Leaving SXSW I think I noticed two major themes at the conference this year:
Software development. Jason Fried’s talk on small teams set the tone here. Get close to your users, start building the real thing early, and keep it small so you can change easily. In “How to Inform Design”, Jeffrey Veen took part of that one step further. Instead of user-centered design, he strives for self-centered design. If you become the user, you’ll know how to build it.
Thinking about software development approaches — especially when they take an extreme position — is useful to me because you can take those statements and stamp them onto past successes or failures to see whether there is any connection. Many interesting work conversations followed.
Metadata. Tags, folksonomies, and the lowercase semantic web. There were at least four sessions on this topic, from Eric Meyer’s introduction on XHTML-based microformats to the panel of RDF skeptics lead by Matt Haughey. These problems are hard to solve. When I was originally interested in an internet of rich metadata it never occurred to me that the solution might come from the grassroots, a virtual community of taggers bringing structure with nothing more than keywords and a few smart pieces of software.
Ultimately it’s a UI issue. Flickr and Del.icio.us are successful because they make it easy and provide a clear incentive (the ability to find things again). Other distributed metadata initiatives are simple to use because they work within the existing web we know (XHTML and URLs), but we still need applications that will provide that same incentive for users to care. Maybe Rubhub is a start.
Discovering new podcasts is still an awkward process, despite some great podcast support in newsreaders such as NetNewsWire 2.0. I thought it would be interesting to randomly pick individual podcasts and aggregate their latest posts into a special feed. After a little bit of hacking I came up with Podcast Shuffle. Perhaps the name is too gimmicky, but it’s a fun little feed that may even surprise you.
Jason Fried has been talking a lot lately about keeping your product simple. His SXSW session on Saturday continued this theme of doing more with less — “constraints encourage creativity.” One example he cites is how Ta-da List’s lack of due dates or responsibility assignment forces people to find a human solution to the problem, often something as simple as appending a date to the to-do item. Later, if patterns emerge in how users are working around true limitations in the software, then that is the time to add an interface and make it a real feature.
Tantek makes a similar point when discussing XFN. Rather than create a complex format that attempted to solve several different problems (some of which may not even exist yet), they simply looked at one thing (blogrolls) and paid particular attention to how users were working around the limitations of a simple list of links. Adding “*” next to people a web site author had met is the same idea as adding a date in the text of a to-do item in the 37signals example. They could then extract the true semantics behind those existing practices into XFN and similar microformats, building on top of XHTML to embrace the way users currently publish for the web.
It’s now been three years since I started this weblog. Here’s last year’s post, the one a year before that, and the first post. I like that the anniversary date falls around SXSW. It serves as a convenient reminder, and is also a good time to reflect on blogging in general.
Since 2002 I’ve posted 219 times. A small number compared to many blogs, but sufficient for me. When I first started this blog with Radio Userland, it couldn’t separate each post into its own HTML file unless each post fell on separate days. I found the use of anchors annoying, so I limited myself to posting once a day. With Movable Type that limitation was gone, but I still don’t post more than once a day, and usually less often than that. With so many bloggers to read, some of my favorites are those who only post once a week, but when they do it’s their best stuff.
If you’ve been wondering what all the podcast hype is about, Ryan’s latest Elements episode has a few of the things that make podcasts great: music, interviews, uniquely non-mainstream, and told with a fresh perspective that you can only get from listening to normal people talk. Another thing I like about Elements — and this applies to both weblogs and podcasts — is the consistent length and post frequency. It’s nice to look forward to an under-30-minute audio show synced to your iPod every Sunday.
This weekend I spent some time (not much) on a little podcast-related service that I’ll unveil this week. (And by “unveil” I mean upload a couple files and call it shipped.) I’ve also got a podcast in the works, although (contrary to what I said above) it will not be a regular fixture of this site. Instead it will be more like the occasional photo album — a supplement to the text and delivered in a way that fits the content.
For comics fans in Texas, the Staple! Expo will be held in Austin this Saturday. The Austin Chronicle has a story on it. Congratulations to Chris Nicholas for organizing the event since mid-2004. It should be a fun time.
John Rubio did a fantastic job on the logo, and I tweaked the web site design and handled the HTML and programming maintenance. The news weblog in particular seemed to work out very well, because it allowed Chris to keep the information on the web site current.
I’ve discussed artist-driven businesses before on this site, especially as it relates to the comics and animation industries. I think conferences like Staple have an important role to play in that.