File Under: Web Services

Yahoo Kills Upcoming, Archive Team Saves the Day

Somewhere around here you’ll find the Archive Team. Image: JOPHIELsmiles/Flickr.

Yahoo has finally decided to shutdown its long-neglected Upcoming.org, a social event calendar website. Under Yahoo’s leadership (or lack thereof) Upcoming.org went from a reasonably popular way to discover things to do — concerts, art shows, conferences and the like — to a ghost town of self-promotion and spam.

Upcoming.org’s creator, Andy Baio, posted his thoughts on the official demise of Upcoming.org, noting that he was most upset about the data being lost. “In Yahoo’s typical fuck-off-and-die style,” writes Baio, “they’re [shutting] it with 11 days notice, no on-site announcement, and no way to back up past events.”

Of course there’s a well known group of people that have made something of an art out of saving disappearing internet data — the Archive Team, headed by computer historian Jason Scott.

The Archive Team has already saved data from the demise of huge sites like Geocities and Friendster, and the group is currently working to backup Posterous, Formspring and now Upcoming.org.

And you can help the Archive Team save all this disappearing data. All it takes is Virtualbox (or VMWare or the like, but Virtualbox is free) and the Archive Team’s ArchiveTeam Warrior, a virtual appliance all set up to scrap and save data.

ArchiveTeam Warrior is dead simple to use and it works on OS X, Windows and Linux. Just install the appliance, fire it up and pick a project you’d like to help archive. Alternately you can go with the (preferred) option to let the appliance decide, which helps the Archive Team prioritize projects. If you prefer it’s also possible to run Warrior on Heroku.

Baio has put together a little video showing exactly what you need to do to get Warrior running. The only real overhead on your end is disk space and bandwidth. So long as you’re using a recent version of Virtualbox, it’s pretty easy to limit a virtual machine’s bandwidth so you can help out with backup and make sure your web browsing doesn’t slow to a crawl. See the Warrior wiki page for details.

File Under: Location, Web Services

Watch OpenStreetMap Improve in Real Time

OpenStreetMap is improving all the time. Now you can watch it happen. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

OpenStreetMap isn’t just a powerful, open alternative to Google Maps — used in everything from Apple’s maps to those on Flickr, Wikipedia and dozens of other sites — it’s also a great example of the web’s hive mind at work.

Everyday hundreds, even thousands, of people contribute small changes, improvements and new bits of data to OpenStreetMap. A new trail here, an updated road there and so on until the result is something which, in many locations around the world, trumps the level of detail commercial maps offer.

Now you can watch those changes happen in real time. OSM Lab, an organization for OpenStreetMap related projects, recently released Show Me the Way, an OpenStreetMap project that tracks and displays OSM edits in real time.

There are two views of Show Me the Way, the satellite view (using Bing imagery) and the live OSM-based overview version. Both offer a strangely hypnotic peek behind the scenes of OpenStreetMap’s contributions.

The code behind Show Me the Way also offers a nice look at how to work with real time data and maps. You can grab the source from GitHub.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Web Standards

Mozilla: WebRTC is the Real Future of Communications

WebRTC blasts off. Image: Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr.

The first release of Firefox with support for WebRTC is right around the corner and Mozilla is encouraging web developers to go ahead and start experimenting with what Mozilla refers to as “the real future of communications.”

WebRTC is a proposed standard — currently being refined by the W3C — with the goal of providing a web-based set of tools that any device can use to share audio, video and data in real time. It’s still in the early stages, but WebRTC has the potential to supplant Skype, Flash and many device-native apps with web-based alternatives that work in your browser.

WebRTC support is already baked into Firefox for Android. Both the getUserMedia API and the PeerConnection API — key components of WebRTC and the cornerstones of web-based voice chat — are already supported though you’ll need to enable them in the preferences. See the Mozilla hacks blog for more details.

The same APIs are also now part of desktop Firefox in both the Nightly and Aurora channels. Expect both to make the transition from Nightly to final release as part of Firefox 22 (due some 10 weeks from now).

As Adam Roach, who works on Mozilla’s WebRTC team, writes, with these tools landing and some impressive demos from both the Firefox and Chrome WebRTC teams, “it’s tempting to view WebRTC as ‘almost done,’ and easy to imagine that we’re just sanding down the rough edges right now. As much as I’d love that to be the case, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

That’s part of why Mozilla is asking developers to start experimenting with WebRTC — to help discover what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be better.

“As long as you’re in a position to deal with minor disruptions and changes; if you can handle things not quite working as described; if you are ready to roll up your sleeves and influence the direction WebRTC is going, then we’re ready for you,” writes Roach.

But it isn’t just experimenters that Mozilla is interested in, “for those of you looking to deploy paid services, reliable channels to manage your customer relationships, mission critical applications: we want your feedback too,” says Roach. He goes on to caution that developers should “temper your launch plans.”

Still, while it’s perhaps too early to launch a serious business built around WebRTC, you won’t have to wait long. According to Roach, WebRTC will be “a stable platform that’s well and truly open for business some time next year.”

File Under: APIs, Web Services

Mozilla’s ‘TowTruck’ Brings Real-Time Collaboration to Any Website

Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Mozilla’s TowTruck is a new project aimed at making it easy to collaborate on the web in real time — think real-time screensharing and co-authoring on any webpage.

TowTruck is an experimental Labs project at the moment (alpha), but adding it to your site for testing takes only two lines of code. Head on over to the new TowTruck site to grab the code. If you’d like to try TowTruck from a user perspective, check out Mozilla’s demo pages.

Originally conceived as a tool to help budding web developers by offering real-time collaboration — in other words a live, co-authoring environment you can use to demonstrate HTML and CSS — Mozilla says TowTruck is also useful for “mentoring, making travel plans, triaging bugs, navigating large sites or complicated interfaces.”

TowTruck also taps WebRTC for some extras like chat and voice chat, which makes it especially useful as a teaching tool.

Here’s how Mozilla’s Ian Bicking (the creator of virtualenv, among other useful Python-based tools) describes TowTruck on the Mozilla Labs Blog:

Do you love using Etherpad and Google Drive (previously Docs) to collaborate? We do too. The potential for that kind of collaboration is one of the great things about the web – except that only a handful of web applications take advantage of that potential. We think that every site should offer simple, easy-to-use, instant collaboration embedded directly on their site.

As a web developer, you simply drop TowTruck into your site and it just works. It provides the full out-of-the-box experience users need to get things done collaboratively. It will also give you the opportunity to extend TowTruck to enrich the authoring experience.

Probably the best way to get a handle on what TowTruck does and how you can use it is to watch the screencast:

TowTruck is not, as Bicking acknowledges in the Labs post, an original idea. Google has its Drive API and I seem to get at least one pitch a month on similar, independent projects.

What sets TowTruck apart is its simplicity for both developers and users. Its focus on authoring, mentoring and learning to code might also give it an in with the burgeoning “learn to code” movement. Whether or not that’s enough to help TowTruck succeed where so many others have failed remains to be seen.

File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Netflix Plans to Ditch Silverlight for HTML5

Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Netflix is looking to ditch its Silverlight-based video player for an HTML5 version that would work pretty much anywhere, but HTML5 isn’t quite up to the task just yet, according to the company.

Microsoft has already put Silverlight — once Microsoft’s much-hyped alternative to Adobe’s Flash Player — out to pasture. While Microsoft will continue to support Silverlight for some time, it will be retired come 2021.

That gives Netflix and others eight years to come up with an alternative. For its part Netflix wants to use HTML5, but HTML thus far lacks some key components Netflix needs, namely a way to generate media streams for playback, a cryptography protocol and, most controversially, DRM for streaming media.

All three components are, however, already draft proposals at the W3C and will likely be an official part of HTML before Silverlight disappears. The three things Netflix needs to bring its video player to HTML5 are the Media Source Extensions specification, the Web Cryptography API and the Encrypted Media Extensions specification, better known as DRM for the web.

Netflix has been working with Google to add support for all three — which the company refers to as “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions” — to Chrome and Chrome OS. For now the new Netflix player for Samsung’s Chromebook “uses the Media Source Extensions and Encrypted Media Extensions to adaptively stream protected content.”

Chrome still lacks support for the Web Cryptography API, so Netflix has developed a Pepper Flash plugin to handle that part of the equation for now. Eventually the company plans to remove the Flash element as soon as Chrome lands support for the Cryptography API.

At that point, says the Netflix blog, “we can begin testing our new HTML5 video player on Windows and OS X.”