Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Because We (the FAA) Said So...

You may have long suspected that there is no genuine technical reason that electronic devices need to be stowed during takeoff and landing on a commercial airline flight.

Most of us in fact have been aware of this for so long that the jokes about it have become as tired and shopworn as the old airline food jokes. Alec Baldwin brought the joke back for one last round with his Saturday Night Live appearance.


But the truth of the matter is much as you've suspected. Independent testing demonstrates that the actual risk of interference with aircraft systems by a Kindle or a non-transmitting handheld device is not significant.

A curious technology writer, Nick Bilton, had this to say on the matter.
“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.” 
So the most likely case seems to be that the FAA has not altered regulations it enacted many years ago when devices were different and when accurate and comprehensive test results may not have been available. 
I've always accepted that the regulation existed to force passengers to be more alert and ready to take emergency action during the most critical portions of the flight. The FAA does not support this claim and cannot explain why the rule exists.
What can you do about that?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Who is this about, anyway?

One of my most long-established pet peeves about web content, and presentation of information on the web is what I call Header Fluff.

Early browsers were often plagued with this unsightly condition. But even if browsers have grown somewhat free of this heartbreaking life challenge, content designers can still succumb to it for their individual efforts.

Here's a page we encountered recently.


The news story is in there somewhere. Even with a generous definition of other parts of this page as useful content, the total proportion of meat is around 15% here I think.

I want this publication to succeed, and I hope they wake up to the imperative that they lead with content.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Red Queen's Race Continues

It seems that the proliferation of interesting platforms designed to deliver us media forces us to stay constantly in motion to see what's next.

The old conversation about which "portal" and later which "platform" would prevail -- that conversation has evolved.

Now we are in a conversation for what will integrate and expand the social media space. We can agree that there will be more than one influential platform and our next exploration is that of how to make them work together.

Two recent rollouts speak to the emergence of new needs and requests in the marketplace for media delivery.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Ride Into the Sunset

...I got a note today about the waning days of Google Wave. After I'd read and considered it, I realized that what I was looking at is the Very Right Way to sunset a product or service. Once again I'm struck by how, against all odds, Google continues to behave in the marketplace the way I'd ask a corporation to act. I wrote about Google Wave earlier here, first when I was introduced to it and impressed by what might be possible, and later when the announcement came that the service would be retired.

Today I received a letter from Google that told me what to expect, and what my options might be. I was impressed with the informative nature of the communication, and an open exhibition of concern for my experience as a consumer. The truth is that I never paid Google a penny for Wave, but they relate to me as a customer. There is another corporation in this Valley to whom I have given plenty of money and I still find myself treated there as an adversary, a mark, or an annoyance whose purchase in the past holds no weight today. ("What have you bought from me lately?")

What was exceptional about this Sunset Notice is that it not only told me exactly when the shutdown date would be (60 and 180 days in advance) but it also told me where I could find open source alternatives that might serve my needs as someone who's come to appreciate what Wave can offer.

Take a look:

If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including Apache Wave. There is also an open source project called Walkaround that includes an experimental feature that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.

I've been involved in the emerging software game since the days when we thought spreadsheets were pretty darn spiffy, and I have to say this is not the usual approach to turning out the lights on a service.

But there's a more important thing, and I've spoken here about it before. It's the matter of how easy (or difficult) a company makes it to take your stuff and move on.

Earlier in my career, I took home a nice consulting fee to help a client retrieve its information from a Microsoft service and put it on another platform. It required the creation of some fancy scripts and a lot of hand curation to get the stuff out because no means had been devised to allow my client free access to its own data. It had been easy enough for this client to put the information into the system, but there was no means to download/retrieve the information in a fundamentally whole fashion. (Well of course! Because who at Microsoft could ever dream that you'd want to use anyone else's service?)

Today the issues are more with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and their peers.  How many of those give you a clean method for retrieving all of your data?

Certainly Google leads that pack in terms of making my data available to me in a form that I can use. To me, that's the main feature that a cloud computing company needs to offer. It's cool if you make it easy for me to get data into the system. I just insist that I have a way to retrieve it and remove it when I wish to do so.

Using the service to retrieve my data from G+ it took me about 4 minutes (including time to search for the right page, and time to expand the resulting zip file archive so I could see into it).  In contrast, the download process for Facebook was easy to initiate, but rather than deliver the goods in real-time for download, FB will be processing my request offline and send me an email when it's time to download.  Since I began it, I've had time to read a number of emails and do a little bit of other research, and still no archive... I'm sure it will be fine and that I'll find it useful.  We shall see.

In contrast even to that, Twitter posts that I've made more than 90 days in the past are not available to me from Twitter. I did have some luck with Tweetdoc, and a search for "Twitter archive download" yields some ideas although many of them are dated from between 2007 and 2009. So your mileage may vary.

I've said it before and I'll close with this observation one more time. One of the most critical factors in choosing a cloud company is their willingness to make it possible for you to get your data back.

I might have lied a little when I said that I had not paid Google. (Actually, I said that I'd never given them a penny, and that is accurate.) I am fully aware that having me put my information into their system in the first place is what Google is accepting as payment. I've certainly done that.

But I have to say that I have certainly been paid back in full with the services and benefits that the Mountain View corporation has given me. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Plaxo, and LinkedIn are all trafficking on the data I provide to them. Are they delivering equivalent value to me in the marketplace? Look for yourself and see your own answer to that question.

--
And by the way, I've finished writing this article, proofread it, done more research in the meantime, and I still have not heard back from Facebook about my archive there. I'll update here if it ever comes through.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Social Media Tools

Choosing the most useful tools from among the wildflower garden that makes up today's suite of social media services and software is a game with a moving goal line. For one thing, the way we use social media is evolving rapidly. Another factor is that the field is so new (in terms of human history with technology) that we're scarcely certain about what we need or what we want.

These five tools are the ones that I find that I use regularly today. If we talk about this in three months, I believe that my answers will change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Whence Our Soul

In a day of melodramatic news and oversimplified analysis of today's situation, it was delightful to discover this wickedly insightful article by Sean Gallagher about the future of Hewlett-Packard with the reins in the hand of new CEO Meg Whitman.


The major players in Silicon Valley have changed since I first arrived in 1987, but a few of the old pillar players remain and their fate impacts the jobs of many and the fortunes of the region as a whole.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Which Seat Shall I Take?

The world of social networks has exploded and although most of the talk has centered around the most prominent three or four, there are new tools being announced every day that provide or pretend to provide support for the individual or small business to be connected more powerfully to the marketplace.

Aside from the top three (I still consider LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to be the platforms with the most entrenched effective status although that's likely to change soon), there are new choices emerging that you may find interesting, and some that you may safely ignore.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So Were You Going to Keep THIS a Secret Too

Get ready for the next wave of privacy alarm over the launch of a Facebook/Ticketmaster alliance that will allow Ticketmaster customers to see who among their friends is already going to a concert or event.

The technology alliance will appear on the Ticketmaster website and allow customers to look at a map of the venue, complete with pips that show which of your Facebook friends have already purchased tickets (provided they opted to share the information).

The article in Fast Company describes the technology in greater detail. But rest assured that there will now be much hue and cry about the possible violation of privacy that this advance presents.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Your Silly Little Idea

Having lived in Silicon Valley for over a dozen years now, I've been the guest at an absurd little ego-drama on countless occasions.

The way it goes is that a friend has you over for dinner and can't wait to tell you about their new venture (partnership/tech startup/innovation) so they ask you if you'll sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect their new company. (The company by the way, usually has no DBA, no EID, no employees or money -- in fact it exists mostly as a chain of emails between friends and a few scribbled notes from a meeting at Barefoot Coffee Roasters. Oh yeah! And of course there IS that folder filled with DBAs signed by friends and family.)

Once the prophylactic paperwork is in order, you are served single malt scotch and appetizers as you are regaled with the details of the new venture. It turns out -- are you kidding me...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm not moving, I'm expanding my home...

...you're going to see the messages come more rapidly. People will say, I'm moving to Google+, goodbye Facebook. Or, I'm giving up Twitter and moving to use only Facebook.

It's like you have to renounce your citizenship in a country to speak the language in another!

Look, here's the thing...

Friday, July 29, 2011

There Can Be Only One! No, Really?

You know, I loved the original Highlander movie. Without having an expectation for it, the story and performances surprised and entertained me.  But it has left our culture with a sensibility that is silly and often destructive. It really stems from that stupid mantra, "There Can Be Only One."

It's endemic here in Silicon Valley, and underscores most of the conversations we hold about technology. We see the evidence in the debate over Google+ and how it will or won't kill [Twitter/Facebook/Free Will] -- pick one or more.

I mean, c'mon...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plus It's Just Fun

By now, everyone is either talking about Google Plus, or they're talking about why they're not going to use it. When you see articles in the daily paper about a social networking technology, it's reached adoption to the extent that you may want to pay attention.

Readers here will recall that I've been a proponent of most responsible social networking platforms as they've begun to get traction. (Responsible in this case means they prevent abusive behavior by polluters to the extent that they are able to predict it, and they offer privacy options to participants that empower selective sharing.)

So it should be no surprise...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Matters in the Social Media Fabric

...at last we're starting to have some credible choices in the realm of Social Media. Prior to the release of Google Plus, there were three platforms that merit time and attention. (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn)

Google's attempt at a well-integrated alternative to Twitter (Google Buzz) didn't really catch hold. To put that in perspective, consider that I follow about 2000 accounts on Twitter, and I get new updates roughly every few seconds concerning what's on their mind.  (This leads me to a great deal of my valuable reading each day.)  Probably about 250 of the Twitter accounts I follow generate regular content.

On Facebook, I have about 700 friends and again I get news from that population every minute or so -- probably about 75-100 of those accounts generate content regularly.

On Google Buzz in contrast, I believe that the same three people show up in most of the updates -- and each of those is actually updating Twitter and I'm seeing it in Buzz.

So what's different about Google Plus, and why is it likely to change the game?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is it Still A Phone

I've been talking lately like even the cell phone is headed for obsolescence. I certainly find that mine is far less valuable to me than it was a couple of years ago.

But in place of the cell phone, we've seen the emergence of a device we might at last accurately call the Palm Top.  Modern road warriors depend heavily upon a the presence of a personalized, conveniently palm-sized device that once served the primary purpose of allowing us to speak with others as if by telephone.

Does that seem an odd way to say it? Well the truth is that many conversations today take place over a variety of networks not originally designed to support telephony. And the systems that were designed for telephony are becoming irrelevant because of their over-specialized and calcified nature.

The demands of the marketplace move so quickly now that expensive infrastructure cannot be deployed and responsibly abandoned swiftly enough to keep up.

If you have an iPhone or an Android phone, think about the things you do with it and consider what percentage of that is actually what we might have called telephony.

Most recently, the emergence of NFC (Near Field Communication) allows your phone to replace your credit cards, and now even your car keys. (http://solsie.com/2011/06/smartphone-ditches-car-keys/)

In a gift box recently, I found a foam rubber replica of an avocado. Actually it was a half-avocado with the pit still in place. As I held it in my hand with the pit facing up, the fit was perfect, and I could imagine a future device (future as in next month) shaped like this to replace my new smartphone. The 'pit' could become a not-trackball that detected the gestures of my thumb, the side of the device could allow for chorded presses of my fingers to control the signals the device would send to the world around me.

Okay, so it's a pipe dream (or in this case a yummy food dream), but can anyone really predict what imaginative, innovative mutation the phone will take on next?

Can you?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Which Phone Do You Use?

It doesn't necessarily say anything about my age to admit remembering the days of the Long Distance Wars. (I mean, I could have read about it in history books.)

There was a time when the difference between long distance companies was very interesting to us. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in advertising to distinguish for us between the one that could hear a Pin Drop and the one that loved your Friends and Family.

As Long Distance gave way to the age of the cell phone, the names of the players changed, but some things remained the same.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is Cligs Gone for Good?

...I wrote in a previous article about the use of Cligs as a URL shortener service. What I liked about it was the analysis of click-throughs that a Cligs shortened link receives. What I didn't like was the sluggish response time and the apparent cessation of development on the site.

If the activity on their blog is any indication, the service is running on ghost ship autopilot.

So, more from laziness than from anything else, I've found myself using bit.ly and is.gd.

I use bit.ly when I want to manage the name of the link and have access to the metrics for click-through and response.  I use is.gd when I'm working with TweetDeck because it's the default and I'm often in a hurry.

After looking at the is.gd ethics policy, I'm thinking I might opt for more vigorous use of that service. I appreciate the acknowledgement of responsible operation that their policy presents.

If you don't have the patience to read through all of the material that it would take to find the definitive "best of class," I think you could confidently settle on either of these services.

I'd love to hear about your preferences and experiences with URL shortener services.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where do you want your photos?

...everywhere you go, people are taking snapshots on their handy smart phones (even on some not-so-smart phones).

If you want to see the photos your friends are taking, there are several places they might appear.

There are a number of common places that people use, and if you haven't explored them all, you may want to hear about your choices.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cloud is Coming

...even when they denied it, tech industry leaders knew that the Cloud was coming and that they would need to tool up for it.

For the individual, it means that you can declare yourself liberated from babysitting hard drives, strong arming simple-minded backup software, and the publishing workload that comes from having to tell everyone that your system is in the shop to recover contents from a drive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Call me? Okay, all it takes is a click!

...readers here will almost certainly conclude that I'm a recidivist Google fan boy. I'm hard pressed to deny the charge.

Here's another good reason for me to love Google.

I spend a lot of my day working at my computer with a headset on so that I can meet with people on Skype.

So it made a HUGE difference for me when Google added the ability to call someone's phone directly from Google chat.

If a person gives me a properly formatted phone number in their email (and for Google, properly formatted covers a lot of ground), I can simply click on the number and a chat window appears that is ready for me to place a call to them.  I suppose that even without a headset on, I could simply allow the computer to turn into a speaker phone for me.

No need to sign up for a new service, no need to agree to any more Terms of Service, just a new feature, ready to go.

By the way, in spite of what you've read -- Google's support for privacy is progressive and gives me control over what I want to share with the world. I have actually read the ToS and I'm satisfied with the level of care that Google takes with my personal information.

And just so you know, Google doesn't pay me or feed me. They just keep giving me good stuff and they don't pick my pocket along the way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Managing Twitter Follows

...I couldn't say "tweeps" in my subject line. I tried, but I just couldn't.

So maintaining an active Twitter presence is not for the faint of heart or the capricious. It takes time and active engagement to get the benefit of this social media platform.

And after a while, some folks simply decide that there's nothing in it for them and stop participating -- they mostly even stop reading.

That's just fine, but when you reach the upper limit for the number of folks you can follow, you may decide that you wish to stop following folks who are not participating.

A great tool for doing this is Untweep. (http://untweeps.com/)  This tool gives you a way to look up the people in your Twitter stream who have not updated in over 30 days (by default).

I personally use it to create a list of folks who have not updated in over 120 days and then go through with a knife to carve them from my roster.  This gives me room to follow new people who are actively engaged and contributing to the stream.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

But I Know it Really Happened

...is it just me, or is Twitter search solely obsessed with the very recent past?  I wanted to pull up some updates that I'd made about 2 months ago, and cannot find them.

I tried advanced search, tried searching with Tweetdeck, and I even tried a Google search.

Where is the old stuff?  Is it only available to anthropology students at MIT who are researching us?

If you know something about this, comment right here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Where do you look

...okay, it's been almost a year and a half since Microsoft rolled out Bing and told us that it was better than Google because they were calling it a "decision engine."

I've used it, read a bit about it, and I still don't see significant difference, and certainly very little of significant value to me out here.

What I do see is that it's much better for Microsoft (and notably, its advertisers) if I search at Bing.  Good for you guys!

Can anyone tell me an actual practical benefit that I might see as a user of Bing rather than as a user of Google for searches? (I've read the Wikipedia and the Microsoft agit-prop on the matter. I'm looking for something that I can tell my grandmother about it -- something that benefits us!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How do YOU view?

...if you've never taken a leisure day to explore the richness that Second Life has to offer, you should do that as soon as you can. Some myths you can ignore.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Platform

...so everyone is talking about the cloud, and you often hear the phrase "social media fabric."

What does that mean? I don't know, but I'll tell you this!

Anyone who tells you that they do know, that they do understand; that's your snake oil merchant.

It's evolving and we're inventing it even as we talk about it.

Take a look at this for clues.  Three hours of good hard study and you can credibly place yourself in the top 15% of so-called SEO experts.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Does it need one?

Our generally trustworthy friend reports that having and using an HTC Evo for work has left him feeling that it's not the right phone for him. The complaint is lack of a full qwerty keyboard.

I can sympathize. I would tend to miss one too. But this friend is still using a Palm Treo, and it's hard to give up that luxurious, durable keyboard. (OTOH, I remember that I had a phone holster when I owned that phone. Glad it was pre-Facebook and there's no photographic evidence.)

I believe that as we begin to use more gesture oriented input devices, the need for a keyboard may decline. Nonetheless, I have a hard time being willing to let go of my keyboard yet. I'm not ready for the Evo today.

Leave a comment to tell us about your phone and whether it meets your needs.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Available only at...

Here's a clue that might prove valuable to your business communication strategy.

When you tell me that it's "only available from Sprint" or "only available on OUR website" or even "not sold in stores," I do not find that a benefit or a value.

It does not increase value to me if you restrict my access to your product or service. Get over it you are not plutonium.  So get out in the marketplace, play fair, invite me to do business with you, and if you do a good job or offer a good product, I will come to you.

When you monopolize, you do not gain my loyalty or my business where I can help it!

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Do Not Want To...

For the record, I no longer want to "download the free" anything!

From now on, to bring me services I want to use, please allow them to work within my browser.

I will download sophisticated clients for doing specific work if I find that your service merits my time. When that happens I'll probably also become a huge advocate and lead others to discover you.

That's my deal. Does your company want to take it?