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14 April 2009, 10:35

Community Live - Osmosoft Show And Tell

by Dj Walker-Morgan

Community Live has already reported on an Osmosoft hackathon, but Osmosoft also run a "Show and Tell" event. The H went along to see what was on show.

The early evening event started at 5 at The Team's very new offices near London Bridge. The Team co-hosted the event with Osmosoft and provided an excellent meeting space and refreshments. The agenda had seven speakers scheduled to talk for fifteen minutes each, a noble plan which didn't quite work out.

First up was a talk on Monome and open source by Jason Mesut. Monome is an array of illuminating buttons that can be used as a active input/output device. The Monome is inspired in part by Yamaha's Tenori-On musical device, but has been built to have an open ecosystem. Mesut brought along both the Tenori-On and Monome, showed how they worked and then compared the user experience of both devices. While the Monome has an open ecosystem, it also has an extended set up process, resulting in a steeper learning curve than the pick-up-and-play Ternori-On.

Next was Leise Reichlet, a user experience (UX) designer, talking about the redesign and the D7UX project to create a better user experience for version 7 of the Drupal CMS. Creating a compelling user experience is a complex task and isn't particularly suited to development through community consensus. With the D7UX project, Reichlet has been looking at using paper prototypes and crowdsourcing as a different model for the process. The idea is, rather than try and get people to agree how things should work, to create a large pool of ideas, from which a smaller team selects the most promising ideas and then integrates them into a single user experience. It's early days for the Drupal7UX work, but it will be worth following to see how the experiment comes out.

Blaine Cook, former chief architect of Twitter and now working at Osmosoft, was the next speaker. He went old school with his presentation, going for the flip chart and marker pen approach, and talked about what he's been thinking about for the last year. His ideas centre on a way of creating a federated messaging system that is sensitive to what a user is doing, without forcing them to use multiple services just to share with a different social network. Currently you may, for example, share photos on Flickr, Facebook and the Twitter picture sites. On each site there is a different network of people associated with your account so consider the difficulty of sharing a private photo on Flickr with a friend on Facebook. The ideas are coming together in Cook's new project, Cuttlefish, which bills itself as federated messaging in the cloud. This talk generated much interest in the audience, making the talk overrun, as it addressed a problem that others were also working on.

A presentation on Ubuntu was next, with Iain Farrell demonstrating how to promote Linux for a wider audience. The talk was a overview of the capabilities of Ubuntu and a useful reminder that it's not just about having a good operating system, but also about being able to communicate the ethos behind it. Farrell also showed some of the new Ubuntu 9.04 features like notifications and the Computer Janitor, using the latter as an example of a supposedly user oriented tool that still contains confusing lists of files and scary warning dialogues.

Ivanka Majic, who recently joined Canonical, talked about the work she is doing there. With a background in electronic engineering and human centred computing, she is doing user research into how Ubuntu can provide a better experience for non-technical users by taking non-technical, non-professionals and exposing them to the operating system. This fits in with Mark Shuttleworth's vision of a more inclusive user experience for Ubuntu and, again, it'll be interesting to see how the research feeds into the development work for Ubuntu 9.10 and later.

Gavin Brook gave a talk on Wordpress MU, the multi user extensions to Wordpress. By using WPMU, multiple Wordpress based blogs can be hosted in a single more socially shared site, so multiple contributors can contribute to one or more blogs.

The final talk of the evening was from Simon McManus who has been working on TiddlyDocs. This uses TiddlyWiki as the basis for a multi user document editor, dividing a document up into manageable chunks and allowing different people to work on those chunks. The documents can consist of text or images with formatting and each user gets to make their changes through a rich text editor widget on the website. TiddlyDocs is a work in progress, but is trying to kill off the old collaboration style of "Mailing the Word document to everyone".

That was the end of the presentations, but not the end of the evening as we adjourned to a pub at the edge of the Thames where discussions ranged from the nature of open source, through Jaiku and Cuttlefish possibilities to Android development and more. If there was a theme to the evening, it was user experience and how to make it better for all, from the problems with the open source Monome software, designing the future of Drupal and finding out what non-developers want in their Linux to just simplifying the complexity of the numerous social networks and sharing sites people use. It's a subject that needs more consideration as open source becomes more mainstream.

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