BrainBlog

BrainBlog is the Brains4All weblog. Established 2004 in The Netherlands. Brains have been working in IT since 1983, working on the internet since 1993, and using their own agile development process for design and application development since 2003. We talk about about design and usability, the industry of software and web development, web applications and simplicity, beautiful and spectacular things.

Brains4All and 14Dayz nominated "Best Dutch Company" and "Best Dutch App"

marko

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We were very pleased to find out that both Brains4All and 14Dayz have been nominated for the Dutch Web 2.0 Awards organized by BlueAce, the Dutch Web 2.0 Blog. We’d appreciate it if you’d head over to the site and vote for us in either the “Best Dutch Company” or “Best Dutch App” category.

We're already very pleased with the nomination! Thanks guys!

  



Feedburner

marko

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I've been playing around with Feedburner for a bit. I'm not sure what to make of it. It's serving over 309K feeds, so it must be useful to someone. :) I'll play a bit more, meanwhile...

Here is BrainBlog's feed in feedburner;
http://feeds.feedburner.com/brains4all/brainblog

Update: I got the feed url wrong. No wonder. :)

  



To prove a point

marko

I've been cynical about the meaning of the term Web 2.0 to the despair of many. "There is no web 2.0 and if there is, it doesn't mean anything."

Don't get me wrong, I love Web 2.0. A lot of people seem to think we're it and that means we're serving more and more customers each day. By the way, go here to sign up.

I'm grateful for that. Not only for the business, which is nice, but also because I know our customers will at least get a great service or a fantastic product out of it. That's not Web 2.0. That's just me. Call me old-fashioned if I say "Customer is King". But that's my strong belief and conviction and our company is build around that.

37 Signals have asked the opinion of a number of their customers the following questions;

1. Have you heard of the term Web 2.0?
2. If so, what do you think it means?

Here is a list with 500 of their random answers. If web 2.0 means anything, how do you explain that not two respondents have answered the question similarly?

  



The New Web part 4

marko

In an internet population of over one billion users there is only a small portion involved in its evolutionary centre. Of this centre, not all are progressive forces. Over fifty percent of them are leeches. Leeches are parasites, living of the blood of other organic beings.

Leeches don’t care whose blood they suck. Leeches are the ones arguing when they encountered the first human beings walking on two feet: “Look, this is silly; you have to wade through this water on all fours. Everyone else is doing it and has been doing it for years. Because you wade in this water with only two limbs, I and my relatives have a reduced chance of fifty percent of ending up on one of them. Get back in here and even those chances.” Are leeches threatened? Not in a bit. There will be other four legged animals wading into the pool. And while humans have only two limbs in the water, the leeches still suck their blood none the less when they get the chance.

Leeches have their own way to deal with inevitable change and make sure they eat their evolutionary food too. Another small group is rubbing up the evolutionaries hoping to find some breadcrumbs of the benefits and advantages. They observe other’s success and will follow were they go, to live of the leftovers or to die hungry, in vain pursuit. Trust me, evolution is not a pretty sight.

Only a small portion of people is driving the internet evolution. And they are not unified, or even aware of each other. They, by the very nature of the web are distributed as well. Distributed geographically, which is less of a handicap than it used to be. But they are also distributed by interests, language, process and culture.

To find them you must search for small clusters of shared vision, small clusters of loosely collaborating individuals with strong and converging new ideas that work. Look for small group with differentiating opinions, addressing similar or related problems.

  



The New Web part 3

marko

-- continued from The New Web part 2

The current state of the web is not chaotic, it is evolutionary in essence, though it may seem chaotic from several perspectives. It is not static. It is, and will remain a highly dynamic environment. Because of the sheer amount of people on-line it is not knowable; because you can never be sure someone will not invent a $100 pc that will allow people to share each other’s wifi connections ad hoc, creating a whole new set of possibilities. ;)

So the web is a complex place, just as the world and its social, cultural, biological and political entities upon it are. Its interactions are knotted, intertwined and heavily distributed without a single center of control or regulation. It behaves in an unpredictable way and often acts hypocritical and unpredictable. The key to define the web or even the new web is to research it.

This research, by its very essence of its subject, needs to be iterative. The results, and more importantly its goals, need to be fine tuned and re-adjusted every time and again. The nature of the subject is changing in mid-research. It is not a static entity. The web is changing as you research it.

So in researching the web it is important to set goals, and track goals. Track their validity; is this still what we need? In web projects this could relate to; do we still need to address the problem we are addressing, or have we learned that we have exposed other more pressing problems, or that the problem has gone away by itself?

If the goals are constantly shifting, you better adjust your aim as well. A lot of research might go into what the actual goal, or problem actually is.

When you are tracking your goal, you must also find a way to measure your effectiveness, your progress if you will, towards pertaining it. Simple tools that allow you to monitor: Are we getting nearer to our goal? What was the situation were we left off? Did we make any progress? How are we doing? What do we need to do next?

Organizations that are implementing these research-like development methods as a production philosophy on the web are now slowly surfacing on the web as successful. Organizations that are finding the ability to interface with the web, that care to listen to its voices, its feelings and its opinions are in the evolutionary stage of higher chances to survive then those who don’t.

That does not mean the adaptables have conquered the world. No. It is a long time before that. But agile companies are emerging from within the web, software development and production and they can become successful very quickly. In addition, the research subject itself is also helping to distribute its findings and important data. Artifacts are being distributed around the world at light speed. The very essence the internet was used for. Research papers can be common knowledge in a week or two or less.

A lot of the intermediate results are there for you to examine and a lot of the resulting conclusions can be drawn pretty quickly. Successful behavior can be copied, or mimicked, and in a knowable system, this can lead to success too.

But in a complex system like the internet, which is also intertwined with modern society, you have to verify goals. Are they still the same, or have they shifted? Is what we copied working for us, for our clients? Is this behavior bringing us closer to our goals? Are we solving the problem that really matters?

How do you know which ones to copy anyway? How do you recognize the centers of evolution at work? The evolutionary successes of tomorrow are not the large numbers of today. If you hang with the masses, you have a pretty good chance of surviving today. But the epicenters of evolution are not marked by high signals. They are small, relatively insulated pockets of change giving off weak signals. How can we locate and identify those pockets?

-- to be continued

  



The New Web part 2

marko

-- continued from The New Web part 1

So yes, the web is changing, and changing in an almost natural way. What is happening with Web 2.0 is that with the combination of heightened pressure on our society’s productivity, and the response of agility production and development process there of, with the upcoming of social networks, and with the rising mental state of humanity to constantly reflect upon itself there can be a trend deciphered.

Finally entrepreneurs on the web were looking back on that first gold rush of the late nineties. Who survived? Why did they survive and not the other one, which had the better chances? Questions are being asked like: What do people really need? How can we help them solve their real problem? These are not just manifestations that are unique to the web. They are forces present in economic movements as well.

Still, by its very nature the internet as a communications medium is catalyzing the uptake of these ideas. Bright new ideas may spread throughout the on-line society quickly, and are now often leading instead of following conventional media. Conventional media are dreading the deflation of their assets.

Still, bright new ideas, or bright old ideas for that matter, however high their uptake, must at one time present their proof of effect. Even these ideas and the progression and uptake have become evolutionary in nature. Either they will take hold, and society will embrace them or adapt to accommodate them, or they will eventually dissipate without so much as even a whisper.

When we start looking back on the history of the web, what do we find? How do we know that it is right, and that it will stay right? The answer is with simple, almost academic research.

--continued in The New Web Part 3

  



The New Web part 1

marko

A little while ago, though it seems like ages now, just after we’ve been hit by the TechCrunch effect I was called on the phone by a reporter from a Dutch E-Commerce magazine. When he asked how I felt about all the hype around Web 2.0 I answered naively; “There is no web 2.0. Sure, because of the social aspects inherent now in the web, like blogging and community sites like MySpace, some web services are able to become a success quickly, even before they show any working software. Still you cannot be all hype and live. In the end, you’ve got to have a great service too. Okay, so now we have a good review by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. I’ve talked to him. He just really likes our product.”

Now, I’ve had some time for reflection on this issue. I’ve been listening to others, reading blogs, and someone here finally bought a copy of “Getting Real” and printed it up for me. (Okay I’m old-fashioned about my books. Books are paper to me.) Perhaps now it is time for a less brash, more founded opinion.

Don’t forget, the web was only build over the past 15 years or so. It just exploded into existence. The sky was the limit. Its growth was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. The possibilities were endless. And everyone jumped on the band wagon. Because it was new, no-one knew what would work and what wouldn’t. Some things did work, and some things didn’t. Some things worked for a while, and then were replaced by some other things, that were just doing things better or different or at least more successful. Then those things were replaced by other things as well.

If you examine the history of the web, it is an evolutionary growth. The web sprouts a diversity of ideas, websites, concepts, business models, content and communities. The diversity spreads and then the laws of evolution take over. The ones best able to sustain themselves flourish. The ones which are able to adapt flourish too. The rest die out. There is a simple Darwinian process at work.

Some die out because of lack of funds or lack of energy. Others die out because they get bought up, taken over or die in legal disputes. This is just the Mother Nature of today’s Human society. Social and economic forces are at work, and disasters strike, just like meteors.

Brains4All is an adaptive entity too. We started off thinking we would do one on one client work. Now we are transformed to deliver products mainly. We started out thinking we would be a regional shop, providing to businesses close to us and clients that we had known for years. Now we have clients in over 86 countries world wide, and add to that each and every day.

-- continued in The New Web part 2

  



BuzzShout vs NeoBinaries

marko

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I'd like to say hi to James from BuzzShout and commend him on his excelent user service. BuzzShout is community based buzz for web 2.0 applications and web sites. There was a long and dire need for this kind of service and James has jumped in it with both feet. While there are still a few things to iron out, the design looks good. And it is a brilliant (edit: though not so unique) idea. I hope James is prepared to handle the load that this will generate.

So please head over to BuzzShout and while you are there, we'd appreciate it if you would leave a nice review about 14Dayz.

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Then while I was writing this, another site that has almost exactly the same service was brought to my attention: Neo Binaries. To my pleasant surprise, 14Dayz is already listed (not by me) and is in the top 5 of viewed apps. Even though it doesn't have a review yet. We'd like it if you put in a good word there too... :)

  



Update

marko

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14Dayz has only been in private beta testing for one weekend and already feedback is finding its way to fill up my mailbox. :) Thank you, thank you and thank you. I cannot say how much value this provides for us. Tomorrow we start addressing the first issues beta testers have brought up. So keep that feedback flowing. It means we can give you better software.
Nice stuff is: Zero bug reports and zero known bugs at release. That is something we strive for, and good to see effectuated.
Most of you say navigation definitely needs improvement so that will be the first thing we address on Monday.
A quick shout out to Michael Arrington for featuring his experiences on Techcrunch. I love this quote: “It does one thing, and well: time tracking.” That is what matters most to us, because it was our goal as we set out. The other issues you and others have brought up can and will be resolved. Thanks Mike. Thanks also to people who have made valuable comments on that post.
There is still room in the private beta, and I would note that beta testers providing us with constructive feedback, like Mike, are eligible for a 50% discount for life*. We value your opinions highly and we feel beta testers’ work should be rewarded.

* more information, pricing and terms on your invitation. so get yourself invited already.

  



Silent Launch

marko

Today we have silently begun sending off the first invitations to beta testers. We were all very excited upon delivering a product that we all have a very good feeling about in such a short amount of time (guess where the name comes from). We'll be sending off more in the next couple of days. Don’t worry if you are not invited yet. You’re next!

Serge remarked brilliantly that "in the old days" we had a rule not to release on Fridays. Why did we have that rule? Many applications were breaking down over the weekend. Serge made me see how far we've come in those past few years. By adopting change as a constant, by focusing on simplicity, by excelling every day and feeling good about it we are now so confident that we just look at each other and release it. It'll hold.

All ready we've had some valuable feedback from some of our beta testers. Serge wrote up from Russia "one of the Russian leading bloggers for web 2.0 services." he had some excellent tips to make 14Dayz even more user friendly. Saul Weiner wrote this raving review on his blog. Thanks for your feedback!

  



More copy paste web on Ajaxian

marko

I was playing with some new blog stats I found at http://performancing.com/ the other day. When I noticed Ajaxian picked up on the Copy-Paste-Web post from last week. Thanks to Chris Cornutt for the write up. Metapundit remarks that there is prior art, well conceptual art anyway on the lesscode.org blog from October 2005. Now why do I like that name? In the lesscode discussion I found some other links to similar activities. Amongst them is Bogle's Blog who refers to unAPI. "unAPI is a tiny HTTP API for the few basic operations necessary to copy discrete, identified content from any kind of web application."

I've been meaning to get some copy-paste demo pages up myself to interact with Ozzies demo, and we still need to put some content behind those great looking buttons Serge has designed for our new website. (Thanks for pointing out the dead links, linb.) :) But we've been too busy with the upcoming launch on 14Dayz online time tracking, which we are all really excited about... Maybe when the dust settles next week I'll whip something up.

  



Copy-Paste-Web

marko

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Ray Ozzie whose Groovenet Networks was acquired by Microsoft about a year ago, also know as "The Creator of Lotus Notes" has demoed an interesting concept at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this week.

Ozzies' idea is to have Copy And Paste JavaScript powered XML allowing users to copy and paste XML meta data from site to site from site to pc or vice versa. The idea is simple enough, use JavaScript to trigger events as XML data is read from or posted to the clipboard. Ozzie is calling it Live Clipboard to coincide with Microsoft Live efforts. I'd like to call it CAPJAPOX :).
The implementation is browser independent. Independent as in works on Firefox too. The prototype Ozzie demoed is released under a shared commons license. There is an actual working demo page and there are some videos on line. The videos deal with mock-ups, so I doubt if there is any working technology behind them. Still as an idea its concept is interesting. There is also Ozzies’ own lengthy blog entry about the concept, wiring the web.
The excitement of linking two web pages by copy and paste is in my point of view somewhat of an illusion. Live Clipboard is only the user interface for this. It leaves the trouble of standardization and interfacing out of the loop. Services have to implement the details of the live clipboard themselves (or probably they have to buy an expensive Microsoft development tool that does automate this task under the hood). The fun bit is yes, you can actually copy calendar appointments from one social calendar to another if they both implement the clipboard and have compatible interfaces.
So we will see how Microsoft is going to support this concept of Ozzie, for now it still leaves the standards and protocol issue in the middle while I would dearly see a simple solution to copy and paste web data between web applications. But the work has to be done in the trenches and we have to connect API to API ourselves for quite some time. There is a detailed write up about the session here on O'Reilly Radar.

  



Comet

marko

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Alex Russell, from dojotoolkit, has found time in his busy schedule to dedicate an article to explaining about Server side push Ajax and has finally put a name on it: Comet. Alex hopes that analogous to AJAX, the technique will finally take off big-time when it is easier to communicate about by calling it by its name.

In short, Comet is the technique of continuously updating the browser screen by using server side pushed events instead of polling or pull events by the browser. In many ways the technique is similar or can be viewed as an extension to AJAX if you will. Alex describes possible scenarios for application as well. Not every web application is going to need it or even profit from it. "Comet improves application responsiveness for collaborative, multi-user applications..." A few obstacles are there to overcome, since each client browser has to maintain an open (if idle) connection to the server. Handling that amount of connections requires new techniques on the server side as well. Luckily for us, the discussion in the comments exposed an already flowering community and some server side techniques already implemented. Twisted seems to be a well cooked candidate, written in python. There's even an O'Reilly book out. What a formidable coincidence.

For more in-depth information check out: Alex Russells' blog entry. Ajaxpatterns on HTTPStreaming.

For those of you familiar with JotSpot live it is an example of a web 2.0 application using this technique.

An excellent introduction to twisted by Ken Kinder, Event-Driven Programming with Twisted and Python

  



Saul Weiners' web 2.0 blog

marko

Saul Weiner, who by the way runs a great blog about web 2.0 which I think you should check out, writes a short entry where he is comparing our upcoming product 14Dayz to Tadalist. Well.., in some ways 14Dayz is not like tadalist.

First of all 14Dayz is not a completely free product. It sports an always free plan for personal use and allows for free trials of each of the commercial plans. Second; 14Dayz is not a todo list, nor does it have one. Tadalist is about the future, stuff you are planning to get to eventually. 14Dayz is about "what really happened while you were making other plans." Sure, you can click the box and have that satisfied feeling of fulfillment of getting things done. However plans change (if they're good ones) and I always have to prioritize what I need to do over what I want to do over what would be nice to do. Also I find that I always end up doing stuff I hadn't planned on doing at all! Stuff that wasn't in my to do list. Still I write that up in 14Dayz. That allows me to review what I've done and how I spend my time. It also enables me to get paid, which allows me to pay for all the other things I need to do, like fixing our house.

In other ways 14Dayz is a lot like Tadalist and that is perhaps what Saul is referring to. 14Dayz is a simple web application. 14Dayz is easy to use. Why? How?

The core technology of 14Dayz has been built to help lawyers comply to recent Dutch legislation for time tracking in bankruptcies. So it is not a new app. It's a mesh up :). During development we have been working closely with lawyers (as in sitting next to...) and their secretaries to perfect the system. Because of the target audience, which was not very technical, we had to keep the application as simple as possible. And because secretaries often log the lawyers hours, data entry had to be fast. So we've worked with the secretaries to make it fast. We've worked with the lawyers and examined the way lawyers enter data and made it easy. After launch we've had a steady flow of requests to implement time tracking for other applications and wider fields of use as well. 14Dayz is that product. And that is why we believe 14Dayz is going to be easy, fast and fun to use web based time tracking for everyone.

Of course you get to decide that for yourself in 14dayz if you join our beta testing effort.

Saul, thanks for a great blog and thanks for the write up.

  



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