Monthly Archives: July 2007

Just bookmarks? It’s all gone Wong…

wong logo

A few weeks ago I got an invitation to take a look at a preview for a new social bookmarking site called Mister Wong.

I’m a busy person and frankly I’m now tending towards the view that I don’t have time to play with every single one of these new sites. Currently I have Spock, gleamd and others in my “to look at” list. As a result, I received the invitation to Mister Wong a little while ago, and only just got around to playing with it.

So, social bookmarking. Been around a while, with del.icio.us and ma.gnolia leading the charge. IBM has Dogear, which we’ve now integrated and offer to other organisations as part of Lotus Connections (sales pitch over). Why would another company launch in this space?

It turns out that Mister Wong has been available in Germany for a while but they are now launching internationally. I’ve been using the preview version, but I think they are going live to everyone shortly.

My initial reaction was, why bother? I’m not the most prodigious user of del.icio.us, although I’m gradually improving my habits, mainly to avoid keeping literally hundreds (ok, well, 150) of tabs open in Firefox for weeks at a time.

The first step was to export bookmarks from somewhere else. Mister Wong accepts an export file from del.icio.us or a browser (IE, Firefox or Safari). That worked fine, and retained all of the tag, date, and other information.

So again, why bother? Well, Mister Wong has a couple of features that del.icio.us doesn’t have:

  • Groups, enabling people with similar interests to share links. This is probably the killer value-add over del.icio.us, although whether or not it is enough to swing participation across to a new service is questionable. It does put an emphasis on social behaviour, and I do think that is a key aspect of the social bookmarking concept.
  • Preview images (I’m sure there are Greasemonkey extensions that can add these to del.icio.us, and I know ma.gnolia has them already)
  • A selection of plugins, tools and widgets. There is quite a range, including one for the Mac dashboard, one for the iPhone, another one for other mobile devices, and another for WordPress. OK, so del.icio.us does have some of these kinds of things already, but the range on offer on Mister Wong at launch is pretty impressive… no Facebook integration yet, although I did suggest it to the developers.

I’ve made a number of comments to the developers about possible issues or changes they might like to make:

  • The name is a bit strange… unfortunately the range of icons (favicon, Firefox toolbar icon) might actually be considered offensive to some users since they draw on ethnic stereotypes. On the other hand they might just be a bit of fun. You decide! [edit 31st July] The CEO has written a post about this on the Mister Wong Blog.
  • No Atom feeds at present, only RSS. Given that Atom was declared “done” last week, I would have expected a new service like this to offer Atom as well as RSS. Heck, they could even offer Atom Publishing Protocol support :-)
  • As of today, the bookmarklet and Firefox toolbar option to tag a page takes the user to the Mister Wong site, rather than popping up a window. The developers tell me this is going to change when it goes live to a wider audience. It’s annoying as it stands.
  • [edit 31st July] I just discovered that there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to import bookmarks into a group, but I may be wrong about that. Currently I have to edit each individual bookmark and add to a group.
  • [edit 31st July] There appears to be a limit to the number of tags per bookmark – 12. MW preserved all the tags on my imported bookmarks, but attempting to edit and re-save them later, I see an error message about having too many tags. That’s plain annoying, and hopefully a limit that the developers can change.

Overall then, it really is hard to see why I’d move from del.icio.us – it’s where all my friends are – but I certainly had no issues in casual usage of Mister Wong, it looks nice, and I guess I wish them luck… it could be quite an uphill struggle, but if they make the most of their differentiation from del.icio.us and make enhancements as they go, the site could be successful.

Additional coverage:

Mister Wong launches Social Bookmarking Tool in US

Social bookmarking the way it was meant to be

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Virtual world backchannels

I spent the early part of this week at an internal conference. Part of my role was as a speaker: I gave a talk on Social Software (unfortunately some of the slides are confidential, or I’d put it on Slideshare). The other thing I was involved in was working with Roo to demonstrate some of the virtual worlds technologies that we have been looking at in IBM for the past 18 months.

For my part, I spent most of my time showing some of the IBM areas in Second Life, before handing people across to Roo to look at the other technologies.

One of the interesting aspects of how virtual worlds have been used lately is as backchannels to, or extensions of, various events and conferences. For example, the keynotes from Lotusphere, IMPACT, the Rational Software Development Conference and others have all been broadcast into Second Life. I attended several of them, and found it interesting how people were able to both watch and listen to the video streams, and socialise and comment on the talks at the same time.

There’s another event coming up next week. Here’s the announcement:

IBM Innovation Ecosystems conference – Second Life

From Monday 30th July to Wednesday 1st August, IBM will host a Real Life conference on “Innovation Ecosystems”. Accompanying this conference will be a Virtual Conference simulcast, at the IBM Second Life Business Center.

Drop into the IBM Business Center to watch presentations from the conference, to wander through the poster display area, or just to have a coffee and talk to some of IBM’s Distinguished Engineers.

Link to IBM Business Center in Second Life

How do I know about this one? Well, during the demonstrations this week, I was showing some of my colleagues in the real world some of our private sandboxes in SL. Whilst online, I bumped into someone from the US who was building a new prototype office space… and shortly afterwards one of my mentees came online, so I teleported her over. So there we were, having a three-way, cross-geo meeting and conversation… during which it emerged that the Innovation Ecosystems event is happening next week.

 adhoc_small

It was a great demonstration of how the technology can be used. That kind of casual, ad-hoc gathering would never have happened by phone or web conference.

Is this the best button ever?

The East Midlands Conference Centre has possibly the best feature in the world. In this clip, Roo demonstrates my discovery ;-)

Augh. Video editing torture…

Earlier this week I gave a talk at an internal IBM conference.

I broke with tradition by using Apple Keynote to produce the slides, rather than Powerpoint. I love Keynote. The application is a joy to use; the rendering is beautiful; the slide transitions are lovely. It does seem to encourage me to think about not using bulleted slides, which can only be a good thing. Oh, and the presenter view is amazing – you can drag and drop different elements and create your own customised display, something that PPT does not offer.

So, presentation done. Roo was kind enough to use his voice recorder to record the session… OK, so it was in WMA format, but iTunes quickly converted that to MP3 for me. Slides, plus audio. Looking good.

On the audio side, I was able to use Audacity to balance the levels where the audience questions were a bit faint, and to cut out a few extraneous umms which trimmed the length of the talk a bit. It is a shame Audacity isn’t slightly more OS X-like, but I guess things like the lack of drag-and-drop support are largely the fault of the wxWidgets toolkit that Audacity is built on.

I really wanted to export the slideshow from Keynote as a Quicktime presentation, preserving the nice transitions. As it happens, that is possible, but you can only set a defined transition time which is the same for each slide. That meant that it would be hard to match the audio to the slide transitions, since obviously the length of time for each one, varied. I tried this anyway, loading both the video and audio into iMovieHD, and then had a go at cutting the movie up and matching it with the audio cues.

There’s a problem here. You apparently can’t stretch the duration of each video segment. So, I then thought about making still frames to go in between each slide transition. Another problem – the quality of the still frames created by iMovie was awful. OK… so then I tried exporting from Keynote as static images, and importing those into iMovie. Same problem – even after I’d got past the Ken Burns effect thing which was zooming each image as I added it as a movie frame, the still images themselves were an order of magnitude uglier than the main video.

At this point I was getting seriously frustrated with Apple’s flagship, easy-to-use, included-with-the-OS, just-buy-a-Mac-video-editing-is-a-breeze, iLife suite.

It turns out that iMovieHD uses some poor quality encoder to import and export still images. I don’t know whether this is to encourage users onto the £199 Final Cut Express, but it sucks. I tried exporting a slideshow from iPhoto, but that has limitations on the duration of each frame, too. Oh, and the transitions available in iMovie are not the same as those in iPhoto, which in turn are not the same as those in Keynote. Argh.

Next I downloaded Still Life, and had a play. This is a relatively cheap ($25/£15) application which is intended to build simple slideshows with more advanced panning, whilst retaining decent quality in the stills.

In the end, I exported my slides as images from Keynote, imported them into Still Life, set a duration for each slide of 5 sec, and then exported from Still Life as an iMovie project. Result: I had an iMovie project which had a series of 5 second frames. I imported my MP3 commentary track, and then repeatedly copied the frames so that each slide lasted for the relevant length of time whilst I was speaking on the audio track. Tedious, and I lost the pretty transitions, but it has worked.

My final challenge has been exporting the movie. iMovie provides some defaults, like full quality (estimated to produce a 9Gb file in my case – a lot for a 45 min slideshow with a bit of audio), DVD or Web. The Web version is pretty small and crunches my slides into a 320×240 frame, but it does come in at an acceptable size of 40Mb. The larger size I exported, at 640×480 frame size, ended up at 600Mb. Cote recommended VisualHub, which I’m also going to take a look at. I mean, it’s not even as if this is complex video – it’s a series of still frames with some audio underneath. I would have liked a bit more complexity, in all honesty, but it seems that was too hard to achieve with built-in tools.

I guess there was an alternative to all of this… I could have cut up my audio file into sections for each slide, attached them in Keynote, and exported in a format of my choice (Flash or QT, I suppose). It assumes that Keynote is smart enough to show each slide for the duration of the attached audio file. Maybe I’ll try that next time. Or maybe some Mac, presentation, and video editing guru will just slap me down and tell me what I did wrong. This whole thing felt a lot harder than I expected it to be.

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Moo – the party

Last night I went up to Exmouth Market in London for the launch of the new StickerBooks by Moo.

An excellent party. I think it was Suw who commented that they promised us a “hot and sticky” party, and given the weather yesterday, that’s what we got.

The venue was adorned with various Moo products. I like the look of my own Moo cards, but I’m continually astounded by the quality of the cards that other people come up with.

Minicards

It was also a great opportunity to pursue my efforts to meet people in my social network. I finally managed to catch up in person with Suw, Kevin and Leisa (although the latter took some finding!). It was also good to reconnect with Myk, Al, Kim, Hugh and others. I managed to share a fair number of Moo Minicards, but fewer than I’d expected to hand out. Maybe I’m not so good at this whole networking thing ;-)

The bar Very sticky Minicards

There were enough people there that they ran out of name stickers, and for the crowd to spill out into the street and nearly block Exmouth Market. I hadn’t been to that particular part of London before – it seems like a nice area.

Moo party crowd

Incidentally, if you were there and are reading this blog entry, and wondering whether you saw me – I was the person whose superpower is “reckless enthusiasm”. Ola found that rather ironic. That sticker is now on our fridge, as a reminder that I’m supposed to be enthusiastic…

As for the Moo Stickers themselves – very nice. I’d already ordered my own first set before the party, but I hadn’t seen the finished product. I picked up a free book last night. They are the usual high quality product that we’ve come to expect from Moo, although a bit fiddly to peel out of the book. The books themselves contain space for stickers from your friends, and have some lovely touches (all I’m going to say here is: you ain’t seen me, right?). I think they are going to be great for general decoration, sharing my photos with others, and giving to my nieces and nephews. The size of the stickers is also likely to encourage me to take more close-up shots. I’ve been adorning my own items with a few stickers already.

Stickers on display

LaughingSquid also has a review of the StickerBooks.

On a related note – the first real signs of possible competition to Moo have appeared with the new PhotoBox MyCard. These are normal size / standard form factor business cards, but the trick they do have is that they can be double-sided, with a collage of photos on one side. On the negative side, the range of designs is a bit limited, their site is not hugely usable, and they do not pull images from Flickr or other websites… given the quality of the product, ease-of-use of the site and niceness of the people, I have to say that that my loyalty to Moo is strong, especially after events like last night, so I think PhotoBox may have an uphill struggle.

Check out the set of shots I took last night over on Flickr. And then go and order your stickers. You’ll be their new best friend.

Here’s the official write-up on the Moo blog. They used one of my photos. Yay!