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Turned To Crap

Paul Stamatiou on his thoughts on the state of the blogosphere:

The larger tech sites/blogs have “turned to crap” to quote an older friend in the field. Everyone’s got an agenda and a quota to fulfill; there aren’t too many “free spirits” when it comes to tech writing, which is why sites like John Gruber’s Daring Fireball receive so much acclaim.

His thoughts pretty much echo mine, and though I've mentioned in passing how much I hate the larger tech sites, this quote does a great job of summing up what I've been meaning to explicitly say for a while. The scale has been tipping to quantity over quality for a while now and shows no signs of stopping.

Some sample stats: Google Reader says that Engadget has averaged 40 posts/day. When I started the media fast experiment, all my feeds were read. It's been a week since that started and that amounts to roughly 280 posts. The current Engadget unread count is 272. That I've found 3% of those posts worthy of my attention is telling. In contrast, Daring Fireball averages 10 posts per day and I've read all of them without hesitation.

The "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach was fine when I didn't realize how much time was wasting looking at things I wasn't reading nor cared to read. Now things have changed. The large tech blogs have gone the way of mainstream media in their attempt to increase eyeballs. I am avid fan of a handful of TV shows, but you'll never find me sitting on the couch channel flipping; the chances I'll find something worthy of watching are so slim it's not even worth it. The quantity over quality approach doesn't work on me for mainstream media and I've come to realize it isn't going to work in the blogosphere either.

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More on The Media Fast Experiment

Today should be day 5 of my media fast experiment, but as I predicted/promised in my previous post, I would sneak a peek on Sunday. And so I did. In about an hour and half yesterday, I made it through 182 posts in Google Reader, less than half of the ~400 a day I was averaging prior to the experiment. Still, despite only lasting three days into the experiment, I've come away with some valuable insight.

First, and perhaps most importantly, bumming around the internet is no longer my go-to action when I've found myself with nothing to do. Even yesterday, when I spent time in Google Reader, I also found time to catch up on some posts for my other blog and even process and upload some photos to Flickr from my trip to Puerto Rico last March.

Google Reader's expanded view, which shows full posts in a river of news format, is a great way to sift through a bunch of garbage while finding the few gems you really enjoy. In an effort to be more selective, I've switched to list view, which shows me headlines for about 25 posts in a way similar to Gmail. Picking and choosing is much easier when you've expanded the number of headlines visible on screen 15-25 times.

The only thing I wish I could do was mark items as read without giving them credit for being read. There's a bunch of stuff in there that I will probably never read, and it looks like it'll build up unless I do choose to mark it as read. A minor complaint, but on the bright side it should make unsubscribing from low signal-to-noise ratio feeds much, much easier (Engadget and the rest of the Weblogs, Inc sites, I'm looking at you).

In response to William's comment, I do think he's right to a degree. If your job is news-driven (you work on Wall Street, in PR, in journalism, etc), then you do have to keep up with the news. Even still, not every news item you come across is 100% relevant and the experiment helps to make that clear. And for those of us whose jobs aren't exactly news driven, much of it isn't relevant - we simply consume it for enjoyment. For most, consumption is way out of balance with production. As with any habit-altering experience, we must often go too far in one direction in order to ultimately end up in the middle.

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The 4-Hour Work Week Media Fast Experiment

I recently began listening to Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Work Week. The book proposes many interesting ideas, but by far the most immediately applicable are his productivity tips. The one I want to highlight in this post is the media fast experiment, which forces participants to avoid all news for a week. Instead of being the one to relay news to others, be the one asking others what's in the news.

I'm on my third day of the experiment. I've avoided visiting Digg and reading feeds on Google Reader. In an effort to be completely honest, I will admit that I did hit Techmeme yesterday and CNN today for about 5 minutes. I felt guilty both times and that feeling a good sign.

The effects have been moderate, but promising and encouraging. I've been getting more done at work and completing more personal to-do items out of work. Wasting time online is a slave to Parkinson's law (which Ferriss mentions in his book), which basically states that a task will grow to fill the time allotted to it. This is especially true for my RSS subscriptions, which are literally never-ending. Since I wouldn't allot a set time limit to my time-wasting (by definition), my time-wasting would grow to fill time until I got bored or tired.

Depending on how comfortable I feel with being able to control myself, I might allocate (by alarm) an hour or so sometime this weekend to go through Google Reader. Even though the experiment calls for a complete fast, an hour a week is a huge improvement over the multiple hours a day and I should be happy that I haven't gone mad yet with all this newly-recovered spare time.

And I just came across this blog post with a great summary of the book. Check out the productivity tips under Step II: E is for Elimination.

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iPod touch Jailbreak: A sign of things to come?

Erica Sadun, TUAW's resident iPhone hacker/developer, reports on the difficulty of jailbreaking the new iPod touch. An iPhone update is expected sometime soon to add iTunes WiFi Store functionality, most likely a few of the UI niceties present on the iPod touch, and hopefully some long awaited applications (Tasks and iChat, I'm looking at you).

If the iPod touch's (or perhaps OS X 1.1's) ability to be jailbroken is any indication, then iPhone owners should enjoy their third-party apps while they can. Now, there may be a technical reason for the new sync scheme that prevents jailbreak, but a more likely culprit is a political reason: AT&T is upset. First, by introducing the iPod touch, Apple offers a way to bypass a cell contract for those wanting most (but not all) of the iPhone's features. Second, Apple's inability to keep the iPhone locked down for any significant amount of time (whether intentional or not) has paved the way for software unlocking, providing yet another way to get iPhone features without an AT&T contract. Depending on how large a fee (if any) Apple collects from AT&T for new iPhone contracts, Apple is largely indifferent as to whether they sell an iPod touch or an iPhone. It is unlikely that Apple would lock down the touch but not the iPhone and it's not unreasonable to conclude that our time spent sipping on Cocoa will soon come to an end.

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The Ultimate Steal: Office 2007 - $59 for Students

Microsoft will begin running a promotion later today aptly named "The Ultimate Steal" in which it will offer Office 2007 Ultimate for $59, less than 10% of the $679 list price. The catch is that you have to be a student (or at least have a .edu email address).

This is an excellent move by Microsoft. Students with fast university internet connections and limited income are more likely to pirate expensive software, something software vendors try to curtail by offering student discounts for their software (with the added benefit of potentially gaining life-long customers). This promotion takes that strategy to an extreme. At $59, the "too expensive" excuse flies out the window. For non-freshmen (as this was the first back-to-school season where Office 2007 was available), this is a good motivator to upgrade from Office 2003 and will most likely drive Office 2007 adoption through the roof.

Office 2007 is one of Microsoft's flagship products and perhaps the best product they've ever shipped. I've written about the new ribbon UI back when the product was in beta, and though I'm using Office 2003 at work, every time I come back to Office 2007, I realize how big the differences between the two are and how less stressful it is to use the newer version. While deciding to "upgrade" to Vista is a difficult choice to make (the quotes around "upgrade" should be quite telling), upgrading to Office 2007 is a no-brainer and I highly recommend doing so to anyone, especially at this price.

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Vusi Mahlasela

Scoble linked to South African musician Vusi Mahlasela playing at TED. Dave Matthews Band fans might know Vusi from his vocal work on the title track of 2001's Everyday (and occasional guest appearances with the band since then). I have to admit that I've never listened to any of his own music until this video, but just watching this performance has spurred me to purchase his (only available) album on iTunes.

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Steve Jobs' Open Letter to iPhone Customers

Less than a day since Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone would drop $200 to $399, Steve himself has posted an open letter to iPhone customers in which he states that Apple has decided "to offer every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration, a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store."

This is an excellent move by Apple and quite possibly the best way they could have handled the PR nightmare that would have been the 250-500 thousand $599 iPhone owners. While it's not exactly $100 in my pocket, it is exactly $100 more than I would have expected to receive. Store credit doesn't cost Apple as much as face value, but it goes a long way to satisfy those customers that felt wronged (again, I don't consider myself in that group). In addition to the PR boost, Apple could also benefit from the incremental sales this $100 store credit would generate. As a prime example, I was looking to sell my iMac in anticipation of the refresh and to take advantage of the free iPod deal. Not having easily found a buyer and realizing that I didn't really need a new iMac, I gave up on the refresh. This newly-found $100, however, might just be enough to relight that fire under me and get me to buy a new iMac: Apple wins.

I applaud you, Apple. With actions like these, you will no doubt win many customers for life as you won me so long ago.

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Thoughts on The Beat Goes On

Despite being a day late, I still want to comment on the iPod announcements made yesterday.

iPod shuffle
New colors and no storage bump on the shuffles gets a huge yawn from me.

iPod nano
The actual nano looks much better than those leaked shots that were floating around a few weeks ago. There was no storage upgrade for these guys either, only price drops to $149 and $199 for the 4 and 8 GB version, respectively. Video finally comes to the nano, but with such a tiny screen I wonder how useful it will actually be. Still, having the nano hooked up to a TV via video out makes for a very portable DVD player replacement.

iPod classic
80 GB storage for $249 (and 160 GB for $349) makes the 6th Generation iPod (or 1st Generation iPod classic?) quite the monster. The standard iPod form factor has become, as the name suggests, a classic and I'm glad Apple stuck with it instead of forcing everyone to the touch screen.

iPod UI
The new iPod UI is an incremental upgrade, with the most notable feature being Cover Flow (which I don't find much use for personally). The new UI also marks the first time that the nano and classic have reached software feature parity (video on the nano also means complete feature parity), so it'll be interesting to see if Apple considers the nano/classic "complete". Prior to yesterday's announcement, it had been two years since both devices saw a significant upgrade, and I wonder if it'll be just as long before we see the next big change for these two lines.

iPod touch
I couldn't make up my mind over whether I thought Apple would actually release a phoneless iPhone this soon. On the one hand, pricing would have been tricky - either it would be priced too low to cannibalize iPhone sales or priced too high to make it a terrible value. On the other hand, there was only so much further Apple could take the iPod classic before it had to enlarge the screen (thereby necessitating removal of the click wheel). I personally dislike the design of the device. The chrome border is gone in lieu of either a matte metal or plastic (hard to tell from the shots) and the iPhone's scratch-resistant matte back is gone for the iPod's iconic scratch-prone shiny metal back. Further, the upper bezel looks disproportionate without the earpiece and the WiFi antenna's plastic covering makes the back of the device asymmetric. Other minor things I noticed (and am apathetic about) are that the sleep/wake button has switched sides and that the headphone jack is on the bottom of the device.

iTunes WiFi Store
Apple is ever slowly creeping into tablet/UMPC space and the touch was the second step in that direction. Instead of working down from the desktop, as Microsoft has done (with limited success), Apple has worked up from the iPod. It's apparent from the name: this isn't a MacBook nano, it's an iPod touch. Unveiling the iTunes WiFi Store and partnering with Starbucks is a small step into building Apple's mobile eco-system, something other device makers have either not attempted or have been unsuccessful at. This will be the touch/iPhone killer feature, and perhaps the future of mobile advertising - truly contextual advertising and services that supplement a brick and mortar's main operations. It's not the device that will reach out to the world, but the world that will reach in to your device.

That said, I don't see myself using the WiFi Store that much since I don't use the iTunes Store much to begin with. However, if the WiFi store allows for over-the-air podcast downloading, then I'll be all over it.

Ringtones
I'm tech-savvy enough to not need iTunes to walk me through making ringtones, but I would argue against those complaining about the price. The extra $.99 is something I see as AT&T having a hand in. Still, $2 for both the song and ringtone is a good deal compared to the $2-$3 one might pay for a ringtone-only otherwise.

iPhone at $399
Though Apple announced during their last earnings call that margins would be lower this season, no one saw this coming. The market is interpreting it as a sign that iPhones aren't selling as well as Apple would like. The original 5 GB iPod dropped 25% five months after introduction (from $399 to $299), so large cuts aren't completely out of the ordinary for Apple. I see the price drop as something Apple planned all along as a way to aggressively go after market share after milking early adopters for an extra $200 and as a way control demand during launch.

Am I upset that I paid $599? Absolutely not. I was perfectly paying that amount and the price drop doesn't change that. I don't see Apple owing me anything much more than I see BMW paying me for the depreciation of my car when the 2008 models come out (in fact, I'm paying them for the depreciation). Price drops and technology progressing are facts of life. The only thing that I might be upset about is that the cost of entry to the iPhone Club has gone down and iPhone owners who felt a sense of superiority and exclusivity as a result of ownership just dropped a few rungs on the social ladder now that the iPhone is accessible to "regular" people. I am not in that group. I see adoption of the iPhone (or Mobile OS X platform in general) a good thing for users, both in terms of a greater demand for new software features or an increased pressure on other device makers to make better devices.

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