Monday, July 25, 2005

Konfabulator and Widgets - Secret Revolution

Konfabulator's sale to Yahoo could be seen as a happy ending to a story about a little software company that had it's best idea appropriated by a larger company, but still came out fine. I ran Konfabulator for a while on my Mac, and while I barely make use of Dashboard now, I have to admit it is a handy thing to have.

The thing that strikes me about Dashboard and Konfabulator is that both have all the markings of a little revolution, similar to what happened with Flash. Flash started life as a very simple but nifty vector animation program, grew a whole API, and is become a geniune development platform. Now we have kid's edutainment devices that run Flash.

Yahoo! bought Konfabulator because they wanted more ways for their audience to be able to use their services. That includes, for now, Windows and Macs.

These applications take what was once web delivered data, and breaks it out into sub applications that work on the desktop. It breaks out of the browser dominated paradigm (the internet is more than a web browser). Just like the struggle with the desktop OS transition to mobile devices, the widget neatly breaks that up for the user, and at the same time offers additional opportunities for Yahoo.

What strikes me about widgets is how perfect they are for mobile applications, network delivered or not. They are simple and focused (at their best). They do one thing well. The best ones are lightweight, not sucking lots of resources in the background. They use fairly common technology, so anyone can play -- just a little xml, javascript and perhaps just a little magic.

I have to wonder about this. I have to wonder if Yahoo saw something beyond the desktop widgets, and saw an opportunity to take their data resources in a totally new direction.

I'm back

Back after a hiatus. I finished my part on a chapter on QT based Learning Objects (took a week) and afterwards took a break. Hope you missed me ;-)

Lots to catch up on........

Monday, July 04, 2005

CBC on the 4th

I have just spent the weekend doing domestic things around the house. One of the things that I did was catch up on watching the CBC.

The CBC puts their nightly newscasts online for people to watch. I wish they didn't use RealMedia to encode with (I would prefer mpeg-4), but the quality is surprisingly good. So, I actually make it a point to watch the evening news in Canada, although it is a day behind.

I should explain that I am not Canadian. My parents are not Canadian. I have only been to Canada a few times. I live in the southern US, so it's not a quick hop over the border.

Why I watch the news in Canada is for many reasons. The main reason is that I often do not have time to watch the US evening news here. Secondary is war coverage. Finally, there is the simple reason that I think it's the right way to do it.

I can imagine a time soon where one of the traditional broadcast networks here makes the leap. I just popped into a few broadcast sites (which I never do otherwise). I found ABC News "World News Tonight".

Well -- just what the doctor ordered! The ability to watch the evening news when I want. I click on the link, get a request to download a smil file, which I load into RealPlayer. It loads a window, and another window, then finally a big window that offers to let my try ABC News On Demand, for only $4.95 a month.

I close that window, and discover another behind it that looks like the web page that launched this little adventure. One half of this window is advertising. I click on the link again, and it spawns the three same windows. I then figure out that the smallest of the three is the one that actually will launch the stream, and ignore the other two. I click the link......and finally get an error that I must be having network difficulties.

Let's ignore the technical problems. After all, I am using a Mac, and using FireFox as my web browser. Maybe that is it.

Instead, let's look at the contrast. CBC: Click on link, watch video. ABCNews: Click on link, get three pop-up windows full of advertising, one of which is advertising for their own live streaming news service.

The CBC broadcast does include ads, but they are non-obtrusive to me. Here in the US, our broadcast news is advertising supported to the point where the advertising is as important as the news. Certainly this little example makes that clear to me.

Even the PBS's online efforts are weak. Some stations such as WGBH in Boston used to offer some of their programming (and I think even a live stream) at some point in the past, but not now. Just a few podcasts.

Are we at the twilight of news coverage that has a vestige of impartiality, that is not consumed by commercial interests? At least it appears that way when we look at the internet.

Or maybe it is something else, and that broadcasting as we know it is trapped by it's technology and implementation. It costs money to run a broadcast station. It cost much less money to just stream content.

In any case, I am pondering this on our 4th. Who will originate those streams? Will the government be involved, either as a regulating entity (shudder) or as a participant? What can we learn from what the CBC, and it's parent model, the BBC, does?

The reason I focus on this is that while there is much focus on podcasting, and the romantic idea of a lone voice in front of a mike, the reality is that what we want is to hear the professionals talk. The smart guys. The ones who can produce content that is clever and well done. The broadcasters know how to do this, but they seem to be late to the party.

Happy 4th.