ralphm's blog

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Social Web FooCamp 2009

The stuff we did besides throwing Frisbees...

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend Social Web FooCamp at O'Reilly HQ in Sebastopol, CA, a follow up to Social Graph FooCamp in 2008. I can't express how inspiring such events are, being able to have a continuous, in-depth conversation with so many bright minds about so many topics that keep you busy on regular days, and more. I'll give a quick overview of the whole trip, and then go into depth in a series of posts.

My trip started with a visit to friend and former Jaiku colleague Andy Smith, who was kind enough to take me in at Houseku. As soon as I landed on SFO, I got an SMS from him to make a detour to his office. Besides meeting a bunch of Andy's fellow googlers, I got to spend some time with Brett Slatkin talking about PubSubHubbub.

The next day I got a ride to Sebastopol from Edwin Aoki. After a trip full of interesting conversation, we arrived at the O'Reilly offices. Sebastopol was a lot warmer than San Francisco, perfect for camping. Lots of familiar faces, but also a lot of new ones. During the Friday evening, apart from the general introduction, I didn't get to any sessions, but instead spent talking to a bunch of people on XMPP, Publish-Subscribe and the work I am doing on federating social networks under that name Open-CI at Mediamatic Lab.

The next two days were filled with sessions and hallway talk on OpenID, OAuth, different approaches to Publish-Subscribe and inter-site communication, resource and service discovery and service scalability. While most of the topics were similar to last year, I was glad to share what we've done at Mediamatic Lab over the past year, while learning how others have fared. We used these technologies to make a true federation of social networking sites where you can make cross-site relations between people and their social objects. Some of our discoveries there we're shared among the participants, while others had interesting other approaches.

Especially interesting to me was a session on OAuth and OpenID where I could explain how we tried to improve upon the user experience. Both technologies have a bad reputation in this area. With some smart defaults and trust between sites, we could eliminate some of the screens. There was talk about using pop-ups in some situations, either as lightboxes or as new (small) windows. In our experience the former can't be used if you want to do SSL (since you can't validate the address and certificate). The latter was deemed confusing in our user tests. Research is still ongoing, I suppose. The other issue had to do with presenting OpenID providers. We currently use a drop down, but that doesn't scale up very nicely. Logos might work, but in the end has the same issue.

I also got to show Blaine Cook the code I wrote recently to make it easier to write XMPP publish-subscribe enabled services (code-as-a-node), that has been included in the recent Wokkel release. In turn, Blaine shared his thoughts on simple addressing on the web and we got to hash it out with a bunch of people like Brad Fitzpatrick, who also organized the pubsub shootout session. Finally, Eran Hammer-Lahav showed his work on XRD.

I'm pretty sure I forgot to mention a lot of things, but when it comes back to me, I'll write about it some other time.