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Two Wows and a Yawn

I was wow'ed twice this week: First with Google Maps Street View, then with Microsoft Surface.

Street View is a fun little tool. It's got the fun factor that Google Earth did when it was released, where you could get lost for hours discovering little things all around the world. It also has some utility, where you could find the name of that restaurant you drove by today but can't seem to remember the name, and who knows what other things Google will be able to do with it.

I think Surface could have a huge impact on the way we compute. Then again, it could be another Origami. Either way, the videos of it floating around the web are impressive, but we'll have to see how often we'll come across one in our daily lives (especially when they're $5-10k and for businesses only). Once we can get one for the same price as a separate PC and coffee table, that's when it'll make an impact. At the very least, Surface looks cool and could be useful.

In contrast to those two is Palm's Foleo, which was announced today. The Foleo is a thin, 2 pound sub-notebook with a 10 inch screen. It runs a custom OS based on Linux and syncs to your Treo seamlessly. This is supposedly the answer to all those complaints that smartphone keyboards and screens are two small. What complaints? I haven't heard anything from the roughly 50 million smartphones shipped year to date. The reason why the Handheld PCs of the 90s failed and why UMPCs were slow to take off is the same reason why Foleo will fail: If it doesn't fit in your pocket, then "it" might as well be a full-featured notebook.

As Ars Technica put it, the Foleo is a 90s device that took a design note from 90s Apple notebooks (the logo on the lid is upside down when opened). What the hell is wjad?

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Blogging Tip: Declare Tab Bankruptcy

Confirm close
As a result of all the things I had going on towards the end of school, I kept accumulating Firefox tabs of things I'd like to write about. I never got around to writing about any of them, and the number of tabs kept growing as I neglected to take action on any of them. I did manage to trim them once in a while, posting ones I'd like to look at sometime in the future on del.icio.us and closing others whose time has passed.

Even when I left Philly to come back home, I emailed myself links to the 22 tabs I had open on my iMac so I could open them again on my MacBook. Of course, I never got around to opening them because I had opened new tabs! Yesterday, Firefox crashed and I didn't get a chance to "Restore Session" and all the tabs I had opened disappeared. I wasn't devastated; I was free. The stasis I was experiencing because of my First In, First Out mentality disappeared. I could read a new post and comment on it without having to worry about the 20+ posts I wasn't commenting on.

Declaring email bankruptcy is a great tip for those paralyzed by an overflowing inbox. Similarly, I found that declaring tab bankruptcy helped me overcome my blogging paralysis and finally get a blog post out there. And that opened the floodgates, since this is my second post in less than 24 hours.

So perhaps it would be a good idea to force yourself to close all tabs at the end of the week. Archive the ones you want on del.icio.us, etc, and kiss the others goodbye. Your audience (what's left of it, anyway) will thank you.

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Thoughts on Blogs vs. Social Networks

Facebook's announcement of the Facebook Platform and the ability to add third-party applications to profiles has caused me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what defines blogs and social networks, and particularly where you draw the line between the two types of user-generated content (ugh). Tonight, I came across a post by my blogosphere buddy Kent Newsome on the differences between blogs and social networks and so I felt compelled to commit my thoughts to paper/bits/web/whatever (it also gave me an opportunity to return one of the many links he's been kind enough to give me). Kent mentions that there's a ton of people in the blogosphere that he's friends with that he simple would have never met via Facebook and I echo that sentiment.

That said, I agree more with Jay Neely on the fact that a distinction exists between blogs and social networks. The friend/audience distinction Jay describes is seen by the composition of my personal networks on the two types of networks. My Facebook friends consists largely of people I had a previous relationship with in real life with a few A-list bloggers sprinkled in there for the mutual ego boost. After some thought, I realized that there exists an underlying difference that can draw a firm line between blogs and social networks. Facebook is not a place to make new friends, it's a place to interact with existing ones. The blogosphere, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: it facilitates and rewards growth of contacts and communication amongst strangers. This is evident on many levels:

For one, there exists a social stigma about approaching new people on Facebook (it is perceived as "stalker-ish"). This stigma simply doesn't exist in the blogosphere and the mentality is in fact the opposite, as can be seen from the rise of blog search engines such as Technorati and Google Blog Search and the ease of sending trackbacks and leaving comments.

More fundamentally, however, is the fact that Facebook has set up walls between its internal networks. In the blogosphere, this is akin to only being able to use the two-line Google search description as criteria for deciding to link to a blog. And if you do decide the two-line description is adequate enough to link to a blog AND the blogger decides to let your link through (since all "links" between people are moderated on Facebook), then you simply get the "About Me" page with some comments (although I'll admit this will change now that Facebook has opened up a bit and third-party applications are allowed).

Finally, social network profiles are largely static and therefore not very conducive to sustained interaction on the network. Like I said above, how many comments and links would a post-less blog with only an "About Me" page get? Not many. The reason why social networks continue to flourish, then, is that connections created on the network will continue to exist despite this lack of interaction on the network is that the interaction happens off the network. Social networks facilitate interaction off the network, whereas the blogosphere is defined by the interaction that takes place on the (ad-hoc) network.

I don't think either will disappear in lieu of the other, nor will one absorb the other, as I believe the two types of networks serve different purposes. It has been possible for a while to integrate blogs onto social network profiles, but the tools for posting and interacting are much better on full-blown blogs that I haven't seen anyone close down their Wordpress blogs in favor of Facebook Notes or a MySpace blog (Twitter, on the other hand, is a different story :)) Tools notwithstanding, I think that the differences I mentioned above are enough to keep the blogosphere and social networks distinct.

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Google Owns Most Of My Life And It Scares Me

Google's acquisition of FeedBurner earlier this week adds one more piece of my life to Google's servers. I currently keep personal data or rely on: FeedBurner, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, AdSense and Docs & Spreadsheets. I'm taking a lot of risk on by relying on Google for so much of my personal life. The same as if my hard drive were to crash, if Google were to go bye-bye some day, I'd be out of a lot of data.

Offline, I protect myself by backing up my data, storing data on multiple drives and storing data online. So why don't I afford myself the same protection online? The primary reason is that any way to backup my online data is cumbersome, and more importantly, not automatic. Another reason is that backup is only half of the equation; what about restore? There's no non-hacked-together way to restore data to most online services and so the ability to backup is pretty much pointless.

So where does this leave us? At the very least, should I be looking to spread my data across many companies? Does the increased survivability risk of an early-stage startup offset the diversifiable risk of keeping my data on one provider?

All this talk of Apollo, Silverlight, RIAs and the like makes us feel good about the future of web apps, but what about the boring stuff like backup and data portability? Open APIs are a step in the right direction, but most people don't want to have to deal with writing scripts and implementing their own backup system - they want it simple and seamless. Is there a solution in the works? What are you all doing to backup your online life (or are you not)?

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Commencement 1

It's been a little under a month since my last blog post. I've been busy this past month, mainly taking care of the transition between college and the real world. Instead of blogging I spent most of my time being anxious/preparing for graduation and securing a new place to live. I graduated on May 13th/14th and since then I've been finding a new place to live. I picked up the keys to my new place last Thursday and today I bought some furniture from a former California gubernatorial candidate.

In the past month, I've split my time online mostly between Craig's List and Desktop Tower Defense. Much like I used to wonder how college kids lived without Facebook, I wonder how the world survived without Craig's List. I think I will eventually do a couple of blog posts about my apartment hunting experience and the college-real world transition in general.

The small time I had between graduation-related activities, I worked on a redesign of this site. A stupid oversight on my part (I hadn't installed the widgets plugin) kept me from launching it earlier. I tried to keep it as simple as possible, but I realized that there's I know very little about the science of design (if that makes any sense). I've always been interested in user experience/user interaction, so if anyone can point me to good resources on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated.

Now that I've got this "I'm back" post out of the way, I'll go back to posting some real content (the 22 tabs I've got open in Firefox will certainly help).

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