Monday, September 28, 2009

ZendCon '09

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Last year I had the privilege of attending ZendCon '08 and next month I'll be traveling again to Silicon Valley for ZendCon '09, "the larget event of the PHP community." At last year's conference I met a bunch of amazing people from the PHP community, saw several really good talks, and was one of the first to become a Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) in Zend Framework (the exam was announced at the conference).

This year I'm looking forward to seeing people in person again that I met last year and meeting others who I've only talked with online. The session lineup is looking good and I'm also very interested in attending some of the unconference sessions again. If you're going to be there, let me know so we can connect.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PHP Users Group Social

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Tonight (9/24) the Burlington, VT PHP Users Group will be hosting its first "social" event. We'll be having a casual get-together at Madera's in place of the typical meeting format. We've also extended an open invitation for non-PHP people to come and join us. The Vermont Code Camp earlier this month was a great opportunity for local technology and user groups to mingle and I think there is a lot we can learn from each other. So, PHP developer or not, I hope to see you this evening! You can RSVP up until 5pm tonight.

No Invisible Metadata

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Yesterday I tweeted (link expanded):

Google officially ignoring keywords meta tags is a nice validation of @microformats "no invisible metadata" principle:

The link is to a 2005 post on Tantek Çelik's blog where he expands on the microformats principle that "visible data is much better for humans than invisible metadata." Google's announcement the other day that they do not use the keywords meta tag in web rankings didn't surprise anyone that knows anything about search engine optimization. We've known for years that Google ignores the keywords meta tag (Google’s Webmasters/Site owners Help has a page about various meta tags that doesn't say anything about the keywords meta tag) but, until now, it's never been official. Still, I think it's a nice validation of the principles of microformats and will hopefully give people pause when considering hidden metatdata schemes in the future.

On a silo website or within a trusted network, hidden metadata can be useful. In fact, in Google's announcement they mention that the Google Search Appliance has the ability to match on the keywords meta tag. At web scales, hidden metadata is critically flawed. How can you trust that the hidden metadata is in parity with the visible data? The hidden metadata may be intentionally inaccurate (e.g. keyword stuffing) or simply have fallen out of sync with the visible data. Within a silo website or a closed network you can trust the metadata to be true to the visible data it describes and you can enact policies to keep your metadata up-to-date. However, there are no trust models yet that would make this work at web scales.

Microformats are designed for "humans first, machines second" (another principle). This makes a lot of sense since all machines eventually serve humans, even if indirectly through many layers. If the machine doesn't ultimately serve a human need then there is not much point in the machine's existence (unless we are taking about sentient artificial intelligence). For direct human consumption, hidden metadata is completely useless. For machine consumption, hidden metadata can be useful. However, hidden metadata must at some point be transformed into visible data, even if in a completely different context than its associated visible data.

This was the case with search engines that did use the keywords meta tag in rankings: the original context for the visible data was the indexed document and the new context in which the hidden metadata was transformed into visible data was the rankings of engine results. As history tells us, this scheme didn't work so well. Instead, Google used the visible data that is hyperlinks to determine rankings. From Tantek's blog entry (emphasis added):

Lesson learned: hyperlinks, being visible by default, proved more reliable and persistently accurate for many reasons. Authors readily saw mistakes themselves and corrected them (because presentation matters). Readers informed authors of errors the authors missed, which were again corrected. This feedback led to an implied social pressure to be more accurate with hyperlinks thus encouraging authors to more often get it right the first time. When authors/sites abused visible hyperlinks, it was obvious to readers, who then took their precious attention somewhere else. Visible data like hyperlinks with the positive feedback loop of user/market forces encouraged accuracy and accountability. This was a stark contrast from the invisible metadata of meta keywords, which, lacking such a positive feedback loop, through the combination of gaming incentives and natural entropy, deteriorated into useless noise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vermont Technology User Groups

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One of the great things to come out of this past Saturday's Vermont Code Camp was the opportunity for people from various local technology user groups to connect with one another. People from the Vermont.NET User Group were there (the .NET group spearheaded organizing the event) and I also saw some friends from the Burlington, VT PHP Users Group. Based on turnout at the Ruby on Rails session, it looks like the Vermont Ruby On Rails User Group may be restarting soon. The Vermont Area Group of Unix Enthusiasts (VAGUE) was represented as well as the Green Mountain Oracle Users Group, the New England Adobe User Group, the VT SQL Server Users Group and the Vermont Software Developers' Alliance (vtSDA).

User groups are a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and keep up with the latest trends in your field. Sometimes you'll even be treated to pizza and swag. Whatever technology you work with, I hope you'll find a local user group that you can attend — or start one yourself!

On a related note, the upcoming (10/26) Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam looks like it will be a lot of fun:

[Showcasing] the coolest companies in the Green Mountains[, this is] not just a job expo. The event will examine the uniqueness of the state’s entrepreneur-founded creative technology companies while acknowledging the start-up drive that lives within each and every one of us.

Update (9/15): To clarify, the Vermont Software Developers' Alliance (vtSDA) is not a user group but instead, "create[s] collaborative and knowledge sharing opportunities that promote and grow Vermont software businesses." They are also a primary sponsor of the aforementioned Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam.

Vermont Code Camp Heroes

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By all accounts, the first ever Vermont Code Camp was a big success! There were 85 attendees, 19 sessions, and a whole track of non-.NET topics (not that there's anything wrong with .NET!). A HUGE thank you to Rob Hale, Julie Lerman and everyone else who organized, volunteered and presented. Also, a big thank you to the sponsors and donors: MyWebGrocer, Green Mountain Coffee, Telerik, O'Reilly Media, TechSmith, Microsoft and, of course, the University of Vermont School of Business Administration for hosting the event.

Plans are afoot for the next iteration of Vermont Code Camp so stay tuned!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Resource-Oriented Web Services

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Below are the slides from my presentation on Resource-Oriented Web Services at the September 12th, 2009 Vermont Code Camp:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vermont Code Camp

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This Saturday (Sept 12) from 9am-6pm will be the first ever Vermont Code Camp and it will be here in Burlington, Vermont at Kalkin Hall on the University of Vermont campus. While code camps are typically .NET focused, this one will cover a broad range of topics including .NET, PHP, Ruby and Python (full list of sessions). Some of the sessions include:

Hope to see you there!