Archive for the ‘web’ Category

The Conversational Internet

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Imagine using the Internet as a blind person.

As an occasional web-developer, I had some awareness of the importance of accessibility for the web, but to be honest it was pretty superficial. You just add ALT tags to your images, make sure you can tab between all the controls on the page, and a screen-reader will sort out the rest, right?

I went to an event in London a couple of weeks ago, where the reality was brought home to me.

Screen-readers are not as intelligent or as helpful as I’d assumed. They just read out everything on the page.

Imagine a typical modern web app… for example, facebook. Start reading everything on the page, from the top left of the page, and carry on until you reach the bottom right. Imagine what that might be like.

The best analogy I can think of is to try and picture the worst possible automated phone menu experience. The sort of one where they read you a long list of almost-unintelligible options: “for blah-blah-blah, press 1, for blather-blather-blather, press 2, for something-or-other, press 3 …. for something-else-vague, press 9 …

None of the options seem like an exact match for the task that you have in mind, and by the time you’ve got to the end, you can’t remember whether the option that sounded sort of vaguely similar was option 3 or option 4…

Imagine that for a web page. Apparently, a screen-reader can take three or four minutes to read out the contents of a typical web page today. Can you imagine an automated phone system that spent four minutes listing your options, then expected you to try and choose which one you wanted?

That’s the experience that many blind people face when trying to use modern web apps that we take for granted.

ALT tags are all well and good, but making a web page accessible isn’t the same as making it usable.

So… as geeks with a passion for technology and an interest in making the web useful to all, what can we do?


What do I share online?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I gave a presentation earlier this week which led to a discussion on information that people share online. The general experience from the group was along the lines of “we’ve heard of people who share a lot of information on facebook”, but that was about it.

I talked about some of the other ways that people share information online, and they were very surprised.

I’m guessing that anyone who reads my blog will likely find this less surprising, but I thought that the list we produced during the discussion was worth sharing nevertheless:

Ironically, I don’t use facebook all that much… 🙂

(more…) for television

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

One of the social network sites I’ve been using the longest is

(If you know what is, bear with me teaching you to suck eggs for a few paragraphs… it gets more interesting – honest!)

The idea of is that a background service captures (or “scrobbles“) the music that I listen to on my computer at home, on the mp3 player that I use in the car, and on my laptop in the office.

This means that I now have a large record detailing the music I’ve listened to over the last three years.

I do this for a few reasons, including:

  • The data is made available to me through a rich API, which means I’m free to play with it, as well as take advantage of the creations of others, such as the wonderful visualisations generated by lastgraph
  • I can see what my friends listen to, which is interesting, as well as being a good way to come across new music
  • use this detailed history of my music-listening tastes to make automated recommendations of other music that I might like

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I like I find it useful and interesting, and want the same for all the media that I consume – not just music.

I went looking for an equivalent for the books that I read in August 2008, and started using goodreads.

But what about the television that I watch? Could I create a scrobbler to capture what I watch on television? And then try and come up with a few examples of how I could share and visualise the data?

This question is where I started at Christmas… and after a few evenings of hacking some Python together, I’ve come up with: for television

Please go take a look. (needs Flash – sorry)


Bye bye, Outlook

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

As a major GTD nerd, it’s a temptation to constantly tweak and tinker with my personal productivity systems.

But I normally resist. This week, I’ve had a major overhaul, so thought I’d share what I’ve been doing and some of my reasons why.

I should mention that I nicked a lot of these ideas from Gareth, so big thanks to Gareth!

Why the change?

There were a number of reasons that motivated this.

Part of it was because I’m switching from mainly using Windows Mobile phones to my new shiny Palm Pre.

Part of it was a desire to move my main workstation from Windows XP to Ubuntu, after seeing so many friends and colleagues rave about it, hearing an inspiring talk on Linux from Bob Sutor, and getting so much abuse from people I’m too polite to name 😉


Why I’m giving up on brightkite (for now)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

A common simple approach to identifying a user’s location is to give them a text box, and ask them to type in where they are.

It’s not that easy, as I was reminded last night.

I’ve been using brightkite for some time now – a web service for sharing your location.

The mobile site lets you update your location from your phone.

I tried updating my location last night from Southampton Airport Parkway train station while waiting for my train home from Open Hack London.

I typed “Southampton Airport Parkway”.

When brightkite isn’t sure where you mean, it offers a list to choose from.

If it thinks it knows where you mean, it shows that one alone.

Brightkite decided that I meant…

Partido Judicial de Pamplona.

In Spain.

Erm… not quite.


Flickr video vs YouTube

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

It’s my birthday today, and one of my presents was a Flickr subscription. How cool is that?! 🙂

There’s lots that I want to play with, but my first experiment with Flickr was to upload the same AVI video file that I uploaded to YouTube last week. I was curious to see the difference in picture quality between the two.

I’ve embedded them both below so you can see for yourself. This isn’t meant to be a representative or scientific test, but as first impressions go, I much prefer Flickr video. The interface feels cleaner, and the video quality is better.


The costs of selling on Ebay

Monday, April 28th, 2008

My first experience as an eBay seller is nearing an end. I stopped off at the Post Office on my way home this afternoon, and put the item I was selling in the post.

I knew there would be a cost involved, but had no idea what to expect as to how much it’d be.

For those people like me who have never sold anything on eBay before, here is an entirely unscientific and unrepresentative anecdote. Make of it what you will. 🙂

I was selling an unwanted gift. It was new, still boxed and in it’s original shink wrap. It sold for £730.

  • Fees to eBay – £46.23
  • Fees to Paypal – £25.02
  • Postage – £5.80
  • Packing – £1.00

Total fees : £78.05

Nearly 11% of the sales value. Feels like a lot.

I dunno… I guess it’s hard to justify sounding too aggrieved. I was selling something that I’d not spent any money on, so even after 11% in costs, I’m still getting a lot of money (a sum that will be a *big* help).



Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I heard of Vodafone Betavine last September, at mobileCampLondon. I never got round to thinking of something to write using their API, so didn’t sign up in the end.

I met up with Owen from Betavine again last weekend at Over The Air which gave him another chance to ‘sell’ it to me. 🙂

Actually, both he and another Vodafone guy, Matt, spent time going through the idea behind Betavine and the benefits that it tries to bring – and it turned out that I’d missed some of the idea behind the site.

They convinced me to give the site another try, so last night I logged back on and started adding some content to see how it all works.