It's a Web 2.0 Jungle Out There

I’ve upgraded my interweb connection to Web 2.0 in the last few months. Although no-one can really point to what Web 2.0 is (even though there’s a validator for it), many people feel that they know it when they see it. I now defend the term against cynics because I think it’s genuinely useful. To me, it’s a combination of little things: blogging and feedreading, a good quality web browser, in-place dynamic web sites (mostly driven by AJAX), to name but a few. For a technically minded person, I’m atypically late adopting, and so I’ve only recently happened on two powerful aspects of Web 2.0:

  • Social bookmarking. I now use delicious, so I can manage my bookmarks properly across the many computers I regularly use, as well as discover high-quality sites other people have stumbled upon.

  • In-browser Flash-based video. You can argue until the cows come home about the technical superiority of this method, but the success of YouTube shows that it’s the way forward. I use to shy away from web-based video because of the hassles involved: Download or stream? Do I have the right codec? Which media player to use? Flash-based video solves this problem.

However, the Flash-based video technique does highlight a problem that users of Web 2.0 sites are likely to encounter for a few years as they become more prevalent: interface inconsistency. It’s been long recognised that consistent user interfaces are a good thing, but everyone thinks that they can make a better scroll bar, and although Flash has been around for some time, it’s so far mostly been relegated to those websites created by designers who value form over function.

Now that there’s a great use for Flash (no, hang on, really great), and AJAX is becoming more widespread, we will go through some years of pain before the UI conventions are worked out and those who stray are vilified, rather than held up as paragons of originality - it seems to have already started with the hourglass, as well as on some of the cruddier YouTube-imitating sites (several of which don’t let you skip forward in videos). This phase of inconsistency has happened plenty of times before in UI history, although never in an uglier way than some of the first web sites. Brace yourself, it’s coming again.

SOA Tips 'n' Tricks Blog Launched

Chris Tomkins and I both work on the WebSphere ESB team, and have been blogging about it and related IBM SOA products for some months. We’ve now decided to join forces and launch a new blog called SOA Tips ‘n’ Tricks. This will contain technical tips on ESB and other products as well as wider issues - we don’t know exactly how it will evolve so please feel free to leave us some feedback on the things you read - what you like, and what you don’t. I plan to discontinue writing about ESB or SOA specifically here on my personal blog, although I’ll continue to discuss wider IBM issues.

Rated X

Rated X is a film about the (ahem) adult film industry, so sensitive eyes might want to stop reading this review now. It stacks up well against other films of the genre, such as Boogie Nights (although it’s not as funny), and The People vs. Larry Flynt (although it’s not as political). The film tells a frequently unfulfilled dream: two brothers (well played by real-life brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen) want to make porn that isn’t just cheap and tacky, but tells a story.

The film initially portrays a glitzy and glamorous world, with one of the brothers snorting coke in virtually every other scene, and (surprise surprise) beautiful women at every turn. It isn’t constantly hilarious, but some scenes - such as their mother being shown their directorial efforts or them having to negotiate IP issues over their films with New York mobsters - nevertheless put a smile on the face.

The brothers fight often - such as over the directorship of the now-classic film Behind the Green Door - but the story doesn’t start to fall apart until the second part of the film, where market forces push them into the sleazier world of running a strip club, and their relationships start to strain. The film’s end sequence - a confrontation between the brothers - is a little self-indulgent on the part of Estevez (who also directed), but is moody and adds an interesting touch.

Rated X isn’t a film you’ll enjoy if you’re disapproving of the adult industry, but it is a real-life tale that reflects the lives of some trailblazers, and holds the attention fairly consistently.

Signs of Strife in LOVEFiLM Land

My recent posting regarding the Screenselect/LOVEFiLM merger elicited a lot of (mostly unfavourable) comments from strangers regarding LOVEFiLM’s poor service. So far I hadn’t seen any of that, but their website has just refused to downgrade my package (i.e allow me to reduce my spend with them). I’ve sent an email, but as others have pointed out, they have pre-prepared excuses ready about the high volumes of email they are getting (hint: this isn’t OK, LOVEFiLM, you should have expected it). We’ll see how fast this problem gets sorted: is this the start of a slippery slope which ends in me cancelling my account? Time will tell.

Broken Flowers

What Jack Nicholson’s As Good as It Gets is to Bill Murray’s Lost in Translation, Nicholson’s About Schmidt is to Murray’s Broken Flowers. The actors in question are both senior Hollywood players, distinguished and experienced. Both the former films, despite their differences in setting, are existential and witty. Both the latter are existential yet tedious. I had the same feeling watching Broken Flowers as I did watching About Schmidt - boredom. Although only 105 minutes long, it feels like an age, and most scenes simply drift along without holding the interest. It’s not a slow burner - the fire never gets lit. Broken Flowers was acclaimed at Cannes and I simply don’t know why. There’s little else to say - but I certainly wouldn’t recommend this as one of Murray’s best.

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