I didn’t get a chance to post these last week as I was tied up posting on another blog. Webstock Mini was a great event and credit to Natasha Hall and the others on the team who continue to put on some worthwhile internet events in Wellington.

The new Internet: All fizz and no substance?

by Peter Griffin | from New Zealand Herald

It was with great anticipation that I settled into a seat at the Paramount Theatre in Wellington this week to listen to a bunch of internet experts debate a very live topic – whether the new wave of websites gathered under the Web 2.0 banner is “all fizz and no substance”.

The debate could have gone anywhere and indeed it ranged widely.

“People just aren’t that technology savvy,” argued Radio New Zealand producer and head of the “fizz” team, Mark Cubey.

“Second Life? It’s that versus House on a Tuesday night. Yeah, Second Life just doesn’t have the dialogue. We’re talking about stuff that is real and you can’t tell me Web 2.0 is real,” he concluded.

Cubey’s opponent, Philip Fierlinger, a former dotcom entrepreneur and now developer at accounting software maker Xero, said the money paid for Web 2.0 ventures such as MySpace and YouTube, spoke for itself – essentially, there was substance where there was money.

“Is US$500 million [$658 million] substantial? Is US$1.5 billion substantial?” he asked.

Austrian database architect Sandy Mamoli cleverly worked away at Web 2.0’s biggest weakness – its ability to create online worlds for its users that are detached from reality.

“We don’t share our tacky tastes or our boring personalities,” she said.

“Web 2.0 creates a huge gap between the online persona and who we really are. Web 2.0 makes it much easier to be fake.”

Brenda Leeuwenberg, online producer at NZ On Air, saw it differently.

“Sometimes there are moments of pure joy in what people put out there on the web,” she said. They are both, of course, quite right.

Web developer Mike Brown sees the rise of Web 2.0 as a giant conspiracy to advance the cause of the letter “R”, which indeed defines a fair number of Web 2.0 website names – Twitter and Flickr being just two on Brown’s list. “You might think it’s just a case of letter jealousy, but R wants to be an A-lister,” said Brown.

And so the arguments bounced backwards and forwards for an hour or so mirroring the global debate about the value of Web 2.0 services and intensifying as web sceptics hone their argument.

The anti-Web 2.0 arguments have perhaps been best articulated by the British web entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen who in his new book The Cult of the Amateur suggests that the proliferation of user-generated content that’s central to the Web 2.0 way of doing things is killing culture.

Others are saying similar things. Take US technology commentator John C. Dvorak’s dismissive take on the newest of the Web 2.0 players Twitter, a “micro-blogging” service that allows you to post short updates during a day to keep everyone abreast of your activities – no matter how mundane. Dvorak sees no substance in that, other than to provide a record for the sociologists of the future.

“All of these sorts of networks should provide a trove of insights into society – if the entire system is archived and turned over to the sociology departments of some major universities,” he wrote recently in a PC Magazine column about Twitter.

“I’m afraid that the people who implement stuff like this never think in these terms.”

Dvorak admits he was also dismissive of podcasting and blogging when they were introduced yet he himself has since become a podcaster and a blogger.

Which just goes to show how hard it is to pick where the Web 2.0 movement will lead us.

For the record, the team pushing the argument that there really is substance in Web 2.0 won the Webstock debate by a slim majority. That wasn’t surprising given Webstock’s audience, which text messaged in votes for the teams and was filled with web developers.

There are 140 web development companies in Wellington alone. The industry has rapidly geared up for the local impact of this new phase of internet development. There’s plenty of fizz on the local scene in everything from online retailing to insurance, but there’s also a fair bit of money floating around.

I think the debate came out how it should have, despite the “fizzers” presenting a more compelling and humorous argument than those with substance.

Above all the inane chatter on Twitter, the annoying music blaring at you from MySpace pages and the flying penises in Second Life, there’s something powerful going on in these new web communities.

Whether they will all live on remains a moot point, but one thing is for sure, the new makeup of the internet is seriously changing our approach to information use and social interaction. Whatever price you put on that, such transformation in a few short years has been nothing but substantial.

On The Web

Virtual beers with Darth Vader

by Peter Griffin | from New Zealand Herald

It’s the place where virtual friendships are made and digital real estate is bought and sold, but educators say the fast-growing Second Life community is also a powerful tool for collaborative learning.

On first appearances it doesn’t seem very productive: a group of digital avatars – the online creations of real people – sit around a campfire in a pleasant park, chatting away.

“This experience can be a lot of fun,” says Leigh Blackall, an education development manager for Otago Polytechnic.

“We drink around the campfire and the beers are programmed to make us tipsy.”

Blackall conducted a Second Life meeting of education professionals from around the world during his speech to the Webstock internet conference in Wellington on Tuesday, and says that such virtual meetings could be the future of long-distance learning.

“It wasn’t until I had my first encounter with a purpose in Second Life, like a meeting, that I realised what it’s all about. There are a lot of people in education trying to get into this.”

build their own world is seen by networked learning experts like Blackall as an ideal forum for students to collaborate and share ideas.

Its potential has already been recognised by Second Life’s creators, Linden Lab, who have set up Campus: Second Life, which allows a free grant of land in the virtual Second Life world to an educational organisation for the duration of a semester.

Discounted land plots are also on offer for schools and universities – something of tangible value in a world where an island will set you back US$1600 and US$100 a month in upkeep.

Whole islands can be bought by educational institutions where entry is restricted to their real-life students.

Educational professionals collaborate on a Second Life wiki – a type of online database – to standardise virtual education tools.

Blackall says the potential for development of educational resources in Second Life is huge, but that the tightly funded education sector is hesitant to invest in the online community, which has 7.2 million members and can turn over the equivalent of US$1 million a day in virtual currency.

“So far, no takers,” he says ofprojects he has suggested. “It’s quite difficult to get things going in education.”

Blackall says the real-time aspect of Second Life makes it “bandwidth hungry” and suitable only for high-speed internet connections. But Second Life is becoming increasingly sophisticated – he is particularly looking forward to Second Life users being able to display websites within the online environment.

Students could, for example, sit in a virtual meeting collectively editing a wiki document.


Hi Peter,
Wanted to thank you for your article on Leigh Blackall’s Second Life presentation and also to let you know that there is already a small but thriving NZ education community in Second Life.
Here at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) in Nelson, we are investing in an island in Second Life to explore its potential for enhancing our students learning.
In fact NMIT already has a presence in Second Life – we have been renting space on EduIsland alongside places such as the University of Cincinatti and Universtiy of Hawaii! Our space is called the NMIT Garden of Learning, and apart from being a space for some of my students to explore Second Life, it is also the venue for the informal meeting of the Kiwi Educators group at 2pm (NZ time) every Sunday afternoon.
If you are interested there is more information on our Second Life Interest Group website ( and also at which is run by Aaron Griffiths.
We are now planning several projects which will be undertaken once the island is operational and have received some funding from the government’s e-Capability Fund to help us get going! The exploration of NZ education in a virtual world is very definitely underway.
Many thanks

Dr Clare Atkins
School of Business and Computer Technology

The Kiwi Firefox connection

by Peter Griffin | from Griffin’s Tech Blog Herald Online

Aucklander Robert O’Callahan, who as a contractor to the Mozilla Corporation has been working on some of the new features that will be built into the upcoming Firefox 3.0 web browser, gave an interesting Webstock presentation on where browser development is going.

O’Callahan demoed some new Firefox features, such as the updated Gecko rendering engine and offline web browsing functionality that will be available in Firefox 3.0, but he used the bulk of his presentation to explain the philosophy around open source web development.

O’Callahan seems wary of the growing focus in web content development on Adobe’s Flash player. That’s because Flash and its new rival, Microsoft-developed Silverlight, operate on a different model to the web tools the open source community comes up with. They’re essentially privately owned and controlled.

“We want to avoid people getting a monopoly on web clients. If you can control who can render web content, you control the platform,” says O’Callahan, who has contributed to Mozilla since 1999.

He believes there’s plenty of life left in HTML, the standard language of the web and that focus should be put on fixing the bugs in existing web pages and doing smarter things with HTML than trying to “supercede the web with shiny new design”.

“You can add things to HTML that are harder to do if you don’t control the platform,” he added.

O’Callahan believes the dominant browser vendor, Microsoft “isn’t so interested in the web at the moment “.

“We have to unseat their dominance and gain market share with browsers interested in pursuing our mission,” says O’Callahan.

The mission of course is to keep development of the web open so that no one company or technology can control its evolution. O’Callahan seems pretty ambivalent about Apple’s move to release its Safari web browser for Windows computers.

“We’d like Safari to take all of Internet Explorer’s market share and none of ours,” he says.

“I wouldn’t trust Apple any more than Microsoft necessarily if they got the monopoly.”

O’Callahan said developing open source alternatives to more sophisticated web tools was essential to keep browsers like Firefox competitive. One set of functionality that’s viewed as being particularly important is offline browser capability.

The idea is that when you type a URL into the web address bar when you’re not connected to the internet, the browser will search local storage for a cached copy of the page and allow a certain amount of functionality and data back-up. When you go back online, the local version of the application syncs with the version stored on the web and updates it.

“It’s similar to cookies, but with more grunt and more storage,” says O’Callahan. Google has developed similar technology to allow its applications to be used offline with the open source development tools, Google Gears.

New Zealand’s association with the Firefox browser, which has rapidly gained market share at the expense of Microsoft’s dominant internet Explore browser, is very strong. Ben Goodger, a lead Firefox developer who also works for Google is a kiwi and O’Callahan said there are three paid Firefox developers based in Auckland, with scope for the team to be expanded if people with the right skills can be found.

O’Callahan’s blog can be fou
nd here.


You might want to check out Robert’s presentation at the Auckland Web Meetup. He covers the offline stuff, new video formats and font rendering in FF 3. It can be found here –