Salman Khan is the smartest man in the world

The world is changing. At some point in the future, says Ray Kurzweil, computers will be more intelligent than humans. He thinks it will happen in the year 2045 to be exact. That’s a scary thought, but he could be right. Many say he is the smartest man in the world.

But today I realized that Salman Khan is ahead of him. Khanacademy is an online tutorial for everything including math, biology, economics, chemistry, physics, history, and more. And Khan made all videos himself.

But not only did he do that, he is expanding at an exponential rate, to offer his courses to classrooms. And that could revolutionize education.

And all of that… for free, because he is filthy rich anyway, and doesn’t care about making more.

World changing: Khanacademy. See for yourself.

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Facebook limits you at 5000 friends

enough is enough
enough is enough

Jeffrey Zeldman claims 5000 friends is not enough!

Not Amen! Agree to disagree!

The value in a social network lies in social. So the friends should be people you have met in real life and value in your social circle, which revolves around your life, not your business. A page is a business tool so that is what you should have.

The cap may be nonsense, but unfortunately there is no way for Facebook to validate that you actually know the ‘friend’ personally.

One other side-effect in which Facebook bites it’s own hand is that apps and games (OK and businesses) thrive by the amount of ‘friends’ you have. That is an incentive to make fake friends. I started to play CityVille only to find out that none of my friends did. If I were true to Facebook’s dogma I would quit playing or be an obnoxious friend who would evangelize CityVille to all my friends all the time, until they unfriend me. Now I play it happily with over 30 fake friends whom I’ve never met. I even block them from my wall, as I don’t want them in my real social circle. Once I stop playing CityVille I will quickly unfriend all these people.

Still, I fully agree that Facebook should work on a solution, which in my opinion is definitely not removing the cap but some way to have people in your network for a certain purpose, and have great distinction in how you treat and communicate with them.

All the positive talk about Twitter’s agility: don’t become so vigilent, or should they also remove the 140 character cap!?!?!?

I have always been appalled at the nomenclature of new applications: Friend and Like come to mind. I call them ‘close-related-marketing-profile’ and ‘increase-marketing-keyword-potential’.

Jeffrey, you don’t get to ¬†5000 friends without making a few enemies ūüėõ

Will Readability 2.0 change the web?

Jeff Zeldman writes a compelling argument for Readability 2.0. Readability is an open source tool that transforms a web page to a reading page, removing all clutter, including ads. Readability 2.0 will now actually pay the content providers (website owners) every time a user switches on Readability to read their pages.

At first I thought: Does this mean publishers don’t need to sign up?? So they get an unexpected check from a seemingly philanthropic web company?? But after looking at the site, I realize publishers do need to sign up. And that, I think, makes it quite unpractical. Let me tell you why.

How about promoting Readability on a site with ads? That’s like saying: click here to screw with all our other clients. So that’s virtually impossible.

I believe we can divide the site owners in four groups

1. The small site owner, not being able to get advertisers easily, not making enough on Google Ads. They could promote Readability, but wait: there are no annoying ads on the page. Duh. What’s the point? Well, to be honest, they could litter the site with Google Ads and then have a shiny button that says : “don’t like ads? click here to remove them”. The user would then learn about readability, sign up and start paying.

2. The large site owner who is in a clinch with advertisers, and says: we’ll just move our whole platform to readability, @#$% you very much. You pay Readability, after which you get a ‘pro’ account which gives you access to more content. That would require a partnership with Readability I guess, unless there is a technical solution (checking to see if you are using Readability).

3. The large site owner who has littered the site with ads, who likes Readability too, but is unable to promote it, fearing the wrath of advertisers. There’s no way for this owner to put a button on the site.

4. Like Zeldman.com, the large site owner who is not in it for the money, or actually, makes enough doing other stuff and just uses the site for self-promotion. They don’t have ads, and using Readability is nice, but¬†unnecessary.

I am dying to see some stats soon, so we can see if offering Readability instead of advertisement is a valid business decision. If it is, it will spread and transform the web. At some point Readability then needs to be taken over by a big player, or it will be simply sued to death by angry advertisers.

Why is writing for the web difficult?

Blogging for dummies

I have been a web professional for over 10 years. In that time I have learned a lot of things: PHP, CSS, XHTML, JavaScript, XML, Photoshop. But one of the things that has always been harder to do right is writing for the web. The reason? It has so many conflicting motives, that it’s impossible to have one good writing style. Let’s analyze:

When we write for the web we most certainly write for the fast paced audience that has no time to read pages and pages of text. That’s a given, and it’s what sets it apart from writing for paper. The other characteristic is links: if you need to explain something, it’s easier to just link to wikipedia than to insert the actual text. Also you don’t want to infringe on copyright.

Let’s look at our goals for writing for the web:

  1. Make it easy to read
  2. Make it easy to use
  3. Make it easy to find (search engine position or ranking)
  4. Make it sell (in case you’re selling, but you’re always selling ideas)
  5. Make it look good

Those goals are also connected to viewpoints from certain people: the writer, the usability expert, the SEO specialist, the sales representative and the designer. These fantastic four have to make sure the page adheres to all their standards. And here is where it starts to itch:

  1. easy to read: plain fonts, short sentences, short text, clear message, bold, pictures and diagrams that explain difficult topics.
  2. easy to use: minimal use of text, clear and large buttons, minimal use of design elements
  3. easy to find: clear headings, short sentences, keywords in bold (not the same ones), no pictures required.
  4. sell:  everything leads to a buy, no navigation on cart page
  5. look good:  creative fonts, no bold text, plenty of  non-illustrative pictures (preferably photographs) and design elements

In my opinion you should work from the outside in: make it look good, then make it easy to use, easy to read, easy to find and easy to sell, in that order. But as you make it look good (design process) you can of course have some consideration for the other aspects. It should also be noted that SEO is still voodoo, since nobody knows how Google really works. Also, search engines, in particular Google, change their ways of working constantly and they get better and better at identifying your pages. So don’t try to fool them, it’s not worth it.

There will probably always be a battle between usability experts and designers, because their worlds are so far apart. But to a modern web user something like useit.com looks like it was made 20 years ago and doesn’t instill trust in a user, something that is vital to sales.

Remember I may not be an expert in all those areas,  but the ideas presented do come from the leading experts in these areas.

Adventures in XML land: combining Excel, XML, HTML and JavaScript

the process
using Excel to generate XML, jQuery and Ajax for animations

In a past long ago I ventured into this barren land, where bugs crept up my sleeves and pants. In most cases after a short scary trip I’d be happy to be back home in PHP or plain JavaScript land.

What am I talking about? Client side “apps”, by which I mean browser based, server-less HTML pages, where everything is done on the client. Examples of such applications are CD Rom viewers, Touch Screen Console applications, and Information Display (like the train station screens).

Recently I got a request to make an Information Display. I started happily to look at how this would work using modern browser based techniques. After a couple of days of experimentation I must say that it was a wonderful journey, and I am convinced this technology will have a great future.

Ten years ago CD Roms with an HTML viewer were simple pages with little interactivity, or they came with a web server to do interesting stuff. Now, with the advent of powerful JavaScript libraries and Office 2007 we can now integrate these into a cool looking almost server-centric interactive display.

I have used the following technologies, and will explain hereafter how:

Excel 2007 and XML

Excel serves as my database. It consists of worksheets of tabular data. The data is exported to an XML file using the XMLTOOLS addin, which you can find on the microsoft site. It is very loosely designed: when I need an extra column, I insert it and start typing. I will have to re-generate an XML mapping then, and export the contents to an XML file. The advantage: the person working with this ‘database’ only needs to know Excel, and how to click on a few buttons.

jQuery and Cycle

I added jQuery most and for all for the Cycle plugin. It allowed me to create stunning visual transitions for ‘slides’. The slides are actually simple divs in an HTML page.

CSS3

I used CSS3 for creating nice looking gradients. Also I used CSS3 for zebra tables and drop shadows on images. Overall it means there is no need whatsoever for images to enhance the visuals. I think that’s how future web development will and should occur.

SVG and/or Canvas

In fact you hardly ever need both, given that these technologies mostly overlap in capability. An advantage of Canvas is that it is actually a program (javascript) instead of a declarative markup. Of course the same argument makes SVG more attractive for its simplicity.

Ultimately I decided to use SVG for both my static vector based images (floor plan) and my animation (a clock). The SVG animation actually looked better than the canvas one and I wasn’t very interested in modifying the default look.

For the floor plan I hunted for a good SVG or Canvas editor. What I found was Google Docs (!). Recently they added a diagram editor, that can export to SVG. The resulting code unfortunately looks like hexadecimal soup, but the good thing is you can easily modify the diagram on Google Docs and export again.

Right now my app only works in FireFox 3.6, and that’s just fine, baby!!

Note: I cannot share the application since it’s made for our organization, but if you need help in setting up one yourself just add to the comments…

5 breakthrough technologies that will go mainstream in 5 years

This is my list of 5 technologies that you probably don’t know about yet, and that will go mainstream in less than 5 years. I’d like to check back here in 5 years to see just how right (or wrong) I am.

1. Online rendered games

OTOY delivers server based live rendering. That is a cool thing that can enable live playing of console games that you don’t own. Of course it can also be used more professionally by e.g. architects and film makers.

video

2. Peer to peer hosting

Opera recently announced Opera Unite, their server-less website technology. Although it may not be Opera itself that brings this mainstream, it will certainly change the world. Currently websites are all hosted and delivered by servers not owned by ourselves. The middleman known as ISP will always be in between, charging for services, blocking stuff at will, and basically controlling our behavior on the internet. We (that is everyone) don’t like this, and it needs to change. P2P (peer-to-peer) technology like BitTorrent is key to this, but only supports file sharing. What is needed is web-sharing. Opera Unite is still very beta and techie, but once a “publish button” is available, that could well change. You don’t need Flickr to share pictures with friends, really. But we do need powerful technology like PHP, Java, .NET to be integrated. Javascript alone doesn’t make for the most interesting sites.

3. Augmented reality

It will take a bit longer than just software, but the world is advancing fast to a point where we can start using this. Simply glasses with small screens on the inside will work. GPS in your phone and netbook help to render relevant scenes laid over the exact location you are at. “Assisted reality” may be the first step: point your phone to a product and see it’s specifications, price comparison etc directly on your phone’s screen.

Wikipedia article

4. Flexible displays

This is another one that I envision to arrive on the market soon (a couple of years). You just roll up your e-reader, or roll it out of your netbook. It’s already for sale.

5. Online software development

Sites like topcoder, guru, but especially oDesk will become the trend. But the people you hire will not be unknown to you. Through social networking, virtual presence and web cams they will be much more part of the company then just outsiders. This will require a change in culture though. Currently people are quite ‘scared’ of showing their face to someone on the other side of the Ocean. But just like social networking it will grow quickly.

Things that will go unnoticed

  • social networks – ok, they’ve already made it, but they will not change drastically, and you notice a fatigue starting in everyone who has had the facebook rush for a while. The close circle of friends will continue, but 900 friends? C’mon. Facebook/twitter will end up in Google’s or Microsofts hands anyway.
  • Google wave – It’s the marriage of IM, picture album, bulletin board and email. I believe it actually will take over as the next version of GMail, but it will not be much more than that.
  • Wolfram Alpha – one of the latest hypes. Ultimately just one of the places people may go to to find answers. Will probably be bought by Google anyway.

I had no place for it on the list, and it may take more then 5 years, but solar power will also make it, eventually (within 10 years).

sIFR reloaded

 

sIFR
sIFR

sIFR (scalable inman flash replacement for the outsiders) is a technique to embed custom fonts in a webpage. You know, traditionally web pages can only show a couple of fonts reliably – the ubiquitous Arial, Times, and a couple of others.

 

When sIFR was introduced I was pretty psyched out about it. Showing any font, and still accessible, selectable, etc. However, it’s giving me nothing but headaches. Let’s recap some of those:

  • sIFR needs Flash. At a certain point there was a security issue and I had to disable Flash. No more sIFR.
  • Lots of people block Flash, because of the ads.¬†
  • Special characters weren’t showing. It appeared my font didn’t even have these defined. Well that’s not sIFR to blame, but still
  • It’s almost doing a good job presenting the CSS correctly. Almost.
  • Documentation? Don’t get me started. Besides a collection of pages on several blogs, that are badly maintained, there’s absolutely nothing.
  • Every time you install a new version you have to recreate your font files. Now that’s annoying!

Here are some alternatives I found today

TrueFontFamily

trademarks: JS, PHP, CSS, commercial. 

Server side generating is of course a good idea, but I can’t see if the textimages are cached, it looks like not.

Facelift

trademarks: JS, PHP, hosted, commercial

This one seems very good, but a bit too commercial. Hosted? No thank you.

TypeFace

trademarks: JS, SVG/VML, free

Typeface is a diamond among these, so it seems, if it doesn’t suffer from the lack of documentation that is. But if it’s really good it doesn’t need documentation.