WebVisions 2008 in review: Part one

Friday, May 23, 2008

WebVisions attendee On Thursday and Friday, May 22-23, I am attending the WebVisions 2008 conference at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. (Also see my review from WebVisions 2007. I didn’t compose a write-up when I attended in 2005 and 2006.)

Below is a quick (read: marginally coherent) overview of all five sessions I attended on Thursday, with links. Many of the slides from these sessions and others are available at SlideShare.

Blogging For A Living: Taking Your Skills To The Next Level – Jim Turner
(9:00 am to 10:15 am | session details)

I didn’t find much about this session particularly remarkable. This guy started as a “daddy blogger” a few years ago. He has become a professional blogger and successful blog consultant who specializes in community building and social media. He professes to know very little about SEO and does not get into the technical details; he finds success by cranking out content. Here’s a (possibly paraphrased) quote from Jim: “Trying to remove content from the Internet is like trying to take pee out of a pool.” And here’s another: “Control is an illusion on the Internet.” His advice for companies is to open up the conversation on your terms/turf because that is more powerful and preferable to ignoring what the community is saying.

Hacking the Enterprise with Social Media – DL Byron
(10:30 am to 11:45 am | session details)

DL talked about how you can create a “mellow clutter” of data through social media publishing. It’s a way of organizing shared social services, including photos, videos, news, etc. (He says companies using social media only matter to users if their intent is genuine and the company is passionate about it.) The idea of “mellow clutter” is creating a portal using feeds and application product interfaces (Flickr photo stream, Twitter, Google docs, etc.) in one web location.

Brightkite The following jumble is a list of some sites and services discussed. FriendFeed, Brightkite, ActionStream and other similar “lifestream” services enable you to create a comprehensive mash-up/stream about yourself or your product. Create your own little web “planet.” Workflow management with Twitter; it can be used as a group hub, for instant SMS. Workstreamr = Work + Social Media + Networking. Sandy can be used send out to extranet and post to Twitter; it’s a personal email assistant. Examples of mobile Internet devices for social media deployment/use: Ovi by Nokia and Yahoo FireEagle. Brightkite is locationware, with a narrow presence; for when you just want to share content and not all of the “meta crap” (comments, etc.) that comes with it. FriendFeed provides doses of social media (DL mentioned that he would like to ratchet the content level down and be able to set priority among Facebook content updates). What DL does is publish to Flickr, Del.icio.us, etc. and . . . all content is sent to FeedBurner and wrapped up in a single feed for easy publishing/parsing in one location.

Lunch break
(11:45 am to 1:15 pm)

For lunch I found a Japanese market and bought a bento lunch and a red bean cake. This was not a listed establishment on the 36-restaurant dining guide I was provided for the few blocks surrounding the convention center. But it’s on the same block, right on MLK. Everyone else headed off to Burgerville or Red Robin or Big Town Hero or whatever. But I ran into this accidentally. No lines and lots of exotic Asian snackyfoods. The Japanese deli selections are pretty good and inexpensive, plus they have fresh produce. It’s called Hiroshi’s Anzen. I’d go back. I’ll probably go back tomorrow for lunch. Here’s an interactive street view image of the building in Google Maps.

RSS: Bleeding Edge Tips and Tricks – Marshall Kirkpatrick
(1:15 pm to 2:30 pm | session details)

Marshall uses Ask.com Blogsearch for a spam-free way to search . . . talked about Google Reader vs. Bloglines as well. For news search he uses Topix and Yahoo! News (for press releases). Live.com provides an RSS feed for regular web search. Also uses Summize.com, a conversational/Twitter search engine. Better to prioritize a long list of feed subscriptions than to miss out on news: Netvibes is good for that. For filtering RSS information: AideRSS analyzes and scores items in every feed for popularity (comments, inbound links, Digg, Del.icio.us, Twitter, etc.) . . . you can create a “greatest hits” list. Marshall’s Magic Search is a custom search engine limited to the top web 2.0 review blogs online. Lifehacker.com enables you to get RSS feeds from your Gmail account labels.

Dapper.net Dapper.net lets you extract an RSS feed from a page (or field on a page) that doesn’t have one; it’s an RSS extraction tool. Example site lacking certain RSS feeds: MyBlogLog.com; for this, Marshall trains Dapper to get the usernames (or whatever) from MyBlogLog.com by identifying the fields there and creating a special RSS feed that’s hosted by Dapper.net. Dapper is basically a live screenscraper; there are other sites that can create RSS feeds for any web page, like Feedity.com. Feed Informer (formerly Feed Digest) is used to create a digest (plus, you can run anything through Dapper to strip out HTML) that you can post on your own site using a small PHP include line that calls from feed.informer.com. Marshall uses these three main sections of Yahoo! Pipes: (1) Fetch Feed (put the feed here), (2) Union (splice together multiple feeds into one feed), and (3) Sort. Marshall always runs his feeds through FeedBurner before it goes out to anyone else (so you can track subscribers, email addresses, and even change Original Feed). Zaptxt.com provides RSS to instant message and SMS alerts, so that you’ll be the first to know when “incident X” occurs; the first movers advantage. There are IM alternatives like Feed Crier. Parse RSS feeds using PHP using these two open source tools: Magpie RSS (evilbackwards.com is an example of Magpie use) and SimplePie.

Here is a detailed article at ReadWriteWeb by Marshall: “How to Find the Weirdest Stuff on the Internet” (there is also a “Best of Weird-Hunting Blogs” FeedBurner feed you can subscribe to). Lastly, Marshall Kirkpatrick runs his own site.

Drupal: This Ain’t Your Father’s CMS – Sean Larkin
(2:45 pm to 4:00 pm | session details)

Drupal I tried to take somewhat general notes, even though I maintain a couple of sites in Drupal. Hopefully these increasingly jumbled typings make sense to more than just me. Drupal is an open source CMS optimized for a LAMP stack; but it can run on PostgreSQL (though most contributed community tools are MySQL). It’s also a robust application development framework and “a movement.” There are 3000 contributed modules in existence. Mash-up possibilities include: Google Maps & Google Chart, YouTube, Flash & XML, AJAX Thickbox, etc. This session included a section on Drupal Theming 101: theme engine is PHPTemplate . . . Content Construction Kit (CCK) . . . users, content nodes, views . . . Content Templates (Contemplates) . . . theme API module . . . ImageCache (upload hi-res image to site to created numerous canned versions of it: thumbnails, borders, etc. . . . WYSIWYG: TinyMCE and IMCE (add-on for managing files: GUI FTP). As far as Programmatic Theming goes . . . many themes are available in the Theme Garden; use the Zen theme as a base for building out your own theme because the code is elegantly abstracted and well documented. Recommends Firebug add-on and Web Developer tools in Firefox. See Lullabot.com for Drupal best practices. Some large Drupal sites include: The Onion (forked?), Fast Company, Now Public, some Sony sites, MTV Europe, etc. A number of big enterprise sites use Drupal but don’t advertise this for security reasons.

Sean talked about how Drupal is at a turning point. Most Drupal development work is still in v5 even though v6 is out. Lots of stuff needs to be ported to v6 because v7 is due out in early 2009. Drupal 6 has a much more optimized theming layer; it only calls your theming modules when they need to be called. Multi-site hosting (using the same codebase but a different database for each site) is possible, but generally avoided. There are modules (like: Taxonomy Theme) that allow you to theme based on path alias or other methods . . . node path and node state. A module called Pathauto can create paths based on a number of different URLs and tokens . . . can keep logic/page names of pre-Drupal site and/or create page aliases for the same piece of content. Also CustomError module (404 pages, etc.) . . . Apache mod_rewrite too, of course.

Drupal scales very well. Drupal’s database abstraction is usually used instead of direct SQL calls. There are some plug-ins for Drupal to do SMS stuff. Some ecommerce modules have not been solved very well. There’s a YouTube module for YouTube uploads. Zend Framework just came out with a new library for interacting with Google (Gdata) metadata. There’s the Emfield (embedded media field) module . . . for doing multimedia uploads/integration, using video from various third-party websites. Sean says: Ruby is to Rails as PHP is to Drupal. Drupal is an abstracted framework based originally on PHP. For Windows PHP developers: XAMPP is a Windows tool to create a LAMP stack.

Is Print Dead? How Digital Media is Changing the Face of Publishing – Lynne d Johnson
(4:15 pm to 5:30 pm | session details)

Perceptive Pixel This keynote session kind of derailed, or at least transformed, into an open audience discussion about halfway through. Below are some random points that were raised and discussed: Is print becoming elitist? If we can get content for free, why would we pay for it in print? Print is read by people who think they are running the country, or think they should be. Is print becoming obsolete? Jeff Gomez, author of Print is Dead, says: Newspapers are no longer news . . . totally wired youth (books and magazines are becoming less and less relevant) . . . digital futures. Lynne also talked about social media’s impact: Fast Company and SPIN magazine are on Drupal CMS . . . readers make profiles and are able to have a direct impact on what the site creates . . . open source social media. Print has to be inventive with how they engage readers. USA Today now has widgets, mobile format, podcasts, BlogBurst-powered blogs, etc. And there’s digital media’s impact: popularity of ebooks, books on cellphones in Japan, Korea, China . . . microblogging . . . shorter forms of storytelling. The continuum of analog to digital . . . continues. Other mentions: BJ Fogg . . . Amazon Kindle . . . KartOO, a visual meta search engine . . . multitouch (touch-screen) interfaces . . . Perceptive Pixel and Jeff Han . . . Minority Report-style touch/interaction is already on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It’s always about selling more.

See SlideShare for the slides from this session and others.

Thursday evening

Voodoo Doughnut Among the many evening activities, a late-night highlight was visiting Voodoo Doughnut back on the west side of Portland (Old Town). I had never been there before, but we’d heard good things. We approve of the weird hipster atmosphere and crazy donut concepts. I ordered two donuts: a Diablos Rex, which is a chocolate cake donut topped with chocolate frosting, a few red sprinkles, chocolate chips in the hole, and lines of white frosting forming a pentagram; and a Mango Tango, which is a mango-filled raised donut with vanilla frosting (I think) that’s brushed with sour, tangy fruit powder (think “Sour Patch Kids”). They were both tasty, though I think the idea of the place makes the donuts taste better. My friend Warren got a Blood-Filled Voodoo Doughnut and something with a fairly tame name that I can’t remember. The menu also includes vegan donuts, Bacon Maple Bars (with real bacon!), donuts shaped like blunts, donuts covered with cereal, and the famous cream-filled Cock & Balls (guess the shape). See images of some of these creations and read reviews at Yelp.

Continue to WebVisions in review: Part two »

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