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Tim Berners-Lee

“The experience of the development of the web by so many people collaborating across the globe has just been a fantastic experience,” …

“The experience of international collaboration continues. Also the spirit that really we have only started to explore the possibilities of [the web], that continues.” …

“What’s exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance.”…

“My hope is that those will produce… new ways of working together effectively and fairly which we can use globally to manage ourselves as a planet.”

– Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web1 on the BBC website

Today we love…Tim Berners-Lee

The first time I ever used the World Wide Web was in 1994 or 1995 (I can’t remember which), at my university computer lab. Theoretically all of the workstations could access the web but only if you were privy to the proxy server details, but it wasn’t freely available to the general student body. Every time I went in there to type an essay, I would click on the NSCA Mosaic icon and not be able to connect to anything, to my deep disappointment.

One morning, I discovered that the proxy setting was active on the browser! I was on the Web! I can’t remember what page loaded but I didn’t care….Some time later, twilight started to fall and I realised that eight hours had passed and I hadn’t left my seat once!

Anyhow, reading the article today on the BBC website reminded me of this. Every time I read an article about Mr (Sir) Berners-Lee, I imagine that he wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and thinks “Yep, I invented the World Wide Web”.

I wonder how that feels?

For extraordinary innovation and general all round greatness…Tim Berners-Lee, we love you!!!

PS – the photo of Tim Berners-Lee is the Wikimedia Commons photo from his Wikipedia entry and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.

1 Of course, you also have to mention his colleague Robert Cailliau for his contribution too

A recent change to a car park I use regularly has really bothered my user-centric radar (bear with me on this one!).

Our nearest local amenities from work are in Summertown, just outside North Oxford. It’s a busy main street where you can run quick errands like pop to the bank, grab a sandwich or a birthday card and so on.

Parking is a nightmare, especially at lunchtime, as you’d expect. There’s only one public car park and it’s continuously near capacity.

Until recently something used to spontaneously happen in that car park that was really interesting and I guess happens all over the country.

The entrance is right next to the exit so a car coming in would pass within a foot or so of a car going out.

You would often find people, when leaving and passing someone coming in, reaching out through their open window and offering their ticket, which usually had a good bit of time left on it, to the incoming car.

This is unexpected generosity, a little bit of sunshine, a free ticket!

It wasn’t an agreed behavior. There is likely an element of kitchen sink rebellion, but it felt good giving someone else your ticket and that recipient felt good that someone was kind enough to do so.

So what’s happened?

The local authority has introduced complex and stunningly awful new ticketing booths that force you to input your car registration number before it will issue you with a ticket, so that traffic wardens can link your car to the ticket.

This means people can’t pass tickets with a bit of time left on them to one another any more. No more sunshine.

So now you see people walking to the ticket machines, realising they have to input their registration number, sigh and go back to their car to remind themselves what it is, then walk back to the machine and wrangle with the appaling user interface (I mean, look at all the arrows, buttons and instructions) and then go back to their car to display it.

Courtesy of (the equally annoyed) louisiana

All this effort so the council can claw back the few pence it “felt” it was losing (quantifying the amount of tickets passed altruistically must be almost impossible).

And of course a ticket always guaranteed a space for 1hour – it would just be filled by a different car. The ticket still runs out as normal.

What’s more important: gaining a few quid or keeping the world .001% happier?

(An addendum tale: the council also changed the machines in a car park in the center of Oxford to number plate recognition ticket machines in direct response to complaints about a few homeless folk who used to ask (politely in my experience) for your old ticket so they could sell it on to the next person and make a few quid.

You can’t buy a ticket that hasn’t got your number plate on, right?

But what soon developed, and this always makes me smile at the ingenuity of it, is the homeless guys didn’t go away, they now help car park visitors to understand how to use the awful new machines and people tip them. Brilliant!)

So what does this tell us?

  1. Humans will always find a way to break or workaround a system to help each other if such a way can be found.
  2. How you think a system should work is not always the same as how users work your system.
  3. Changing a system to block natural, spontaneous behavior will only alienate and drive people to work around your block.
  4. Sometimes it shouldn’t just be about the money.

The last time we professed love for a website was a big old gush about moo. We even went mini card crazy at BETT 08 so we are still devoted fans.

ode moo cards at BETT 08

(True story…my hand holding our Moo “golden ticket” card for some reason comes out 2nd and 3rd in a Google image search for “moo card”. Sorry, Moo!)

Today we love… Commoncraft.

For those of you not familiar with Commoncraft they make short instructional videos on a range of (mostly) technology subjects and tools that otherwise confuse, infuriate or alienate most “non-techies”, such as Wikis, Twitter, Blogs and RSS feeds.

If any of those words sound like jargon a) you are missing out on some really useful and interesting technology and b) keep reading to find out why.

In their words: “Our product is explanation. We use video and paper to make complex ideas easy to understand. We present subjects “in plain English” using short, unique and understandable videos in a format we call Paperworks.

You may not recognise the terms in the videos below, or you may have heard them mentioned and been too intimidated to admit you don’t really get them. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has to start learning somewhere.

Why do we like Commoncraft so much to give it our coveted “Who do we love today” link?

  1. Each video looks (deliberately) amateur and therefore removes that psychological barrier that often exists between trainer and trainee.
  2. Each video doesn’t last long so you can give it your full attention.
  3. They allow you to embed the videos under their creative commons licence.
  4. Recently, in an ode way, they’ve started to sell each “little bit of explanation” as a business tool for those that want higher resolution versions.
  5. They make learning enjoyable without being patronising. Not as easy as it sounds.

I wish I could have shown people these videos when pitching ode. Perhaps then there would have been slightly less blank stares when I mentioned things like “I am going to do a blog”.

Yep, ode would be proud to sell Commoncraft video to schools and colleges.

Wikis in plain english

Blogs in plain english

RSS in plain english

Google Docs in plain english

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)

The ode library

We’ve found a new device which we think will transform the way information is delivered.

  1. It never crashes.
  2. It has the simplest cross cultural interface that works.
  3. It doesn’t need a help manual or instructions.
  4. It requires no power supply.
  5. It’s cheap to make.
  6. It’s highly portable.
  7. You can use it pretty much anywhere without any sort of connection.
  8. If treated well it will last for generations; no matter what other technology arises it will always be usable.

We love virtual content as you know but we also love books. We encourage people in the team to contribute to our office library – if you want to borrow a book, then you have to add a book. Share and share alike.

Blogs, wikis and websites are all very well but a book gives a subject time and space to breathe. I will rapaciously tear through a 400 page book but would balk at the idea of having to read the same 400 pages online or on a mobile device. For now.

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx (1890 – 1977)

Rockstar, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series, have made a rather significant jump up the evolutionary digital distribution ladder by partnering with Amazon to add music downloads to their game world.

Their new title, GTA IV, will likely be the best selling game of all time. Amazon are the most successful online retailer in the world. Obviously some bright spark noticed their might be an opportunity…

A major slice of awesomeness found throughout all the GTA titles has been the music. When you drive any vehicle in the game you have a selection of radio stations you can “tune” into.

Music in games is nothing new but the GTA coup was that their music was proper chart music, music you recognise, music you could have an emotional connection to. And not just pop and rock hits but also opera, classical, jazz and much more. It really did add an edge of realism to the whole thing.

One of my favourite gaming memories of all time is from GTA: San Andreas. I was running from a car park roof top ambush and firefight. I stole a motorbike and gunned for the exit. Just as I thought I had got away the camera swung round to show an articulated lorry driven by one of my adversaries smashing (in slow motion!) it’s way off a flyover I had just passed under and barreling towards you.

But what made it really sweet was that all this happened as “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns and and Roses was blasting out. I seriously cannot tell you how cool this was.

So now Rockstar have teamed up with Amazon to sell you extra music via the medium of your characters mobile phone. From within the gaming experience you will be able to browse a music store and download digital music to compliment your game. Also the tracks will be portable, meaning you can then transfer them to your MP3 player.

This type of approach will help revolutionise the distribution of digital content. Rockstar provide the traffic (customers) and Amazon provide the content. This is a “mash up” to all intents and purposes, on an unheard of scale.

What this does is further widen the gap between those who want to exercise a “command and control” approach to content delivery and those who want their content to touch as many points as the consumer requires.

Everything is pointing towards content liberation and greater user choice.

  • Virgin and Sky allowing you to choose your own TV.
  • iTunes abandoning restrictive DRM so you aren’t forced to own an ipod.
  • BBC iplayer giving free and easy access to the last 7 days of all BBC programming.
  • Youtube encouraging you to embed their video streams into your website.
  • Ringtones being available to buy directly from your mobile phone.
  • RSS feeds bringing website content updates to you rather than you having to go and find the content.
  • Guitar Hero 3 releasing extra tracks through the next generation of consoles shop fronts.

All these methods are commerically viable or bring added value.

If a community is available any switched on company should be able to provide them with a channel to their content in a form (or forms!) that enhance or complement that experience.

What is ODE?

ODE will be a webstore where educators can buy little bits of digital educational content and put them back together any way they like. Simple.