Saturday, August 29, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Sent to you by Byte Into It via Google Reader:
So, the other day when I signed onto FourSquare for the first time in a while I found 442 people waiting for me. As I looked through the names I saw the same names that had first added me onto Twitter. And Dopplr. And Google Reader. And Facebook. And FriendFeed. And others.
You see, there's a gang of about 2,000 people who really control tech industry hype and play a major role in deciding which services get mainstream hype (this gang was all on Twitter by early 2007 — long before Oprah and Ashton and all the other mainstream celebrities, brands, and journalists showed up). I have not seen any startup succeed without getting most of these folks involved. Yes, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is the parade leader, but he hardly controls this list. Dave Winer proved that by launching Bit.ly by showing it first to Marshall Kirkpatrick and Bit.ly raced through this list.
By the way, having this list use your service does NOT guarantee market success. This list has all added me on Dopplr, for instance, but Dopplr has NOT broken out of this small, geeky crowd. Studying why not is something we should do.
Who is on this list? I've added as many as I can find onto my Twitter following list (don't just look at the ones on the first page — the real important people are deeper in the database).
I study this list and share the most important Tweets from this list on my favorites.
One place you can study what these folks are using is on Wakoopa. Lots of them have added Wakoopa to their computers and let this service track what's going on.
Want to see what this list is adding to their iPhones? Appsfire is a great place to look at that. I just added that to my iPhone. There are a variety of others, that are similar to this too.
Anyway, why do you think that Dopplr got a lot of the 2,000 gatekeepers to sign up, but hasn't escaped from them into mainstream acceptance? Will Foursquare be the next Twitter and escape the list?
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Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Firefox tip: Firefox 3.0's Awesome Bar added all kinds of features to the 'fox, but unfortunately it's also created some performance issues—for example, by upping the default history time, leading to larger, fragmented databases. This quick hack speeds things up.
All-things-Firefox weblog Mozilla Links previously detailed how to defragment SQLite databases with a vacuum command, but the whole process was a bit clumsy, and it required a restart. Now they've updated the technique with a simple bit of code you can run inside Firefox's Error Console that requires no restart.
- Open the Error Console: Tools menu/Error Console
- In the Code text box paste this (it's a single line):Components.classes["@mozilla.org/browser/nav-history-service;1"].getService(Components.interfaces.nsPIPlacesDatabase).DBConnection.executeSimpleSQL("VACUUM");
- Press Evaluate. All the UI will freeze for a few seconds while databases are VACUUMed
Once the process is complete, you should notice a big improvement in performance, especially when using the Awesome Bar to search for a web site. While you're tweaking away, you may also want to take a look at how you can speed up Firefox by limiting your history size.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Court orders Google to ID anon blogger who called model "skank"/"ho", blogger threatens Google with $15 mil suit
The grown-up version of the story boils down to this: a 27-year old fashion student maintained an anonymous blog in which she described a Vogue cover model as a "skank" and a "ho." The model, Liskula Cohen, took legal action. Under court order, Google revealed the blogger's identify. Apparently the two women were previously friends/social acquaintances.
Now, the formerly anonymous blogger, outed as one Rosemary Port of NYC (shown in the photo above) says she plans to sue Google for $15 million for revealing her identity. More online: SF Gate, ZDnet. A Wikipedia entry points to more info on Liskula Cohen's life and career (including a horrible slashing attack she survived in 2007 which maimed her face.)
Now, the source of the current legal conflict is pretty stupid. The behavior of the characters involved does not cause one to feel much empathy. But switch the parties around to, say, Iranian political dissidents, or torture witnesses, or fraud whistleblowers -- and you can see how the privacy issues involved (and liability issues for Google) are worth considering. First they came for the bitchy fashion students...
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Now that all of the letters to the FCC have been filed by Apple, AT&T and Google, we're more carefully reading them over for interesting details. The Apple letter would seem to have the most interesting information, as it controls the App Store, and has given some new information about it. Here are some interesting tidbits.
On general app rejections:
We created an approval process that reviews every application submitted to Apple for the App Store in order to protect consumer privacy, safeguard children from inappropriate content, and avoid applications that degrade the core experience of the iPhone. Some types of content such as pornography are rejected outright from the App Store, while others such as graphic combat scenes in action games may be approved but with an appropriate age rating. Most rejections are based on bugs found in the applications. When there is an issue, we try to provide the developer with helpful feedback so they can modify the application in order for us to approve it.
On the app approval rate:
95% of applications are approved within 14 days of their submission.
On the Google Voice rejection:
Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.
Apple has a problem with Google Voice's phone icon, voicemail functionality and SMS functionality:
Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone. For example, on an iPhone, the "Phone" icon that is always shown at the bottom of the Home Screen launches Apple's mobile telephone application, providing access to Favorites, Recents, Contacts, a Keypad, and Visual Voicemail. The Google Voice application replaces Apple's Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple's Visual Voicemail. Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone's text messaging feature.
Apple believes Google Contacts may be a security risk:
In addition, the iPhone user's entire Contacts database is transferred to Google's servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time.
On a Google Voice web app:
Google is of course free to provide Google Voice on the iPhone as a web application through Apple's Safari browser, just as they do for desktop PCs, or to provide its "Google-branded" user experience on other phones, including Android-based phones, and let consumers make their choices.
On AT&T's role in the Google Voice app rejection:
Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple's decision-making process in this matter.
On Apple's approval process with regards to its partners:
Apple alone makes the final decisions to approve or not approve iPhone applications.
But, Apple does reject apps on AT&T's behalf that are VoIP or streaming video apps (like SlingBox):
There is a provision in Apple's agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T's cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T's permission. Apple honors this obligation, in addition to respecting AT&T's customer Terms of Service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T's cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone. From time to time, AT&T has expressed concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion associated with certain applications, and Apple takes such concerns into consideration.
But VoIP apps are okay over WiFi:
Apple has approved numerous standard VoIP applications (such as Skype, Nimbuzz and iCall) for use over WiFi, but not over AT&T's 3G network.
A bit more on rejections:
Most rejections are based on the application containing quality issues or software bugs, while other rejections involve protecting consumer privacy, safeguarding children from inappropriate content, and avoiding applications that degrade the core experience of the iPhone.
On what takes up most of app reviewers time:
Given the volume and variety of technical issues, most of the review process is consumed with quality issues and software bugs, and providing feedback to developers so they can fix applications.
The number of App Store reviewers:
There are more than 40 full-time trained reviewers, and at least two different reviewers study each application so that the review process is applied uniformly.
Apple now has an App Store executive review board that meets once a week:
Apple also established an App Store executive review board that determines procedures and sets policy for the review process, as well as reviews applications that are escalated to the board because they raise new or complex issues. The review board meets weekly and is comprised of senior management with responsibilities for the App Store.
On the amount of applications that get submitted:
We receive about 8,500 new applications and updates every week, and roughly 20% of them are not approved as originally submitted. In little more than a year, we have reviewed more than 200,000 applications and updates.
All of this information sheds some light on the mystery that has been the App Store. As we've noted, the approval process has seemed to improve since Senior VP Phil Schiller got personally involved. It seems likely that he's on or even leading this App Store executive review team, though Apple doesn't say that.
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Apple: 'Continues to study' Google Voice apps; AT&T: We played no part | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
As promised, Google has just launched bookmark syncing for users on the dev channel of its Chrome web browser. This allows you to keep your browser bookmarks in sync no matter which of your computers you are using.
Syncing has been a standard feature of Apple's Safari browser for some months now, but you need to have MobileMe for it to work. And Firefox users could download add-ons like Xmarks (previously called Foxmarks) to get the functionality, but with Chrome it will be built-in, and most importantly, unlike MobileMe, free. Google notes that the bookmarks are stored on users' Google account alongside Google Docs and sync via XMPP.
To get the feature working, you apparently have to launch the dev version of Chrome with the "–enable-sync command-line flag". If you understand what that means, you're good to go. If not, you'll probably want to wait for the feature to hit the regular release channel, something that will probably happen relatively soon.
Bookmark management appears to have been temporarily disabled on the latest versions of Chromium for Mac, after they were first turned on last week. When they come back, hopefully this syncing will work for Macs as well. To stay up-to-date on the latest versions of Chromium for Mac, check out our updater tool.
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In a post some months ago, I promised to tell you more about WikIT, the mind mapping wiki but kept getting distracted. Now I have found a few minutes to keep my word.
WikIT is a facinating resource. It takes the line that different uses of 'information maps' (I'm planning a post about that phrase!) are best served by different map types and different rules. And it goes right ahead and supports this line with examples and advice.
This wiki covers the many types of maps – mind maps, concept maps, argument maps and others. It explains the variations and how you might choose one type if you're learning something, another type if you're planning a new project, and something else again if you're doing some deep analysis. The main map types are introduced in a summary article here that branches out to many other pages.
Although it looks a lot like Wikipedia, and has the same types of search facilities, WikIT often uses mind maps for navigation – that must be a boon – and takes advantage of MindManager 8's ability to deliver Flash and PDF mind maps that work, as well as looking pretty. You can click a link that will open a map from WikIT in your browser and start exploring.
The best place to start is the list of all the subjects covered by the wiki. Visit that and, if you're like me, it will set you off on clicking trail from subject to subject. Not all articles are complete, but the planning has been pretty comprehensive (I detect planning by mind map!)
Information Tamers, who put this wiki together, have also remedied a hole in my site by adding a list of free mapping software on one of its pages. Price is a selection criterion that I didn't think to include when I was deciding on the controls in the 'Refine software list' tab, and when I was approached for permission to use all the information I was happy to see it drawn on and filtered in this way. I always am, provided the source is acknowledged and linked to with a "follow" link. "Free" is the price that people are most often seeking for software, as well!
The master list of mind mapping &
information management software
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sent to you by Byte Into It via Google Reader:
Without the Universal Serial Bus standard we'd live in a world that Apple, with its infinite variations of specialized port formats and cable changes, would love to make possible. Think of the margins! But even the design-centric Apple has succumbed to the lure of USB, that ubiquitous little port that connects our gadgets to our computers. Proprietary on one end and universal on the other, USB has the highest consumer success rate — getting shipped on over 3 billion devices in 2008 — according to research firm In-Stat. And now there's an upgrade to USB on the way. Here's what you need to know about the coming USB 3.0.
- It's fast: Dubbed Super-Speed USB, it will offer transfer speeds of 4.8 Gbps compared with High-Speed USB 480Mbps transfer speeds.
- It's backwards compatible: Your existing USB 2.0 stuff will also work on the 3.0 ports and vice versa, although you won't get the "super speeds."
- It's coming soon: Vendors will ship some boards at the end of this year, so mainstream consumers should see them on their computers and certain devices starting in 2010.
- It's powerful: Like USB 2.0, it will transmit electricity, which means you can still use it to charge your gadgets.
- It's energy efficient: It supports reduced power operation and an idle power mode, but it will still make your CPU work like crazy to help it reach those fast data transfer speeds.
- It's backed by all vendors: Early on, both AMD and Nvidia were kind of miffed at Intel for holding back on some of the specification details, but that's all over, and everyone's now on board.
- It will end the longing for FireWire's resurrection: The faster speeds will mean that sending data to an external hard drive isn't as grindingly slow.
- Or will it instead keep the FireWire flame lit? Without the threat of FireWire competing against USB products, it's possible we won't see prices for technology drop as rapidly as they did with previous generations.
- Devices that generate big data will be the first to appear with the standard. Large flash drives, hard drives, video cameras and high-end cameras will be the first to have the technology because they can benefit from faster data transfer rates.
- It's a way to create the anti-cloud: Instead of accessing everything online either through downloads or streaming, you can store gobs of content on hard drives, and have relatively fast access to it with USB cables. That might be handy if strict data caps are implemented or you think you'll be without broadband for a while.
image courtesy of Andreas Frank
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If you saw blind results for your search terms from Google, Bing, and pre-Bing-partnership Yahoo, would you always choose Google? The Blind Search site lets you take a blind taste test of all three search engines and pick your winner.
That's all the site does—remove all the branding and layout and provide straight-up search results from three sites, with voting buttons on each column. That can be pretty helpful in a few ways. For one thing, it helps out anyone looking to beat their laziest tendencies when doing some deeper net research. On another level, it's both a cool experiment and, possibly, helpful push to consider another search engine in your day-to-day routines.
That all depends on what you're searching, though, and how the results turn out. In some cases, the results are simply switched up in order, and in most searches, Wikipedia still dominates in the top three positions. After serving up nearly 560,000 searches, the creator—who discloses that he's a Microsoft employee, but running the site as an independent project—wrote on July 31 that the voting results ran like this:
Google: 41%, Bing: 31%, Yahoo: 28%
Interesting, to say the least, but it's the sort of site where one would try to get oddball results and test the parameters, and the audience is definitely a select sample.
Hit the link for the search app, along with a Search Accelerator for Internet Explorer 8 and an Open Search plug-in for browsers like Firefox. Most of all, tell us what you find in your own results in the comments.
There's some excitement around the web today among a certain group of high profile techies. What are they so excited about? Something called WebFinger, and the fact that Google is apparently getting serious about supporting it. So what is it?
It's an extension of something called the "finger protocol" that was used in the earlier days of the web to identify people by their email addresses. As the web expanded, the finger protocol faded out, but the idea of needing a unified way to identify yourself has not. That's why you keep hearing about OpenID and the like all the time.
But those standards, while open, have failed to latch on in a meaningful way with the public at large. One of the holdups is that you have to set up a website or service you use to be your OpenID. It's relatively easy to do, and you may already have one ready to go, but just not realize it. But it's still kind of tricky to explain to a regular web user — wait, you login with your website?
But something everyone on the web knows is their email address. And they're conditioned by services like Google and Facebook to use it as their identifier. The problem with it has been that it's just a string of text, nothing more. You cannot attach information to it to let others know a bit more about you — something vital for true identification. Then idea behind WebFinger is that you should be able to attach any information you choose to your email address.
The excitement today is that a group of Googlers have apparently finally not only gotten Google's support to pursue the project, but that they have started working the technical details. As Googler Brad Fitpatrick writes today:
In other words, we've eliminated both technical & political hurdles. We can now work on this spec, implement, push, try, rinse, repeat…. until we're all reasonable happy.
Googler Brett Slatkin (incidentally, Fitzpatrick's partner in making PubSubHubbub) explains to us that while it hasn't been turned on yet, and that there's still a lot of work to do on the spec, the idea is to go into testing mode soon. Fitzpatrick notes that there will be a small experiment going on internally with some Googlers' Gmail accounts.
Without knowing much about the technical details behind it, the core idea behind WebFinger immediately strikes me as a good one. It's taking something everyone knows on the web (your email address) and making it immensely more valuable as a way to identify yourself and information about you. Exactly what kind of information? Here are some of the ideas from the WebFinger Google Code page:
- public profile data
- pointer to identity provider (e.g. OpenID server)
- a public key
- other services used by that email address (e.g. Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug, Twitter, Facebook, and usernames for each)
- a URL to an avatar
- profile data (nickname, full name, etc)
- whether the email address is also a JID, or explicitly declare that it's NOT an email, and ONLY a JID, or any combination to disambiguate all the addresses that look like email@example.com
- or even a public declaration that the email address doesn't have public metadata, but has a pointer to an endpoint that, provided authentication, will tell you some protected metadata, depending on who you authenticate as.
This is definitely something to watch for in the coming months.
[photo: flickr/chris owens]
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