The Near Futurist
2Aug/10Off

IDEA: Direct Message weather and news to you at the time you want where you want (based on Twitter geo)

Here’s an idea for using Twitter geo:  a service to direct message me the weather (current and forecast) based on where I am via Twitter geo.  Let’s also get some news in there as well.  Can also be tied into Foursquare geo.  Basically, push me information I’ll want on a regular basis, like a 7:00am local time DM that tells me what I should wear that day — tank top or parka?  And I don’t ever have to figure out where I am, it just knows, and I don’t have to check one more thing.  Just log into my Twitter account and there it is.

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9Mar/10Off

IDEA: Using aging packet infrastructure for fun kid outdoor strategy games

I just got a Nexus One, and my iPhone that was such a hot item only a couple of years was duly given to my 7-year-old to play games on.  It’s no longer a mobile phone with 3G capabilities, but still has Wi-Fi and still is a powerful computer with some really great capabilities like accelerometers, GPS, compass, Bluetooth, etc.

We also have an aging packet network infrastructure (you know, the system that used to be used by pagers?) that is low bandwidth but great coverage, and not being used by anyone (read: it’s cheap).

If you put the two together, you can imagine some really fun games kids could play outdoors.  Think geocaching and capture the flag, or laser tag and hide-and-seek.  A simple app and a small Bluetooth-capable pager and you’ve got yourself a fun time!

And imagine: giving your kid your used iPhone means that he or she will spend more time outside!

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12Nov/09Off

PC World: Don’t Be a Hater


I’ve generally tried to remain Google-neutral in my blog (not favoring, not lambasting) but in this case, I’ve noticed something anti-Google that I felt worth mentioning and examining.

I am, as you might imagine, a fan of Google News. I get all my breaking and topical news about the US, the world, business, health, and yes, Google from Google News. Its automated aggregation and curation gives me comfort. 🙂
As I’ve been reading news articles about Google, I’ve come across a unsettling trend in the slant of news stories coming out about Google from one publisher specifically: PC World. And IDG company, PC World generally covers all things for your personal computer, and in the last several years, that has of course included things of the Internet, and naturally, Google.
What I’ve noticed about the headlines and stories coming out of this outfit are decidedly biased towards maligning and expecting the worst from Google. It’s as if they think they are Fox News, and Google is the Obama White House: to them, Google can do no right.
Here then are a sampling of recent headlines from PC World (and a few other online sources) on news about Google:

PC World CNET Major Newspaper Online (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.)
Google’s Free Airport Wi-Fi Shouldn’t be a Holiday Treat Google’s holiday gift: Free airport Wi-Fi Free Wi-Fi From Google, Microsoft, eBay and Yahoo (nytimes.com)
Google, Plaintiffs Blow Book Search Settlement Deadline More time needed for revised Google Books deal Parties Seek More Time to Craft Google Books Deal (nytimes.com)
Google’s Cheap Cloud Storage: Worth the Price? Google cuts Picasa photo storage prices Increase Your Gmail and Picasa Storage for as Little as $5 (washpost.com)
Google’s Go Is Promising, but Still in Diapers Google hopes to remake programming with Go Google’s Go: A New Programming Language That’s Python Meets C++ (washpost.com)
Google Bets on Mobile Advertising with AdMob Purchase Google to acquire AdMob for $750 million Google To Acquire Mobile-Ad Firm AdMob For $750 Mln (online.wsj.com)

I had to get to the fifth headline to finally find a PC World headline that didn’t disparage Google in some way.
What’s with this? Does PC World have an axe to grind with Google? How can there be a consistent bias like this across all number of stories and writers at one news site?
That’s why the future of journalism can be found in things like Google News, not to mention individuals like Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen.
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8Jun/09Off

The Coming Assault on Twitter

Here come the Mongols!

The scene has been played out over and over again, and I can’t imagine it will be any different for Twitter. Here’s how it goes:

  • Company A produces a product, gains tremendous traction
  • Other players in the industry start to see this success, scratch their heads to figure out how to get a share and compete
  • Without momentum on their side, industry players turn to the one thing they can use to battle the incumbent: openness and standards.
  • Company A is made to look bad for being a “closed” system. Pressure is put on Company A until “something happens.”

Yes, I’ve purposely made the final point vague by referring to it simply as “something happens.” That’s because what happens next depends on how Company A responds, how the industry players rally and galvanize, and whether or not there are other factors involved.

Let’s take a few examples of this happening in recent years.

1. America Online

“You’ve got fail!”

Remember when KFC was called…sorry, when AOL was called America Online? Back then, when the masses wanted to be online, you signed up for America Online. They had their closed email, their closed content, their closed instant messaging. What did they care? They had up to 30M users at one point.

And what happened? The industry rallied around the open and standards-based “Internet.” “Come, be free and get everything!” beseeched the open capital I-Internet. And by the droves, they did. Pretty soon, that 30M number started trending downward like a black diamond slope at Squaw Valley.

America Online, for its survival, finally opened up “the entire Internet” to its subscriber base, changed its name to AOL, was acquired by Time Warner, and ended up getting eaten alive by telcos offering cheap broadband.

Lesson: America Online made its money on access, and once that access became limited (i.e. not as valuable) and commoditized, it lost.

2. Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Hewlett Packard, IBM

“Critics are like eunuchs (UNIX?) in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.” -Brendan Behan

There was a time when many businesses ran a UNIX operating system that wasn’t Linux-based. You could buy servers with Solaris, or IRIX, HP-UX or AIX. When you were a systems administrator or programmer, you had to specify which flavor of UNIX was your speciality, and many a holy war was touched off based on which flavor was superior.

Then a fellow name Linus Torvalds came along and ruined it for everyone. Well, everyone except anyone who wanted an open-source and standards-based UNIX OS to run their desktop and server. Slowly but surely, Linux OSes crept into every size enterprise, and every parts of the organization. Openness triupmphed over closedness. Agreed upon standards were put in place in favor of different idiosyncracies of each type of UNIX OS. Linux has basically won the UNIX server world.

Lesson: for closed companies like Sun Microsystems, they continued to make a buck selling the OS with the hardware. For Silicon Graphics, they recently shuttered their doors entirely. For HP, they focused more on providing high-end server software, and for IBM, AIX still runs today, albeit in much more specialied fashions.

3. Facebook

“You wanna be where everybody knows your name…”

The world of online social networking is a story without an end yet. There are quite a few social networks, both mass-market and specialized. But clearly in the US, Facebook has, if not gotten the numbers yet, won over the hearts and minds of anyone above the age of 18. Your social graph of record is stored there, and any activity with that online social graph will likely find its way back to Facebook.

And what is the competition doing? They’ve rallied around…you’ve guessed it…openness and standards. The biggest industry players, in the name of openness, formed OpenSocial to provide a common platform for developers to write their apps, allowing them to write once, and hope to gain broad distribution. (Full disclosure: I have in the past done outreach for OpenSocial.) “Why write an app for one social network that only reaches X million users, when you can write it once and reach 5X users?”

As I said, the end of this story has yet to be written. We are at a crossroads, where Facebook is trying to figure out whether it makes sense for them to be truly open (“Do we give away the farm?”). One strategy they have employed is the one that Microsoft famous, “extend and embrace.” This can be seen in their recent efforts with Facebook Connect to tie users even more tightly to Facebook as their online social graph of record. You can also see it in their desire to become more like Twitter by redesigning their user interface.

4. Twitter

“Two roads diverged in a wood…” -Robert Frost

Which brings us to Twitter. Today, Twitter is the uncontested champion of…microblogging? Social messaging? Social marketing? Whatever you call it, Twitter stands alone. With Facebook’s recent change to become more Twitter-like, even those not in the Silicon Valley bubble can hear those shockwaves, but for now, Twitter has the throne (ironically like Facebook, if not in numbers, than in mindshare, press coverage, etc.)

The Mongol Horde came bearing openness and standards

So what have we learned about trying to unseat an incumbent? Openness and standards. Today, there are no open standards defined for microblogging (for simplicity, I’ll use that word). Why? Mostly because the only company doing it thus far at any scale has been Twitter. But they have clearly awoken the Facebook beast, and it won’t be long before other big companies join the race. And if those other players are smart, they will likely start rallying for an “open standard” for defining, accessing, and developing with microblogs. Surely the Open Microblog Protocol is coming soon, and anyone who wants to integrate these systems will have to come on board with this new open API and platform. Client apps will show up, allowing you to microblog to multiple platforms at once, and developers will complain about how they have to integrate both the OMP and the Twitter API. And as this “grassroots” effort begins to take hold, Twitter will be faced with a decision: do they open up and integrate like the rest, or do they resist and figure out a different path forward.

That, of course, will be for the smart folks at Twitter to contemplate and solve. An ideal solution will likely involve a lot of tinkering, much like the very first Twitter product did. No, there won’t be a silver bullet. More than likely, it will be a solution that involves hundreds of individual decisions by many people that lead Twitter out of the wilderness. There won’t be any perfect solutions, but there will likely be those solutions that allows Twitter to maintain dominance in this field, while still allowing for openness.

But make no mistake: that assault is coming, and Twitter would do itself good by preparing for the worst.

Prologue: as I wrote this, I read a news article from ProgrammableWeb that Microsoft has just released the Bing Search API with no usage limits. As a third-place search engine, Microsoft needs to start taking big risks (see my previous blog post) if they hope to gain any ground on Google. This seems like one of those big risks, and – surprise, surprise! – it’s a step towards openness.

The Coming Assault on Twitter was originally published on The Near Futurist

3Jun/09Off

On Competition

Microsoft’s recent launch of Bing, their new and revised search engine, has generated a lot of buzz in the press and blogosphere about whether this is a “Google killer.” It got me to thinking about competition, and how companies can benefit most from having a strong competitor in the marketplace. I’ve managed to distill my thoughts to the following five bullet points. I’d love to hear what others think as well — feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section below.

1. Strong competitors should force companies to look ahead, not backwards.
When a competitor comes out with a worthy competitive product or service, often the knee-jerk reaction is to take a look at what the competitor offers, and either trivialize or copy what “the other company” came out with. It is often all too easy to react defensively (“That feature won’t work, our users don’t want it.”) or flippantly (“We can add that feature in very easily.”) when faced with a new competitive product in the market, but the smart competitor reacts by analyzing what the competition has come out with, seeing what features or attributes it can absorb and offer to its customers/users, and spend time figuring out how to innovate new and even better features. Our competitors should help us dictate what our future looks like, not what we can write off or copy in a me-too fashion.
2. The best way to compete with another company is to not be a competitor.
If you are competing against no one, it’s a lot easier to be successful. This is one of the first rules of competition: define yourself and offer products and services that meet customer and user needs that aren’t currently being met. Twitter is successful because they realized there was a latent need to communicate in a fundamentally different way than what was currently enabled, and was able to really run with it. One of the reasons Google was successful in becoming a popular search engine was because at the time Google was created, most thought search innovation was done. Search had become a commodity, and anyone who spent resources in trying to improve search that was “good enough” was wasting their time. With this breathing space, Google was able to gain a foothold and eventually go on to be the most popular search engine on the Internet.
3. When facing a single strong competitor, rally the troops towards a model that trivializes the competitor.
When there is a single strong competitor in the market, it is often difficult for other companies to be successful, even when they are not in the same business. Take Microsoft for example: with their strength in PC operating systems, not only were they able to own that market for many years, they were able to pivot off this strength to also win in office productivity applications. They are only now starting to realize that their strength on the desktop PC is actually a disadvantage as the world moves to a cloud model. With cloud computing and applications, the underlying operating system doesn’t matter. Newspapers are starting to see this as well — their value in providing great information has been virtualized, and people can get that same information in multiple places, including the Web, TV, radio, etc.
4. Underdogs are only successful when they take big risks.
If you are an underdog in a particular industry, particularly one with one or more strong competitors, the only real way you will likely make progress in taking marketshare is by doing something big and bold. Incremental improvements or changes will not get you there — your strong competitors have the resources to incorporate those small changes easily, leaving you an also-ran in the competition. By taking big risks that the bigger, entrenched players can’t realistically take, you position yourself in a place to succeed where your competitors cannot. Google did this with Gmail — with nothing to lose, they offered email accounts with a thousand times the amount of storage space as existing free email providers were offering. This proved to be very successful, and redefined the space.
5. Competition is often not a zero-sum game.
Often companies have a mindset that competition is a zero-sum game. There is one and only one winner, and the rest are losers. There are many examples of mature businesses where this is not only not true, but the competitors in a particularly space work to make the relationship win-win. Cloud computing could prove to be an example of this. The more significant players that enter this market, the more credibility it gives the whole notion of “cloud computing” and the better everyone does.
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20May/09Off

Top Ten Tweets That I Simply Have No Time For


10. Any tweet describing a particular play in a particular sporting event.

"Oooh, did you see that block by Bryant?"
"And in for the goal!"

9. Tweet greetings and salutations.
"Good morning, world."
"Nighty-night."
8. Air traffic controller tweets, announcing they just landed in some airport.
"Just landed in ATL."
"SFO->LAX."
7. Tweets with incredibly non-descriptive words and phrases describing a state of being, usually starting with the word “is.”
"is tired."
"is feeling mediocre."
6. Links with little or no description.
5. The only tweets from someone are shameless plugs.
"Check out this cool interview that I did with a very popular interviewer. I’m great it in. http://bit.ly/19kUOJ
"I make multi-million $ decisions on a regular basis — why is it soooo difficult to decide what to do with my hair?"
3. The complete non sequitur tweet.
"blueberries and cockleshells."
"I swear it isn’t!"
2. Hipster doofus tweets feigning detachment from popular culture.
"Tonight’s the night I finally get to not care who wins "American Idol!""
1. “This is my first tweet” tweets.
"This is my first tweet."

5May/09Off

Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and all the rest


I had a quick conversation with Dick today, and afterwards, I realized how certain social media tools have evolved in my own life.

First, Facebook
I first signed up for a Facebook account. I added friends, I added more friends, and pretty soon, I had enough friends that the chatter and updates were worth following and checking regularly.
Then Came The Twitter
When I got an invite from Jason for Twitter, I took a look, and like most, I will be the first to admit that I didn’t get it. I signed up to reserve my usual username (jeddings), and that was pretty much it.
Introducing FriendFeed
When Bret left Google, and eventually started FriendFeed, I liked what he was trying to do. Bring everything out there into one place. With comments. OK, OK, I get it. And for a while, it worked for me. But soon I found it non-essential, and most of what I was seeing in there was Twitter anyway. Without realizing it, I spent less and less time with FriendFeed.
The Others
There are other services as well. Google Reader, Digg, StumbleUpon, and others. FriendFeed here is good for collecting and organizing all these. But I found the feature I cared about suddenly was that when these things appeared in my FriendFeed that they then made it to my Twitter stream.
The Emergence of Twitter
Suddenly I found that I only cared about Twitter. Everything collected there, all the people I followed and getting their status updates, interesting thoughts, etc. I’m not interested in hearing the daily thoughts of my friends from college, high school, etc. They are just too removed from my own current life, and what I find I like most is sharing my activity online through Twitter, and keeping up with what others are doing on Twitter. FriendFeed provides some of this glue, but really is more of a back-end service. And Facebook, the first contender, still exists, but only as a repository for my Tweets as Facebook status updates, and I enjoy the discussion about those status updates with friends, long-lost or otherwise.
So I started with Facebook, stumbled into a variety of stuff, before I ended up with 90% Twitter, 5% FriendFeed integration, 5% Facebook discussion.
What about others out there?


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24Mar/09Off

Stupid Site Idea #47: DrunkTweets.com

First there was drunk dialing. Maybe you’ve done this before. You’re out with some friends on a Saturday night, and you’ve had one too many Long Island Iced Teas, when you get the brilliant idea that you should call up your ex-girlfriend who broke your heart last year, and (1) accuse her of being the worst human being in the world, and (2) beg her to take you back. Oh come now, hands up if this sounds very familiar.
Then came drunk emailing, the 2am email that says everything you wanted to say to your boss, but alas the sober you lacked the chutzpah to say it to him.
And finally, drunk texting. This I’ve never done before, honestly, because when I’m wasted, fine motor skills are usually the first to go. There will be no tippity-typety with my thumbs on a small, virtual keyboard when I’m blowing a 0.8 and above.
Certainly today, this long-honored tradition must live on Twitter. A quick search for “drunk right now” revealed some choice selections, including this gem:
Classic! Misspellings, statement of inebriation, unnecessary all-caps. All the things you want in a drunk tweet.
So here’s my idea: there should be a site where people can submit examples of drunk tweets. People can vote on them, rate them, review them, claim them, and potentially even respond via a tweet-of-shame.
My normal rules of giving away site ideas holds: if you develop this site based on the idea I’ve given you here, I fully expect an Easter egg somewhere on the site making fun of me for being too lazy to implement the idea myself.
17Mar/09Off

The web page isn’t half empty, it’s half full!

Sometimes the things that annoy you most can surprise you in delighting you given a completely different context. So that’s the lede — now that I haven’t buried it, let me tell you what I mean.

Blogs and other content sites are wonderful. It seems my appetite for informational input, as far as I’ve tested, really knows no limits, and Web sites chock full of interesting information, thought-provoking viewpoints, and insightful analyses feed the part of me that craves this stuff. But lately, I’ve become increasingly annoyed at the content-to-other-crap ratio. More and more, site owners are shoving things into both the left and right hand columns. Some are interesting and useful, while some are simply irrelevant and annoying. I’ve seen pages where the amount of space taken up by actual content is less than 20% of the screen real estate!

The primary way these sites compress the area used up by actual useful content is by fitting them into a narrow column down the page. Daily Kos is a great example of this, where despite your political leanings, everyone can agree that there’s an awful lot of non-content content on the page that has questionable utility and value to the content on the page. With so little space dedicated to actual content, in what context would this be a good thing?

And this is where the “web page isn’t half empty, it’s half full.” Because on the Web, this situation is annoying, as so much real estate is taken up by non-content. But on an iPhone, the narrow column format for content means that on a small screen like the iPhone’s, once you zoom in on the content, it makes it far easier to read.

I now cross my fingers and shake my accelerometer once for good luck hoping that this next page that I want to read has a narrow column for the content on the page — and when it doesn’t, I ponder throwing the iPhone down in disgust and walking away.

Annoyance has turned into delight — I now would love to buy the designers of these sites a beer! Of course, that glass of beer you can bet will only be half full. I still have to bear viewing them on my full-sized PC, after all.

17Mar/09Off

The web page isn’t half empty, it’s half full!

Sometimes the things that annoy you most can surprise you in delighting you given a completely different context. So that's the lede -- now that I haven't buried it, let me tell you what I mean.

Blogs and other content sites are wonderful. It seems my appetite for informational input, as far as I've tested, really knows no limits, and Web sites chock full of interesting information, thought-provoking viewpoints, and insightful analyses feed the part of me that craves this stuff. But lately, I've become increasingly annoyed at the content-to-other-crap ratio. More and more, site owners are shoving things into both the left and right hand columns. Some are interesting and useful, while some are simply irrelevant and annoying. I've seen pages where the amount of space taken up by actual content is less than 20% of the screen real estate!

The primary way these sites compress the area used up by actual useful content is by fitting them into a narrow column down the page. Daily Kos is a great example of this, where despite your political leanings, everyone can agree that there's an awful lot of non-content content on the page that has questionable utility and value to the content on the page. With so little space dedicated to actual content, in what context would this be a good thing?

And this is where the "web page isn't half empty, it's half full." Because on the Web, this situation is annoying, as so much real estate is taken up by non-content. But on an iPhone, the narrow column format for content means that on a small screen like the iPhone's, once you zoom in on the content, it makes it far easier to read.

I now cross my fingers and shake my accelerometer once for good luck hoping that this next page that I want to read has a narrow column for the content on the page -- and when it doesn't, I ponder throwing the iPhone down in disgust and walking away.

Annoyance has turned into delight -- I now would love to buy the designers of these sites a beer! Of course, that glass of beer you can bet will only be half full. I still have to bear viewing them on my full-sized PC, after all.