Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'web'

Robin Winslow

We’ve been making an effort to secure all our websites with HTTPS. While some Canonical sites have enforced HTTPS for a while (e.g.:,,, it’s been missing from our other sites until now.


The HTTPS movement has been building for years to help secure internet users against black-hat hackers and spies. The movement became more urgent after Edward Snowden revealed significant efforts by government agencies to spy on the world population.

The EFF have helped create two projects: LetsEncrypt – which massively simplifies the free installation of HTTPS certificates; and HTTPS Everywhere – a browser plugin to help you use HTTPS whenever it’s available. The advent of HTTP/2 has helped negate performance concerns when moving to HTTPS.

Google have also made efforts to encourage websites to enable HTTPS: First announcing in 2014 that they would consider HTTPS support in their search ranking algorithm; and last year, that Google Chrome would start visually warning users of “insecure” (non-HTTPS) websites.

Our sites

We made HTTPS-only in October of last year, and have since done so on 10 more sites:

We hope to enable HTTPS on our other sites in the coming months.

Although enabling HTTPS can be relatively simple there were a number of specific challenges we had to overcome for some of our websites. I hope to write more about these in a follow-up post.

Read more
Robin Winslow

Despite some reservations, it looks like HTTP/2 is very definitely the future of the Internet.

Speed improvements

HTTP/2 may not be the perfect standard, but it will bring with it many long-awaited speed improvements to internet communication:

  • Sending of many different resources in the first response
  • Multiplexing requests to prevent blocking
  • Header compression
  • Keep connections alive
  • Bi-directional communication

Changes in long-held performance practices

I read a very informative post today (via Web Operations Weekly) which laid out all the ways this will change some deeply embedded performance principles for front-end developers. Namely:

Each of these practices are hacks which make website setups more complex and more opaque, but with the goal of speeding up front-end performance by working around limitations in HTTP. Fortunately, these somewhat ugly practices are no longer necessary with HTTP/2.

Importantly, Matt Wilcox points out that in an HTTP/2 world, these practices might actually slow down your website, for the following reasons:

  • If you serve concatenated CSS, Javascript or image files, it’s likely you’re sending more content than you strictly need to for each page
  • Serving assets from different domains prevents HTTP/2 from reusing existing connections, forcing it to open extra ones

But not yet…

This is all very exciting, but note that we can’t and shouldn’t start changing our practices yet. Even server-side support for HTTP/2 is still patchy, with nginx only promising full support by the end of 2015 (with Microsoft’s IIS, surprisingly, putting other servers to shame).

But of course the main limiting factor will, as usual, be browsers:

  • Firefox leads the way, with support since version 36
  • Chrome has support for spdy4 (the precursor to HTTP/2), but it isn’t enabled by default yet
  • Internet Explorer 11 supports HTTP/2 only in Windows 10 beta

As usual the main limiting factor will be waiting for market share of older versions of Internet Explorer to drop off. Braver organisations may want to be progressive by deliberately slowing down the experience for people on older browsers to speed up the more up-to-date and hence push adoption of good technology.

If you want to get really clever, you could serve a different website structure based on the user agent string, but this would really be a pain to implement and I doubt many people would want to do this.

Even with the most progressive strategy, I doubt anyone will be brave enough to drop decent HTTP/1 performance until at least 2016, as this is when nginx support should land; Windows 10 and therefore IE 11 will have had some time to gain traction and of course Internet Explorer market share in general will have continued to drop in favour of Chrome and Firefox.

TL;DR: We front-end developers should be ready to change our ways, but we don’t need to worry about it just yet.

Originally posted on

Read more
Inayaili de León Persson

We might have been quiet, but we have been busy! Here’s a quick overview of what the web team has been up to recently.

In the past month we’ve worked on:

  • New website: we’ve revamped the information architecture, revisited the key journeys and updated the look to be more in line with
  • Fenchurch (our CMS): we’ve worked on speeding up deployment and continuous testing
  • New Ubuntu OpenStack cloud section on we’ve launched a restructured cloud section, with links to more resources, clearer journeys and updated design
  • Juju GUI: we’ve launched the brand new service inspector

And we’re currently working on:

  • 13.10 release updates: the new Ubuntu release is upon us, and we’re getting the website ready to show it off
  • A completely new project that will be our mobile/responsive pilot: we’re updating our web patterns to a more future-friendly shape, investigating solutions to handle responsive images, and we’ve set up a (growing) mobile device testing suite — watch this space for more on this project
  • Fenchurch: we’re improving our internal demo servers and enhancing performance on the downloads page to help deal with release days!
  • Usability testing of the new cloud section: following the aforementioned launch, Tingting is helping us test these pages with their target audience — and we’ve already found loads of things we can improve!
  • A new we haven’t worked on Canonical’s main website in a while, so we’re looking into making it leaner and meaner. As a first stage, Carla has been conducting internal interviews and analysing the existing content
  • Juju GUI: we’re designing on-boarding and a new notification system, and we’re finalising designs for the masthead, service block and relationship lines

We’ve also learnt that Spencer’s favourite author is Paul Auster. And Tristram wrote a post on his blog about his first experience with Juju.

Web team weekly meeting on 19 September 2013Spencer giving his 5×5 presentation at last week’s web team meeting

Have you got any questions or suggestions for us? Would you like to hear about any of these projects and tasks in more detail? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Read more
Inayaili León

A fresh-looking Design Blog

It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally done it: the Design Blog has a new look!

Let me take you through the main aspects we wanted to improve on.

Why change?

The last blog design was nearly four years old. With its small font sizes and crammed pages, the text was difficult to read and the images didn’t have space to breathe.

In updating it, we wanted it to appear lighter and cleaner. We wanted to move the visual design forward and let the living and breathing parts of the site — the articles and images themselves — take centre stage.

Ubuntu Design blog team page
The new Team page

A focus on content and flexibility

Ubuntu Design: Article page

One of the main objectives of this new design was to make the reading experience more pleasurable, losing unnecessary details that were crowding the page, so our readers can focus on the content.

We needed a design that could accommodate not just the content we have now, but also the kind of content we expect to see in the future. So we’ve introduced a grid that’s flexible as well as strong. It makes the article pages look more balanced and harmonious, making it easier for the reader to focus on the text and the images.

Speaking of images, we also wanted to make it easier for authors (and encourage them) to include large images in their articles, if available, to really show off the work.

It all comes down to flexibility: an article page should look great when it has no images at all, but the grid and the design should be flexible enough that, when images exist, they are allowed to shine.

The Ubuntu font

Our font is beautiful, but we weren’t using it to its full potential before. One of the goals of this design is to show off the Ubuntu font, its different weights and how great it works at different sizes.

This an example of a block quote, showing the flexibility of the Ubuntu font.

We increased the baseline font size and started applying a new typographic scale (based on a modular scale) which we will introduce to the main websites soon.

Small screens

Although we have taken steps to improve the way content displays on small screens, there are still a few more things we can do to improve the browsing experience on mobile devices.

Because the new design is so clean, it reads well on smaller screens, especially the article pages, which are the most important part of the blog. Other elements, like the footer and navigation, have been tweaked slightly for easier access on smaller screens.

What’s next

As with most projects, we’re not done yet. There are a few things that we’d like to improve further — like the small-screen experience — and some more functionality we’d like to add, but we believe this is a good first step.

As you can see now, the URL for this blog remains associated with Canonical. Another important point we need to address is the relationship between this blog and the Ubuntu Brand Guidelines site, as they are in fact just two aspects of the overarching Ubuntu design concept.

Now let’s hear your thoughts! What do you think of this updated design? And what would you like to see us writing about in the future — what would make interesting articles for you?


Read more
Michael Hall

Back in San Francisco, during UDS-Q, we had a discussion about the need for better online documentation for the various APIs that application developers use to write apps for Ubuntu.  The Ubuntu App Showdown and subsequent AppDevUploadProcess spec work has consumed most of my time since then, but I was able to start putting together a spec for such a site.  The App Showdown feedback we got from our developers survey highlighted the need, as lack of good Gtk documentation for Python was one of the most common problems people experienced, giving it a little more urgency.

Fortunately, Alberto Ruiz was at UDS, and told me about a project he had started for Gnome called Gnome Developer Network (GDN for short).  Alberto had already done quite a bit of work on the database models and GObject Instropection parsing needed to populate it.  The plan is to use GDN as the database and import process, and build a user-friendly web interface on top of that, linking in external resources like tutorials and AskUbuntu questions, as well as user submitted comments and code snippets.

Now that the spec is (mostly) done, we need to get together some developers who can implement it.  There will be a lot of front-end work (mostly HTML, CSS and Javascript), but also enough backend work (Python and Django) to keep anybody occupied.  I’ve created a Launchpad project for the site, and a team you can join if you’re interested in helping out.

The GDN code and some very basic template are already available. You can get the code from bzr with bzr branch lp:ubuntu-api-website and following the instructions in the DEVELOPMENT file.  I’ll also be running a live App Developer Q&A Session at 1700 UTC today (September 19th), and would be happy to help anybody get the code up and running during that time.

Read more

Fernando Tricas always has interesting things to say. In a recent post he talks about The life of links and digital content (Spanish):

«We tend to assume that digital [content] is forever. But anyone who accumulates enough information also knows that sometimes its difficult to find it, in other cases it breaks and, of course, there is a non-zero probability that things go wrong when hosted by third-party services. It is an old topic here, remember Will we have all this information in the future? . The topic resurfaces as news in the light of Currently charged by the article that can be read at A Year After the Egyptian Revolution, 10% of Its Social Media Documentation Is Already Gone».

In the comments, Anónima said: «Given a time t and an interval Δt, the larger Δt, the more likely is that all information in a time t-Δt you want to find is gone». This sounded like an statement to check, Thus, I decided to do an experiment with' bookmarks.

In I have archived around 4000 links from 2004. So, I downloaded the backup file, an HTML file with all links and metadata (date, title, tags). I developed a python script to process this file: go through the links and save its current status (whether the link is alive or not). With another script, the status were processed to generate the statistics. These are the results:

Captura de pantalla 2012-04-12 a la(s) 01.02.39

As can be seen, there is a correlation between the age of the links and the probability of being dead. For the 10% who cited the Egyptian revolution, in the case of my delicious, we must go back three years ago (2009). But at 6 years from now, a quarter of the links are now defunct. Of course, the sample is very small shouldn't be representative. It would be interesting to compare it with other accounts and to extend the time span: How many links are still alive after 10 or 15 years? Is it the same with information stored in other media? Are all this death links resting in peace in a forgotten Google's cache disk?

I imagine that sometime in the future, librarians will begin to worry not only to digitize remote past documents, but also to preserve those of the present.

In case you are interested, the code to generate such data is available at The spreadsheet is also available in Google Docs .

Read more
Inayaili León

If you’ve ever had to create Ubuntu or Canonical related design materials, chances are you had a look at the Brand Guidelines, which, until now, have only existed in the form of bulky PDFs. Those days are over, as we happily introduce the brand new Ubuntu Brand Guidelines site, where you can read the guidelines and download the assets necessary to create your projects.

Ubuntu Brand Guidelines homepage
Ubuntu Brand Guidelines homepage

You can learn more about the Ubuntu brand values and the brand assets, such as our logos, colour palette and pictograms, and how to use them. You can also consult some of our Web-specific guidelines, look at examples of design work that has been done, and download assets like the logos and pictograms.

Ubuntu Brand Guidelines - Brand assets section
Brand assets section on the Brand Guidelines site

This is the first iteration of the site: lots of content is being prepared and will be added later on, and we will also work on some refinements to the asset download process, as well as adding many more useful downloads, such as templates and photography.

Among the more frequently requested assets are HTML and CSS snippets and templates that can simply be copied and pasted on internal and external projects, so the designer or developer can be certain everything looks as it should. This is in the works, but it’s something that takes a little bit more time to get just right, so please bear with us.

For now, we’d be delighted to get your feedback on this first version: have you found anything particularly useful on the site? What would you like to see there that you think it’s missing? How do you think it can be improved?

We hope we enjoy the online Ubuntu Brand Guidelines!

Read more
Inayaili León

Warm grey is one of the neutral colours from Ubuntu and Canonical’s colour palette. It has been added to the palette for balance, being a bridge between the vibrant orange and aubergine.

The brand guidelines specify that warm grey (hex value: #AEA79F) can be used for: backgrounds, graphics, pictograms, dot patterns, charts and diagrams, and large size text.

Even though its use has been tried and tested on some of our print design materials, we are still finding the best way of applying it on the screen, with accessibility considerations in particular being something we want to get right.

Ubuntu Server brochure
Warm grey used in a brochure spread and diagrams

I made a quick example of warm grey text on white and buttons with white text on warm grey and showed it to the Ubuntu accessibility team, who promptly gave me some feedback.

Warm grey text on white and white text on warm grey
Example used to showcase warm grey text on white and white text on warm grey

Here are the conclusions of this discussion, and what we will now try to follow as a rule:

  • Warm grey is easier to read on white and at larger sizes, such as 24-36px
  • It can be used for short, less important pieces of information (for example the date or author of a post or news piece below the main title)
  • It can also be used in buttons that are deactivated and therefore less relevant

Guidelines can change though. If something doesn’t evolve, or is at least reassessed at certain intervals of time, it can very easily stagnate. So we will test these conclusions and follow these simple rules for now, knowing that later on we may decide there is a better way of achieving the same results.

Read more
Steve George

I attended GDC Europe 2011 in Cologne back in August. If you haven’t run into GDC previously it’s the main games developer event in Europe and comes just before Gamescom which is an absolutely gigantic.

The most interesting topic of conversation was that we’re in a period of considerable change for the games industry as online and the Web become increasingly important. In a panel discussion Martin de Ronde of Vanguard Games summed it up by pointing out that what’s most confusing for the industry is that the period of transition is unclear. But, that the eventual outcome will be a future of many screens, with many platforms and that the aim for developers has to be to provide players with the ability to play anywhere and any time. For Ubuntu this is a very positive perspective as we know we’ll be on many devices and form-factors.

I sat in lots of talks and panels about on-line gaming and the Web – the speed and velocity of change is clearly still controversial. The general perception is that the Web isn’t quite ready for Core Gamers but that it could get there very quickly. Aside from the buzz around online games the other issue is the impact it has on development costs. In one talk about publishers it was pointed out that a PC game costs 2-3 million to develop, while a console game is 8 million (!) or above. Meanwhile, an on-line game will be considerably cheaper at around 500k.

The primary reason given for why Web games aren’t ready is the lack of bandwidth which makes it difficult to deliver a high production value. One insightful point was that the technical limitations mean it’s useful to think about specific genres since some will be easier than others to put on the Web. The costs and revenue potential is also very different, with the opportunity to do long-tail revenue with an online game. For me an implicit issue is that the software stack around “HTML5” is still immature so you’re bound to see issues and incompatibilities – this is probably something that we in Ubuntu have felt the full pain off in the past with Flash!

So where are the opportunities for smaller developers? Well everyone seems to agree that digital distribution is revolutionising the way in which developers can reach players. And that this change is going to be across every player segment and on multiple different plaforms. However, the challenge for developers is that they’ll need to form a relationship with players and do some of the things publishers have previously done – market and sell their game. Luckily the Web is a great platform for this.

From an Ubuntu perspective GDC confirmed that digitial distribution is now considered mainstream, so everything that we’re doing in Software Center and our developer programme is timely. For the future it seems clear that the Web is going to be a major gaming platform which will benefit Ubuntu users as it offers the promise that they can play on an equal footing to everyone else. Clearly, we’ll want to look for ways to influence and get our voice heard on aspects of the technology stack, since it will impact our users in the future. Moreover, our experiences as an alternative platform contain valuable insights for those developing and choosing the future software gaming stack.

Phew! so GDC was great, though it was a bit of a culture shock. Particularly, on the last day when I blearily made my way into the convention centre and in the corner of my eye caught three camels walking along the road – it made me jump in surprise! It turned out they were for free rides during Gamescom. Only at a games conference do you get that sort of marketing!

Read more
Iain Farrell

Last night I watched “Press Pause Play” which in it’s own words is a film about fear, hope and digital culture. If you’ve not heard the talk surrounding the movie one of the trailers is below and we’ll catch up once you’ve … well … caught up :)

Good huh? The interesting thing about Press Pause Play is that it speaks to people who are out in the world creating interesting things and discusses what the brave new world of powerful computers, amazing tools for creation and sharing of content and ideas instantly means for the creative arts. For better or worse anyone can be a film maker now or a photographer or web designer or musician. Install Ubuntu from a USB key, plug that computer into an internet connection and “Ta-Dahhh!” you’ve got instant access to tools which allow you to create amazing things. Or functional things. Or mundane things. Or robots … seriously … people are making robots and they’re using Ubuntu to do it.

The film is extremely good and I’d urge anyone interested how people make stuff today, music, art, film all that “stuff” to watch it. I also think there’s a lot in there for people passionate about free and open source software. The way that we create software, these tools, this approach, it’s helping people who’ve never met to collaborate and produce all sorts of things.

I found it an inspiring watch and best of all it’s available for free from just download, grab a cup of tea and enjoy. I had jelly babies too but don’t eat too many, you’ll be sick.

Read more
Paul Sladen

Kudos to everyone using the Ubuntu Font Family on their websites as a web font! This week the total to date reached over one billion requests—and it’ll go up even faster if you add Ubuntu Mono and Ubuntu Condensed to your sites too.

Shortly after the Ubuntu Font Family was added to Google Webfonts directory, Bruno and Dalton Maag team noticed that there had been 12 million API requests in the first month. I think you’ll agree that the current figure dwarfs that! Here’s the announcement from back then, now blown away:

Only added recently into Google’s font directory, the Ubuntu font family has already been viewed over 12 Million times around the world.

We expect the fonts to become even more popular once the font family is available in all its weights, and the core set is extended with Arabic and Hebrew, too.

Bruno and Dalton Maag, just a few months ago

I had a feeling that the usage might ramp up and now the those API requests to the Google Webfonts have reached one billion (109) or as David Wurtz, product manager for Google Webfonts put it:

…A big milestone!

David Wurtz, Product Manager, Google Web Fonts Team

Version 0.80 expansion

The statistics are not the only big milestone recently. Ubuntu Font Family 0.80 was released at the end of September 2011. In the release announcement it introduces the five additional .ttf files:

Hinting work continues on the Ubuntu Mono with Vincent Connare at Dalton Maag working to perfect the distortions to improve the rendering at low resolutions.

Mark Shuttleworth (who along with other people has been testing the Ubuntu Mono for nearly a year) is so happy with the Ubnutu Mono that in bug #865013 “Ubuntu Mono” has been made the default system monospace font in Ubuntu 11.10. For Kubuntu, Xubuntu and friends the monospace fonts are also shipped in release 11.10, but are not yet set as default.

Get them now!

I’ll hand it over to Dave Crossland to do the summing up. Dave is an independent font consultant working with the Google Web Fonts team who’s been heavily involved with building up the number of libre and open fonts available in the directory and knows intimately what works and what doesn’t:

The Ubuntu Font Family is one of the most popular fonts available in Google Web Fonts, …thanks to its excellent quality in design and technical engineering, and also its extensive character set that supports many languages. As more and more people learn about why web fonts are important, it’s great that the Ubuntu project has shared this high quality typeface and font family with the world!

Dave Crossland, independent consultant to Google Web Fonts team

To view and use the Ubuntu Font Family via Google Web Fonts; there’s a choice of Ubuntu (proportional ×8), Ubuntu Mono (monospace ×4) and Ubuntu Condensed (condensed ×1). You are expressly welcome and encouraged to share and use the webfonts on your own sites!

Read more
Inayaili León

We’re happy to unveil the brand new Ubuntu App Developer website today, a place where developers who want to create Ubuntu applications can find all the information they need and get in touch with the Ubuntu app developer community to share ideas, ask questions and get all the news and events.

Ubuntu App Developer website homepage
Ubuntu App Developer’s website new homepage

The brief

The goal of this project was to create a website that would centralise the best resources on developing Ubuntu applications; a place where developers could find not only all the tools and information necessary to get started on Ubuntu app development, but also a place where they can be a part of an engaged community of other developers who are equally eager to learn and happy to share their knowledge.

Our timeframe was very limited: just under 10 weeks to plan, research, design and build the site. This, of course, had an impact on what could be created. We spent quite a lot of time scoping down the project, making sure the essential information was included and the site was built in a way that it could grow organically, over time.

Ubuntu Developer Website schedule
Planning the App Developer website


Research is one of the most important parts of creating sites (or, to that matter, anything that people will use). As experienced designers, we can make informed guesses on what people will want to see on a given page, but sometimes people’s expectations can be quite different from our initial thoughts. With this in mind, we knew that even though we spent a few intense weeks sketching, brainstorming, covering the Millbank walls with post-its and wireframes, having day-long workshops and listening to what all the key people in this project had to say, ultimately, we had to put our thoughts in front of the developers we were making this site for. And so we did.

Ubuntu App Developer site wireframe
One of the many sketches that were done

John Oxton, the Web Team’s UX architect, as someone more qualified to go through this phase, will write a more detailed follow-up post that will focus mainly on the research phase of the App Developer site, the tools used, the main findings, the solutions, etc.

The brand, from a developer’s perspective

The Ubuntu App Developer website is part of the main Ubuntu family of websites. With this in mind, we had to make sure it adhered very closely to the Ubuntu brand guidelines. But we also wanted it to have a life of its own, so that it wouldn’t just be a copy of

One of the key assets of the Ubuntu brand guidelines are the Voice, Audience and Developer sliders, which are a tool in understanding what the design direction of any product should be, whether it is a banner, a brochure, a cd cover, a site, etc.

Ubuntu brand guidelines slides page
One of the detailed pages on the sliders in the Ubuntu brand guidelines

Here’s a quick overview of the sliders:

  • The Voice slider determines whether a piece is representative of the Ubuntu community or if it’s representative of Canonical. This doesn’t reflect the position of the person creating the work, but of the work itself.
  • The Audience slider determines the type of user you are talking to. The work can be consumer- or enterprise-oriented.
  • The Developer slider determines whether the work is targeted towards end-users or developers. In this case, an advanced user would still not be a developer.

If you’re creating design assets for Ubuntu, you should be familiar with these: have a read of the guidelines as they go into a lot more detail, and do get in touch if you have any questions!

After talking to the stakeholders of this project, we were able to position the sliders as follows:

  • Voice: Community
  • Audience: Consumer
  • Developer: Developer

This was the first time we created a website that was so directly targeted at developers. A brand is something that evolves over time, and this was a great opportunity to evolve the Ubuntu brand in this direction and to explore a new area of the guidelines that hadn’t been looked at in depth before.

Ubuntu App Developer design direction sketches
Some quick notes and sketches exploring the design direction for the site

We wanted to create something that conveyed the idea of blueprints. This led to a design that makes use of outlines, widely spaced dots and that is clean and direct.

Ubuntu App Developer website's navigation detail
The App Developer’s site navigation follows closely the one of the main Ubuntu sites, with its own flavour

Ubuntu App Developer site's box detail
Detail of one of the reusable components of the App Developer’s site

Second round of testing

Trying to get as much feedback from our target users as possible, we showed a more finalised site to a few more developers. Again, John will write about the research side of this project in more detail soon, here on the blog.

The road ahead

This project was a highly rewarding and highly intense team effort. Everyone worked incredibly hard, but we had a lot of fun. Too many great ideas for the site had to be put aside for the future, as our time was so constrained, but rest assured all these were captured in a very exciting roadmap.

The website is now in the hands of the fantastic Ubuntu App Developer community and the Canonical Community Team, and we hope to see it grow with lots of content created by anyone who would like to contribute. Have a look at the site and tell all your friends about it! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Read more
Inayaili León

We all know Ubuntu is great, but we want even more people to know just how great. With this in mind, we thought we’d give the visitors of the tools to spread the word about Ubuntu.

As of today, you can see Tweet and Like buttons on some of the key pages of the website, such as Ubuntu for you, the Features pages, or the Download page.

Sharing features on Ubuntu for you page

This is the first step towards something bigger. In the pipeline are the introduction of more ways of sharing the Ubuntu message with friends, family and (why not?) your entire social network. For now, we’ve focused on the two most popular services.

Sharing a page from on Twitter
Sharing your favourite pages of the Ubuntu website on Twitter is a breeze. Before tweeting, you can customise your message too.

We’d love to get your feedback, hear your suggestions, and know your ideas on how you can tell the world just how lovely Ubuntu is. As an Ubuntu lover and active member of the community, what tools do you think would help you and be most valuable in sharing your experience of Ubuntu?

Finally, if you love Ubuntu, help us spread the word: visit and share those links with as many people as you can!

Read more


  • Brief analysis of 150,000 photographs from Flickr in the province of Malaga.
  • It identifies the profile and preferences of tourists.

Last Saturday, I  was in Malaga. I was invited by Sonia Blanco and the Universidad Internacional de Andalucia to participate in workshop on Tourism and Social Networks. Sonia is professor at the University of Malaga, and one of the oldest bloggers in the Spanish blogosphere. Sonia asked me to present the analysis Fernando Tricas and myself did about Flickr photos and the Canary Islands (2009-2010), and I gladly accepted. I wanted to bring an update, so we got to work to make a short presentation with data from the province of Malaga. And that's what is shown below.


Last Thursday, with the presentation already made, Fernando passed me an interesting link, a visualization by the Wall Street Journal that shows the density of a week of Foursquare check-ins in New York . If the WSJ could do it, so do we ;)  We already had the data and the map algorithms, so generated the maps by months and joined them to build the animation.

The video below shows the density of photographs taken in the province of Malaga from 2004 to 2010. Blue colors are areas where they make some pictures, and the red areas have made many pictures. There are areas with many photographs, places of touristic interest. And of course, there are months where the activity is higher and lower. 


The video is just a bit of whole presented analysis. Full version is available below.

As you may know, Flickr is a popular photo-sharing service with 5 billion of hosted images and 86 million unique visitors. Flickr has social networking features, since it allows to make contacts. Flickr can play a role in the promotion of tourist destinations, as it is one of the main sources of images on the Internet. But to us, Flickr is a huge source of data: Which are the most photogenic places? Who are taking pictures there? These and other questions can answered using data mining.

For this study we obtained the metadata of 175,000 photographs (62,000 geolocated), 7,900 photographers and 1,470,000 tags (47,000 unique). All these pictures were either marked by the tag "malaga" or GPS coordinates were inside the province of Malaga.


Below are the five most relevant slides: the tag cloud, the number of photos and photographers by months, the top 10 countries of the geolocated photographers, the group of tags and heatmaps of the geolocated images.

  • Turismo-malaga-11
  • Turismo-malaga-17
  • Turismo-malaga-13
  • Turismo-malaga-15
  • Turismo-malaga-20
  • Turismo-malaga-20

According to those who share photos on Flickr about Malaga, we can conclude that:

  • The high season in Málaga is August (also, in April there is a Holy Week-effect.
  • Users come mainly from UK, USA, Italy, Germany, Madrid and Andalusia. (USA is probably overrepresented compared to real visitors).
  • They are interested in photography, beaches, festivals, fairs, nature, sea, birds, sky, parks.
  • Pictures are taken mainly in Málaga (capital), Ronda, Barcenilla and Benalmadena.

The full presentation slides show more features, such as geolocated photographs by countries. It is interesting to compare these data with the previous study on the Canaries. A more detailed analysis can be done, but the roundtable had limited time. This sneak peek shows the potential of social networking and geolocation services for market research. If you have any questions, ask in the comments!

The presentation and images have a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

Finally, my gratitude to the organization of the UNIA for the invitation and hospitality, to Daniel Cerdan for suggesting the title of the post and Fernando Tricas for his unconditional support.

Read more
Inayaili León

Natty Narwhal isn’t the only thing new today in Ubuntu. Along with it, and as you may have already noticed, we have updated some areas of the Ubuntu website, including a fresh new homepage.

What’s new?

This overhaul of the website focuses on improving and refining the experience for users who are new to Ubuntu and who we want to entice and convert. We have taken a better look at how Ubuntu’s most important features and characteristics were (or weren’t, in some cases) being shown, and whether visitors’ most important questions were being answered.

Several things have changed. Firstly, rather than having separate sections for Desktop and Netbook (and as a consequence of the move towards Unity), we have created a single section called, simply, Ubuntu. We have also added a direct link from the main navigation area to a new Download section, making the different download options more visible.

Under the new Ubuntu section, Ubuntu’s features are given the spotlight. Rather than having a long list of screengrabs as before, various tabs take you through a more detailed tour of the most exciting and useful features.

The Web browsing features page
The Web browsing features page

In the new What’s new? section you can see what has changed from previous versions of Ubuntu.

Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page
Interactive tooltips in the What’s new? page

The new homepage is cleaner, more focused and it shows off some of Ubuntu’s features from the outset. The new design also solves one of the biggest performance issues the previous version suffered from: very large file sizes, which rendered the page too slow to load.

Ubuntu website’s new homepage
Ubuntu website’s new homepage

These larger updates to the site started earlier this year. In March, the Business section (which was previously divided in two sections, Server and Cloud) underwent a major restructuring. The main objective was to make it easier for businesses to find out about all that Ubuntu, and Canonical, have to offer them.

The new Business section
The new Business section

Why the change?

These updates didn’t just pop up from nowhere. Last December, we carried out intensive user research to see how the website was performing. During these sessions, we interviewed users of different platforms and with different backgrounds. We analysed their paths through the websites, we heard their questions, took note of their concerns and observed their “awe moments”.

The findings from our analysis showed that although users found Ubuntu compelling, they were having difficulty finding answers to their questions on the Ubuntu website, and some of the most interesting features didn’t have the prominence they deserved.

The findings analysis phase
The findings analysis phase

This happened not only for end users, but also for business users, hence the update of both sections.

Whilst the overhaul is visible in both the design and structure of the website, we have also been trying to (slowly) improve what’s hidden behind the scenes.

We (as Canonical’s Design and Web Team) are conscious of the fact that both the markup and the code behind the website can be greatly improved. Our ultimate goal is to make the code that powers Ubuntu’s website as good as Ubuntu itself. We want it to be indicative of our standards.

This will make the website more easy to maintain and it will reflect on how accessible it is (which is a consideration that we’re striving to keep present throughout the entire process, not only in the coding phases of the project).

Steps in the right direction

To create these new pages, we have compartmentalised the new code so that we could experiment with creating better code. Our goal is for the new code to be more accessible, more flexible, more modular, less convoluted, less redundant, more performant and more robust. Our markup can be cleaner and more semantic.

One of our main concerns regarding the current website’s design and code is its lack of accessibility at some points. For this matter, we spoke directly with the Ubuntu Accessibility team to register their worries and suggestions. The main items that transpired from this session were:

  • Some colour combinations don’t provide enough contrast between background and foreground
  • Text should be easier to resize, using relative units (such as ems) rather than absolute ones (like pixels)
  • The copy should be clear and concise
  • Some of the text is too small
  • There are visibility issues in links and navigation

This chat was helpful as it helped to consolidate the issues we were aware of, surface other problems and most importantly provide us with a real world view of how these can disrupt users.

We have begun addressing some of these in the new designs and will continue to do so in the coming months.

What the future holds

You can expect more and better updates to within the next few months.

The main focus of our work will be making the website more accessible and easier to navigate by following current web standards and bringing it up to the Ubuntu and Canonical standard of quality; the code should be easier to manage, the content easier to update, and the message clear.

We’re confident we’re heading in the right direction. We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and comments.

Read more

Whilst we wait for chromify-osd to go through the Chrome App web store process I thought I’d point out some other ways where we could integrate Unity with the web. Here’s what my current New tab looks like in Chrome:

There are applications I’ve installed. And yeah, Jason Odoom has made a Launchpad application in the Chrome Web Store. Cool huh? 

However it doesn’t make sense to me that I have applications in my browser, it’s kind of too … bookmarkesque. Too many of these “html5 apps” are just fancy bookmarks. Here’s what I really want:

When I bookmark a web app, I want it in my launcher. (Or whatever your OS provides). And then when I click it, I want a full blown application:

Note how the Seesmic shortcut launches the web app in Chrome application mode. Clicking on those links spawn another browser process, no weird new tabs interfering with the web app. It behaves like a totally separate application.

This is just a sandboxed version of No adobe air, no dealing with pesky OS installation garbage, just my application. That’s all I want.

Read more

Call for Help and Ideas!

Everyone knows I love web apps. You have two extremes. Old school “native apps and in control of my data” and then the other which is basically ChromeOS; No local state, all web. Most people are in the middle. You might love Gmail but the thought of having a remote word processor might not work for you.

I want my cake and I want to eat it too. I want web apps integrated with my desktop, which is why I am a big fan of site specific browsers. Recently these have been popularized by Chrome applications in the Chrome App Store — which is just a pretty front-end to what Stuart and I have been yelling about for 3 years.

When people do it right  (like Seesmic and Tweetdeck), it’s a great user experience. When people do it wrong, it’s just a stupid bookmark with no window chrome, meh. However, we can do little things to make it great. 

One area where we can integrate is notifications. Chrome/Webkit has notifications, they look like this: 

These are becoming more popular; Seesmic, Stack Overflow Chat, and irccloud to name a few. Well, why stop there? I asked Aq to hook up a prototype and then Marco Cepppi finished it.

Let’s chromify-osd:

A little bit of glue makes all the difference. To try it:

bzr branch lp:chromify-osd

cd chromify-osd


Now, load the extension in Chrome. Wrench -> Tools -> Extensions, click on the developer mode link, and then choose Load unpacked extension and select the directory “chromify-osd”. Then use a webapp that uses extensions. Here’s an example one.

Aq passes along “Although remember that the best solution will still be to write a proper Chrome extension which intercepts notifications and uses D-Bus! An NPAPI extension. This is a hack.”

So what do we need? We need someone who can make a Chromium extension to connect web notifications to libnotify. I suspect that a proper extension will have to deal with sandboxing and a bunch of stuff Aq glazed over in order to give me hope that this is possible.

What else do we need? Well, we need Unity to decide to be the glue for the web. We can do this by connecting desktop services to the browsers. Wherever web app developers take this we need to connect it up for people. Here is the start of some plans Unity developers have for making this integration better.

Any takers on getting this started?

Where else can we do this? How about we make it so when people make the App Shortcut we “install it” for them?

Now we’re talking! I also what a nice high resolution icon on the launcher with little numbers for new emails, etc. fta pointed out the code where Chromium does the shortcut thing, maybe someone can take a crack at it once the Launcher gets closer to being finished.

(My examples use Chrome since it ships app shortcuts out of the box, the same should apply for Firefox/Prism)

Whether you agree with web apps or not isn’t the point. Some people like them and some people don’t, either way your desktop should give you the best possible experience if you use Evolution or Gmail or whatever. Thoughts?

Read more


  • The Cablegate set is composed of +250,000 diplomatic cables.
  • The total number sent by Embassies and Secretary of State is guessed.

One of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics is the dark matter. Dark matter can not be seen, it doesn't shine nor reflects light. But we infer its existence because dark matter weights, and modifies the path of stars and galaxies. Cablegate has its own dark matter.

According to WikiLeaks, 251,287 communications compose the Cablegate. But what is the real volume of cables between the Embassies and Secretary of State? Can we guess it? The answer is yes, there is a simple way to know it. Using the methodology explained below, the total number of communications between Embassies and the Secretary of State is guessed.

This are the results.

The dark matter of the Embassies.

20101224cablegate-darkmatter.001Between 2005-2009, more than 400,000 non leaked cables are identified. In this case, the uncertainty is larger than with just one embassy due to the small number or released cables. The sum increased by 50% in just one week.

Curiously, the average size of the 1800 published cables is 12 KB. If this average is representative of the whole set, something I doubt, the total size of the 250,000 messages would be 350 MB.

Secretary of State.

In addition to embassies' communications, Cablegate has some cables from the Secretary of State. This messages are often quite interesting, because they request information or send commands to the embassies (eg 09STATE106750).

20101224cablegate-darkmatter.002In 2005 and 2006 there is no released cable, and therefore the sum cannot be estimated. But between 2007 and 2009, the volume of cables sent by the Secretary of State is remarkable (so big, that I doubted that the record number was an ordinal number and not a more sophisticated identifier). Compare this graph with the one of the embassies. 2007 show more cables from the Secretary than all Embassies combined, but beware, because this trend can be reversed with better data.

This results are available in Google Docs.

Madrid Embassy.

This is the chart for Madrid Embassy, which ranks seventh in the number of leaked cables.

20101224cablegate-darkmatter.003Between 2004-2009, the existence of at least 17,000 dispatches sent from Madrid can be deduced. In the same period, there are just 3500 leaked cables. The graph shows the breakdown by year. 2007 is leaked in a high percentage, the oppositat in 2004 and 2005. Also, the number of communications decreases progressively (Why? Maybe other networks are used instead of SIPRNet). The complete table is available in Google Docs.

Cablegate Dark Matter Howto

The Guardian published a text file with dates, source and tags of the 250,000 diplomatic cables included in the Cablegate. The content of this messages are being slowly released. (Using this short descriptions, I did an analysis of the messages related to Spain -tagged as SP-, and suggested the existence of communications related to the 2004 Madrid bombings and the Spaniard Internet Law. Later, El País published this cables, confirming the suspicions).

To infer the volume of communications the methodology is quite simple. Each cable has an identifier. For example, 04MADRID893 summaries the Madrid bombing on March 11th, 2004. This identifier can be broken into three parts:

  • 04: Current year (2004).
  • MADRID: Origin (the Embassy in Madrid)
  • 893: Record number?

What's that record number? Let's investigate. There are some cables sent on December 2004 from Madrid Embassy, as 04MADRID4887 (dated December 29, 2004). Its record number is "4887". Another message sent on February has ID 04MADRID527, record number "527". Looking to others cables dated on January, seems obvious that the record number starts at 1 and goes up, one by one, through the year. The record number is a simple ordinal value. Thanks to this simple rule, and reading the last cables of Madrid Embassy on December 2004, we know it sent ~4900 cables that year alone.

Ideally, the last cable of the year from each Embassy would be available, but the Cablegate data is not complete. Just fraction of the leaked messages has been published so far and those last cables of the year may not be leaked in Cablegate anyway. But, as can be seen in the graphics, this method allows to do an approximation.

The code used for the calculations is available at github (cablegate-sp) and has a BSD license.

Out of sight, out of mind.

One month after the first cable release, only two thousand messages has been published. At this rate it will take a decade to release all Cablegate content. Maybe not all messages are as relevant as those released so far, eg boring messages about visas. But if WikiLeaks has raised such a stir with just 2000 cables, I cannot imagine which other secrets remain in those thousands unfiltered (although top-secret cables use other networks).

Anyway, I'm sure there is still a lot of data mining job to do with the cables.

(Spanish version of this article: Cablegate: Lo que no está en WikiLeaks).

PS (December 30th, 2010): Ricardo Estalmán linked to this entry on Wikipedia about the German tank problem during World War II:

«Suppose one is an Allied intelligence analyst during World War II, and one has some serial numbers of captured German tanks. Further, assume that the tanks are numbered sequentially from 1 to N. How does one estimate the total number of tanks?»

The Cablegate case is quite similar. I will update the estimation with the formula cited in the above article, as soon as possible (Xmas days!).

Read more
Inayaili León

29 days later

It’s been 29 days since I’ve started working at Canonical and, let me tell you, they went by really fast.

In the past few weeks I have worked on lots of projects and there is a lot more in the pipeline. I’ve mainly been working on the “realign” (rather than “redesign”) of and; we’ve also been thinking about how we can make the design toolkit more interactive, making it easier for anyone who needs to use it to find the information they need, to name but a few projects.

More importantly, I have learned that:

  • You shouldn’t use Iain’s favourite mug
  • Marcus takes a long time to decide what he’s going to eat
  • Michael can make origami cranes
  • John has a truck
  • Alejandra eats more chocolate than I do

UDS – Ubuntu Developer Summit

A few days after I’ve started I was told I was going to the next UDS, which will be held in Orlando from 25th to 29th October. No-one has really given me a clear explanation of what is supposed to happen at UDS — I think they want it to be a surprise. So I’d be happy to get any tips that fellow attendees might have for me: What mustn’t I forget?, What should I be expecting?, How I can I make the most of it?

That is all for now, reporting from the design corner of the Canonical Millbank headquarters.

(Oh, and the view is still amazing.)

Read more