New Delicious

delicious or del.icio.us?I’ve been a long time user of delicious.com, back from when it was had the hard-to-remember address of del.icio.us. Even though bookmark syncing is built into both Firefox and Chrome having your bookmarks available on a website that you can access from anywhere, and integrated into your browser using an extension is a big advantage for me.

Recently the was some cause for concern as Yahoo decided they wanted to offload the site. As it had been a Yahoo property for a long time anyone taking it on would have a big job just to extricate it from Yahoo’s infrastructure. AVOS, a new venture from the founders of YouTube took the plunge.

Several months on and the site suddenly relaunched. Superficially it looks very similar, but with a slight Web 2.0 sheen to it. The transition seems to have been handled very well given the scale of the rewrite that was required. Aside from a smattering of bugs which have been quickly squashed the biggest issue seems to have been with the people who ignored the warnings and didn’t agree to allow Yahoo to send AVOS their details.

The biggest change is the addition of stacks. These are curated sets of links on a single topic. While the old Delicious showed popular links on the frontpage the new site shows featured stacks. As you can associate an image with a stack this gives the frontpage a much more visual look. The old website was undeniably plain and the images really brighten it up.

Like many people when the Delicious troubles surfaced I immediately looked for an alternative. The most obvious choice is Google Bookmarks. Very quickly they produced a tool that imported your bookmark from Delicious making any potential switch very easy.

Should you make the switch though?

I’m glad I held off as the only advantage Google has is the closer integration with Chrome. The site is just a big list of sites with none of the social features present in Delicious. While Bookmarks might be suitable for just keeping a small list of links, Delicious’ better organization tools and style really help to manage a big list.

My biggest concern with the new site is the same as my concern with the old one. The business model, or rather, lack of. Delicious has never displayed adverts, never had any premium features and in fact has never had a way to make money (that I know of at least). Do the new owners have plan to make it profitable? I hope so, but it’s hard to imagine what feature you could add that would make people pay and taking features away is likely to create a huge backlash.

In short I’m delighted to see Delicious rise from the troubles that it faced looking stronger and better than ever.


Photo of delicious or del.icio.us? by Alexandre Dulaunoy.

Advertisements

Crowd Sourcing Mapping

GPS Status app - HTC Desire by avlxyzRecently Google announced that they were making their crowd sourcing mapping tools available to users in the United States. This tool lets uses edit Google Maps, adding businesses and even roads, railways and rivers. This raises interesting questions about whether wisdom of the crowd can be applied to data that requires a high degree of accuracy.

Open Street Map has been doing this since 2004, and has put together an amazing resource of free map data, but only recently has Google begun to allow people to edit its maps for large parts of the world.

Accurate mapping data is terribly important. While the majority of Google Maps queries are likely to be “how do I get from my house to my aunt’s?” some are much more important. A war was almost caused when the border between Nicaraguan and Costa Rica was incorrectly placed. While a war is a little far-fetched, it’s not hard to imagine how a mistake on map could cost someone’s life in a medical emergency.

Originally Open Street Map required budding cartographers to get out with their GPS devices and manually record their position. With the explosion of satellite* mapping information creating maps just involves sitting at your webbrowser and clicking. But how accurate are the satellite images? It’s easy to find a road on Google Maps that disagrees with the imagines underneath it. It’s not so easy to work out which one is correct. The height and angle of the terrain, the location of the plane and other processing errors may make the satellite imagery not line up with GPS data.

Like most crowd sourced data sources Google’s Map Maker and Open Streetmap have a voting process so vandalism will be weeded out, but for people sitting at their computers looking at the same, possibly misleading photos, it won’t improve the accuracy of the changes.

Without knowing more about the collection process for the satellite imagery it’s hard to know what level of accuracy they have. Presumably it’s pretty good, but we need to decide how accurate maps need to be. When you’re looking a country level map even a kilometer here or there doesn’t matter too much, but get down to the level of a walker and suddenly centimeters become important.

What’s more important, masses of mapping information or accurate maps? I’m not sure, but I think it’s probably the latter.

If you want to see the mass of data that is being created by the crowd, Map Maker Pulse is a fascinating and hypnotic site to visit.

The final issue is that of licensing. Open Street Map is very clear that any time you spend improving their maps is rewarded by your work being released under an open source license. Google’s terms of service require you to given them a license to do whatever they like to your work. They do not need to make your changes available for others to use. Google is asking you to do high precision work for free and then taking that work and locking it inside in Google Maps, and that doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me.

* Hopefully no one is actually using imagery from a satellite for mapping, but rather photographs taken from a plane.


Photo of GPS Status app – HTC Desire by avlxyz.

Government And Website Launches

Crime Scene by alancleaver_2000On Tuesday the UK Police service launched a new website, with much fanfair, that allows you to see the crimes that have happened near where you live. This is part of the Government’s commitment to make data much more freely available than it has been in the past.

People are nosy. There’s no way around the fact that we just love to see what our neighbours are doing and to investigate the area around us. Every time a website like the crime maps, a new census, or noise maps launches the same sequence of events happen. The are news stories on TV, on radio and online and then the website crashes. We end up with stories like this and people will, in general, never go back.

If you investigate where this new site is hosted you’ll find it’s on RackSpace, who offer a cloud hosting service so really there’s no reason for the site to go down. Although the site is interactive there is no user generated data so the site should be easily scalable.

The site cost £300,000 to develop, and although 75,000 hits a minute is a lot surely will a little bit of thought the site should have scaled fairly easily?


Photo of Crime Scene by alancleaver_2000.

Where GitHub (Possibly) Went Wrong

8 Forks by bitzceltWhile on my delayed train this morning I was listening to episode 80 of the excellent Stack Overflow podcast. In this episode Jeff Atwood was complaining to Joel Spolsky about his problems with GitHub.

GitHub is a social coding site, along the same lines as Sourceforge or Google Code, but focused entirely on the distributed version control system Git. Where GitHub differs from the other project hosting sites, and where I think Jeff’s confusion comes from is that with GitHub the primary structure on their site is that of the developer, not of the project. They treat every developer as a rock star, who is bigger than the projects that they work on.

GitHub makes it incredibly easy to take a codebase, make your own changes and to publish them to world. What GitHub fails to do is to encourage people to collaborate together to push one code base forward. What I’m not suggestion is that branching is a bad idea. Branching code is a useful coding technique which can be used to separate in-development features from other changes until the code has stabilised again. What GitHub focuses on is the changes that an individual developer makes, not the changes required for a particular feature.

dewy branch by calliopeWhen a developer creates a copy of some code of GitHub they get a wiki and an issue tracker as well. This further confuses matters because not only do you have trouble knowing which git tree is the correct one to pull from, but you also don’t know where to report bugs or go to for documentation.

Google Code seems to be in a better position for combining distributed version control with project management. They have an excellent wiki and issue tracker, and give each project a straightforward and simple homepage. You can also use Mercurial, which is similar to git, as your version control system. All that they need to do is allow developers to publish their own changes, but in a markedly separate section to the core code of the project.

I can see how GitHub is nice for developers, but in any mildly successful open source project the number of users vastly outweighs the number of developers. It seems crazy to me to make your primary web presence suited only for the minority of people who are involved with the project.


Photo of 8 Forks by bitzcelt.

Photo of dewy branch by calliope.

Interestingness

As an amateur photographer I upload all my photographs to Flickr. Most of the them are mediocre, but one or two are good enough that I think they can stand along side the photos from more professional users of Flickr.

For the same reason that I blog, I put my photos on Flickr because I feel that I have something useful or interesting to offer and to interact with new and interesting people. My blog gets between twenty and thirty visits a day – not much, but roughly the same as the number of visit I get to my photos on Flickr. The difference is that I only have twenty posts on my blog, whereas I have 2,000 photos on Flickr!

Plenty has been written about search engine optimisation for blogs, but not much has been written about SEO for Flickr. The majority of my photos have five or so tags, a title and are geotagged. Flickr does allow you to write a description and this would increase the about of text thereby giving search engines much more to go on. The key to gaining exposure on Flickr though, is to appear on Explore.

Flickr are not explicit about whether photos that appear in Explore are influenced by humans or not. They certainly imply that it’s chosen algorithmically though. If it’s chosen by computer then it should be possible to help your photos gain more exposure, beyond just taking nice photographs. If you look at the people who have their photos on Explore two things just out at you. Firstly it’s that they have a lot of contacts, and secondly that all their photos have lots of comments. You’d expect photos that appear on Explore to have a lot of comments, but typically all their photos have lots of comments. This implies two things, that you need to be active in the Flickr community, and that your contacts need to be active in looking at and commenting on your photos.

It appears that Flickr’s definition of Interestingness rewards not only excellent photos but also active community members. This is a really excellent design decision on Flickr’s part because it almost completely removes the ability to ‘spam’ Explore – you do have to be active and to be producing great photos to get features.

So, how do you get your photo featured on Explore? Well, you need to be taking great photos, submitting them to groups and interacting with other users. Like the best photos, it’s hard work, with a touch of luck.

New Flickr Home Page

Flickr are in the process of testing a new style home page for logged in users. The process of switching is pretty fancy, once you click ok the old page fades out and is replaced by the flickr throbber which floats down the screen like snow flakes.

The new page is not really that different to the old page, but it does have slightly more information on it. I’m not quite sure what the point of the redesign was – it was nowhere near as dramatic as Facebook or Last.fm’s recent revamps.

Flickr’s website has changed little over the past year so it’s nice to see that the website won’t stagnate, and that new features are being added.