Bad Silo! Gimme my Content!

On this week’s episode of TWiG, http://twit.tv/twig37, Jeff Jarvis discussed an interesting concept.  That mobile apps are anti-discovery.  He talked about the fact that media companies make apps to have complete control over their content and by doing so they limit the options to access the content to this one portal.  He compares these apps to “Silos,” contect in side and only coming out the other.  He points out that this kind of content distribution will ultimately fail just like Encyclopedias on CD-ROMs failed.

This notion stuck me as odd and far fetched at first, but then I found my self agreeing with him completely.  The turning point for me was the realization that I don’t have any mobile apps that fit into this category. The majority of apps I use on a daily basis are just mobile UIs, that only exist to make it easier for me to access content on a smaller screen with a touch interface.  I have avoided apps like the Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, and The Elements without even knowing it.
I get all my news from a variety of websites and I aggregate them together into an RSS reader.  I have a personalized newspaper that continually updates itself with the the stories that might interest me.  I have an app on my phone to access the aggregate, but I can also check it on any computer, mobile device, or anything with a data connection. The app is just a portal to access my data.  I’m not locked into a single platform or a single app.  So if I loose my phone, or the battery dies, the screen cracks, or any other techno-accident takes place I can still access my news with no loss in information.  This also allows me to share the information that I found with anyone else, not just people who are on the same system or app as I am.
Apps like The Elements: A Visual Exploration are a whole other pile of silo-shit.  This app takes a $29.99 book and turns it into a $13.99 application hat only runs on the iPad.  The Apps looks amazing with its examples of the elements in independently spinning eye candy, but does it really offer anything in functionality?  Nope.  All the information contained in this app is also contained in the front cover of any 8th grade science book, or a poster in any college co-ed room with a focus in chemistry.  The app is completely irrelevant to anyone in the sciences, because it doesn’t present the relevant information correctly.  For the general population after the initial eye-candy-sugar-high wears off you can’t sell the app to the next sucker or lend it to a friend, you’re just stuck with it.  

The apps that I like provide either functional utility or that offers a user interface of an existiting web service.  I mentioned RSS readers earlier and I currently use Byline to sync to my Google reader account.  It provides a great UI with all the functionality I want from my RSS reader.  But i can also check my feeds at google.com/reader when ever I want.  I use Tweetie to check and post to my twitter.  BeeJive for IM.   Wikipanion for winning bets. The list goes on and on.  But the one thing that all my apps have in common is that none of them are a solid pipe from the the content to my phone, the content is all accessible from anywhere.  Why would I ever pay money to get information, on one propitiatory device, that is readily available everywhere.  I’ll pay money to make it the experience easier and more functional on one device though.

In conclusion, apps as silo pipes = Shit.  Apps as UI overlays = Good

My iPhone got “Paul Sheldon’ed”

Apple pulled the curtain on iPhone OS4 last week and I thought that I would weigh in on all the hullabaloo.  Let me first state that I, shamefully, own an iPhone 3G.  I say shamefully not because I dislike the phone, but because Apple has abandoned it, like last years prized poodle that has lost all control of it’s bowels. Sadly I wont be able to take advantage of all the cool features in the new OS including multitasking.  But I guess I can’t expect LAST YEARS PHONE technology to be cutting edge anymore, right?

Fuck That.
Steve Jobs you are a douche.  You told everyone who bought an iPhone more than 10 monthes ago, “Thanks for the cash, now go fuck yourself and gimme more”
Not only can my pathetic 3G multitask, it has been doing just that from the day it came out of the box.   I activated the advanced features mode on my iPhone codename Jailbreak.
I don’t subscribe(bend over) to the thought of Apple’s “closed garden.”  Apple created an amazing piece of hardware, an amazing operating system to run the amazing hardware. Then they put a giant padlock on the door with a signing saying “Steve says.”  Its a travesty.  Its like grilling up an amazing steak and then cutting that the off the char and blending the core into a fine paste, then pushed into my stomach via tube.  Sure I ate a steak, but the experience is missing out on something.

My phone can do amazing things, even if Steve says it can’t.  This problem goes back a long long time, but i’ll stick to phones.  The original iPhone still can’t legitimately do MMS.  There has been a jailbreak patch for this problem, but its still not supported through Apple.  It can email pictures, post pictures to facebook, flickr, myspace, picasa, but it can’t send it via a text message.  Why?  I dont know and I doubt it isn’t anything more than a reason to make you upgrade.  My iPhone 3G will never be able to, because of hardware “limitations”, multitask or record video according to Apple.  But guess what?  It can and it does.

When Jobs first introduced the iPhone the leap in technology it embodied was amazing, but since then its advancement has been limited to slowly catching up to the hype.  The orginal iPhone lacked several key features that other smartphones or general handsets of the day had; 3G, video capture, copy and paste, applications, multitasking, MMS, Custom ring/sms tones, wallpaper, exchange support, GPS, and the list goes on and on.  All the later versions of the phone have just introduced one or two of these features at a time.  Features, as said before, that should have been in the phone at its first launch.  And in each iteration the oldest model, bought but the earliest of adopters, have been locked out of the latest features for no reason other that to increase sales of the latest and “greatest” model.
My point is that Apple abuses their products and by association their customers, aka me.   They cripple the product with missing features and hardware.  Then they slowly release updated models, one feature at a time, and strap the prior model to a bed and hobble it once and for all before putting it out to pasture never to be thought of again.
So here I stand, with my rejected and hobbled bastard of a son iPhone 3G.  I’m just waiting for its screen to break, or battery to die, or some other mortal wound to catch, which if my brother is any indictator should happen every 2 months or so.  When it does I’m off the Apple boat.  I’m not positive where I’m going yet, but it wont be with a company that thinks I’m an idiot.
I’m not going to even start with iAds
Side Note:  Feel free to comment but I will not respond to flamers, other than to label you an asshole.  This is my opinion if you don’t like it or agree with it, piss off.

I HAVE THE POWER! (in my pants)

In the last month I have had the opportunity to tag along with my wife to 2 cities that I have never visited before.  My ignorance of these two cities was compounded by the fact that, other than plane and hotel booking, I did ZERO research into entertainment, transportation, or food options.   I arrived in the cities, the first by car and the second by plane with only my luggage, my lovely wife, and my trusty smartphone.

    It had never occurred to do any research on the cites.  I merely arrived at the city with a hotel name and address in hand and expected it to all work out for the best and it did.  I was able to call cabs, order food, manage calendars, get directions, arrange a commute via the local mass transit system, rent a car, plan a cave touring day, buy tickets for a comedy show, even look at the rare risqué lady image that some man-friend had sent me. All of this was accomplished with one single device. 
    It didn’t seem strange or even the slightest bit techno-nerdy to be able to do all this until a few weeks later when my boss asked me “What would you do if you didn’t have that phone?”  The only answer that I could come up with at the time was, “Lay down and die.”  While this was an overreaction for the current situation of “Was Journey a hair band or not?” it might have been true in far and away cities.  
    I pictured myself landing in an unknown city with no map, no giant local phonebook, no entertainment listing, and no documentation on how I was getting home.  I don’t think I would have had as much fun as I did.  In fact it would have been a terrible trip full of seedy diners, crooked taxis, and hours of being lost looking for the freeway.  Ideally i would have spent hours researching my destination made reservations and created a very strict itinerary, complete with maps and contained in a spiral bound notebook, to follow.  
    I guess the big question is, have I and everyone else become dependant on a piece of technology that could easily be lost, broken or stolen?  Personally I don’t think I have.  Sure I use my little smart phone to look up hair metal classifications and directions to the nearest Hard Rock Cafe, but I also remember how to do those things without a handheld gateway to the Internet/(everything I ever wanted to know and also lots of porn).  I’m not sure the current generation of children will have my ancient skills, but that’s a rant for another day.  But the fact remains I don’t have to have use those skills and use/lose the hours they require anymore.  I can fly by the seat of my pants without a hour by hour itinerary.  The freedom that my little smartphone offers is staggering.
    The point I’m trying to make here (and getting sidetracked a lot) is that smartphones are awesome.  They combine portability and functionality and enable a person to know everything about anything from nearly anywhere.  Take a second to consider that for a moment.  Everything, Anything, Anywhere.  This whole concept and technology snuck up on me so slowly and gradually, that I took it for granted and never realized what had.  The future turned into the present overnight and i didn’t notice.  
    Well enough sappy pondering.  End of the day we have amazing pieces of technology that fit into our pockets that save us a lot of time (And waste a lot too).  I like to be able to look up what a jackalope is while sitting in the woods.   I like being able to take a picture of my adorable dog and send it to everyone that I know.  I just never took a step back and thought about the awesome the power that a little phone could has.  Now if it could just multitask.
    

Your time is not cheap! Maximize

Like any card carrying uber geek check 30-40 news sites everyday to stay on the cutting edge of news.  Sounds like a lot of time right?  It’s not really.  I go to one place and all the stories can be read (or headlines skimmed) in about 15 minutes a day.  Sounds like I have some sort of card counting Vegas scheme right?  Sadly I don’t.  I just use one of the simple tools that never really caught on in the mainstream, its call Really Simple Syndication or RSS for short.
The history of RSS lies in the companies wanting to keep employees and consumers updated on their latest news.  For the most part it hasn’t changed but it has become better. 
Most if not all websites, news sites, and blogs have a RSS feed associated with them.  The easiest thing to look for is this symbol.  This link will allow you to subscribe to this page and every time it posts a new story you will be updated.  Some RSS feeds can also contain attachments ranging from pictures, web pages, or even audio and video file.  The latter is known as Podcasting (future post).
How will you be updated? Good line of thought.  The answer is in a program or web application called a RSS aggregator.  It’s a program that takes all the RSS reeds from all the sites you want follow and brings them all together into one single spot.  You can skim headlines and read the stories you care about within the aggregator.  It’s a one stop personalized newspaper for you.
There are several really awesome aggregators out there.  They range from standalone aggregators, email programs, and online services.  I go over a couple that I have used and focus on the one that I use the most.
Standalone Aggregator
Just like everything else there is a class of programs specifically designs to deal with your RSS feeds.   There is a wide list of aggregators out there and Wikipedia has a great list and comparison here.  Most feature a built in browser, tagging, import/export, and a large heap of other features.  The down side of going with any stand alone program is that you have an extra program running on your computer and you have to go to your computer to check your feeds.  It’s a very old school way of doing things.  Needless to say it’s not my favorite way to go.
Email Clients
Most modern day email clients have an RSS reader built into them.  Outlook, Thunderbird, and Mail on Mac all have RSS Aggregators built into them.  With these programs whenever a site publishes an update you get an email for the post.  The email contains the whole post with in the RSS feed so there is no need to open a link to read the article.  It updates when your email updates so it will keep to on the bleeding edge as long as you have your email open.  As with the standalone programs you need to be at your computer to check your feeds, but it adds functionally to a program that you are already using, which I smile upon.
Online Aggregators
My Favorite, hands down, no questions asked.  It’s a nice stepping stone to cloud computing (More on this in a post to come).  With this type of service you can check your feeds anywhere you have access to the internet.  All the good online aggregators have mobile versions of their web pages or even mobile apps.  Again there are many, many, MANY, options out there.  Bloglines is popular choice, it’s easy to add feeds, they have a great mobile webpage for those on the go and it’s completely free.  The MSN network, Yahoo, MobileMe, and also have aggregators.
As some may now I’m a Google whore and I will now gush for a while about their RSS aggregator.  Google Reader is aggregator that I use.  If you have a Gmail account(which you really should) you already are signed up and can use it with no further typing.  Just go to the website and get started.  It feature a wealth of features including keyboard shortcuts, sharing to google buzz, and the ability to email articles to anyone (This feature also uses your Google contacts so all you have to do is type your contacts name and Google does the rest). 
Now you understand what feeds are and you have an aggregator to read them in.  The last step is to add the feeds of the site you want to watch into your aggregator.  Go to the site and look for can click this icon

 

or search (ctrl-F) for the term RSS. Once you have the address all you have to do is go to your aggregator and click add feed. Repeat for any other page you want. If you would like a page to start on you can use this link to subscribe to this blog.  Thanks!
That’s it.  You’re good to go.  Next time you want to check the news go to your aggregator and everything posted since the last time you checked will be there.

Socially networked

So I’ve come to a crossroads for my online identity. I have accounts with all the major sites, twitter, facebook, and buzz. I check them constantly I keep them updated with all the interesting things I find on the internet, random thoughts, and funny pictures I find. I do wonder whats the point of all this socialness? Sure looking at funny pictures will give people a laugh, but the majority of people that I know either don’t do all this social networking or check it so intermittently and don’t post feedback. So I’m stuck with several problems.

First, if I find a humorous morsel that I think a certain person would enjoy, I can post it to all three sites and hope beyond hopes that the person will see it or I can email them and deny the rest of my friends the opportunity to enjoy thee funny titbit that I found entertaining, they might like it. I suppose that I could do both, but thats a lot of work and a lot of redundancy.
Secondly, no everybody has as much time as do and are only members of one of these sites. So I have to keep constantly remember who is in which circle. I counter this by posting the same thing across all three networks, so the rare exception of overachiever gets to read my same posts several time. The poor saps.
Thirdly, I’d like to know if people like what I’m posting or if its just annoying. People are too polite to outright say my posts are annoying and block me before actually giving feedback. How am I suppose to grow when people do that?
Then each site has has its own quirks that I enjoy or despise with the fury of a thousand suns.
The largest of all the social networks. Its awesome to see most of my friends from both childhood and quasi-adulthood in one spot. Its the one feature that keeps me on facebook.
The flip side of that coin is that every other person THAT I HAVE EVER KNOW thinks that they can be my friend. Every single ex-girlfriend,every person that shared a high school with, and every other random person I have met since, have requested to be my friend. I click the handy ignore button only to see a new request days later like I didn’t see and ignore the first one. To all those people here is a quick aside.
I either wasn’t your friend or decided to stop being friends with you long ago. I know the difference between the ignore button and accept button. Stop it.
Then there are Games, quizzes, drinks, and various other filler that facebook allowed to bring their social network down to the Las Vegas side-alley it is.
I do like the threaded comment system and tagging of pictures. It allows a great social aspect to the site.
Hugely popular in the news but also the one that nobody seems to care about. I like this one because there is a huge list of quasi-celebrities, and services that I like to follow. Its easier to post on this that any other service. There are a plethora of channels to pass these posts to other sites eliminating the hassle of posting twice or three times. The ability to direct a post towards specific people, while not making the whole conversation private is nice.
I have a love/hate relationship with simplicity of the site. It means no games or virtual drink passing, but is also means that to follow a conversation between two people requires the cross referencing power of a CIA operations computer. Conversations between more than two are just impossible, which isn’t very social now is it? I dislike the fact I have to go offsite to see any media.
I’m neutral on the 140 character limits, with the exception that replies and links count towards that limit. URL Shorters are nice but why can’t I just use a little html code to make the link in line, like this.
The youngest of the sites and possible my favorite. Despite the privacy nightmare of its launch I have high hopes for this service. Threaded posts, in-line media, directed posting to individuals and groups, and the fact its in my FREAKIN’ email are just some of reason I’m excited.
It does require that people have a gmail account, i think you should also, which will give some people a reason to not use it. It also doesn’t have the ability to pass its posts onto other services like twitter does yet. It has a variety of ways to post to it but the easiest is still go to website and type in your post, which isn’t that hard just annoying for the mobile environment.
Conclusion:
*shrug* Were you looking for one? I don’t have it. I’m just thinking out loud.