Sunday, September 28, 2008

We're Running This By Hand?

In the final hours of negotiations, Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, carried pages of the bill by hand, back and forth, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, where the Democrats were encamped, to Mr. Paulson and other Republicans in the offices of Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader.

At the same time, a series of phone calls was taking place, including conversations between Ms. Pelosi and President Bush; between Mr. Paulson and the two presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama; and between the candidates and top lawmakers.
From Breakthrough Reached in Negotiations on Bailout, New York Times, Sept 28, 2008

Am I the only one who read that and thought these people needed a software / document control and revision system like CVS or Git, a set of encoded secure irc channels, and maybe a centralized comments system?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Real Market

So the T-Mobile G1 Android phone
  • has a keyboard and a flip out screen
  • has no way to synchronize anything with a user's computer
  • replicates everything to the servers of a specific vendor
  • uses a specific email address and IM system, although you can add others
  • plays media as a sort of extra function
  • requires the user to use specific headset hardware
This isn't T-Mobile competing with the iPhone. This is T-Mobile creating an upgrade path for Sidekick addicts who have outgrown going everywhere on a skateboard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Opninion On The First Android Phone

I can't really wait, you know, being a pundit and all. So I have an opinion, yes, based on the leaked pics and ad copy: the impression I had since the first leaked image of the Google Android phone being made by HTC became public is justified and, no, those first pics weren't of an ugly prototype. The Google phone T-Mobile will introduce today, built by HTC, is just plain Not Sexy. This is not going to compete with the iPhone, this box does not inspire lust, or fun, or a sense of being chic. If this little slab came to panel at America's Next Top Model, Nigel would tell it she has fallen apart over the last few weeks, Ms. Jay would have said previously during judging he had never seen anything in her anyway, Mr. Jay would say she just wasn't bringing it during shoots, whoever the celebrity model is this season would make a gruesome 'Ugh' face, and Tyra would at the end smile beatifically and tell this Beautiful Phone, after not having handed her a picture, to go home and open the pages of Crave Blog and learn something. Then a hug and off this little box with its seams and cliche rounded corners and lackluster capabilities goes.

This box is, at best, only going to appeal to people wondering if they should get a Windows Mobile device, and in that area HTC has already done better, either by looks...

Glamour shot of HTC Touch Pro, a Windows Mobile device with a keyboard

...or technology.

Action shot of HTC Touch HD, a Windows Mobile device with a 800x480 screen. Yes, 800 by 480 pixels

Just GMail and Google maps isn't it. I can get that on my 2-year-old N73.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Platform Is A Mess

Of course, the idea of having the mobile phone operators become our bank accounts for tiny transactions that add up sometimes really seems like a bad idea. Like when you hear that somebody is on Sprint, the operator that lost hundreds of thousands, if not a million, of customers in 2006 and 2007. The fact that in many horror stories, many of them available on like, Sprint seems like a billing basket case, doesn't make me think I ever want them as the keepers of my money. It just sounds like their computers never recovered from trying to incorporate Nextel. All operators screw up, but with some you just hear the same story of the same kinds of billing snafus over and over.

Or that famous time when all Verizon customer reps seemed confused about payment per kB by two orders of magnitude. And lets be clear, as the about quarterly human-interest story about somebody getting killed by data charges shows, operators are not at all interested in helping you actually manage your bill. For years now we have had to read about people getting a bill of about their yearly mortgage payments put together because they downloaded too much without noticing. Now if it was a foreign trip this is almost understandable, as I am sure the networks do not bill that to each other real-time but probably do final accounting every month, but you can still get into this kind of trouble with domestic data if you just lose track of whether your limit was 3Mb or 5Mb, and who knows when they have browsed that anyway? You try going to any operator and saying "Hey, you should warn me when I use more than ten bucks a day of data. Send me a text message or something". If any of them in the USA or UK will, this would be news to me.

In fact, I know first hand of a story of a person who had a SIM card from a respected brand MVNO in the UK (an MVNO is an operator that doesn't have its own network but leases time on another network but does its own billing) that specializes in calls to foreign countries. Pay As You Go, so you can't go wrong, right? Just put exactly the amount you want to spend on the account and you can't overspend. One day the call can't be completed, and checking the account online shows that it is over £300 in the red. How can a PAYG account be negative? By that much? The person suspects the phone was doing a data transfer, like checking email or browsing, while the person was unaware the MVNO SIM card was in the phone and not their regular one, and yes, that MVNO had atrocious data rates. But a PAYG account that lets you spend £300 over the account limit? No, that's not the billing system you want managing the mircocredit system.

Maybe we all got lucky the mobile phone operators never caught on what power they could have had by being the brokers of mini-finances on the web and mobile web. Apple and Microsoft should happily take over that role and run with it. So far their records of dealing with these billing issues is far far better.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Platform Is Ready

Apple isn't the only company with an actively used micropayment system, Microsoft has one too for all its gaming and music Points, the Marketplace. Apple charges its small payments directly to whatever payment method you have attached to it, Microsoft makes you buy points in packs, and thus probably has an easier time charging minute amounts for items without running into minimum purchase amounts their credit card transaction processor demands. Transaction costs are an issue when you are dealing with amounts under a dollar, yet it is in the small amounts that very powerful things happen, impulse things, when combined with one-click approval. Phone network operators, of course, have a lot of experience with these kinds of transactions, billing a dime here for a text in the evenings and fifty cents there for a text before hours, keeping track of items to know when you have used up your plan bucket of minutes / texts / bytes, to then start charging you by the electronic blip as they see fit, no matter how much or little.

In my opinion, mobile phone operators should be kicking Apple and Microsoft in the seat when it comes to payment for electronic items. They have had a complete infrastructure ready to go for years and years now, with little personal machines in everyone's pocket that have little encryption chips built in and are built to be identifiable by the network so the right machine can be billed, whether to the credit cards attached to the account or pay-as-you-go for minors. Yet somehow we never really got any further in a mobile payment infrastructure than hearing that I can now pay for parking in London by texting the right number, which is the same kind of excited news we shared about Finnish parking in 1999. The Felica system of having a contact-payment chip embedded for the subway has taken Japan by storm, but hey, that was kind of expected. And yet every western large city or small country is re-inventing the chip-card payment system for public transport, while GSM is a global standard. Dudes, I should just be waving my phone at anything with wheels or track that looks vaguely like it lets everyone on, and automatically have the price of the ride deducted from my cell bill. Same for condom machines in bars, if not groceries.

Or web pages. Look, supposedly these days more people in China are accessing the Internet through mobile data services than people using the Internet over computers in the USA. I have no idea what that statistic actually means, but I am told it ran in The Economist recently. Asides from the question of what mobile service these Chinese people are using, the fact is that their mobile phone operator should be able to make it really easy to pay minute amounts of money for these services, seeing as they transport every packet of it. All you need is the right hooks in the right layer so mobile web page providers can set a price. Oh, and of course, not being asinine as an operator, with taking a 70% cut for example, or having a walled garden, those things just stifle innovation and makes companies waste energy trying to "get on the deck" which they should be using to innovate.

Of course there are big issues with micropayments on the web. In the heyday of having a fun little webpage, now rapidly losing its pagerank, I would get 15.000 visits on it a month. Being able to charge half a penny for that would have been nice, but having been charged half a penny would have been, well, a slight bit less nice: since I easily surf a hundred web pages a day, paying 50 cents every day for my surfing would have been slightly annoying, and a $15 charge a month over what I am already paying for my net access would also not break the bank, but sheesh. And is it worth while to check a preview first for a page that would cost you half a penny? Or make and maintain a preview of that page? Clicking YesIWantToPayHalfAPennyAlready a hundred times a day? No, the power of the web is that so much of it is still seemingly free, so much of it supported by an ad-word tax on Internet purchases.

But no, mobile operators, stars at charging micropayment amounts, have actually not seriously opened up their facilities to be the micropayment platform for all things electronic and many tangible, and thus PayPal and random banks keep trying to create one that involve sending each other SMSes or making awkward calls while standing in line for a cash register. The operators tried a bit, but went nowhere.

But if they are not the platform, the operators are good carriers for the goods and the payment data, though. Amazon is proving something about that model with their Kindle that uses Sprint as its carrier. Although it is not being used to purchase content with small payments, it is getting much of it right: seamless, quick, instant. For some commercial entity to make this as convenient for large swath of the web, and not just what is in their own store, this entity would have have a financial payment system ready to go, you know, a Checkout system, and underpin a lot of the web already by, say, being the main way people find anything and tracking which pages they go to already, perhaps even get their hooks deep into the browser, or, oh I am just blueskying here, release a browser themselves so it can easily put in the payment hooks for people making pages and services, and oh god, somehow have a way of tying what you look for or browse with their browser to your phone account, perhaps by, god, how am I coming up with this, being in your phone. Oh that would be silly, that company would have to somehow be releasing a program for free that phone operators would want manufacturers to put into phones, so that your phone OS was tied to billing was tied to your personal ID that this company also has for you on the web... Oh. Right.

Let's hope they "Don't Be Evil". Or else, if it will be evil, they haven't thought of this tying everything they own together into a pervasive web nd mobile payment platform. Or simply can't make a phone OS popular enough that a huge chunk of the world wants it. Then again, Motorola proved with the RAZR that you can put an utter garbage OS on a phone and it still will be lapped up as long as the shell is super cool, but then again, what I have seen in spy shots so far isn't that cool, so a brilliant phone OS will have to be the selling point (and making those is hard). Let's see what Google's Android is really up to in 5 years. My bet is it won't just be all about sending you mobile adword links because it knows where you are right now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This Technology Watcher Would Like To Make Something Clear To People Who May Be Confused

"BlackBerry" is a brand for wireless devices and server software and networking infrastructure. This brand is owned by a company called "Research In Motion", also known as RIM.

RIM is headquartered and incorporated in Canada. Not the USA.

I hope Declan McCullagh is an equal opportunity ridiculer now. Get to work, Declan. You might as well create two huge political memes.

Edit: And indeed, Declan did.

The Platform Is There

Before Scott McCloud became Google's latest PR writer, he also wrote a comic about revolutionizing the online content industry by getting rid of the distribution and billing middle men without making every second word an ad, and without making copyright infringement the only way to get cheap content. It wasn't the first treatise about micropayments, but it was certainly, format-wise, a novel one, and makes a good case for what kinds of new media models would be possible if there just were such a micropayment platform so you could pay a couple of cents for an online comic. Now it is 7 years later, which is like 40 in web-years and 20 in mobile years, and there is no ubiquitous micropayments system around, really. Well, no, there are actually several, but all but one are hideously underused in the US and most of Europe and have almost no presence on the web. That last one I mentioned? It's about to wipe the floor with everything and is making its owners already a lot of money and its customers happy.

Of course, on the web the biggest need for micropayments was taken over by Google that created a whole ecosystem around paying people pennies for content as long as the visitors clicked ad links on the content. Sure this existed before Google, but Google's version made the biggest reason to loathe ad-supported content, which was screaming banners and pop-under/over ads (anyone remember X10?), go away. Now Google's micropayment system for content suffers from being opaque (how is Google choosing what ads to display?), prone to fate (will your visitors click on ads or not?), and being gamed by all parties to the hilt.

Meanwhile, Apple has trained gazillions of Internet users to pay a couple of dimes for content with just a click by using its music store, and shown the world that if you make content cheap, convenient, and predictable to get, consumers will flock to it over piracy, proving that a good micropayment system for content works. Of course, Apple managed the hardest part, ubiquitous billing, by tying every one of their delicious music players to iTunes, creating a convenient place for a user to get their individual billing identification (an Apple ID) and store their payment info, be it PayPal, credit card, pay as you go account to top up with gift cards, or whatever payment back-end works in the local country (like clickpay or whatever I am using here in the UK). Once this platform existed it was easily extended to allow payment for wireless music shopping, or little games and other apps on the iPhone. Steve announced that they had tens of millions of credit card numbers stored on Apple's servers, which means tens of millions of accounts primed to buy content for just a few dimes at the flick of a finger. Users are happy because they do not pay much, content providers are happy because they get paid, Apple is nice enough to take a minority cut, and suddenly an ecosystem is viable. And apps get to be cheap.

So of course now every operator and phone OS creator wishes they had a download store for apps too if they didn't already have one. Microsoft posted the ads looking for people to build it, I think Sprint is looking into one as well. Of course, just putting your apps up on a page on the device doesn't work: you have to make it convenient, cheap, and predictable to pay for an app. It has to be an impulse buy. Nokia has had an app store on the N-series devices for quite some time but 1) every time I start it somehow it needs to update the catalog. This requires me to click to confirm three times. The update always fails (inconvenient) 2) The previews never work (unpredictable what I am buying) 3) When I was ready to buy something in the US, it wanted me to enter my credit card an billing information. On a phone keypad. Yeah right. (inconvenient) When I was ready to buy from another producer in the same store, it wanted me to do it again. In the UK payment is through sending me an SMS that gets charged to my phone bill. Except I got the confirmation twice, for each purchase I made, so I am still unsure if those games cost me £5 or £10 - T-Mobile makes it really hard to check your itemized bill for that (unpredictable and not cheap).

So, yes, the mobile would be an ideal micropayment platform: they have your payment info, or you have a pre-paid budget set up. Billing actually works, as the millions of dollars in ringtones and ring-back tones and wallpapers and games bought demonstrate. Yet Apple's app store is sudeenly the one everyone wants to emulate now, even though everyone else has had a head start. My sister in the Netherlands has an N73, like me, but she has no Download store, because Nokia consented to have this 'multi-media computer' (Nokia's term) sold through the operator Ben without a data plan. No data plan, and no untlimited data plan, means app stores are a bad customer experience because you get charged for just browsing the goods. But now my sister cannot get games, unless she goes the pirated route. Apple makes sure every iPhone has a data plan to make app stores viable and manageable. That is how you create a an ecosystem.

There's a lot more to say about using the mobile as a micropayment platform, even for the web, and what it takes to do it right, but I will leave that for later. I do want to leave with a thought for people who have been watching since 2001: Amazon is doing a mobile content delivery system too, with Kindle, which also has your payment data stored, is pretty predictable with its previews and reviews for content, and is not that expensive. But would I want beautifully inked comics on it? No. Would I want them on the iPhone? Not on this year's model, certainly. But in two years, when the glass is closer to 300 dpi in color? For 25 cents an issue? Marvel or DC's or anybody else whole back-catalog available to surf and subscribe or buy per issue? Penny Arcade delivered every week ready to go, with commentary, but no ads? Hmmmmm... I wonder who has the platform ready to go...

Sunday, September 14, 2008


When all light bulb manufacturers, by logistics or by law, have ceased making incandescent bulbs, a subculture of light purists will spring up. They will be derided as snobs, but they will maintain that no light is as pleasing -- or healthy, or nurturing -- as the light from super-heated filaments. There will be arguments based on how human retinas work and which pigments are used for interior paints and textiles, all with very little science. The sub-culture will trade knowledge and hints of where to go for the little shop that still has a stash, or which manufacturer still has tiny batches in their forgotten corners of storage, releasing them as the inventory systems catch up. Members will tell excited tales of stumbling on to a cache of them in dark corners of musty drugstores in the Dordogne or Mozambique or just outside Kuala Lumpur, with breathless descriptions of that moment where they open the box and they realize that yes, they got an original Phillips Soft Warm 40W in their hands and it doesn't ring when shaken! Many will be the plaintive ads for a 30W mirrored crown bulb to complete the 1970s period interior, and the few suppliers will ask for exorbitant prices.

I say this being seemingly unable, here in South London, to find a light bulb that I like. Every CF I buy at Tesco is just green hued crap, and the incandescents they stock are all of the most standard wattage and shape, which is not what I need for the accents.

Friday, September 12, 2008

BT Headsets Stumble On

I remember walking in to work at Nokia that morning in what must have been 2001 or something like that, and thinking Leon looked like he had gone kinda nuts, talking into thin air like that. I saw no wire to his phone so he couldn't be using a headset, and I figured he must be rehearsing a presentation. Later when he came upstairs he showed us the Bluetooth headset. We all kinda wondered about it. It seemed to have advantages, but still, you looked kinda stupid with it hanging in your ear, and even worse using if the ear it was in was out of view.

Of course, all of us clearly underestimated just how much people would want to look like techno-freaky Borgs, or just simply didn't mind if they did. Very soon after, while I was beta-testing a Bluetooth phone myself, the test manager gave me a headset to play with too. I wanted to use it like the receiver of a phone: when my phone rang I would turn it on and put it in my ear and talk. Alas, BT does not allow that: in the time it took to switch the headset on, find the paired phone, and getting ready for the call, the call would have gone to voicemail. Ok, I'll leave it on then, in my pocket. Alas, the headset assumed that if it was on it was in your ear and thus would only ring softly, and the phone would not ring at all because it was on headset profile. I considered the headset useless then, as I did not want to look chained to the phone. It's bad enough to work for Nokia in that respect anyway.

And thus the usability and style of Bluetooth headsets remains really unsolved: they are too fumbly to leave in your pocket to pull out when you need them, and no matter how beautifully designed, if you leave them in your ear you're still that person looking chained to your phone. The LG Decoy is a phone with a BT headset attached to the back. When you pull it out, the phone goes into headset mode and the headset is ready to use, but I wonder if you can actually use the headset to pick up a call and start talking, like when you lift the handset off the hook on a phone. I'd like to go back to that model of interacting with phones; no small buttons, no fumbling, just pull the headset out, put in your ear and talk. Ok, and maybe then keep it there after the call is over when you are driving. I guess we need headsets that know whether they are in your ear or not so they can ring as required.

Meanwhile, I only have a stereo BT headset these days. One that I can plug my own earbuds into and clip the unit with the mic to my collar. The sound quality is good, and the whole experience is kind of ok, including how it switches between music and a call, but the buttons are fiddly and the voice-dialling never works for me anyway on the N73. What bothers me is that it is so limited since it will only work as a headset for one phone and headphones for either that same phone or an A2DP audio player. Just one? As office workers we have multiple audio sources to juggle: landlines, mobiles, Skype or SIP, iPods or other music players, and the sounds the computer makes. I know the technology is not really up to it, but I'd really like a wireless headset that can just handle all these so that the beeps of my computer come through just as my music from my player does, and if any phone rings I can easily pick up (or make the call go away). All audio would have to be mixed together so the levels match, and when I walk away and only take my phone or my player for some kind of break, the pairing to the devices I walk away from just drops silently without locks or interventions, and return when I am in range just as easily. BT headsets need to be transparent. I have to isolate myself from the cacphony of the modern open-plan or cubicle office, yet I have a lot of audio streams to monitor, and no desire to be juggling what goes into my ear when, nor should I have to in my opinion. Someone get to work and make this.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Decades On

Some time in the coming weeks it will be 20 years since I sent my first email. I became a new student at the Math & Informatics Department of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam [VU] in September 1988, and after the first introduction week, quite soon I would have had my first keyboard time in the computer labs for the first programming assignment. This meant an introduction to UNIX, vi, and mail, on green screens attached to a PDP-11 somewhere. Thus I must have sent my first proper Internet email, with an @ sign and everything around this time 20 years ago. And 20 years of electronic conversation started, with the first big explosion happening few months later, when someone told me about this globally shared repository of written articles, grouped into topics and reactive like conversations. Well, just part of it, not all groups were carried into Europe yet, but I could tap into all of that by just typing the letters 'rn'.

You had to select which machine you wanted to login to, all named after types of sailboats I believe, and if you logged into the wrong one you wouldn't find your files. During the explanation for the assignment in the second semester we were told we had to compile on the new SUN machines. "So how are we going to get to our files in our home directories from there?" I asked. Turns out shared filesystems from servers had made their introduction, which we all thought was quite revolutionary, and it just went on from there. SUN Workstations (I even designed some of my own 2-bit icons for SUN windows for my own programs). X terminals. irc, gohper, archie, veronica. Color. Full Usenet feed finally carried in. Laser printers. Shared everything, transparently, all your settings, desktop, colors, environment through the whole building no matter which X terminal you sat down behind. And then in 1994 Niek told me I should check out this WWW Mosaic thing, maybe write my own page...

And now a list of Big Changes, purposefully not arranged with HTML list codes:

* When I entered college, my music was on tapes which I played on Walkmans. Yeah, actual Sony Walkmans, I was a brand snob for those. They ate my tapes or I would kill them with the way I would be using them non-stop and dragging them everywhere banging into everything. Then I would upgrade, spending more money than as a poor student I should on a better model, much like my pattern with subnotebooks today. These days I play my music on an iPod the size of my Walkman remote. The sound quality is better, but I can't swap in a AA battery if I am out of juice. I do not have to drag around tapes or discs and the 2nd gen Shuffle is almost indestructible but I still need externals to get music: instead of borrowed time on HiFis to make my tapes from discs borrowed at the library, I need iTunes, a program with some severe issues. I haven't bought a pre-filled tape or disc in years, and never expect to again. I also haven't had to buy a whole album for the single good earworm song in years, and I love that.

* I buy and schedule _everything_ over the web if it is even remotely useful or just even possible. Dentist appointments, restaurant reservations, music, books, clothing, designer clothing, furniture, computer hardware -- until my MacBook I hadn't bought a CPU in a store for over 5 years -- pharmaceuticals, financial products like stocks and insurance and bank accounts, supplements, shoes, food, comics, hotel rooms, tickets, and often as cheap and convenient as I can. I really do not feel I am missing much in no longer having store interaction. I can compare clothes quicker as thumbnails than when seeing racks and racks of them. I can't feel them or try them on but by now I can predict a lot, I can preview far more of them than I can try on in a store and with less aggravation, I can buy what I have bought before, and I can send bought items back. Hotel rooms are such a standardized product that I am totally comfortable getting them through auctions. My $, £, and € are going further than ever. Which is good in an economic crisis.

* It was still to be ten years before Google got started, but when Google did, already the .com revolution was well underway. One of the fundamental changes this brought was the mindset inside my cohort of computer scientists of what our paths were and what we could be expected to do. While the idea of being absorbed into a large company and working in labs for years still remained viable and expected, suddenly the idea that we should venture out into a start-up, get big, cash out, and be set for life at 30 gained massive currency as a realistic life-path, and for quite some years if not to this day. While a few people did make it out rich, most of what this idea led to was an 80-hout-a-week work ethic for most of the people actually doing the work creating what turned out to be by 2001 utterly unsustainable businesses, with paper gains being cashed in by VCs, potential gains from going public dwindling to far less when the six-months to two-year lock on selling the stock held by the workers actually expired, and what was there being eaten up by the cost of living issues around Silicon Valley with its triangle of living space, affordability, and a short commute: choose two and feel lucky if you have just one, but you will almost never, ever have all 3. Unless you actually did end up living the dream, made it into Wired, and are now discussed by Valleywag from time to time.

* I remember typing with gloves on at a green screen at the VU because I needed my e-mail and Usenet fix over the Christmas break, but since everyone was supposed to be gone, all heating in the computer labs had been switched to minimal. Nowadays I am appalled if I do not get a 3G signal to check on everything with whatever mobile device I carry, and even more appalled when I can't get a cheap unlimited billing plan for it. I have a connection about as fast as the whole University had got coming into my home now, and the laptop runs so hot I do not expect to need gloves to type on it even if the heating in my living room goes out. Also, I probably could host that Usenet newsfeed the VU got in 1988 from my current N73 phone as a node, although not the modern Usenet feed with people posting whole movies on the alt.binary groups. Our needs for media always outstrips capacity.

As for predictions for the next 20 years? I will still be over music I bought in two months prompting me to buy yet more, I will still be having this online conversation, and I will be connected 24/7 to it. I just hope the electronic systems get better at offering me what I want instead of me having to hunt for it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Google Chrome: NSFW

In an attempt to simplify the browser, Google Chrome, released yesterday, has done away with the homepage. This is quite the break with tradition, about a decade of it, so it should not be done lightly. Google has replaced it with a page that shows the thumbnails of your most visited pages, and lists of recent bookmarks.

This has advantages: it simplifies configuration, it gets you faster to not one but multiple frequent destinations, it removes a concept that is difficult to explain to newbies. Alas, it also really exposes your personality, and that can be unwelcome.

The workplace is a social location that, like all social locations, has norms and rules. You are supposed to be 'professional' there, whatever that means this week. In the USA and other countries, one of the norms includes not creating a 'sexually hostile' workplace, or a workplace that is offensive, demeaning, or otherwise exclusionary of the vast breadth of personal histories that talent comes in. We all have to work together, and it currently means we leave our personal lives behind. Certain aspects of you do not belong in the workplace.

We skirt around that, web wise; after all even at work we have a life to lead. Some windows and tabs on browsers are open but hidden, ready to check when nobody is behind us.And certainly at home we live out our full lives, which for adults includes adult themes. So maybe on weekends or at nights you do browse adult sites, or have a contantly refreshing messaging window open for adult websites. Maybe you use adult web chat facilities. Maybe you browse highly graphical sites, maybe not even about sex but about other topics that are nobody's business at work. And that is fine because you are at home.

But if, like me, you are a freelancer, you often have to bring in your own equipment, meaning your own laptop, for work. And so, if I were using Google Chrome, when I had to present something that required opening a new tab, oh god. 9 thumbnails of the sites you visit a lot in the evenings and weekends. Bad enough when you are showing results to a manager, now imagine when doing a presentation for a group with your 9 thumbnails showing up on a projection screen. At a conference. This is already bad enough when typing in the URL bar starts showing a history of where you browsed, but quick typing can make that go away. Those thumbnails show up really fast when you open up a new tab; Chrome was made to be quick.

Chrome does have an Incognito mode: you open a new window from the menu in Incognito mode, and then whatever you do there will have no influence on your history, cookies, or other temporary files the browser uses. So all the sites you open up in that special window will not show up in the thumbnails of the regular window. Still, taking out the Home Page to make things simpler now has had the effect that the user actually has more to keep track of: what should be opened in a normal tab and what in an Icognito tab. So now even at home I have to worry about what work will say about my browsing.

No thanks.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Connect The Friend Dots

Blogger just rolled out the Blogger Followers feature for blogs. Basically, since Blogger / Blogpost is owned by Google, it's Google's version of LiveJournal's Friends list, but without the access control. (LJ allows a writer to write posts that are only readable by people the blogger has added to his Friends list, or subsets thereof). Now, Google is the owner of a really large number of user identities, their GMail accounts. These account identities then get used for everything in the Google network: logins for Blogger, for Google Calendar. Picassa, Checkout, pretty much every Google property. And now Google is making a social network out of the subset that blogs on Google, and will extend it. Google is also extending this feature to something they call Google Friend Connect. (<- Watch the video on that page to see how Google's 'Open Social' project is supposed to pan out. It looks like us social-webbers will have to deal with idiotic amounts of invites and updates.)

WordPress is doing the same. WordPress has a flavor called WordPress MU, it is a software package that a group installs so as to allow multiple people from one organization to blog on one server they own. The parent company of WordPress bought BuddyPress, a set of WP plug-ins that also create social networking between blogs. Unfortunately, BuddyPress seems to be repeating a usability mistake of LiveJournal by also naming their networking feature 'Friends'. By using the word 'Friends' instead of say 'Followers' or 'Interested' or 'Grakslafghr', the designer of this social networking feature creates expectations for what this relationship means, and with that label it means something else than 'I am reading your blog'. Drama on LiveJournal about who friended and unfriended whom, who didn't get friended back, which filter the friend is on, complete with introspective angsty posts and biting comments, is actually a major genre all in itself. And all this anxiety could totally have been avoided by using another label without this emotional baggage of friendship. But no, here it comes. With an added module called "The Wire" so you can leave little status updates and quips to your friends network.

So, we have Google socializing blogs which they plan to extend into a system where every time you leave a comment on a Guacamole blog it ends up creating a status update on Facebook -- no, really, it is in the video -- and WordPress rolling out Friends drama, with a little bit of luck to the whole WordPress site of blogs as well. Is this what anyone wants? Right now I am following some people's lives through one-line status updates on Facebook and Twitter, and with a little luck they'll expand on it in their blogs. I myself try to synchronize those to be a little coherent, but how much does everyone need to be updated? Twitter gets a bad rep, but now Facebook and Orkut will be just as bad if Friends Connect and Blogger Followers takes off.

Humans like to be together. They like to know. They like to gossip and have things to talk about, and tell people how they actually are. But we are not all equally curious about each-other, and somehow these tools and feeds that publish where we go and who we visit and where we comment assume we are. People will have to learn to edit what they allow to become public on these status feeds and comment lines not just to maintain their privacy, but mostly to not become utter bores. We'll need to learn to self-edit, create our own omnibus highlights of our online lives (and thus end up even more open to accusations of, like a reality show, being manipulative than we already are choosing what to post). The global blogging experience so far is not encouraging me to think we collectively have any idea how to do that.