Thursday, December 17, 2009

Google and Python and you know what else

...so one of the reasons I've been so quiet lately is that I've been programming and writing a new course. In doing so I learned a lot about myself -- perhaps far more than about the subject material I set out to teach.

It's long been my intention to offer workshops for developers who are interested in working on the new emerging platforms. This means workshops where they get to learn to work with various open-source and open-architecture platforms.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Google Wave is on!

...so people around you will begin now, to brag about having received their Google Wave invitation. The geekier-than-thou crowd will start to tell you why it's "just like X" or that it's "not really anything new..." or whatever they want to tell you to counteract the pain of admitting that they don't have a login to the system yet.

It's just like X, that's true! It's a veritable post-modern social networking tool. It combines the best of email, IM, web pages, blogs, wikis, and whatever you didn't think of yet...into a new domain for expression.

Yes it's chaotic, yes it's underpopulated as an information space, and yes some of the parts don't work completely yet. But I'm telling you that this will be the Twitter of next year. It won't replace or supplant Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. Each of those has a purpose. This is the tool that will begin to solidify the trend for convergence.

All of those things will begin to come together among the waves! Get someone to invite you. If you're a person who loves to be there first, this is for you.

---v

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

...hate me because I'm successful, effective, and because I give my customers what they ACTUALLY want!

I'm not talking about myself here, I'm talking about Google.

Now first of all let me point out that I don't work for Google, I don't get paid by them in any way. I have no vested interest, nor a personal agenda that would have me defend Google.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why are we here?

...it seems like no week goes by anymore without me getting a message from someone who is inviting me to become a part of their social network on some new flavor-of-the-day community site.

This is not really new, but it's reaching heroic proportions now, and it has me wonder what will really happen next. There are three or four key primary networks that people want to be a part of right now, and a half dozen special function platforms that are particularly inviting.

Without going into too much detail on any one, I thought I'd list the platforms I frequent, those that I visit semi-regularly, and a bunch of others that I don't visit very much -- but for which I have an account.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Connection is next!

...if you listen to some of the hot-rod analysts who are looking into what's next for Social Media space, you hear talk of an age of inter-operability. That's what's exciting about the emergence of Google Wave. It threatens to allow inter-connectedness between pieces of the platform on an individual level.

This includes Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Yelp! as well as other mundane sorts of sources like calendars, databases, CRM systems and so forth...

So what there is to watch for next is how well systems offer to fit together. This is why I think it's silly to engage in silly conversations like "Which is better, Facebook or Twitter?" The answer to that question is simply, "Yes!" I use them both together. And each one is better than the other.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Waves with Force.com

One strength that Google brought to the changing world is the ability to create classification out of chaos. Rather than rely upon a carefully crafted (and failure-prone) system of classification, Google's strategies stem from finding order in the meta-data derived from the chaos.


Instead of carefully filing each bit of information away according to some personal system of logic, we pile it in a big mass at the center of the room and search it. When a player finally understands this freedom, the game changes.


Or to say it another way, "databases ARE indeed cool, but they're so '90s!"


So we can imagine that the Wave could become a fundamental storage element in a CRM system like force.com. And of course, further decomposition of waves into the component blips will yield even more useful "implicit meta-data" that will aid in classification and search. (For instance, the number of times Joe replies in a Wave, or the number of blips created within a time frame might become an interesting criterion. Certainly those facts contain information that supports analysis and matching.)


So perhaps developers who are adept both with development of resources to work with force.com would also benefit from a careful study of Waves.


Just a thought.


---v

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wish List: MS Word

...I've had the dubious pleasure recently of working on a project that demands the use of MS Word. It reminded me of a few things, and reinforced my affinity for the level of polish that Microsoft eventually brought to the world's most common word processor. (It feels weird to use that term: Word Processor.)

I'm not a Word hater. I hate giving money to Microsoft, given the amount of money they've taken from me without my choice (Such as licensing agreements with my computer manufacturer or my Enterprise client. In the former case, I paid for a computer that has the cost hidden in the purchase price, in the latter case I'm forced to buy a copy of the software in order to do business with my client.)

No. Word is just about as good as it gets for word processing. The interface is easily accessible without too much new learning on my part. The feature set is powerful and useful to me as I author complex documents, and the responsiveness of the software is acceptable to me when I'm in a hurry to deliver a document on deadline. (Although my business partners may be thinking, 'you deliver a document on deadline Vincent?) At least the software doesn't hold me back when I use it properly.

But there are some things I would love to see as an author and power user.

Style sheet management

I'd like two key features related to style and style sheets for a document.

I'd like the style dialog to present a filter options so that I can search for a named style easily among the many that accumulate as documents get written and shared with others. Right now my access to work with paragraph styles is a toolbar/window that lists all the possible styles in the document. After a while, especially when the document is shared in a chaotic environment, a large number of styles are present and I need to be able to find the one I need easily without having to scroll through a lengthy list.

I'd also like to have a tool that allows me to display my document with these two categories of paragraphs highlighted for my attention:

  • paragraphs that use "local" markup not represented by a formally named style
  • styles that do not comply with a specific stylesheet (ie. those styles that have been applied ad-hoc by a tired or careless co-author)

I love the spell checking and grammar checking inline, I actually find the auto-correction to be useful and mostly it does the right thing.

MS Word is not that bad. But it could be made better without changing the native file format or the fundamentals of the user interface. The truth is that although about 65% or 70% of computer users don't need the power of Word, the people who do need that level of support will be hard pressed to find an equivalent alternative.

Just sayin' what I see.

---v

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

God bless you again, Google!

...google voice is pretty much what I've been waiting for (oh yeah, for YEARS!).

Visual handling of voicemail is something that Sprint could have introduced rather than "yet another FEATURE that is designed to put a straw into my wallet."

For 20 years, the state of voicemail has mostly remained unchanged. The phone companies crow about stuff like the ability to "send pictures instantly to your friends" as long as you're willing to add another $5 a month to your phone bill. How cool would it be if they offered me something useful!?

My life for many years has been characterized by hearing "You have XX new messages" and then the cycle of "skipping.. next message from xxx.xxx.xxxx, sent at xxx xxx ... skipping..." so that I could get to the freshest one.

I've begged, cajoled, and pleaded for a visual interface to my voicemail much like email.

But on top of that, how cool is it that I can not only have my voicemail sent to email, but also with a transcription of the content, and a link that lets me simply play it on my computer? That's just part of the Google Voice package.

Basically I have a new phone number that can ring all (or some selected subset) of my phones, it allows me to force a call to voicemail, drop it to voicemail and then monitor it just like old-school answering machines, and even to IM the caller back with a short note without disturbing my normal flow of work.

I've been waiting for this for a long time -- and it's not the first time that Google has delivered what I wanted -- and presented it to me (as a consumer) for free.

If I were the corporate communications manager at a firm, I'd be begging Google to let me buy this for my entire enterprise. This is the real s&1T! I'm tellin' you!

---v

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Horse Race or Death Match

...those of you who know me know that I have a dislike for Microsoft for good reason. I don't hate them because they're giant and successful. I think it's fine for a company to achieve that. What matters is HOW.

If a company achieves dominance through innovation, responsible marketing, progressive business practices, and a customer-centered corporate strategy, I love 'em to death. (That would be Google.)

When they achieve dominance through predatory marketing and corporate acquisition practices, reducing and eliminating consumer alternatives, and through underhanded and vicious business and legal practices, well I may love their software, but I'm looking for another choice. (I think we know who this is -- I don't say the name lest they "cut off my air supply.")

This article at CNN sums up the battle, and why I like this author is that he's smart. (In other words, he agrees with me.)

Check it out!

---v

Friday, June 26, 2009

Framing video content for online delivery

...one way you will get paid delivering video content in today's environment is to get LOTS of people to look at what you post. You have to make it great, and get lucky for it to work.

You can't do much about the lucky part, so your job is to give Miss Fortune a hand and keep makin' it great! Over and over again.

After you make it great, you have to think about where it will get seen. We're all wrestling over this right now, but the likeliest outcome is that you'll have your online content seen through a channel that also delivers ads.

So we looked at this:

If we postulate that the ad riser over the top of the video is becoming standard, and that it will exist without option in some platforms, then we can simply program for our "sweet spot" to avoid the lower portion of the frame.

There's a responsibility on the part of the media creator to select channels that will not put distracting content into that frame. I say that it's possible they can put attractive information into the panel. As media creators, we simply work above that space.

For a while yet, revenue for programming online will come from advertising. So the thing to do is to resonate with it, find the models that work for the viewer, the media creator, and the advertiser -- all together. Then use those.

---v

The screen shot used in this article is from the Chad Vader series from blame society films. Give 'em a visit soon as you can.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is it about me or about You(-hoo)!

...I am working with a parents' group which insists on using Yahoo! Groups to manage an email list rather than use Google Groups.

Now I am one who vigorously shuns dogma when it comes to technology, so I'm willing to reconsider my preference for Google in this domain -- especially given vehement instruction by one of the stakeholders in this particular group.

I asked myself, why do I prefer Google Groups over the more mature and much more traditionally used Yahoo! Groups? I think it has to do with how the advertising is delivered.


When I use Google Groups (or gmail), the advertising is something to which I (the actual beneficiary of the service) am exposed. When I use Yahoo! Groups (or Yahoo! email) the advertising is sent to my friend. Or to say it another way. The way that I pay for the "free" service I receive is that I give my friends over to Yahoo! so that they can advertise to them.

This screen shot tells the tale. The area under my comment bubble, and the area encircled in red are both advertising patches sent to the recipient of my message.

Yahoo! Listen up! When we said "permission marketing" we meant that you'd GET our permission. Not simply assign it to yourself on our behalf.

---v

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why all these short URLs?

...I've been using a service that takes a long URL and turns it into a size that's compatible with Twitter. (For instance the unruly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdFSXRgiJlk becomes
http://cli.gs/zuLYT3 which is much easier to include in a short tweet.)

There are a number of such services, but I've chosen Cligs.

I like using Cligs for two reasons. One is that I can rename the shortcut myself if the name I like has not been chosen. So I've created:
It's cool to me that I can type these in by hand easily in many cases. and if I'm posting the link systematically over time, it's nice to have something I can easily recall.


Figure 1: Cligs traffic metrics


But there's a bigger reason to use a URL shortener for posting links. If you choose one that supports it (and most of them do), you can track the response to the link after you post it. This is the major reason I use Cligs. I like the metrics they collect and I like the presentation.

Cligs shows me the total number of responses I've had to the link, it draws me a graph of activity over time, and it shows me a world map with responses depicted by their contry of origin.

So the image I see of a link posted to a friend's online film looks like the page you see in Figure 1. (click on the image for a closer look).





Figure 2: A clig with multiple
recent mentions.


A page that has been mentioned several times in the preceding weeks, might look a bit more like the second image you see in Figure 2. You can see the upward blips that occur around the time the link was mentioned on Twitter or Facebook.

What's especially useful about the map is that you can see how many of the mentions came from each of the red countries. In the live map, putting the mouse over a country will produce a flyout such as the one you can see in Figure 2.

Below this graphical depiction of activity, there is a list of specific sites from which the clig was accessed. For instance, if there is a specific page on LinkedIn that exposes the clig, you'll see some number of clicks that originated there.

The information is advisory only and there are often assumptions about the origins of the traffic, but the overall story it tells is a useful one.

I must point out that there are something like a dozen similar services and you can easily find a comparison of their features. I used bit.ly for a while, but switched back to Cligs in spite of the things I find tedious about their site.

If you're interested in knowing how widely your voice carries in the social media space, it's a good idea to choose a URL shortner and use it for a while to track responses. You'll certainly find something interesting as you do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Did the world need a new browser?

...I've used them all. I used Lynx when the Worldwide Web was young. I used Mosaic when it was cool and exciting. I used Netscape, then later IE (reluctantly, until Microsoft finally "got it" about what made a browser good -- hint: it wasn't about adding new features that no one else could use in their own browsers), and I applauded Firefox (when it was called Firebird) and I absolutely danced and sang out loud at the release of Chrome.

I actually still use Chrome for most of my needs because it's just the "right browser." I often say that Chrome is the way I'd personally write a browser if I were to take on the task myself today.

So why would the world need Yet Another Browser?

Well, the folks who created Flock knew an answer to that question.

Using the Mozilla base, they've invented a browser that (like Chrome) acknowledges the world we actually live and work in today. In this world, web pages are pretty uninteresting. (About as interesting as segments in your neighborhood sidewalk.) What we expect now are RSS feeds, media streams, and social network viewpoints.

They put all this in here.

I downloaded Flock on the recommendation of an acquaintance on Twitter and for at least a couple of days I was completely smitten. This browser aggregates my social network accounts and gives me tools to see into the Facebook/Twitter/Myspace/PicassaWeb combine from one place. It provides a blog editor (which I'm using right now) that is highly useful for people who maintain more than one blog. It provides a "media stream" reader that gives a convenient and highly powerful look at your own (and others, if you wish) assembled collections of online photos, videos, and streams. And for some reason, I have really taken to the RSS feed reader -- I think because of the simplicity of subscribing, managing, and peeking into the various feeds.

My current complaint is that Flock does sometimes lag in terms of performance (I think the spell checker cannot keep up with my typing speed. A don't think it's quite as robust as Chrome, but I will say this.

It's fun to use. It's fun to explore. There are features that I haven't even tapped yet (like the ability to take a picture from a media stream, drop it on the "head" of someone among your Facebook friends, and then have that photo sent to them). I presume that as it progresses, the code will get tighter and more robust, and as more people adopt its use, I think you'll see this in use by Web2.0 power users. (Yes, I did use that term -- I apologize.)

Check it out, even if you love and adore Chrome. You may find that it's just what you want. If you use IE or Firefox and if you have Facebook/Twitter/Myspace accounts, grab this browser now! You may find that it alters the way you work.

---v

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tipjoy! I think not yet...

...I enjoyed learning about a money transfer service called tipjoy!

The intention is that they make it easy for people to pass small amounts of money, and for people to give money to a cause.

But for a system that does something important to facilitate money getting where it is going, I don't find enough transparency present, and the policies seem to all fail over to "tipjoy keeps the money."

The obvious inevitable clause in the privacy policy stood out large for me today. In effect, they say, if the company is acquired, any of your personal information and the information about your activities, becomes the property of the new company. I know that's true for everyone, but for a company at this obvious stage of development, that's a little scary.

I'd like to see a lot more about the organization, about the protections for the "contributor" and their money, and some bold success stories about people and organizations which are having the system work successfully for them.

The folks at tipjoy can provide these things easily if they're actually going to make it. And if they can't then it would be a bad idea to give them more information about yourself.

To say it another way, "Okay tipjoy! I will come out and tell you all about me, but I want to see a little more evidence that you're actually going to make it before I sit down over coffee with you. 'Specially if you want to put your hand near my wallet."

 ---v


Blogged with the Flock Browser

Clearer Vision

...here's what's needed now in the "fabric of the social media platform." (Hark! Consultant speak afoot.)

We need control over the portion that we see. It's like we need focal controls on our vision into spaces like Twitter and Facebook. We need the ability to "grow" a filter that brings our attention to the things that belong in our attention.

One thing from Facebook now that makes this more possible is the ability to filter out specific applications. Most of us see FB through the newsfeed and up until recently, the only choice you had with a high noise-maker was to filter the person's output so that you wouldn't see any of it. You couldn't filter out the "Peeps" and the "Easter Eggs" and the "smurf of the day" application.

If the person was introducing them into the stream, you had to tolerate it or they had to go. In the responsible age of application interface to the newsfeed, it's totally possible that we could dampen out the sound from a friend who's playing a game without eliminating that friend from our attention.

In Facebook I want to be able to say, "no quiz results" and "no smurf-wars" without having to say "no Freida" or "no Bob." If Frieda and Bob (both mythical) contribute to the newsfeed only with quiz results and their "smurf wars" high score, then they will be silenced anyway.

With this ability emerging on FB, it will be easier to hone in on just the material you really want to see.

---v

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why not Yahoo!?

...I had to ask myself, why do I have this "thing" about Yahoo!

I remember when I first came to this valley, they were the darling of the industry and for good reason.  Yahoo! was a progressive company, a big supporter of the community, a benefactor with lavish parties, and the indirect reason for many of my coolest friends to be aggressive toy consumers and sometimes even suddenly rich.

Yahoo! was always a big supporter of my beloved SF Giants, and I even helped the Yahoo! yodeler guy myself when the team would take the field.

But as success came to Yahoo! so did many of the people who follow fortunes and dilute values.  My coolest friends moved on or were sent packing -- Yahoo! sold its soul by greedily taking sponsor money to doctor my search results, selling popup ads to its customers with one hand, and selling popup blocker software to me with the other hand.

Deals with hardware and software vendors polluted my system (and those of my friends and family) with unwanted software that is primarily designed to deliver advertising and does little or nothing for me.

The (seemingly) kind offer of a free email address came with the attached string that they would pollute my messages sent from said email address with advertising material at the bottom (and now in the margin).  Not only was I offering them my attention for giving me free email -- they were hijacking the attention of my friends.

The generous offer of community workspace (Yahoo! groups) became a wasteland of slimy lurking merchants who are waiting for me to show up so that they can send me their unsavory advertising materials.  (The only time I get spam these days is when someone discovers an old Yahoo! identity for me and sends me a snaky message that somehow escapes my spam filters.)

I know that Yahoo! has tried to reform, and that they've launched an "improved" email interface, but the fundamental problem remains.  Yahoo! is willing to allow its advertisers to pop up into my face - in a variety of ways.  Yahoo! is more focused on getting a message into my face than it is on providing me value so that I'll offer my face.

And lastly, Yahoo! has not worked to gain my permission.

Yahoo! has become the little boy at the Junior High dance who sneaks up, steals a kiss, and then runs away to collect on his bets with his buddies.  Good for Yahoo! but not much for me.

 ---v

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's so hot about gmail?

...look, I've been using email since 1985. There were proprietary systems on BBSs and Compuserve, there were clunky big iron mainframe systems at work, and at first there was mailx on Unix.

Later there was Elm, and then Pine, there was Eudora, there was Squirrel Mail webmail, and there was Outlook after that. Thunderbird gave us an alternative to using that evil mailer from Microsoft. Yahoo gave us a reasonable choice for free and online mail, and before long, AOL even got the memo about coming outside the ivy walls and joining the rest of us.

Along the way, I've used a lot of different software solutions for email.

And now I'm using gmail.

Maybe that isn't the sort of proof you were looking for. People who know me personally know that I won't rave about a technoology unless I believe in it, and I won't dis a technology just because of the company that delivers it.

Especially about email, I'm going to talk about what really works. So consider that I have about 50 unread messages right now, and about 140 total in my email box. For most of the people I know, having only 140 unread messages would be a gigantic victory. And I get more mail than most of those people.

I almost never touch spam. By that I mean that I see about one or two messages every couple of days. I get a lot more spam than that, but it gets very effectively filtered by my friends at Google. On the other hand, they don't trap very much of my legitimate mail and mark it as spam. I can't think of the last time I had to rescue a message from the spam trap after someone insisted that they'd sent it to me.

Look, google mail works. The spam filter works, the strategy for mail handling that is implicit with gmail works. The interface works, and I can work with my email just about anywhere.

My friends and colleagues who know what is going on with the web and the internet choose gmail if they choose a "public utility" email service. And I use it!

That's all I should have to say about it, but I want to add just this one more thing.

A friend of mine said, "I like the interface at Yahoo! better."

This is about much, much more than the interface. The core of gmail is a completely different approach to handling mail. Get that and you will be on the path to freedom. Email is supposed to serve you, not the opposite. Reach for the right tool and you will soon be the master of your email box.

You could look at what google says about gmail.

I can just say what I said to start this. I use it.

---v