Reading about the travails of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei when he was detained by Chinese authorities last year reminded me of the way Indian Government forced Indian artist M F Hussain to leave India because it could not provide protection to him. Atleast in the case of Weiwei he is able to live in his own country. When someone tweeted to Weiwei “Ai, be a bit heartless and immigrate”. Ai responded, “I’m Chinese, this is my land.” (Newsweek Nov 21, 2011). It’s hard to say what’s worse, a country harassing its biggest artist or a country not protecting its biggest artist and forcing him to leave the country. The tale of these two artist tells us the way these two countries deal with people that challenge the status quo in society.
…it’s time for a new beginning.
Unusual title for a technology post, ain’t it? Its unusual but very exciting. It’s exciting for me because it’s the final project of my degree. “Sniff” is a web application developed by me and two of my classmates for a Media Application project. Our aim was to develop a social networking site, which is the buzzword everywhere. We looked around several social networking sites including orkut, facebook, flickr and youtube, to get a feel of what’s available and more importantly, what’s missing. Each of the mentioned site offers lots of features but they are all segregated. So, if you want to connect with friends you goto either orkut or facebook, if you want to share videos you goto youtube or orkut, if you want to share pictures you could choose any of these sites. The only common thread that binds these sites is the “commenting” feature, which is a core feature of all social sites including blogs.
“Sniff” combines a number of features from different social-networking site and gives them a common platform. The distinguishing feature of our application is the “relationship” feature. We segregate people into “relationships” like in real life. So, you can add people as friends or family or co-workers or classmates or others. The person visiting your profile can only see relationships which connects that person to yourself. For e.g, say my friend Andy visits my profile and I have added him as my friend. So, he can see list of my other friends but he cannot see my family members, so on and so forth. This way I can keep my family members seperate from my friends because I may not want my family members to know who my friends are. or vice-versa.
Here’s how the application works in pictures…
This is the “Login” page. The user can login using his/her password or click on “Register” on the left side bar, if they are a new user. A user can see random pictures but cannot comment on them or create an album untill he/she is logged on.
Trivia: The name of the web application, “Sniff” and the picture of the Dog was my idea.
The name “Sniff” came to my mind because the application is a way to “sniff” through relationships and check their media (either pictures or videos). It’s a way to search and connect with different relationships.
This is the page user sees after he/she logins using their account. Its shows random media files, which may or may not be created by the user. Under “Welcome Ricky”, the user cancheck his/her Albums for e.g., Delhi, Ladakh, Kerela, Taj Mahal, India, are the Albums created by user, Ricky.
The user can then scroll down to check various “relationships” that he/she has. For e.g.,the user “Ricky” has Andy as his friend and Andy and Mindy as his classmates. Since Andy is both my friend and classmate so I can click on his name and check both his friend and classmates (and add them if necessary to my list) but I can only check Mindy’s classmates. I can always add a new relation or friend using the link “Add a new relation”
The user can click on their or their friend’s album, for e.g, here I am checking “India” album, which has some pictures and some sub-albums, Goa, Cricket and Mumbai. I can also comment on this Album using the comment window or click on individual pictures and comment on them individually.
After the user clicks on the picture (or video file), they can write a comment on it, like here Cindy has written a comment on my picture which has a fortune-telling robot on the streets of Mumbai. I thought the picture was pretty cool and so did Cindy apparently.
Another cool feature is the”Search”. So, I can search for any media file and the application will search it using tags or name of the album or media file. So, when I search for “Taj”, it gives link to my Album “TajMahal” and also the pictures, “Front.jpg”
And clicking on “Front.jpg” shows me the eternal beauty…
The web application is written entirely in Ruby on Rails, which is the cutting-edge technology in web application development. Working on it was as fun as it was to explore the application once it was completed. Me and my project mates chose a “cultural” theme to create our albums and it was fun going to their albums and checking pictures from their culture and leaving comments. This social-networking thing is truly addictive and fun. Let me now go and leave a comment on my friend’s breath-taking pictures of Taiwan’s countryside.
Yahoo has taken the lead into the technology that can transform the web-world as we see it. This can be a start of a true Web 2.0, where users can not only interact with web-services but create them without coding. This can lead to much more creative user generated content because creative people with little or no programming skills can use the work done by other programmers to create their own services. Also, it is a cool collaborative tool for people from around the world to provide innovative content on the web.
What can the tool do for me? It will let you create your own user-content which can then be used by other people to create theirs. So, you take a data feed such as result of a web search or RSS feed of a blog or tagged photos on Flickr to create your own data feed. These user-created content will be available through RSS or data feeds for other people to use.
Yahoo Pipes is a web-based IDE (Integrated Development Environment, which is very rich and powerful to make your user-contents with relative ease and speed. Once you create your own feed, you can share with people and let them use yours to create theirs. It is very new and people are still figuring it out and playing with beta version to see how they can use this tool to create rich content.
I created my own first pipe, a job search tool (as that’s what is on my mind these days). It took me less than 10 minutes to build it and I had listings of 100 jobs for software engineers in a flash. This is an awesome tool. Do try it, maybe you want to search some pictures on Flickr or RSS feeds that interest you or maybe build your own map-search tool. Put your creative hats on and go crazy (not that crazy)
My Job Search IDE
The results of my search for jobs in Seattle
The beta version was launched this month and is available to fiddle around. It can be found at this link. The co-creator of pipes is a guy by the name of Pasha Sadri. You can visit his blog for latest information.
Threadless: On another note, if you are looking for some Web 2.0 based cool geeky t-shirts, goto threadless, buy the shirt, click the picture, send the picture back to the website people and see it on the website. Now, that’s what I am talking about 😉
MIT Media Lab is the leader in creative technology and it has a initiative called, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which is working with industry to design and produce an inexpensive and durable laptop for the children in poor countries. The laptop will be very basic and will have essential functionalities to connect children from all around the world. One of the most interesting feature the laptop will have will be the common textbooks for certain age group so that children can learn basic math and sciences. This will reduce cost of printing and distributing books in these poor areas. The laptop will also have WiFi connection so that these children can learn on their own. Although, the countries will have to spend initially on some infrastructure like WiFi access points, which are infact becoming easier to set up and cheaper to use.
The laptop will be custom-designed, will have power saving features and specially designed Linux based operating system.
I think this is a very creative initiative because it has the potential to connect people from all around the world like never before. Also, this will make the education dynamic for these students rather than static learning that we have been doing through books. This can also provide education in a more useful way because the kids can solve problems or provide information that can be useful for their parents. The biggest advantage this can provide is one of collaboration between students from all around the world where they can learn from each other. The laptop will include following features:
High-Resolution Screen – The screen is custom-designed instead of standard LCD screen. Even though it is expensive than LCD screen it was needed because the LCD screen does not display certain languages like Arabic very well. The custom-designed screen will have a gray-scale mode, which is easily readable in the sunlight. It will have certain power saving features as most poor countries have limited supplies of the same.
No Hard Drive – Yes, you heard me right. There won’t be any hard drive because it requires lots of power. The memory would instead be provided by flash drive, which has become much cheaper thanks to popularityof MP3 players.
Human powered recharge – Have you heard about hand-pulled generators? Well, since power is so limited in poor countries, the laptop could also be charged using hand-pulled generator. This will give 10 minutes of power for 1 minute of pulling. OLPC is looking into other innovative ways to power the laptop and most ideas may come from these countries itself.
Unfortunately, Indian Government, the biggest market OLPC was marketing to, has dismissed the laptop. This can be because of two reasons, maybe because the Government doesn’t think it will be useful or maybe because they already are developing their own indegenius cheaper laptop, which can only be good for the project. The Government of Thailand have ordered 500 and will order a million more if successful. Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria have also shown some interest in the project.
This is said to be the most important project to have come out of MIT Labs and has the potential to change the world as we see it. We need more projects like these esp. coming out from countries like India that can take the lead into this new form of creative education.
When the founders of two of the most popular P2P sites, Kazaa and Skype, decided to start their new venture, they called it Joost. If Kazaa symbolizes P2P sharing, then Skype revolutionized VoIP. Will Joost (pronounced ‘juiced’) do the same for video sharing? Is this the YouTube mania affecting two of the most successful enterpreneurs of our times? I doubt it. Joost is an attempt by Skype founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, to get a foothold into the lucrative video-sharing market by providing “cheap and efficient high quality video” online.
I personally think that “online television” is a new revolution in Web 2.0 world. Its not just watching recording of your favourite shows online but it is real-time distribution of shows when you want it, where you want it, how you want it. Let me explain the last line in detail. Suppose you are out on an important meeting and miss first half of a football game. You come home and instead of watching it from second half, order the football match on your Internet-enabled TV, and start watching the match from the beginning like you never missed it – that’s ‘when you want it’. Now, you were working in Boston but have to catch a flight to Seattle. You don’t wait till you reach home but order your football match on your PDA while waiting for your flight – that’s ‘where you want it’. You board your plane and it is not allowed to use your PDA while on board but you can use your iPod, so you order the rest of the football match as a podcast on your iPod – that’s ‘how you want it’.
Although, the above mentioned synchronized technology is not available yet but these are the intentions of sites like, YouTube, iTunes and Joost, to provide you sometime soon. The market seem big enough for companies like Google to plunge into it. The advertising revenue from such personalized on-the-go TV is lucrative for any marketing guru.
The question is, “Are you ready to get Joost yet?”