Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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a conference management web application

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a European web technology conference

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New content has moved to eddology.com

This blog is now archived. If you want to get new content from me, head over to eddology.com.

You are reading the weblog of Edd Dumbill, writer, programmer, entrepreneur and free software advocate.

Improvements to the DOAP schema

I'm happy to announce some enhancements to the Description of a Project (DOAP) vocabulary.

DOAP is an RDF schema for describing software projects, and has found widespread use in recent years, including in the GNOME and Apache projects.

This release incorporates the following changes.

  • Support for new version control systems: Git, Bazaar, Darcs and Mercurial are all now supported.
  • Support for software-as-a-service: the new doap:service-endpoint property allows web services to be referenced.
  • Say what you do: the new doap:implements property enables description of conformance to APIs, standards, legal requirements or other specifications. The doap:Specification class is available to contain descriptions of these specifications.
  • More people-focused: doap:audience can be used to describe target audience; vendors (free or commercial) can be specified with doap:vendor, and doap:language lets you specify which human languages the software is translated into.
  • Planet Blog: the new doap:blog property will enable, among other things, automatic generation of "planet" blog aggregation sites from software descriptions.
  • Platform: the new doap:platform property is intended to specify non-OS-specific platforms that a software project supports, e.g. Java, ECMA CLR, Firefox, Flash.

The DOAP schema can be downloaded from its namespace URI http://usefulinc.com/ns/doap#. The project wiki, source repository and bug tracker is available from the DOAP Trac page.

My thanks to all the members of the doap-interest mailing list for their feedback and contribution.

Getting involved

The DOAP project always welcomes contributions. Do announce your software to the mailing list, and list it on the wiki. Translators are also very welcome, as DOAP's localization is yet in its infancy.

Speaking about Chef at RailsConf

At RailsConf 2009, I'll be presenting a three hour tutorial on the configuration management system, ChefRunning the Show: Configuration Management with Chef.

Configuration management isn't just for sysadmins any more. Even one-person projects often need to scale over several servers, whether physical, or in the cloud. Configuration management plays a key part in making that practical.

Chef is configuration management for the internet age. Under the hood you'll find Ruby, Git, HTTP, OpenID, JSON and more. As developers become increasingly responsible for operations, Chef helps you manage your servers by writing code, not running commands.

Come along to find out more, and register for RailsConf 2009 now!

RailsConf 2009

Web 2.0 Excellent

Last week's Web 2.0 Expo was an important milestone in the life of Expectnation, the conference management software I created.

We checked in around 8,300 attendees — see Jen Pahlka's write-up — with no queues and little waiting for anybody. At its peak, this was about one person every ten seconds.

Web 2.0 Expo attendees checking in

Additionally, Web 2.0 Expo used Expectnation's new attendee networking features, and we've seen a great stream of comments and interaction on the site. I'm looking forward to building on these features to further improve the conference experience.

A happy thing.

Learning Rails

I'm pleased to announce the release of Learning Rails, and its companion web site, Excursions on Rails.

Learning Rails cover

Co-authored by Simon St.Laurent and myself, Learning Rails is written especially for web developers, and starts out from web design, heading inwards to the heart of a Rails app.

Where most Rails books jump right in with data structures, we take a web application's interface as our starting point. If you know HTML, CSS and fancy heading deeper, this is the book for you.

You can buy Learning Rails from:

Tolling the bell for the gatekeepers

The current gatekeepers of the web and computing industry include publications such as TechCrunch and TechMeme.

I barely ever read these, and here's why. They only tell me things about the big boys, mostly when money is involved. It hardly matters to me who VCs are investing in, what advertising strategy Facebook is pursuing, or the fact yet another social network for cats has been launched.

That's not what I'm in technology for: I want to hear about genuine advance, discovery, code I can read, services I can use, new applications of research. And I want to share with and learn from others in the same ecosphere.

Unfortunately, the gatekeepers can have a stifling, negative effect on the industry and community. Our thinking has become dull, and our attitude one of sniping. (I have a deep urge to rant about various small-minded inaccurate stories I've seen of late. But if you're getting my point, I needn't bother. And if you're not, well, it won't help)

The competition for cash — directly connected to TechCrunch exposure — is odious. I'm not prepared to even start doing the self-prostitution it takes to get into that echo chamber of A-list tech people. By far and away the most interesting and inspiring people I've encountered on the web recently haven't registered at all on the valley meme-o-meter.

It's time for another cycle to start

These things do come in cycles, of course. TC and TechMeme are themselves usurpers of a previous generation of media gatekeepers, and they in turn will be overtaken.

In the space between the installation of gatekeepers it's a great time for innovation, rich discussions, and changing people's minds. When I read tech news, I want to be inspired to build, create and cheer about it.

There was a children's TV programme while I was growing up called "Why don't you?", entitled in full "Why don't you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?" I want to read stuff like that.

Some of the places I've been finding worthwhile news recently include:

FriendFeed — essentially a "lifestream aggregator", it's the commenting feature in FriendFeed that has allowed it to become a useful means of gathering news and information. It systematizes the way I've discovered tech news for the last ten years, through a network of individuals whom you are interested in. Additionally FriendFeed presents the opportunity for engaging debate that feels a lot more alive than blog comments (I wonder if this isn't due in part to the neutrality of the venue.)

TechJunk — a new tech news aggregator created by Dave Winer, with the intent of enabling discovery of smaller interesting technical news items, not just what the behemoths and well-connected are doing.

@timoreilly on Twitter — Tim's always been a discoverer and amplifier of important and interesting trends, and what he does on Twitter is a microcosm of what he does for his day job.

It's about the people

One of the things all those sources I just mentioned have in common is people. The kind of people who — whether you agree with them or not — don't get bound up by gatekeepers.

I've always believed that the best publications are those with the best editors. I've never cared for the "daily me" style of personalized news, because I want to learn things outside of my own scope, and neither for the Digg style of populism, because all too often it's folly, not wisdom, one finds in crowds.

In the spirit of this, I'd love to hear where others go for incisive, non-mainstream, news. Let me know in the comments.

Why Identi.ca is important

Over the last 24 hours, hordes of Twitter-refugees have been signing up with the microblogging service Identi.ca. Fed up with the restricted and unpredictable service from Twitter, over the last week or two people have been jumping this way and that: Pownce, Plurk, FriendFeed, and now Identi.ca. Here's my Identi.ca stream.

Let's get something straight up-front. Identi.ca's in its early stages. At version 0.4.1 it's not yet added all the features that Twitter has now broken.

A lot of people are jumping on Identi.ca and going away again, muttering "it's not got X, I'm off back to Twitter." True, but it's not as a Twitter-replacement today that Identi.ca is important.

Here's why I think Identi.ca counts for more than just being a Twitter clone.

It's open source

Anybody can help fix it. Anybody can set up their own Laconica (the name of the underlying software.) I've seen a clutch of posts from developers all offering their advice on fixing Twitter. With Identi.ca they can just get on and help.

It's open data

When you sign up for Identi.ca you agree to license your contributions to it under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license. You agree to let others share and remix your output, in return for giving attribution.

The open data ethos is baked into the codebase already. All output is available in RSS, and you can take your friends with you thanks to the FOAF exports available.

Twitter has millions of VC funding. Those folks will want a return. What does Twitter have to make money from? You and your content. Identi.ca gives you control in that situation.

It federates

Federation is one of the most enigmatic and exciting things about Identi.ca. I can set up my own server running the Laconica software, and still subscribe to people with accounts on Identi.ca's server.

This is how the XMPP instant messaging protocol works, and it's no surprise to find that XMPP is fundamental to Identi.ca's operation. Identi.ca is to Twitter as XMPP is to AIM. This may finally be the way XMPP breaks out into popular use for developers.

You've nothing to lose

Because of the commitment to open data, you've nothing to lose by giving Identi.ca a little spin. So, head over and make your own account. I added my RSS output to my Friendfeed page, along with my other output. Chris Blizzard has already added Identi.ca into whoisi. The little ripples you make in Identi.ca today can still waft out into your personal publishing pool.

And please, don't waste time complaining about "it hasn't got X". In 12 hours I've already seen Evan Prodromou, its developer, add features and fix bugs. He's got an open bug tracker, and listens to feedback.

Right now Evan seems to have his hands full dealing with the thousands of new arrivals, and to his credit, Identi.ca's still working fine.

Follow me here: identi.ca/edd

OSCON: what are your must-see talks?

We've switched on personal schedule sharing on the OSCON web site.

When you've put together your desired schedule by starring sessions of interest, just hand out the "public view" link to let others know what you want to see.

Here's my personal schedule. In it you'll find all the plenary sessions (as co-chair I simply cannot miss these, and neither should you, however late the party!)

Also there's a fair smattering of my pet topics such as open web technologies, virtualization and dynamic languages, and a bunch of things I want to hear more about: Prophet, female participation in open source, Clutter, and of course Erlang.

I'm fascinated to find out what other people have got planned, so please publish your schedules too and let's compare notes.

My OSCON 2008 picks

In just under a month, the tenth O'Reilly Open Source Convention will get underway in Portland.

Over ten years OSCON has developed—along with the world of open source—into an intense, exciting, informative, diverse and exhausting event. This year I've the privilege of being co-chair, along with Alison Randall. We've packed so much into the show, it's a difficult job even being able to comprehend it as a whole!

Fortunately, there's a way to start making sense of things before you arrive there, thanks to the personal scheduler. Just mark the sessions you want to go to with a star, and you'll be able to plan out your time in advance.

I wanted to list a few sessions from my own personal schedule that particularly piqued my interest. Then at the bottom of this post I'll share a discount code which can give readers of this blog 15% off OSCON registration. There's bribery for you.

Practical Erlang Programming

Largely thanks to XMPP enthusiasts and ejabberd, I've been hearing increasing amounts about Erlang, and I'd like to know enough about it to be dangerous. This three hour tutorial looks just the ticket.

Open Source Virtualization Hacks

This is one of several sessions we have on virtualization, something I'm particularly pleased about. Virtualization may be "done" at the kernel level, but I think we're only just starting out on its application. This session is by my friend and sometime co-author, Niel Bornstein, who works for Novell on just this sort of thing.

Using Puppet: Real World Configuration Management

Puppet is the piece of open source software that is most exciting to me at the moment. As a developer, it enables me to manage my machines like I'd manage my code libraries. A must-see if you've not used Puppet yet.

These are just 3 out of the 300 or so confirmed sessions. Don't forget there's a large number of events and parties happening around OSCON too.

And finally, the discount code. Use the code os08pgm when you're registering, and you'll get 15% off the ticket price.

See you in Portland!

The BBC, microformats, RDFa and Resig

The BBC have recently opted to remove hCalendar microformats from their Programmes site, due to problems with the use of the abbr tag clashing with accessibility tools. One of the potential alternative solutions they're discussing is RDFa.

The excellent John Resig, brain behind jQuery and a million other wonderful Javascript projects, comments on this development in his blog. Take the time to read his post now, it's short.

Resig is someone whom I admire greatly. In particular the quality of his work and thinking, and his dedication to tidying up hairy technologies like JavaScript and Mozilla APIs into developer-accessible frameworks (jQuery, FUEL).

So I was a bit disappointed, and frankly weary, to pick up on the continuation of the bogus microformats vs RDF holy war in his post. I wrote the substance of his post in the comments on his blog, but will repost here for completeness.

The BBC criticism of microformats' use of the abbr tag is a valid one. The microformats' community don't need to "step up and prevent attrition" as Resig writes — as if the enemy was advancing over the front — they need to fix a bug.

Resig reads the RDFa primer and comments that it is

"... obvious that RDFa still has a long ways to go before any sort of practical adoption by developers and designers. Riddled with advanced, or just plain confusing, terminology (XML namespaces, Dublin Core, semantic web, and not to mention the addition of many new attributes - like typeof, about, and property) it appears to be solidly entrenched in the ways that Microformats were able to shake themselves free of, allowing them to achieve widespread adoption."

Resig moves too quickly to dismiss RDFa. In a similar way I know many people who on encountering the HTML5 specs strongly espoused by Mozilla have the same impression of confusion and complexity. It doesn't necessarily make the work less valid, it's just a reflection on the document.

One of the wonderful things Resig has done with JavaScript is take time to love it and figure out its corners. Take some of the "confusing" and "advanced" things away and you're not able to achieve the same things. What he's done in jQuery is add a layer of elegance, predictability and accessibility.

I for one would love to see what Resig would do with semantic markup. jQuery really encourages and enables good markup practices, so there's a lot of synergy with his current style. 

I'll happily concede that RDF people rarely do themselves any favours in the departments of over-engineering or academic self-satisfaction. I also think microformats have natural limitations. There's a place in between, and it's where people John Resig do their best work. 

Copyright © 2000-2012 Edd Dumbill