Seeing how were talking about the BBC, I thought I'd also mention Ben Metcalfe's post about BBC Future Media and Technology (what use to be BBC New Media). I'm officially part of BBC Innovation and Development (I hope thats the correct name) which is slightly different but not far remove. Its sad whats happened to the BBC, but honestly there is no point crying over the dropped beer now. Its what we do in the future which matters now.

I also do not feel trapped in the BBC, I choose to work for the BBC and although I could maybe go somewhere else and earn tons more money. Its not about that for me. Me and Ben have had this debate many times. He wants to run a successful business, while I'm not interested in running my own business or even being a freelancer. Currently Ben and others seem to think the only way this will happen is if they go to America. Fair enough, but I think there in for a shock as the internet becomes truly more global. And this is not me being bitter, if I wanted to go to the states tomorrow, I could get up and leave (if I can convince Sarah to go back). I was never in the industry to be a rockstar, I find rockstars and popularity very boring. My aim is to only change the world one step at a time.

Next month sees my 1 year anniversary since leaving the BBC. In that time I’ve had a turbulent time – moving to a new country, helping to start a business that I later left because it wasn’t heading in the direction I wanted to see myself go. But in that time I’ve felt a sense of freedom and opportunity that I never felt within the BBC – even when I was given the ‘greenlight’ to do pretty much what I wanted… the constraints placed upon the BBC were always still there.

Funny enough, I found out that Paul Hammond also joined the Yahoo Flickr team recently. Congrats to him, honestly. I actually wanted to get on video why he felt the need to go to the states.Most of the guys I followed into the BBC including Paul, Ben, MattB, Kim, Matt Jones, Plasticbag, etc. Have all gone off and worked for other great companies. They have all remarked on how different things are outside of the BBC. Well currently this is more negative that positive. But mark my words, in a few years that will change and the BBC will be where everyone will want to work.

Lastly while talking about the BBC ( I really need to change the title of this blog post from BBC iPlayer covered like no one else to BBC watching what others are saying) Miles Metcalfe (not related to Ben Metcalfe in anyway) wrote a short entry which I meant to cover a while ago.

informitv reports BBC appoints Microsoft man to control future media. I am reminded of DEC and AltaVista, and why you will have heard of Google, but not AltaVista

In the same story, news that James Cridland will become head of BBC future media for audio and music. I've met James, and he's a nice guy. But he thinks the iPod is a closed platform. Possibly not the sort of person you'd want taking long-term decisions about DRM and BBC audio content, then.

Well technically the iPod is a open platform but its got elements of closedness which makes it not as open as others. I think James will make a great head. The fact he actually reads the debate which happens on Backstage and was trying to setup a backstage like project at Virgin Radio is huge. I know people with large pay packets who still don't understand backstage. I for one will be looking forward to seeing him around and working with him in the near future. I would be lying if the other comment about DEC didn't give me a chill, well observed Miles.

meta-technorati-tags=tv, bbc, catchuptv, pvr, trial, beta, iplayer, imp, benmetcalfe, jamescridland, milesmetcalfe

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Techmeme is pretty good to me

techmeme likes me

Been meaning to write about Techmeme for a while now, specially after Tom Morris's thoughts on Techmeme.

See for some reason Techmeme really likes my blog entries. I can't work out why, but I seem to get ranked pretty high along the likes of the mainstream press sometimes. Generally I do use Techmeme for catching up on the latest news, and although Tom is right about the business focus. Its reasonably ok and saves me flicking through tons of blogs about the same story, when I just want the headline stories. I rated it very high in Particls (Touchstone) for this exact reason.

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Xtech 2007 finished for this year

Xtech crowd

So its Friday and Xtech finished half a day ago. Overall, Xtech 2007 was excellent and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The conference was quite diverse in nature this year. A quick scan of a room revealed people from enterprise, academia, public sector and of smaller startups. The theme for the conference was ubiquity and most presentations were actually loosely connected. And what a range of topics this time around. Everything from debates about XHTML 2.0 and HTML 5 to the abstract nature of ubiquitous technology and products.

Once again choosing the sessions was always going to be very difficult with 4 tracks running side by side. Edd added Personal schedule just before the conference last week which helped a lot but I ended up adding more that one per slot into my personal schedule. In the end I went to these sessions.


I missed a few slots because of the late night drinking and talking with Molly, Gavin and others more that once. Most of the sessions I went to, I did video but its taking forever to upload all 2+ gigs of videos up to via FTP. I got a feeling the hotel might actually be crippling all ports except 80 and 443 because skype sounds like crap and my VPN to the house feels slower that it should be.


The hotel is a pretty nice hotel, a little pricey but its right on the river and just within walking distance from the Eiffel Tower. The conference felt a lot more tighter that the previous one I had been at (2005). Rooms all had plenty of power but wireless was a problem. It wasn't free which seems to be a theme for most conferences now, For the presenters a special code was given they could get online without too much problem

Great work Edd and the other people who  were involved. I look forward to Xtech  next yeaar. I'm already thinking about a couple of new proposals.

My Pictures | Group pictures
My Videos

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Microsoft announce Popfly, the mashup pipeline application

So only 2 days after my presentation at Xtech 2007 about user generated pipelines and how Microsoft have got something in store in this area. Microsoft release details of Popfly,

Popfly is the fun, easy way to build and share mashups, gadgets, Web pages, and applications.

There is a screencast which shows pretty much everything you can do at a basic level with Popfly. There's also some more focused videos here.

The service is split into two, one a application the other a service.

  1. Popfly Creator is a set of online visual tools for building Web pages and mashups.
  2. Popfly Space is an online community of creators where you can host, share, rate, comment and even remix creations from other Popfly users.

It looks good and works well. Almost anyone power user will get the hang of it within minutes but there is almost enough to keep more advanced users going for a while. However it falls down in the same places as Yahoo Pipes. No access to the local file system again. Theres even bigger problems when you compare it to my core principles of user generated pipelines.

  • Definable
  • Graphical
  • Standard
  • Shareable
  • Open
  • Non-proprietary

Popfly only manages to get Graphical and Sharable right. This is worrying but its still in Alpha, so who knows what might happen in the next version. Till then, there is a blog for the team and a few screenshots even.

meta-technorati-tags=popfly, pipelines, pipeline, usergeneratedpipelines, flow, xtech, xtech2007, xtech07

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My current development setup

I was asked today, what kind of setup I use for developing web applications. I tried to explain but failed because of the lack of common development tools and services. So I thought I'd try and blog it instead.

On my desktop I run,

  • XMLSpy 2005 Home Edition (discontinued the free version I think. Might switch to Oxygen XML soon)
  • Notepad++
  • WinSCP
  • Putty

On the server I run,

I tend to do lots of stuff in Cocoon and am slowly starting to use ZK for my front end display. Cocoon is perfect for the plumbing and ZK means I don't need to screw around with Javascript and DOM scripting. If I was deeply into the Ajax stuff, I might not need ZK but frankly I don't have the time.

 Yeah its very odd but it works for me.

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Plumbing for the next web at Xtech 2007

I have uploaded my presentation, pipelines: plumbing for the next web fresh from the first day of Xtech 2007 today to Slideshare.

The general view is that the presentation went down well and made sense. However I think people really wanted to see something which worked instead of slideware.

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My unofficial Out of Office message

odd part of paris

Thanks for your email,

I'm actually in a odd part of Paris for the Xtech 2007 conference. So won't be picking up work emails till the weekend because my bloody work laptop can't connect to public wireless! However if you would like to email me on my personal email, I'll be carrying my laptop and phone around everywhere so will be able to reply that way.

For urgent queries twitter me or im me.


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Flickr finally ends Yahoo photos

Well I guess once Yahoo moved everyone on flickr to the yahoo single sign-on, the nail was in the coffin for Yahoo Photos? Interestingly Yahoo will provide access to other services like photobucket.

Yahoo! has announced that it will shut down its Yahoo! Photos online photo-sharing service in Fall 2007. Members who have photos stored on the site will receive an e-mail during the summer asking them to transfer their images to Flickr, which is also owned by Yahoo!, or to another online gallery site. Other photo-sharing services that are set up to transfer photos automatically from Yahoo! Photos include Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Photobucket.

Yahoo! is also offering to send photo archive CDs to members who previously signed up for the New Yahoo! Photos. The discs will cost $6.95 for each 700MB of photos. Full-resolution images can also be downloaded from Yahoo! Photos albums one at a time.

When Yahoo! Photos shuts down, all images stored by the service will be deleted. Further information on the shut-down is available on the Yahoo! Photos Web site.

meta-technorati-tags=yahoo, flickr, yahoophotos

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