Archive for April, 2009

Twitter: The good and bad

April 21, 2009

Time to let off some steam on the subject of Twitter.

As a Twitter user, I regularly feel like a giraffe strapped inside a small Lada stuck in an information highway traffic jam. Let me explain why – I’ll start by pointing out why Twitter is worth using at all.

Twitter logo

It’s a global stream of consciousness

Via http://search.twitter.com, you can peek into the thought-stream of millions of net users. What are they reading, thinking, feeling, doing? This real-time flow of information is unprecedented. Sometimes I search using some random term, just out of curiosity. How many people think about cheese right now?

Helps you find and follow people of particular interest

I have used Twitter to find people who are excited about the same technology I am – sometimes to find those who are actually making that technology and have interesting perspectives on it. Concrete examples: Nokia people who are early users of the upcoming N97.

Now to the bad things.

The world’s biggest, loudest echo chamber

If you go looking for original information on a popular topic, you will have to wade through many, many tweets which are just “retweets” of the same information, with no information or just useless information attached. This makes tracking topics through searches harder.

Spam!

If you want information on a product, there will be Twitter accounts spamming ads about it. Annoying.

Only 140 characters

Face it – there are ideas you can express much better in 250 characters than in 140. The character limit is artificial and reduces the quality of the information, since it has to be split into smaller parts or abbreviated half-way to oblivion. A few times I have given up on a tweet, because I couldn’t reduce its size without compromising the message.

Twitter does not separate replies (threads) from messages

Admittedly, this is changing with some basic support for viewing conversations having been added. Still, when I reply to someone on Twitter, that counts as a full-blown tweet from me when in reality it is just a remark relevant only to the tweet I’m replying to.

It is used for everything – by everyone

Ads. News. Personal info. Professional info. All of that in a huge pile of tiny chunks of 140-char information. It is messy.

No system for accomodating both hyperactive and sedate users

Some of the people I am following regularly post 10-15 tweets every day. Others average 1-2 a week. Naturally the former completely drown out the latter.

Unstable

Twitter is the only regularly unstable Web 2.0 service I use.

Conclusion: A massive, unique mess

Twitter is slow, unstable, encumbered by spam, full of redundant information and so simplistic it hurts usability.

For personal, semi-private use, Facebook‘s status updates are superior. Facebook is  a more stable service, messages have no 140 char limit, and it supports comments to status updates – my news feed resembles a kind of web forum for my life. It works well, looks nice and is reasonably fast.

Aimed at enterprise users, Yammer is a much more feature-complete service. Proper threading and e-mail summaries are the features I use the most. It is also nice to have auto-following of conversations the people I follow take part in.

Twitter, however, is open and has a huge and rapidly growing userbase. I can’t think of anything matching http://search.twitter.com, simply because I know of no other open service with Twitter’s amount of users and activity. There is no faster way to hook into the global consciousness online, and that means I continue to come back to Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts there, even though I very much prefer the user interfaces and feature sets of Facebook and Yammer.

For the foreseeable future I’ll continue to use all three services – as long as one is wide open with a huge user base, one is private and social-network oriented and one is tailored for the enterprise they will fill different needs.

I just hope the Twitter guys are busy learning from their competitors – given the momentum they have now I think it will be difficult for a rival to emerge soon, and the Twitter user experience has vast potential for improvement.

A day in the life of my Nokia N82 – and the beginning of the end of the laptop

April 14, 2009

Some days I’m so thrilled with what my smartphone can do that I can’t help writing about it. Perhaps this short blog brag will show you a few new uses for your modern Symbian device. And for how much longer will you and I need a dedicated laptop?

06:55: I’m half-way awake from the radio on the Wake-up Light (nice invention, by the way), the N82 sounds the proper alarm, and I get out of bed – instinctively checking my Gmail account. Their Java ME client is speedy, slim and has all the right keypad shortcuts (the new Nokia Messaging client is very nice, but not tuned for Gmail use patterns and thus not fast enough).

07:10: I make breakfast while listening to news on FM radio. I hooked up a pair of Koss Portapros and put the N82 on the kitchen table – thanks to its relatively powerful speakers, I don’t have to walk around with the Portapros on (or get a stand-alone radio).

The Economist in my pocket

The Economist in my pocket

07:25: Walking down to the metro, which doesn’t have FM coverage, I switch to listening to The Economist in MP3 format, which I downloaded over WiFi yesterday. Halfway there I check the real-time metro information on the built in web/WAP browser. WAP may be ugly, but it sure is fast!

latitude

07:30: Standing on the metro, I use Latitude on Google Maps to see if my colleagues have left for work yet. (They haven’t – I’m early :) )

I also pull up my RSS feeds on Opera Mini to catch up on today’s news. This is something I do periodically throughout the day.

09:00: Having settled in at work, I decide I don’t want to listen to any of the on-board MP3s, so I hook the N82 up to the local WiFi network. It is protected by a proxy, but Web is treated like any computer and lets me log into the proxy server. I then use Mobbler – a Last.fm client for Symbian – to listen to my friends’ Last.fm stations. Here’s my Last.fm profile, by the way.

Now and then the phone buzzes, without lighting up – this indicates that GMail (which is running in the background) has received an e-mail.

11:00: I make a few photographs of the screen on the Citrix client. It is a bit cumbersome to get printscreens out of there, and the N82’s  5 mpx and autofocus will do nicely for this – just illustration photos for a sildeshow. I also make sure to catch the herd of office chairs – they have mysteriously assembled in our wing of the office over the weekend. Hmmm.

12:00: I set the alarm for 14:44 – I have to phone someone then and am likely to forget unless I set an alarm. I also check Calendar, to make sure I’m free at that time.

13:00: I tell my 5800 XpressMusic-owning buddy about SymTorrent (which does what you might expect).

I also showed him Qik – a program for streaming video live to the web from the phone.  I give him a Qik demo, starting off by telling him to check my public feed – where he could see himself from a 90 degree angle :) Take a look at my Qik page for an example.

14:43: The person I was going to call beats me to it – we’re both busy, so we arrange a new time.

16:50: I head home, continuing to listen to The Economist where I left off. En route to the store I use Opera Mini to find recipies for pancakes.

17:20: Leaving the store, I read on AllAboutSymbian‘s RSS feed that Nokia Beta Labs’ Photo Browser is now available for S60v3 devices – meaning I can give it a go. When I get home, I quickly download it via Web and WiFi and check it out. It spends quite a while indexing my photos, which makes it seem slower than it is, but the transitions are pretty nice and for an early beta product this is not bad at all. Hopefully it will be way more mature when the N97 arrives.

Sports Tracker route summary

17:30: After dumping the food in the fridge, I find my running shoes and start SportsTracker. This is a GPS-enabled exercise logger. As I run around the neighbourhood, I upload my route to SportsTracker – take a look. The photo I take during the jog is automatically included in the mashup on the SportsTracker site.

20:30: I start writing this post and transfer a aforementioned photo to my Flickr account from Gallery via the local WiFi.

Conclusion

So – I manage to go through quite an array of features and applications in a day. I love the sense of having so much computational power and so many sensors with me all the time. Of course – there are privacy and security (and sanity?) concerns when using so many services so intimately and constantly bathing in a sea of information and entertainment – but I think we’ll be OK as long as we are aware of that and just leave the phone at home once in a while.

Interestingly – I did pretty much all of this, except writing this blog post, without using a PC. Creating content will probably always be more comfortable on a big keyboard and big screen, but I still believe the N97 will make a noticable difference in my mobile e-mail/blogging usage patterns.

Also – a N82, considering all of its sensors and connectivity features, is in many ways more powerful than my vastly more expensive Macbook. Hopefully CPU, memory and I/O capabilities will develop rapidly – letting me write a new post in 2-3 years time with a full keyboard and 20″ screen hooked up to my ph… mobile computer.

Or, if I’m out and about, I’ll use the phone inserted into a laptop shell consisting of a 13″ touchscreen and full keyboard. That’ll be the end of the dedicated laptop –  unless you need to do heavy number-crunching or 3D gaming.