Phil Gyford


Friday 25 April 2003

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The day got off to a blinding start with Alan Kay’s keynote bemoaning the direction software has taken over the past decades. He ran through some of the early developments like Spacewar on the PDP-1 computer and Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 demo of collaborative computing (among other things). Early innovations that were powerful and flexible. But forty years on we’ve ended up with clunky and complicated operating systems and applications.

During the talk it was noticeable that Kay wasn’t using PowerPoint, but a program that allowed him to adjust and edit elements of the presentation as he went along. Not only could he start and stop videos embedded in the page, but he could conjure up little palettes that allowed him to edit colours and text. It became apparent that this was all produced using Squeak, an implementation of the Smalltalk programming language. He went on to demonstrate how quickly young children could solve problems and produce tools using it and showed a 3D virtual world that allowed people to collaborate within it. It all looked wonderfully flexible and whenever I looked over at Webb’s evocative notes I nodded, smiling. Everyone was enthused and by the end of the talk laptop screens around the room were showing the Squeak environment.

I didn’t take in any of the Macromedia talk, my brain already being full of Alan Kay. But after that Clay was up to talk about social software. He always gives a good talk and this was no exception (at one point the audience mocked his apparent cult leader status with some chanting). Not necesssarily mindblowingly new, but entertaining and all good stuff (Webb’s notes). This was also the second plug for Pepys’ Diary (the first was in Jo’s talk yesterday); Clay was kind enough to say the site validated the whole idea of weblogs for him, given that it was going to be around for ten years.

Next I guiltily missed Tom’s talk about UpMyStreet conversations and listened to Ben talk about ThreadsML and other RSS-type stuff (my notes). Unfortunately I got a little lost when he started talking about Trackback; it seems almost impossible to explain this concept, even to people who already understand it.

I missed the next session to give my brain a chance to breathe, and Meg Hourihan was next with her talk on what was happening on the fringes of weblogging. Unfortunately, as she admitted, the fringes become mainstream remarkably quickly, and so there was little here that seemed new. Stewart Butterfield gave an entertaining and rambling talk about games as social software. It was packed with loads to think about. Webb’s notes outline the talk, and this old post by Matt Jones (and the comments) provides plenty of food for thought on this games-oriented stuff.

(One common thread I noticed today: Both Clay and Stewart doubted that a foolproof reputation system could be made for social software, Clay saying that the best reputation system is our brains — allow people to judge who to trust themselves.)

That was pretty much all I could fit in my head for the day. Then it was food and partying at Emerging Man, meeting more new people and some surprise appearances from old friends. And now it’s already well into day three as I finish this.

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