Thoughts on web development, tech, and life.

Author: jsmarr (Page 1 of 5)

OpenSocial, OpenID, and OAuth! Oh, My! (Google I/O)

OpenSocial, OpenID, and OAuth! Oh, My!
Google I/O
San Francisco, CA
May 29, 2008

Download PPT (7.3 MB)

Update: Google has posted a full-length video of my talk, along with a web-friendly copy of my slides.

Giving my talk: I was one of only a few non-Google employees who was invited to give a talk at Google’s big developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco. This was a huge event, and Google clearly went all-out on design and production. Not only were there a ton of talks and an amazing reception party, the open spaces were filled with colorful balls, beanbags, drink and snack stations (including made-to-order giant pretzels with salt), pool tables, demo areas, and more. This definitely felt like being inside the Googleplex.

Chilling in Google's beanbag chairsMost of the talks focused on a particular Google API, product, or service, and they were organized into tracks like “Maps & Geo”, “Mobile”, and of course “Social”, where my talk lived. Not surprisingly, most of the Social talks focused on OpenSocial, and originally I was asked to present as an OpenSocial container (on behalf of Plaxo). When I suggested that I could probably add even more value by talking about all the other building blocks of the open social web and how they complement OpenSocial, they were enthusiastic, and so my talk was born. I got to do a first version of a talk on this theme at Web 2.0 Expo in April, but enough things had changed in the world since last month that I had to do quite a bit of revising and adding to that talk for Google I/O (a sign of how quickly things are moving in this space!)

Open Social Web pool classicI gave my talk on Thursday morning and the room was literally packed to the walls. Several people came up to me afterwards and lamented that they’d tried to get in but were turned away because the room was already over capacity. Wow, I guess people really do want to understand how the social web is opening up! I was very pleased with how the talk went, judging both by the positive feedback I received (in person and in tweets) and by the long and engaged Q&A session that followed for more than half an hour after the talk officially ended. Interestingly, 100% of the questions were about the details of how these technologies work and how to best apply them, rather than whether opening up the social web is a good idea in the first place or whether it’s feasible. Granted, this was a developer conference, but it’s still a strong indication to me of the momentum that our movement has generated, and the increasing extent to which people view it as both inevitable and good. We’re definitely making progress, and I couldn’t be more excited to keep pushing forward!

Update: My partner-in-crime John McCrea has coverage of my talk, including photos and a video clip he shot towards the end of my talk.

Launching clickpass: the inside story

Adding clickpass to PlaxoCo-founder Peter Nixey just wrote up a riveting account of the recent launch of his startup clickpass for Vitamin. It’s a must-read. Plaxo was one of clickpass’s launch partners, so the story features a few cameos from yours truly.

It will be hard to forget waking up in an Austin hotel around 9am on the day of the launch, eyes blurry from a heavy night of partying (er, that is, “networking”), glancing over at the alarm clock, and then jolting out of bed with the cold shock of realization: “oh crap, clickpass is launching this morning and I haven’t pushed the code live on Plaxo yet!”. My roommate John McCrea was still sound asleep, but I knew I had to get my computer set up and get on the phone with Peter and Immad (the other clickpass co-founder) ASAP to work out the last few kinks and get the code deployed. Thank god for VPNs and cell phones! How did they do this in the old days? Oh wait, I guess they didn’t. 🙂

Another memorable moment came a few moments later when Ryan King, our VP of Engineering, called John (who had just woken up to the sound of me talking frantically with Immad; probably something like “well you’ll just have to work around it and set a config flag on your side!”) to ask him about breakfast. I suddenly realized that I’d only recently learned that clickpass was planning to launch this morning, and I’d never informed the rest of the Plaxo team that I was about to push this new code live. (Our release process is normally more disciplined, but luckily our team is very supportive of my frequent need to push code out-of-band to meet external press deadlines). So I motioned to John to give me the phone quickly, and told Ryan (somewhat meekly), “uh, oh yeah, just so you know, I’m about to patch a bunch of code so we can help this startup called clickpass launch. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to break anything, but I thought I should give you a heads up. Hope that’s ok.” Not my most professional moment, but it’s not the first time this has happened either, and I’ve never done *that* much damage before, so I think Ryan said something like “ok, just keep an eye on it please”. Hmm, does checking twitter obsessively count? Actually, in this crowd, that’s about as timely and accurate as checking our servers’ log files. 🙂 And of course, in the end, everything worked out fine.

I’d been talking off and on with the clickpass guys since fall of last year, when I kept hearing about “this cool YCombinator startup that’s doing a super-friendly OpenID UI” whom I “should really talk to”. Always eager to help advance technologies like OpenID, I was curious to see what they’d come up with. Their technology, UI, and partner integration matured a lot between that first demo and their launch day, but even at our first meeting I could tell, “these guys are serious, they’re thinking well about the issues, and they seem determined to get things done.” Just as important, “they seem open and eager to hear feedback, even when it’s critical, and they don’t mind iterating until they get it right.”

For any startup that wants to partner with established players–or for that matter, be successful in any event–these are vitally important qualities. It’s what finally got us in the position where I could feel good about integrating clickpass into Plaxo in time for the launch–we worked back and forth until we found a way to get a good user experience without having to significantly change our existing UI or backend. This included huddling around a table on the floor of the SXSW convention center with Peter, talking about flows and edge cases (pictured above), and many a skype session with Immad tracking down bugs and deployment issues. But it was all worth it–the launch was a huge success, and the partnership provided clear benefits to both parties, and more importantly, to our users.

Implementing Open Social Web support on your site (Future of Web Apps Miami)

Implementing Open Social Web support on your site
Future of Web Apps Miami (workshop)
Miami, FL
February 28, 2008

Download PPT (3.8 MB)

I was invited to give a workshop and be on a panel at the Future of Web Apps in Miami. I attended the first FOWA in SF in 2006, and I really enjoyed it, so it was fun to get to be on stage this time. I’d never done a long workshop before, but I love talking about Open Social Web technologies, so I basically went through all of the various building blocks (OpenID, OAuth, microformats, OpenSocial, Social Graph API, friends-list portability, URLs as identifiers, etc.) and wrapped it in some high-level context about the emergence of a Social Web. The audience was very lively and engaged, and they asked a ton of great questions. So I was very happy with how it all worked out. These are the slides from my workshop; they’re a bit light since I was mainly using them as a reference to talk over. But hopefully they provide some useful jumping-off points to learn more.

I also gave a presentation on the main stage about the future of social networks with Tantek and Brian Oberkirch. Brian made the slides, which hopefully he’ll post too. My piece of the talk was called “Open for business” and it was about how being open can be good for your company, because it lowers friction to signing up and sharing, and it makes you a more relevant part of the online ecosystem. I showed demos of how you can sign up for Plaxo with an OpenID and pre-fill your registration info, discover and auto-suggest sites to add to Pulse using Google’s Social Graph API, and express yourself in new ways using OpenSocial gadgets. I think it helped the audience see that these open technologies aren’t just a cool idea, you can actually implement them today, as we have, and they work well enough to benefit mainstream users.

After the conference, there was a beach party at Nikki beach, and on Saturday, a bunch of us went with Leah Culver and Kevin Rose to attend the first Pownce Brunch to meet fellow users. We even managed to sneak in a little shopping and some beach volleyball. But of course we were talking about code and startups the entire time, since we all tend to lack that so-called “work-life balance”. 🙂 Another highlight for me was meeting Gary Vaynerchuk, the star of Wine Library TV. I’m surprised I’d never heard of him (since I’m into both wine and disruptive technologies), and he was super cool and friendly and is clearly having a major impact. He taped an episode of his show live at FOWA, and he and Kevin and I even came up with an idea for a side project that we may try to spin up sometime…

I returned home late Saturday night (thanks to Pete for picking me up!) and tomorrow I’m back on the road: GSP, MIX, and SXSW. Gotta keep spreading the good word!

Open Social Web: Coming soon to a conference near you

The social web is opening up, and its seems everybody wants to talk about it. Between the technologies, companies, and privacy / control issues involved, there is no shortage of strong opinions. And at Plaxo, we\’ve found ourselves right in the middle of all the fun, both due to the continued success of Pulse, and because we\’ve been consistently vocal advocates and early adopters of the open route.

Perhaps that explains why I find myself about to head out on the road for nearly back-to-back speaking appearances at a number of great conferences. This is going to be a marathon, but I can\’t wait! I love to talk about these issues, and I love engaging with the community. So stop by and say hi if you\’re going to be at one or more of these events:

Future of Web Apps Miami: Miami, Feb 28 – Mar 1
Workshop: Implementing Open Social Web support on your site (Feb 28, 1:30pm – 5:00pm)
Panel: The Future of Social Networks (Feb 29, 11:15am – 11:55am)

Graphing Social Patterns West: San Diego, Mar 3-4
Panel: Privacy Management & Data Portability for Social Networks (Mar 3, 4:15pm)

MIX: Las Vegas, Mar 5 – 7
Panel: Social Networks: Where Are They Taking Us? (Mar 6, 2:30pm – 3:45pm) [filter \”Speaker\” for \”Joseph Smarr\” to see session details]

South by Southwest Interactive: Austin, Mar 7-11
Panel: Building Portable Social Networks (Mar 10, 5:00pm – 6:00pm)

Web 2.0 Expo, San Francisco, Apr 22-25
Talk: Data Portability, Privacy, and the Emergence of the Social Web (Mar 23, 10:50am)

OpenIDDevCamp was hack-tastic!

DSCN5744I spent the weekend in SF at OpenIDDevCamp, hosted at SixApart’s offices. In the style of BarCamp and iPhoneDevCamp, the idea was just to get a lot of people together who were interested in OpenID, provide the space and amenities for them to work together, and let them loose. About 30-40 people showed up, including Brad Fitzpatrick, Scott Kveton, Tantek (with blinking wheels on his shoes), Chris Messina, David Recordon, Christopher Allen, John Bradley, Luke Shepard, and many more.

DSCN5748Over the course of the weekend, I got OpenID 2.0 relying party support deployed on Plaxo, and we found and fixed a bunch of little bugs along the way. You can now use directed identity (e.g. just type in “” as your OpenID and sign in on their side), and you can even use iNames (e.g. I can now sign in with =joseph.smarr). Thanks again to my hacker friend Michael Krelin, who did most of the hard work, and to John Bradley of ooTao for helping me figure out the subtleties of making iNames work properly. David Recordon and I also developed a firm spec for combining OpenID and OAuth into a single OP round-trip–it turns out it’s easier than we thought/feared; write-up to follow shortly. And Chris, David, and I came to a clear consensus on best practices for “remember me on this computer” behavior for OpenID RPs, which I’ll try to write up soon as well.

DSCN5747There was also a lot of great discussion about the future of OpenID, OAuth, microformats, and related technologies, as well as some lively debate on data portability (as you might expect). A personal highlight for me was when Christopher Allen (a co-inventor of SSL) regaled us with tales of how crazy and uncertain the process was to get Microsoft, Netscape, and the other big players at the time to all agree on a common set of principles that laid the groundwork for the development of SSL, which we now take for granted as an essential open web standard. It felt a lot like what’s going on right now in the social web, and the outcome there is an inspirational example to follow.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–I love living and working in Silicon Valley with so many smart, energetic, passionate, and fundamentally nice and optimistic people. To wit: I just gave up a perfectly good weekend so I could stay up past midnight writing code and learning the finer points of XRI resolution, and it felt great! 🙂

PS: If you eat at Brickhouse cafe, I recommend the “half ass burger”–it’s just the right size. 😉

Opening up the Social Web (SNAP Chat)

Opening up the Social Web
SNAP Chat – What’s New in OpenSocial
San Francisco, CA
November 28, 2007

Download PPT (1.0 MB)

Update: PivotalLabs has put up the full video of my talk (.mov, 119 MB)
The folks behind the recent SNAP Summit have started a SNAP Chat series, and for their first event, they invited me and Hi5 Architect Paul Lindner to talk about OpenSocial and its place within the larger project of opening up the social web. I gave the latter talk, and then Paul did a technical tutorial and deep-dive on the nuts and bolts of OpenSocial.

This was the first time I’d put together a public talk on the broader vision of opening up the social web. I described the work that I’ve been doing at Plaxo to support and adopt open standards, Plaxo Pulse, the Bill of Rights I co-authored, and being the first company to implement OpenSocial, but I also talked about OpenID, microformats, social network portability, OAuth, and how these technologies all seem to be converging on a shared vision of how the Open Social Web should work.

This talk complements some other great recent presentations by Tantek and David Recordon on building an Open Social Web. It all feels so tangibly close now, and I’m sure after next week’s IIW, it will feel even closer. Once our new friends-list portability project goes live, things are going to get very interesting. Exciting times!

Video of WebGuild panel on OpenSocial

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to speak on a panel about OpenSocial for the WebGuild of Silicon Valley. It was a lively discussion featuring Chris Schalk from Google, myself, and Akash Garg from Hi5, moderated by WebGuild president Daya Baran. The event was hosted at Google HQ and over 300 people attended.

I talked about Plaxo’s implementation of OpenSocial as well as the larger context of opening up the social web. The video just got posted, and I’ve also embedded it below. Thanks to WebGuild for inviting me!

Bravo for No Such Thing–Go see it!

My good friend Chris’s wife Annamarie MacLeod is an actor, and she’s starring in a new play called No Such Thing that opens tonight in San Francisco. Michelle and I went to see the final dress rehearsal last night, and we were both very impressed.

The play is essentially a haunting, impressionistic sketch of a man gradually succumbing to the stresses of work, life, and romantic rivalry. It’s a minimalist production–nearly bare set, very little dialog–and so much of the story is told through the expressions on the actors’ faces and their movements. It also uses projected video and sound, as well as creative lighting, to intensify the mood and add to the narrative.

The way I saw the play described sounded very high-concept. But it never felt hoaky to me, or arty-for-the-sake-of-being-arty. Quite to the contrary: I found the basic story it told to be very effective and compelling, and the minimalism draws you in and gets you to relate more personally, because your mind is filling in the pieces from your own experiences. I liken it to one of those pencil sketches of a female form by Matisse–it’s impressive because it speaks to you, and it’s even more impressive because it does so with only a few strokes.

The play is a 70-minute one-act with a cast of 5 or 6 in a small and intimate theater (which is why the actors can convey so much with subtle expressions and movements), produced by naked masks. It’s playing on Friday and Saturday for the next three weekends (except the Friday after Thanksgiving). I think you’ll find it’s time well spent.

OpenSocial and Plaxo: What a week!

Wow, I’m exhausted, but incredibly happy! I’ve been working insane hours all week to get Google’s just-announced OpenSocial APIs implemented in Plaxo Pulse and launched live by the time of their announcement. And we did it! We released full support Thursday night, making Plaxo the first site to publicly implement OpenSocial. Yay!

I only found out about OpenSocial less than a month ago (I was on vacation in France when the initial disclosure event took place, but Marc Canter brokered an introduction when I got back; Thanks, Marc!). And the project inside Google was being developed fast and furious the whole time, which meant the specs were in a constant state of flux and there wasn’t a lot of time for such frivolities as “documentation” or “Q&A sessions”.

Actually I think it was a wise and bold choice by Google to run so fast and loose, rather than doing a more traditional big consortium with frozen specs and tons of details that would never have hit the mark in time. But it made the race to get things working in Plaxo all the more chaotic and exciting. The good news is when you’re dealing with known open standards like JavaScript and HTTP, you can pretty much always figure out what’s going on and devise some working solution, even if it involves some judicious use of proxies, mod_rewrite, and regular expressions (which, trust me, it did).

The launch of OpenSocial itself went better than anyone could have possibly planned. After spending several weeks under strict NDA and not even being able to know who the other container or gadget developers were, we were all a bit dismayed when a New York Times writer did enough digging to leak most of the story a few days early. Google decided that rather than try to keep the lid on any longer, they would release the embargoes early, so starting Tuesday night there was an explosion of public excitement in the press and blogosphere. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and by the next day the story got even more exciting: MySpace, Bebo, and SixApart joined as last-minute partners (previously there were several social networks agreeing to support OpenSocial, but none as big as these new entrants). Suddenly it looked like the whole world was going open (save, of course, for Facebook). This led to yet another round of frenzied reporting, which in turn made the OpenSocial announcement even bigger.

Since Plaxo was listed as one of the original supporting partner sites, all of these stories mentioned Plaxo, which means I could track them all in Bloglines via the Plaxo keyword search feed. This was like having a little web beacon plugged into all the stories posted everywhere, and it was just amazing to see how many different publications wanted to cover it. Bloglines (which I love) has this annoying feature that it won’t keep more than 200 unread items per feed. Normally the Plaxo feed gets 10-20 hits per day. Since Tuesday night, I had to check it every couple of hours or it passed the 200 mark. And, perhaps not surprisingly, our traffic at Plaxo also shot through the roof after the announcement went out.

Despite the early leak, Google kept its internal launch schedule the same. On Thursday night, I was invited to Campfire One: a small, invite-only gathering of some of the key developers participating in the launch. They actually built a campfire in the middle of Google’s campus and gave us all folding chairs, blankets, mugs of hot cocoa, and long marshmallow roasting forks to make s’mores with. They made a series of presentations on OpenSocial, showed demos of it working in sites like Hi5 and LinkedIn, and showed off popular gadgets like iLike and Flixster. Then they told everyone to roast marshmallows and mingle. To my surprise, I ended up next to Larry Page and Eric Schmidt standing around one of the fires. I was very impressed that not only had they showed up to this event, they totally got the vision for the open social web and were excited about seeing it develop further!

This was the first time I’d met many of the other participants in the OpenSocial project, so it was great to finally “step out of the dark” and be able to talk openly with them all about working together. I told everyone that Plaxo was planning to launch our OpenSocial support live right after the campfire ended, which became a source of much talk and excitement. Apparently all the other sites had just gotten internal demos running, but none of them had plans to go live until things settled down a bit and got more stable, say late ’07 or early ’08. The Google team said they had a spreadsheet a mile long of changes they planned to make in the short term, but if I didn’t mind fixing things as they broke, they were thrilled to have a real implementation available for people to play with. When Larry brought his marshmallows over share with some of the other Googlers (including Sergey Brin, whom I also hadn’t seen earlier), he exclaimed “hey, those Plaxo guys are launching OpenSocial support tonight!,” so I felt confident that the extra work required to launch support so early was well worth it.

The official launch of OpenSocial brought yet another round of press frenzy, and the fact that Plaxo was the first site to go live with support became a story itself. We were already planning to have a party on Friday afternoon to celebrate getting the code live, but we decided at the last minute to open the party to the public and use it to give a public demo of OpenSocial running live in Plaxo. We posted the invitation to our OpenSocial “Open Social” on Thursday afternoon and on Friday at 4pm we had about 100 guests at Plaxo HQ with whom to share some pizza, beer, and talk of the open social web.

I talked a bit about Plaxo’s commitment to helping open up the social web in general (such as our support of OpenID and microformats, our Online Identity Consolidator, the Bill of Rights I co-authored, and plans for enabling friends-list portability) and then dove into a demo of OpenSocial gadgets running in Pulse. The first thing everybody saw was a bunch of RockYou emotes in the normal pulse stream–they were generated by the OpenSocial gadget, posted through the standard APIs, and then translated by Plaxo into a pulse feed and shared out just like you would with photos, your blog, or anything else that came from a social web site. (Raymond and Jia from RockYou both came over to Plaxo and stayed up late to make sure our container implementation was solid and that their apps ran well on Plaxo. Thanks guys, that was a huge help, and everyone in the office can’t stop playing with emote now, heh!)

opensocial-topfriends-in-plaxo-pulseI then showed a bunch of gadgets running in my Pulse profile page, including horoscope, iLike, and Slide’s FunWall and TopFriends, both of which are impressively sophisticated apps, and among the most popular apps on Facebook. I met Slide’s CTO Jeremiah Robinson at the campfire, and he was eager to make sure his apps ran well on Plaxo. After a bit of back-and-forth IMing and tweaking on Friday, they all ran beautifully–a testament to the well-executed design of OpenSocial!

It’s amazing to think that less than 24 hours after launching this major new platform, not only is it running live in Plaxo, we already have several first-class gadgets from top developers like RockYou and Slide. If Plaxo had tried to build our own proprietary platform, we could never have successfully wooed these developers to build exclusively for us, let alone had things up and running this quickly. That’s why open always wins, and that’s why we love open standards at Plaxo.

This is just the beginning–there’s so much more to do to truly open up the social web. But OpenSocial is a huge milestone, not only because so many large players are now supporting the open social web, but also because the launch was so large and successful that it introduced a ton of people to the concept of open and got them thinking about what more could be done here. It’s an incredibly exciting time, and you can bet I’m going to keep driving things the best way I know how: by talking about the vision, and then backing it up by shipping real code.

P.S.: Here’s a video I recorded earlier this week at Google talking about Plaxo’s involvement in OpenSocial.

P.P.S.: Here’s a video of the demo I gave on Friday, captured by Chris Heuer.

Advanced JavaScript (Widget Summit 2007)

Advanced JavaScript
Widget Summit 2007
San Francisco, CA
October 16, 2007

Download PPT (2.8MB)

Niall Kennedy asked me to speak at his second annual Widget Summit about “Advanced JavaScript” to a audience with a mix of business, product manager, and engineer types. Since I wasn’t sure how to target the talk, I decided to keep my prepared slides light and did a quick run-through of things to be aware of when developing with JavaScript (basically, how not to make your widgets slow or insecure). I then left the remaining time for interactive Q&A.

This turned out to be a good strategy I think, because we got a good 20-30 minutes of lively back and forth discussion in the audience, which drilled down on some of the areas I touched on but also brought up interesting topics I hadn’t covered at all. My main goal was make the attendees aware of enough important issues that they could go back and be able to dig into them in more detail as needed, and I think in that regard it was a success.

PS: I think it’s great to see more small, community-driven conferences like Widget Summit and last week’s Graphing Social Patterns popping up. It shoudn’t cost a fortune to meet and learn from your colleagues, especially since in the web / tech world, most of them are more than eager to share what they know!

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