I should just end the post with this as a title. Leave ’em guessing, right?
It was appropriate today started reading an utterly brilliant essay by Parimal Satyal, Rediscovering The Small Web (thanks to Jay Hoffman):
Most websites today are built like commercial products by professionals and marketers, optimised to draw the largest audience, generate engagement and ‘convert’. But there is also a smaller, less-visible web designed by regular people to simply to share their interests and hobbies with the world. A web that is unpolished, often quirky but often also fun, creative and interesting.https://neustadt.fr/essays/the-small-web/
I’ve spent like 30 minutes trying to pull the best quote, but read the whole darn thing. I’m going to use that
small web handle, maybe even #hashtag it, a nice back nod to small pieces loosely joined.
That reading set the table for maybe the best meeting title I ever entered into my calendar.
This tale weaves back to 2007, when that small web was still present. During the summer of that year, I was prepping workshops for a fall speaking tour across Australia (every major city in 2 weeks), and as the story is told, a listen to a Paul Simon concert set the stage for 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story. I rode that pony for a long time.
I cannot pinpoint when or how during that summer when I was looking at any kind of web site that could be used to tell the story of me and my dog in multimedia format, that I came across the most silly and unlikely example- Blabberize.
Or give him a go right here.
The frivolity of Blabberize hit you right away at the front page- when you pressed “play”, the alpaca’s mouth flapped in proportion to the audio of a most unlikely, yet excited, over the top, East Indian accent boasting about “the most exciting technology of 2007.”
It was simple- upload an image of a face, use the tools to define the mouth area, and how far it should move, and upload an audio.
And it was quite ridiculous.
If you stopped there.
I found examples later of more interesting ways students and teachers put it to use. It became one of my favorite things to include in my 50+Ways presentations. At one of my workshops, an administrator relayed how she put Blabberize to use– during the workshop– to remotely deal with a troublesome student back at her school.
As time went by, I did less of these talks, most of the 50+Ways tools died, disappeared to the Island of Dead Tools, even the site where this and much of my other content lived, wikispaces, shit the web bed and disappeared, leaving a trail of broken links I am still fixing.
I lost track of the alpaca.
Until August, 2018, when the alpaca tweeted me!
I did download the app, but admit I did not do much with it. You know, I was BUSY. And the app was a bit cumbersome to figure out.
Since then, I see the alpaca sometimes favoriting tweets or mentioning me. It’s kind of nice having a friendly alpaca as a follower.
Then last week, I got a DM asking to meet up! How could I not be excited. In preparation, I thought it worthy to update the iOS app, and give it a try. It’s a step above the web version, 2d on a screen- on the iOS platform, the “actors” you create become augmented reality figures in your videos. Here is my crude demo:
So today was the day to meet the alpaca and I finally got to talk via zoom to Mo Kakwan, the creator (and also the voice) behind Blabberize.
I even got a fancy custom waiting room!
Mo was kind enough to record the audio- we missed some in the middle and the end, and his audio has a bit of weird echo, but here is our conversation.
Mo shared the origin story, how he had an opportunity in 2007 to be part of a Yahoo Hackathon event. He brought his group this idea of a “talking postcard”, but they never seemed excited, and in fact abandoned him on the last night. Too bad, because his first demo stole the show!
I forget when Mo said that was, but I think it was early in that summer of 2007. He had some interest, and put together a web site. Those were the days before cloud hosting, so literally he was adding server boxes to handle demand.
I can’t remember if I heard about Blabberize on twitter or maybe I came across one of the early stories on it (e.g, Mashable in July 2007).
I know I made the Blabberize version of my Dominoe story September 11, 2007- why? Because Blabberize is still alive! #smallweb! It lives at https://blabberize.com/view/id/6943 And I first presented it in Hobart, Tasmania on October 15, 2007 (more #smallweb).
What I did not know was the most avid use of Blabberize over time, and what kept it afloat, was educators. Mo described how his parents, his colleague’s parents, everyone who worked on it seemed to have a link to a teacher.
Thus there is an educator program at Blabberize.
Mo also described his dream was always to do an AR version of Blabberize, how there was early attempts in Flash, that got killed when Steve Jobs squeezed flash out, and how the AR kit in iOS enabled a rebuilding of the platform, and focusing on HTML5 made it outlive the Flash demise– including all of the old content, which they kept alive, and still works 13 years later.
Mo shared as well the newest feature, to create Hello Blabbers- or Blabberize messages that can be sent shared via QR code or Augmented reality markers, so they will pop up an appear on screen.
This made me think a bit of the old Zooburst tool (dead) that was once in the mix. Just as a fun tangent, when I tried to find info on Zooburst, the first link I got was a 2010 review of it by one Audrey Watters, who went on to bigger stuff.
Mo and I bantered more on web development, storytelling, education, and likely more I am forgetting.
As much fun is it to keep saying “alpaca” repeatedly, it’s more of a thankful appreciation for the spirit of people like Mo who don’t let their web ideas just shrivel up and die, but also keep advancing them.
Alpacas definitely ride the #smallweb. I do.
Featured Image: A composite of the Blabberize Alpaca and my own logo (designed by Bryan Mathers) and shared under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.