Friday, June 10, 2005

Playing with Greasemonkey

I've been aware of Greasemonkey for a while now but only really had a look at hacking with it this morning and seem to have lost several hours!!! All good fun though.

For those who don't know: "Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension which lets you to add bits of DHTML ('user scripts') to any web page to change its behavior."

Check it out and if you aren't using Firefox (why not??????) get it here. It's my favourite browser of all time and its free!!!

Any how, my first Greasemonkey script (such that it is) that does anything remotely useful is:

Audioscrobbler Refresher

The explanation of what it does is longer than the script itself. And what it does is refresh the audioscrobbler user pages every 3 minutes. So if like me you like to have you audioscrobbler user page open to keep track of your recent tracks and stats but wish you didn't have to keep clicking refresh on you browser well, .... er, now you don't.

If you listen to a lot of short punk songs you may want to reduce the refresh interval. Likewise if 12 minute prog rock epics are your thing you might want to extend the interval somewhat. 3 minutes works pretty well for me!

This really is a very simple script and in fact its only the 'include' tags that stop it being a general page reloader in fact! But, its my first look and my knowledge of the DOM is a little rusty!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Pro-ams, Prosumers and Innovation

As a team, Technology Research has been paying a great deal of attention to the importance of the end user in the process of innovation and development. We have witnessed over the last couple of years how companies and organizations such as Amazon and Google have benefited by opening up their innovation process to amateur enthusiasts and how others such as Flickr who have made Web Services API's available for experimentation have added value to their product through enhanced capability, flexibility and functionality developed by third parties. And there are many, many other examples.

In concept the hacking, adaption or customization of software is not new. The home computers of the early 1980's practically demanded end-user programming, computer Games 'modding' has been around almost as long as computer games have and the definitive open-source example of Linux shows what can become of enthusiast lead development.
What is new is the fact that smart organizations, rather than hide their 'work in progress' from the end user, have began to welcome them into the fold and open up their innovation process; and it is paying off.
An army of enthusiastic hackers can develop niche functionality with long-tail appeal in a way that a centralized development structure just can't hope to replicate. Bruce Sterling in his recent article Bipolar Innovation, argues the case that such open methodologies will always out-innovate the traditional corporate lab based approach.
For those of us working in the Internet and Telecommunications space we have also seen recently how technology advances have given rise to pod-casting, the first real mass amateurization of a broadcast radio like service, and who's going to bet against a Television version coming soon?
Pod-casting is different from hacking in the important respect that the technical knowledge required is much lower and is thus a creative production rather than creative technical disruption. This illustrates a desire to create and share which reaches beyond the programming activities which have often been dismissed as just geeks doing their thing.

As Technology Researchers we have of course focused our attention of the developments of the 3rd party innovator phenomenon on our home turf, but have not been oblivious to the wider social trend. Yesterday BBC Radio 4's Shop Talk program was dedicated to the topic of the Pro-am - the amateur or enthusiast operating at quasi-professional standards. They discussed the wider trends for 'end-user' or enthusiasts contribution to development and innovation. Yes, the programme discussed Linux and game modding, but also discussed how amateur astronomers, naturalists, scuba divers, photographers and a whole host of other enthusiasts were effecting and furthering their fields of interest. Where as the idea of the amateur scientist was well established especially in Victorian times, since WW2 in particular there has been a trend towards institutionalization and corporatization of science. More barriers to entry came in the escalating costs of scientific experimentation and research and the emergence of increasingly narrow specialist fields.
But things are changing. In Victorian times the 'amateur' scientist for example was an independently wealthy character who's lack of need to work for an income allowed the time to indulge their interests. Now, advances in technology are bringing down the costs of participation. Rejection of TV and other mass distractions by some in favor of more demanding and fulfilling activities on which to focus their more abundant leisure time is also contributing to the volume of Pro-am production.
The programme is available via the BBC's listen again service from the show's web site until next week's show is broadcast. It's only 15 minutes long and well worth a listen.

The end user is not only innovator, adapter and critic, they are also producer, disruptor and potential competitor. Many organizations talk the talk about a user-centric approach to business but few walk the walk or even really know what they mean, and continue to see the customer as passive consumer to be manipulated (to be fair many probably are). Indeed, it could be argued that the whole approach of the music industry in attempting to force users into supporting their old business models through legislation is a Canut-ian mis-adventure attempting to turn the tide of human nature, being as it is an attempt to not only dictate how a product is purchased but also how the customer will behave once they 'own' it.

Instead, the wily organization will come to regard its end user as partner, collaborator and in some circumstances, even colleague.

Also posted to FT Home Technology Research blog