I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions or predictions; I’ll leave those to other people.
Suffice to say, I’m increasingly of the opinion that web 2.0, as a phase in the web’s development, is over. I’m using almost exactly the same tools now that I was this time last year. It’s ages since any new technology (in and of itself) blew me away. And I’m very close to unsubscribing from TechCrunch, the trade journal of web 2.0. I just can’t think of the last thing I read in it which really excited me.
So here we are. It really feels like we have our winners in most of the ‘web 2.0’ categories: WordPress, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Basecamp, Google in various guises. And it feels like we have all the tools we need, most of them free of charge, to make things happen. Let 2009 be the year where we really start to make use of them.
What excites me?
- Optimised presentation on mobile devices, specifically the iPod Touch / iPhone (for now)… and as I’ve mentioned before, on games consoles like the Wii. By September last year, there were 3.6m Wiis in UK hands; and it’s been another big Christmas for Wiis. That’s a lot of internet-ready devices in a lot of UK living rooms.
- High definition video. We’re starting to see HD camcorders coming in at affordable prices, and YouTube is starting to deliver very high quality versions of uploaded clips. The quality is at least as good as TV, and sometimes I’d say better. I particularly like the look of the Canon SX1 (stills) camera – digital SLR functionality in a consumer product, with the ability to shoot HD video to SD card. £400’s a lot of money, but I’m still tempted.
- RSS. No, seriously. As an industry, we seem to have given up on mass consumer adoption. Instead, attention seems to be heading into how we can use it to create new sites in their own right, like Steph’s digitalgovuk catalogue or my own OnePolitics; or connect sites seamlessly across different CMSes. I’m even planning to build one site whose homepage will be powered primarily by its own RSS feed (too boring to explain). We need it more than ever, and it still isn’t letting us down.
- WordPress. Or more accurately, me using WordPress. I’m thinking up more and more clever ways to use it, and it’s almost a case of finding projects where I can squeeze in my new ideas – with or without the client knowing. 🙂 More details as things emerge, naturally.
- Cost-cutting. Having too much money is almost as bad as not having enough. It’s a magnificent opportunity for open source generally, and for people like myself (forgive me) who can whip up impressive solutions with it. The business cases for buying Big Ugly CMSes and hiring Big Ugly Consultancies will need to be very, very good.
- But most of all… good, substantial material going online. We’ve done enough trials and experiments to see what works and what doesn’t. Specifically, we’ve got enough examples to show that it won’t work unless you really make an effort. So let’s hope the ascent of Obama, and the prospect (however slim) of a UK general election inspire politicians in government and outside to really get stuck in.
We have all the tools we need, and it’s even easier than before. Let’s start delivering.
PS: Coincidentally – and yes, not a little ironically given the above – TechCrunch has today posted its list of ‘products I can’t live without‘. Most notable, to my half-awake eye, is the similarity with last year, and the gradual pruning of the more obscure names in favour of the Old Favourites. (Slightly surprised to see FriendFeed making the 2009 list, by the way.)
Never has a nail been hit more squarely on its head than when Charles Arthur wrote his Guardian piece last week about how ‘The digital home hub is finally happening‘:
[Gates and Jobs’s] vision is coming true. Except that it’s not the computer they thought which is at the hub. It’s a rather different one that hadn’t even been considered at the time, using a technology that had only just begun to get traction. That would be the iPod Touch, and Wi-Fi.
At the very moment it popped up in my Twitter stream, I was completing the purchase of something I’ve been looking forward to for literally years: a digital audio solution for the bathroom, previously the only ‘quiet zone’ in the house. But after weeks of looking at expensive, high-end media-sharing solutions, such as the (albeit impressive) Logitech Squeezebox Duet, I’d decided on a much more modest (and ultimately, more powerful?) setup: a Sony iPod dock with DAB Radio (crucially, with external speakers) and an iPod Touch talking to my home wireless network. No PC at the heart of it; no need.
It gives me live digital radio, access to my music library (including downloaded podcasts), and BBC iPlayer radio/TV… with goodness knows what else to come, as Apple’s AppStore expands. All very modest kit that you’ll easily find on any High Street – but an outcome straight out of ‘Tomorrow’s World’.
I had a similar reaction when the BBC took us inside Bill Thompson’s ‘digital home’ last week: two Macs and an XBox 360 connected through a wireless network, beamed out via a low-end projector. All very well… but frankly, I think I get a better user experience from my Wii – connected to the internet via the home wireless setup, with BBC iPlayer delivering (almost) full-screen TV on demand on our (again, fairly modest) big flatscreen telly. No need for computer X to talk to computer Y here; all controlled without having to leave the sofa via Wiimote.
Charles reckons ‘almost 30%’ of homes have wireless networks; and the Wii is trouncing the competition again this Christmas. A lot of people are going to have all the kit they need to enjoy some digital living.
One of the more inspiring developments at the BBC recently has been the extension of iPlayer away from the desktop PC. Back in April, they launched iPlayer on the Wii – but it wasn’t the breakthrough moment it might have been. Leaving aside the fact it didn’t stream especially smoothly on my machine, the interface was optimised for a screen resolution which the Wii couldn’t deliver, making for a horrid user experience. Last week they made amends, with a Wii-optimised screen setup – and it’s truly brilliant. Try it on your desktop PC, but to appreciate its full glory, you need to be sitting on the living room sofa, in proper telly-watching mode.
I’ve been a bit surprised that people haven’t done more optimising of content for ‘games consoles’ – particularly the current generation, with their online capabilities. And with the Wii (again) selling like hot cakes (set to get even hotter too), it has tremendous potential for video-on-demand in the living room.
Inspired by the Beeb’s efforts, I wondered how much effort it would take to put a Wii-friendly front end on some YouTube content. So I took a few hours last night to build a prototype – and here it is: wii10.puffbox.co.uk
I want to stress: I’ve done this completely off my own bat. Although we have a continuing working relationship, I wasn’t asked to do this by Number10. It’s purely a proof-of-concept, using publicly available (publicly funded) material. It’s a bit rough round the edges: some of the link highlighting isn’t too smooth on the Wii, the word wrapping isn’t polished, and it doesn’t seem to work properly on (desktop) Firefox for some reason – although curiously, all other browsers seem OK, even IE! But having proven the concept, to be honest, I may not bother going back to fix these issues. There’s also a risk of YouTube changing their code, as has happened before: the Wii’s Flash player is a bit behind the times, and YouTube’s improvements have caused problems in the past.
But for now – it works, really quite nicely, and I’m dead pleased with it. You need never again say the words ‘there’s nothing on telly.’ 🙂 And with more and more government content going on YouTube, if anybody thinks this might be useful in a proper business context, please get in touch.