Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A cynical look at the iPhone

January 9, 2007

The iPhone is easily the most hotly anticipated gadget in well… well, ever. Just look at the reaction to today’s announcement. And it seems Apple managed to deliver, despite the high expectations – the fanboys are jizzing their pants big time at the mere thought of this thing.

To be sure, this is a sweet device, and it is going to be deeply disruptive to the mobile phone business (thankfully).

But in the tsunami of overwhelmingly positive reactions, I thought I’d dare to be different and point out some of the shortfalls I see in this device:

  • $500-600 with a 2 year contract? Ouch. Especially considering that most phones, sucky as they are, fall in around $100 with the same agreement.
  • Only five hours of talk time… when it’s new. I wonder how much life that battery will have by the end of that two year contract? That’s barely enough to last a day with heavy use – better carry the charger around with you.
  • I realize that given the sheer number of features already offered, asking for more is greedy – but it’s disappointing that there’s no integrated GPS to work with Google maps, and for geotagging the photos.
  • It only works with Cingular’s network. I realize this has less to do with Apple than the sorry state of the wireless industry; but it’d be nice to have a choice of providers.

It’s a testament to Apple that those are the only complaints I can muster. The battery life is the only potential show stopper, although the high price will likely limit the size of the market for this thing.

Another hero of mine

September 29, 2006

I’ve mentioned that I like Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) before. I just saw this little tidbit about him which is worth highlighting here:

The founder of craigslist, the free social networking and classifieds Web site, said on Thursday he is not interested in selling out, a few hours after social networking site MySpace was valued at $15 billion.

“Who needs the money? We don’t really care,” Craig Newmark said in an interview at the Picnic ’06 Cross Media Week conference here.

“If you’re living comfortably, what’s the point of having more?” Newmark said.

[…]

“We both know some people who own more than a billion (dollars) and they’re not any the happier. They also need bodyguards,” he said.

It’s just that this kind of attitude is so rare in the world today.

Part of it is doubtless pure pragmatism; even after the dotcom bust, web companies are prone to unjustified and insanely large valuations – see the $15 Billion quote in the article, or do a search for some of the estimations of what YouTube is worth. Newmark at least has the good sense to keep it real.

But I also believe that he really does feel that way about the potential money (overvalued or not, it’d be easy for him to find some sap to sell that company to for hundreds of millions). And it’s refreshing to hear someone in that position say that.

My hero

September 21, 2006

I’ll admit that I’m envious of some of the people who built many of the web’s best blogs and sites. Not because of the money involved (which there really isn’t much of, except for a few cases), but rather just because I’d like to create something that so many people enjoy. It’s gotta be a thrill to build something so many people connect to.

In any case, I have a new hero in this domain: Mark Zuckerberg, the twenty-two year old CEO of Facebook. He built something that millions use, millions love, and is currently valued at around a billion dollars.

But this is my favorite part:

Yahoo! is in talks to buy Facebook for an amount up to $1 billion, according to this page one piece today in the Wall Street Journal. This set of negotiations comes on the heels of Facebook’s talks with Microsoft and Viacom, intense bidding for something that was a college project two-and-a-half years ago.

You would think Facebook’s 22 year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s head would be spinning — he owns 30% of the company — but, nah, he’s sticking to his old ways. According to the Journal piece, Facebook executives turned down an 8:00 a.m. conference call with Microsoft because Zuckerberg doesn’t wake up that early.

There’s a man with priorities I can respect. If I had but one goal in life, it would be to reach a position where I can turn down a potentially $1 Billion deal because I want to sleep late. He’s a man with his priorities straight: Family, life, then work. It takes a lot of balls to show that to corporate execubots at big companies like this; I respect that.

Edited to add:

The original Wall Street Journal article is behind their damned paywall, which is why I haven’t quoted it directly (or even read it myself). Techcrunch offers another anecdote from the same article though, in the same vein as the above:

At one point in the Yahoo negotiations, the talks extended into the weekend, says a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Zuckerberg, this account continues, said he couldn’t take part because his girlfriend was in town. Others pointed out they were closing in on a billion-dollar deal. Mr. Zuckerberg said it didn’t matter: his cellphone would be off, this person says.

This dude rocks. I would like very much to buy him a drink one day.

The slow motion trainwreck that is the Sony PS3

September 7, 2006

I don’t deny the fact that I despise just about all things Sony. A company that once revolutionized our culture by making “Walkman” synonymous with portable, personal music has been on an anti-consumer crusade ever since. No technology is too proprietary, too lock-in, too anti-fair use, or too blatantly wrong for Sony not to like.

So it goes without saying that I was never cheering the Playstation 3. In fact, I take a perverse sort of glee in chronicling this ongoing disaster. And Sony just doesn’t quit giving me stuff to be gleeful about.

Today, it’s the announcement that Sony will only have a total of 500,000 units for sale at launch (100,000 in Japan, 400,000 in America, 0 in Europe), and only two million by the end of 2006; half of what was previously announced. Looks like any gamers hoping to get a PS3 this year will have to wait, unless they’re willing to shell out two or three times the ($600!!!) MSRP on Ebay. In the meantime, both the XBox 360 and Wii will have wide availability for the Christmas season with an impressive library of games.

Can you say “Sega Saturn” Mr. Kutaragi?

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Google opens up newspaper archives

September 6, 2006

Sometimes, Google just rocks. Go check out their new News Archive Search, which opens up the historical archives of news organizations. Like Book Search, it’s a fascinating peak at history; it searches news archives going all the way back to the early 19th century.

Unfortunately, most of the search results are locked up behind one pay wall or another (even the out-of-copyright stuff, which is odd), and I don’t believe the archive is complete. For example, I searched for JFK Assassination and I couldn’t find any articles from the day of the event, and a search for Gettysburg failed to find anything before 1900. Recent history seems to be more open and complete though, for example the search on September 11.

All things considered, the flaws are minor (especially if they add more to the archives as time goes on), and this is the kind of thing that leaves me in awe of modern technology. Today we’re one step closer to having built the new Library of Alexandria, giving the world access to the sum total of human knowledge.

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Google going after the enterprise? Please.

August 28, 2006

Today, the tech blogosphere has lit on fire with Google’s first moves towards offering an integrated online office suite. It’s amazing how many of these pundits completely miss the mark. For example, Techcrunch’s review:

This is a bold move by Google. They are striking hard at a nearly $12 billion/year Microsoft revenue stream. And they are clearly trying to get this out the door fast, in anticipation of Microsoft Office 2007, which will include collaboration features for businesses (as does Office Live, announced last year).

The blogosphere has long been predicting some epic battle between Google and Microsoft; I think they want it so bad they’re letting their imaginations go wild.

Maybe they eventually will go head to head, but let’s take step back, a deep breath, and really look at what Google is offering for a second. When you do, one thing becomes clear: Google and Microsoft are not competing in the office productivity space. They’re similar products aimed at two entirely different market segments.

Google is clearly targeting small businesses. Mom and pop shops. Ones that likely don’t have their own server, might have their own web site they paid someone to do in the 1990’s, and are probably pirating MS Office anyway.

Google isn’t going after enterprise customers, which are Microsoft’s bread and butter. At least not yet. Fortune 500 companies aren’t about to trust a third party like Google with their data, and Writely and Google Spreadsheets can’t come close to offering the functionality of Word and Excel. Instead, Google is going after everyone in the world who pirates MS Office by offering them a legal alternative for the same price. Google’s suite is probably already functional enough for those people.

And Google’s strategy in offering this suite is clear – advertising to these users is incidental; the goal is to convert them into adwords customers. “Hey ma and pa shop – come set up your web site with us (no need to hire anyone to do it!), use base/checkout to sell online, and oh yeah, you can advertise locally with us too!”

THAT’S the billion dollar opportunity here: the long tail of businesses.

And if Google happens to snag a good portion of the market in the developing world that can’t afford Microsoft Office… well, that’s icing on the cake for them.

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How much stupider can media companies get?

August 24, 2006

Seriously, these people are approaching George W. Bush levels of incompetence and idiocy.

Listen to this:

Microsoft revealed today that no 32-bit versions of Windows Vista will be able to play back “next generation high definition protected content” (translation – studio-released BluRay and HD-DVD movies).

So another feature gets dropped from Windows Vista. These days, the list of dropped features is far larger than the list of actual new features, so it almost doesn’t even rank as news. What makes this one unique though is the reason it got dropped:

“This is a decision that the Media Player folks made because there are just too many ways right now for unsigned kernel mode code [to compromise content protection]. The media companies asked us to do this and said they don’t want any of their high definition content to play in x32 at all, because of all of the unsigned malware that runs in kernel mode can get around content protection, so we had to do this,” he said.

So, let me get this straight. The media companies, forever afraid of the piracy boogeyman, asked Microsoft to disable playback of HD disks on what amounts to 90% of the desktop PC market. Thus, they’re ensuring that the only way 90% of the market can watch HD content is with the pirated versions that don’t have copy protection.

Just to be clear: they’re combating piracy by making piracy the only option for vast segments of the market. Brilliant.

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YouTube Jumps the Shark

August 22, 2006

YouTube is about to roll out branded commercial “channels” as one way to bring some revenue to the site. The first one? Paris Hilton.

It’s interesting that they’re bending over backwards to find any business model that doesn’t include advertising within the videos themselves. (YouTube would put itself on very shaky legal ground if it did that, given the sheer volume of copyrighted content on the site). I’m not sure if this latest tactic will work, but there’s something about it that’s just… disturbing.

Mashable has some interesting thoughts on this latest tactic (emphasis mine):

So will Paris Hilton and other stars counteract YouTube’s ludicrous bandwidth expenses? I actually think they might – despite all the anti-hype around YouTube and the recurring question “Where’s the Business Model”, I think it’s pretty clear that YouTube is a powerful branding platform – and not just for stars like Paris Hilton. MySpace has totally changed the nature of advertising – users now make friends with brands (see MySpace Marketing and Dasani’s custom MySpace layouts), and advertising is no longer about pushing content to people when they don’t want it. The Paris Hilton channel is just the start, and I expect to see hundreds more of these things springing up – why shouldn’t every media company have their own YouTube channel and MySpace page?

I think he’s right, and that sends a chill up my spine. As if corporate personhood wasn’t problematic enough for our society, we have a new phenomenon where people are making friends with products and the corporations behind them. Welcome to 21st century consumerism.

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Why I Blog

August 18, 2006

One of the recurring debates of the blogosphere is the dichotomy that exists between it’s theoretical “democratic” nature and being “long tail” medium, and the existence of an “A List” of blogs that in turn serve as gatekeepers to which other blogs get read. (See the discussion Nick Carr started the other day, which sparked this post)

There’s some truth to both sides of the equation. Blogging is very democratic and individualistic. The barrier to entry is laughably small (a computer, an internet connection, and an ability to type). I am my own editor; I decide what I write about and exercise absolute control over the content. But the other half is true as well. Just because I put it out here doesn’t mean it gets read. This blog lives on the far, far end of the long tail. My traffic numbers hover in the tens to hundreds. My subscriber base consists entirely of close friends. In short, although I blog, I have the tiniest of audiences and I don’t delude myself into thinking I have any influence over my readers, let alone the blogosphere as a whole.

So why do I do it?

Simply, I blog because I like to write. As much as I’m talking to my readers when I blog, I also talk to myself. I enjoy the process of putting thoughts into words into something coherent. I like that it challenges me to lay out and explain the things I believe and think about; sometimes the very act of writing it down forces me to look at things in a new way.

Further, I love conversation and debate. Long before I was a blogger or even before there was a blogosphere, I was a forum junky. Before I was a forum junky, I was a usenet junky. I may not have a large audience or any influence, but I do get to take part in the conversation, by commenting and by linking. I like that.

And therein lies the primary flaw in Nick Carr’s argument (which has been pointed out in other responses). Not every blogger wants to get on the “A List”, most of us don’t delude ourselves into thinking we’ll change the world by publishing a blog. (Here’s a hint people: you’ll make a much bigger impact writing to your Congressman than you will writing to the internet).

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be more than happy if I found a large audience with whom my blog resonates. But if that was my goal, suffice to say I’d be running this blog completely differently: a successful blog is as much marketing as it is writing, and I just don’t have that much interest in the marketing half of the equation.

I blog about the things I care about, the topics I have passions for, because I like doing it. I blog for me and me alone.

I kind of feel sorry for anyone who does it for any other reason.

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Two Microsoft stories today

August 14, 2006

And in a truly stunning turn of events, both stories are positive.

First, the introduction of free desktop blogging software Windows Live Writer. Although I haven’t yet had much time to play with it, my verdict so far is this: it’s everything that desktop software should be. Let me explain:

  • It’s fast, lightweight, clean, and simple to use.
  • It’s extensible – you can add the features you want and leave out the ones you don’t.
  • It’s innovative with features like map integration and WYSIWIG editing with your own blog template.
  • And, here’s the important thing for Microsoft: offers compelling reasons to use the desktop client rather than the web based tools integrated with most blogging platforms. Auto-spellchecking, the aforementioned WYSIWYG feature, drag and drop with photos, and a myriad of nice touches make it a pleasure to use over it’s web based counterparts.

Producing desktop applications that integrate with and ehance web services is the only way Microsoft can hope to keep Windows relevant; this does that exactly. What it really does is beg the question; why doesn’t Microsoft produce stuff like this more often?

The second story is that Microsoft will produce a widely available, cheap development kit for the XBox 360, letting home users create and play their own games for a console for the first time. Details are scarce, but this has the potential to be a major shift in gaming. By lowering the barrier of entry to game development to such an extent, Microsoft stands to create a whole new class of independent and amateur (and dare I say: open source) game developers. A vibrant community of users creating their own content could stand to give the XBox 360 a big edge over other consoles, and shake up the video game industry in much the same way blogging has shaken up journalism.

From the company’s perspective, it’s a great move. Microsoft has been desperately seeking to create an incentive for people to upgrade to Vista when/if it ever gets released. Between the Windows and XBox platforms, gaming is one area in which they have an edge, and this is one move that could really help to leverage that.

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