Everything needs an upgrade once in a while. I guess it was the Solar system’s time. So now we still have Pluto [great sigh of relief] but … Surprise surprise! There’s a new planet you never heard of before making an appearance between Mars and Jupiter. I dunno — I prefer Solar System Classic to the New Solar System. I really only like the Solar System’s old stuff — you know, in the pre-Ceres days? And don’t even talk to me about Charon and 2003 UB313. After that the Solar System really went down hill.
By the way, is this the best shot they could get of Ceres for the coming out party? I mean surely there must be something better in the press file…
Thanks to Scott for the “Solar System 2.0″ meme.
It seems to me that question of “Is Pluto a Planet” is not science. Yes, a single definition needs to be found and yes this definition needs to be applied to all future astronomical bodies we encounter going forward in order to know if we can call them a planet, but isn’t this is all really a question of semantics rather than, strictly speaking, science? It all seems a bit like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Changing what we call something does not change what it intrinsically is. Pluto will not suddenly disappear in a puff of logic if it is demoted from planet-hood. Having said that, if a definition is reached for which Pluto does not qualify, I say grandfather it in. Make Pluto the historical exception to the rule — a quirky footnote of history. Not because ‘Pluto deserves to be a Planet” but because designating Pluto as such tells an important story about the history of astronomy and how humans’ classification of the world around them evolved. Is that so wrong?
In the spirit of “eating my own dog food,” I’ve been using the Web more and more often from mobile devices over the past year — in particular from the Blackberry 8700. For things like keeping up to date with news headlines, this has actually become my device of choice – it’s so convenient, especially for sites like BBC, who have done the work on optimizing for mobile. Having a real QUERTY keyboard is a definite help for anything but casual browsing, however. Even with a QUERTY keyboard though, blogging from my Blackberry is still too difficult. For one thing, there is no spell-check which is a big problem. The web-based interface that Blogger provides is unusable on most mobile browsers (though haven’t tried the Safari-derived Series 60 browser — it probably works on that one since it works nicely on Safari on the Mac – which by the way provides spell-check as you type in large text entry fields). Text entry and content authoring in general is still a key stumbling block for mobile browsing.
So I’m off to Madrid for the Mobile Web Initiative Device Descriptions workshop. What is this all about? While I’ve been busying myself with chairing a working group on Mobile Web Best Practices, Rotan Hanrahan from MobileAware has been chairing the other Mobile Web Initiative working group: Device Descriptions. The Mobile Web Best Practices document is filled with recommendations like “don’t use xxx feature (cookies, for example) unless you know the device supports them.” The unanswered question is: how do you know if the device supports any given feature, or the answers to other questions like “how big is the usable screen space” (the size of the screen after you take away whatever is taken up by soft keys). The answer up ’til now has been: not very easily. The “official” way the mobile industry wants you to find this out is by using UAProf device profiles. The problem with these is that when they are produced (only a minority of device, they are often not accurate or they simply do not contain the information that Web providers need to adapt their services to different browsers on different devices. This is a key issues that is blocking the growth of the Mobile Web. There are numerous solutions to this problem in the market. Companies like Vodafone assemble big proprietary databases of devices that matter to them. Others employ commercial software that comes bundled with device databases (again proprietary). Still others employ the open source WURFL database. All of these solutions are “islands” that do not overlap or interoperate.
But what if there were a simple way for any Web developer to gain access to basic information about the devices hitting their site. What if they could use this information in a straight forward way in their templates (JSPs, ASPs, PHP, etc…) or other server-side logic for the purpose of more easily providing a mobile-friendly user experience in accordance. And what if this information were available as a utility – as transparent and ubiquitous as DNS or HTTP headers and integrated seamlessly into all the most used Web development frameworks and Web servers.
This is what I call “device description nirvana” and it is this promise that the work of the Device Descriptions working group hopes to help realize. The group has worked over the past year on defining the space. Now we shall see if we can take it to the next level. I have high hopes.
The Mobile Web Best Practices “show a new awareness of the need to help websites work better on small screens.” Ok — so the title of the article is “W3C guidelines inadequate” but for the Register, this reads like a rave review.
Score one for the rule of law. See Reuters article (spelling seems OK).
Reuters did a great article on the Mobile Web Best Practices. Too bad they misspelled my name, misquoted me and got about 2 out of 4 facts wrong. Now I know that I have a name that invites misspelling, but honestly I expected better from Reuters. BBC news didn’t seem to have any problem with it, although they did quote me out of context and in opposition to (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee, which was a bit irksome. On the factual side, the W3C has 405 members – maybe Reuters meant the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices working group, but I guess that’s too subtle a distinction for professional journalists. Also, I didn’t say that “cookies do not work on cellphones.” I said that cookies do not work on some phones (oh – there’s that subtlety problem again). There are some good parts of the article though. The word “mobile,” for instance, is used correctly.
Here’s an interesting article on the unintended consequences of social networking. Basically, it is reported that the NSA is snooping social networking sites (with the juicy twist that it plans to do so using Semantic Web technology – more on that later). This seems to fit into the category of “examples of why it’s important to have some kind of user-controlled trust / privacy layer in the fabric of the Web.” Who should be able to see information you put online (including your links to others and the nature of these links) and who shouldn’t? P3P addressed some of these issues but it was never widely adopted. Liberty Alliance has built some interesting technology standards around federated identity, but they are not user-centric, they are provider-centric and they do not really cover privacy. An interesting effort called Dix seems to blend the two approaches, but after a quick read of some of their use cases, it doesn’t seem that they cover “prevent the government from snooping my network.”
Or is laying ourselves open to government surveillance the price we pay for living more of our lives in the digital realm?
By the way, on the whole Semantic Web issue, I think the link they are drawing in this article is tenuous at best, but it is true that the Semantic Web architecture is likewise lacking a coherent identity and trust mechanism.
Mobile Monday is really hitting its stride. We held our 8th event last night and the turn-out was good (we filled the space), the speakers were fantastic, the demos were… interesting, and the “vibe” during the reception was great. We tried to capture that feeling for the podcast by roving around with a camera and interviewing various attendees. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!