The Canonical Design Sketch

We’re having a TiddlyWeb fest tomorrow, and I explained one of the things I want to get out of it is a canonical design sketch.

Luke Hohman’s superb text, Beyond Software Architecture, explains how he comes into a project and asks people to draw the architecture. A great predictor of the project’s state is whether people come up with the same diagram. Put crudely, if they are all on the same page – if they all know module X is in the top-right and module Y is centre left – the project is onto a winner.

I’ve found similar things myself. I will work on a project for a while before someone puts up a poster depicting the emerging architecture. People will then find themselves congregating around the poster and building it up.

While some people are more visual than others, I believe most of us have good spatial abilities and a team has a lot to gain from a shared understanding of the architecture. This is even more so in the case of a framework like TiddlyWeb, where the community is disparate and connected much more loosely than a group of agile developers in a room together.

A good example of a design sketch is that by a project with some similarities to TiddlyWeb: CouchDB.

I like the fact it’s a sketch, not a boring old “formal” diagram. Diagrams that are too neat are also brittle, whereas simple sketches are resilient to change. Moreover, I like the fact it’s on the homepage. That makes a bold statement to the community. This is the canonical design sketch for the project, and any discussions around architecture will naturally be couched around this sketch and the entities within.

Scrumptious: Conversations About Websites (and other resources)

Scrumptious is a web framework I’ve begun working on at Osmosoft. It’s a web app and web service for sharing bookmarks and comments about websites, and pretty much anything else with a unique URL. Things it is related to: Delicious (bookmarking), Digg (threaded comments), JS-Kit and Disqus (embedded comments with common identity across multiple sites).

Scrumptious is open source, under the BSD license (meaning you can do just about anything you like with it). There are already many open-source clones of this sort of thing, so why make a new one? There are a few reasons:

  • Adherence to RESTful principles – Scrumptious is backed by TiddlyWeb, a RESTful data service.
  • A non-TiddlyWiki TiddlyWeb client – So far, people who have used TiddlyWeb as a server have used TiddlyWiki as a client. They do play nicely together, but TiddlyWeb is a powerful RESTful framework on its own. Part of the motivation for Scrumptious was to port the TiddlyWiki nest comments plugin to a generic JQuery plugin that could be used on any web page. (Comments are indeed implemented as a plugin right now, but more work needs to be done to extract it into something truly modular and reusable; for example, the plugin right now assumes comments are about a web page; also, they are tied to TiddlyWeb. Nevertheless, the app still does achieve the main purpose of demonstrating TiddlyWeb is a fine data service for generic web apps.)
  • Demonstrating the power of URLs – In evangelising web standards, a very practical piece of advice is simply to associate a unique URL with each distinct resource. That’s REST 101, but it’s something lacking in many web apps. With a tool like Scrumptious, you get a comment system “for free” as long as each resource in your system has a unique URL. We’ll be developing a similar framework for URL Trails in the future, and the same principle applies: use unique URLs, and people can put your stuff in trails “for free”.
  • Flexible security model – Again, TiddlyWeb offers flexible permissioning, so you can use the app in different ways. e.g. a private conversation between colleagues; a public conversation (as with the demo), a publicly readable conversation where only certain individuals can contribute, etc. Likewise, TiddlyWeb offers flexible authentication, so you could hook into an organisation’s LDAP system, use open ID, simple user-password pairs, or any other form of authentication you wish to use.

Scrumptious is still at an early stage. Future work includes:

  • Bookmarking – for now, there is only commenting rather than social bookmarking per se.
  • Nested comments UI needs work to give it the same kind of UI as in the TiddlyWiki comments UI. e.g. show info like creator and creation data, and use suitable rendering and indenting.
  • Graceful degradation – It would be possible to provide a basic system not requiring Javascript. This would be probably be done using TiddlyWeb plugins, though I’d also be interested in running the JQuery-powered web app on the server, using server-side Javascript.
  • TiddlyWiki comments plugin harmonisation – As TiddlyWiki now ships with JQuery, it would be ideal if there was a single code base for the comments plugin, running in and out of TiddlyWiki. Indeed, I hope TiddlyWiki moves towards a general microkernel architecture, in which all plugins are useful outside TiddlyWiki. This is certainly becoming the case, with generic JQuery plugins being extracted for core activities like file saving, CSS applying, and wikifying.
  • Browser extensions – instead of a bookmarklet, use a browser extension to show, for each page, if comments are available, as well as bookmarking info. (Similar to the StumbleUpon or Delicious Firefox extensions.) A good opportunity to get my hands dirty with JetPack.
  • Login and identity management – while TiddlyWeb already provides the security and permissioning model, work is required to handle this at the UI level. For example, let anonymous users enter their email address and homepage, and/or register.
  • User admin – for situations where users must be authenticated, some form of user management would be handy. Again, TiddlyWeb provides a good model for this – a “bag” of tiddlers has its permission specified in JSON, which may include a list of users for each access type, so you simply need to PUT and GET this if you are sufficiently permissioned (ie an admin). What’s missing right now is a UI (in TiddlyWiki too, let alone standalone web apps).

Scrumptious Screencast:


p>Scrumptious from Michael Mahemoff on Vimeo.

List of Interesting and Popular MediaWiki Instances

I’m currently at an Osmosoft hackathon event, working on a tiddlywiki vertical called mediawikiunplugged. No time to say more now, but we needed a bunch of mediawiki sites for testing. So in addition to the obWikipedia and obAjaxPatterns, here are more:

And a list of the biggest wikis according to Alexa (retrieved thanks to

Clay Shirky Talk – London ICA Feb 4, 2008

Just back from Clay Shirky’s talk. I’ve been following him for years, so it was great to see him live.

Notes taken on my phone, typo beware!

Today – launching softback edition of book and updating thesis since then (incl recent events includig Obama). “speculative”

“group action just got easier” So what happens when u lower the cost of doing these things

3 weeks ago – international taking off pants off on mass transit day!!! (and keeping a straight face) — the event had no special technology but was only made possible by technology

It’s tough to get a group to do anything … Traditionally required public sector (if social cause) of private sector (if profit motive) – pants off day , neither public nor private motives but cost so low it was possible to take place anyway

  • ryerson study group on facebook. Student charged, uni’s model is a newspaper publishing results and many students will be leeching.

students model-just a regular study group, updated for modern tech.

  • the thing facebook is most like … Is facebook! How do we update academic culture to take advantage of these possibilities. There’s no easy way out of consolidating these two mindsets. The changes will come bottom-up.

Thai fashion student. Article about fly fishing iphone game. If you ask why would she write it, answer is “she’s not speaking to you!” and why not wrote it, it’s cheap.

So then she was the first to post the coup. Everyone was watching and her next post was about a hello kitty iPhone!!!! She’s not a professional journalist and doesn’t want to be one, but she committed an “occasional act of journalism”. But an occasional act times a billion people …. !

Obama. In 2006 a black president seemed impossible. Always a sense he was noble cause but not going to get anywhere. The “yes we can”. Will I Am music video set in peoples minds the thought it might be possible.

The artist never asked obamas permission and nor was be asked to do it. But u could say the permission was there implicitly by certain things released as creative commons and also by the whole ethos of the campaign Which made lots of media available. In contrast mccain campaign wanted complete control eg provided quotes to cut and paste. plenty of obama media like that.

“sing for change” shows the republicans can play this game too…screw up by an obama supporter but no-one blamed Obama. Those days are past, when the organisation was held completely responsible for the actions of a supporter.

Obama site v functional, mostly for organising groups to ** take action **.

Group “pres Obama, pleaase get FISA right” groups popularity meant that obama had to respond.

The big question now is, will he govern like he campaigned. launch the day after he got in …. Said “wisdom of crowds”

no. 1 issue was legalisation of marijuana. Clearly special interest group pressure.

Question and Answer

Q How to build org when lieutenants don’t want to, want command and control?
A One way is to Find pressure from outside eg Obama can try to rely on pressure from the media to stop senators negotiating insanity. “institutions at homeostatic”

Q Codes of conduct for social media in public spaces
A The “invisible college” – historic concept of practices of reporting and conducting research.

Q ??? A Doesn’t matter that people can game Digg because of just a media outlet and people can leave it and go elsewhere. but u can’t easily change countries. So still not solved how u can take voting seriously.

Q By can’t we learn from open source mechnanisms?
A Gov mechanism that works best is benevolent dictatorship. Linus, jimmy Wales, guido. Because there’s always the threat of forking of the project goes astray. Again, we can’t easily switch governments of move. Moving from the Uk to France is harder than switching from openbsd to freebsd.

Q New business models that will emerge from the current crisis?
A Sanger and Linus exceedingly modest when introducing their products (ie predictions – hard to say). P2P models for money (eg – lending from small groups, typically people who know u and will watch u like a hawk). these models – based on emotional connection – may be more accurate than algorithmic models. “mutualisation”. The big questions whether states will support it.

Q Diff bn fisa and marijuana example.
A Fisa result – in a group that opted in, during a campaign. Once u have to govern u have to govern everybody.

Q Role for Holders of cultural content at museums.
A Smithsonian project uploading to flickr. Only got 6000 images out. The tech is available, the institutional change is the key concern. Every day, gets someone in their design dept to watch a user working ok their website. Similarly museums etc should do the same thing,low key.

WebWait in the Wild

I haven’t blogged about WebWait since launching it almost two years ago. But it’s been quietly growing into quite a pretty well known site among certain communities in various languages. What I like seeing is people are actually getting value from it…it’s not just a novelty, but a tool for them. Here are some examples.

A conversation about blog timings … and soup recipes:

At December 7, 2008 6:24 PM, Blogger Arfi Binsted said… I love clear soup like this. Kalyn, for some reason, almost 2 months, my browser goes so slowly when I come to your blog. I am not sure where it comes from. Today, I try to open it from the link on my blogroll, it works! Just as well it is a click away from a miracle just to happen for Barbara 🙂 hugs. At December 7, 2008 6:41 PM, Blogger Kalyn said… Maris, this is one of the best parts of blogging in my opinion. Arfi, thanks for telling me. I don’t know what’s going on because I use and check and my blog always seems fine there. I’m going to remember to check back with you and see if it is still a problem. I do hope you’re right that it’s a good omen!

A softly, softly, twitter encouragement for the TechCrunch boys:

liking – took 3.04s – (pretty quick!) – @techcrunch took 13s!! – sort it out boys

A tech journalist compares browser speeds:

I used to test how quickly Chrome 0.2, Firefox 3, Safari 3.1, and Internet Explorer 7 loaded the home page. The results for three page loads averaged were: Firefox (5.21s) Safari (6.34s), Chrome (6.48s), Internet Explorer (8.90s).

A reviewer notes how much caching helps and I discover in the process I can almost grok Italian geek-speak:

La seconda volta grazie alla cache WebWait ci ha messo 5.17. Un tempo discreto direi.

A blogger produces a “webwait research report” – schweet!:

Ko nih, tanya sket pun tak boleh. Oklaa aku tunggu ko buat positioning tuh. Sambil2 tu jom buat research… :: WebWait Research Report :: Site: Average load time after 15 runs: 0.11s Average load time after 15 runs: 0.12s Average load time after 15 runs: 1.11s Blog: Average load time after 15 runs: 5.29s Average load time after 15 runs: 8.12s Average load time after 15 runs: 9.02s Average load time after 15 runs: 10.07s Average load time after 15 runs: 11.99s Average load time after 15 runs: 14.10s Average load time after 15 runs: 14.52s Terima kasih Yam, kerana memberi aku kerja. Laporan kajian aku mendapati feedjit, nuffnang, mybloglog, dsb adalah antara yang menjadi punca utama kelembapan loading sesebuah blog. (MM – Google Translate says “Thank Yam, because I gave work. I found the study report feedjit, nuffnang, blogspot, etc. are among the main source of humidity loading a blog.”)

WebWait is just one way to get an impression of speed, as the FAQ explains. And in cases like those above, it can give people a handy snapshot without relying on any browser-specific plugins.

People also love screencapping their webwait results, as this google images search illustrates. It would be nice to somehow make a gallery of those. Anyway, I’ve got some time off coming up, and one of my projects will be to make some long-overdue updates to the site, while ensuring it stays dead simple to use.

Vale SOX? Obligatory Sarbanes-Oxley Mention

I can’t let the current credit crunch / financial crisis / Wall St meltdown pass without mentioning the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, aka SOX.

I feel compelled to do so because I haven’t seen it mentioned once in the mainstream media during the past fortnight of turbulence, and yet it should have at least played some role in reducing the likelihood and impact of an event like this. Otherwise, it was a waste of effort.

Searching Google News for “Sarbanes-Oxley” just now yielded about a half-dozen results. One is from 2006, one is a letter, one is about Sarbanes’ son’s bailout vote. Not much. The only relevant article I found:

The pain felt in middle America was so intense that Congress enacted legislation to clamp down on such errant behaviour. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 imposed stricter levels of disclosure on public company boards, management and accounting firms. It was hailed at the time as a breakthrough in regulating errant corporate behaviour. But it should come as no surprise that about a year ago, during the height of the most recent boom, US regulators were coming under intense pressure to dilute parts of the legislation. Sarbanes-Oxley, the argument went, had cost Wall Street its coveted position as the world’s financial hub. The high cost of compliance with the legislation had seen international focus shift to London.

The article goes on to explain why it might be not so relevant to the current situation, which is completely dominated by the banks:

The latest crisis has emerged from a different area – the lax prudential regulation of America’s banks. Housing loans were pushed on to people who had a history of default. That’s the definition of subprime.

So it’s not a case of “this is exactly the kind of thing SOX was meant to prevent”. It’s more subtle than that – SOX is only public companies, and not all banks are public; SOX covers all types of companies, not banks which have particularly complex financial characteristics; SOX is about control and reporting, and does not place specific constraints on levels and forms of credit risk.

Nevertheless, many banks are public companies and public companies must comply with SOX (even if the system is developed in the UK…as long as it operates in the USA, it must comply, that’s my legally dunce understanding of the matter). Sarbanes still applied in banks from around 2003. I was working on one project where “pulling up your SOX” was a constant non-functional force lurking in the background of many major design decisions. So, for example, if we were to choose an in-memory database, what would happen to the auditing facility in the event of a sudden crash, would this cause a violation of SOX?

Another system I was looking at working on involved the treasury operation of a prominent American bank, where SOX was a big driver for them to streamline the performance of the system that comes out with a single, very important number: the bank’s overall position.

It’s vastly beyond the scope of this blog to explain away the crisis or even SOX’s (non) effect on it. What I can say, though, from a software perspective is that it feels like yet another standard that’s complex enough, and enforced enough, to drive substantial effort, while being high-level enough to not necessarily be very useful, at least not in cases where the intent was already there.

Alistair Cockburn wrote to the effect, “show me the methodology, and I’ll show you the methodologist’s fears”. We might well apply this to standards and regulations too.

SOX can be very closely tied back to Enron and related collapses and the fear of a repeat incident. However well-intentioned, there are two problems with standards that emerge from fear: (a) forcing someone to not follow the same strategy as that which led to a collapse…is no way to guarantee a similar collapse won’t take place again, for there are many alternative strategies they may take; if you retrospectively try to do what would have prevented recent incidents, you can expect your standard to be gamed hard by those using alternative strategies; (b) even if you can prevent a repeat incident, at what cost? Many times, the constraints you place on creativity and the degree to which your standard crushes human spirit and consequently inhibits progress, these costs may well outweigh the benefits.

Whether these problems were causes by SOX is a topic for debate. But as the world readies itself for a whole new set of controls – many of which will affect your daily work and mine, dear software reader – one can only hope there is big ups on some fair dincum contemplation and ixnay on the knee jerk, eh.

An OpenSocial Sketch

My fellow Osmosoftie Paul Downey made this bodacious sketch when I ran through my @Media Ajax presentation on OpenSketch:

If you haven’t seen his handiwork before, he has a great talent for this distinctive style of text. Check them out. He also created The Web Is Agreement (I made a little remix of it into a full page version.)

The official olympics medal tally is broken. Let’s fix it.

This is how the official olympics medal tally looks:

Overall Medal Standings - The official website of the BEIJING 2008 Olympic Games

It’s not only the official tally, but the one linked from google each time you type “olympics” and terms like “australia olympics”. Thus making it an absurdly popular page at this time. As you can see, the design is reedeeeculous. The thing you want to see the most – total medal tally – is several miles away from the country. It’s good they’ve used alternative shading for odd and even rows, but even so, it’s still difficult to see the connection. Especially since the gold/silver/bronze tallies are shown in a different colour.

Did you notice even “open/mixed” gets preferential treatment? Look, I can’t even think of an open/mixed event at the olympics. Ballroom dancing? Friendly game of trumps? All I’m saying is, I’d rather see the headline figures first. I don’t know how many gazillion dollars the official IT contract went for, but this is what the tally should look like according to table design 101:

Overall Medal Standings - The official website of the BEIJING 2008 Olympic Games

(BTW I also pulled total to the front and emphasised it. Matter of opinion whether to go by total number versus number of golds.)

(The following images are just to record the fact it’s linked from Google since it won’t be linked much longer.)

olympics - Google Search

australia olympics - Google Search