Five for Friday (23/6/17)

IMG_0444

At some point I will post something other than links to this blog. But for now, this is it. Five more for you to enjoy this week:

  1. Standard Ebooks – There are lots of free and public domain ebooks about – try looking at Project Gutenberg for example. The problem is that they aren’t always of great quality – because they are often scanned in and OCRd, there are mistakes and janky formatting, amongst other issues. Standard Ebooks is taking these base metals and turning them into gold by checking them, cleaning them up and packaging them nicely – and they’re still free. What’s not to like?
  2. Strategic Reading – just in case five links a week aren’t enough for you, Stefan Czerniawski has started a new thing in the form of a link blog – lots of links to articles with a bit of commentary. Consumable on the website, via RSS or email and highly recommended.
  3. Amazon’s New Customer – I linked last week to rumours that Amazon might be interested in buying Slack. Not sure whether that was just a red herring or not, because it turned out that the big acquisition that Amazon made was Whole Foods, a chain of grocery stores in the US. This analysis by Ben Thompson of what is – on the face of it – an incomprehensible deal for an e-commerce company (clue: Amazon is not an e-commerce company) is excellent and very insightful when it comes to Amazon’s operating model and long term strategy.
  4. Background reading list for government policy people interested in digital – a useful collection of bits and pieces to read to get a good primer in what ‘digital’ means in the context of government services, curated by Paul Maltby. Am tempted to pull a list of my own together at some point.
  5. A great interview by John Markoff with various folk involved in the creation of the iPhone. Incidentally, Markoff’s book What the Doormouse Said would definitely be on any reading list I produce – it’s a fantastic and entertaining history of the birth of the personal computer.

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Bits and bobs for Monday 26 January 2015

An occasional effort to link to interesting things I have seen. Not convinced about the format yet – let me know what you think.

To finish, a video. This talk from Simon Wardley on value chain mapping is insanely interesting:

Amazon WorkSpaces

As well as being the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon is also one of the main providers of cloud based computing services. They offer a dizzying array of different services and platforms, enabling anyone with a credit card to get access to serious computing power.

One of their newer offerings is WorkSpaces. These provide access to a desktop computing experience via the cloud. What this means in practice is that you can use one device – whether a laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone – to access another computer which is hosted on Amazon’s cloud, including an operating system, applications and storage.

Here’s a video that probably explains it a lot better than I can.

How I’m using WorkSpaces

I’m a Mac user, and sometimes, annoyingly, other people assume you are using a Windows PC. Recently as part of one of my volunteering roles, I was asked to complete some e-learning. Only, on visiting the required web page, I was informed that the e-learning would only work with Internet Explorer, which isn’t available for the Mac.

To get round  this, I just needed to load up my Amazon WorkSpace client, and log in to my WorkSpace running Windows 7, which of course has Internet Explorer available. Job done.

Another area I am thinking of using WorkSpace is to keep some of my bits of work separate. I’ve more email accounts with different organisations I work with than I can count, with associated document stores and so on. One way around this might be to use my laptop just for my own personal stuff, and then have WorkSpaces for my other identities, meaning I don’t get things jumbled up but can always access what I need.

The downsides

The obvious downside is that you can only access your workspaces when you have a decent internet connection. The other is that at the moment the only choice of operating system is Windows 7. It would be nice to have a Linux option, for instance.

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Far from the maddening cloud

Reading some of the coverage of Instagram’s change in their terms of service, you’d have thought a murder had been committed. Or maybe that the world was about to end.

A few years down what might once have been called the Web 2.0 road, well funded companies are finding that they have built their networks, grown their user bases, and now shareholders are looking for some return on their investment. We should not, therefore, be surprised that the rules are changing, that the digital ground we’ve been standing on is shifting beneath our feet.

Nothing at the end of the day is free. Somewhere down the line, somebody is paying – whether it is you with a subscription, a VC’s investment money or an advertiser taking advantage of your online data.

The cloud brings with it incredible advantages – access to your digital assets wherever you are, no matter what device you are using. The ability to share with others, to collaborate with them, to enable people to remix your work and share it on.

Thanks to the cloud – and whatever it was called before it was the cloud – we are all writers, photographers  film makers, publishers, producers, networkers, community organisers. It gives us access to unimaginably large groups of people who will have an interest in what we are doing, and the tools to spark a conversation with all those people.

It also has its downsides though. As ever, there’s a tradeoff. Sometimes that tradeoff will be worthwhile. Lots of Instagram users obviously thought that it wasn’t – and that’s fine. Services and products will live and die as a result of how they manage their service, and balance the needs of the users and the needs of their balance sheet.

What’s important I think, to consider, is that part of the shift towards cloud, with all the advantages mentioned above, also is putting control over our cultural assets into the hands of corporations whose only mission is to generate a profit. Amazon is not your local library. Apple isn’t the British Museum.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this – I’m not making a political or economic point here. But if all your books aren’t in fact your own, and in fact are merely rented from Amazon on your Kindle; or those music tracks you thought were yours can be taken away from you without you being in control – then that’s a worrying thing and everyone need to approach this carefully.

Likewise with your social media content. If you don’t want your photos popping up in adverts for pile cream, then don’t put them on Instagram (or indeed probably anywhere on the internet).

So what to do? I think just be aware. When people say to you, “use this site, it’s free!”, remember that it isn’t. If you store content you created yourself online, make sure you have a copy of your own. If any of your content matters so much to you that you don’t want anyone re-using it in ways you can’t control, don’t put it on the internet.

In effect, don’t trust anyone, particularly tech startup companies, or indeed giant corporations. They won’t be around forever and they won’t always keep their word. Most of the time that’s fine, and the trade-off between control and convenience works out for everyone.

But we all have content, assets, that matter to us – and don’t entrust those to anyone you don’t know, no matter how slick their user interface.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • cpsrenewal.ca by Nick Charney: Mapping Internal Policy to the Hype Cycle – "I've been thinking a lot this week about how organizations issue policies to govern the use of new and emerging technologies."
  • The BBC Micro can still teach us a lot – "The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution"
  • Amazon v. Apple « LRB blog – "Readers might be revelling in the lower prices they find on Amazon, but if the books they’re buying are ever less worth reading, it doesn’t seem much of a bargain."
  • What is Dart? – O’Reilly Radar – "Dart [is] an open-source project that aims to enable developers to build more complex, highly performant apps for the modern web."
  • MIT App Inventor – "To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a professional developer. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app's behavior."

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Houses and clouds

The Government Digital Service blog is essential reading. Two recent posts well worth a look:

What is that beautiful house?

The phrase “not a CMS” has become a bit of a joke around the GovUK office (to the point where more than a few people were humming Once In A Lifetime), but it’s a key part of our approach. The Single Domain will include several components that enable publishing on the web but they’re part of a much broader ecosystem of tools wired together using APIs and designed to be constantly iterated to focus on user need. As we began to unpack what that means it became clear that we were going to need custom software.

Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, attends seminar at No. 10 Downing Street

Dr. Vogels defined cloud computing as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ across the Internet to multiple external customers”. Calling on his experience from across the globe he outlined how the flexibility and resilience offered by clouds has helped to transform some government instances via the idea of software as a service and the advent of reactive charging models. He gave the example of Recovery.gov in the US as just one of over 100 Government sites using cloud hosting.

Yay for Kindle

Amazon have just relaunched the Kindle e-reading device in the UK, with a new model, which looks rather spiffy.

Kindle

Mine is one of the old, white ones – but I still love it. The new one features a new layout which makes the device smaller overall but keeping the same sized screen. The Kindle now supports wifi, which is cool – mine can only use 3G networks.

As John Naughton writes in his Observer column on the subject:

In the end, however, it’s not hardware that matters, but the effectiveness of the overall system in which the device is embedded. That was the great lesson of the Apple iPod: although the hardware was lovely from the outset, it would never have had the impact it had without the link to iTunes software on the PC/Mac and thence to the iTunes store. Other companies had made nice MP3 players, but none had put together a seamless system for getting music from CDs or online retailers on to them. Apple did and the rest is history.

The evolution of the ebook business reveals the same kind of pattern. First up, in 2006, was Sony, with a beautifully crafted device that had one crippling drawback: the difficulty of getting stuff on to it. A year later, Amazon launched the first-generation Kindle, a device inferior to the Sony product in every respect save one: it had wireless connectivity to the Amazon online store, which meant that purchasing and downloading books on to the device was a breeze. After that, it was game over for Sony and, indeed, for all the other companies that had piled into the e-reader market.

There are a number of cool things about the Kindle, some of which are unique to it, some that aren’t. Here are my top three.

1. Instant books

As John points out in his article, the iTunes-like ability to buy books right away is remarkably powerful. It’s like the difference between ordering a CD online or downloading an MP3 – why wait a day for it to be delivered when you can have it now?

2. Social reading

One thing the Kindle allows you to do is to set bookmarks in your e-books, and also to annotate them with notes. In addition to this, you can also highlight passages to make sure you remember them.

A social layer has now been added to this, in that you can now see what other people who have that book on their Kindles have highlighted. It’s a bit like seeing how many other people have saved a web page in Delicious, and is very cool.

3. Syncing

As well as the Kindle e-reader device, Amazon make applications available for other hardware to read books on, including Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. This enables you to download books to other devices and keep reading even when you don’t have your Kindle on you.

Most obviously useful for phones, the really great thing with the Kindle is the way that when you open a book in one of the apps, it opens on the last page you read on your Kindle. Likewise, when you then open the book on your Kindle, it catches up to where you got up to on the other device.

Bookmarks for April 30th through May 14th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems? « Carl’s Notepad – [with open source] "You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate)."
  • Office 2010: the SharePoint factor – "The simple conclusion then is that to make sense of Office 2010 you need SharePoint 2010. The snag is that SharePoint is not something to roll out casually. Although it has a huge number of interesting features, it is also complex and easy to break. "
  • No Overall Control – a Future State of ICT – "To really address the gap between people in ICT and people who work in the Business (people outside of ICT) you actually need to start moving the competencies that IT Professionals have into the Business."
  • The Fate of the Semantic Web – "While many survey participants noted that current and emerging technologies are being leveraged toward positive web evolution in regard to linking data, there was no consensus on the technical mechanisms and human actions that might lead to the next wave of improvements – nor how extensive the changes might be."
  • tecosystems » I Love WordPress But… – "the reasons we self-host our WordPress instances are being eliminated at an accelerating rate"
  • Meatball Wiki – "Meatball is a community of active practitioners striving to teach each other how to organize people using online tools."
  • Amazon Pursues The Feds and the Potential Billions in Cloud Computing Services – ReadWriteCloud – "Amazon is quietly pursuing the multi-billion dollar federal cloud computing market, intensifying an already fast accelerating sales and marketing effort by Google, Microsoft and a host of others."
  • What’s Wrong With CSS – "Most of all, what I've learned from this exercise in site theming is that CSS is kind of painful. I fully support CSS as a (mostly) functional user interface Model-View-Controller. But even if you have extreme HTML hygiene and Austrian levels of discipline, CSS has some serious limitations in practice."
  • WordPress-to-lead for Salesforce CRM – "People can enter a contact form on your site, and the lead goes straight into Salesforce CRM: no more copy pasting lead info, no more missing leads: each and every one of them is in Salesforce.com for you to follow up."
  • A Collection of 50+ Enterprise 2.0 Case Studies and Examples – Nice resource. Some great examples in here.
  • Headshift Projects: Projects by Sector – Nice collection of social software case studies.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.