Saturday, 30 June 2007

BBC iPlayer: free TV downloads on demand - public beta launches 27 July

UPDATE: on how to sign up for the public iPlayer trials, and for screenshots and a video of iPlayer in action, see
this post.

I've updated my post on BBC iPlayer, the Beeb's planned new service for "7-day" catchup TV over the internet or cable - which when launched will mean the BBC will finally be catching up with other broadcasters on the convergence / video on demand (VOD) front.

There will be an open beta launch of iPlayer internet TV on 27 July, with a full public launch in autumn 2007, so be poised to sign up then if you're keen. I'm currently taking part in a limited technical tests trial (formerly known as BBC TV Test). I participated in the BBC iMP (integrated media player or MyBBCPlayer) trials before that and posted on iMP key issues, tips and tricks, and initial views on iMP.

Here's the BBC promo video (note that the embed code and full story are from the BBC News website i.e., and I recite, This content is from the BBC News Website (this page), as I wouldn't want to fall foul of the BBC again - I trust that was enough of a full functional link and attribution, but I can well imagine that in many cases it wouldn't be easy to figure out which BBC News content us mere bloggers are supposed to link to or what attribution to use; why don't the BBC add that link to the embed code and then people wouldn't have to puzzle / worry about it?). There's a few screenshots of iPlayer in action towards the end of the video, just don't blink too often:

(You can add the video to your own blog if you want to, here's the code, but if you don't want to
get into trouble with the BBC you'd best include this link very clearly near it. UPDATE: BBC code and Blogger don't seem to get on. Preview is fine but after publishing the code gets mangled, at least on my system (inserting a %27 before and after the src URL), and visitors get a blob on IE or a (fruitless) request to get a plugin on Fox. I had to edit HTML for the post and re-paste the code to get it working.)

Streaming, series stacking and the integration of BBC Radio Player, which presumably means non-DRM podcasts (all covered in my original post), won't be available initially but will only be added later. One good thing however is that at launch iPlayer is intended to be fully accessible to visually impaired and hearing impaired people and those with restricted motor functions.

Third party syndication will be via YouTube later this year (promo clips only with links back to the BBC site), and on cable via Virgin Media (full programmes within the 7 catchup period but no local storage, I believe), with possible syndication via other sites like MySpace, with whom the BBC are currently in talks. According to the BBC press release
"Later this year, [BBC iPlayer] will become widely accessible across, as well as via links from YouTube and a number of other potential distribution partners (subject to the BBC Trust's new syndication policy and management's guidelines [draft here]).

Users will be able to watch promotional clips of programmes, and link back to BBC iPlayer on, enabling them to download the full programme.

The BBC is in discussion with a wide range of potential distribution partners, including MSN,, AOL, Tiscali, Yahoo!, MySpace, Blinkx and Bebo. "

Catch-up TV is also to be available on Freeview sometime, though it's not clear to me whether this means Freeview on digital terrestrial TV, or on cable.

It seems "a version for Apple Macs could be available in autumn, with versions for Window's Vista and mobile devices to follow."

Complaints about DRM for iPlayer continue to be reported e.g. by the Open Source Consortium. I bet a lot more people generally made a noise about the point. It's interesting that in the BBC's 2-minute promo video for iPlayer, Ashley Highfield spent as much as the last 30 seconds, yes that's a full quarter of the promotional video's total duration, justifying DRM for iPlayer: "The OSC have already made their case to the Trust and the Ofcom, who said there is no case to answer. I'm more than happy to engage with the OSC in meaningful debate but as the OSC themselves said, in an ideal world the BBC wouldn't have DRM (digital rights management) on its programmes. We don't live in an ideal world. We simply wouldn't be able to offer the iPlayer unless our rights holder were happy that we were protecting their content." I fully appreciate the BBC has to come to a compromise with rights holders, but "there is no case to answer" etc seems a bit on the defensive side to me...

Remember, it'll take a while to download and cost you bandwidth, even though it uses P2P (peer to peer filesharing). BBC director of future media & technology Ashley Highfield said "over a 2MB broadband connection half an hour of programming would take approximately half an hour to download." You can't book a download in advance as you could for the iMP trials (which I took part in).

It seems the commercial iPlayer for global audiences, described in my previous post, could launch in 2008.

On the technical side, it seems that others involved in the development, as well of course as the BBC Future Media & Technology team, include Red Bee Media, and Verisign working through Siemens, and Autonomy for the search and browse facility.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Your photos on every desktop? Google Pack Screensaver feeds

The free Google Pack collection of "essential software" put together by Google () includes a nice Google Photos Screensaver which you can set to rotate through the photos or other images on your computer (e.g. all pics in selected folders). Google have provided clear instructions including a video on how to add photographs etc from folders as a source for screensaver pictures.

But I particularly like the fact that you can even add photo feeds (photo streams) from the Net to your screensaver.

For those who don't know what feeds are, the good news is that you don't have to know. For present purposes, all you need to know is that popular picture uploading / photograph sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket and Google's own Picasa Web allow users to provide feeds of their uploaded photos, which can then be accessed via the standard feed icon:
(or - it's the same thing - "Feed" or "RSS" link), which you'll find tucked away usually at the bottom left or right of the relevant webpage, usually with a "Subscribe to X's photo" description. Google have put together a list of other sites that support photo feeds.

How to add a photo feed from the Web to your Google Photos Screensaver

  1. First, make sure you have permission to use the photographer's work on your computer. You might think that if they've uploaded their pics to the Web it should be OK - but nope, copyright is never that straightforward. E.g. I have the copyright to the content of this blog, and even though I've published it on the Web so that it's easy for others to copy and paste my text / pics or scrape them from my feed, that doesn't mean that it's legal to do so - in fact, my content can only be used or reproduced on the terms I've set, which in my case is the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 version of the Creative Commons licence - which basically allows people to use my content privately for free without further permission from me, as long as they credit me. If the author has licensed their work under Creative Commons or similar licences, then you should be OK.

  2. To check permissions, you may have to do a bit of clicking through. Flickr at least have made it easier to do this, by putting the copyright info (e.g. "Some rights reserved") right under each pic, and you can click hover over the icons to see the details. More photo sharing sites ought to do this. Here's an example from the Flickr page of SWSwann who kindly gave me permission to use a photo in my post on "how to sneakily upload an MP3 to Blogger even though they won't really let you yet" (I also show in that video where to look to see the licence) - see the "Some rights reserved" and icons before it?:

  3. All right, you may well sigh and point out that even if you don't have permission to include someone's photostream on your home computer screensaver but you do it anyway, who's to know? And would they really bother to take you to task for it? But hey, I'm just pointing out the strict line on this - remember that record companies have sued grannies and 12 year old girls on MP3s. So you can't say you haven't been warned.

  4. So, go to the page whose feed you want to use - sometimes you have to go to a particular album to see a feed link. Again, as I know it's CC licensed, I'll use SWSwann's page as an example. See the orange feed icon in the illustration under 2 above? RIGHTclick that link and choose Copy Shortcut (or Copy Link Location or the like) to copy the feed link to your clipboard.

  5. Now follow the Google instructions on how to get to your Google Photos Screensaver Settings, but this time tick Photo Feeds and click Configure. Paste the RSS feed link you copied earlier in the box at the top, click Add, and then you can go and get more feed links and paste the next one you want, click Add, etc. Finally click Done when you've finished, and OK. And that's it.

How to make your own photos available for others to add to their Google Photos screensavers

The process is similar if you're a photographer or artist and would like to promote your work and like me you think that "free for personal use" is a great marketing device.
  1. Make sure you license your pics clearly. If you want to restrict use of your photos, adding a licence is a good idea as you don't want to see commercial enterprises like big newspapers printing your photo without paying you for it, for instance, even if you're happy for people to use it for free privately. Flickr have made it relatively easy to add a CC licence to your photos.

  2. Of course, you need to make sure that the photos or albums you have in mind to make available for photo streams are in fact publicly viewable so that people can actually see them to add them! You may need to edit your Album Properties in Picasa Web, for instance, to tick Public.

  3. Next, publicise the availability of your photo feed, e.g. in your blog sidebar. For instance, under the display of pics from your public Picasa albums which you've added to your Blogger blog using Kirk's Picasa Web Albums Widget Creator you could insert a note like:
    "Add this photostream free to your own Google Photos Screensaver (here's how)"

    - making sure you show your photo feed link clearly (e.g. make "this photostream" the link to your feed). If you want to link to this post for the "here's how", as I've shown above, please feel free to. Similarly you could add that note to a Flickr badge in your sidebar.

  4. Another good way to publicise your photo feed is via Google's Google Pack Group. A good thing is that if you join that group, then, while you're signed in, go to the Google Pack Group's screensaver page, you can add your feed to the list there. Just click the Edit link at the top right or the "Edit this page" button at the bottom left and add your details, remembering to make your feed link a clickable link (yes, it's effectively a wiki). You may need to click the Edit HTML link if, as on my system, you can't add any text otherwise.

The future? Feed me kittens and puppies...

Major search engines now provide feeds for search results. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before photo sharing sites do the same thing - so you could have a feed just for pics which match the search term "puppies" or "kittens". Awwwwwww.

I suspect it's mainly a question of sorting out the copyright issues. But if they filter out photos without Creative Commons licences from their search results, they should be able to include a "Subscribe to puppies photos for private use" link or the like, automatically. It shouldn't be hard to do and it would be great if they did that - what serendipitous fun to have random new pictures of cute kittens etc popping up unexpectedly on your computer. (If you're female, anyway. I suspect that men - let's not be ist about it, some of you, then - might prefer to subscribe to search results of a, shall we say, perhaps slightly different nature. Well, you could, if they've been appropriately tagged and the photo sharing site provides the feeds.)

Flickr seem ahead of the game on this one - they've already created a Creative Commons photo pool (see the feed link). But the feed links aren't easily obvious from Flickr's CC pages. And even though you can search for CC licensed pics on puppies you can't see a feed link. Hint hint, pretty please, Flickr, Picasa etc...?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Blogger: how to upload MP3 files to play in blog posts

This post explains how to effectively upload music MP3s and other audio files via Blogger so that people can play them from your blog post. This trick makes use of Blogger's new video uploading feature, currently still in beta.

As you may know, following the rollout of the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, Blogger have decided to allow users to access experimental features via the new Blogger in Draft - for example, the ability to upload videos. Users of Blogger in Draft can upload video files, which are hosted for free on Google Video. Video uploading is the first test feature to be rolled out via Blogger in Draft (effectively a playground for users to try out and comment on planned new features which aren't quite ready for prime time yet - more on Blogger in Draft, and its video uploading and some screenshots of the video uploading process plus issues and bugs).

However, Blogger still don't allow users to upload audio files like MP3s. So, my suggested workaround to add audio files is this (sounds like a recipe doesn't it, though no scissors are involved!):
  • take a picture or photo that goes with the MP3 you want to add to your blog - in fact any image file will do, you can even use more than one if you want to, but it's kinda nice to pick something that matches the mood of the MP3 you want to upload
  • take the MP3 that you want to add to your blog post
  • combine the image and the audio into a video file (movie), so that basically the audio "accompanies" the static photo i.e. the photo is the background for the audio you want to store via Google, and
  • upload the resulting video file to Blogger in Draft.
Here's an example of a combined video I made earlier:

Apple Mac users?

I only have Windows XP, so these instructions are for XP only. However, Apple Mac users will be able to do what I've outlined above (in fact it's probably even easier for them) using something like iMovie.

How to convert MP3 plus picture to a video (Windows XP)

What you need

You need to have on your PC:
  • at least one photograph or picture file, in a standard format like JPEG or GIF
  • the MP3 file you want to upload - it's easiest if you store it in the same folder as the pic
  • Microsoft Windows Movie Maker (if you haven't already got it with Windows you can get a free download here, but it only works on Windows XP Service Pack 2, not SP1, and there are other system requirements)

Step by step howto

Here's a step by step. Later in this post I've included a video which goes through the steps to illustrate them in practice.
  1. Install and launch Windows Movie Maker (WMM).
  2. Go to menu File, Import into Collections.
  3. Browse to your photo or picture and click Import. You can select more than one image file, if you want to use several, by holding down Ctrl and clicking each one, before you hit Import. If your MP3 is in the same folder, you can select it here too.
  4. You should see a thumbnail (smaller sized version) of the pic in the middle of the WMM window with the name of the file under it. That's the Collections area.
  5. If your MP3 is in a different folder, in WMM again go to menu File, Import into Collections.
  6. Browse to the MP3 file that you want to upload and click Import.
  7. An icon representing that file (pic of musical note) will appear in the middle of the WMM window, with the name of the file under it.
  8. From the Collections area, drag and drop the pic that you want to appear at the start of the video to the bottom of the WMM window, so it's at the start of the grey horizontal bar that's labelled Video. (The bottom section is called the Timeline; if you can't see it, click the Show Timeline icon.) Then drag down and drop the next pic you want to show in the video so that it's after (on the right of) the first pic. And so on for all the pics you want to use.
  9. Next, drag and drop the MP3 file from the Collections area to the bottom of the WMM window, to the start of the grey horizontal bar labelled Audio/Music.
  10. (Optional) You can match the video display duration with the audio. Each pic you add to the timeline will by default show for just 5 seconds (you can change that default in Tools, Option, Advanced, Picture duration). If your audio recording is more than 5 seconds long, after the first few seconds anyone who plays the video will still hear the audio, but then their screen will go blank after 5 seconds. If you don't mind that, it's fine, you don't have to do anything more. But if you want your image to be visible to accompany the audio until the audio finishes playing completely, it's easy to do that.
    • Click on a pic in the timeline to select it.
    • Move the cursor to the right of the pic and it becomes a double headed red arrow.
    • Just drag the right edge of the pic towards the right to lengthen how long that pic is shown for in the video.
    • You can fiddle round with all the different pics in this way and change their durations.
    • Obviously you should move the edge of the final pic so that it matches up with the end of the MP3 file in the Audio bit of the timeline.
  11. (Optional) You can add a title to the video if you want. Go to Tools, Titles and Credits. The options are self-explanatory, you can have a 2-line (or rather 2-part) title, change the way the title is animated etc - I won't go into them further here.
  12. When done, convert the package into a video (called a "movie" in WMM).
  13. To do this go to the menu File, Save Movie File.
  14. Choose My Computer then Next. Give it a filename (with no spaces, as it won't work on Blogger in Draft at the moment if there are spaces in it) and decide where to save it on your hard drive, it doesn't matter where as long as you can find it again for uploading via Blogger! And click Next.
  15. For the Movie Setting, pick the second option: Best fit to file size. For the filesize, as Blogger allow you a max file size of 100 MB but so far nothing above 5MB seems to work, click the up and down arrows until it says e.g. 4 MB (basically so that it's less than 100 MB), or go for a smaller number, maybe it's best to make that as small as it will let you, though obviously the smaller the file the worse the sound quality - it's a trade off. And hit Next.
  16. Now go have a cuppa tea and leave it to do its thang. It'll save the MP3 and pics to a .WMV video file.
  17. When it's done, just upload your WMV file to Blogger by logging in using your usual Blogger login details via Blogger in Draft, creating a new post and using the new video upload icon in the toolbar (for more on video uploading using Blogger in Draft see this post and this post).
  18. Be warned - it can take absolutely ages to upload.

Instructional video

And here's a video showing how to make the video I've posted above, just to be meta / recursive. Ironically the under 5 MB version I made of it still wouldn't upload to Blogger in Draft (see my previous post about the bugs), so I gave up and put it on YouTube:

Points to note

A few things to be aware of:
  • MP3 isn't the only option, it can work with other formats too, as long as you can combine them into a video with your video making program, e.g. WMA with Windows Movie Maker.
  • Copyright - you can only combine or upload music or audio files where you own the copyright or have the permission of the owner to do that, e.g. some Creative Commons licensed files - for links to collections of CC-licensed music, see the Creative Commons audio page. When you upload a video to Blogger you have to tick a box confirming your agreement to the conditions. Though I think it's somewhat ironic that it says you can't upload anything "infringing or obscene", when the Google Video top 10 videos list looks like this...!:

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Monday, 18 June 2007

Blogger in Draft: video uploading - screenshots, issues, bugs

As you may know, not long after finalising the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, Blogger introduced a way to enable users to access experimental features via the new Blogger in Draft (effectively a playground for users to try out and comment on planned new features which aren't quite ready for prime time yet - more on Blogger in Draft, and its video uploading).

Users of Blogger in Draft can upload videos, and the video files are hosted for free on Google Video. Video uploading is the first test feature to be available via Blogger in Draft.

I summarised some initial points and included some screenshots in my previous post.

I've been experimenting with video uploading, and here are some more issues and possibly bugs I've noticed.

The Blogger in Draft video uploading process, with screenshots

After you login to Blogger in Draft, create a new post and click the new video upload icon in the toolbar of the post editor:

you'll get the video upload popup:

It's mostly self-explanatory. I haven't figured out what the "Video Title" box does yet as I can't see a title associated with the uploaded video in a published post, for instance.

Then an Uploading video.. placeholder image appears in your post. If you have text or images there already it goes after them, i.e. it's placed at the end of your post (whereas uploaded images appear at the start):

You'll see the video isn't centered in the middle of the post (I think it should be, by default).

If you go to the Edit HTML view you can see the code for the placeholder, which looks like this:
<object id="BLOG_video-UPLOADING" class="BLOG_video_class" contentid="UPLOADING" height="280" width="320"></object>
And at the bottom of the Create Post page, you can see a status message showing that it's Uploading Video...:

It's good to know that we can keep editing the post while the video file uploads, and even save edits.

Now if you keep an eye on the browser status bar, you'll see a succession of messages, while Firefox (if you use Firefox) has its "Loading" message and icon whirling away:
Sending request to
Waiting for data from
Transferring data from
(and it all repeats again)

When it's finished, there seems to be a long wait on "Transferring data from", then the placeholder pic momentarily changes to this:

And then the pic changes to the opening shot of the video. The code also changes - "UPLOADING" becomes a unique number, in both places where it occurs. Unique to that uploaded video, of course.

You can see a test example here (that's an WMV file which isn't a "real" video with moving pictures, as such).

What are the bugs and issues?

Several points I've noticed so far.

Uploading doesn't work - file size limit?

As mentioned in my previous post, and as you can see from the screenshot above, you can upload videos in the standard file formats of AVI, MPEG, QuickTime (.mov), Real (.rv) or Windows Media (.wmv I imagine), with a maximum file size of 100 MB.

I've not tried uploading in anything other than WMV format, so far. (Did try WMA just to see, well it's Windows Media innit even if it's not video, but not surprisingly I just got an error message.)

The first issue is that uploading videos takes too long, and sometimes doesn't happen at all - probably the filesize? It's supposed to be 100 MB max, but from my tests, I have only been able to upload files of up to about 5MB. A 5MB file took about 15-20 mins to upload on my broadband connection, so it's still a bit slow. Bigger files of I'd say around 20MB wouldn't upload, period (I've not tried 10 MB.)

When I tried to upload a WMV file of some 25 MB, which is well under the supposed 100MB limit, it just wouldn't do it. If 5MB takes about 20 mins then 25 MB shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. But I left it overnight, it didn't work. I cancelled and tried again, left it for 5 or 6 hours, no go. Finally tried one more time in a new post, gave up after leaving it for a few hours. Also tried it in Internet Explorer instead of my usual browser Firefox, same thing. Just had it stuck on the Uploading messages. Sometimes the "Loading" message or hourglass on my browser disappeared but the video wasn't shown, other times it just stayed whirling away forever. The progress bar showed solid almost all the way to the end, but just stayed there without quite getting to the end.

So that's one major bug they need to fix - and it has to be a bug, if it's supposed to handle 100MB. I've tried it with different WMV files, same thing.

Occasionally even with smaller files there are problems, e.g. an error message with a 2 MB file:

Though when I tried again, it did finally upload OK.

Maybe Blogger could also introduce a clearer more accurate progress bar showing how far through the uploading is?

Editing draft posts - problem, and solution

Now if you successfully upload a video but don't publish it immediately, it doesn't behave when you later go back to the draft post via Edit Posts, at least in Firefox.

At the bottom of the draft post it says "Processing", then it errors and the code for the video vanishes from the post! If you try to go back to Edit Posts it claims there are unsaved changes.

The workaround, I found, is to go quickly back to Edit Posts if that happens (it has with every draft post so far which has uploaded video code in it). Then click to Edit the same post again and, quick as a flash before the code disappears, go to Edit HTML view and copy the code for the video (with its unique ID). If you then paste that code back into the post, in either Edit HTML or Compose view, and then publish, it works.

The gotcha is to make sure you've copied the code before it autosaves the post without the code, as the code gets wiped out within seconds of your trying to edit the post. Good exercise for the fingers!

This has to be a bug. I've not tried to see if it's the same in Internet Explorer.

Managing uploaded videos

Pictures and photographs uploaded to Blogger can be managed via Picasa Web. But what about uploaded videos? I did try logging in to Google Video using my Google Account (which we now have to use to sign in to Blogger), but on my Uploaded Videos page nothing could be seen.

Presumably this feature is on its way, but it's imperative for users that we should be able to manage our uploaded videos. For example witness the many failed uploads I've tried - if they've uploaded but just didn't appear in my post, I don't want them taking up space on "my" video account unnecessarily so I'd want to be able to delete them. In fact it would be nice if I could just check whether they did upload to Google Video but just weren't displaying in the post.

Also it would be good to know what if anything is the total maximum limit on uploaded videos which each Blogger member can use up. Again, so we can manage our account storage sensibly.

Published posts with videos

Two immediate points here. On Internet Explorer 7 at least, when you visit a post or home page with an uploaded video, the video starts playing immediately, automatically. That's as annoying as an audio file autoplaying when you go to a webpage. It doesn't do that in Firefox or Opera. Team Blogger, please make it stooooooop!

Second point - on sharability, which seems particularly apt given Jyri Engeström's 5 principles for Web 2.0 success - where is the button on the displayed video that enables viewers to share the video, embed it in their own blogs, etc? I think there should be one.

Known issues blog?

As with Blogger in Beta, I wonder if Blogger might start listing known issues for Blogger in Draft, e.g. on the Known Issues blog maybe tagged Draft and Video? It would be helpful for users to search through.

All in all though, it's very positive that we can now upload videos to Blogger. I do hope the uploading issue with bigger files is fixed, soon, most of all.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

5 principles for Web 2.0 success - Jyri Engeström, Jaiku on social networking sites and social objects, London Geek Dinner 12 June 2007

Ian Forrester, Geek Dinners organiser

How do you design a Web service which actually makes money? Jyri Engeström of Jaiku (pronounced Jay-koo) gave a fascinating and excellent presentation on that topic at the London Geek Dinner on Thursday 12 June 2007, organised by the inimitable Ian Forrester. I almost called this post "5 secrets of successful Web 2.0 businesses", because that's really what he talked about.

It was much more interesting than some others I've heard because Jyri, whose background is in sociology rather than technology, didn't really plug his Jaiku service, a Twitter-like site which allows you to add feeds (and hey Eurovision and hard rock fans, Lordi use Jaiku)!

Instead, Jyri (pronounced Yoo-ree) made some excellent and, I thought, very insightful observations on the key factors driving the takeup and success of new Net services, and there was a lively and sometimes heated discussion involving several of the attendees, notably moblogger Alfie Dennen and well known entrepreneur and blogger Jason Calacanis. Many of the great and the good of the Net were around because they were in London for the NMK conference the next day - Dan Gillmor was there too but had to leave before the speech, sadly I never got the chance to chat with him.

I managed to record the talk and discussion. Links to the podcast and a video are further below, but if you're more the visual quick scanning, non-linear type, like I am, here is a short summary of Jyri's points in (gasp!) old fashioned text. Not necessarily in the order it happened, I've rejigged things a bit to make more sense to readers.

Jyri Engeström's Five Secrets of Web 2.0 Success - Social Objects Theory

Jyri Engeström

Lots of social networking sites which emerged from around 2004 failed. What explains why some social networking startups succeed while others fail? What are the criteria that define successful Web services, which you should take into account when designing a new start-up Web service?

Jyri thinks there are 5 key guiding principles - just working principles, for now - for creating successful Web services, i.e. 5 points you should consider carefully when you're designing a new Web service.

UPDATE: Jyri's slides, from Slideshare, for the same talk which he gave elsewhere, are useful to follow his points:

1. Define the object round which your service is built.

Jyri approaches the first crucial design question from an object-centered sociology perspective. It sounds like jargon, but actually the principle is straightforward. What he means is this.

Successful Web 2.0 sites like Delicious, Lastfm and Twitter seem to be based on a new and different model. Now social networks theory believes in mapping relationships between individuals, but it assumes that the nodes are people, i.e. people connecting to other people. Object-centered sociology, social objects theory, takes the view that that ain't necessarily so - in reality, people are often connected together by shared objects: person, object, person. For example a date and a job will connect you to very different groups of people.

So you need to consider the social object round which it's assumed people will create social networks, the reason people connect to each other. With Flickr the object is the photo. Then you can imagine ways in which it's useful for people to social network around photos - commenting, tagging, geotagging etc. With Delicious, it's bookmarks. With Lastfm it's music, and YouTube videos. For a site like MySpace, Jyri believes the object is music, social networking around music is what differentiates it from other similar services, and he predicts that if MySpace ever lose sight of that core social object they will be in trouble. With Twitter the object is the tweets (similar to jaikus) - i.e. status. LinkedIn has been more successful since re-focusing on jobs as the object.

With Flickr, tags can link together lots of different photos. It's still being worked out how you generate networks through status messages. The revolution with blogs was social networking via commenting, trackback and Technorati tags. But many blogs also use the celebrity model, where the object is the person, the blogger has made a public object out of him or herself, e.g. Techcrunch or Buzzmachine.

2. Define the key verbs for that object

With Ebay the verbs are "buy" & "sell" - within 40 pixels of their logo, which he thinks is great design. With Dogster, a social networking community built around dogs, it's "Add a dog". With Flickr it's "upload a photo".

3. Make the object shareable!

The basic way to make an object shareable is to provide a permalink. This was revolutionary when it took place with blogs. Links to dynamic pages with different content on the same link is useless, yet there are still too many sites with that.

Widgets are an excellent innovative way to enable people to share objects. The most extreme example is P2P, where the objects are the files and files themselves are what get shared, which is very powerful.

4. To grow your userbase, think about what can you provide in terms of a gift users can offer their friends

For virality, a good example is PayPal. In its early days their facility to invite friends by email didn't work very well. Jyri learned from Reed Hoffman, founder of PayPal, that you need to figure out a way for the invitation to become a valuable gift that a person can offer to their friend. PayPal's virality shot up once they introduced a campaign where they credited the invitee with $10 to their new PayPal account. The gift need not be monetary, there are other forms of value. YouTube is the best example - even people still on Web 1.0 will email funny YouTube videos to their friends, giving them the gift of a smile during a boring day at work.

Another example, at an event Skype gave people not one but two headsets each, so they could give a headset to a friend - Jyri gave one to his mother, installed everything for her and taught her to use it, giving her the gift of free phone calls.

Exclusivity is another way, with many services being invite-only, so you're giving that exclusivity to your friend.

5. Work out a business model where you charge the publisher, not the spectators

The basic principle is "freemium". Joi Ito said a long time ago, well before iTunes, that there will be a time when people won't pay to consume music, but will pay to publish their playlists, tastes, recommendations - Lastfm seems to be going into that territory. Or take TypePad, where you pay for blogging services.

Habbo Hotel originally charged for a basic monthly subscription in Japan but people weren't really signing up until they changed their model (to one they now use everywhere) so that basic use was free, but once you wanted to have your own room, arrange stuff in there, invite your friends and orchestrate activities etc, then you had to pay.

That seems a fairer model - you can then bring in new cool features that heavier publishers (premium users) would want, e.g. Flickr has pro accounts.


I'm not going into the discussion about how you prove return on investment and the like, you can listen to it on the podcast or watch it on the video, below.

Jyri also spoke on the same subject at NMK. Hugh McLeod has summarised Jyri's five principles on his blog and Kevin Anderson also blogged the NMK speech.


So here's the podcast, which is well worth a listen. Note that the PA system didn't work at first, then it did, so the first couple of minutes isn't very clear, but just be patient. After that you can hear Jyri well, if a bit boomily. However, he had to compete from time to time with a live jazz band in the next room. I kid you not. So don't assume it was just Ian trying to introduce an interesting new kind of ambience for Geek Dinner speeches, though he is planning a Powerpoint Karaoke session soon!



There's also a video of the proceedings, by Guy West (UPDATE: Guy has posted some other links related to this event). (Mike Butcher videoed it too I think). Here's Guy's video, thanks Guy:


I met a lot of interesting new people. Cristiano, Italian entrepreneur cum knowledge engineering student who recommends Tipit.To (I wasn't quite sure which of his many sites to link to!), Alex Watson of CustomPC, Wil Harris, Simon Collister from the interactive media division of PR firm Edelman (of London Olympics logo and, in the US, Microsoft Vista laptops for bloggers notoriety), designer and conference organiser Carolina Stenstrom (who's looking for conference sponsors by the way), Elmer Zinkhann from Hutchison Whampoa, and Tyler Crowley marketing director of Mahalo, a "human-powered search" startup with which Jason Calacanis is also involved (Jason offered me a job, but sadly only in jest as an "assistant" for the speed with which I type on my beloved Psion - I wondered whether I should have bigged up my shorthand speed too, equally in jest, but I didn't...!). I also managed to finally say a very brief hello to Hugh McLeod, I've attended several geek events he's been at in the past but never met him before.

Jason Calacanis (left), with Hugh McLeod

John Dodds the ubiquitous marketing man called me fan girl for taking photos of the speaker to illustrate this post, then promptly declined to be photographed himself! And disappeared before we had a chance to catch up properly. I'll take it out on him another time...

Elmer Zinkhann

UPDATE: More photos

Cristiano's photos are now up.

Many thanks to Ian for organising, as always. (UPDATE: and here's Ian's writeup of the event.)

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Blogger in Draft: experimental playground; video upload screenshots

Blogger have introduced Blogger in Draft, a laboratory or sandbox where keen folk can try out new Blogger features which aren't quite ready for general release, and give Blogger feedback via comments - see Eric's post on Buzz. So clearly they've not rested on their laurels after rolling out the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta. I bet the JSON feed and widget making types will be happy. I'm not a real techie, but I'm still squealing with excitement. Really.

UPDATED How to use Blogger in Draft

So how can you test out these whizzy new offerings? Just go to the Blogger in Draft site and login with your usual Blogger / Google Account details. Then you'll see the new features in the toolbar, etc. You'll know you're in Blogger in Draft instead of normal Blogger because the dark blue background at the top is all crosshatched and speckly and there's a special blueprint logo at the top left. Plus the URL of your browser window starts with not

The usual Blogger site at still works, use that instead to get back the normal non-experimental version of Blogger.

There's also a Blogger blog dedicated to Blogger in Draft, appropriately called "Blogger in draft", which oddly enough isn't linked to in the Buzz post (but Kirk provided the link). That's where they'll announce new Blogger in Draft features and you can comment on them.

See also the Blogger in Draft FAQ.

Blogger - uploading videos

The first experimental feature you can test on Blogger in Draft is the ability to upload videos on Blogger and have them hosted on Google's servers (Google Video rather than YouTube, a seemingly odd choice given the greater popularity of YouTube but maybe it's a branding issue). Kirk saw this coming a while back.

Here's a screenshot of the Create post page (if you wonder why my post editor box spans the whole width of the page and you'd like yours to, see this post and this). As you can see, apart from a fancy new crosshatch background at the top, there's a new video upload button - outlined in red below:

And the video upload popup:

As you can see, you can upload videos in the standard file formats of AVI, MPEG, QuickTime (.mov), Real (.rv) or Windows Media (.wmv I imagine), with a maximum file size of 100 MB. I sure hope there's no time limit as well as file size limit like the 10 minute one on YouTube, which for me anyway involved the hassle of having to time things carefully to make sure I didn't exceed it.

While video sharing is all well and good, you'll notice you have to make sure you're not uploading anything that's "obscene" or in breach of someone else's copyright, and you have to tick a box to agree to the Google Video terms and conditions. Standard stuff, though what's on the right side of the obscenity or copyright fair dealing / fair use line isn't always easy to figure out.

See also the Blogger video upload FAQ.

I've not had time to try uploading a video myself yet, but there's a short one up at the Blogger in Draft post if you want to see it (cute doggie, all together now awwwwwwwwww).

Maybe it's just me but just plain image uploading seems a lot quicker now, I wonder if they've beefed things up generally on Blogger in anticipation of lots of video uploads?

And now, give her an inch I know I know, but I really do hope that Blogger will also introduce audio uploading and file hosting for MP3 podcasts (e.g. like the recordings I did of the Drupal event presentations, the attempts at uploading them to Ourmedia were fun and a half, not).

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

LG Shine KE 970 mobile phone: how to transfer Java games from computer

My post on the LG Shine phone now has a step by step on how to transfer to your Shine phone and install Java games downloaded to your computer, rather than having to download Java apps direct to your mobile over the air (OTA) and pay data transfer costs for the privilege.

I hadn't thought this possible, and of course it's not in the Shine's barely adequate manual, but Koekiemonster has pointed out otherwise - many thanks, Koekiemonster!

Internet dating: how to write the perfect profile?

The Dana Centre event on Internet Dating on 5 June 2007 turned out to be more about "dating" than "internet", which to me anyway was a bit of a shame. I'd also have been interested in whether anyone's developed a system for processing people's personal information which works better than average at matching the right people, for instance, or algorithms to help someone select the most "suitable" candidates! But what they did discuss was still interesting.

The presenters were Jennifer Cox, journalist and author of Around the World in 80 Dates, and psychophysiologist Harry Witchel, an American now at Bristol University's Physiology Department.

Witchel cited some interesting statistics. From polls, 72% of people think there's a stigma associated with internet dating. But did you know that in the US of A internet dating is the number one paid for internet service, a $1 billion industry which since 2003 has outstripped even porn? (if you'll forgive the pun). And 16% of US visitors to dating sites are over 55 years of age, so it's not restricted to just one narrow age group.

Some 3 million people in the US have had, or know someone who's had, a successful outcome as a result - meaning a long term relationship or marriage.

Why do people internet date? Apparently over 50% of women say it's for friendship, and interestingly 40% of men. Not surprisingly, about 4 times as many as men as women (30% of men) want a no strings fling. But would you believe that as many men as women (12%) are after true love, and twice as many men as women say they want marriage?

What makes people respond to an online profile?

From polls it seems that 74% respond because of the photo, 70% the description, 60% hobbies and interests.Then it's age, location, job. Only 5% said they based the decision on income. As many as 4% go by the zodiac sign! (More below on how to write the perfect profile.)

Lies, damned lies and internet ads

Internet dating has its own particular issues. If you meet someone in person you can tell a lot about them in just half a second. On the internet, people can be dishonest or misleading, and you won't even know it unless you meet them.

Statistics show that women in their 20's on average say in their online ads that they weigh about 6lbs less than the national average, women in their 40s 20lb less!

Men on the other hand are extra tall. But they may have good reason to lie in their profiles - men who are 6'3" or 6'4" in height get 60% more first replies than men who are 5'7".

In the USA there's even a dating website which verifies independently that what you say about yourself is true. But it seems people in the UK are rather less concerned about truth in advertising when it comes to personals. Some people don't mind white lies about e.g. age (as a means of getting others to meet you and then hopefully give you a chance to win them over, when otherwise they'd dismiss you based on possibly too rigid criteria), while others think it's just unforgivably deceitful, period.

However, even though some people lie online, it's also been found that people are best at figuring out untruths from the words used. In fact, people can sense lies best from written words (e.g. newspapers), then audio only e.g. radio, then audiovisual e.g. TV or in person. It seems people are more able to analyse and recognise falsehoods from words alone, when they can't see or hear the person - body language and facial expressions in fact can distract people from accurate lie detection! I've heard this before e.g. in New Scientist (who are running a lie detection experiment involving watching YouTube videos, if you want to take part).

How to write the perfect profile?

An interesting exercise (though the time alloted was far too long) was that attendees were each given a piece of paper and asked to write 3 words to describe themselves, 3 words that would attract them to someone else's profile, and 3 words in someone else's profile that would put them off. And then discuss them in small groups.

Jennifer Cox also led separate small groups to discuss the components of a good profile, reading out real life examples. While all this reflects her own view, a lot of people seemed to agree with her. It seems common sense, to me, but common sense often bears repeating.

Trying to say too much about yourself (e.g. I have a daughter I've never spent enough time with) can seem defensive or disingenuous, whereas something provocative and bold can stand out (e.g. if you believe in God don't reply).

She feels the aim of profiles is to filter out unsuitable people, to engage people's critical faculties of assessment, then get them to move on if you're not suitable for each other.

She thinks it's actually not that hard to get a first date if you present yourself in a certain way (women tend to present themselves as flighty or energetic, men as still). But why waste time constantly meeting people who aren't suitable and never getting beyond the first encounter?

People seemed universally to dislike "good sense of humour". The point of phrases like that is to show that you've got friends. The issue is, how do you present yourself as being reliable and socially integrated without being obvious?

It's important to understand who you are and what you want. You need to reach your target audience. Your profile should communicate who you are in a way which is not cliched or boring. There are so many ads out there, you need yours to stand out, to attract people to you - you need a thoughtful profile that says something (even just one thing) that engages. She believes the point of a good profile is to understand what people are looking for and say it in a way that makes people engage rather than recoil.

One of the best profiles she's seen (by a woman) ended up saying something like "My favourite joke at the moment is what do you call a Frenchman who wears sandals?" - without giving the answer! (If anyone's desperate to know drop me a comment and I may let on...)

Your photo

It is true that people stop at a photo, then read what that person has said about themselves. That's why the percentages are close between those who reply because of the photo (74%) and those who reply because of the description (70%).

The right photograph is important. But keep your clothes on, that applies to both men and women! A travel photo can show that you have a life outside the Net, but to some people a travel photo is not important.


To Jennifer it's important how quickly you move from assessment to interaction to meeting. The longer it takes, the more energy you've put into something which could disillusion you and put you off the whole internet dating process.

She thinks it shouldn't take more than 10 days to 2 weeks between initial contact and first meeting, otherwise it's a waste of energy.

There is (inevitably) more on all this in her book Around the World in 80 Dates. I haven't read it though.

(Anyone interested enough to read this far may also want to see my post about the secret of successful chatup lines.)

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Scissors tips

Scissors are useful, yep. Two things I never thought to do until someone else suggested it, duh:
  1. When chopping vegetables, often it's easier and faster to use kitchen scissors rather than a knife - French beans, long beans and the like.
  2. When putting on a plaster for an injury, it'll stay on better and for longer if you round the edges of the plaster with scissors first.
Weekend of the blindingly obvious, I know, I know.

And there is no connection between 1 and 2, before anyone asks!

Randomly, did you know that some vegetables freeze really well? Chillis and lemongrass, for starters. I was told that, thought I'd try it out, and it really works. I keep some in my freezer now to ensure I never run out.

On the food preservation front, does anyone know what other vegetables (or fruit) will freeze well without having to chop 'em up or otherwise process them first? I've not tried to experiment with many other ones yet. I did try some bananas once. Not recommended!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Editing JPEG photos, thumbnails and your privacy - edited out bits may still be visible

Many know this, but some don't, so I thought it worth a reminder. If you crop a JPEG image, typically a photo taken with a digital camera, in order to cut out part of the photo (e.g. people who don't want their photo on a website), or you obscure or edit it to try to hide someone's identity, be warned that there's a gotcha. Sometimes the original photograph can still be recovered from the JPG, in its full unedited unexpurgated glory.

Now I don't really know the ins and outs of how it works and I haven't researched it fully, but it seems that JPGs often contain what's known as EXIF metadata, including a small thumbnail copy of the original image. If you edit a JPEG file using photo editing or graphics software, sometimes the original thumbnail is still preserved and saved along with the edited final image - and can be extracted from it.

UPDATED with quickie explanation: You take a digital snapshot. Behind the scenes, a small thumbnail version of the original pic usually gets automatically created and saved as part of what's known as EXIF data, which is stored with the image as standard. You then edit the original pic e.g. to crop out someone else in the photo, and save that. Well, that also saves the thumbnail with the same file, behind the scenes. Sometimes the original thumbnail info in the EXIF gets updated to reflect your new edited pic. But other times it doesn't get updated - it still shows a thumbnail of the original snapshot. So the large (edited) pic and the thumbnail may no longer match. If you get that situation you might be able to edit the thumbnail too to match, but I don't know how.

The famous nude thumbnail

This "bug" became well known in 2003 when Cat Schwartz posted JPEGs on her blog of just her face, after cropping out bits from the original photo. Unfortunately in the original full photos she was, well, mostly unclad, and someone managed to recover the thumbnails of the naked versions from the published edited photos (there are pics of the original versions around on the Net but I'm not going to link to them, yep I can be a spoilsport sometimes). UPDATE: Oh all right, as so many people have been good enough to stop by, here y'go:

UPDATE: the following links no longer work, so for example of cropped image vs. thumbnail see the links above. You can check out some real life examples of extracted thumbnails which reveal the person's face or body, even after they were mosaiced out or tweaked - which can even reveal e.g. two entire people who had been cropped out. For a fuller low down and other example pics showing originals and extracted thumbnails side by side, see Hutta on embedded thumbnails (I was tempted to ask, is that like in Hutta the Jab? But I won't...).

How to get rid of the original thumbnails?

So the tip is, from a privacy and security point of view, if you want to protect your identity (or someone else's) by editing a JPG photo, you need to be very careful that a thumbnail of the original photo isn't still embedded in it, before you upload, publish or email the edited pic. I gather (but haven't tested it) that you can use EXIF editing software to get rid of the thumbnail, and that Adobe Photoshop's Save for Web function also strips out EXIF data automatically.

Again I've not tested this myself but I'm told by a reliable source that Blogger, in Old Blogger at least, removes EXIF data when you upload a picture file. Picasa Web, to which New Blogger images are now uploaded, probably preserves EXIF data on uploading, but I don't know if that would include the original thumbnail. Anyone know, or care to do more research on this?? JPGs may be better than PNGs or GIFs if you use Blogger, in terms of speed of loading for your users, but obviously you need to be careful about the "hidden thumbnail" possibility if it's important that only the edited image can be seen by visitors.

(This post was triggered by Robert Castelo's recent uploading of photos of the May 2007 Drupal event to Flickr, including ones with anonymous me in them (why I blog anonymously). I'd said it was OK to include the pics of me as long as he blurred out my face, and in fact he mosaiced out all of me, but it then occurred to me to wonder about the edited versions. No dodgy embedded thumbnails there, though, before anyone tries to look - thanks Robert! My secret identity is still safe, phew. And you can forget about trying to see more of the anonymous model in the Lara Croft "lookalike" pic, so there!)

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Sing London, make music UK this summer

This summer there seems to be a veritable wave of official encouragement to sing, make music, show off your rusty (or even non-existent) guitar playing and the like.

Sing London

"Sing London is a festival to get the whole of London singing. All kinds of people, singing all kinds of music in all kinds of places. Join in and get singing!"

It runs from 29 June to 8 July ending with a grand finale of "thousands" at the recently facelifted South Bank Centre on Sunday 8 July at 4 pm. They're encouraging people to upload their own Sing London videos to YouTube but I can only see the Sing London promo video there at the moment:

They're certainly going about this in exemplary Web 2.0 style, with not only the call for YouTube videos but even an events page with a Google map with the full list of events underneath it, so you can look for ones near you using the map as well as by scanning down the list the ol' fashioned way.

No previous singing experience required. There's something for everyone, in venues from Covent Garden Market and the National Gallery to local libraries and Waitrose! Lots of organisations are involved in staging events - the English National Opera is offering a free singing lesson with music from Kismet and a chance to sing on the Coliseum stage (but you'll have to find a tame child aged 7 - 13 to take you along to that!). Or you can try show tunes from musicals, jazz, Motown, errr horses (no I don't get that either but apparently there'll be dancing horses and live singing on horseback, if that floats your boat - and yes, in that vein, there are sea shanties too), David and Carrie Grant from Fame Academy, loads of events for children / families, even Arsenal Stadium and football songs, and singing flashmobs.

I particularly like the idea of simultaneous joint al fresco sings through (presumably just bits of) Tosca in Potters Field Park, Canary Wharf and Victoria Park, followed by a free live broadcast of the full opera to the parks from the Royal Opera House. What's the betting that it'll rain..? Funnily enough the Sing London site has marked those events with the ENO logo, no doubt the folks at the Garden would be well pleased about that, not. Here's proof before they spot it and fix it!:

With my marketing hat on, if you want to promote your singing group - choir, band, etc - you could do worse than email Sing London or register to join the festival (you can even charge for the singing event you're putting on), to benefit from the free publicity and Sing London's promotional efforts. You could hold a singing session at Starbucks and they'll even provide free refreshments to performers and publicise leaflets in-store! Well that's one way to get your coffee fix...

BBC Play it (Again)

Then there's the Beeb's Play It Again (even if you've never played it before). Free events all around the UK, not just London this time, where you can play or sing with BBC performing groups - orchestra, symphony chorus etc. The BBC even offers tips on getting started in making music both general and instrument-specific, and a Next Steps guide.

So if you're in London or elsewhere in the UK, you can take advantage of these opportunities this summer to get started in music, or to do more things musical in fun ways even if you're already making music. Enjoy!