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Develop Brighton 2011 thoughts

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Recently I attended the gaming conference Develop 2011 in Brighton. Digital entertainment (movies/music) is something Ubuntu users are excited and interested in. This means there’s an increasing opportunity for developers to create applications that those users want. So understanding the challenges, concerns and opportunities the gaming industry faces and how that might apply to Ubuntu was my focus during the conference.

Perhaps the most immediate thing that struck me is the burgeoning importance of online games. Nick Parker gave an interesting talk on funding development. The slide that stood out the most was one that showed ‘core gaming‘ (think PS3) has now peaked and that online (casual, MMOG, mobile and social) gaming is the real driver of growth for the industry. He pointed out you’re still talking about a core gaming market that’s hundreds of millions of dollars in size but nonetheless the traditional vendors haven’t yet grasped the online opportunity.

Generally, it’s difficult for new platforms to break through into games developers consciousness. At a basic level creating games is risky and expensive so develpoers target platforms with the maximum possible number of sales. To some degree online games offer a way out of this conundrum for alternative platforms: if the browser is treated as the platform then all operating systems have an equal chance. The devil is in the detail depending on the technologies used, Flash is fine from a Linux perspective, WebGL could be great but plugins (such as Unity browser plugin) are more of a problem. Perhaps the best talk I saw which combined these trends was done by Ikka Paananen who talked about the opportunities for immersive play within the browser. If you want to find out what he means try Supercells game Gunshine which works in a browser on Ubuntu just fine – in fact I lost a Sunday afternoon to it!

There also seems to be a lot of optimism about the opportunities for interesting games development: a lot of positive commentary around the opportunities around despite the wider economic conditions. A big part of this was around Indie development, with small teams able to create so much for a relatively small level of investment. A talk by Tony Pearce about raising cash for your game (supported by NESTA) illustrated this, not only was it a great talk but it was absolutely packed with developers.

Reinforcing the positive theme was a very motivating keynote given by Michael Acton Smith the CEO of Mind Candy, the company behind the super-hit Moshi Monsters. First, I’m embarassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Mosh Monsters, it turns out that if you’re a parent then you know all about them – it’s that big! Of course, he was head-lining because it’s such a massive hit and with a suitably dramatic story where at one point they almost burned out. But, much of his talk’s insight could have been applied to any start-up or group creating new products. I heard two key things, one was that you you should explore the boundaries of your space with creativity, the other one he didn’t say directly but I was struck by how deeply he’d thought about the mechanisms and drivers that power his business. From a pure inspiration perspective the main sense was the essential energy the team brought to the journey as they explored (and continue to explore) creating something for their users. So there it is – explore creatively, think deeply and be energised!


Written by Steve George

August 15, 2011 at 20:12

Developing great technology

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Irving Wladawsky-Berger is an interesting technologist and strategist, whose blog is worth reading if you have spare cycles for good quality input. He’s known for having been deeply involved in many of IBM’s technical strategy decisions, for example he was a key actor in their Linux strategy. He officially retired this year and Eweek did a wide-ranging interview that finally made it to the top of my reading list. A key quote that struck me as true is when he’s asked where he got his vision from:

“The answer is easy: Find where the smart people are and hang out with them. I’m serious. The smart people have a lot of ideas …”

IBM has resources both money and brain-power that are far beyond those of most organisations. But it strikes me as true that if you find smart people with a range of views and get into an exchange of ideas then you’ve got a much better chance of doing something amazing. That’s definitely true of Open Source, but it applies generally. He continues,

“But the way I looked at it a new idea was whether it was something we should do, and then how we should do it in IBM. Because just because it’s something we should do, doesn’t mean we have to do it like everybody else is doing.”

This second point is really important to me, although it’s often difficult to practise. Sometimes, the accepted way of meeting a need is the right way to do it. Sometimes people want a better mousetrap, not an entirely new mouse removal system. Perhaps the problem is well understood, and there are no better approaches, or at least none worth the effort for the benefit.

But generally, if something is worth doing, it’s worth examining it from the underlying principles and wondering whether it can be done with a different approach. It’s really the only way to develop something really innovative and different.

The rub seems to be when do you do the former, and when the latter, perhaps there are ways to combine the two.

Written by Steve George

December 4, 2007 at 02:02

Managing your identity with ClaimID

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In the Internet's environment of free expression passions often run hot. Flamewars and vitriolic rants enliven online conversations making them interesting and human. But, will those passionate words come back to haunt you? What picture do they paint to a prospective employer, and what inferences will be drawn about you in thirty years time? A digital world is transforming our identities, making them public.

Our online activities leave a trail of bread crumbs behind us that search engines gather together. Try searching yourself on Google or egoSurf, to see what trail you've already left behind. As more of our activities migrate online they become public, indexable and searchable. The read-write web envisioned by Web 2.0 is increasing this trend as it stores social relationships and interactions. Consider what Flickr, Delicious, Technorati and Friendster could reveal about you: this might include information on your holidays, hobbies and work.

Managing our identity is a complex issue because it involves issues of ownership, perception and change. A key problem is we all play a variety of parts (personas) in different social spheres. As Shakespeare said in As you Like it (Act ii. Sc. 7):

"All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts"

For example, character aspects we emphasise in work may be different to those we accentuate in our local community. The virtual world doesn't recognise social boundaries so merges our interactions into a single identity which may be misleading.

ClaimID is a service that helps you to categorise your personas and present a multi-faceted on-line identity. You gain control by sifting and sorting links about yourself into groups. These groups represent social spheres and together they represent how you wish to be perceived. When someone wants to find out about you, or you want provide information about yourself you can direct them to your ClaimID page.

To use the service you sign up for a home page where you collect and group links that describe and annotate your identity. So you might have a group called Personal where you collect links that describe you personally such as your blog, delicious and flickr. Another group would be Professional with links to organisations and places you've worked. ClaimID lets you specify who authored the link and whether it's about you or not. The completed page is a list of groups that defines your personas and aggregates them into a single meta-identity. This is my page for Steve George.

It's a nice service, cleanly presented and executed. It took me about two hours to decide what groups I wanted and to populate my page. It would have been nice if there were some templates to use, and perhaps a wizard to make searching for yourself easier. The most time consuming aspect was finding links and deciding what was appropriate. My name is very common and my online footprint anaemic so my links were sunk under a army of impostor Stephen George, Steve George and slgeorge pages.

ClaimID doesn't tackle information collecting about you on the Interent. And we often value what we find out about someone more than what they tell us about themselves. Nor does it authenticate us and attest to our identity. But it is an interesting first step to managing our identity.

Do you think that the Internet is changing identity? And, is ClaimID a useful way of managing your identity?

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Written by Steve George

May 23, 2006 at 14:23

Web 2.0 application races

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Applications you can use through the browser, hosted applications, have been popping up faster than moles on a freshly mowed lawn recently. It's such a fast moving area in Internet technology that it's got it's own moniker, Web 2.0. Aside from the hype and the odd names there are some genuinely useful applications. But finding the good ones can be a nightmare. A good place to start is Philip Bradley's page that lists Web 2.0 applications by how they are used: found on Karen Blakeman's blog.

The TechCrunch site is the best way to track the Web 2.0 space, through there's a host of alternative Web 2.0 blogs. But before you decide that you're going to use Writely over Jotspot check out Alex Bosworth's Web 2.0 application races to see which is the most popular.

What do you think, is Web 2.0 a new frontier or just hype? And are you using any of these applications?

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Written by Steve George

March 27, 2006 at 00:28

Apple iTunes DRM must interoperate say French

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The French parliament is proposing a new law to free consumers from DRM lock-in. Essentially, a media system that operated a format lock-in would have to provide information so that other technical systems could interoperate. There’s more coverage on the BBC and Business Week.

It’s widely seen as an attack on Apple’s iTunes/iPod system as it represents 70% of the digital music market. The impact of the law would be that Apple would have to provide interoperability information to other music player manufacturers such as Sony. Consumers would be able to play content they had bought through the iTunes store on any player. At the moment iTunes music will only play on an iPod due to encryption.

The FT is scathing of this idea, probably because it would have a significant impact on Apple’s share value. The main report, France seeks to fragment Apple’s core, by Waters, Allison and Braithwaire suggests that:

“According to the industry’s received wisdom, these closed systems are characteristic of new technology markets in their infancy”

Odd received wisdom, because as far as I know there’s no proof that closed/proprietary systems open up due to market maturity. And DRM is just the latest extension to the proprietary system tool-box.

Two obvious examples, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word aren’t infant technologies but their both proprietary and difficult to interoperate, damaging consumers. The rise of interoperable systems has mostly been caused because a technology is a challenger (ethernet versus token ring), or was part of public development (TCP/IP and UNIX). Can anyone think of a technology that has opened up due to market maturity? And does anyone think this will change, particularly considering that reverse engineering is increasingly difficult?

In a point in the main comment piece the FT states “Politicians have no business legislating for interoperability”. On the basis that the market should prevail and that it’s for monopoly authorities to protect consumers. It seems bizarre that consumers should have to accept being locked out from playing content that they’ve legally bought. Proprietary DRM systems secrets are a red-herring, if it’s that important to the content industry they should come up with an open standard.

Actually, consumer protection should go further. Forget Apple and iTunes for a moment. Much of our lives and communications are going online and it’s only going to increase. If we can’t guarantee interoperability between formats then we face the prospect of losing whole chunks of our records and history. For a sane digital age, users must have the ability to interoperate between formats. It’s a basic requirement that is for the good of all.

The Internet proves the long-term benefits of open systems, protocols and formats for all. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the creativity possible with an ecology of open systems. Companies such as Apple will still be able to win through superior products.

What do you think, should formats be open? Has the French legislature gone mad or is this ground breaking law? And, would the proposed law damage Apple?

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Written by Steve George

March 22, 2006 at 16:27

Is Sky’s purchase of Easynet good for business?

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Sky has announced a 211 million GBP takeover of Easynet the alternative telecoms provider. This deal would give them the infrastructure for a triple play and position them for IPTV (Internet Protocol Television).

Sky has been doing well in the UK but changes in the landscape mean it can’t rest on its’ laurels. The Sky+ DVR (Digital Video Recorder) service has driven growth, but future innovation for advanced services will depend on a two way network connection. The merger of NTL and Telewest means that there will be increased competition in the consumer media consumption space. Finally, the manner in which users consume media is changing; the method such as the Internet is taking a large slice; the format such as the mobile phone will have an impact and we’ve yet to see if the manner in the form of blogs and Web 2.0 will have an influence the mainstream. Consequently, buying Easynets broadband LLU experience and network is a good fit. The media coverage in the Times, Business Week and Guardian are all positive.

I’ve always admired Easynets strategy, they took a risk by entering into LLU early but have made it pay-off. It’s reported that 98% of Easynets customers are businesses, who could be impacted by any shift in strategic focus. Sky will aim to expand the broadband side of the network which will mean considerable investment and change. And whether they have the strategic intent, or the capability to continue servicing business customers is an interesting question. I imagine that there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for the UK business Service Providers.

What do you think, is Sky’s buyout good for business customers and consumers?

Written by Steve George

October 21, 2005 at 11:18