the markITeer

Archive for May, 2007

Technology at the fingertips

Posted by the markITeer on May 31, 2007

Microsoft SurfaceDid you ever see a sci-fi movie in which they had some really cool gadgets that you just had to have… if they would exist? Or in which they used some pretty amazing technology-yet-to-be-invented? Well, today Microsoft turned a little piece of science fiction into science faction with the launch of Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft Surface is a device that could well be the next step in how we interact with computers and applications. Forget the keyboard, forget the mouse. Just a 30″ diagonal touch-sensitive display table giving you access to your applications using nothing but your fingers. Sounds just like touch-screens? Not quite: it goes a lot further: Surface also allows interactions with other objects placed on top of it, like eg mobile phones, mp3 players (I wonder if it’s gone be iPod or Zune 🙂 ), … So you could copy pictures from your digital camera onto your mobile phone just by placing them both on the Surface and drag them -using your fingers- from one device to the other.

Or imagine this: you’re looking for a new mobile phone. You walk into a store and want some information on the latest models. You place them on the MS Surface counter and immediately a comparison table appears of all the features of the mobile phones you picked out. Pretty neat, ey!

In terms of advertising, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Think of it as digital signage (the TV screen advertising networks in stores etc) … turning interactive. Not so long ago I posted an article on the LUON blog on the touch-screen ad by Nokia for its new N95 mobile phone. Very impressive campaign, but imagine what you could do with a device like Surface…

Technically, it consists of:

  • a piece of holographic glass
  • a projector that can shoot images at the glass
  • two cameras, aimed at the glass
  • a computer running a version of Windows Vista
  • software written in Windows Presentation Foundation

Want to see it in action? Take a look at this video:

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Posted in science faction | 1 Comment »

Web syndication: on RSS, Atom, Kings and Queens

Posted by the markITeer on May 29, 2007

Why do people visit a website? What makes them return? What makes them talk about your website? Or link to it?
Relevant content is the number one treasure on the web everybody is looking for. Yes, the old saying still goes : “content is King”. And now the King got himself some nice looking Queens: meet RSS and Atom.

But first a couple of words on web syndication in general. Web syndication means that you offer your most recent content (“What? My precious content?”), preferably for free (“WHAT?!”) to the web community for them to incorporate into their websites or to read via special readers. Of course, you will only offer content that is not sensitive. And you’ll probably just give them a title, a brief summary and a link to the full article… on your website (” Ahhh! 🙂 “). In other words: you use your content as some sort of advertising to drive traffic to your website.

The technology used to achieve this is plane old XML: on your website you offer your (stripped-down) content in XML format. This is called a feed. Typically, you would make it accessible from one of the well-known logo’s, like or , of which the second one lately is becoming more and more wide-spread (see also http://feedicons.com/). Anyone can then embed this feed in his own website (like I did with the LUON blog on the right), or add it to his feed reader (or ‘feed aggregator’), an application used to easily view and follow feeds from different websites (did you already check out Google reader!?). This is also referred to as ‘subscribing‘ to a feed. Take note that because your feed only contains your content without layout, the subscriber can present it in any layout he wants!

The XML you offer must follow a couple of rules. You must use predefined tags and structures (ie an XML schema) to describe your content, so that everybody can ‘understand’ what you’re talking about: what the title is, what the summary is etc.

There are currently two ‘standards’ around : RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom (in walk the Queens). Both are in fact XML schema’s describing how you could structure your XML and which tags you could use to offer your content as a feed. RSS uses ‘item’ to describe an article, Atom uses ‘entry’. RSS uses a ‘description’ tag for the summary, Atom uses a ‘summary’ tag. And so on, and so on. For a detailed comparison between the two, read Tim Bray’s comparison piece. That’s why you often see two icons : one for RSS, and one for Atom.

Finally: take a look at this fun video introduction to RSS posted on YouTube:

Posted in talking the talk | 1 Comment »

Zamzar

Posted by the markITeer on May 24, 2007

ZamzarJust discovered a nice little tool on the net : Zamzar.
Via the website, you can automatically convert files from one type into another. Eg. from MS Word into PDF, from GIF into JPG, … You can even convert any YouTube movie into a downloadable video format! How about that! Just follow the 4 simple step, wait a little and you receive an email with a link to the converted file.

This kind of applications you can use over the Internet, without having to download or install anything, are in web 2.0 terms described as ‘Software as a Service’, short : SaaS. Typically, users don’t pay for owning the software (because they don’t 🙂 ), but for using it. But no worries : in the case of Zamzar, it’s totally free!

And if the whole SaaS story sounds vaguely familiar: yes, it is indeed exactly the same as the old Application Service Provider (or: ASP) model. The old sheep just got a new fur…

Posted in talking the talk, walking the walk, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

the Bush Files: XML

Posted by the markITeer on May 23, 2007

The Bush FilesThis post is the first in a series of things ‘everybody-assumes-you-know-but-actually-you-don’t-have-a-clue’.
I call them : the Bush Files.
Today : XML

XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language.
Let’s start with the last part first : It’s a language, a way of communication, of sharing data, mostly between two applications. But it’s not just a language, it’s a ‘markup‘ language. This means that it combines text and extra information about this text. In the case of XML, it’s information about the structure of the text. Finally, it’s extensible, meaning that you can extend the language, invent new ‘words’, so you can have it say exactly what you want it to say.

let’s take a look at a simple example:

<books>
	<book ISBN="1400079179">
		<title>The Da Vinci Code</title>
		<author>Dan Brown</author>
	</book>
	<book ISBN="0345340426">
		<title>The Lord Of The Rings</title>
		<author>J.R.R. Tolkien</author>
	</book>
</books>

What does this tell us?
1. XML is readable: it’s just text and can be read in any text editor, like eg Notepad. Handy!
2. the extra information about our text is put in descriptive ‘tags’ between ‘<‘ and ‘>’
3. text is put in between opening and closing tags: eg <book> …… </book>. The opening tag, text and closing tag together are called an element
4. There is 1 element containing all data. In our example this is the <books> …. </books> element
5. inside an opening tag, you can also put some extra information in an attribute : eg <book ISBN=”1400079179″>

The fun thing is, you can invent any tags and attributes you want, as long as the one you’re sending the XML to ‘speaks’ the same language… That’s why, once a language has been defined between the sender(s) and the receiver(s) of the XML, it can be described in a schema. That way, everybody knows which words can be used so that every-one can understand what the others say.

If you speak the correct language, use the words you and the other people/programs that have to work with the XML have defined, the XML is said to be valid. If your XML is syntacticly correct (see items 3 & 4 above), it is said to be well-formed.

So, that’s basically all there is to XML. Not so difficult, he?

P.S. If you take a close look at HTML, the language used for building web pages, you’ll see … that it’s really XML with it’s own pre-defined tags and attributes! The original HTML wasn’t really well-formed though. That’s why they invented XHTML, which is the same as HTML, but this time fully well-formed.

Posted in talking the talk, the Bush Files | Leave a Comment »

Why images don’t show in e-mails

Posted by the markITeer on May 22, 2007

Ever wondered why you receive all your emails without the images?
If you’re using MS Outlook, Google Mail, Windows Live Hotmail or any of the quadrillion other email readers that suppress images, chances are you did.

The reason behind this phenomenon is to protect you against spammers: By using the images in (HTML) e-mails, spammers can figure out if your email address is valid!

So how does it work?

When sending out HTML e-mails (ie emails containing layout code, images etc.), only the text and layout are sent while the images are kept on a web server. Only when the recipient opens the email and requests to see the images, the images are loaded from the web server.

This has the advantage that images must only be sent to people requesting to see them, and the requests are spread over time, thus optimizing the bandwith usage. But more important: when the images are requested from the web server, the request can be logged! This way the sender knows which email addresses have requested the images, and hence which email addresses are valid!

In a nice picture this is what happens:

This system is used by spammers as well as legitimate email marketeers: Spammers use it to identify which email addresses are valid so they know which addresses they can use again (and again and again… 🙂 ), while self-respecting email marketeers use it to calculate their open rates.
But in the heat of the spam battle, email marketeers had to give in and images were suppressed by all major email applications, resulting in much less trusty open rates (and email marketeer’s headaches)…

There are however a few things email marketeers can do to deal with the issue:

  • try to get listed in the address book of the recipient. Senders who are in the address book are automatically ‘white-listed’ and the images will always show!
  • add a ‘view email online’ link to an online version of the email
  • include alt tags for your images describing your images
  • use text-based ads
  • focus on click-through rates and conversion rates

for more tips: check out the EmailGarage website

Posted in spam, that's why | 3 Comments »