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Plazes, dodgeball, and Enterprise Microformats

The Googlebot!

Track my geolocation! Please!

While at the BEA summit, I had some lovely scotch-talk with two BEA folks along the lines of, “why can’t I just track everywhere I go?”

Now, not everyone has this sentiment. There is one person in particular that I know who won’t buy a metro-card because then The Man could track their every move on the subway. Instead, they buy tickets each time they take the subway.

I have nothing against that sentiment. No problem. I don’t even have a desire to make fun of it, which means a lot from a smart-ass like me.

On the other hand, people like me don’t mind telling The Man where I am. Perhaps this means the black helicopters will get me sooner, but I’m banking on The Zombie End of the World Scenerio over the New World Order Scenerio. It looks like that might be a poor bet, but I have invested heavily in fire-works and consulted with Romero and Savini.

“I’m a free man/With no place free to go”

That understanding out of the way, I was delighted to find, a web-site that tracks your where-abouts via an agent you install on your desktop. (I can hear people’s privacy bells going off now.) So, here I am now at Genuine Joe Coffeehouse, and it has figured out where I am based on some networking magic.

I’ve only used it for 2 days, so I don’t know the whiz-bang magic it’ll do once I build up more checkins. Hopefully “zombie are near” alerts.


But where, dear readers, is the dodgeball integration? Dodgeball is like crack-berry for gadget, geolocation freaks like me. My habit has gotten so “normal” that Kim finally stopped rolling her eyes in my general direction each time I’d dodgeball in our location. Whenever I show up at a new locale, you can expect to see me hunched over my cellphone, thumbing in my new location…@genuine joe coffeehouse, as it were.

The reasons to use dodgeball are:

  • It tells all your friends where you are…”why don’t you stop by and say hello?!”
  • You can ask it for an address if you’re lost. While GOOGL will do that too, dodgeball is an even more vertical and local search than GOOGL: it narrows down to hanging out.
  • You can keep track of where you’ve been with fun stats. (OK. Maybe only dorks like this.)
  • If you’re not like me — married and in love — you can have it tell you when your “crushes” are near by so you can go do the hustle.

Additionally, my theory is that presence apps like this also help build stronger group ties.

In short, dodgeball is fun.

Twice the Work

So now we have two geo-location sites that I have to deal with. Why not just one? Where is the integration between the two. Oh, and there’s another one: 43place’s mobile phone checkin.

This is a situation prime for some lessconfig. Some interop. Some web pipes.

We need something crazy like this.

Ning, Composite Applications, and Enterprise Microformats

This seems like a good excuse to try Ning out. You may be thinking, “Coté, Ning? Should’t you be writing about how you can use BPEL to get laid?” Yes. Yes I should. On the other hand, Ning seems like a good prototype for the next generation of apps, consumer and enterprise. The notion of cloning an application alone is a Big Deal: it brings in all the memories of VB and Excel macros, good and bad.

Furthermore, this is another example of applications that are not context aware. Sure, they’re extremely context sensitive (Plazes knows my exact latitude and longitude!), and yet is ignorant of my online context. They all suck in photos from flickr, but that’s like breathing for Web 2.0 sites. You gotta have flickr, brother.

Geolocation Microformat?

Where the Semantic Web/RDF failed because “no one” wanted to take the time to figure it out or type it, microformats come quickly to anyone who knows HTML and can type rel="friend". The wow! moment for microformats comes from the Live Clipboard demo when we see a calendar event cut-n-pasted from eventful into Outlook. As someone who does that manually at least once, if not three to five times a day, I got all excited at that.

Once you’ve marked up your page with even the minimal microformatting, you can start using that page programatically. I can send you a URL for my contact info instead of a block of text. That is, the microformating can transform URLs that once were unstructured piles of text into actual “resources” that can be used by software. This is exciting because unstructured text is usually just good for keyword searching. With structure, the content backing a URL can be used to do new and exciting things.

For example, getting back to plazes, dodgeball, and 43places, if we came up with and used a geolocation microformat, then:

  • Each page (dodgeball, plazes, 43places, etc.) would use the geolocation microformat. They could even provide RSS feeds with that formatting if they wanted to, though, it wouldn’t be required.
  • Each page would have a generic “suck in geolocation from another URL” page.
  • I could tell each of the sites the URL for my “history” page on the other site.
  • Each site would become context aware, mashing in my geolocation data from every silo.

The “magic” here is that the “geolocation sucker” can be coded once to the geolocation microformat. Each time a new site comes along, you don’t need to add in new suckers (unless that new site has a non-standard or forked understanding of the microformat).

And that’s how you bust open a roach motel.

Why does that matter? Because I can enjoy the new site without wasting time re-setting myself up in it. I guarantee you that I would sign up for more sites if I could simply suck in the same data from previous sites. Wasting time re-typing in profiles is a massive barrier to entry.

SOA, or, The Enterprise Angle

What’s curious here is that we’ve just described a consumer version of an SOA. Each of the websites is a service, the URLs with microformat backed content provide discovery and data, and the end result is a composite application that presents all the geolocation information about me.

Indeed, “SOA” and “mashup” are synonyms. I want to say “more or less” to fend off all the “no they’re not!” exceptions…but, what the hell? I’ll just say it: they’re different words for the same thing. Implementation wise, they often look different. Perhaps that’s the whole problem, huh?

While zillow doesn’t need transactions, guaranteed message delivery, or all that fancy enterprisey stuff now, if you could buy a house on zillow or (more realistically) refinance your mortgage, they sure as hell would need all that wouldn’t they? That’s right, laugh it up for now KISS-heads (me included), you’ll be prospecting in the Enterprisey Hills soon enough for some Enterprise Strip-mining.

Microformats Behind-the-firewall

That focus is on behavior though. An even easier approach is to simply start creating and applying microformats for use in the enterprise now.

I’m thinking: a light-weight version of DITA (you could harvest a manual from a web application instead of keep it as a separate resource), Collaborative Systems Management, free-busy calanders, customer information stored in silos that could be mashedup (or “composited”) into CRM systems, or documents that contain self-describing notes on compliance and regulations.

Yes, indeed, it seems I can’t escape this kind of thinking no matter how hard I try.

Disclaimer: BEA, Microsoft, and IBM (creators of DITA) are clients. Also, many of our clients are big believers in SOA.

Categories: Collaborative, Enterprise Software, Ideas, Programming, RSS, Social Software.

Comment Feed

3 Responses

  1. I fully support your decision to try Ning, but then I would – I'm one of Ning's Developer Advocates. Cloning's one of the key points I try to get across when explaining Ning; it doesn't just make distribution and deployment much easier, it gives rise to whole new web app design patterns. (Take a look at our ETech demo for one example, but there are others – )

    Anyway, if you have any questions or problems, give me a yell: yoz (at)

  2. Once again a great post, I am really getting into this whole "microformats behind the firewall" thing as a way of extending enterrpise applications.

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