Tag Archives: API

MySpace: Web 2.0 Refusenik?

MySpace has unleashed its lawyers on relationship-alert site SingleStat.us. What does this say about its attitude to Web 2.0 in general?

MySpace mashup SingleStat.us is no more. The site enabled users to find out when another MySpacer’s relationship status changed (feeling like you’re not getting enough attention from the freaks? Change status to ‘single’ and stand back!) — a classic third-party hacker addition to an existing service. According to TechCrunch, MySpace lawyers have ‘cease and desist’ed the site’s owners, and claim that the system caused MySpace ‘substantial and irreparable harm’ due to the ‘undue burden’ it placed on their systems.

All of which flies a bit in the face of MySpace’s claims to membership of the Web 2.0 elite — unlike many contemporary sites, MySpace has yet to publish an open API, which would give wannabe mashers-up of the system a documented, manageable interface into MySpace’s internal workings — in the light of which it’s hardly surprising, given MySpace’s success, to see people developing their own ‘unofficial’ techniques for MySpace hacks and tweaks, as SingleStat.us had done.

When BigShinyThing raised the ‘missing API’ question with MySpace at the recent Mashup* session in London, their reply was that MySpace is ‘worried about the security implications of open source’. As open source is an entirely different class of thing to an open API, we suspect their representative was simply a bit confused about this whole ‘how the Internet works’ thing. Nevermind.

Maybe they’ll get there, or maybe they’ll keep locking out the people who care enough about their product to extend it, and who see enough unexpressed potential in it to build profitable symbiotic systems around what it does. If that’s the case, good luck to them when a serious competitor comes along, which, unlike MySpace itself, actually encourages some modern mashup fun at its periphery. Stay tuned.

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“Steal This Site” (Terms and Conditions Apply)

On being sold the idea of getting it for free with Web 2.0

As reported over at TechCrunch, new-on-the-block categorizer Vast has summed the appeal of a great dataset and a flexible API into three little words: Steal This Site.

It’s an irresistable offer! Until you think it through:

  • Steal, as in: use all our data, innovate. Do your thing, but make sure we get a namecheck. Come play with our toys, but it’s our game and our rules. [Abbie Hoffman must be spinning in his grave.]
  • This Site, as in: we’re cornering the market. Everyone will be part of our ecosystem, just like Google.

We’ve written at length about the DotCom 2.0 innovators’ use of public APIs as part of a ‘stealth’ strategy which creates space for revenue-making media and profits from others’ innovation. Web 2.0 might be all candy-apps and free data, but in many respects, web service providers like Vast hark back to the old days of bureau-hosted mainframe databases — if they pull the plug, all those cool, written-in-five-minutes-over-a-double-chai-latte applications that rely on them will be dead in the water.

Web 2.0 runs on the fuel of community-driven content, but the engines that grind value from that content are as centralised as ever. As Bruce Sterling put it recently in a well-worth-reading speech, paraphrasing Alan Liu (of The Laws of Cool fame:

[...] in the guise of empowering users through all this participatory fooforaw, Web 2.0 is actually a ploy to return the Internet’s technical power to the specialized geek clique that originally built Web 1.0. They stole our revolution, now we’re stealing it back. And selling it to Yahoo.

Don’t get us wrong — Vast looks cool. Very cool. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’re not stealing their site. You’re spreading their meme, helping them corner their market, expanding their media surface. Bigging up their value for the inevitable IPO or selloff. And good for them: this is what late capitalism looks like, and damned if we aren’t part of it. But hey — we like a good old fashioned backlash as much as anyone.

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Flickr Colour Pickr

Lovely Flickr hack that allows you match photographs to the colour spectrum.

pickr.jpgWe’re forever banging on about wonderful, world-changing photo-sharing site Flickr. And now people are tinkering with it to create exciting new applications — like this. Go play.

We’ve written before about the power of open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), whereby anyone with a modicum of programming ability can hook into API-enabled online resources (Technorati, Skype, Google Maps, Flickr etc) to build their own tools and toys, but we’re still amazed what people come up with.

Link courtesy of Wired.

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Our Predictions for 2006

It’s the time of the year for punditry… and lists. So forgive us if for a moment we get all trendspottery and suggest a few things we think we’ll see next year.

  1. As iPod sales start to slow down, we’re betting on a fierce brand-extension war between Apple and the other online music brands. Competitors have already started to emerge — see MTV’s tie up with Microsoft, Urge.
  2. In the same sector, we tip Napster to learn from Google and Yahoo’s mapping successes, and to offer a programming interface (API) for subscribers, so people can build their own software systems using Napster content — expect customised jukeboxes, recommendation systems and music-based games to flourish online. The benefit to Napster? Kudos to the brand which accrue from others’ innovations, a wider audience, and increased advertising opportunities.
  3. We’re waiting for a Friday night TV show which features real-time ‘stupid shit’, news and interviews contributed live via 3G mobiles by amateur viewer/reporters out and about around the UK and worldwide — the trash culture flipside of OhMyNews. Expect flash celebrity for a few contributors to follow, and a big spike in phone sales.
  4. Still on TV, we expect at least one channel to broadcast experimental blocks of ‘ad-free’ prime time programming to test the waters of post-interruptive-advertising television — probably initially sponsored by a major car brand.
  5. Flyposting will be banned in London as Ken sides with the Government on a ‘respect‘ agenda.
  6. Sophisticated services offered via Skype will be the surprise eCommerce success story of the year, with third-party developers exploiting the ubiquitous telephony provider’s APIs to provide simple, effective voice access to information, retail and search services in exactly the way that screen-based systems thus far haven’t, for the mobile multitudes.
  7. Namecheck BST when territorial disputes over mining rights in polar regions recently exposed by global warning become a major news story, and a source of growing international tension.
  8. And a big ‘we told you so’ if Interpol reveals that an unlikely counterfeiting alliance of criminals and ‘just because we could’ hackers has adopted open source development methodologies to make undetectable fakes of a major currency, which subsequently has to be completely withdrawn from circulation, redesigned and reissued.
  9. Long odds but not impossible: Sony’s launch of non-Sony-branded hardware or media, in an attempt at a fresh start after the horrors of 2005.
  10. We will be saddened but not surprised if a PC virus takes out one of the emergency services for at least a day.
  11. 3G. Finally. Yes we’re surprised too.
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Netscape founder Marc Andreessen has created Ning, a “playground for social applications”.

Call it Web 2.0, call it this year’s dotcom hype, call it what you want. The latest and coolest generation of websites are designed to be bent, broken and pasted together by users themselves. Well, users who can code, anyway. Photo-sharing site Flickr, Google Maps, and blog search engine Technorati are just a few sites which publish interfaces to their internal workings, so anyone with some programming skills can use their data to their own purposes — see for example our earlier story about online maps.

Ning takes things a step further — rather than providing a specific hackable service, Ning’s API provides general tools for building community and data-based online applications. Imagine the bastard child of Google Maps and Hotornot.com, but done by everyday users instead of people who really understand how to program. We’re a little doubtful — our resident geek observes that while it’s easy to Ning-up a work-alike of an existing site, real innovation takes some real coding skills.

More about this ‘mash up playground’ on the Googlemapsmania blog.

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New Maps are Streets Ahead

Forget (just for a minute) online music: there’s a new battle underway between two of the biggest dotcom survivors. This one’s being fought over maps. The winners? Everyone.

map showing location of Tayyab Kebab HouseBoth Google and Yahoo have recently released online mapping services — given an address, they will show you the location, how to get there, and allow you to search for nearby businesses. Yahoo’s service covers just the US and Canada, whilst Google already has the UK online as well, with plans for global coverage. Want to find a curry in London E1? Easy.

So far, so dotcom — these services may look like Streetmap on steroids, but the business model is the same old same old — show some search results, and hook in some relevant ads as a revenue stream.

But shortly after the launch of Google Maps, something important happened. Hackers took the code apart, analysed how it worked, and started building their own services using Google’s data. We’re not talking just sending a friend the link to the map co-ordinates for a party, we’re talking fully-functional, complex applications based around the Google data and (gorgeous) Google Maps interface. Early efforts include Paul Rademacher’s housing map, which hooked into the Craigslist database of available rental properties across the US, and the (in)famous Chicago Crime Map, which is searchable down to individual police beats. A nice way to find a safe route home (or as a cynical acquaintance would have it, ‘a neat way to locate a dealer’).

Hackers have exploited online services in this way before — in the UK there has been a long-simmering dispute between Streetmaps and coders about the reappropriation of their data. Such repurposing has generally stripped out the ads which create Streetmap’s revenue stream. The understandable response of a traditional business to seeing its profits eroded? Call in the lawyers.

But Google and Yahoo did something altogether untraditional — impressed by the creative work being done without their permission, they formally published the programming interfaces to their mapping systems, and officially opened the system to hackers under reasonably accomodating free licenses. Crucially, they’ve done so in such a way that they can still place ads and make money from systems developed by others. It’s win-win: coders get to make cool new services, and Google and Yahoo still make a profit: a ‘very now’ business model.

But why are people so fired up about free access to good maps? In the UK at least, the answer is simple: maps cost money. Lots of it. The official UK map data is copyrighted and maintained by the Ordnance Survey. Commerical use of their data is expensive. As a reaction against such mapping monopolies, there is a worldwide movement for the development of copyright-free, grassroots-maintained cartographic data. Understandably, it’s a slow process. So the sudden availablility of excellent map data, with the bonus of complete working programming tools to harness it simply for all manner of new applications, is a godsend to developers. The only real concern is articulated by the ‘open maps’ activists: that Google and Yahoo are, after all, commercial services, and as such reserve the right to change the terms of service, or even pull them completely at any time. This is a powerful argument in favour of the grassroots approach, but for many developers, its a moot point: they have a cool idea and they want to do get it online today, not years from now when the openmappers have finished pacing out London street by street.

So far, there has been little sign of UK-specific applications built on Google’s or Yahoo’s systems. The UK is an epicentre of the open mapping movement, and many of the most impressive UK-based projects, such as Heath Bunting’s Skateboarders’ Map of Bristol are already built on free data. But as new developers get on the mapping bandwagon, that’s sure to change — ethical concerns aside, the newly licensed commerical services are easy to use, pretty to look at, and have already picked up impressive momentum.

Today you might not have access to a continuously-updated anti-gridlock site, or an at-a-glance map which will help you find an affordable property in a high-ranking school catchment, but don’t blink — give it a couple of months and the way we look at our city will probably have changed forever.

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