Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

Why opening Spotify this morning made me nervous

May 23, 2010

I opened up Spotify on the desktop for the first time in some weeks this morning, and noticed that the “People”-tab – sparsely populated last time I used the desktop app – was overflowing with Facebook contacts.

This is… pretty neat. But it makes me feel a bit queasy.

If this is how the social component of applications is going to work – by pulling your friends from Facebook – it means that you will have to have a Facebook account to use those social components. You can’t befriend people using Facebook when being hooked into another social network.

Consequently, to use Spotify to its full extent, I now have to accept Facebook’s privacy policies. For instance, I can’t use those Spotify features and hide who my friends are on Facebook. I don’t approve of this chain of logic.

The “social graph” functionality that Facebook has introduced is way too important to be controlled by any single company. We need an open protocol for this, just as we have open protocols for e-mail, web, telephony and so on.

The question is whether this change will come about due to regulatory pressures – Facebook is bound to run into some competition watchdog sooner or later – or whether an open alternative will emerge before that happens. (Unlikely as long as Facebook has a monopoly on the social graph and refuses to enable integration with other social networks.)

BBC article on privacy, Facebook and potential competitors
Facebook, Google and privacy (The Economist)
Facebook’s gone rogue – it’s time for an open alternative (Wired)
Diaspora, an attempt to create an open social network

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.

Obama wins South Carolina + citizen journalism

January 27, 2008

I was looking for Obama’s victory speech on YouTube and found this clip, seemingly filmed with a cameraphone. I believe a recording of this type gives a much more accurate picture of what being there really was like compared to what you’ll see on the news. Take a look – interesting and the atmosphere is really something. Be warned -it is only the first third of the speech. You’ll find the rest in the official Obama campaign clip below.

Reducing your data traffic costs on the iPhone – Google Mobilizer

November 4, 2007

I have a few friends who are using unlocked iPhones. Since they have “normal” (read: expensive) data rates on their mobile subscriptions, using the iPhone to surf online over EDGE/GPRS can be quite expensive.

As they didn’t know about this little trick to reducing your data transfer costs, I thought I should mention it here.

Google Mobilizer works by taking a web address as an input and converting it to a “mobile friendly” format. Basically, this means that it strips the page of formatting and reduces the size of images (and trashes the layout in the process). In other words, it works a bit like Opera Mini – only way less elegant (particularly compared to the beta of Opera Mini 4).

Give it a go: Google Mobilizer. I would suggest entering your favourite websites via Mobilizer and then bookmarking them for easy, mobilized access. Switch off images for extra savings and quicker pageloads – useful considering the slowness of EDGE.

If you have a handset that allows you to install Java apps, you should definitely try Opera Mini! The best thing to come out of Norway since, eh, the cheese slicer. Or something like that. (I’m hoping for a iPhone version of Opera Mini soon.)

Why CNet is making me seriously pissed

April 12, 2007

I am so incredibly tired from crawling the web looking for reviews, and getting nothing but:

Stupid CNet

So, does that mean CNet has any unbiased reviews? Any exclusive video? Of course not! Jesus! I’m looking for some decent content and all I can find is corporate linkfarms.

Some people say spam is the scourge of e-mail. Well, that’s nothing compared to the effect of auto-generated, corporate product pages when you are looking for REAL product reviews!

For anyone as pissed about this as I am, I can point to ReviewFinder as a sometimes useful aid. The search function there uses a narrowed-down version of Google to search in only supposedly useful pages. These do, unfortunately, include CNet, but it seems other sites are ranked higher when they have reviews.

The moment of truth

March 18, 2007
Photo 86

I was just considering buying some songs on the iTunes music store. For some reasons, which I’ll detail in a bit, I didn’t, but headed over to The Pirate Bay and BTJunkie instead. After not finding the music I was looking for (it’s probably too old), I stumbled across a reference to http://piracykillsmusic.no. I’m typing this now because I watched the anti-piracy video there and was immensly provoked.

It’s really just the standard bullcrap about how the poor record companies are losing tons of money on illegal downloads, concluding that it’s easy and safe to download music legally. OK, Mr. Record Company Man, here are some news for you:

– You might think that all the MP3s on my disk is lost revenue for you. You are wrong – if I hadn’t been able to copy that music, I would never have listened to most of it. 99% of the MP3s I have in my collection which I would have bought if I wasn’t able to copy them, corresponds to the CDs in my music collection and the tracks I’ve bought off iTunes.

– After spending lots of money on concerts, DVDs and CDs you get really annoyed when hearing for the umpteenth time that you are killing music by copying it. In fact, I have several concert DVDs that I never would have bought without getting aquainted with the music through MP3s copied from friends.

– I didn’t buy those tracks of iTunes because
1) They don’t play off my MP3 player, since they have DRM.
2) They are a pain to backup, because of the license key required to play them.
3) I can’t give a copy to my girlfriend without burning a copy to CD. I’d consider that fair use.
4) They probably have lower fidelity than the stuff you can get on CD or bittorrent.

I’m so sick and tired of hearing you whine about piracy! The solution to all your woes is easy. Sell 160/320 kbps MP3s without DRM.

My credit card is lined up to buy the first single released as a clean MP3 through a major record company in Norway – no matter what it is – just to prove a point. Bring it on!

Facebook, WordPress, flickr, interoperability and integration

March 6, 2007

I’ve just started using Facebook, and it’s pretty nice. A lot like LinkedIn, only focusing on leisure instead of work.

The problem is that Facebook is networking, blogging, online photo album and lots more, all rolled into one application. I’m already using WordPress for blogging and flickr for photos. Fortunately, Facebook can import my weblogs from WordPress automatically. The integration isn’t flawless, though – comments to the post on WordPress are separate from those made at Facebook.

Right now, a part of me feels that it would be great if Facebook was aquired by Yahoo – it would probably mean nice flickr integration with Facebook (since flickr is part of Yahoo). However, we don’t want the internet dominated by a small number of huge companies, do we? Nooooo.

What we need is standards and open APIs, so that it’s possible for Facebook developers and anyone else to access a user’s flickr photos provided they get the user’s login information. Fortunately, it seems we are moving in that direction – getting my posts from WordPress and displaying them in Facebook and being able to blog on WordPress from flickr are good examples.

Separating storage from presentation on the web
However, it strikes me as unlikely that these interoperability/integration issues will be fully resolved until we separate the basic work of just storing our stuff (photos, our social network, blog posts, music, videos or whatever) and presenting it in a frontend. Right now, the money is earned in the frontend, through advertising, and you are locked into one frontend since they have all your data and the associated metadata.

What we as consumers need is the opportunity to pick one company for storing all our stuff in one secure location and then let any other company present the data to us and let us modify and add to it through any standards-compliant interface.

I think Amazon is taking us in this direction with Amazon S3 – Amazon Simple Storage Services. They store 1 gig of your stuff for 0,2$ per month. If a company such as Amazon provides a standardized storage service, with suitable APIs for getting to the content, other companies, such as flickr and Facebook, could compete for our custom by providing the best interface to all that information.

In that world, I would pay Amazon a fee for storing all my stuff. Then I would use flickr to upload (into my storage at Amazon) and tag my photos, since they provide the best interface for doing that. Facebook would interface with the same storage repository, so all my photos would automatically be available there, if I wanted it to. If Facebook started providing a better interface for photo management, I’d start using their interface instead of flickr’s. When looking at my content on my phone, I would probably use a specialized Mobile Photo Album service, since mobiles are so different from desktops, and I would still have access to all my photos without any hassle.

If an unknown company appeared and created wonderful new web applications for combining videos, photos and social networking information in a seamless interface, everyone would be able to try it out using all their media without any fuss. Just type in the address of your Amazon repository, and off you go. Imagine what kind of innovation such a world could see.

Wouldn’t it be great?