New Skillshare course: Introduction to Machine Learning: Using Artificial Intelligence

I am chuffed to announce that my first Skillshare course is going live today! The course is online and comes with a free two month subscription to Skillshare. You can watch it by following this link: http://skl.sh/christian or tapping on my nose in this still:

Chris Heilmann giving his course

Under the title “Introduction to Machine Learning: Using Artificial Intelligence” I have recorded about an hour of materials to get you familiar with the topic of AI.

This is not a hard-core Machine Learning and data science course and I invite anyone with an interest in the topic to participate.

You don’t need to be a developer or data scientist. Instead I wanted to create a series of videos for anyone interested in AI. Consider it a head-start without the hype or complexity other resources on the topic.

In about an hour of simple lessons, you’ll learn about a few of the use cases of Machine Learning and how to apply them to your day-to-day products.

The list of lessons is as follows (video length in parenthesis):

  • Introduction (1:44)
  • What is Machine Learning (5:25)
  • How We Teach Machines (5:48)
  • Machine Learning to Help Humans (5:28)
  • Tools for Machine Learning (3:44)
  • Visual Uses (7:54)
  • Speaking Human (6:07)
  • Audio & Video (6:32)
  • Personalizing Your Machine Learning (5:08)
  • Ethics of Machine Learning (5:32)
  • Machine Learning & Creativity (4:33)
  • Final Thoughts (0:32)

My big idea about this course is to entice you to be creative with the different machine learning/AI offerings out there. Artificial Intelligence is the next evolution in computers and human/machine interaction and I think it is high time to democratise it. For years online portals, personal mobile devices and microphones in our houses have recorded our data. A lot of good has come out of this, like virtual keyboards that learn from our usage patterns or voice recognition that isn’t guesswork.

However, only a few companies use this information to build intelligent, responsive interfaces for our users. In order to take the creepiness out of AI, we should all do this. Human interaction has been recorded for quite a while, isn’t it time we also get much better interaction across the board based on this data?

In this course, I will show how Machine Learning allows for automatic image detection and labelling, facial recognition and using it in an ethical fashion and how to provide interfaces that allow humans to type or say full sentences instead of learning interaction models that are outdated.

The course is available for all Skillshare users, or if you aren’t one yet, you can follow this link skl.sh/christian for two months of free access – more than enough time to finish this course and others.

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Artificial Intelligence for more human interfaces

Artificial intelligence is the hype we’re knee-deep in at the moment. Everybody says they use it. Some says it will make the world a better place, others worry that it is the first sign of the end of the world.

AI isn’t only for a few, big, technical players

And most are technically correct. Most also miss the mark. It isn’t abut delivering one killer product around AI. Instead we should consider integrating it into what we already do. In this article I want to point out some facts about the use of AI and what fuels it. And what we could do to make all interfaces better with these insights.

There is a limited space for personal assistants in our lives. We don’t need every system to be our J.A.R.V.I.S or Star Trek’s ubiquitous “Computer…”. I also doubt that every interface is replaceable by a “personal assistant”. But we can learn a lot from them. Simplification and making sensible assumptions, for starters.

I will offer quite a few resources in this post. If you don’t want to open them one by one and prefer them with a short explanation, I put together a notes section with all of them.

Flawed user input shouldn’t be the end

Wouldn’t it be great if the interfaces we use were be a bit more lenient with our mistakes? What we do on the web is often limited compared to what operating systems and native interfaces offer. How often do you get stuck because a search interface expects perfect keywords? How often are you lost in a navigation that Russian-doll-like opens more and more options – neither applicable to your query – the more you click it? How many passwords have you forgotten because the form requests it in a special format that doesn’t allow special characters?

We have the power with deep learning and already harvested information to create some very human friendly interfaces. Interfaces that add extra information to work around barriers people have.

Visually impaired people benefit from image descriptions. People with cognitive impairments benefit from being able to ask simple questions instead of clicking through an animated tree of options. Seeing someone who doesn’t like computers ask Siri a question and getting a result is great. So was seeing elderly people play Wii tennis. They played it because they swung a racket instead of pressing confusing buttons on a controller. The point is that we have the power to allow humans be humans and still interact with machines as we taught machines about our flaws. An erroneous entry in your product isn’t a dead end. It is an opportunity to teach an algorithm how things go wrong to help them out.

Interfaces can make sensible assumptions what we did wrong and fix it instead of telling us to use the correct words. Interfaces that don’t assume humans think in keywords and filters but in words and metaphors.

This already happens in the wild. Take Google Maps for example. Did you know you can enter “How far am I from the capital of France” and you get a map as the result?

Google maps result showing how to travel to paris

The system found you on the planet, knows that the capital of France is Paris and gives you all the info how to get there.

Spotlight in OSX understands “my documents larger than 20 pages” and shows you exactly that. It parses documents where the owner is you and that are 20 pages or larger. No need to do Unix-style size flag, five click interactions or complex filtering interfaces.

The next users expect this to work

I never did this before I researched my talks and this post. But people who don’t have the burden of knowledge about IT systems that I have are using language like that. Especially in an environment where they talk to a computer instead of typing things.

Image catalogues are another great example. The amount of images we create these days is huge. And we stopped interacting with them right after we took the photo. Back in the days when it was harder to post online we uploaded photos to Flickr, gave them a title and tagged them. As the system was not clever enough to find information based on the image itself, this was the only means for us to find it weeks later.

Nowadays, we expect any photo search to be able to understand “dog” and find photos of dogs. They neither have alternative text saying “dog” nor tags, and yet search engines find them. This even works for more generic terms like “picnic” or “food”. And this is where Deep Learning worked its magic.

The problem is that only a few interfaces of well-known, big companies give this convenience. And that makes people wonder who owns information and where they know all these things from.

Unless we democratise this convenience and build interfaces everywhere that are that clever, we have a problem. Users will keep giving only a few players their information and in comparison less greedy systems will fall behind.

The other big worry I have is that this convenience is sold as “magic” and “under the hood” and not explained. There is a serious lack of transparency about what was needed to get there. I want people to enjoy the spoils but also know that it was paid for by our information and data. And that, of course ties in directly to security and privacy.

AI isn’t magic only a few players should offer and control.

AI is nothing new, the concepts go back to the 50ies. It is an umbrella term for a lot of math and science around repetition, pattern recognition and machine learning. Deep learning, the big breakthrough in making machines appear intelligent just became workable. Today’s chipsets and processors are powerful enough to plough iteratively through massive amounts of data. What took days in the past and a server farm the size of a house can now happen in a matter of minutes on a laptop.

If you want a very simple explanation what Machine Learning is, CGP Grey did a great job in his “How Machines Learn” video:

At the end of this video, he also explains one thing we all should be aware of.

The machines are watching

Watching robot
Photo by Florian Ziegler

Machines are constantly monitoring everything we do online and how we use hardware. There is no opt-out there.

As soon as something is free, you pay with your interactions and data you add to the system. This shouldn’t be a surprise – nothing is free – but people keep forgetting this. When Orwell predicted his total control state he got one thing wrong. The cameras that record all our actions aren’t installed by the state. Instead, we bought them and give our lives to corporations.

Just imagine if a few years ago i’d have asked you if it’ll be OK to put a microphone in your house. A microphone that records everything so a company can use that information. You’d have told me I’m crazy and there is no way I could wire-tap your house. Now we carry these devices in our pockets and we feel left out if our surveillance microphone isn’t the newest and coolest.

However, before we don our tinfoil hats, let’s not forget that we get a lot of good from that. When the first smartphones came out less enthusiastic people about the future sniggered. The idea of a system without a keyboard seemed ludicrous.

They were right to a degree: typing on a tiny screen isn’t fun, especially URLs were a pain. We built systems that learned from our behaviour and an amazing thing happened. We hardly type in full words any longer. Instead the machine completes our words and sentences. Not only by comparing them to a dictionary. no. Clever keyboards learn from our use and start to recognise our way of writing and slang terms we use. They can also deal with language changes – I use mine in English and German. A good virtual keyboard knows that “main train” most likely should get a “station” as the next word. It also knows that when you type a name it gives you the full name instead of having to type each letter.

Convenient, isn’t it? Sure, but in the wrong hands this information is also dangerous. Say you type in your passwords or personal information. Do you know if the keyboard you downloaded sends it to the person you intended exclusively? Or does it also log it in the background and sells that information on to a third party?

Are machines friends or foe?

Robot watching
Photo by Florian Ziegler

By using other people’s machines and infrastructure, we leave traces. This allows companies to recognise us, and accumulates a usage history. This leads to better results, but can also leak data. We should have more transparency about what digital legacy we left behind.

One blissfully naive stance I keep hearing is “I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care if I gets recorded”. Well, good for you, but the problem is that what gets recorded may be misunderstood or lacks context. A system that adds a “most likely context” to that can result in a wrong assumption. An assumption that makes you look terrible or even gets you on a watchlist. It then becomes your job then to explain yourself for something you never did. Algorithmic gossip you need to work with.

And that’s the big problem with AI. We are sold AI as this all-solving, intelligent system devoid of issues. But, no – computers can’t think.

AI can’t replace a thinking, creative human and can not magically fill gaps with perfect information. It can only compare and test. AI doesn’t learn in a creative fashion. It makes no assumptions. AI has no morals and ethics, but – used wrongly – it can amplify our biases.

In other words, AI accelerates how humans work. For better or worse. Machine Learning is all about returning guesses. We don’t get any definitive truth from algorithms, we get answers to our questions. AI can answer questions, but it is up to us to ask good questions – generic questions yield flawed results. Untrained and limited data leads to terrible and biased AI results. It is very easy to get either wrong deductions or false positives. AI is as intelligent and good as the people who apply it.

And this is where the rubber meets the road: what do we want AI to do and how do we use the information?

Take for example an API that recognises faces and gives you the results back. Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Face API gives you a whole lot to work with:

Face API data

  • Face rectangle / Landmarks
  • Pose (pitch/roll/yaw)
  • Smile
  • Gender/Age
  • Type of glasses
  • Makeup (lips/eye)
  • Emotion (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, neutral, sadness, surprise)
  • Occlusion (forehead/eye/mouth)
  • Facial hair (moustache/beard/sideburns)
  • Attributes: Hair (invisible, bald, colour)

Any of these could be used for good or bad. It is great if I can unlock my computer or mobile by looking into a camera rather than typing yet another password. It is great if I can find all photos of certain friend in my photo collection searching by name. It is also important to know if the person I am interacting with is really who I think they are. Uber, for example, rolled out a system that face-verifies a driver and customer before they enter the car.

But where does it end? There is a service that detects the ethnicity of a person from a photo and as much as I wreck my brain, I can’t think of a non-nefarious, racist use case for this.

Let’s use AI for good

Talking to robot
Photo by Andreas Dantz

Many companies are right now starting programs about ethical AI or AI for good and that is superbly important. The great speed and ability to work through huge and messy datasets quickly with a deep learning algorithm has many beneficial applications. From cancer research, to crop analysis, fraud prevention and defensively driving vehicles, there is a lot to do.

But all this smacks a bit of either science fiction or a great press headline rather than production-ready solutions. I think that in order for them to work, we need to educate people about the day-to-day benefits of intelligent systems. And there is no better way to do that than to have machines work around the issues we have simply by being human.

Humans are an interesting lot:

  • We are messy and prone to mistakes
  • We forget things and filter them by their biases
  • We are bored when doing repetitive tasks
  • We make more mistakes when we are bored
  • We have a non-optimised communication, with lots of nuances and misunderstandings. Human communication is 60% not about the content. Our facial expressions, our body language, how much the other person knows about us, the current context and the intonation all can change the meaning of the same sentence. That’s why it is so hard to use sarcasm in a chat and we need to use emoji or similar crutches

Computers aren’t human and don’t have the same issues:

  • They make no mistakes, other than physical fatigue
  • They never forget and don’t judge
  • They are great at tedious, boring tasks
  • They are great at repeating things with minor changes on iterations till a result is met
  • They have a highly optimised, non-nuanced communication.

This is a great opportunity. By allowing humans to be human and machines to get the data, discover the patterns and return insights for humans to vet, we can solve a lot of issues.

The main thing to crack is to get humans to give us data without being creepy or them not knowing it. Building interfaces that harvest information and give people a benefit while they enter information is the goal. This could be a fun thing.

Quite some time ago, Google released Autodraw. It is a very useful tool that allows artistically challenged people like me to paint a rough outline and get a well-designed icon in return. I can draw two almost circles with a line in between and autodraw recognises that I want to paint some glasses.

How does it know that? Well, lots of work and shape recognition, but the really clever bit was that even earlier, Google released Quickdraw, a game to doodle things and teach a computer, what – for example – glasses look like.

Genius isn’t it? Create a fun interface, make it a game, let people enter lots of flawed solutions, point a deep learning algo at it and find the happy medium. Then give it back to the community as a tool that does the reverse job.

Recaptcha is another example. By offering people who have forms on their web sites a means to block out bots by asking users to do human things, Google train their AI bots to recognise outliers in their datasets. Recaptcha used to show hard to read words which were part of the Google Books scanning procedure. Later you saw blurry house numbers, effectively training the data of Google Streetview. These days it is mostly about street signs and vehicles, which points to the dataset being trained in Recaptcha that helps self-driving cars.

Re-using data captured by big players for good

Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter have a lot of data they harvest every second. Many of them offer APIs to use what they learned from that data. Much more data that we ourselves could ever accumulate to get good results. And this is just fair, after all, the information was recorded, it makes sense to allow the developer community to do some good with it.

These AI services offer us lots of data to compare our users’ input with. Thus our users don’t need to speak computer but can be human instead. We can prevent them from making mistakes and we can help getting around physical barriers, like being blind.

Our arsenal when it comes to building more human interfaces is the following:

  • Natural language processing
  • Computer Vision
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Speech conversion and analysis
  • Moderation

Understanding human language

Dealing with human language was one of the first issues of building interfaces for humans. Probably the oldest task on the web was translation. This moved deeper into Natural Language Processing and Language Detection. Using these, we can allow for human commands and finding out tasks by analyzing texts. Any search done one the web should allow for this.

Getting information from images

When text wasn’t cool enough, we added images to our web media. Often we forget that not everyone can see them, and we leave them without alternative text. This is where machine learning steps in to help turning an image into a dataset we can work with.

This happens under the hood a lot. Facebook adds alternative text to images without alternative text. When you see a “image may contain: xyz” alt attribute, this is what happened there. This is also a clever phrasing on their part not to be responsible about the quality. All Facebook claimed that it may contain something.

Powerpoint has the same. When you drag a photo into PowerPoint it creates an alternative text you can edit. In this case, the world’s best dog (ours) was recognised and described as “A dog sitting on a sidewalk”. And that he was.

Automated generated alternative text in Powerpoint

There is a fun way to play with this on Twitter using Microsoft’s services. The other day I saw this tweet and for the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of the celebrity.

When my colleague added the #vision_api hashtag in an answer, the Vision API of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services explained that it is Ed Sheeran.

Vision API recognising photos by using #vision-api in Twitter

The API analyses images, converts text in images, recognises handwriting and finds celebrities and landmarks. All in a single REST call with a huge JSON object as the result. The object doesn’t only give you tags or keywords as a result. It also creates a human readable description. This one is a result of running the keywords through an NLP system comparing it to other descriptions.

Getting sentimental

Sentiment analysis is a very powerful, but also prone to wrong interpretation thing we can do. Finding out the sentiment of a text, image or video can help with a lot of things. You can navigate videos by only showing the happy parts. You can detect which comment should be answered first by a help desk (hint: annoyed people are less patient). You can predict when drivers of cars get tired and make the car slower. Granted, the latter is not for the web, but it shows that any facial change can have a great impact.

My colleague Suz Hinton created a nice small demo that shows how to do emotion recognition without any API overhead. You can check it out on GitHub.

Speak to me – I will understand

There’s no question that the Rolls Royce of AI driven interactions is audio interfaces. Audio interfaces are cool. You can talk to your computer in a hands-free environment like driving or cooking. It gives computers this Sci-Fi “genie on demand” feeling. There is no interface to learn – just say what you want.

Of course there are downsides to these kind of interfaces as error handling can be pretty frustrating. A magical computer that tells you over and over again that it couldn’t understand you isn’t quite the future we wanted. Also, there is a limitation. A web interface can list dozens of results, a voice reading them all out to you – as a sighted user – is a stressful and annoying experience. Visually, we are pretty good as humans to skim content and pick the relevant part out of a list. As audio is linear on a timeline that doesn’t work. Any search done with a personal assistant or chatbot that way returns a lot fewer results – in most cases one. In essence, using a voice interface is the same as hitting the “I feel lucky” button in Google. You hope the one true result returned is what you came for and not something paid for you to get.

That said, for accessibility reasons having voice recognition and a voice synthesizer in apps can be useful. Although it is much more useful on an OS level.

There are APIs you can use. For example, the Bing API set offers a “text to speech and speech to text”: API. This one can read out text with various synthesized voices or recognise what the user spoke into a microphone.

The big let-down of audio recognition is if the system isn’t clever and only reacts to a very strict set of commands. Another one is if you have an audio file that contains domain specific knowledge. When a web development talk covers tables we’re not talking about things to eat on. There are systems in place you can use to teach your system special terms and pronunciations, like LUIS. This one has a visual interface to define your commands and also an API to use the results.

There is much more to conversational UIs than this, and my colleague Burke Holland did a great job in explaining it in the Smashing Magazine article Rise of the conversational UI.

The last annoyance of audio recognition (other than it being disruptive to people around you) is when your accent or idioms are not understood. This is when training the machine for your own needs is necessary. There are Speaker recognition APIs that allow you to read to the machine and it learns what you sound like. You can use similar systems to filter out noises that interfere. For example, we worked on a voice recognition system at airports that had dismal results. After feeding the system eight hours of recorded background noise from the terminal and telling it to filter those the results got a lot better. Again, what we considered a showstopper, collected as a bunch of information and recognised by a machine became a quality filter.

Things people shouldn’t see

The last thing I want to cover for us to use in our interfaces are moderation systems. Some things are not meant to be consumed by people. Computers don’t need counselling once they saw them – people should. Known illegal and terrible content can be automatically removed right after upload without anyone being the wiser. Of course, this is a huge “who watches the watchmen” scenario, but there are things that are without a doubt not sensible to allow in your systems. Known hashes of imagery of child pornography or killings are part of moderation APIs and prevent you from ever hosting them or seeing them.

With great power…

There is to me no question that AI is the next iteration of computing and production. It is happening and we could allow people to abuse it and cry out, or we could be a good example of using it sensibly.

AI can be an amazing help for humans, but it does need transparency – if you use people as data sources, they need to know what and where it goes. When people get information filtered by an algorithm, it should be an opt-in, not a way to optimise your advertising. People need to have a chance to dispute when an algorithm tagged or disallowed them access.

I hope you found some inspiration here to create interfaces for humans, powered by machines. Which is the future I want, not machines empowered by humans as involuntary data sources.

More reading / Learning

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Why web design contests matter

Students from many states compete each year in our web design and development contest in Louisville

In a couple of weeks, we will be holding our 15th national web design competition in Louisville, KY. This involves competitors from many states at both the high school and post-secondary level. We spend a significant amount of time and money every year making certain this competition happens. Why do we do it? Sure, this is an opportunity for competitors to showcase their best work. It is also our opportunity to reinforce industry “best practices” in a field which is constantly changing. The main reason we do this is that we are influencing (and improving) the careers of these competitors.

Many changes made to our 15th annual competition

We have made a number of changes in our web design contest this year. For example, we will be bringing a server and network to Louisville. Competitors will each have their own container on the server (a sandbox where they can showcase their work, but other competitors can not see their work). Judges will be reviewing competitors work on Wednesday and Thursday evening. We have outlined both our server environment and network on our Web Design Contest site.

We are helping students prepare for jobs in our field

No, really, why do we do this? To paraphrase the old question “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Over many years, we have observed that many students struggle to identify and learn what is important in web design and development. Many do not have the opportunity to take formal classes (this is especially true in nigh schools). In some cases, when formal classes are offered, the materials covered are outdated. By participating in this competition, students learn what is expected in today’s business environment (with respect to web design and development). Practice is important along with the need to test your knowledge and skills against others. Competition brings out the best. Students are exposed to a formal interview (by practicing web professionals). We provide hours of training before the competition on many aspects of web design and development. In many cases, this is one opportunity that students have to interact with web professionals and learn what will be expected of them. While our time with competitors is brief, we do help them better understand what is happening in the industry today. Sure, technical knowledge is important, but process, teamwork, communication and related “soft skills” can make all the difference when dealing with clients. this is why we stress these aspects as well.

We are what we do. And how often we do it. And how we respond to feedback and suggestions for improvement on our work. These students have decided they want to pursue a career in web design and development. By focusing on current practices with web design and development, we are reinforcing knowledge and skills that students need to succeed in our industry. Students also have an opportunity to test what they think they know and see how it stacks up against others throughout our nation. This is why we do this competition every year. It is our opportunity to affect the lives of aspiring web professionals and get them started properly. Sure, there can only be one winning team at the high school level and another winning team at the post-secondary level. But every team participating is exposed to rigor and concepts they may not receive elsewhere. Every participant gets the opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge.We often receive feedback after the competition that it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

International competitor also being chosen

We are also selecting a competitor to represent the U.S. in the next international web design and development competition (to be held in Kazan, Russia in 2019). In order to be considered for this honor, these competitors had to first win our national competition and were involved in a lengthy selection process. Two finalists will be competing in Louisville. One will be selected to represent the U.S. at WorldSkills 2019.

We bring a number of web professionals from different parts of the U.S. to Louisville to help run the two day competition (and provide an additional day of training). We also have judges reviewing competitor work remotely. All projects are uploaded to a web server and judges review aspects of this work with an emphasis on their expertise. For example, we have judges who specialize in UX/UI focus on those aspects on projects submitted by competitors. We have judges focus on graphics, type and related aspects and so forth. Competitors receive general feedback as to what they did well and those areas where they need to improve. In many cases, this is the only feedback they have received on their work.

Good, fast, cheap – pick any two

During our competition, we ask competitors to focus on getting things done quickly. We also ask they spend time creatively solving the problems presented. While we are not always successful, we try to focus on doing things the correct way (including comments in your code and properly naming variables, for example). Sure, it will take a little more time up front, but competitors will be able to submit work which is easier to maintain. Rather than spending money, competitors spend a more valuable resource – time – to complete the work orders they receive.

Comments and observations will be posted on our Web Design Contest site soon after the competition concludes later this month. We will be posting via social media channels during the event.

Are you willing to help our profession?

For those reading this, we are always in need of additional judges. It only requires a few hours of your time. You get the opportunity to see directly what high school and post-secondary competitors are capable of producing these days. You also have the opportunity to provide general feedback to these competitors (and many others reading your summary comments). If you are able to devote a few hours of your time on the evenings of June 27 and 28, please contact us. You will be amazed at how greatly a little of your valuable time helps aspiring web professionals become more successful.

Best always,
Mark DuBois
Community Evangelist and Executive Director

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GDPR and Web Professionals

We suspect you have received more than your share of GDPR related notifications in the past couple of weeks. Rather than send out another email on the subject, we thought it might be worthwhile addressing the issue in our weekly post. You have thoroughly reviewed every email you received with GDPR in the subject line, haven’t you? We thought not. For those who are not familiar with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) [which took effect May 25, 2018], we recommend a quick review of the GDPR and you site. For those who need a reminder – Web Professionals (official business name World Organization of Webmasters) does not retain much in the way of personal information to begin with. We always take requests regarding data seriously and make every effort to keep said data secure.

GDPR and Web Professionals

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As a member supported (and not for profit) organization, we take our responsibility to safeguard any information you provide as safely as possible. We have not (and will not) sell any of this collected information to any third party.

Best always,
Mark DuBois
Community Evangelist and Executive Director

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So I went to “We are developers” in Vienna…

A few days ago, I went to the We are developers congress in Vienna, Austria. The “Woodstock for developers” actually turned out to be a very well organized, but less wild event full of pretty amazing presenters and content. It was a developer conference, not as focused about all kind of web matters, but more holistically about development. Hence a lot of the topic revolved around DevOps, high level languages, Artificial Intelligence and Cloud matters.

Starting my presentation

My personal contributions were:

A two hour “workshop” on building intelligent, human interfaces using machine learning systems. You can look up the notes and links of this workshop. For bonus points, I got confused about the date of this workshop. As I just returned from Seattle there was a time-difference confusion and I arrived an hour before the workshop. I hadn’t slept for 30 hours and arrived 20 minutes late for it. However, people seemed to have enjoyed it and I got good feedback.

On the second day I gave one of the opening talks (“Killing the golden calf of coding”) and it was incredibly scary to be on a huge stage like that, were earlier Steve Wozniak worked his magic. The slides of the talk are on SlideShare:

Feedback was phenomenal:

I also took part in an Artificial Intelligence panel talking about the ethics and boundaries of AI.

On the third day I was the MC on the main stage, introducing and running the Q&A for Bitcoin expert Andreas Antonopulous, Ripple CTO Stefan Thomas, Google Angular expert Stephen Fluin, Futurist Martin Wezowski, Google iOS security expert Felix Krause, styled components inventor Max Stoiber and Stackoverflow/Fog Creek founder Joel Spolsky.

All in all, it was a very well organized event and it was great to meet some of my heroes (John and Brenda Romero of Wolfenstein/Doom fame) and many new ones.

I want to thank the organisers for having me and trusting me with so many things. I’m only sorry that I was pretty much shattered all the way as I had just come back from a few daunting days in Seattle the day before. I will come back to the event, as it is exciting and different at the same time.

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How Cyber Security is changing the web design industry

Today’s article is from our member Julia Eudy. Julia – Many thanks for writing this article and providing your insights.

When I think of the industry of web design, I think of the many talented people responsible for populating the internet with information over the past couple of decades. But our job is never done! From continual refinement of responsive design, to developing content worthy of Google’s latest search strategy; our jobs as designers and web managers is an ever-evolving landscape. In today’s market it is essential to stay current with technology and the threats targeting those we serve and those who search online. Without constant awareness and action by our peers in technology, cybercriminals will continue to challenge our time, patience, and livelihood.

Websites have become Key Point of Attack for Cybercriminals

While many believe that email phishing is a key entry point for most cyber criminals, it has become apparent that they are often using an unsuspecting website to hide their activity of malware designed collect valid emails and launch other criminal schemes. While some argue that nothing is hack-proof; content management systems built on open-source code have enabled the unsecure environment we now reside. It goes without saying that sharing code saves time; but is it worth the longer-term cost?

Let’s explore the leading CMS platform, WordPress. It is an easy-to-use interface making it popular among novice developers and DIY professionals, but it is often a prime target of hackers who specifically build robotic scripts designed to quickly search through the openly published source files looking for vulnerabilities. Technical web designers (those who know how to customize the code and apply advanced security settings) understand that keeping current on updates and effectively managing a recovery plan for the sites you have created has become a time-consuming task and one that is raising the overall cost of website management. However, the millions without some technical skillset, have likely already become an unsuspecting victim to one of the many ongoing threats facing the WordPress community.

A prime example of how open-source code created a breeding ground for a cyberattack happened in early 2017 when one of 20 hacking groups launched a digital turf war on WordPress by discovering a flaw found in their REST API script. A wide-spread attack impacted roughly 1.5 million pages of WordPress sites1 across 39,000 unique domains in a matter of days as reported by security plugin developers WordFence and Sucuri. Keep in mind that only 1.5 million of the 24 billion pages running WordPress2 are protected by these firewall applications.

Insurance Companies are Looking at Who to Blame for the Increase in Commercial Claims

From the outside looking in, the internet landscape is under attack, but who is to blame? This is a question many insurance companies are beginning to ask3 as their costs to cover cyber-attacks on commercial policies continue to rise.

Looking at a big picture, here are some general facts to consider…

  • According to the Small Business Administration, there are approximately 28 million small businesses in America which account for approximately 54% of all sales in the country. 4
  • In a 2017 report by Kaspersky Lab, the average cost for a data breach against a small and medium-sized business in North America was $117,000.5
  • An article published in 2017 by INC Magazine, referenced a presentation made at the NASDAQ by Michael Kaiser, the Executive Director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, who stressed concerns about the attack on Small Business and that such attacks are expected to continually rise because of their (the small business professional’s) lack of awareness of the pending risks.6
  • A 2016 study performed by Ponemon Institute LLC and Keeper Security revealed that the number one type of cyber attack targeting small and medium sized businesses was through a web-based attack with the web server being the most vulnerable entry point.7
  • That same study by Ponemon Instutute cited “negligent employees or contractors” as the root cause of the data breach. 7

So, I ask you, when the Insurance companies follow the facts, who do you think they will turn to recover their loss?

  • Will it be the random person who pointed out their vulnerability by successfully holding their web presence ransom? – likely not. That person is too difficult for them to track.
  • Will they blame the contractor who their customer hired to create their website? – Yes!

In recent conversations I’ve had with insurance professionals, one question asked was, “Should web designers have an ethical obligation to inform an untechnical customer of the risks involved with having a website?” As a technology professional, I agreed that they should and most likely do, but it is often the customer who elects to not add to their expenses for proper technical support. Their reply – “Ok, show me the proof and we go back to our customer!”
Most web managers are aware that being hack-proof is near impossible to achieve; however, as web professionals we are hopefully more aware and have taken necessary precautions to defend our livelihood. Contracts, authorized “opt-out” forms proving we’ve informed the customer of the risks, and building trusted relationships with supporting contractors are just a few first places to start; but having our own policies to cover mistakes and cyber threats should also be considered.

Like our other certifications, we are exploring resources necessary to develop a comprehensive training and security certification to help web developers stay current with different types cyber threats that they may encounter. This certification would identify specific areas that are being targeted and give the opportunity for continued training opportunities to learn more or improve your skills in specific areas. This certification would also classify you as a Cyber Certified Web Professional which will identify to those seeking a web services provider that you have participated in training that is designed to reduce their web-based risks.

If you are interested in learning more about this certification and the time schedule for training and certification release, please contact us and let us know your thoughts.

CITATIONS:

  1.  1.5 million pages of WordPress sites
  2. 24 billion pages running WordPress
  3. Insurance
  4. SBA
  5. Kaspersky Lab
  6. INC Magazine Article
  7. Ponemon Institute/Keeper Security Study

Author Bio

Julia Eudy is a Technology Consultant with specialties in Online Marketing, Web Design and Cyber Security. She teaches Content Management Systems (WordPress) and Social Media Marketing at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, MO, in addition to managing a small Online Marketing firm (Golden Services Group) that focuses on online marketing solutions for small-medium sized businesses. Additionally, she is working with a group of professionals to create a training program designed to inspire K-12 students to pursue careers in technology and cyber security.

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May Update – Virtual and Augmented Reality

The Web continues to evolve. Recent projections indicate that virtual reality and augmented reality may soon become a major part of web interfaces. We thought it might be helpful to provide a quick overview of these technologies and provide additional resources about the potential impact on the web. As an aspiring or practicing professional, you should be aware of these technologies.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

Current VR technology most commonly uses virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments, sometimes in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment. This Wikipedia article has detailed information about the technology and its applications.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a direct or indirect live view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are “augmented” by computer-generated perceptual information, ideally across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive or destructive and is spatially registered with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, augmented reality alters one’s current perception of a real world environment, whereas virtual reality replaces the real world environment with a simulated one. Augmented Reality is related to two largely synonymous terms: mixed reality and computer-mediated reality. You can find more information about this at this Wikipedia article.

Quick overview of the possibility of using augmented reality to understand a physical model more.

 

Difference between VR and AR

With virtual reality, you can swim with sharks. And with augmented reality, you can watch a shark pop out of your business card. While VR is more immersive, AR provides more freedom for the user, and more possibilities for marketers because it does not need to be a head-mounted display.

The impact of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

One of the hottest tech trends hitting the market right now is the one concerning Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Many of us only relate these new technologies to different sorts of video games where it has had is major breakthrough. But the fact is, that these technologies are far more useful than that – and some of your competitors are probably already using it.

The technologies are already useful tools for product development and learning methods. But companies within warehousing, logistics and plain physical stores also has big opportunities using Augmented Reality and Visual Reality in the future. This article explains this impact of AR and VR.

Virtual Reality through Web

In the article written by Joseph Medley (Welcome to the Immersive Web), he explains virtual world experiences hosted through browser. It covers entire virtual reality (VR) experiences surfaced in the browser or in VR enabled headsets like Google’s Daydream, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality Headsets, as well as augmented reality experiences developed for AR-enabled mobile devices.

Informational Links

We encourage you to check out these articles below. The fact that Firefox is building a new browser for these technologies is a clue as to how rapidly these are anticipated to become mainstream in the Web. We also understand that the next version of WordPress (Project Gutenberg) is anticipating the need for these sorts of interfaces as well.

In this week we focused on VR and AR, the difference between them, VR through web, the impact of VR and AR and finally the applications. We hope you find these resources and overview useful. As a practicing professional, you should have a solid understanding of these technologies and their potential applications. We always look forward to your comments and feedback (whether you are a member or not).

We encourage members (and non-members) check out our social media channels. If you aspire to be a web professional and don’t know where to start, we offer a number of beginning classes to our members via our School Of Web learning management system. As a member, your first class is free.

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Quick tip: Using your Surface pen as a PowerPoint remote

My handwriting sucks and I am hardly capable of painting a straight line. Hence, when I got my Surface I didn’t see much use for the pen other than signing things and maybe highlighting some things in presentations.

However, I now found out that you can use the pen as a PowerPoint remote, which is pretty cool:

The trick is to buy (or in my case get a free key to) KeyPenX which is a $5.99 program that allows you granular access to what clicking the button of the pen should do.

It took me a while to get it to work, but here are the important bits:

Pair your pen via Bluetooth – you do that in the settings by “add device”. My pen didn’t show up at first, so I pressed the button for 10 seconds for it to reset; then it showed up.

Bluetooth settings paired pen

Go to the pen settings and tell it to start KeyPenX on click and double click.

Run program on click in the settings

Configure KeyPenX to do the PowerPoint things you want it to do:

keypenx settings

All of these steps are also in the KeyPenX screen itself. The only thing remaining is not to start clicking the pen all the time like I do with normal ones.

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May Update – Web Development trends for 2018

Web Development Trends

In web development, the saying “the only constant is change” is very true. Web development is changing every second and 2018 is no exception. User expectations are growing and it is more important than ever to build digital experiences that are engaging, fun, and intuitive. Content needs to be accessible everywhere especially on mobile devices. In order to make that happen, new programming languages and frameworks are on the rise, extensions are becoming more compatible, and real time web apps are becoming more popular.

Web Development Trends for 2018

Web Development Trends You Can Expect in 2018

  • Vue JS is getting more popular
  • Functional programming benefits from JavaScript improvements
  • Extensions get more compatible
  • Real-time web apps are getting more popular
  • Progressive web apps grow in popularity
  • Mobile web development continues to expand
  • Material design is being used more and more

Rebecca Vogels’ article has more information on these web development trends.

More on Web Development Trends in 2018

1. In this first article by John Hughes covers these development trends:

  • An Increase in One-Page Website Designs
  • The Decline of the Flash Protocol
  • A Focus on Mobile-First Design Philosophy (Again)
  • The Increasing Importance of Push Notifications
  • The Prominence of Modular Page Creation
  • A Rise in the Popularity of Progressive Web Apps
  • The Perpetual Dominance of JavaScript

2. Anotni Zolciak’s article, focuses more on what kind of technology will matter on both front- and back-end:

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages
  • Progressive Web Applications (PWA)
  • Single Page Applications (SPA)
  • Chatbots and Online Support
  • Push Notifications
  • Static Websites
  • RAIL: User-Centric Performance
  • Motion UI
  • Functional Programming: What Is It?
  • Browser Extensions
  • Real-Time Web Apps
  • Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

More Resources

  • Web Development Trends in 2018 article by Kumar Shantanu
  • Eight Web Development Trends Coming In 2018 article by Forbes
  • 8 Top Web Development Trends in 2018 article by MEREHEAD

Reading those articles now here is the conclusion that new frameworks, design trends, user expectations, and mobile developments are changing web development every day. Web development is responding to growing user expectations and design trends. Google’s material design, which is expected to gain even more popularity in 2018 as well. There is also the need to communicate and work together in real time from everywhere. We believe it is important for Web Professionals to know about these new trends and we encourage readers to review these articles..

This week we focused on those new trends emerging in 2018 in Web Professional’s world. We hope you find these resources and overviews useful. We always look forward to your comments and feedback (whether you are a member or not).

We encourage members (and non-members) check out our social media channels. If you aspire to be a web professional and don’t know where to start, we offer a number of beginning classes to our members via our School Of Web learning management system. As a member, your first class is free.

 

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April Update – Social Media Trends

Content Marketing Strategy

Social media allows brands to tell stories and connect with customers on a deeper and more intimate level. In addition, brands can use social media to regularly engage users and drive them to their content hubs, or toward higher-value actions, like visiting a product page, downloading a gated asset, or purchasing an item. We thought it would be helpful to review social media trends for 2018.

When leveraging new social features, content marketers must not lose sight of the ultimate goal of content marketing: to tell exceptional stories that drive people toward positive business results. Here are three major social media trends to watch out for in 2018 and what content marketers can do to stay ahead of the game.

Social Media Trends in 2018

Wordle of social media terms

We think web professionals should review this article where 29 experts express their thoughts about social media trends in 2018.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Creativity is the new productivity.
  • AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality) is the new social media.
  • Instagram is the new Facebook.
  • Facebook is the new TV.
  • Snapchat is the new MySpace.
  • LinkedIn blue is the new black.
  • Medium is the new blog.
  • Twitter is the new social movement.
  • Emojis are the new universal language.
  • AI is the new customer service
  • Talkwalker is the new Google Alert.
  • Podcasts are the new radio.

Social Media Use in 2018

A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults finds that the social media landscape in early 2018 is defined by a mix of long-standing trends and newly emerging narratives. Facebook and YouTube dominate this landscape, as notable majorities of U.S. adults use each of these sites. Younger Americans between age group 18 to 24 uses Facebook and YouTube, 78% of younger individuals use Snapchat, 71% Instagram and 45% Twitter.

Facebook and Privacy

Facebook’s recent crisis is just one of many privacy issues that company has had to deal with in its relatively short existence. Those privacy issues are now front and center. Facebook’s loose handling of how its data was acquired by app developers has plunged the company into the biggest crisis of its 14-year existence. Facebook has caused all sorts of headaches for social media marketers in the first months of 2018 by announcing that they’re looking to shift the focus of their News Feed onto meaningful interactions as a result, will see reductions in Page organic reach. According to the research Facebook usage is declining among American users. It is either down or flat in every demographic age group, gender, and ethnicity. This is a good summary of the many issues facing this company.

In 2019, it is estimated that there will be around 2.77 billion social media users around the globe, up from 2.46 billion in 2017. Social network penetration worldwide is ever-increasing. At 90%, young Americans still are most likely to use social networks, but growth in use among those 65 and older is surging. These trends will keep continuing till we all use cell, internet and social media.

We hope you find these resources and overviews useful. We always look forward to your comments and feedback (whether you are a member or not).

We encourage members (and non-members) check out our social media channels. We have recently been using Pinterest for our collection of curated infographics related to many topics of interest to Web Professionals. For example, we included this infographic of 21 Digital Marketing Trends for 2018

If you aspire to be a web professional and don’t know where to start, we offer a number of beginning classes to our members via our School Of Web learning management system. As a member, your first class is free.

 

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