Sunday, June 26, 2005

EVDB and microformats

Just stumbled across Brian Dear's EVDB (Events & Venues Database, inspired by the grassroots CDDB, where your music player probably fetches its album data), which pointed me to Tantek Çelik (and others') Microformats work, which updates vCards and iCalendar entries to rich Web capabilities, so that personal information and event information is easy to display on websites.

If you're a little geeky, you'll like Tantek's Web presentation "What Are Microformats?". If you're not, you'll still like how polished his presentation looks in a browser, sans PowerPoint.

Here's an example of a page of blog comments, each sporting an hCard.

Brian, congratulations on getting EVDB in the air. It looks great! Tantek et al., thank you for making personal and event data more useful on the web again.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Deliberations on democracy

I've spent the last two days on the University of Minnesota campus with a neat group, sponsored by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and talking about whether and how online deliberations work.

One of the most interesting aspects of this meeting was that yesterday about a third of the participants were from Minnesota, all involved in civic engagement or democratic discourse in some way. The number of initiatives and interest groups online in this state is impressive; the details we learned about some of these added great texture to our conversations. For example, Steve Clift has helped Minneapolis create and run issues forums online (this and other local initiatives here).

This is a young domain. I don't mean that there are no grey-hairs here, but rather that our collective understanding of the field is still in its formative stages. Each of us has different preferences and pet peeves. Each knows different initiatives that worked and is deriving different lessons and principles from them. There are many overlaps, but it's hard to drive to a unified theory or commonly held beliefs in even this group of 40-or-so practitioners, theorists and curious parties (like me). It's exciting and a bit frustrating.

We're going to try a monthly IRC chat to talk about online discourse and deliberation. The first one we've scheduled for 9am PDT on July 5. We'll continue on the first Tuesdays of the month and see how it goes.

Flickr'd some Shanghai photos

I posted a few photos from my Shanghai trip to Flickr. See my full feed here, or the set from Shanghai here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I got to Shanghai too late

Thanks to my gracious host in Shanghai, Kwek Ping Yong of Inventis (and his excellent assistants), I've had a fabulous introduction to the city, which is no longer an aspiring world capital. It's arrived.

I do wish I'd visited ten years ago, when Pudong was the Queens across the river; now it's all built up. For example, the Westin Shanghai is first-rate. Road signs throughout the city include English, right out to the burbs. The Shanghai Metro is modern, swift and easy to use. Clean, inexpensive taxis with working meters get you where you want to go (tho' it helps if someone's written your destination on a slip of paper first).

There are Starbucks all over, complete with people poring over their WiFi laptops. The malls are positively gigantic, but not full of see-them-everywhere chains. Banana? Anne?Limited? Mercifully absent.

People rave about Shanghai's architecture, but I'm not much for freestanding ego monuments, so they don't do much for me. However, the two-square-block Xin Tian Di zone is one of the best modern urban outdoor malls I've seen. It's nicer, for example, than the Fourth Street and Bay Street developments near me in Berkeley, or the Reston Town Center in suburban DC. Xin Tian Di is packed with people and better stores than you would expect. Designed by American architect Benjamin Wood, it preserves the past and has no echoes of Hong Kong's expat-ghetto Lan Kwai Fong (however, it does now have its own Flash-animated site). On the whole, the city is nicely put together, despite the encroaching forest of high-rise apartment buildings. It feels vibrant and busy.

Some small points of crankiness: Prices in the electronics Mecca of Xu Jia Hui aren't any better than US mail-order houses (thank goodness I didn't bite and comparison-shopped from my hotel). The big flea markets are full of knockoff goods you can get for almost nothing, but in a no-logo world, store after store of "Burberry," "Polo," "Hugo Boss" and "Rolex" renders the shopping taste buds numb. Nothing creative to find in them. I had heard about snazzily dressed Shanghainese, but they haven't showed up where I've been. So despite an embarrassment of clothing to be had, there isn't much interesting here. Ads for iPods are everywhere, including painted on the subway cars, but I've seen only one iPod-bearing person so far. Nobody wears sunglasses.

Apparently, Chinese people love their beer. They're not picky about it, they just like lots of it, in big bottles.

Finally, that romantic, Communist-oppressive notion that it might be dangerous to talk to local residents, that you might be under surveillance -- it seems to be history, too. You can move around at will and people are kind and warm. The Great Firewall is busy, though (hmm... as if it were listening, that link wouldn't work from here). I can't get Outlook to fetch more than a third of my messages, and the New York Times online shows up, curiously, without images.

I wish I'd learned Mandarin as a child.

The gig that brought me here was moderating a day of discussion for Wharton and Cisco with SME businessfolks, to see how they use technology (SME = small to medium-sized enterprises). It's the same gig that took me to Bangalore two months ago. Thanks, Neil and Douglas! (And if you need simultaneous translators for Mandarin Chinese, look for Rachel Liu and Christine Chen.)

Got to meet Isaac Mao today, blogger of note and part of the first native Chinese venture capital firm, United Capital Investment. He's smart, brave, peripatetic and marvelously connected, like Joi Ito is in Japan.

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