A blog on the use of technology at home and at work (and some other stuff)

Archive for April, 2008

Mobiles on the tube

I blogged yesterday about how useful it would be to be able to read RSS feeds when out of coverage on the London Underground. I’m hoping that a Google Gears-enabled version of Google Reader Mobile is not far away.

That reminded me of the stories that have been in the press for some time about mobile phone reception being introduced into the London Underground tunnel network. On the one hand, the tube is a haven of tranquility away from the endless interruptions that a mobile phone brings. On the other, there would be a huge upside to being able to use time on the Underground productively – maybe reading news on a mobile browser or answering emails – or being able to get in touch with people above ground when the network grinds to a halt.

So, I fired up Google to see what is happening, and whether or when we might ever have mobile phone reception underground.

BBC News first reported on this topic in November 1999, with the somewhat premature claim that “In a worrying move for many commuters, mobile phones could soon be ringing on the London Underground”, but it was OK because we would be able to vote on whether we wanted it or not.

It all goes quiet for five years, and then, in March 2004, the Register and BBC News report that London Underground is in talks with the four mobile operators.

In March 2005, London Underground publishes a notice in the Supplement of the Official Journal of the European Union (which is where all large government tenders must be published) which states that the organisation is “primarily interested in the possibility of extending mobile coverage to Underground stations, station concourses, passenger walkways, platforms and other ‘off-train’ areas that do not currently have coverage (approx 120 stations), however LUL may, in the future, also consider extending coverage to other areas, such as trains and train tunnels”. They also leave themselves open to offers including high speed data services and technologies such as WiFi, WiMAX, DAB and DVB.

At the same time, Ken Livingstone announces that we’d all be able to use our mobile phones and digital radios on Underground stations by 2008, with a trial at one station due in 2006. I can’t find any further reference to an in-station trial, so it’s not clear if it ever happend.

In May 2005, a TfL press release states that interest in the notice was strong: “over 60 organisations have formally expressed interest in providing mobile phone and new technology services on Tube stations from mid-2008”.

In April 2006, the BBC reports that London Underground is pressing ahead with plans to have mobile phone transmitters in the tube. This is against concerns that they might increase the risk of terrorism (phones sometimes being used to detenate bombs).

In March 2007, a TfL press release announces a trial to take place on the Waterloo and City Line in 2008 and the BBC is reporting that mobile phone coverage would not be extended across the Tube network until at least mid-2009.

Since then, nothing. I wonder if that trial on the Waterloo & City is on its way?

Photo: Nuakin on Flickr. Used under licence.

Reading underground

Nick Piggott blogged last week about low consumer take-up levels of interactivity. He cited examples of “press the red button” opportunities during ad breaks on satellite television and URL calls-to-action in radio adverts.

When people are either enjoying what they were already doing or busy with something else (such as driving the car), then even if they are interested in the product or feature being promoted, they just can’t act on it then.

Nick’s argument is that there needs to be a way to bookmark or tag the opportunity so that you can return to it later.

I travel a lot, and I like my travelling time to be as productive as possible. My laptop is always with me and I answer emails, write reports, and watch downloaded TV programmes whenever I have a few moments spare on a train, plane or boat (I live on the Isle of Wight).

My current commute involves a lot of time on crowded tube trains. A tube train isn’t a great place for a laptop, particularly if it’s standing room only, so the web browser on my mobile phone (an O2 XDA) comes in useful then. I particularly like to keep up-to-date with my RSS subscriptions using Google Reader Mobile.

Sometimes there are posts which include embedded video, a link to a mobile-unfriendly website, or which simply provoke the thought “I must read up on that a bit more”. I tag those stories with ‘Add Star’ in Google Reader so that I can return to them later when I’m back in front of a larger screen.

What we all need, and what Nick is advocating, is ‘Add Star’ for everything else in life.

Incidentally, Google recently announced Google Gears, which allows you to read RSS feeds in Google Reader when you are disconnected. Separately, they have announced Google Gears for mobiles. Frustratingly, they haven’t yet married the two and given us a Google Gears-enabled version of Google Reader Mobile. I hope it’s on the way. A lot of my tube journey is spent underground, and then it’s back to Solitaire.

Photo: Laihiu on Flickr. Used under licence.

The BBC’s website house style

Two months ago, the BBC relaunched their homepage and started the journey to giving their whole website a more consistent look and feel. The homepage has been warmly received, with its widgets, personalisation, Web 2.0 look and feel, accessibility, standards compliance and, of course, a Flash version of the BBC continuity clock of our youth.

At the same time they made the step to move from a left-aligned 800×600-friendly template, to one that was centred and required at least a 1024×768 screen resolution.

The BBC website is a federation of websites, all housed under the bbc.co.uk domain, but managed by an array of internal departments and external producers. It will therefore probably take many years before there is a consistent look and feel across the board, and by then we will be into a whole new web design meme and everyone will have to start again. Indeed, if you know where to look, there are plenty of old sites lurking about under the bbc.co.uk domain.

The people behind the new /programmes section of the website were the next to announce a redesign to bring them into line with the new homepage look and feel.

Next to be tackled was the BBC news website. This was less warmly received. Put simply (and I’m sure there was much more to it than this), they had taken the existing template, stretched it to the new width and added the new standard header and footer. In my view, the result had way too much white space, and didn’t match the designs being rolled out elsewhere. Their argument for a collection of tweaks rather than a complete redesign had been that their users had told them that they liked the current design and didn’t want the BBC to change much.

A number of amendments followed in the days after the redesign, including a reduction in the amount of white space and the restoration of links for weather and sport. It still doesn’t appeal to me, however, not being quite the old site or a new site; I think it is still due a proper redesign.

Other sites on the BBC to have been redesigned in line with the new templates include /help, 1xtra, and the annoyingly-trendily-pointless BBC Three.

On Thursday afternoon, the BBC relaunched its blogs website. The primary purpose was, they state, to upgrade to a new software platform and improve the reliability and integration of the commenting system. What’s really odd is that they have completely missed the opportunity to redesign the section in line with the new look and feel that removals eastbourne. Maybe it’s a two stage project, with backend first and presentation second, but it seems something of a missed opportunity.

Photo: Robin Hamman on Flickr. Used under licence.

OpenID enabled

OpenID Logo

Like most people, I find having to maintain user names and passwords for dozens, if not hundreds, of different websites a tad tedious. I also suffer the hassle of having one of the commonest-names on the planet. No website ever has davidjones, or something logical like that, available by the time I get to register (with the exception of Twitter – I must have been lucky that day) so mostly I end up with some piece of nonsense like davjon374.

I also loathe websites that insist on pointless restrictions to logon names and passwords (e.g. passwords must be exactly five letters; usernames must contain a number). I don’t mind my banking websites insisting on something specific and complicated – I have something worth protecting there – but I could really do without having to remember dozens of subtely different logons for websites of minimal consequence in my life. I prefer sites that use email addresses as logons, particularly as I went to quite a lot of effort to secure my email domain and I’ve been following the chat around OpenID, which sounds like a very sensible idea.

OpenID works by definining a URI to define your identity. You can get an OpenID from an OpenID Provider. Organisations have formed to specifically issue these (e.g. myOpenID). In addition, a number of existing service providers are OpenID-enabling themselves: for example, I already have an OpenID based on my Flickr account URI (http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/).

But I don’t really want my very own OpenID to have someone else’s domain name in it, when I have a perfectly good domain name of my own.

So, I’ve OpenID-enabled my davidjones.org domain. I did this using phpMyID and Sam Ruby’s instructions.

I’ve also created my Yadis file.

© 2017 David Jones