Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Thursday, February 10, 2005day link 

 More Google wizardry
picture Google has a new Map service. Which maybe at first looks like any other online map thing. You can see the streets in some area, map a route somewhere, search for addresses and that kind of thing. But Google has a knack for making services that are really simple, and look really simple, but that use a lot of hidden wizardry. They effortlessly do things that most professional web developers would swear would be impossible to do in a webpage. But, ok, we're catching on now. So whenever they come out with something new, somebody will dissect it and tell us how they did it.

There's Google Suggest that magically can provide you lists of possible search terms as you're typing, complete with number of matches for each. Chris Justus did a thorough job dissecting that. They use the XMLHttp for exchanging data with the server in real time.

And there's Gmail. Again, seems very simple. But it does spell checking and addressbook lookups in real time. Stuff I had gotten used to accepting that one just couldn't do in webpages. But you can, with XMLHttp and with iFrames. And with some extremely responsive servers. Various people have analyzed Gmail, like John Vey. Part of their trick is that the user interface gets stored at the client's end, so that only data is passed back and forth to the server. As opposed to "normal" webpages where everything is sent from the server whenever you load a new page.

Now Joel Webber has dissected Google Maps. So, some of the same tricks again with real-time server communication, in part using a hidden iframe. And then there's the infinitely scrolling maps. The trick is in part to make them out of little tiles, and removing some at one end while adding new ones at the other end, in real time. And routes are added on top with transparent PNG files.

Now, if somebody could just pay me for duplicating some of those tricks so I can get time to study up on them. Or my skills are suddenly getting a little old.
[ | 2005-02-10 16:00 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Stewart Butterfield on Flickr
picture O'Reilly has an excellent interview with Stewart Butterfield who's the CEO of Ludicorp, the company making Flickr. This guy sure has the right attitude. Making cool stuff, facilitating open sharing, and having great success while you're at it. Particularly interesting how the cool stuff and open sharing thing makes sense as a business strategy.
It's really valuable for any new product or service to reach the hyper-geek audience, who are particularly influential. And for them, the open API is a sign of good faith, a sign that your photos and your data are not going to be locked up in Flickr--even though we don't currently offer a feature to download your photos to your own computer (we will), you could develop one.

It makes a difference for us as a business that other businesses are interested in working with us because they can tell up front how much work it's going to be. Basically third-party apps fall into one of two categories, useful or cool, and some things are both. Useful would include uploaders for a bunch of different platforms, a screensaver that pulls in your contacts' most recent photos, and an application called 1001 for OS X that grabs the most recent photos from your contacts or specified tags, and it pulls from them like an RSS reader. And then there's a bunch of applications that are just cool, like one that takes photos tagged with different colors and arranges them into the shape of a rainbow.

It makes a difference for us as a business that other businesses are interested in working with us because they can tell up front how much work it's going to be. They can have their engineers look at the API and say, "This is what I want to do, how long do you think it's going to take?"

If you didn't know, Flickr is a photo sharing site. You can upload your pictures and make galleries of them. You can use it like a more traditional photo site, and just share them with your friends and family. But the new and cool thing is that things are arranged so that you're most likely inspired and motivated to share the pictures with a wider audience. And you can tag the pictures with keywords, and so can other people. And you can designate what kind of license you imply by sharing your photo. And there are various program interfaces that allow people to construct all sorts of cool stuff around it. On their own initiative, without having to ask anybody anything.

The picture there is constructed automatically through the Flickr API from a bunch of shared pictures tagged as "squared circles".

In case there's any doubt about it, Flickr is going to make billions of dollars before too long, and will blow away any oldfashioned photo gallery sites that are trying to lock you in to their paid services.
[ | 2005-02-10 22:29 | 15 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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