Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This website will self-destruct in five seconds...

A current preoccupation of mine is the notion of online permanence, not only with regards to not deleting content (which in some cases in tantamount to burning books, imho - although in others it's arguably more of a public service...) but also in maintaining consistent and permanent URLs (which, whilst we're writing the wish-list, should also be globally accessible).

So I was somewhat ambivalent on hearing of disposableWebPage, a wiki-powered site whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to make non-permanent webpages. The site enables you to create a page in a matter of moments and then set a time limit for when you want that page to expire, up to a maximum of 90 days. Somewhat bizarrely, the page doesn't actually disappear until 2 weeks after the expiry date, which rules out using it for providing a time-limited window for users to access content (although I guess simple cutting-and-pasting would also scupper any such attempts). Interestingly, Google has already indexed and cached 176 disposable webpages (of the 6,322 which have been created, according to the site's front page).

I guess on the scale of crimes against digital data preservation then disposableWebPage is a minor offender and at least it's up front about when its pages will be deleted (unlike many content providers/hosts). I'm tempted to visit the site with the Alexa toolbar installed to see if I can persuade The Wayback Machine to archive a copy, although on balance they've probably got better things to be doing with their terabytes. A far bigger crime is the fact that the CAPTCHA didn't appear in Firefox, forcing me to fire up Internet Explorer for Mac. Don't worry - I'm alright now...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Round-up of best made-for-iPhone web sites/apps

Whilst the iPhone and iPod Touch cope admirably with displaying regular websites, arguably leapfrogging Opera Mini (no mean feat) to provide the best small screen browsing experience to date, there's nevertheless a healthy appetite for sites and apps tailored specially for the iPhone / iPod Touch. Below is a round-up of fifteen of the best.

Remote Buddy AJAX Remote

This kind of has to be seen to be believed, transforming, as it does, your iPhone / iPod Touch into a fully featured virtual remote which which to control a bewildering array of your Mac's functions. Unlike the Roami (see below), the Remote Buddy doesn't just interface with iTunes but over 95 other applications including PowerPoint, Firefox, DVD Player, EyeTV and Joost, enabling you to operate presentations, watch video and live TV and take photos remotely using the iSight camera. Simply awesome. Available as a free 30-day trial. €19.99 to buy.


Nowhere near as sophisticated as the Remote Buddy AJAX Remote, but far simpler to operate as a result, Roami enables you to turn your iPhone/iPod Touch into a remote control for iTunes. A 3.6MB download to your Mac desktop provides you with a URL to type into your iPhone address bar which displays 'now playing' information and enables you to remotely select playlists, skip, pause and restart tracks, adjust the volume and toggle shuffle on and off. Free 14-day trial, $9.95 to buy.

BBC Podcasts

A personal favourite (disclaimer: I work at the BBC), this simple but slick beta app provides almost instantaneous access to the BBC's growing portfolio of podcasts, using progressive download to play the MP3s in Quicktime. The podcasts can be navigated by A-Z, genre or radio station (an option which beautifully showcases the new station logos). More on the BBC Radio Labs blog both here and here - see also below video.

BBC Podcasts (beta) on iPod Touch - demo from Dan Taylor on Vimeo.

JiWire Wi-Fi Finder

Anyone who's spent time wandering the streets of a major conurbation in a fruitless search for wireless internet access will appreciate the potential value of this little app which searches for details of nearby Wi-Fi access points against a city name or postal/zip code. It defaults to searching for free hotspots, although you can broaden the scope to include paid-for if needs be.


Never mind Amazon's Kindle, if you're wanting to read books on a mobile device then you could do a lot worse than TextOnPhone, which provide access to more than 20,000 titles, including classics such as Catcher in the Rye and Animal Farm. 'Turning the page' is as simple as tapping the screen and up to 50 pages can be downloaded for offline reading if you're planning to be without signal. It's also possible to create reading lists and add and share personal notes on any page.

TV Forecast

A neat little app for keeping tabs on when your favourite TV shows are next being broadcast. The transmission times are for the US - frustrating if you're stuck with waiting for the programme to get an airing on UK TV, but a godsend if you're wondering when the torrent is likely to be available for download (I would imagine).


At a glance status information on all the London Underground lines - like a pocket-sized version of those magnetic whiteboards you get by the ticket barriers. Designed by Utku Can - a 20 year old Computer Science student. Great URL too.

iPhit Fitness Tracking

Provides easy access to your Nike+ iPod running data (the main Nike+ website requires Flash, which iPhone Safari doesn't currently support). You will of course need a separate iPod nano to actually capture the data in the first place...

Twitter on Thincloud

Save yourself from the endless SMS messages with this big button app. Covers all the main functionality and nicely mimics the iPhone version of iTunes with four shortcuts along the foot of every page, providing one touch access to Recent Posts, Update Your Status, Direct Replies and Browse Friends.


Another app which appropriates the iTunes-style shortcuts along the foot of the page, although in this instance there are five on them (Conditions, Forecast, Radar, Camera and Weather). Conditions shows a simple thermometer and wind gauge; Forecast provides a six-day outlook; Radar shows an infrared satellite image of the continent; Camera shows a local webcam and Video plays the most recent (US) WeatherBug forecast in Quicktime.

Netvibes Mobile

Slick reversioning of the popular personalised startpage service, providing access to all the same modules, but arranged vertically to enable easy scrolling.

Yeah. No, Totally.

Another great URL and another neat site, 'Yeah. No, Totally.' provides quick access to a bunch of the web's most commonly used sites including Google, Wikipedia, Technorati, Flickr and BBC News (via its RSS feed). The only kicker for UK users is the US/SanFran focus, which renders the Shopping and Webcams section redundant.


A visual bookmarking site with the aspiration (as the name suggests) 0f getting you to your desired destination in just two clicks. The site enables you to arrange your bookmarks by category (the defaults categories are Home, Shop and Social), displaying a cached thumbnail of each site. It's also possible to add search boxes for some of the web's main players.


Stripped down window onto the Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews database, showing you a percentage score and top reviews for individual titles. Unfortunately search is the sole means of navigating the site so its only really useful if you know what film you're looking for.


Displays (half) the front page of six national newspapers (in the UK it's The Times, The Guardian, The Herald, The Telegraph, The Indie and The Current Bun) with a click-through to read the top headlines.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Analysing my Facebook friends photo grid

They say a picture paints a thousand words and if my Facebook friends photo grid is anything to go by, they may just be right. Below is a screencap of the aforementioned grid (something of a Facebook easter egg, which you can view by selecting '---' from the Friend List dropdown) and a round-up of some recurring motifs, which give a (potentially worrying) insight into the psychology of some of my nearest and dearest:

14 hats
8 pairs of shades
7 babies
4 guns
3 glasses of wine
3 pints of beer
3 false moustaches
2 weddings
2 donkeys
1 dog
1 cat
1 monkey
1 canada goose
1 baboon
1 real moustache
1 suit of armour
1 Beth Ditto's arse


My most visited websites according to del.icio.us

It's been six months since I first installed the super-useful del.icio.us Bookmarks Firefox extension which, amongst other things, displays your del.icio.us bookmarks in a Firefox toolbar ranked according to how frequently you visit them. As well as providing quick access to the sites you visit most often (assuming you've bookmarked them using del.icio.us of course), the toolbar also serves as an interesting record of which sites you personally find the stickiest. Below is a list of the 30 sites I've visited most frequently over the past six months according to the toolbar.

1. Facebook - the social networking equivalent of crack - and I'm an addict
2. Flickr - the number one photo sharing site - sublime in its simplicity
3. Bloglines - my preferred choice of feed reader (yes, I know everyone else has switched to Google Reader)
4. BBC - outside of work, used mostly for news, weather and the Radio Player
5. StatCounter - for analysing traffic to this blog and other sites I've built
6. fabric of folly - this blog
7. netvibes - personalised homepage and online to-do list
8. Yahoo! Mail - after 10 years, I can't be arsed to change my email address
9. Blogger - easy-to-use blogging software
10. Amazon - for buying stuff and then selling it later on Marketplace
11. mininova - my number one source of televisual content
12. Last.fm - music discovery and charts. lots of charts
13. Technorati - original blog search engine, although it's star is now on the wane
14. PBwiki - awesome collaborative working tool
15. BBC Webmail - remote access to work e-mail
16. Photo Friday - weekly photo competition
17. eBay - for selling stuff which isn't listed on Amazon Marketplace
18. PlusNet - my ISP - for checking how much bandwidth I've eaten up each month
19. LondonNet - London listings, including what's on at the flicks
20. del.icio.us - the social bookmarking daddy
21. IMDb - the ultimate online film (and increasingly TV) reference
22. StumbleUpon - for when Google isn't sufficiently serendipitous
23. Smile - my bank - for working out how much money I've spent at Amazon
24. Veoh - high quality video streaming/download site
25. Royal Mail - for working out the postage on the crap I've sold on eBay
26. Apple - gadget porn - mostly looking but not touching
27. Empire - my first port of call for trusted film reviews
28. James Cridland's Blog - one of the most consistently cogent blogs I read
29. Twitter - In the words of The Beautiful South, I love you but you're boring
30. National Rail - for planning my preferred means of getting from A to B


Most of the sites are fairly mainstream / old skool
Despite the huge number of shiny new Web 2.0 sites that pass through my browser each day, very few of them become regular destinations. Almost all of the sites in my Top 30 have been kicking around for a good few years now.

Most of the sites are task-oriented
Whilst there's little doubt that the web is becoming more of an entertainment destination, it's interesting how much of my online activity is still very task-oriented, as the below categorisation shows.

- Blogging (6 sites - Bloglines, StatCounter, fabric of folly, Blogger, Technorati, James Cridland's Blog)
- Real-world logistics (5 sites - PlusNet, LondonNet, Smile, Royal Mail, National Rail)
- Search and aggregation (3 sites - netvibes, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon)
- Commerce (3 sites - eBay, Amazon and Apple)
- E-mail (2 sites - Yahoo! Mail and BBC Webmail)
- Social Networking (2 sites - Facebook and Twitter)
- Photo sharing (2 sites - Flickr and Photo Friday)
- Film (2 sites - IMDb, Empire)
- TV/video (2 sites - mininova and Veoh)
- Music (1 site - Last.fm)
- News (1 site - BBC)
- Collaborative working (1 site - PBwiki)

Yahoo! and Google know a lot about me

Hardly a revelation, but it's sobering to note how much data the big web companies must have collected about me once you factor in their various acquisitions. Yahoo! are able to piece together data from my usage of Flickr, Yahoo! Mail and del.icio.us whilst Google can supplement my search history with my usage of Blogger. And, whilst they may not be linking the data yet, Amazon owns the IMDb and eBay owns StumbleUpon. Interesting to note that no Microsoft-owned properties appear on the list...

Whilst we're used to seeing the most visited websites in aggregate, it's rare to see them for an individual and I'm tempted to repeat the exercise in 6 months to see how the list has changed.

Anyone else care to share their most visited sites?

Also, I'd be interested in seeing the actual number of visits to each site, which surely must be captured by del.icio.us in order to generate the ranking - anyone know how to expose it?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Interesting times for the BBC online

Busy (and interesting) times at work at the moment (hence the recent dearth of posts). September saw the launch of BBC Vision's new multiplatform strategy which I'd been working on for the previous six months. October heralded a new role for me, with a typically elliptical title (Portfolio Executive, Internet for BBC Vision). It also marked the beta launch of bbc.co.uk/programmes, delivering a permanent, findable page for every episode of every BBC television and radio programme (more on this from Tom Scott - huge props to Matt Wood, Paul Clifford, Jamie Tetlow, Chris Sizemore, Sophie Walpole, Duncan Robertson, Phil Gyford et al. for getting it live).

This week saw the unveiling of the BBC Internet Blog, edited by Nick Reynolds and positioned as a sister blog to the News and Sport Editors blogs. Ashley Highfield kicked off proceedings and is currently averaging an impressive (but possibly unsustainable) post per day.

Other interesting recent BBC web stuff:

Embedded video on the homepage (see currybetdotnet)

Some rather splendid programme/event minisites:
Later... with Jools Holland
Long Way Down

BBC Electric Proms

And finally, a clutch of Facebook applications (of varying degrees of officialness):
BBC Comedy DNA
BBC Friends on TV
BBC iPlayer
BBC Headlines
BBC Podcasts
BBC Radio

Interesting times...