Not a Web 2.0 Company – Scandanavian Airlines

I don’t think these guys will be joining the Web2Ireland (even Web 2.0) group anytime soon. Basically , their website says ‘We couldn’t be bothered using any of the Ajax toolkits out there, so we’ll get you Mr Customer to do all the work for us’. I wonder what their look-to-book ratio is ( I used to do some work for Aer Lingus – LinkedIn Profile).

Scandanavian Airlines (SAS) Website.

Hint to SAS: Here is how to fix this (pdf), or hire us and we’ll fix it for you.

Or if you prefer , reassure yourself that you’re not the only airline with Ajax problems.
More blogposts on Ajax.

What comes after Java and .Net? Agents.

Most systems until now have been centralised : A bit like the old Soviet Union, everything is centrally planned. The trouble is real-life isn’t like that – it’s a market economy with no central control. There’s a story about a Russian Diplomat posted to New York in the 60’s. On a visit to a bakery he asked – who decides how many loaves are baked in the city? The answer is no-one – each baker individually decides how many to bake based on how many he sold the day before. Somehow (almost) everybody gets fed.Current OO systems are like the Russian’s view: everything is centrally controlled. Agents are more like New-York (or Dublin) city today – a place full of people (agents) acting in their own self interest. Somehow everything works ok. Economists have a theory that backs this up ; in general a set of people acting in their own self interest gives the best solution at a global level. Or, if you prefer it’s a bit like Ants. Individual Ants are stupid, but together they are clever enough to mark a trail to food and carry it back to the Anthill. It’s called Emergent Behaviour – simple programs combining to give the answers to complex problems.

How does Web 2.0 give a push to Agents? Before, Systems were standalone , and everything planned in advance. With Web 2.0 everything is connected and too complex to manage by one person. We need to look at what works successfully in real life. Just as Market economies overcame the ‘Command and control’ of communism, so Agents will overcome the Command and control of Objects. It may not be perfect, but it will be (slightly) better.

Will agents replace Java and .Net ? A sign that ‘the future is already here’ is that when you read the list ‘what makes an agent’ , you may go ‘but we’re doing that now’. Java and .Net have been around for so long now that it’s easy to forget the Object Orientated Programming (OOP) was once a radical new departure. It’s also easy to forget that languages such as C++, Visual Basic 6 and Powerbuilder were once ‘king of the hill’ and commanded respect from your colleagues when you mentioned your latest project was using them.

So what are agents? Compared to Objects :

  • Agents act in their own self interest , they may decline a request if they think it makes them better off.Objects always respond to a request.
  • Agents have their own thread of control , 1 for each agent. Objects may have their own thread, but most objects don’t. – Agents are pro-active, and seek to improve their lot , according to pre-defined goals.
  • Agents are ‘Coarse Grained’ that is, a system will probably have a few agents will a lot of normal , dependent , objects. It’s similar to the way Enterprise Java Beans are used : not everything is an EJB , and there a still lots of Plain Old java Objects.
  • Objects are designed from the start to work together. Agents can be written by different people , perhaps with widely different goals in mind.

Just like C++ was a procedural language with object orientated ‘bits’ attached, Agents are currently implmented in languages like Java , with agent-y bits attached. Probably the most useful set of bits is Cougaar. Cougaar is an open source project with a live community at Cougaarforge and an Eclipse based IDE. Cougaar gives you the basic infrastructure for creating and managing agents.

Of course , there’s nothing to stop you building your own agents. According to the above definition, most systems that have workflow tieing together entities making decisions according to their own business rules are not far off being agents. Especially when they have a scheduler (i.e. their own ‘thread of control’).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Another announcement from Google

From the Google Blog:

Google Browser Sync for Firefox is an extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions. For more info, please visit our

Web2Ireland – almost Mainstream

Been reading the various posts by bloggers on the recent Web2Ireland event organised by Enterprise Ireland.

(Photo of Marc Canter Speaking , by Dermod)

Prize for one of the better (and concise) definitions of Web 2.0 goes to Kevin Sherry of Enterprise Ireland:

Web 2.0 is the Second Wave of Internet Business Activity.

Having said that , my view is Web 2.0 is almost , but not quite , going mainstream (in Ireland at least). Judging by the people I met (more below) and the dress standards I would judge the audience as 1/3rd Business-VC (suit and tie) 1/3rd Techie (Jeans and T-Shirt) and 1/3rd Professional Technologist (Suit but no tie). This contrasts with the last Web 2.0 event , where the audience was almost exclusively techie, despite dual business and technology marketing.

You can judge for yourself from the agenda at the Web2Ireland site, but my only gripe is that I’m not sure if Enterprise Ireland got the balance right. Aside from Marc Canter (who managed to successfuly quote Joyce in a techie presentation!) the main speakers – Judy Gibbons from Accel and Jeff Clavier (Software Only) – were either VC or Angel investors. That’s not to say that they didn’t have a lot of good, interesting and relevant things to say (more below), it just meant that you had to bear in mind their angle on things (we want to lend you money). Given the success of all the people mentioned  this paragraph, I think they are well worth listening to. Adam Green , who despite being on a blogging break, hosted a very good lunchtime session (summary: ‘everything is XML’).

The key things I learned from the above speakers were (these are paraphrased , so excuse me if the quotes get lost in translation):

  • Web 1.0 is dialup , Web 2.0 is broadband.
  • Web 2.0 is part of a virteous circle, where each technology builds on the expectations – e.g. consumers now expect to find information online , so more information becomes available.
  • Web 2.0 is still incomplete , so need to navigate around what is possible and what is not. (e.g Netflix , started with posting out DVD’s , but will stream video as that becomes widespread).
  • Content is not scalable, but user generated content is.
  • ‘The customer is only one click away from never using you again.’
  • A valid business model is (still) seeing what has worked well in the US, then implementing it in Europe before the Americans can.
  • Only exit strategy is to be bought – forget about IPO’s.
  • Innovation comes from small companies.
  • Make your website / service addictive.
  • Leverage the power of community.
  • Enterprise Web 2.0 is not there yet , but it will be.

This last point is of particular interest, given that the stuff that FirstPartners build is increasingly Web 2.0 techniques and technologies applied to the problems of the Enterprise. That’s probably worth another , separate blog post.

There a lot of good people that I met on the day, but a lot of people that I either missed, or didn’t have enough time to complete our conversations. By way of an apology , I’ll use the power of WordPress to trackback to them. Their blogs are well worth reading for further information / angles on the event.

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Web 2.0 Meets the Government

Web 2.0 Meets the Government …. or so this seminar from the Irish Computer Society will explain at the ‘Bringing E-Government to the Citizen’ conference. It’s is good to get the Web 2.0 word out but I feel that the tag is losing it’s meaning, and getting lost in the normal commercial sales process (while I understand the need of companies to sell, I think that making the Web 2.0 term equivalent to ‘washes whiter than white’ hurts everybody, including the companies making the pitches.

Example: one of the other speakers will explain how ‘How Ireland.com has succeeded in the Irish online newspaper market’. Excuse me? Can Deirdre Veldon from Ireland.com and Bill O’Brien (from Microsoft, talking about Web 2.). actually be sharing the same platform?

Hint for Bill: Point out that user generated content is the core of Web 2.0 , and how bloggers won’t link to walled pay sites (like Ireland.com / Irish Times). You’ve done well in the Web 1.0 world and I wish you luck Deirdre reinventing yourself now that things have moved on. 

A good starting point: This weeks survey by the Economist Magazine on New Media.

Take a look at what you're missing – Useful Extensions for Browsing the Web

If you’re using Internet Explorer to browse the web (and if you’re not sure , then you probably are) , then you’re missing out on some great features of Firefox (the main alternative). The good news is that IE7 (currently in beta from Microsoft) gives some of these features – better security , tabbed browsing (a bit like multiple sheets in Excel) and above all , the ability to get plugins to extend the browser.

The bad news is that it will take time for these plugins to appear for the new version of IE. In the meantime, here are a list of plugins for firefox that I can’t live without on a daily basis.

  • Del.icio.us – share and access bookmarks from any PC
  • Linked in – professional networking tool
  • StumbleUpon – view sites recommended by people with the same preferences as you.
  • TabBrowser Preferences – change how you browse using Tabs.
  • AdBlock – an extremely good tool for blocking unwanted ads.
  • Performancing – Blog and surf at the same time.
  • Selenium – record what you’re doing on the web – useful for testing web applications.
  • DownloadThemAll – get a copy of an entire website to surf later.