Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Remember the Kakapo – 3 reasons why large companies on the web are losing ground

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

The kakapo - a flightless endangered parrot from new zealandI just left a large web company after four and a half years and as part of my exit I was asked to give one last presentation talking about my experiences. I can not cover all the things I mentioned, but over my career in different companies and in talks with friends in similar roles like mine I discovered a few patterns. These are to me the reasons that keep large corporates from evolving further and staying innovative and creative and subsequently unable to find good new people.

Right now every large company struggles to hire great developers, to innovate and to retain their talent. For the busy people, here are the three main reasons explained in much more detail below:

  • Complacency about the brand – big and (for our market) old companies tend to consider themselves important and interesting cause they have been around for so long. That doesn’t make them interesting though.
  • Mistreating innovation – every large company has some program or another to foster innovation but fails to reap the rewards by releasing the results
  • Communicating inwards instead of outwards – all large companies I know are afraid of having their employees as spokespeople and try to get the web to come to them rather than the company to go to the web

A skewed outside image

To a degree, I blame the media, or, actually, sensationalist blogs written by opportunists, always on the lookout to see large companies fail and then write smug articles full of hyperbole and “insider tip-offs”. It is schoolyard bully tactics – if on the first day you beat up the biggest guy the smaller ones will not pick on you. Its the same pointless sensationalism we have with celebrity rags – why bother analysing and celebrating the success of actors and singers when you can show photos of them drunk with missing pieces of clothing instead? Instead of making people question themselves to become as good at something as the big players are you make people feel better about themselves by showing how the mighty fall.

Considering the Kakapo

I was hard pushed to come up with a good metaphor for my talk until I listened to an incredibly funny and informative presentation by Douglas Adams on endangered species. Adams talks about the Kakapo a flightless parrot indigenous to New Zealand. And there is where I found quite a few parallels. The Kakapo is endangered and here are the reasons why.

Reason 1: Inability to spot predators

Ninja rubber duck - a predator you can't seeNew Zealand is volcanic – one day there it was where beforehand was just water. So all the indigenous animals (bar some dead fish) are animals that flew and settled there (or crawled out of the ocean). This also made these animals – including the Kakapo – incredibly unaware of dangers. As there were no bigger animals to hunt and eat you it wasn’t that necessary to come up with defence mechanisms. When the first settlers came and brought cats, dogs, rats and hunger this proved fatal quite quickly.

The same happens to large web corporations. There is a tendency to rest on your laurels and think nobody can hurt you. Most of the time the reasoning goes like this:

  • You must matter as you’ve been around for ages and done such an awesome job
  • People know about you and that means you will never lose them
  • People trust the brand and therefore brand is where you put most of your efforts
  • Plaster the world with your posters and logos and your success on the web comes automatically

That worked in a time when the web was new and strange to people. Now things change. The web is a much bigger part of daily life which means company strategies need to change. Some companies did well by embracing this:

  • Google was bold enough to concentrate on one thing only and have a search box as their interface
  • Facebook used an already existing social network that was ineffective and gave it a very simple and highly effective platform
  • Twitter started with the API and allowed numerous ways to add content before making their site searchable. They learnt from people’s products and added more and more of what worked to their site

Yes, Facebook was not a mum and dad product and the idea of adding your life stream to the web for everyone to see is anathema for a lot of people. But kids are on Facebook and they will sooner or later drag their parents into this new web the same way my godson made my parents play computer games for the first time by showing them how to bowl on the Wii. The physical aspect of playing a Wii game made computers much more tangible and understandable for my parents – and the same happens with touch interfaces now.

Smaller, more agile and above all companies who dare to be different and to fail from time to time are the predators of older, large corporations on the web. It is a matter of evolution and you can’t be like them if you think you are invincible because you mattered for so long.

Large corporations also have internal predators. One kind are just parasites – the ones who tip off the outside world about changes or constantly talk bad about the company internally and in the pub. I don’t get these people – if you don’t like your job – leave. There are many jobs around and you are in the way of somebody who wants to be here.

The other kind are the ones who are content with the current status and truly believe that the history and brand of the company will mean it keeps going forever. These are the people that mentally are leaning back and are afraid of change as it might mean more work. These are the ones who hire talent for a project rather than for their skills. These are the ones who hire people that are not as good as them as they don’t want to be replaced to move on to bigger and better things. They are the ones who kill innovation – which brings me to the next reason.

Reason 2: Forgetting to fly

Innovation driveHaving no predators around, the Kakapo soon realised that there is not much point in flying. Flying is very costly – you burn a lot of energy which means you have to find more food. You can’t eat much as you’ll be too heavy. It is catch 22 and when there is no need for it, why do it?

Companies fly above others in the tech world by innovating and constantly delivering better and more beautiful products. If you are not considered cool and innovative you don’t attract top talent. You can attract talent if you are known as a place to have a great training system and deliver a good foundation – you are known as a breeding ground for successful developers. But you won’t get the really cool kids if you can’t give them cool stuff to play with.

Every large company I know has some innovation program or another – Google’s 20% and Yahoo’s hack days being the main known ones. I don’t see much coming from these programs though. If the outcome of innovation programs is not analysed, used or at least communicated outside and inside the company then they are actually just a tool to keep your employees occupied instead of bringing out the best in them.

Google has their labs but it feels that it could use some more love. Smaller companies all have similar programs but actually make it the main part of their communication to the tech world. Instead of coming up with snappy soundbites about their products they just release new stuff constantly and let the world be the judge of how cool it is. This is incredibly successful – techies getting excited about your work and advocating it for you instead of you telling them is very targeted and effective advertising.

So why don’t companies just analyse the outcome of innovation and research programs and say yay or nay to them immediately? Why not release the ones that won’t be a product to the world as a showcase of the cool stuff their people did? The reasons are lack of commitment and lack of dedicated manpower to turn a hack into a blog post. The main reason though is a fear of failure, and failing fast and often is what smaller companies do very well indeed. A failing product is not the end of your brand – it is actually part of technology evolution and an opportunity to learn and avoid the mistakes that lead to the failure.

Francisco Inchauste explained the merits of failing in Failure by Design:

If you have children, or have ever seen a child learn to walk, you can see the process of loss and learning firsthand. There are a lot of banged up little knees and bumps on heads, as well as a good amount of tears. These are good things though. Every fall is growth. Every missed lunge to grab the couch teaches them a little more about identifying that distance.

However, if a parent were to stop their child from falling to avoid “failure” this would not help. She wouldn’t know what to avoid doing. Because basically whatever she did would be “successful” in the sense that she would be protected from falling. If she did fall in the future (which she would) it could be much worse. She wouldn’t know how to fall.

In order to release research and hack products to the world for consideration you need to put people in charge of writing them up and packaging them as blog posts, screencasts and demos. But this is not a job considered necessary by the current HR structures of companies. Which leads me to the main issue of large companies in tech.

Reason 3: Failure to communicate

communication errorWhen nature finds an issue, it resolves it. When an animal has no predators, overpopulation happens and resources get used up. That’s why nature made it almost impossible for the Kakapo to mate. Its mating song is a deep resounding boom and as you might know it is impossible to say where deep sounds come from. So, even if the female were taken by his song she wouldn’t know where her mate to be is.

The sad thing is that communication in large companies is broken. It is hard to keep a constant flow of information going in a group of 20 people without having an abysmal noise to signal ratio but once you hit the thousands it becomes really tough.

The fallacy of a lot of large corporation communication is that there is the notion of having to control it. I went through a few training sessions in various companies about speaking to the press and the outside world and all of them boiled down to a few things: give our pre-approved soundbites that can be used for headlines and don’t make any assumptions but say you don’t know when you don’t know. Don’t say “no comment” cause that means you know something and you aren’t allowed to talk about it.

And this is actually an incredibly easy message to give out to your employees. Everyone is a spokesperson for the company. Give people that responsibility and show them that trust and you won’t have whistleblowers amongst you. Keep people in the dark and tell them to wait for messaging from above and they’ll assume the worst and say so in public.

There shouldn’t be any secrets or unknowns in the company and everyone should at least know who to ask about a certain topic. As it is, the larger the company gets, the more people get pushed into smaller silos. This means new hires get hired for a product and trained on a certain topic and don’t get hired for their skill and allowed to allocate where they are needed. A lot of people leaving large companies is because they feel they don’t accumulate any knowledge applicable to the outside world and falling behind on what’s cool in the market.

There are even physical manifestations of that – cubicles are a thing of the 80ies and are the hen batteries of IT. Breaking down these barriers and coming into an office where you feel you are part of a workforce rather than someone in their own little world makes people work together and talk about what they are doing. I was amazed how many people I introduced to each other who where looking for each other’s skills were in adjacent cubicles and never knew about each other. I’ve been 4 years in the company and everybody I met thought I’ve been there for at least 10 – as I knew people!

Large companies tend to keep their communication close to the chest – they build landing pages where people should go to get information. Instead of embracing the web as a network and every means of communication – Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, IRC, mailinglists and so on – as an opportunity employees get asked to not take part in conversations but instead point people with questions to the PR, marketing or HR department. This would not be an issue if these departments spoke tech instead of soundbites they learnt in corporate training.

If a company has thousands of people working there each of those is an opportunity to tell the world about the company – in the appropriate language and piggybacking on trust people have in the source. If the company tries to keep their people quiet and concentrating on just doing their job then it is quite obvious why there is no passion for the company and miscommunication. Trust breeds confidence and good messaging.

What about solutions?

I’ve mentioned a few things already but I had quite an extensive list of ideas what to do to prevent the corporate Kakapo from extinction. If there is an interest, drop a comment.

Apps for good – an “IT for good” programme with an educational edge

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Yesterday night I went to the Apps for Good graduation event in Brixton, South London. Apps for good is an interesting program that aims to improve the lives of young people by teaching them skills to build mobile applications and letting them have a go at planning, executing and building their own app.

The power behind the programme is CDI who have been very successful with similar work in Brazil getting kids of the streets and away from drug dealing. Other partners that made the first round of the apps for good course possible are Dell and the High Trees Development Trust. You can learn more about the programme and the players on the about page.

The problem with “IT for good” events

As you know I spend most of my time these days on conferences, hack days and application competitions and in the past I’ve been part of a lot of “for good” IT events (Social Innovation Camp, Together 08, my own Scripting Enabled) and to be fair I was a bit tainted by my experiences. A lot of “IT for good” events left me pretty disappointed – they felt like a chance to “feel good” and “do something for people less well off than us” but in the end resulted in a handful of projects that petered out a few days after the event or competing products all doing the same thing (how many carbon footprint calculators do you know?). If I were a total cynic I’d say they are a great chance to get good PR and not spend much money as you get it back from tax anyway. However, I refuse to acknowledge this as deep down I honestly believe in doing good and sharing and educating as being the most fulfilling experience you can have in this world.

In essence, I am frustrated with the execution of a lot of these events and programs as they are not helping people much and also fail to bridge the gap between charities and the IT world. Developers are busy people who you can get easily excited and are always happy to help. If you don’t walk at their pace though you will lose them very quickly. If you do a “for good” project and want technical help don’t just dump the building of the product on volunteer developers and then go away – work with them or you won’t achieve anything. And please – if you get an email answer them immediately, don’t wait for three days and then give them a call – this is as inefficient. We can email and code at the same time – using a phone is another story.

A welcome change in approach

This event, however was very different and I am happy having been dragged to it by my friend Carin. Instead of partnering with professional developers the programme mentored students to build the apps themselves – students who never touched any code before and due to that were totally hyper about having achieved so much in such a short time. The apps really weren’t that important – their ideas and the boost of confidence they gave the students (who never considered IT as an option for education) was what made this program really work. This was not about building apps to change the world and get funding for them to blow on a nice logo – this was about the liberation of young people by showing them the opportunities the mobile and IT sector offers. Instead of money the organisers paid in knowledge, coaching and mentoring.

The graduation event started with introductions to the history of the program and the background of CDI. After this we got to see a showcase of the apps:

  • StudioPhly by Lemel Frank, Symon Morgan and Foyzul Hassan is an app where young and aspiring musicians can find recording studios either locally or with specific equipment and sound. This could be pretty cool if we also can find studios to donate free mixing time for unknown artists.
  • Student Voice by Moses Sonson, Matthew Tanti and Carlos Mateus is a university guide that gives you an overview of all the universities in the UK with locations, equipment and links to Google streetview and campus information. Much like a university focused facebook.
  • Stop&Search by Aaron Sonson, Satwant Singh and Gregory Paczkowski was my favourite. It is an application that gives you information about the police practice of stopping and searching people randomly in the street. This practice is very important but also – according to the research of the team – amazingly inefficient. In 10000 searches in the UK apparently only a handful resulted in people being arrested. Stop&Search allows you to get the information about your rights when you are being searched, you can rate the way the police behaved when searching you and it automatically geolocates you and adds the search to a central database. What this app now needs is a text messaging interface to allow people to use it with any handset.

Everything is already available

The thing I liked the most about the event is that instead of another “let’s build only iphone/ipad apps and call it mobile” event all of the applications were done for Android (this was because of two reasons – one was Dell as the sponsor wanting to see people build for their new handset and two because you can get the apps out without waiting for approval by Apple). This means that they will run on a variety of handsets and that all of the apps are already available on the Android store.

Building the future

Now the plan of action for the event is to take the apps further with more mentoring and also financial support and to run another round of the course later this year. For this, CDI want to put together a board of advisors and helpers and need technical people to lend a helping hand for the next round of aspiring developers. You can contact CDI Europe on their page or just give them a ping on Twitter at @appsforgoodcdi.

I will do my best to get on the board and do my share for this programme although my travelling can be in the way. We’ll see. After all I was very impressed with the event and I have never seen hackers thank the organisers in the following way before:

Mein Vortrag am A-Tag 2009 in Wien: Alles aendert sich, warum nicht wir?

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Ich bin gerade in Wien, beim A-Tag 2009 – interaktiv barrierefrei einer accessibilty Konferenz. Heute nachmittag werde ich den folgenden Vortrag zum Thema halten:

Audio Aufnahme

Die Audio Aufnahme des Vortrags liegt bei Panta Rhei – alles aendert sich, warum nicht wir – MP3 - 35MB (andere Formate)

Panta Rhei – das Netz aendert sich, warum nicht wir?

Hallo erstmal, ich bin der Christian und hier um nochmal darueber zu meckern das Barrierefreiheit den anderen Techniken in unserem Markt hinterher hinkt. Mein Hauptproblem ist das die Barrierefreiheit Welt sich wenig dafuer interessiert was in ein paar Jahren interessant wird und statt dessen alte Probleme diskutiert. Dadurch verpassen wir den Anschluss und koennen uns nicht dem Interesse des Marktes an neuen Produkten anschliessen.


Apple ist wohl eine der Hauptfirmen die derzeit im Computer Bereich mit dem Begriff Innovation zusammen genannt wird. Und das hat Sinn, da Aepfel schon immer Menschen inspiriert haben.

Masse, Bewegung und Kraft

Sir Isaac Newton bemerkte als Erster das Kraft dadurch entsteht das eine Masse eine bestimmte Beschleunigung erfaehrt. Leonard Euler definierte das dann spaeter als eine einfachere Gleichung. In anderen Worten (definiert von den Fantastischen Vier): In der Bewegung liegt die Kraft.

Wir sind zwar Masse, aber keine Kraft. Das Problem ist das wir nicht in eine Richtung gehen. Mehrere beschleunigte Massen die sich nicht in eine Richtung bewegen resultieren in Kraeften die sich gegenseitig aufheben oder stoeren.

Barrierefreiheit ist ein internationales Problem

Das hat politische und gesetzliche Gründe. Und sprachliche/nationale Gründe. Barrierefreiheit per Definition überschreitet Grenzen. Barrierefreiheit ist genauso wie Umweltverschmutzung ein weltweites Thema und kann nicht in einzelnen Laendern unterschiedlich behandelt werden. Fast jeder kann Englisch lernen. Innovation im Web passiert auf Englisch. Das ist einfach so und es ist nicht schwer diese Sprache zu lernen. Der Grund ist nicht sich auf Amerika zu konzentrieren sondern eine weltweite Kommunikation zu ermoeglichen.

Dichtung und Wahrheit.

Es gibt viele Mythen, die Barrierefreiheit zurueckhalten:

  • Alles ist schwer und kaputt.
  • Die Web Technologien sind nicht auf Barrierefreiheit ausgelegt.
  • Barrierefreie Angebote sind weniger schoen als “normale” Webseiten.

Genug gemeckert

Es wird Zeit das wir aufhoeren uns nur zu beschweren und anstatt dessen uns darauf zu konzentrieren zusammen mit Entwicklern, Designern und den Architekten des Internets barrierefreie Produkte zu erstellen.

Es geht auch anders.

Das ist der Wechselkurs Rechner von Yahoo. Ein Produkt das vollkommen interaktiv, dynamisch erstellt und barrierefrei ist. Ich kann ohne die Seite neu zu laden zwischen verschiedenen Waehrungen wechseln. Wenn kein JavaScript vorhanden ist, laedt die Seite neu. Ich kann den Rechner mit der Tastatur bedienen und Screenreader sind auch unterstuetzt.

Das ist Facebook innerhalb der neuen Yahoo homepage. Mittels cleverer Tastaturunterstuetzung und ARIA ist jetzt endlich Facebook fuer Blinde zugaenglich. Was wir hier gelernt haben ist nun auch in der YUI Bibliothek enthalten und kann von jedem verwendet werden. Moeglich war es Facebook zugaenglich zu machen weil die Daten von Facebook mittels einer API im web zugaenglich sind.

Das Web ist nicht die Seite, das Web ist nicht der Code, das Web besteht aus leckeren Daten!

Diese Daten zu verwenden und Produkte zu erstellen die sie barrierefrei darstellen braucht gute Entwickler, die technisch talentiert sind aber auch und hauptsaechlich eine Leidenschaft fuer Barrierefreiheit besitzen. Denn Leidenschaft + Talent = Barrierefreiheit. Leidenschaft entsteht durch Interesse und positive Erfahrungen.

Mythos SmartPhone

Das iPhone und andere “Smart Phones” sind derzeit wohl das genialste was man als Entwickler haben und als Platform verwenden kann. Wahnsinnig viel Geld wird fuer kleine Programme ausgegeben und generell uebernimmt das Handy alle Aufgaben die wir vorher per Hand gemacht haben. Problem ist natuerlich das ein Touch Interface ganz ganz uebel fuer Barrierefreiheit ist. Richtig?

Falsch. Das iPhone ist beispielsweise zugaenglich fuer Blinde, wie Marco Zehe auf seinem Blog erklaert hat. Der Grund ist das das iPhone wie auch Mac OSX von vorneherein mit einem Screenreader ausgestattet ist.

  • Das ist SoundAmp, ein Programm fuer das iPhone das Klang aufnimmt, verstaerkt und ueber den Kopfhoerer ausgibt. Sozusagen ein sehr einfaches Hoergeraet. Klar ist das keine “richtige” Hilfe, aber es zeigt das Entwickler interesse haben, Barrieren mittels von Technologie zu umgehen.
  • iSign ist ein Schulungsprogramm fuer Amerikanische Gebaerdensprache.
  • Senyala ist ein Experiment, das Touch Interface des iPhones als Eingabekanal zu verwenden um einfache Gesten in vordefinierte Saetze umzuwandeln. Das kann Menschen helfen ueber einfache Gesten in mehreren Sprachen zu kommunizieren. ist ein Experiment, das Touch Interface des iPhones als Eingabekanal zu verwenden um einfache Gesten in vordefinierte Saetze umzuwandeln. Das kann Menschen helfen ueber einfache Gesten in mehreren Sprachen zu kommunizieren (Video von Senyala auf YouTube
    und Audio interview mit den Entwicklern auf
  • Nokia entwickelte einen Braille Leser fuer das Touch Interface. Natuerlich ist das zu langsam und schwer als Ausgabe, aber es zeigt das Interesse besteht und wir sollten mit Fachwissen zur Seite stehen.
  • Top Trumps, die Quartett Karten kommen jetzt mit Barcodes auf der Rueckseite die es Kindern erlauben 3D Bilder der Karten mittels einer Webcam zu sehen (Video der Top Trumps barcodes auf YouTube). Weiterhin kann man ueber das Netz miteinander spielen. Diese Technologie koennte auch fuer Kommunikation mittels vordefinierter Karten verwendet werden.
  • Augmented Reality ist eine sehr geniale Technologie. Ueber das live Kamerabild eines Smartphones werden Daten ueberlagert. Zum Beispiel erkennt das Handy, wo man sich befindet und zeigt einem die Ubahn Stationen in der Umgebung, welche Linien unterstuetzt sind und wie weit in welche Richtung man gehen muss (Video der Bahnapplikation auf YouTube und Video einer Immobilienapplikation auf YouTube).

Das gabs alles schon einmal. Witzigerweise gab es das schon vorher in der Barrierefreiheit-Welt. Humanware in Kanada hat ein Produkt erstellt das per GPS es Blinden ermoeglicht sich in der Stadt umzusehen (Video des HumanWare Maestro auf YouTube). Als Sehender weiss ich nicht immer was der Name der Strasse ist und welche kommen werden, dieses Produkt hat diese Information.

Der Spass Faktor

Menschen wollen Spass. Menschen aendern ihre Vorgehensweise am Besten wenn sie Spass daran haben etwas neues auszuprobieren. Dieses Video zeigt ein Experiment in Schweden. In einer Ubahn Station wurde die Treppe neben der Rolltreppe als ein grosses Piano umgebaut. Verschiedene Stufen machten verschiedene Toene und 60% mehr Pendler verwendeten die Treppe anstatt der Rolltreppe.

Hilfe und Sicherheit

Menschen sind hilfreich. Tweenbots war ein Experiment bei dem ein kleiner Roboter mit einem lachenden Gesicht und einer Fahne mit der Bitte “Bring mich zum Suedlichen Ende” in einem Park ausgesetzt wurde. Der Roboter fuhr mit einer vordefinierten Geschwindigkeit in eine Richtung und das Video zeigt wie Menschen dem Roboter halfen wenn er stecken blieb.

Gemuetlichkeit, wo man sich wohl fuehlt. Es ist sehr wichtig das man Menschen ein Gefuehl der Sicherheit gibt. Wenn wir uns wohl fuehlen koennen wir lernen.

Reichweite. Daher ist es eine sehr gute Idee digitale Inhalte anstatt auf einem Computer auf einem bekannten Kanal darzustellen – dem Fernseher.

Positivbeispiel: Nintendo Wii

Nintendo kapierte das am Besten. Mit der Wii gelang es dieser Firma den Markt vollkommen aufzurollen und es Menschen zu ermoeglichen Computerspiele zu spielen indem sie natuerliche Bewegungen vollziehen.

Dieses Video zeigt verschiedene aeltere Menschen die ohne irgendwelche Erklaerungen anfangen mit der Wii zu spielen.

Diese Photos zeigen den Effekt den das Spielen mit der Wii auf Menschen in amerikanischen Altersheimen hat. Spass, Freude, Konzentration und Leidenschaft. Wenn unsere Produkte nur einen Bruchteil dieser Leidenschaft bringen, dann haben wir gewonnen. Es geht so weit das die Wii jetzt anstatt von teueren Spezialgeraeten in einer REHA Klinik verwendet wird. Das YouTube Interface fuer die Wii sieht so aus, ist einfach zu bedienen und unterstuetzt die Tastatur!

Lehrer brauchen Geduld

Was wir brauchen ist mehr Geduld mit den Entwicklern und Designern.

Schulung braucht Geduld. Das ist ein Video das zeigt wie Anne Sullivan der gehoerlosen und blinden Helen Keller sprechen beigebracht hat. Die Technik war es Helen zu erlauben Annes Lippen, Nase und Hals zu ertasten und dann die Muskelaenderungen nachzuahmen. Es ist ein wunderschoenes Beispiel das zeigt das ein Lehrer aus seiner eigenen Komfortzone herausgehen muss um Spitzenresultate zu erzielen.


Ein schoenes Beispiel fuer Integration sind diese Videos. Auf einem Death Metal Konzert ist ein Rollstuhlfahrer der als grosser Fan der Band mit seinem Elektrorollstuhl Kreise dreht. Die anderen Fans nehmen ihn auf ihre Schultern und heben ihn auf die Buehne um das letzte Lied neben der Band zu erleben. Wenn es Metal fans schaffen Rollis als einen von Ihnen anzuerkennen dann ist es verdammt schade das Stadtverwaltungen das nicht schaffen.

Barrierefreiheit darf kein Zwang sein. Wir koennen Barrierefreiheit nicht von der Kanzel herab der Welt aufzwingen. Das fuehrt nur zu theoretischen und religioesen Debatten.

Zurueck zum Mensch

Barrierefreiheit muss unter die Haut gehen. Anstatt dessen muessen wir uns darauf konzentrieren Barrierefreiheit als Leidenschaft fuer Kommunikation und Menschen eine Freude zu bereiten zu verkaufen. Dieses Foto zeigt eine Frau die sich Implantate in den Arm eingefuehrt hat die zusammen einen Braille Satz ergeben. Andere Menschen taetowieren den Namen ihrer Geliebten auf den Arm. Das hier geht weiter und bringt das Gefuehl als Ersatz fuer das Bildnis.

Es ist also Zeit nicht die Schuld zu suchen, sondern zu inspirieren, Gutes zu tun.


Christian Heilmann>

Hacking for Innovation – my talk at the Sunderland Hack Challenge

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

I’m just enjoying the complimentary wireless on the National Express train from Newcastle to London and uploaded the presentation I’ve given at Sunderland University to start the Hack Challenge they are giving their students. Together with Yahoo Developer Network Sunderland Uni is asking their student to spend a month to build a web application using Yahoo services and mashing them up. The hacks will be judged by Yahoo for prices and graded by the professors as a part of the course deliveries.

My presentation was meant to inspire the students to find good hack ideas and realize that innovation is not something you are paid or told to do, but something that everyone can be part of by concentrating on what you want to make better and finding the right tools and people.

[slideshare id=937827&doc=hackingforinnovation-1232551242755069-2&w=425]

The initial hack ideas of the students were very encouraging and I am looking forward to the next video conference where they’ll pitch the ideas in detail and show the technological decisions they’ve made to build their apps. It is great to be able to partner with universities to see what potential is there.

Will a new browser war help web innovation?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Aircraft in formationI just spent an hour on the cycle in the gym watching the video of Douglas Crockford’s Web Forward presentation on my iPod touch. Douglas makes some great points about the state of the current technology for the web – especially browsers – being counterproductive to innovation.

I agree with all of what Douglas says (especially the security aspects of JavaScript and the need for vats), but I am not too sure about the notion at the end that we need another browser war to go forward.

I understand Douglas’ point about browser vendors and users knowing what they need, but I also see a big danger in allowing the way we work on the web to become multi-track once again. I worked through the first browser wars, and I am thoroughly sick of having to write code to work for one or the other browser. This is why we use libraries to work around these issues. The thing that is a bit academic about the view that browser vendors could fuel innovation by navel-gazing is that the end users are not really going to upgrade their browsers just to make our lives easier. Even serious security flaws don’t really get people to upgrade their browsers (I am not talking about us geeks, I am talking about offices and home users that just want to read their mails and get the news). We can innovate until the cows come home, but if it doesn’t reach the people we work for this is progress that makes us move away rather than forward.

I agree with Douglas that the W3C standards are a failure when it comes to innovation. For starters they haven’t moved in ages and the standards are not nearly as good as they should be to make us work efficiently. The DOM standard is too complex, HTML does not really provide what we need to describe interfaces and interaction and CSS is not the layout engine it could be and we need to hack with positioning and floating just to get a multi column layout.

You have to cut the W3C some slack though – if browser vendors hadn’t concentrated on putting bespoke functionality in browsers and followed the guidelines we’d have had a much easier life as web developers in the last few years and could have concentrated on working with the W3C to get the standards extended. This has improved immensely in the last years and even the biggest evildoers now got the CSS2 specs supported in the 8th revision of their browser. Communication is happening, the problem is speed.

The process of the W3C is academic and broken, I do very much agree with that. The WHATWG are kicking butt left right and center with the HTML5 specs and got a good gig going working with browser vendors to get support for what they do. I think this is a great approach and seeing that the W3C is now looking at HTML5 in favour of the overly complex XHTML shows we are moving in the right direction.

What I lack in the proposals of innovating with techies is that a standard is much more than how it works technically. This is what we have already done in the first browser wars: we coded to make it work. It bit us in the butt a few years later as what we built was either flaky and broke or bloated and full of hacks that are not needed any longer (I doubt you’d ever need a if(document.layers){} these days).

Web Development is a very frustrating and complex job. Simply making things work to me is not enough – it needs to work, be usable and easy to understand for developer who take over from you. Hacks and browser specific solutions are the opposite of that.

To me, pragmatic development means “keep it easy to understand”, not “make it work in all browsers” as “all browsers” is a very moving target. The danger we are running into right now is that we are looking at (bleeding) edge cases and see them as innovation and great pragmatic ways of working. I am a big fan of performance tweaking and saving bytes wherever we can. However you can overdo that. As Dustin Diaz explained Google are using as their doctype to save on some bytes and David Calhoun proved that it is working across the browser board right now. Fine and in the case of Google or Yahoo this does make quite a difference. However, a DOCTYPE is not only there to trigger standards mode – this is a nice side-effect. Its purpose is to tell user agents (and that is more than a browser) what the document is, how it is structured and what elements are allowed in which hierarchy. If you wanted to convert a document with this “skinny doctype” you are in trouble as the conversion tool has to hope that all is fine and dandy. Systems like Yahoo Pipes or YQL are a great way of getting data from the web and re-using it. If the data we put out on the web is not in a format we can rely on being valid, this data is unavailable.

I like to see the web as a pool of semantic and linked information, not as a collection of documents that render correctly.

At least one thing is for sure: this year will be interesting in terms of innovation and how we build for the web.

Check out Douglas’ video:

Douglas Crockford: "Web Forward" @ Yahoo! Video

(I am tempted to add VNV Nation’s Darkangel as the ambient soundtrack)