Tab Dump - Long Overdue Edition

Too many tabs sitting open for far too long. Here we go:

Hugh Macleod on Applying "Creativity" to Your Professional Life Etc. Some nice tips, especially for those of us just starting our professional lives. Not really much to say about this, but a lot to think about. I'll probably keep this open and glance at it every once in a while despite having linked to it. (Note: This was posted on January 9th so I've had it sitting in my browser for a month!)

Andre Torrez's first Django app is a simple random color generator that is absolutely amazing and beats any other "Hello, World" I've ever seen. I'm a Rails guy and this is so cool I might just try writing my own just for kicks.

Today Is The Day is a really weird and creepy one-post blog about a day in the life of a styrofoam man. Really can't say much else about it, but it's worth checking out.

Air Traffic Controller Don Brown on air traffic safety vs. capacity. Quite an interesting and enlightening read, though probably not the best thing to read two weeks before boarding a 17-hour flight (granted I read this before I knew I'd be going back to South Africa).

I will keep doing this periodically, but it's worth noting that I'm sharing a lot more of what I come across over on Google Reader. Check out my link blog or add me as a friend directly from Google Reader/Google Chat (martingordon at gmail).

Monday Morning YouTube Videos

Stumbled across two great videos this morning. What a great way to start off the week!

Gabe and Max's Internet Thing

via Marc Andreessen, who also posted this gem about rogue trader Jerome Kerviel.

Google Maps Street View Extremeâ„¢

via Paul Robinson

The Anti-37signals

This Official Google Docs Blog post title ("We can't stop adding features!") struck me as the complete opposite of the 37signals/Getting Real philosophy.

Now granted, I'm sure the title was tongue-in-cheek and caters to the general populace's "more features = better" mentality, AND the three features they added are actually quite useful (Save to PDF, better printing options, and vector shapes), but the title just struck me so much that I wanted to comment on it. Still, I think it's worth mentioning that I hope they can stop adding features, lest Google Office become too much like Microsoft Office.

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Google Readerbook Me

Google has added a social networking aspect to Google Reader. Inviting a user to chat (i.e., adding them to your GTalk buddy list and you to theirs) allows you to view their shared feeds in a new section, cleverly titled, "Friends' shared items".

You can add me by adding martingordon at gmail.com to your GTalk buddy list. As an aside, there should be an easy way to link to this action instead of having to provide instructions. For now, I'll call it "Google Readerbook me", in honor of that other social network.

I only have one friend at the moment, Scoble, and there is a major flaw (which I mentioned to him last night and he blogged about): If they share an item from a feed you're subscribed to, you see it twice. For people with many friends and lots of overlapping shared items, the number of dupes that have to be processed can grow considerably.

The solution, of course, is to remove the duplicate items. But let's take it one step further. Show me how many times the item would have shown up in my feed list. I can list six metrics that are no-brainers: friends sharing/starring/subscribed to this item and all users sharing/starring/subscribed to this item. Google Reader instantly becomes a del.icio.us/Digg competitor if they decide to show the "all users" metrics. Perhaps it even turns into a del.icio.us/Digg killer since starring/sharing is such an "organic" action. Since I'm doing it anyway, there's no inertia keeping me from participating and there's no need for me to install and use browser extensions or Bookmarklets to bookmark/submit anything.

It's clear now Google's approach to building a social network is the exact opposite of Facebook's. Facebook first built the network and then tacked on applications; Google first built the applications and then integrated the social network into them. In Facebook's case, yes the network itself has its uses, but I have yet to find a truly killer app among the thousands of Facebook apps ("Zombies" and "Super Wall" aren't going to change the way I live, work, or for that matter, socialize). Google's way is sneakier (in a good way) and this means it may take longer to build up the network, but I feel in the end it'll lead to a more useful social network - the one that enhances the applications I already use.

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Hating to Love Facebook

The blogosphere just hates to love Facebook. It took almost three years after it's launch for people like Mr. 5000 to notice it, (although in all fairness only a year after it became open to the public) and now the second something newer and shinier comes along people to start proclaiming that Facebook is dead.

Guess what? The 99% of Facebook users who don't care that Facebook is closed as long as it's not exclusive won't switch away; I also doubt that the 1% who do care won't switch either. App developers won't suddenly leave Facebook because OpenSocial is more widely supported; at best, an OpenSocial (curiously OS for short) app will supplement an existing Facebook app. Apps follow users and the users are still (and still will be) on Facebook.

Users may be fickle in their taste, but so many of them have invested too much of themselves in Facebook (by way of routine, photos, videos, wall posts and other content) to go running for the doors even if something tremendously better came along. The lag between the introduction of a better alternative and the abandonment of the old is long enough that Facebook will have time to react; just look how long AOL stuck around despite much better alternatives in both content and connectivity. Facebook's lock-in, while fragile, is in no way as big a disadvantage as everyone makes it out to be.

If OpenSocial does take off, Facebook can adopt it without much hassle and we're pretty much back to where we are now. If it doesn't take off, then it's probably because of Facebook and Zuckerberg and the gang have nothing to worry about.

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Google and Yahoo Afraid Of Microsoft?

I can't believe I missed this: Google Gears is available for WebKit. This was announced three weeks ago, but I just found out about it on this TUAW post regarding future Google/Apple iPhone-related announcements.

News of this makes me feel better about AJAX/HTML based apps on the iPhone, easing my concern over offline access to these apps. I also haven't seen many developers complaining about the lack of a "real" SDK on the iPhone, which makes me believe that offline access and home screen placement was discussed at NDA-covered WWDC sessions.

A big question I have is that amongst all this Google/Apple collaboration, Apple decided to go with Yahoo for the iPhone's bundled email solution and widgets (you'll note that the Stocks and Weather widgets now sport Y! icons). Could Apple be playing both sides? If Google and Yahoo were desperate to get placement on the iPhone, then perhaps they didn't want to (or couldn't get) exclusivity. Google and Yahoo are currently tied on home screen icon placement at two a piece (Yahoo is slightly ahead overall because of the mail tie-in, however).

The biggest loser in all of this is of course is Microsoft. The one-two punch: iPhone is going to take away customers from the Windows Mobile platform (RIM sure isn't helping them out either). Thanks to the Google/Yahoo integration, iPhone users will have an investment in Google and Yahoo's online services, driving usage away from MSN/Windows Live/whatever it's called now. After the iPhone, Microsoft will be facing increased competition from both the mobile space and the internet space.

There is a bright side to all of this for Microsoft. From any way you look at it, Microsoft is seen as the biggest competition to Google and Yahoo: Either Google and Yahoo compromised to "share" the iPhone, in which case they don't think they can handle Microsoft alone, or Apple didn't want only Google or only Yahoo on the iPhone, in which case Apple thinks that Google and/or Yahoo are vulnerable to Microsoft.

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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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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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Google Groups Email Delivery Down?

Since at least 10am EST today, email delivery of Google Groups posts seems to be down. The posts show up on the site but not in my inbox. I haven't seen anything on this out there yet except for a few posts on the Google Groups help site (with no replies yet) and one Tweet. This means that either no one uses Google Groups, no one cares, or no one has noticed; none of which really help me out.

BEGIN RANT

I think part of the reason Google is so profitable is that they don't have to manage giant call centers (or any call centers, for that matter). So while their products are generally reliable, there's no place I can go to get a quick answer when a problem does exist. Even a quick post on the Official Blog saying, "we know there's a problem and we're working on it" would give me more hope than a few unanswered posts on a group page (which is run on the service experiencing the problem).

END RANT

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Penn Picks Microsoft Over Google For Email

Seventy-eight days after the self-imposed deadline, Penn has chosen Microsoft over Google to replace the aging SAS (School of Arts & Sciences) mail system. The new "Penn Live" offers 2 GB of storage and integration with other Windows Live services. The Wharton School has also adopted the new service, although I'm not sure what's different between "Penn Live" and the already-existing Exchange system.

Many comments left on the Daily Pennsylvanian's site are criticizing the decision to go with Microsoft over Google, but I think anything is better than the system currently in place. As a Wharton student, we've been (relatively) blessed to have Exchange as our backend (I don't know what the College (what we call SAS) is using, but it looks like HoTMaIL circa 1997). Here's some history: coming in as a freshman in 2003, I was afforded with 50 MB of email/storage space. GMail launched with 1 GB in the spring of 2004 and sometime between then and now our quota was raised to 250 MB. For all my time here at Penn, I can't remember a single time that our email servers had gone down. What I do remember is reading in the paper every few weeks about yet another SAS email outage.

I don't have enough experience Windows Live products (which may or may not say enough about the product), but it's got to be better than what the College kids have been using. That said, much of the complaint has been about the choice over the time it took to make that choice. I'm as big a Google/Apple apologist as anyone, but I see the decision to go with Microsoft as a non-issue per se. Again, I'm not sure if Penn Live or the old system provide IMAP access, but I know Wharton provides it. I also know for a fact Google does only POP, so inbox syncing is at the very least equal to the Google solution. Most complaints contend that many Penn students already have Gmail accounts, so why change over? I see this group as a very small minority, as I know people who use their school emails as their main addresses and people who keep school addresses for school matters only.

I trust that Microsoft can do as good or an even better job than Google at providing email and collaboration services to the University (they definitely have more experience with large organizations). My only hope for this is that Windows Live can be truly platform agnostic. I don't have any stats on actual Mac adoption on campus, but from anecdotal and personal evidence I know that it is rising. I just hope Mac and Linux users aren't treated with a second-class experience as is the case with Ruckus.

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