Thursday, March 30

Wow, honey, Steve Jobs' office called me today!

Here's a great story: an Apple customer is in technical distress and sends an email to one of Apple's partners emails in desperation (allegedly Steve Job's email address.)

Less than a day later, he gets a call from someone saying he's from "Steve Jobs' office" to see if he can help.

I'm not saying the guy who rang wasn't from "Steve Jobs' office" but I'm just wondering if the guy was smart enough to see that the original email was directed to and figured it couldn't hurt to say he was calling from Jobs' office when he rang. Either that, or maybe Steve Jobs now works in the business partner relations office - I'm sure it's a big space, well lit, in the corner of the building, and close to the carpark.

Test it out for yourself: email and rant about something Apple-related, and make sure you include your phone number so they can call you back. I'll do the same. I wonder if anyone will get responses? How many people work in Steve Jobs' office, do you suppose?...

btw: sorry Steve, I realise by publishing your personal email address, I have opened you up to a bunch more spam than before. But it was necessary to prove the point and I couldn't be bothered coding it into a form. If the spam really gets to be a problem, lemme know and i'll code it.

Postscript: the guy this blog post refers to contacted me via Meebo to ask me to delete the post because he felt it made him look stupid. Jebus knows, that's the last thing we'd want to do in a blog called Why are we surrounded by idiots? Instead of removing the post I've removed his name. You can still click thru to find out more about him - I wouldn't want you thinking I'm making stuff up.

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Revealed: evolution of the graphical user interface that changed the world

This week is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Apple Computer. It's appropriate to recognise that if it weren't for the operating system revolution brought about by Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfield for the Apple Lisa and later, the Apple Macintosh, we'd probably be typing function-key combinations on a keyboard, looking at one document at a time, and generally be headed towards a repetitive-stress-injury-induced extinction event right about now.

C:Net has some great scans from Hertzfield's polaroids of early development versions of the Apple Lisa operating system as they gradually nailed so many of the UI conventions we use today.

Why is it important? I believe without it, we'd all still be using a text interface much like DOS today. Microsoft cared so little about interface design that it took them years to realise it was important to develop a windowed, mouse-driven interface, and even then, even with Apple to copy from, it took them three attempts to get even close to usability.

C:Net's got a lot of fluffy coverage today about the anniversary, but the photos are stunning. Bill and Andy changed the world as much - or more than - Jobs and Woz did. You see their UI conventions in everything from mobile phones to TVs to air traffic control systems today.

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Wednesday, March 29

As Ben Harper sings, cryin' won't help me now :-(

Ben Harper, iTunes ripoff!
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
Delicate Genius complains that an offline copy of Ben Harper's "The Will To Live" includes evil DRM to prevent him copying it - how un-Ben Harper is that?

Not nearly as un-Ben Harper as this unpleasant discovery when I bought "Both Sides Of The Gun" from iTunes Australia.

I just pressed the "buy album" button as I usually do, expecting to be billed about $17 and not really looking at the total.

Imagine my horror when the email invoice showed I'd been charged nearly 18 bucks additional for the "digital booklet" included in the download - which turns out to be the CD cover art and lyrics from the physical CD if I was interested in them.

Way not to relate to your indie-lovin' fans, Mr Harper! Ahm takin' the Mr from out in front of yo name!

Tuesday, March 28

What is a fad?

The Calacanis answers the question beautifully when he says, "fads are what we call revolutions before we know what they are." Unfortunately, it's probably true to say that "revolutionary" is what a spinner calls a fad before we know what it is.

If that's too obscure for you, try this: don't waste time trying to establish whether a new web service is going to be a fad or a revolution - the only time to know for sure is after it's too late to act.

The only way to make the call in time to maximise your opportunity is to trust your gut. Those of us with untrustworthy guts will learn the hard way and steer clear of further gut-trusting.

Those of us who're lucky to have a rock-solid gut on these things should act as soon as the gut begins to rumble. Every hour you spend trying to convince the cynics is an hour you could be spending on finding new customers.


Monday, March 27

Suddenly nobody loves Raymond, particularly at Microsoft

Poor Raymond Vardanega: until this weekend unknown on the world stage, quietly working away on nondescript marketing strategies for the Australian office of Taiwanese PC manufacturer, Acer.

Then David W. Richards, larger-and-stranger-than-life magazine editor, publisher and online retailer, publishes a story claiming 60% of Windows Vista code will need to be reworked before the product ships.

Now, Richards is no stranger to controversy, as Phil Sim very tactfully puts it. So when Richards gets absolutely comprehensively flamed by noted Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble, Richards just names his source - apparently an email from poor Raymond Vardanega.

We're not just talking a mild ribbing here; Scoble really let him have it with both barrels, calling Richards incompetent, calling for Richards to be sacked. When someone as widely-read as Scoble writes something that angry about something, it's all over the blogosphere in no time.

I doubt Ray sent that email wanting Richards to write a story about it, and I doubt Ray gave permission to be quoted, but that's what happens sometimes with journalists. Vardanega now has to explain to whoever his boss is why Acer's just made such a public and widely-reported criticism of Acer's major software business partner. Ouch.

The sad thing is, while Scoble's all over Richards' arse with the hobnailed boots, calling him incompetent and saying he didn't do his "homework", it's really Scoble who's guilty of not doing his homework. If Scoble had done his homework before ranting, he'd know almost nobody would have read Richards' piece - it's a small magazine read by a small predominantly Australian audience. And in Australia, as Phil Sim says, we generally take what Richards says with a grain of salt.

Forget about Scoble and Richards - Sim's article is the only one with any research behind it (very nice profile Phil!) and I love this one from Stowe Boyd flipping Scoble's own quote back on him!

We eventually got around to talking about it on the 2WEB podcast tonight. I'm the voice with all the "boom" on the mic. Gotta get me a new mic.

Friday, March 24

bluepulseblog: PayPal largely misses the point with mobile payment launch

Seems like PayPal largely missed the point with the launch of its mobile payment service, PayPal Mobile. For starters, it doesn't appear to let you pay for mobile content, such as tracks or games; and it currently works only for US, CA and UK customers of PayPal.

Meanwhile, if I have to key in an SMS, take a call from an IVR system and key in a PayPal PIN number when it's time to pay my restaurant bill, I might just stick to paying with my ole crusty Visa card. At least then the waitperson can see right then and there how big a tip I've left them...

Wednesday, March 22

Why can't I get [mobile internet app] to work on my mobile phone?

[excerpt from the Bluepulseblog]

...because carriers are universally lousy when it comes to customer communications. When some proxy server admin guy makes a change to the internet gateway somewhere deep in the bowels of your carrier's data centre, how many levels of middle management do you suppose that news needs to filter through before it ever reaches a customer?

The correct answer is: too many levels for the news to ever reach a customer.

Of course, the admin guy is unlikely to change anything that will block access to any of the services installed on the carrier's default 'deck', but any other services you might be accessing from your phone? Someone else's problem.

To employ a desktop internet analogy: it's as if your ISP requires you to access the internet via their proxy servers, and won't give you reliable access to any internet services not featured on their homepage. Very Web circa 1995 - the kind of attitude AOL and CompuServe used to have towards the rest of the internet. And history tells us AOL only just wizened up in time; CompuServe never did.

The good news is; getting the latest internet settings installed on your phone is only as painful as...[read more]

google error message

google error message
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
Another in a long line of cute error messages telling me Apple's Safari browser is not supported by most Web 2.0 apps. Either Apple should scale back Safari and adopt Firefox as its default browser, or Apple should tip some additional resources into evangelising Safari support amongst the Web 2.0 developer community. The train is leaving the station.

Thursday, March 16

New email widget on bluepulse supports POP, IMAP

new widget from bluepulse: email widget for POP and IMAP!

Ever since we released the initial 'official bluepulse' widgets (RSS News and Buddies IM) we've been itching to do some more, to give enthusiast developers some inspiration and ideas, and to give early bluepulse users another good reason to keep using bluepulse on their phones every day.

We finally found the time!

Today we cut the mooring lines on our latest widget, prosaically named Email. Like all bluepulse widgets, it's light on fancy graphics because that allows it to run on more than 250 different handsets, including Java MIDP1 and MIDP2, as well as Symbian Series 1 and 2. And like our RSS News and Buddies IM widgets, it's free (you'll still incur your carrier's data charges, of course, though we think this is about the lowest-bandwidth solution for mobile email out there.)

Supporting "both kindsa music" - POP and IMAP - so it'll work with Hotmail, GMail and Yahoo! Mail, and should work with your ISP mail and many office corporate email accounts. It supports SSL encryption and to make setup quicker and easier, you don't need to enter in any SMTP settings - we route your outgoing emails through our own SMTP server.

A few setup pages when you first install it will step you through setting up an email account, and then you'll see an email inbox including your 50 most recent emails. To keep your email widget speedy, this is all we'll be showing you for the time-being. Each new email you receive will bump the oldest email off your list.

Click on an email subject to read the first 6kB of the text of your email - it doesn't yet support HTML emails, although it will show you the text of an RTF email without the formatting. From there you can reply to the email, forward it, or start a new email.

The Email widget leaves the original copy of your email on the email server, so you can still get to these emails on your desktop PC when you get back to your desk.

Here's some known issues with the current Email widget:

  • You'll have to open an email before you get the 'Delete' option in the Options menu

  • Deleted emails reappear in the inbox after an auto refresh (currently every 5 minutes); and

  • You may see the occasional timeout error: 'unable to open page' when opening the widget.

We'll find some time soon to address these issues. And we'd love it if this prompted some of you hotshot bluepulse widget enthusiasts to show us how it can be done even better.

It won't replace a Crackberry, but it's a useful email client for those of us who don't actually need to use a handset as our primary email device and don't want to pay for a mobile email solution. It'll probably work on the phone you already own, it'll probably work on the mobile network you're already connected to, and it'll definitely remain free to use.

Go forth and uh... hit reply!

Once again Australia protects and promotes media barons

While my Mac was dead, the Australian government released its plans for fostering the continued lack of development of new media.

Alan Kohler in the Sydney Morning Herald (subscription) absolutely nailed it in his analysis, highlighting how the government's media policy runs entirely counter to its free market approach to restructuring the rest of industry and the economy:

It has been obvious for some time that the Howard Government would render the media unique among Australian industries in this age of competition: this industry would be allowed to consolidate to enjoy greater market power and cost savings, while retaining its protection from new competitors. And so it has turned out. Why? Err, because it's unique, of course - owned, as it is, by . . . um . . . unique individuals.

Unique individuals indeed. This is the government that has broken the union's monopoly on labour, broken up and sold key public infrastructure, and generally done everything it could to loosen up the wheels of commerce. It might even have to break the AWB's monopoly on exporting wheat, despite the cost to the Coalition's rural support base.

But somehow, the unique individuals who own Australia's media not only get to be protected from competition in existing and new media until 2012, they get to further consolidate their monopolies from now on. And then John Howard drops a clear pointer that the competition in 2013 won't be quite as competitive as you'd expect: he wants the ABC to get more commercial but he's not about to threaten the unique individuals' hold on the television advertiser's budget. That might threaten his re-election chances...

I miss my corporate job when... 15" powerbook starts crashing badly and frequently, it takes two days to get it back from the service centre, and life and work stops until it comes back!

Actually, thank God I'm a Mac user - fast user switching, iSync and dotmac kept me running at 10%. I was able to borrow some time on my wife's powerbook (fast user switching on OS X really does make it quick and simple for two users to share a Mac) and I'd been backing up all my bookmarks, email accounts, website passwords, addressbook and iCal data on dotmac for the past year or so. Once I had a user account on my wife's Mac, I was able to iSync that with my info on dotmac, and with the exception of 3-4 duplicated emails and 1-2 duplicated iCal events, I was able to copy everything smoothly onto my wife's Mac.

If only she hadn't needed to use her Mac all the time! That's why you haven't seen much blogging from me the last couple of days.

Sure enough, the service centre techs shrug their shoulders and say my Mac ran perfectly for 48 hours while it was there. They jiggled a few SIMMs in case a loose memory chip might have been causing it. I'm still seeing some instability and the occasional crash, so I'm going to do an archive-and-reinstall of OS X tonight.

Anyway, I miss my corporate job when I don't have inhouse tech support anymore, but having a Mac makes it much less of a problem. And if I had to choose between a corporate job or a Mac, I'd take a Mac any day.

Duncan Riley: scale and adoption beat functionality any day

New 2Web member Duncan Riley makes a great point about Web 2.0-onomics: massive scale and widespread adoption are probably the most important drivers of success so far, and they are much more important than actual functionality. Hype beats feature.

But this isn't new to Web 2.0 - it also happened in some areas in Web 1.0. The most obvious example is eBay, which was uglier, buggier and harder to use than many of its competitors, but it "achieved scale" (got big) and "widespread adoption" (everybody started using it) first, by a wide margin. In any naturally monopolistic segment (like classifieds, auctions, and online community [flickr, myspace, etc] it's clear that scale and adoption rule - don't spend too many cycles tweaking your features.

Saturday, March 11

2Web brings Aussie entre-blog-peurs together

Nik Cubrilovic's an action man, and when he realised there were a bunch of like-minded Aussies out there doing the same thing as him, he decided to do something about bringing them together. With Ben Barren he's pulled together 2Web - a group of Australian entrepreneurs and bloggers.

All 2Web has at the moment is a website and a logo, but the website's rather cool for pulling in the RSS feeds of the 2Web members. It makes for diverse and informative reading; there's a bunch of internet startup founders, some of whom would probably cringe to be described as 'Web 2.0,' but they have in common a lot of international Web 2.0 contacts, experience, inside news, and tech smarts.

Not sure why I got invited to join such a savvy group, but perhaps I can be the cautious, conservative one - I must be the oldest of the group by at least five years. Where's my walking stick?

Zookoda - blogger's best friend

Well, Zookoda is finally out of private beta and accepting signups from the unwashed masses. Exciting because Nick and Yorke are definitely a dynamic duo and this one's got the smell of success about it.

Zookoda essentially emails your blog feed to people who want to subscribe to it. Sounds simple, and Zookoda's competitors figured it was too, and pretty much stopped at that point.

But Nick and Yorke at Zookoda drew on their prior experience building a great email marketing platform to add many more smart features for the blogger looking to attract and hold an audience. The full list is too long to go into here, but the features that really shine for me are:

  • Real-time reporting on who's opening your email, which addresses bounced, who clicked on what, and who's subscribed/unsubscribed

  • Full control over your email template - it can look just like your blog (and for dummies like me, you can choose a template based on popular Blogger templates)

  • Full control over your email scheduling - set up a schedule for any day of the week, at any time, and the email only gets pushed if there's new content. Or, send out a once-off with one, some or all your stories

  • No big orange Zookoda branding (Feedblitz, are you listening?) on either your emails or on the email subscription form you add to your blog

  • It's free, and intends to stay that way

Free? How? you ask. They think there's a killer media model there, and they may be right. When Zookoda is out of beta, or some time afterwards, they introduce a variety of ad formats to include in your email template and there's ad revenue to share between you and Zookoda.

So far, my experience of Zookoda has been all positive. Nick is a savvy business and marketing head with a number of successful online startups to his credit, and Yorke may be The Hardest Working Man In Codebusiness - always online in Skype when I've got a problem, and so quick he has usually snagged the bug and pushed a fix to production while we talk. Don't know if Yorke scales to tens of thousands of simultaneous users, but there aren't so many bugs anymore, and it is even starting to work OK on Safari, unlike a lot of Web 2.0 stuff.

If you're a blogger who wants to build and retain an audience, I think Zookoda may become the app of choice. You really should check it out.

New Scientist - Long-distance lovers drink together via GPRS

Egghead scientists have proven once again that they have no idea about how real humans interact by publishing something proposing that we can all feel like we're drinking together by sipping from networked glasses. Fitted with WiFi or GPRS and coloured LEDs that indicate when the other party takes a sip from their glass, this is meant to add the social juice we get from drinking together.

Yuhuh, right. Hopefully there's one colour to indicate when I sip, and other colours to indicate the following states:

  • Took a gulp instead of a sip

  • What do you mean, only two bars of signal? Lousy WiFi glass, I need to drain it - I think the wine is interfering somehow

  • You still going on that one? I need a fill-up

  • Skoll! Skoll! Skoll! Skoll!

  • Shumbody's shpiked mah drink!

  • Crash

  • zzzzzzzzz...

Google's first Office app - Writely

This news item just goes to show you should read Idiots for the analysis not the news value, since yet again I am more than a heartbeat behind the news that Google has acquired my favourite Web 2.0 application, Writely.

Is it a Microsoft Word-killer? While it's free and so friendly, you bet your ass it is. But it's not a Microsoft Office-killer - for that you need a competitor for Excel and PowerPoint. Why hasn't someone built a spreadsheet tool in AJAX yet? Puh-leease! I'm askin' nice! As for PowerPoint... well, the first person to propose building something Web 2.0ish to help spread the cancer of corporate presentation media should be taken out and shot. And the second person, and so on.

I've corresponded a couple of times with friendly folks at Writely and it's always awed me how well they've implemented common word processing features and interface with AJAX - it's stunning stuff for a tiny pre-money startup team. Well, now they've joined the Googleplex, hopefully they won't be stuck in Bldg 2357b way out on the edge of the marsh, a couple of miles of looping parkway from the main action. Hopefully the intellectuals at Google won't snub something that's so effective as a consumer tool. Maybe they'll even market it effectively to the bazillions of people using the Google front page every day.

Prediction: Sam, Steve, Claudia and Jen will all be moving on from Google once enough of their options have vested. Not because Google's not a great company, just because nobody there will care quite as much about their product as they do.

Is Google planning to relocate your disk storage?

Fred the NYCVC has been musing on the rumours that Google plans to announce a virtual drive product, called 'Gdrive' - place to backup and maybe even store the main edition of all your data. Fred points out that there's a bunch of other competing services out there, but so far, none of them have cracked mainstream.

Why not? Well, it's a guess, but it may be because they're crippled by their own success - too many customers storing too much data too far from the originating PC equals a lot of bandwidth, and a lot of bandwidth still doesn't come cheap. At least, not as cheap as disk space.

To really tweak all the potential out of a virtual drive service, you want to own as much as possible of the network that sits between the server and the PC. You want to already be hosting a lot of data for a lot of people. To keep costs low, if you don't own the cable, you want to put data centres as close to the customer as possible. You also need a strong consumer presence to market such a service.

Who fits the bill? Google, possibly. If you believe the plausible rumours that Google has been buying up redundant fibre capacity and prototyping its own shipping-container-sized mini-data centres. Google also has the broad consumer audience (though a less successful track-record getting its customer to use anything other than search, where Yahoo! beats it.)

Google still designs interfaces for maths PhDs, not for baby boomers and tweens. Lately, even Microsoft products have looked friendlier than Google's. So Google would be well advised to acquire something like Omnidrive to give it a friendly-enough face for widespread consumer adoption.

Virtual drivespace is going to be driven by herd mentality. Nobody's going to try it until they think everyone is trying it, and then suddenly everyone will be trying it. Gdrive needs a friendlier retail face for this product or it'll remain as mainstream as, say, Froogle.

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