Supporting cutting and pasting in web applications

Dion has a long, interesting, painful article about supporting cut, paste, and copy operations for Bespin, a web based code editor.

In our world with the editor [in webkit], we use the before events to set things up, and we have to do something pretty hacky to make it happen. The copy event itself only actually goes through if you are on an element that supports it. There are hacks around this too. For example, if you want to be able to get a copy event on a div, you need to turn on contentEdible and set the tab index to -1. Strange huh?

All I can say is ‘Ow!’


Review of etendi BRIDGE: a family distance communication product

I have some friends who recently launched etendi BRIDGE, a product aimed at making family communication easier, especially when the family is divided by distance.  You can view a slightly heavy handed video that gives a good overview of the feature set (though not the best sound).  Features include calendaring, email (which they call ‘Thinking of You’ messages), a shared whiteboard, video messages, and notes.  All the action happens in a pretty slick Flash interface.  It also sends all traffic over SSL, which is the same standard that banks use, etc.

In addition to clicking around this myself, I set etendi up with my girlfriend and mother (yes, yes, perhaps they shouldn’t be in communication, but what can you do?).  I ended up kicking the tires on the video chat with my girlfriend; video chat seems to be the killer feature.  I was able to fairly easily set up the sound.  I did have an issue with the microphone–at its default setting, the software couldn’t hear me, and kept giving me an error message.  This happened even though I’d had no trouble using the mic at that level with skype.  Video chat didn’t work for me, as I had no video camera.  But my girlfriend also had issues with it; we didn’t have time to dive in, but it may be her system, as she has had webcam issues before.

One final note about usability–in general it is great, but when you are adding a user to your etendi house, no cues are given if the password isn’t long enough; the save button is just disabled.

From a web application developer’s point of view, it’s a very cool app that feels much like a desktop app.  I’m not sure what it means for our society that there’s a niche for this type of remote communication application with children, but it’s a very cool app.

I’m not going to pretend to have done a wide survey of solutions in this space, but here are some other options that solve some of the same problems:

  • roll your own solution with youtube/email/im/netmeeting/phpbb/phpgallery/etc: You can do this, but security is an issue–never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t put on the back of a postcard!  However, make sure you read and understand the etendi terms of service.  The amount of work to bring this together would be substantial to be feature complete with etendi.  On the other hand, you can customize it as you like, and it is free except for your time.
  • Facebook/other social networks: Facebook, and myspace and friendster, etc, solve some of the same issues. As far as I know, there’s no video messaging service that integrates with FB, but it does have most everything else (email, whiteboard, photo gallery ).  However, with facebook, your child has to have an email address and there are as far as I know, no parental controls.  Also, every bit of content you upload to Facebook grants them a right to use that content for any purpose as long at is up there (see the user content section of their TOS for more).  But, it is prevalent, easy to use, and free.
  • Ning: Ning lets you create your own private social network, solving some of the control issues.  You can share videos, photos, blog posts and events.  You can invite your friends, but again they have to have an email address to be invited.  You have some pretty granular control over what members can do (you can choose to approve photos before they appear, etc).  They don’t have quite as nice an interface as etendi does, but they do have 141 widgets you can add (and a nice API).  You also have to deal with advertisements, or you can pay $25/month to remove them.  Ning seems like a nice alternative to etendi, but is definitely aimed at more sophisticated (read, adult) users (users under 13 are explicitly asked to avoid Ning networks) and doesn’t have the tight focus on families.
  • Obscurity.

etendi has been live for a few months, so I’m glad they are starting to get some press, and I hope they continue to update the blog.  If you need to keep in touch with family over long distance and both ends have high speed internet and webcams, you should give etendi BRIDGE a try.

Disclaimer: I have worked with these FOLKS in the past, way back when I was concerned about testing Korean content, and have had a beer or two at their office.

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A web presence in two hours

Being a computer guy is a bit like being a doctor.  Not in the vast amount of learning (I don’t even have a degree in CS), nor in the paycheck (no mid six figure salary here).  Rather, on finding out that you have some job associated with computers, people will ping you with questions:

  • Why is my computer running slow?
  • How do I send video with my email?
  • Can you make me a website?

I usually beg off the first two questions claiming lack of expertise.  The third question always perks up my ears–building websites and web applications is my area of expertise.

However, many times, I find that people don’t need a website, they need a web presence.  This is entirely different–websites imply a level of maintenance that is often more than is needed.  A web presence is perfect for a offline business that simply wants to establish a beachhead on the internet, but likely won’t interact with users via the web (more likely via phone or email).  In other words, a web presence is like a brochure for the company–designed once, changed rarely, and read many times.

(A quick note: I believe most small businesses will benefit by using the internet to enable new ways of interacting with customers, but such applications can be a big leap–starting out with a web presence can be a great first step.)

A friend of mine often recommends leveraging other websites, like myspace or facebook, to provide a web presence for small companies and independent operators.  I prefer blogs.

Here are the steps to set up a web presence in two hours.  I assume you can create a word document, have an email address, and have access to a web browser.

  1. Gather your page content together.  Typically, you should have a home page explaining what you do and what you offer.  You should have a contact page, explaining how people can get in touch with you, including phone number, maps, etc.  Any other pages are optional, but other useful ones may include how to donate to your organization, a portfolio of your services, or a links page pointing to other useful information about your niche.
  2. Choose a blogging site.  Two main ones are wordpress.com and blogspot.com.  WordPress has a better post editor and handles pages more gracefully; it will in general be easier for neophytes to use, but does not allow advertising.  It also is easier to migrate to a full featured website.   Blogspot gives you more options, in terms of layout control and look and feel.  I’ve heard that content on blogspot is easier found by google.  Either one of these is a fine place to start.
  3. Sign up for your blog.  Make sure you get a name that makes sense: joesmithesquire.wordpress.com, for example.
  4. Work through a tutorial/faq: Here’s one for blogspot (called blogger in this tutorial–they’re the same).  Here’s one for wordpress.
  5. Add your content in pages via cut and paste.  If you are using blogspot, you will need to set up the ‘Blog Posts’ section of the layout to only show the last post, and then make sure to have your home page is the last page you add.  If you are using wordpress.com, you should just create pages.  Set your homepage by going to ‘settings’ then ‘reading’ and set ‘Front page displays’ to ‘a static page’.
  6. Choose a theme from one of the many options provided by the blogging sites.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be free.  You can always spend money to customize the look and feel later (to re-do your brochure).
  7. If you want, you can register a domain name, like joesmithesquire.com, (GoDaddy will be happy to help with this for about $10/year) and point it to the blog.  wordpress.com charges $10/year for this feature, blogspot is free.

That should be it.  It’s not perfect, but setting up a web presence lets you get your organization world wide publicity for the cost of a few hours of learning.  You can now maintain it; if any information changes, you can make those modifications without paying expensive people like me 🙂 .

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Carbon Space: Coworking in Boulder

I listened with envy to Corey Snipes, a friend and colleague in Denver, when he talked about being a member of the Hive, a coworking space.  I have rented an office in the past, but always thought a coworking space was a no brainer business plan in Boulder, given all the tech startups, one person PR firms and entrepeneurial environment. After all, some of what I miss about being independent was that water cooler talk, or the ability to just bounce ideas off someone in real time.  (Yes, I imagine twitter fills that need for some.)  I remember a few emails floating around the New Tech Meetup mailing list, but never heard of a plan come to fruition.  But then again, perhaps I just discounted Boulder’s real estate market as a barrier to entry.

Anyway, today, Corey sent on an email announcing Carbon Space, Boulder’s very own coworking space.  Located off 30th street, between Valmont and Pearl, with plans starting at $199/month, I hope this space succeeds.  Hey, I may even check it out myself!  Visit the website for more details.

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