My Web 2.0 Expo: Tuesday

April 20th, 2007 by Jack Ivers

This is the third in a series of posts which represent my notes, impressions, and in some cases audio, for the sessions I attended at the 2007 Web 2.0 Expo.

Writing Voice Mashups with Mechanical Turks and Maps (Thomas Howe, Thomas Howe Consulting). A great sample mashup application, which integrated telephony and web services to provide providing a better experience for patients who need healthcare assistance after hours. To me, the fact that the application was a mashup was really of secondary importance. More important was that Howe showcased really eye-opening capabilities that we now have available as application developers:

  1. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. In this application, Howe used Turks in two cases: qualified nurse-Turks to screen the incoming calls and determine which needed to speak with a doctor right now; and transcribers, to turn the patient’s incoming call into text that can be attached to their permanent medical record. Howe echoed Bezos’s theme of “artificial artificial intelligence,” emphasizing that we can now tackle practically any problem, even if it takes human reasoning as part of the process. Interesting annecdote: Howe’s mashup Turk-tasks were paying $3.00 a pop, which it turns out is a really high Turk fee; most current Turk tasks pay pennies per. He said the Turk community was all over his task postings like “stink on …” based on this “high” fee.
  2. Telephony+web in a seamless, simple-to-build application. Interactive voice response (IVR) applications have been around for years, but they’ve been standalone apps, running on expensive standalone hardware, and requiring special off-the-beaten-path expertise to program. Howe shows us how the combination of telephony service providers and a new standard called VoiceXML enable us regular web developers to create custom IVR+web applications really quickly and without the need to invest in special hardware.
  3. SMS as a workflow confirmation tool. When the incoming call was from a cellphone, Howe’s mashup issued a series of SMS messages that keep the patient updated as to the status of their request: “A nurse is now reviewing your message,” etc. Howe’s app used a StrikeIron webservice to send its SMS messages; there is a per-message fee but StrikeIron claims to be able to reach virtually any SMS user on any carrier worldwide through their webservice.

All in, really cool stuff, opens up a lot of possibilities without requiring dedicated equipment and specialized skills. mp3 audio (starts a few minutes into the presentation)

Tuesday Keynotes

  • Launch Pad #1: Dmitry Dimov, Cofounder & Product Chief, and Brian Mulloy, Co-founder and CEO, Swivel. A pretty interesting web-based service that allows people to “upload and explore data.” “Half the internet is missing,” Mulloy says; the web is good and text, images, videos, etc., but misses the boat on data. Swivel data is public; enables open conversation around key issues backed up by data, statistics, analysis.
  • Launch Pad #2: Luke Sontag, President, Vidoop. A novel visual authentication approach that does away with passwords in favor of a visual, photo selection interface. A bank of ~9 images is presented, each with an assigned letter code, each falling into a category such as “airplane,” “boat,” “computer,” etc. The user knows their pass-sequence is “boat, food, tree” and they locate the photos in these categories and enter the letters associated with these photos. So this is un-phishable; there is no fixed password to be phished. Apparently compatible with OpenID. Cool idea, though I am a little skeptical of his business model, which is that advertisers would place images of their products to be show in the image bank used for login.
  • Launch Pad #3: Mike McCue, President, CEO & Co-Founder, Tellme (now Microsoft). Says their goal was to bring the benefits of the internet to the telephone. For developers, Tellme designed an open application platform, which enables us to build apps that target any phone; in other words, interactive voice response apps, see my comments about Thomas Howe’s presentation. Tellme evidently developed the VoiceXML standard, and they have a development environment available at For end users: the built a really slick “voice portal” that enables any phone to call up and get news, sports, stock quotes, restaurant reviews, and perform business searches. He dialed the service during the demo (the number is 1-800-555-tell), asked for “business search,” was prompted for location, said “San Francisco, California,” was asked what kind of business he wanted, said “ice cream,” was prompted for neighborghood, said “Union Square,” and the IVR app began reading off ice cream parlors nearby to Moscone West; he selected Coldstone Creamery on Ellis Street, and it ready off a phone number. Really nice, especially for free. If you call from a mobile device, it will send text messages with the results; and they also now have a local phone client app (not sure what platform). Cool.
  • Mobile 2.0 (Ajit Jaokar, CEO, futuretext; Mike McCue, Tellme; Ilkka Raiskinen, Nokia; Paola Tonelli, Vodafone Spain). Pretty much a fluff piece; O’Reilly needs to be careful about involving most old-line companies in this kind of conference.
  • High Order Bit: Architecture for Humanity (James Baty, Sun Microsystems). A good cause and all, but only marginally related to the conference. Shouldn’t have been on the agenda.
  • State of the Web 2.0: Measuring the Participatory Web (Bill Tancer, Hitwise). Some interesting stats. 3400:1 visit ratio, Wikipedia versus Encarta websites. Measured percentage of uploaders versus viewers: surprisingly low (.16 % for YouTube .2% for flickr), with wikipedia far exceeding these, at 5%. I loved one of his demographic categories: “Shotguns and Pickup Trucks” … These were fresh stats, and I think they need to do more analysis, as always some initially unexpected user behaviors might be easily explained: for example, might the fact that it takes a really long time to upload a video on YouTube explain how comparatively infrequent this act is?
  • High Order Bit (David L. Sifry, Technorati). Growth of “active” blogs starting to level off.
  • Eric Schmidt in Conversation with John Battelle (Eric Schmidt, Google; John Battelle, Federated Media). Schmidt announced that Google will soon add a presentation tool to the Google Docs suite. Battelle asked Schmidt why Google would want to buy DoubleClick with their “punch the monkey” style banner ads, got a chuckle. An even bigger laugh when Battelle asked about Microsoft and AT&T stirring the pot about this acquisition, saying “antitrust! antitrust!” Schmidt made a funny face and said, “Who was that? Did you say Microsoft? AT&T? Antitrust?” video of the Schmidt interview on viddler
  • mp3 audio

Case Study: Digging into the Technology Behind the Development of Digg (Owen Byrne, Senior Software Engineer, Digg). Fun to get a behind the scenes look at how Digg got started and the growing pains they went through. Starve as long as you can, even if you do plan to get financing eventually; they survived on one server for a really long time. Today: 100+ servers total, perhaps half that are true production machines. One of the steps they had to take to support traffic growth: denormalize all database tables. Just recently replaced MySql text indexing with Lucene: a win for Java ;-) mp3 audio slides

Rich Internet Application Platforms (Ryan Stewart, Threecast; Ben Galbraith, Ajaxian; Jeff Mancuso, Magnetk; Chris P. Saari, Yahoo; Dirk-Willem van Gulik, Joost). Of the bunch, van Gulik was the most interesting to listen to. We had heard from our Cocoon community friends that the Joost guys were uncompromising when it came to user experience, and Dirk confirmed that attitude, explaining why they chose the Mozilla platform and why something like Adobe Apollo wouldn’t have provided them enough control of the user experience. mp3 audio

API and Mashup Best Practices (John Musser, Interesting survey of different API approaches. mp3 audio slides

Next up: My Web 2.0 Expo: Wednesday (including lots of audio)