What eRDF can learn from Microformats

Quite a bit of time at BarCamp was spent thinking, talking and in running skirmishes about the Semantic Web. Or the semantic web depending which side you’re on.

Now I’m a big fan and perpetual user of Microformats. They make sense, are simple to add everywhere (by stealth if needs be) and the potential is pretty interesting to boot. They are designed in the open, allowing everyone to participate and have a strong emphasis on solving every day problems in the real world.

Contrast that with RDF and the Semantic Web. Most of the work here has been going on for years in academic institutions and W3C working groups. It’s all rather grandiose. Everything I’d seen previously horribly broke HTML. But someone seems to have seen the light. Tom Morris mentioned in one of his talks eRDF, which is a method for embedding RDF in valid HTML.

After one of the talks I got chatting with Tom Morris and Tom Croucher, both card carrying RDF folk, and Niqui Merret another interested bystander. Toms argument basically comes down to Microformats solve the 80% problem, RDF trys to solve the other 20%. I sort of think the Microformats group would probably agree with that. I also like the idea of creating your own formats off the cuff. I’ve seen enough to at least have a further look see and hopefully try out a few experiements myself.

Ben Ward had a few things to say on the subject which are worth a good read. I agree with the majority of his arguments but coudn’t resist commenting on at least one:

If you’re working with RDF, show me something new. Don’t just rehash vcard and icalendar into your own format; I’m not interested

I disagree. One of the best thinks about Microformats, that draw people (including me) in from the get go, is the unquestionable ease with which you can add hcard or xfn and get on with your day. Weeks or months later, after a few feel good projects you’ll be keeping an eye on the wiki when you come across something in need of structure. And even then you find it’s a composite of something you’ve seen before.

Right now I’d love to find that. A simple example of how to mark up a few very simple examples of eRDF. Hey, if that means contact details and a calendar event then so be it. If all that’s wrapped up in a lovely shiny green coat of pain with an icon logo so much the better. Until I can experiment with simple I cant do anything else, never mind anything new. So that’s two posts for the future sorted then.

Tom has set up a wiki over at GetSemantic to start to collate information together in one place which from my initial research seems like a good idea. If and when I get enough together (and the OpenId authentication is up and running) I’ll make sure to add everything there. If I get carried away and find interesting voices on the blogosphere I might event get a planet up and running. Or I might find way too much XML and leave it at that.

People I met in London

Meeting likeminded people is always good fun and the UK web conference scene provides lots of good opportunities for that. Sometimes it’s meeting up with past aquaintances or friends and other times mainly about making new contacts. Oh, and their are always a few co-worker’s in tow.

Mainly as a reminder but also as a “hello” to some of those I met down in London for BarCamp (BarcampLondon2) and Future of Web Apps (FOWALondon07) here goes with a list of some of the people, mainly colleague and a few neighbor I met on my travels:

Tom Croucher, Tom Morris, Gareth Rogers, Ben Ward, Jeremy Keith, Ben Darlow, Norm, Ian Forrester, Stuart Colville, Andy Hume, Mike Stenhouse, Pete Lambert, Lisa Price, Meri Williams, Elly Williams, Steve Marshall, Niqui Merret, Natalie Downe, Alistair MacDonald.

Between them they now have me interested in doing more with mobile messaging (SMS, MMS, Jabber), finding our more about eRDF, playing with Pipes, organising a Barcamp, getting some Moo cards, playing more with the flickr machine tags api and, oh, about a hundred and one other things including drinking beer (ok, that one was Ben). Consider that a partial list of the sorts of things I’m likely to post on over the next month or so.

If their is anyone I have yet to add to Flickr, Upcoming or Twitter hopefully I’ll find you soon or feel free to drop me a line. If I missed someone sorry, probably all the sleep I’ve been trying to catch up on.

This post brought to you by some of XFN.

Content Management Systems a go-go

Well, I’m now running WordPress. I know I appear to be aimlessly flitting between content management systems on this site but it’s more of a little research project I swear. Hopefully it’s all happening pretty seemlessly for everyone reading my ramblings. This time RSS came to the fore, allowing me to simply export a feed of all my previous posts and import them straight into WordPress. This sort of portability is very very nice for the user. I’d love to see this sort of functionality for hierachically structured data in larger enterprise systems.

I’ve got Wordpress up and running with a few choice plugins and a new theme in a couple of days which is nice. Hopefully any minor issues will be ironed out as I find them. An added bonus is comments are now back, I’ve got so many things to rave about after getting back from BarCamp and Future of Web Apps that letting anyone else point out the errors is only fair.

Useful API links

After a load of research for a couple of projects I thought I may as well add a large pile of links to a post for future reference. Feel free to wander through if your interests stretch to using scripting languages in mashups and the like.

PHP

Python

Ruby

Shiny Content Management

Well, my presentation over at the local Ruby on Rails Usergroup went down OK last Thursday. I could have done with some more time to prepare and do up some nicer slides but most of the presentation was quite hands on with me coding and talking, which was a first for me.

My presentation was basically a whistle stop tour of Radiant. I rambled on for about fifty minutes or so, quickly going through the basic concepts of Pages, Layouts and Snippets and then on to an example site which I built from scratch in front of everyone – with only a few obvious errors and obvious mistakes.

I ended up talking some about ommissions in Radiant, which I’m not sure I got across as the positive that I feel they are (at least for me). I dont want a fully featured blogging system, rather something that’s easy enought to jump into somewhere and see how it works. A few ideas came up from this discussion that, given the chance, I’ll mention on the Radiant mailing lists, or give them a go myself – like the ability to save configurations of pages, snippets and layouts and then load then instead of one of the three default prepopulation options. Though I’m busy modding the Radiant commentable behaviour and pondering a move to the Mental release candidate at the moment.

It at least got me back in to presenting to an industry audience, quite different from the teaching I’d been doing. Hopefully a good thing ahead of BarCamp in a weeks time.

WebDD

Just back from WebDD down in Reading at the Microsoft Campus and thought I’d post a few thoughts. I’ll get into a few of these topics in more detail down the line when time permits but for now…

I went to a few talks, one on Microformats by Glenn Jones and the other on web standards design by Patrick Lauke that I enjoyed but didn’t learn much. I wasn’t the intended audience really and I’d gone along because I didn’t fancy the alternatives. Both were entertaining and well attended anyhow, and I’m sure the more developer orientated folk got a lot out of both.

The main two things I came away thinking about however were the upcoming version of Visual Studio (codename “Orcas”) and Microsofts new identity platform CardSpace

Now I’m not generally a fan of IDEs, but someone has been thinking alot about how Visual Studio (and the new Expression Web) can be of use to web designers. Some of the CSS tools are very cool, I might do some screenshot from Expression (we all got free copies) if I get the chance. Their has also been a huge effort to integrate Javascript functionality, including full debugging and breakpoint support as well as intelissense. All of which looks really rather nice.

According to Microsoft Windows CardSpace enables users to provide their digital identities in a familiar, secure and easy way. Which should have alarm bells going off and (bad) memories of Passport flooding back. I went in not knowing much and in quite a sceptical mood, assuming the worst. Turns out I was wrong. The presentation, by Barry Dorrans, covered quite a bit of ground from an introduction, through code and working examples and even a big discussion of the issue of identity and OpenID in particularly. I’m suprised that I haven’t seen any mention of CardSpace along with the recent rise in discussion around identity and OpenID. More on this soon.

One last thing on the WebDD site caught my eye: around 350 people with a 50/50 split of web developers and web designers. In reality I think about 20 of us registered as designers which amused me. Microsoft doesn’t (yet) have a pull over designers as it does over developers. More on that too when I get my thoughts in order.

Experiment over

Ok, well, that was interesting I thought. For those that haven’t followed along on the site I thought I’d recap some of the weird and wonderful colour schemes that have been used on this site as part of my experiment with colorburn

Some were just about OK, some were quite nice really and a few were, er, pretty much unreadable (sorry). I’ll let you decide which where which:

20th 21st 22nd 23rd 24th 25th 27th 28th 29th 30th 31st 1st

Incoming!

Just a few things coming up in the next month that I’m attending that I thought warranted a post.

WebDD 3rd February Heading down to Microsoft in Reading for Web Developer Day for a weekend of web design and development discussions and listening to Bruce and Patrick go on about something interesting.
Newcatle Rails Usergroup 8th February I’m giving a talk on using Radiant to our local Ruby and Rails Usergroup so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll publish the slides afterwards given the chance.
BarCamp London 17th-18th February Yeah. I got a ticket for Barcamp thanks to Meri. I just need to think of something to talk about now. Oh, and sort travel.
Future of Web Apps 20th-21st February Been looking forward to heading down to FOWA for a while and a few people from work are coming too. Be good to see all the usual suspects as well, at least those that aren’t going to Barcamp a few days before.
Geek Dinner 21st February I’d already booked the day after FOWA off work knowing that something would come up. As if by magic I’m finally in London for one of Ian’s famous GeekDinners.

Now I think about it, or rather now I write them all down in one place, I think I might have got carried away.

URI Templates in the Real World

I do quite a bit of big picture web site/application design at work (ok, that probably needs more of a description). I get involved in alot of the details that lie somewhere off to the side of the obvious bits that need to be done (mmm, not much better). All those technologies and tools and ideas only tell part of the story of building a successful site or online application. Even something stringing together a good idea, clean markup, good CSS, some fancy backend code (insert prefered option) and a sprinkling of user centred design tools can fall down on the hidden details; good form labels, help messages that actually help rather than just repeating the problem, organising file systems to allow for simple scaling, skinning and internationalisation, etc.

Tom Coates spoke last year about his concept of Native to a Web of Data which really struck a chord at the time, and not just because I still want this on a t-shirt. More recently the idea of REST has really caught on, especially amongst the dynamic languages crowd – you just need to look at Rails 1.2 for an example their. The big picture is HTTP is back and everyone who didn’t already get it should be doing some reading.

Another notable person talking quite a bit about REST, HTTP and related issues is Joe Gregorio. Amongst other interesting posts, I came across one on URI Templates a good while ago and have been following the specification to produce recent documentation. The idea is simple and so is the specification. A quick example, for a simple CRUD interface might be:

Action URI Method
View /view/{id} Get
Add /page/add Get, Post
Edit /page/edit/{id} Get, Post
Delete /page/delete/{id} Post

Doing this for a site or application in the early stages of development really helps to highlight what actions are available, and to remove the need for costly changes later in the day. It also helps others learn, mainly through discussion, about the different HTTP methods and the importance of the URI in general.

Posting to Twitter using PHP

Please note that Twitter no-longer support Basic Auth via the API so the following code no longer works. Please see the official docs for more info

Like others I’ve found myself becoming something of a fan of Twitter, the impossible to explain social networking site. If you’re reading this, have a twitter account and not already my friend then add me if you like.

Apart from the interesting social aspects I’m also interested in Twitter as an API for all sorts of communications, remember Twitter already deals nicely with SMS messaging, Instant Messaging, subscription and the like and has a nice XML and JSON based API. I’ve been using the Zamano SMS gateway at work for a few projects and Twitter actually lets me some more and doesn’t come with a price tag.

I started out playing with curl to send updates like so (obviously with a real username and password):

curl -u username:password -d status="twittering from curl" http://twitter.com/statuses/update.xml I then used the PHP curl features to do the same thing from PHP: <?php // Set username and password $username = 'username'; $password = 'password'; // The message you want to send $message = 'is twittering from php using curl'; // The twitter API address $url = 'http://twitter.com/statuses/update.xml'; // Alternative JSON version // $url = 'http://twitter.com/statuses/update.json'; // Set up and execute the curl process $curl_handle = curl_init(); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_URL, "$url"); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_CONNECTTIMEOUT, 2); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_POST, 1); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS, "status=$message"); curl_setopt($curl_handle, CURLOPT_USERPWD, "$username:$password"); $buffer = curl_exec($curl_handle); curl_close($curl_handle); // check for success or failure if (empty($buffer)) { echo 'message'; } else { echo 'success'; } ?>

Obviously you could do more with the return than print out a success or failure message. The $buffer variable has the returned XML or JSON for you’re parsing pleasure.

I’m going to try out some of the other API methods too, probably play more with XSL or look more closely at the PEAR JSON module in building up a simple library as a quick search didn’t throw up much of interest and the API is nice and simple; making it fun to hack on.