Wednesday, November 21

Is Google's Android an attempt to take over the world?

Well, no. (a) "The World" is much bigger than the US, no more so than when you're talking about mobile, where the US is a relatively small chunk; and (b) the article explains how Google goes nowhere unless it goes hand-in-hand with T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile and Sprint are competitors, so this is only a little bit easier than going hand-in-hand with two women you're dating at the same time. Does that end in a happy threesome? Only ever in your dreams.
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Yes, Google Is Trying To Take Over the WorldNext step: Take out Ma Bell.

What gives AT&T and Verizon real power over the wireless world? It is their control over spectrum, retail, and government, three areas where Google, as of now, is very weak, and where it must depend entirely on its allies. Spectrum is the one physically scarce resource in the wireless world, and those who control the airwaves have the power to call the shots by denying access to those who do not behave. That's why so much turns on the loyalty of Google's carrier partners, T-Mobile and Sprint, for they are serious players with spectrum. If, as is likely, AT&T and Verizon refuse to allow any Gphones on their networks, the reach of Android may be limited.

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Monday, November 19

Books aren't dead. Neither are e-books the Next Big Thing

I don't think Amazon's Kindle is going to change the book world, though I hope I'm wrong.

I can see that the world would be a better place if there were no more printed books leaving forests denuded, taking up retail shelving, needing to be resold, recycled or worse once you've read them.

I concede that the Kindle is a major step forward in e-book tech, featuring better screen, easier nav, longer battery life and more storage at a lower price than ever before.

Two reasons why I don't think it will be successful:

1. It doesn't solve a problem for the consumer; and
2. It confuses the medium with the media.

It solves problems, but Amazon's problems, not the consumer's. The consumer does not have a problem. People don't walk out of book stores complaining about how unpleasant it is to quietly browse for a while. Nobody throws a book down in disgust and cries, "I just can't deal with the resolution of this typesetting on this paperstock!" and very few of us complain about the price of books (at least, not those of us who might be able to afford an Amazon Kindle.)

The Kindle, and the Sony e-book gadget and all the others are lovely showcases for the latest technology, but they confuse the medium with the media.

The media (the information, the narrative, the opinion, the pictures, ideas and all the rest of it) absolutely do not need to be on something that looks and works like a book (the media) to find an audience.

Modern authors know this from publishing their books online and by writing blogs. The music industry has known this for the past five years or so as they've seen their media transfer from one medium (CD) to another (.MP3) so fast that it's almost killed their industry. But now the music industry is starting to adapt, and is realising this is their biggest opportunity since the invention of radio.

The "word industry" (for want of a better name for it since it's not just a book publishing industry - that again confuses media with medium) just needs to learn not to confuse media with medium and it will stop wasting time with ebook readers and sell large numbers of words... some of them very long indeed!

The only issues the consumer complains about are the very issues that are created by the word industry itself trying to maintain its exclusive control of the creation, distribution and sale of word-based works. The Kindle is mainly an attempt to wrest control from the book publishers and their retail distribution networks and hand it straight to Jeff Bezos.
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Friday, November 16

Building IM on mobile phones is tougher than it looks

The very friendly and open team at free multiple-IM-platform provider Meebo has been copping some flack from users this week for its decision to optimise Meebo for Apple's iPhone.

'Hey,' they're saying, 'What about all the gajillions of Meebo users out there who don't own an iPhone?' and they have a point, kinda. The iPhone isn't the most common handset on the planet...

...Yet. It is the fastest-selling handset in AT&T's stores and I'm fairly certain it will be the fastest selling handset in Europe and the US over the next 12 months when the numbers are in (w00t, bold prediction!)

Meebo more likely chose the iPhone first because it runs a relatively standard, relatively sophisticated browser; essentially most of the functional bits of Safari, based on the well-understood WebKit. As Paul from Meebo says on the blog, making Meebo work on an iPhone wasn't that hard because it wasn't too different to making Meebo work on Safari, and it did that already.

There would be two ways to get Meebo working on a broader range of mobile handsets: develop client software for each of them, or develop versions for common mobile browsers such as Opera.

Coding clients for other handsets is a humungous task. So humungous, nobody really attempts it any more. There are so many different flavours of even the most popular mobile OSes that Meebo would have to quadruple the size of its dev team for the next few years if that was the goal. There's 20+ popular J2ME implementations out there, multiple Symbian versions, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Palm... Fugedaboutit.

Mobile startups with client software don't - can't - support such a range of variants. Most support only a couple of recent Symbian versions, and/or maybe Windows Mobile. Hardly any try to keep up with J2ME.

Developing support for popular mobile browsers is no mean feat either. Good browser support means developing an interface that scales well to a galaxy of different screen sizes, resolutions and numbers of colours. It means ensuring you deliver good usability while taking advantage of whatever additional goodness might be available on some browsers - DHTML, Javascript, Flash, etc.

Yet you've also got to degrade functionality gracefully too, so that the primary Meebo features also work on some of the more primitive mobile browsers out there.

End of the day, Meebo's not really in the mobile messaging game. We can't expect a tiny startup to make that big an investment in developing stuff that's not core to its business.
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We had a few bugs to fix before meebo was usable. First off, the iPhone doesn’t have an enter key so there was no way to send an IM message! I spent most of my weekend tweaking our code and learning the major differences between Safari on the iPhone and Safari on the desktop. We released a few placeholder tweaks but using meebo on an iPhone was still pretty fiddly. After using the iPhone and playing around with Safari, we found that the mobile version wasn’t very different to the desktop version and with a little work we could make a really great mobile interface for meebo. A couple of late nights later we were very proud to release the mobile version of meebo for the iPhone.

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Tuesday, November 13

When meet-the-people sessions go bad

I don't think you could get this close to George Bush or Gordon Brown with a tee-shirt like this, and if you did, you certainly wouldn't get to take a photo of it. It's a sign of how out-of-touch with the modern world John Howard is, that he'd risk internet pranks like this, believing he can get re-elected by hugging as many Australians as possible.

(Thanks to Vote For Kevin and Martin Stannard for the photo.)
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Friday, November 9

The wrong way up a one way street of content

There are now so many microblogging platforms out there, and they're all so new none has quite achieved ubiquity yet. So teh kiddies at hellotxt have decided the right thing to do is to add anothr layer of aggregation on the interweb, this time to let you update all your microblog feeds from the one microblogger.

So gay! Why? Mostly bcoz they'll never keep up. New microblog apps appear quicker than anyone can blog about them, much less try them out.

But also because I'm starting to realise that all this blogging (and microblogging on top of that and microblog-aggregation on top of that) is taking the user in the wrong direction. Well, maybe not the generic user, but definitely me.

I'm being asked in the name of aggregation and convenience to step away from rich content and navigation and adopt command-line txt as my default mode of communication. I'm also being asked to divide and subdivide my total potential audience into smaller chunks based on how they want to receive me, with so much overlap between them it's usually possible to spam my true meatspace friends with my every thought.

This is what I get now. 
I get to push my thoughts through an ever-narrowing set of command line options defined by the subset of content types that will pass all the way from microblog aggregator at the top down to flexible, rich media publishing platform at the bottom. If I got carried away with the aggregation model, the blog you're reading now could become merely an RSS feed of my Facebook News Feed of my Twitter tweets from my Hellotxt login.
That's just wrong. AFU. All my bases are belong to telco and

This is what I want.

Why do I want to flip the model?

For starters, I want to publish the richest possible content to the widest possible audience first. Blogger's my most flexible, creative publishing platform. OK, to bang out a post that includes much rich content I have to go to the immensely tedious trouble of logging in via a browser or blogging client, but I'm old enough to remember desktop publishing, and if you imagine that old standby of print publishing Quark Xpress to be like a four-hour full cavity search in a Kazakh checkpoint that's just run out of lube, then Blogger's browser interface seems like a standup quickie with a supermodel in comparison.

My Facebook and Myspace and Bebo and even Twitter presences are discoverable, but with nothing like the discoverability and search-crawler friendlyness of my long-established blog. Most of my blog readers have never read my stuff before. Sadly, most of them never come back, but that's an issue I could address if I wasn't so half-arsed. 

My Blogger blog introduces me to more new people than anything else, and lets me publish just about anything. Slowly, tediously, but with more control over how and where it appears than just about anything.

Follow the arrows and you'll see my content gradually being stripped of its richness as it gets handed on to Facebook and my other social network platforms I have yet to abandon. At this stage it's still got the potential for images and video, but it gets separated into different modules and not all of it is shown to everyone I know on Facebook - some goes to one group but doesn't display for others.

Finally, at the Twitter level, I'd like just the txt pls, shrthnded enuf so it fits in 1 sms, but like right now, 2 the smllst grps of frnds i.e. 121.

In other words, I don't want my blog to become a vast bog roll of five years of my text haiku; I want my Twitter feed to be the best possible condensed goodness automagically gleaned from my Facebook page, which is automagically being updated from my Blogger blog.

Snap to it, frnds!  

Thursday, November 8

The ABC, our leading online publisher? (subscription) pulls out some enormous numbers from the Australian Broadcasting Commission's (ABC) 2007 annual report.

These are huge numbers for an online business with distribution only via free to air and digital TV. Most local online media publishers also own newspaper, magazine or radio assets that can be used to cross-promote.

For me, this points to the value of an engaged audience. ABC viewers simply care more about what they watch on ABC, that's why they're more likely to interact with the programming online.

Why do they care more? Because the programming is higher quality than 90% of the commercial pap on 7, 9 and 10; it asks as many questions as it answers, it encourages debate, it disrupts normal programming formulas, it challenges and investigates.

Praise jeebus the ABC isn't selling online advertising!
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  • By June 2007, the ABC was registering just under 2.4 million successful and complete downloads of podcast files each month, representing content from all ABC Radio networks, ABC News and audio from ABC Television.
  • In the month of June 2007, audiences downloaded over two million ABC Radio programs and 1.8 million ABC Television and News videos.
  • In 2006–07, ABC Online reached over 2.1 million unique users per month -- equivalent to 18.4% of the active Australian internet population -- and turned over 102 million page views each month. This represents a 13% increase in users and a 6% increase in page views over 2005–06. ABC Online’s average monthly audience grew by 13%, while the active monthly Australian internet population grew by 5% over the same period.
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    Facebook beacons: searing flame of targeted viral marketing, or dim bulb of privacy violation?

    Right now, the Facebook Platform does a terrible job of managing the way you give permission to third party apps to spam your friends with invites. The 'all your friends are checked by default' approach is a terrible idea, because it actually makes it hard to share something with the one friend who'll really appreciate it.

    In the mad scramble to collect new users, no matter how disinterested they are, current Facebook Platform developers sacrifice the most viral part of the distribution mechanism: making a highly-targeted invitation to a user who'll love the recommendation, and who will then spread the invitation to other highly-relevant users.

    If Facebook Beacon takes the same shotgun approach to viralocity then I don't think it'll amount to much. If all the web service providers I use add the Beacon code to their templates and I spend the whole day hitting 'uncheck facebook friends' each time I perform an action on another website, I'll delete my Facebook profile quicker than you can say, "f***book".

    If, on the other hand, Beacon handles the opting-in and opting-out in a smarter way (by, frinstance, letting me create short lists of friends with similar interests so I can manage opt-in/outs conveniently) then I think it could be huge.

    Let's wait and see...

    At long last, Facebook today finally unveiled its much hyped advertising strategy at an invite-only event in New York. Their three pronged attack has already been reported on ad nauseum, so beyond a quick overview, I won't get into the reporting side much.

    There are those who agree with Zuckerberg that Facebook's new strategy is a winner -- highly targeted ads and consumers acting as marketers. There are those who think the whole idea reeks of privacy violations -- ads based on the personal information about yourself you intended only to share with friends? There are those who were hoping for something bigger -- the next AdSense. There are those who wonder if the whole thing will work -- who wants to promote products anyway?

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    Wednesday, November 7

    Britain's whackiest laws

    There's a good reason the Monthy Python team were all English.

    Most ridiculous British laws:

    1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27 per cent)
    2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down (7 per cent)
    3. In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store (6 per cent)
    4. Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day (5 per cent)
    5. In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter (4 per cent)
    6. A pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet (4per cent)
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    Note of caution on Google' mobile strategy

    Holy stratosphere, batman! GOOG hits $741.79 on the back of its Google mobile OS announcement. My note of caution: it's a industry coalition! Can anybody point to an IT industry coalition that works, or has worked, for longer than a year?

    Google needs the hardware manufacturers to stay on-board. I suppose it could get into hardware manufacture if it felt it needed to, but that's a business it has shied away from in webservers and desktops that it could have been in a decade ago if Google thought that was a good rate of return. And unravelling the Open Handset Alliance first would take time and money. So it's stuck with herding handset hardware cats - good luck with that.

    Not all the biggest cats are even in the herd - most prominently Microsoft (well, duh!) Nokia, SonyEricsson and Palm.

    Are all the handset makers in the herd going to chuck it all in and adopt the Android platform without hesitation? No, they're going to take a few tentative steps only, keeping most of their eggs in their own proprietary OS baskets, where after all, most of their brand and experience equity is tied up.

    It's not the buttons or the battery in a Moto that makes it a Moto, it's the user experience, which is derived entirely from the OS and the apps that leverage it.

    The significant risk for a handset manufacturer is that using an open OS also used by other manufacturers leaves them wide open to competition of the sort none of them truly feels capable of beating.

    So yes, there's definitely a lot of big names signing on to develop Android devices, but how deeply they invest in it depends entirely on their own strategic machinations, not on how cool users think a GPhone might be.

    I could be wrong, this could be the first industry coalition to hum like a well-oiled machine for the next two decades. Or it could be yet another industry coalition which starts losing its way at the end of the first year under the competitive tensions between its members.

    Tuesday, November 6

    google changes logo for melbourne cup

    google changes logo for melbourne cup
    Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

    the Race That Stops A Nation also changes the logo of Google Australia for a day. small lol.

    Twittering the Melbourne Cup

    twittering melbourne cup
    Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

    Next to HG and Roy calling the Melbourne Cup, my next favourite way to consume the Race That Stops The Nation would have to be Ben Barren, in the Bridge Hotel in Mordialloc, via Twitter. I can practically smell it.

    Alpha release is not the right time for user testimonials

    8Hands sounds like a potentially interesting way to stay updated for those social network addicts amongst us who feel the need to share our love across multiple social networks.

    But while I admire the open disclosure, the testimonials and 'top five support forum' posts on 8Hand's homepage are probably too much information, too soon.

    Before I've even decided to download and try the software I'm seeing reasons why it might be a risky proposition. Maybe beta launch is a better time to add real testimonials and forum posts to your homepage and leave snippets from, say, Techcrunch reviews in their place for now.

    I guess I'm not enough of a social networks addict... maybe there's hope for me yet?...
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    • I love this software

      "Seems like they worked out many of the earlier bugs and seems to run OK on my XP system.

    • Greetings 8hands!
      "I like the application, It's a brilliant idea and it looks great.
    • simple & smooth - i'm loving it!

      great app! finally i don't have to log into myspace and see all them spam comments about winning an iphone and finding a date - i can screen them now!

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    How to draw attention to your RSS feeds

    Props to Messymedia for this heads-up on a great post on different ways to draw attention to your RSS feeds. It's certainly the first time I've thought of RSS as potentially being sexy. Convenient? Yes. Speedy? Certainly. Topless? Well, I guess so, if it works for you...
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    Now, it is fairly standard around the web to advertise the availability of RSS feeds with images and icons - in fact over the years there have been plenty of different ones - usually quite small.

    Various RSS icons

    However, The Daily Star approach is a new one on me.

    A topless woman clutches the RSS icon for The Daily Star
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