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Archive: May 2005

Getting Onto The Calendar

Over at Complex Spiral Consulting, I maintain a list of upcoming appearances at conferences, workshops, and the like.  These are the “public” events; that is, events which are accessible by members of the public, assuming they pay whatever registration fee is being charged by the people in charge of the event.  This is in contrast to “private” events; that is, client work that isn’t open to anyone except employees of the client.

Occasionally I’m asked if I have an RSS feed of those events, or send out e-mail updates, or otherwise provide any sort of notice other than just changing the web page.  For a long time, the answer was basically “no”.  Now it’s “yes”, and it’s an example of a microformat in action.

If you’re using iCal on OS X, or any other webcal:-aware calendaring program, then all you have to do is hit the following link: Complex Spiral upcoming events calendar.  Your calendar program should come to the foreground and let you add the URI as a subscribed calendar.  And hey presto!  You’re done.  Any changes to the web page will be reflected in your calendar the next time the subscription is refreshed, and iCal lets you set your refresh interval to be 15 minutes, once a day, once a week, and so on.

What’s happening there is you’re pouring the home page of complexspiral.com through an XSLT recipe called X2V written by Brian Suda.  His XSLT pulls out the hCalendar markup and turns it into an ICS file, one fully conformant with RFC 2445.  So I don’t have to figure out how to produce and provide my own ICS file.  Providing the hCalendar markup is enough, thanks to Brian’s work.

Of course, the number of people who would want to subscribe to my professional appearances schedule is fairly small.  This is just a demonstration, though.  Suppose a site like, oh, upcoming.org were to publish their event calendars with hCalendar markup?  Then all you’d have to do is find the page that corresponds to your city, run it through Brian’s script, and you’d have your very own regularly updated local events calendar, just like that.

Guess what?  You can do that right now:  upcoming.org is publishing its information using hCalendar markup.  For example, here’s the calendar for Cleveland, Ohio, ready for one-click subscription: Cleveland events calendar.  If you just want the ICS file to be downloaded to your hard drive, then you can use this link instead: Cleveland events ICS file.  The only difference between the two links is that the former uses the webcal: scheme identifier, whereas the second uses the more familiar http:.

I personally think there needs to be some work done on their hCalendar markup, like properly marking up location information.  The time information for some events seems to be a bit wonky as well, although the dates are accurate.  The great thing is that the hCalendar information could be fixed in very short order.  In fact, from what I’ve heard, they added basic hCalendar markup to the site in under an hour.  Adding more, or fixing any problems in what they have, shouldn’t take much longer.

Imagine how much further this could go.  Suppose Basecamp marked up its project calendars with hCalendar, and used a script like Brian’s to turn it into ICS information.  Its users could have project milestones right there in their personal calendar programs.  Ditto for the To-Do’s lists, because that sort of information is all defined in the iCalendar specification.  The TiVo site could provide customized schedules, like all the showings of American Idol or Masterpiece Theater.  The IMDB could publish movie opening dates in hCalendar format; studios could do the same.  Want a calendar schedule that shows what DVDs are coming out, when?  Or what new albums are being released for the next month?  All it takes is a little slice of a webmonkey’s time.

The point being, there’s nothing for which said webmonkey has to wait.  The tools are already here.  No browser has to be upgraded.  In fact, in many ways this bypasses the browser to send information directly to the calendaring program… but the information is provided in a browser- and search-engine-friendly way, so they can access and use the same data in their own ways.  No alternate files.  Just a single set of information, made more rich and useful through easily understood mechanisms.

How cool is that?

Microformats and Semantics in Japan

In our post-game analysis, Tantek and I felt that the Developers Day track on microformats went incredibly well.  Not only did we get a lot of good feedback, I think we turned a lot of heads.  The ideas we presented stood up to initial scrutiny by a pretty tough crowd, and our demonstrations of the already-deployed uses of formats like XFN, like XHTMLfriends.net and an automated way to subscribe to hCalendars and hCards, drew favorable response.

Even better, our joint panel with the Semantic Web folks had a far greater tone of agreement than of acrimony, the latter of which I feared would dominate.  I learned some things there, in fact.  For example, the idea that the Semantic Web efforts are inherently top-down turns out to be false.  It may be that many of the efforts have been top-down, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be.  We also saw examples where Semantic Web technologies are far more appropriate than a microformat would be.  The example Jim Hendler brought up was an oncology database that defines and uses some 600,000 terms.  I would not want to try to capture that in a microformat—although it could be done, I suspect.

Here’s one thing I think is key about microformats: they cause the semantics people already use to be impressed onto the web.  They capture, or at least make it very easy to capture, the current zeitgeist.  This makes them almost automatically human-friendly, which is always a big plus in my book.

The other side of that key is this:  it may be that by allowing authors to quickly annotate their information, microformats will be the gateway through which the masses’ data is brought to the more formal systems the Semantic Web allows.  It very well may be that, in the future, we’ll look back and realize that microformats were the bootstrap needed to haul the web into semanticity.

Tantek and I have had some spirited debates around that last point, and are actually in the middle of one right now.  After all, maybe things won’t go that way; maybe microformats will lead to something else, some other way of spreading machine-recognizable semantic information.  It’s fun to debate where things might go, and why, but I think in the end we’re both willing to keep pushing the concept and use of microformats forward, and see how things turn out down the road.

What’s fascinating is how fired up people get about microformats.  After SXSW05, there was an explosion of interest and experimentation.  Several microformats got created or proposed, covering all kinds of topics—from folksonomy formalization to political categorization.  A similar effect seemed to be occurring at WWW2005.  One person who’s been around long enough to know said that the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding microformats reminded him of the early days of the web itself.

As someone who’s at the center of the work on microformats, it’s hard for me to judge that sort of thing.  But I was there for some of the early WWW conferences, and I remember the energy there.  As I rode home from WWW2 in Chicago, I was convinced that the world was in the process of changing, and I wanted more than anything to be a part of that change.  To hear that there’s a similar energy swirling around something I’m helping to create and define is profoundly humbling.

That all sounds great, of course, but if it remains theoretical it’s not much good, right?  Fortunately, it isn’t staying theoretical at all, and I’m not just talking about XFN.  Want an example of how you could make use of microformatted information right now, as in today?  That’s coming up in the next post, where I’ll show how to make use of a resource I mentioned earlier in this post.

Out of the East

A partial braindump from WWW2005.  I’ll get to the professional stuff in another post.

  • A staggering majority of the personal vehicles on the streets in the Chiba and Tokyo areas are black, white, and varying shades of gray.  Even dark blue is a rare sighting, and forest green seemed to be Right Out.  There were, however, the occasional splashes of color, like red sports cars and yellow Beetles.  Were those the rebels of Japanese society?  I don’t know.  I just know that any time I turned to look at the cars, it was a very monochromatic affair.

  • On a related note, I did see three Hummers—all in very dark colors, by the way—and two of them had those thin tires that the street kids love so much.  Because, after all, nothing screams “please lower my gas mileage” quite so much as a Hummer.

    (I wish I were rich enough to buy a Hummer and have it completely painted with a “My Little Pony” theme, complete with stuffed ponies on the dashboard and an all-pink shaggy carpet interior.  That would be totally bumpin’.)

  • The Japanese are really, really serious about their fresh seafood.

  • Tim Bray says I’ve been one of his heroes for the longest time.  Whoa.  Tim Bray said that.  I mean, Tim’s long been one of my heroes.  Mutual heroism?  Whatever.  I remember hanging around him like a fanboi at WWW7 while he talked to someone else about stuff I’m not smart enough to understand.  When I finally got a chance to introduce myself, he had to leave as he was already running late.  Despite my feeling like a rube for imposing on him when he was clearly intensely busy, I still walked away from it thinking, I got to shake Tim Bray’s hand.

    Before you start to project too much creepiness into this little scenario, be assured that I did not (then or ever) resolve to leave my shaking hand unwashed.

  • I did manage to get into Tokyo on Sunday, tagging along with Rohit Khare and his wife to meet up with their friend John in the Ueno area.  We had lunch at an unagi place, and after they all left I took a river ferry toward the bay.  A thunderstorm rolled through the city as we sailed, shrouding the buildings and the radio tower where Mothra cocooned.  After disembarking at a transfer point, I watched a rainbow form over the river, with the far edge of the Rainbow Bridge as a backdrop.

    Later the same evening, making my way back toward my hotel, I was standing in a JR Shinbashi station looking for the Yamanote line to Nippori, where I would catch the Skyliner to Narita Airport.  Frowning, I peered at various maps as I searched for some sort of indication that I was even in the right station.  As I leaned in close to one, a voice to my right said, “Oh, hey, Eric”.

    My head snapped around and I found that I was standing next to Richard Ishida of the W3C, who I’d met just a few days before, and who was studying the map trying to find the line that would get him to Keio University.  When I told him what I was looking for, he pointed me toward the right line.

    I still believe that the universe is an essentially random place, but it’s days like that when I completely understand why many people believe that there are no coincidences, that everything happens in a time and a place for a reason, when I come closest to knowing why they believe in angels.

  • On the flight back to the United States, there was a dim glow on the horizon that I thought might be the Aurora Borealis.  The last time I saw the lights, I was seven or eight and my parents woke me up at three in the morning so I could see them.  The memory is dim with so many years gone and the sleep that filled my eyes that night, but what I do remember has always stayed with me.

    The glow turned out to be the ‘top’ edge of the terminator, something I have never seen before.  I wonder what of it I will remember, thirty years from now.

Connected

Last fall, Tantek and I presented a poster at HT04.  To get it to the conference in one piece and to avoid having to lug it across the country, I created a PDF of the poster and sent it off to the Kinko’s web site.  It was printed for me by the Kinko’s closest to the conference.  All I had to do was send them a digital file, and 2,150 miles later I retrieved the physical output.

As I did so, I thought: This is really amazing.  This is what’s so great about being connected.

A few months later, Kat upgraded her car, and the new one came with XM digital radio.  We started receiving music from geosynchronous orbit, a digital signal broadcast from 22,600 miles above the equator and deciphered by the short, stubby antenna on the car’s roof.  On a drive to visit relatives, we listened to the same station for the entire four-hour drive there, and again for the return drive.

As we did so, I thought: This is incredible.  This is a great example of the benefits of connecting everything.

I was wrong in both cases.

This morning, I stood in a hotel room in Chiba, Japan and saw my wife and daughter on the television.  Back home in Cleveland, they saw me on a computer monitor.  We talked to each other, waved hello, got caught up on recent events.  I watched as Carolyn ran around my office, heard her say “mama”, and agreed with her when she signed “telephone” while she watched my image.  I stuck my tongue out to make a silly face, and six thousand miles away, my daughter laughed with delight at my antics.

A few minutes after we’d finished the chat, with the glow of home and family still warm upon me, I thought: This is why we connected everything in the first place.

Web Essentials 05

Just as I prepare to leave for WWW2005 in Japan, John Allsopp has announced the details for Web Essentials05  in Sydney this September.  Everyone’s fave Molly kicks things off with a keynote, and there will be some great speakers: Tantek Çelik, Jeff Veen, Kelly Goto, Derek Featherstone, Douglas Bowman, Russ Weakley, Cameron Adams, John Allsopp himself, and more.

Oh, and me.  I’ll be there, too.  You can get all the details at the WE05 web site.  I heard great things about WE04, so I’m really looking forward to WE05.  Hopefully I’ll see you there!  It’ll be a fair dinkum, and very likely truly bonzer, no worries.

Did I use any of those colloquialisms correctly?

Thrown For a Loop

You know the effect where, if you only catch a TV show every now and again, it’s always the same episode?

Whenever I happen to catch Stargate: SG-1, it’s always the episode “Window of Opportunity“.  Seriously.

How awesome is that?

May 2005
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