Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, words and deeds

Archive for November 2009

My Twitter activity over the past year

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Top three words: “blog”, “thanks”, “live”

Words (ordered by most used):

blog thanks live data time news windows server using services cool azure email blogged google people service london ssis nice tables microsoft looking available love post night getting tell user actually session read link coming mesh conchango reading list team connect days evening seen search office podcast idea free found bing suggestion tweet please 2008 zune feed looks probably theres stuff msft yeah watching sorry whats tweets sync invite support thinking yesterday code guess useful week impressed doing months client installed wonder morning soon reader feature gonna wife join tool

See more: http://tweetcloud.icodeforlove.com/jamiet/101291

Written by Jamiet

November 29, 2009 at 8:53 pm

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Active Directory In The Cloud revisited

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Earlier today Microsoft MVP for SQL Server Brent Ozar wrote a blog entry entitled Microsoft MVPs: NDA + Twitter = Yammer where he said:

Every year, Microsoft MVPs gather for a summit where they talk about <NDA> and <NDA>.  Just like any other conference, they want to talk about this stuff over social networking sites like Twitter, but they can’t because it’s NDA.

There’s an app for that.

Yammer

Yammer

Yammer is a free private version of Twitter.  You sign up with your company’s email address, and you can only see tweets (yams?) from people with that same domain name.

[For those that don’t what a Microsoft MVP is allow me to briefly explain. Microsoft run a a program called the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program in which they hand out annual awards to people who provide help and advice relating to Microsoft products on a voluntary basis.]

I’m proud to be able to say that I, like Brent, am an MVP for SQL Server and hence I completely understand the problem that he elucidated in this blog post. Brent’s suggested solution to leverage Yammer was as follows:

  • Set up an email server with Active Directory accounts for each MVP
  • Do some kind of screen-scraping to find out when MVP profiles disappear, and then revoke the associated user’s AD account

Its an interesting idea but putting aside the technical and logistical questions of whether it would actually be possible there is one sociological aspect to this that I believe makes it unworkable: there are thousands of MVPs in the world and there is no way that they are all going to agree to having an online persona set up on their behalf that they do not have control over. No, a better solution is required, one that exhibits all of the following three characteristics:

  1. A directory service where every MVP has control over their profile/persona
  2. The ability to define a group of profiles in that directory service containing all MVPs
  3. The ability to federate that group of identities so that Yammer could provide its service to all MVPs

As it happens Microsoft require that every single MVP in the world also has a Windows Live ID in order that they can communicate with us. In other words, there is already a directory service available that contains all MVPs so that is (1) taken care of. Unfortunately (2) and (3) do not exist and that disappoints me.

Anyone who remembers my blog post from January 2008 Windows Live Groups predictions and Active Directory In The Cloud will know that I have been harbouring hopes for some time that a group identity federation service would be offered through Windows Live and that Windows Live Groups would be the vehicle for it but alas that has not materialised. I still do hope that the Windows Live ID identity service will evolve to become the “Active Directory in the cloud” that I so desire and that the Live Framework will be the API that powers it. I’ll keep hoping…

@Jamiet

clubhouse Tags: clubhouse, story, windows live, groups

Written by Jamiet

November 24, 2009 at 12:02 am

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MSN UK launch music download/streaming service on Zune platform

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On 15th September I posted a blog entry entitled Is Peter Bale’s music streaming service actually Zune? where I pondered about a supposedly imminent release of a music service from MSN; Mr Bale is an Executive Director at MSN UK. My interest was heightened by mention of a music streaming service and I speculated that this may well have links with the newly launched Zune music streaming service in the US, this is what I had to say back then:

However, taken in context all of this is rather interesting given that Microsoft today launched a music streaming service under the guise of Zune:

Streaming Music, On Demand

Now as Zune Pass subscribers, not only can customers enjoy access to close to 6 million songs from the Zune Marketplace catalog for $14.99, the price of one CD a month, but they can also log into Zune.net and stream full albums and tracks through a computer’s browser.

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2009/sep09/09-15zunehdsoftwarepr.mspx

I wonder if this is the service that Mr Bale mentioned. Will the Zune streaming service be offered through MSN given Mr Bale’s role in the company? Will this herald the introduction of the Zune service to the UK? (note that Mr Bale is head of MSN UK) Is this a portent to Zune devices being launched in the UK?

Well today MSN UK have launched that new music download-to-own service in beta at http://downloads.music.uk.msn.com/. One million DRM-free tracks are available from all the major music labels and are delivered through the MSN UK portal. Users can discover, play and download music as well as create their own playlists.   In addition to the download service MSN UK have also launched a limited music streaming service that will be trialled over the coming weeks with a select group of testers. 

I spoke to Mr Bale earlier today and he let me in on some interesting information about this streaming service, namely that it is built on the same platform that powers the Zune music streaming service in the US just as I speculated it may do back in September. He was quick to point out that this does not represent the launch of a UK or Europe wide Zune service however it is seen as testing the water so the portents for Zune launching outside the US are definitely better today than they were yesterday!

I’ll have more information on the streaming service later but in the meantime go and check out the new download service at http://downloads.music.uk.msn.com/.  

– Jamie

clubhouse Tags: clubhouse, story, msn music

Written by Jamiet

November 4, 2009 at 11:39 am

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Windows Live – a poor web citizen?

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Data on the web

Regular readers around here will know that I am a Windows Live enthusiast however what you may not know is that in my “other” life (i.e. at my job) I spend my time working with data and databases. Storing data, querying it, moving it, changing it…these are the things I spend my days doing and moreover I enjoy it so much its kind of a hobby as well (fellow geeks will identify with this I’m sure).

One facet of my work that really fascinates me (and what I would dearly love to spend more time doing) is learning about how data is represented on the web and working with that data to do interesting things with it. You might ask “what data exists on the web?”. The answer is “humongous amounts of the stuff”, in fact in my opinion every single web page out there is a piece of data and those facets that I talked about before (storing, querying, moving, changing) apply just as much to web pages as they do to more conventional kinds of data such as your banking transactions or medical history.

Microformats

One of the most interesting disciplines in the area of data on the web is the use of microformats. You can read more about microformats at http://microformats.org/ but in their own words microformats can be described as:

Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards. Instead of throwing away what works today, microformats intend to solve simpler problems first by adapting to current behaviors and usage patterns (e.g. XHTML, blogging)

http://microformats.org/about

Err…what? Ok, I’ll try and explain a different way. I suspect that everyone reading this knows that web pages are written in a language called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), right? Well, microformats are extra pieces of information that can be added to HTML that can make the web pages understood by computers but that don’t affect how the web page appears to us humans because the extra microformat gunk that is added simply gets ignored by your browser.

Microformats have been defined for many of the most common types of data that exists on the web including:

  • Calendars and events (hCalendar)
  • Contacts (hCard)
  • Reviews (hReview)
  • Tags (hTag)   (N.B. The ”clubhouse”, ”story” & ”microformats” tags that you see at the bottom of this blog post are examples of hTags)
  • Latitude and Longitude coordinates (geo)
  • Cooking recipes (hRecipe)

Hopefully it becomes obvious why microformats can become useful. It is now possible to write software that understands web pages rather than just displaying the HTML to us so that we can understand it. Companies that run search engines are very excited about the possibilities of using microformats and indeed Google have embraced them wholeheartedly.

Let’s have an example of usage of a microformat. Upcoming.org is a site that allows people to advertise events that they have organised and I have come across one such listing for an event called Opencoffee at The University of Sussex on 5th November:

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we take a look at the HTML for that page we can see the following:

<span class="geo" style="visibility:hidden">
<abbr class="latitude" title="50.8742997742">50.8742997742</abbr>
<abbr class="longitude" title="-0.0828099996">-0.0828099996</abbr>

</span>
I’ve underlined the parts of this HTML snippet that are part of a microformat; specifically its the geo microformat. The HTML has been marked up with the latitude and longitude of this event and even though that information is not displayed on the web page it can be read by software that understands microformats in order that it can provide more information to us. I have a piece of software installed that can read geo microformats and then display those coordinates on Google Maps:
image
If you want to try this out for yourself then you can install the same software (it is free). Its a Firefox add-in called Operator and is available at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4106. After installing, whenever you visit a web page containing microformats using Firefox the add-in will tell you what microformats are installed on that page and enable you to do something with them. For the upcoming example above Operator tells me that the page contains one geo microformat, one hCard microformat and four of various other types:
image
There is a similar add-in available for Internet Explorer called Oomph. It works differently to Operator although it has a similar effect, read more at http://visitmix.com/lab/oomph
 
In short microformats are a burgeoning part of the web that, whilst being invisible to the common user, are working to make the web a better place for all of us.

Microformats and Windows Live

Ok that’s an introduction to microformats, now why am I writing this blog post? Well, I’m interested in knowing which microformats are supported by Windows Live and indeed where. Unfortunately I have to report that the answer to that question is absolutely nowhere whatsoever. I visited:

and was perturbed to find that, according to Operator, not one of those sites utilises microformats. Not a single one. I had assumed that http://calendar.live.com and http://people.live.com at the very least would certainly be using microformats because hCard and hCalendar were designed specifically for the type of data that these pages contain. Sadly not!

I’m really quite demoralised about this. If ever there were a way for Windows Live to win some favour with the type of people that routinely lambast the various services then adopting open standards such as microformats would be an ideal way to do it. Sadly it seems supporting open standards isn’t high on the agenda for those in Windows Live; disappointing indeed.

This is just another example of Windows Live’s existent as what I would refer to as a poor web citizen. If you want further evidence of this then go and read about their frankly quite embarrassing URL formats on my past blog post What’s with Windows Live URLs?

I can only hope to see some uptake in the use of microformats in Windows Live wave 4 but I already know that that is a forlorn hope!

@Jamiet

clubhouse Tags: clubhouse, story, microformats

Written by Jamiet

November 3, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized