Joseph Smarr

Thoughts on web development, tech, and life.

Category: Papers and Talks (page 1 of 4)

A collection of academic and professional papers, presentations, and talks that I have given.

Machines Learning About People: What’s Next? (Future in Review 2015)

Interview with Ed Butler (photo by Kris Krüg)

I’m still buzzing with excitement and energy from attending my first Future in Review (FiRe) conference in October. I’ve been to my fair share of tech conferences, but rarely have I experienced such a dense concentration of brilliant and inspiring people from such a diverse set of fields (from cyber security to graphene, from China experts to environmental activists, and more) in such a relaxed and inviting atmosphere (we were all holed up in the Stein Erikson lodge in Deer Valley for the week, so nobody just gave their talk and took off). I see now why The Economist has called it “The best technology conference in the world.”

Another thing that makes FiRe special is how many of the participants are also speakers. True to form, conference organizer Mark Anderson threw me in the deep end with not one but three speaking slots: a 5-minute “view of the future” lightning talk, a 15-minute 1:1 interview with the BBC’s Ed Butler on “Machines Learning About People: What’s Next?”, and co-hosting a breakout session on AI and Robotics with Scout co-founder Brett Horvath. Unbeknownst to me, the first two sessions were recorded, and Mark has allowed me to share the MP3s of those talks here:

  • “Hot Spots: Five Views of the Future” (first 5 minutes are me talking about how ubiquitous sharing and context-aware gadgets will soon make us much smarter about the places we visit and people we meet)
  • “Machines Learning About People: What’s Next?” (Ed and I discuss why machine learning is increasingly used for personalization, why it’s both necessary and exciting, what the technical and privacy challenges are, and so on; featuring a surprise Q&A with Cory Doctorow at the end).

Demoing Google Stories (photo by Kris Krüg)

You can probably tell from my speed of talking in the first one that I was a bit nervous/excited to be speaking in front of such an august crowd. By the second talk (on the following day), I had calmed down a little (but this is still me we’re talking about). l hope they’ll invite me back next year, but either way, I’m even more optimistic for the future having seen firsthand how many super smart and driven people are out there tackling the full spectrum of challenges facing us!

Fighting for the Future of the Social Web: Selling Out and Opening Up (OSCON 2011)

Fighting for the Future of the Social Web: Selling Out and Opening Up
O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) 2011
Portland, OR
July 27, 2011

(Note: some of the footer fonts are messed up on slideshare, sorry.)

Download PPT (12.5 MB)

A year and a half after joining Google, and a year after my last talk on the Social Web, I returned to OSCON (one of my favorite conferences, which I’ve been speaking at for over half a decade now!) to reflect on the progress we’ve collectively made (and haven’t made) to open up the social web. I covered the latest developments in OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, and related open web standards, mused about the challenges we’re still facing to adoption and ease-of-use and what to do about them, and considered what changes we should expect going forward now that many of the formerly independent open social web enthusiasts (myself included) now work for larger companies.

Not to spoil the punchline, but if you know me at all it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m still optimistic about the future! 😉

Bridging the islands: Building fluid social experiences across websites (Google I/O 2010)

Bridging the islands: Building fluid social experiences across websites
Google I/O 2010
San Francisco, CA
May 19, 2010

View talk and download slides as PDF

My third year speaking at Google I/O, and my first as a Googler! I teamed up with fellow Googler John Panzer, and together we demonstrated how far open standards have come in allowing developers to build rich cross-site social integrations. From frictionless sign-up using OpenID, OAuth, and webfinger to finding your friends with Portable Contacts and microformats to sharing rich activities and holding real-time distributed conversations with ActivityStrea.ms, PubSubHubBub, and salmon, it really is remarkable how much progress we’ve made as a community. And it still feels like we’re just getting started, with the real payoff right around the corner!

We took a literal approach to our concept of “bridging the islands” by telling a story of two imaginary islanders, who meet while on vacation and fall in love. They struggle with all the same problems that users of today’s social web do–the pain of immigrating to a new place, the pain of being able to find your friends once they’ve moved, and the pain of being able to stay in touch with the people you care about, even when you don’t all live in the same place. Besides having fun stretching the metaphor and making pretty slides (special thanks to Chris Messina for his artistic inspiration and elbow grease!), the point is that these are all fundamental problems, and just as we created technology to solve them in the real world, so must be solve them on the Social Web.

Chris’s talk at I/O told this story at a high level and with additional color, while we dove more into the technology that makes it possible. Make sure to check out both talks, and I hope they will both inspire and inform you–whether as a developer or a user–to help us complete this important work as a community!



What an RP Wants, Part 2 (OpenID Summit 2009)

What an RP Wants, Part 2
OpenID Summit 2009 (Hosted by Yahoo!)
Mountain View, CA
November 2, 2009

Download PPT (2.1 MB)

I was invited to give a talk at the OpenID Summit as a follow-up to my talk “What an RP Wants“, which I gave in February at the OpenID Design Summit. In both cases, I shared my experiences from Plaxo’s perspective as a web site that is trying to succeed at letting users sign up using accounts they already have on Google, Yahoo, and other OpenID Provider sites. This talk reviewed the progress we’ve made as a community since February, and laid out the major remaining challenges to making it a truly-successful end-to-end experience to be an OpenID Relying Party (RP).

My basic message was this: we’ve made a lot of progress, but we’ve still got a lot left to do. So let’s re-double our efforts and commit ourselves once again to working together and solving these remaining problems. As much success as OpenID has had to date, its continued relevance is by no means guaranteed. But I remain optimistic because the same group of people that have brought us this far are still engaged, and none of the remaining challenges are beyond our collective ability to solve.

See more coverage of the OpenID Summit, including my talk, at The Real McCrea.

And here are a couple of video excerpts from my talk:

Full video of my Google I/O talk now available

The kind Google I/O folks have now posted a full video of my recent talk, “The Social Web: An Implementer’s Guide“. They did a great job editing back and forth between me and my slides. If you weren’t able to make it to Google I/O (or you thought the talk was so good you want to see it again), then please check it out! :)

The Social Web: An Implementer’s Guide (Google I/O 2009)

The Social Web: An Implementer’s Guide
Google I/O 2009
San Francisco, CA
May 28, 2009

Download PPT (7.3 MB)

Google invited me back for a second year in a row to speak at their developer conference about the state-of-the-art of opening up the social web. While my talk last year laid out the promise and vision of an interoperable social web ecosystem, this year I wanted to show all the concrete progress we’ve made as an industry in achieving that goal. So my talk was full of demos–signing up for Plaxo with an existing Gmail account in just two clicks, using MySpaceID to jump into a niche music site without a separate sign-up step, ending “re-friend madness” by honoring Facebook friend connections on Plaxo (via Facebook Connect), killing the “password anti-pattern” with user-friendly contact importers from a variety of large sites (demonstrated with FriendFeed), and sharing activity across sites using Google FriendConnect and Plaxo. Doing live demos is always a risky proposition, especially when they involve cross-site interop, but happily all the demos worked fine and the talk was a big success!

I began my talk by observing that the events of the last year has made it clear: The web is going social, and the social web is going open. By the end of my talk, having showed so many mainstream sites with deep user-friendly and user-friendly interoperability, I decided to go a step further and declare: The web is now social, and the social web is now open. You don’t have to wait any longer to start reaping the benefits. It’s time to dive in.

Portable Contacts and vCardDAV (IETF 74)

Portable Contacts and vCardDAV
IETF 74
San Francisco, CA
March 25, 2009

Download PPT (81 KB) or PDF

You may remember the venerable IETF standards-body from such foundational internet RFCs as HTTP (aka the web), SMTP (aka e-mail), and vCard (aka contact info). So I’ll be honest that I was a bit intimidated when they invited me to their IETF-wide conference to speak about my work on Portable Contacts.

In addition to being chartered with updating vCard itself, the IETF has a working group building a read-write standard for sharing address book data called CardDAV. (It’s a set of extensions to WebDAV for contact info, hence the name.) Since Portable Contacts is also trying to create a standard for accessing contact into online (albeit with a less ambitious scope and feature set), I was eager to share the design decisions we had made and the promising early adoption we’ve already seen.

My optimistic hope was that perhaps some of our insights might end up influencing the direction of CardDAV–or perhaps even vCard itself. But I was also a bit nervous that such an august and rigorous standards body might have little interest in the pontifications of a “scrappy Open Stack hacker” like me. Or that even if they liked what I said, it might be impossible to have an impact this late in the game. But I figured if nothing else, here’s a group of people that are as passionate about the gory details of contact info as we are, so at least we should meet one another and see where it leads.

Boy was I impressed and inspired by their positive reception of my remarks! Far from being a hostile or dis-interested audience, everyone seemed genuinely excited by the work we’d done, especially since companies large and small are already shipping compliant implementations. The Q&A was passionate and detailed, and it spilled out into the hallway and continued long after the session officially ended.

Best of all, I then got to sit down with Simon Perreault, one of the primary authors of vCard 4.0 and vCardXML, and we went literally line-by-line through the entire Portable Contacts spec and wrote a list of all the ways if differs from the next proposed version of vCard. As you might imagine, there were some passionate arguments on both sides concerning the details, but actually there were really no “deal breakers” in there, and Simon sounded quite open (or even excited) about some of the “innovations” we’d made. It really does look like we might be able to get a common XML schema across PoCo and vCard / CardDAV, and some of the changes might well land in core vCard!

Of course, any official spec changes will happen through the normal IETF mailing lists and process. But as I’m sure you can tell, I think things went amazingly well today, and the future of standards for sharing contact info online has never looked brighter! Thanks again to Marc Blanchet, Cyrus Daboo, and the rest of the vCardDAV working group for their invitation and warm reception. Onward ho!

Social data sharing will change lives and business (DEMO 09)

Social data sharing will change lives and business
DEMO 09
Palm Desert, CA
March 3, 2009

Watch full video (via Brightcove)
I flew down to an oddly-lush oasis in the middle of the desert last week to attend a panel at DEMO about the future of the social web. Max Engel from MySpace has a nice write-up of the event, and a full video of our panel is available on Brightcove. Eric Eldon of VentureBeat moderated the panel, which featured me, Max Engel, Dave Morin from Facebook, and Kevin Marks from Google. In addition to a lively discussion, we each demoed our “latest and greatest” efforts at opening up the social web. Max showed the first public demo of MySpace’s support for hybrid OpenID+OAuth login using a friendly popup, Kevin showed off how to add FriendConnect to any blog, and Dave showed off some new examples of Facebook Connect in the wild. I showed our new Google-optimized onboarding experiment with Plaxo, and revealed that it’s working so well that we’re now using it for 100% of new users invited to Plaxo via a gmail.com email address.

It’s just amazing and inspiring to me that these major mainstream internet sites are all now able to stand up and demo slick, user-friendly cross-site interoperability and data sharing using open APIs, and we’re all continuing to converge on common standards so developers don’t have to write separate code to interoperate with each site. You can really measure the speed of progress in this space by watching the quantity and quality of these Open Web demos continue to increase, and with SXSW, Web 2.0 Expo, Google I/O, and Internet Identity Workshop all still to come in the first half of 2009, I have a feeling that we all ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! :)

Portable Contacts: The (Half) Year in Review

I’m excited and humbled by the amazing progress we’ve made this year on Portable Contacts, which started out as little more than a few conversations and an aspirational PowerPoint deck this summer. We’ve now got a great community engaged around solving this problem (from companies large and small as well as from the grass-roots), we had a successful Portable Contacts Summit together, we’ve got a draft spec that’s getting pretty solid, we’ve got several implementations in the wild (with many more in the works), we’ve achieved wire-alignment with OpenSocial’s RESTful people API, and we’ve seen how Portable Contacts when combined with other “open building blocks” like OpenID, OAuth, and XRD creates a compelling “Open Stack” that is more than the sum of its parts.

At the recent Open Stack Meetup hosted by Digg, I gave a presentation on the state of Portable Contacts, along with several demos of Portable Contacts in action (and our crew from thesocialweb.tv was on hand to film the entire set of talks). In addition to showing Portable Contacts working with Plaxo, MySpace, OpenSocial, and twitter (via hCard->vCard->PoCo transformers), I was thrilled to be able to give the first public demo of Portable Contacts working live with Gmail. Better still, I was able to demo Google’s hybrid OpenID+OAuth onboarding plus OAuth-protected Portable Contacts Gmail API. In other words, in one fell swoop I was able to sign up for a Plaxo account using my existing Google account, and I was able to bring over my google credentials, my pre-validated gmail.com e-mail address, and my gmail address book–all at once, and all in an open, secure and vendor-neutral way. Now that’s progress worth celebrating!

I have no doubt that we’re on the cusp of what will become the default way to interact with most new websites going forward. The idea that you had to re-create an account, password, profile, and friends-list on every site that you wanted to check out, and that none of that data or activity flowed with you across the tools you used, will soon seem archaic and quaint. And if you think we came a long way in 2008, you ain’t seen nothing yet! There has never been more momentum, more understanding, and more consolidated effort behind opening up the social web, and the critical pieces–yes, including Portable Contacts–are all but in place. 2009 is going to be a very exciting year indeed!

So let me close out this amazing year by saying Thank You to everyone that’s contributed to this movement. Your passion is infectious and your efforts are all having a major and positive impact on the web. I feel increddibly fortunate to participate in this movement, and I know our best days are still ahead of us. Happy New Year!

A New Open Stack: Greater than the Sum of its Parts (Internet Identity Workshop 2008b)

A New Open Stack: Greater than the Sum of its Parts
Internet Identity Workshop 2008b
Mountain View, CA
November 10, 2008

Download PPT (5.5MB)

I was asked to give one of the opening overview talks at the Internet Identity Workshop about how the “Open Stack” is getting mainstream sites interested in supporting OpenID, OAuth, and Portable Contacts, because the combined value these technologies offer together is greater than the sum of their parts. Having learned so much myself at previous IIWs, it was both an honor and a unique challenge to address this crowd and do them justice–the audience is a mix of super-savvy veterans and new people just getting interested in the space, and I wanted to please everybody. So I put together a new talk with a new core message: the Open Stack is greater than the sum of its parts, and together these building blocks are delivering enough value to make the proposition a win-win-win for developers, users, and site owners to adopt and embrace.

The talk was well received, and it led to a lively discussion afterwards in the break and at dinner. I can’t wait to see what sessions people will call over the next two days to discuss these issues in more depth. It was certainly a joy to be able to demo running code on Yahoo, Google, and MySpace as part of my talk–this is no longer a theoretical exercise when it comes to talking about putting these standards to work! I was even able to show off a newly developed Android app that uses OAuth and Portable Contacts to allow import into your cell phone from an arbitrary address book. I just found about the app this morning–now that’s the Open Stack in action!

As usual, John McCrea covered the event and provides a great write-up with pictures.

Update: MySpace’s Max Engel captured a good portion of my talk on video.

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