Aug 09

Apple Should Buy Twitter (and Facebook) to Take On Google

Google’s business model is more nimble than both Apple and Microsoft. Build superior software, make it free, and make sure you get onto as many devices as possible. As such, it is a danger to companies that just make hardware. Even if those companies make beautiful devices like the iPhone.

Google is also a business that requires fewer individuals. You can have engineering teams of 20-30 people supporting major development projects. So, why don’t more companies do something similar? Why have otherwise capable companies like Microsoft and Apple largely failed in the realm of web applications? It is likely a question of leadership. The people who run Microsoft and Apple are not web natives. They do not love and believe in the web the way Google loves the web.

So, if Apple wants to stay relevant they need to get Google on the defensive. To do so, they need to take on search and a good entry into search would be to acquire Twitter and / or Facebook. Take search and make it truly social. Take search and personalize it. This is something Apple might be successful with.

Multiple sources at Google tell us that in informal discussions with Apple over the last few months Apple expressed dismay at the number of core iPhone apps that are powered by Google. Search, maps, YouTube, and other key popular apps are powered by Google. Other than the browser, Apple has little else to call its own other than the core phone, contacts and calendar features. The Google Voice App takes things one step further, by giving users an incentive to abandon their iPhone phone number and use their Google Voice phone number instead (transcription of voicemails is reason enough alone). Apple was afraid, say our sources, that Google was gaining too much power on the iPhone, and that’s why they rejected the application. #

Aug 09

Mobile App Pricing

I read an article today about Microsoft supporting a premium app model for its own version of the iPhone app store. Basically, they want to avoid a race to the bottom where there is so much competition for users that app developers price their products at very low prices to capture sales. The problem, which is not a problem at all for consumers, is that this encourages everyone else to lower their prices as well. Since you do not want to be the only $10 app when everyone else is $1.

Trying to just introduce something anti-competitive like arbitrary price controls will not work, for a few reasons.

For one, the cost of distribution is zero. The cost for entering the application market is effectively zero. You can market your application at any price you wish. So, if you cannot demonstrate effective value for your price, that is your responsibility. No consumer owes you a certain price, especially with relation to digital goods for which there is no necessary ongoing cost following development.

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Apr 09

Amazon Consolidates Position in eBooks with Stanza Purchase

I’m a big fan in general of ebooks as a concept and to a lesser degree a fan of Amazon and its Kindle ebook reader. I trust Amazon to deliver a good user experience, but I think open standards and a diverse marketplace are the best way to move forward. With that said, I follow the ebook business with interest as it such a newly vital market. We can credit Amazon and the Kindle with much of the recent vitality.

With the acquisition of Lexcycle, the producer of the iPhone ebook app Stanza, Amazon is consolidating its lead in ebooks. They are also signaling that it’s less about the device you use to read ebooks and more about distribution. Distribution is where the real profits lie. People buy a Kindle once, but they may purchase thousands of dollars worth of ebooks and e-periodicalsover their lifespan as a consumer. This is where Amazon wants to be. Not in making hardware, but in selling digital goods and controlling a large portion of the marketplace. The only reason Amazon really needed the Kindle was to create the marketplace. Once people are accustomed to buying their ebooks from Amazon, the device becomes irrelevant.

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Aug 08

The Kindle is a portable book shelf

Since the Kindle is a new type of product whose purpose is to transform how we read, I try to observe how I use it myself.

A couple things.

First of all, I am reading a little more than normal. I’m also reading more new releases since the Kindle store recommends new books and bestsellers more than less well-known works. In the Kindle store, they prominently list both new releases and major bestsellers on the home screen. With the average new release priced at $9.99, I can take more of a risk on a new book; often the kind of books that have captured public attention, but which I would normally avoid until I finally forget all about them (The Tipping Point). I’m also reading less difficult material as many books from smaller publishers and academic presses are still largely unavailable.

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Aug 08

Telepresence is light-speed travel

One technology I am excited about is telepresence; the new-fangled name for what we used to call video-conferencing. With large HD flatscreens and fast connections that allow the transmission of high-quality video over the Internet, this technology is maturing and will likely change the way we do things. High-quality telepresence has the potential to reliably simulate “being there”. In other words, telepresence enables light-speed travel.

If you have rich, directional sound and high quality video of a particular environment, you possess most of the inputs you would have if actually in that location. Of course, the other senses like touch, taste, and smell would be missing via telepresence. But, how often do you actively touch, taste, or smell the world around you? This could actually be an advantage! Send your senses and perceptions to visit far off places rather than your meat vehicle.

We experience the world mostly through sight and sound. This will be enough to enable many new realities and behaviors to emerge. Assuming it continues to improve, how will people use telepresence? Virtual travelling? Teleprostitution? Telemedicine? Centralized remote security guarding? Remote elder observation? Remotely operated taxi cabs?

Combine telepresence with the ability to move through and manipulate the environment and you have effective human-mediated telerobotics. Combine telepresence with head-tracking and you would have an even more convincing simulation of presence. It is important to remember that each time we create a mature technology it quickly connects to many other technologies to create new uses and chimeric results. There is a network effect in how products enable one another to do bigger things.

The next step is to create more immersive inputs including haptics and olfactory inputs as well as telerobotic avatars we can borrow to “travel”. How will this change things? I don’t know and maybe it won’t change a thing, but it is fun to think about.

Stole the above image from the Army article: Telepresence: Harnessing the Human-Computer-Machine Interface.

Aug 08

WordPress sending premature pings for scheduled posts?

Thanks to RememberTheMilk, I’ve been maintaining a pretty steady blogging schedule. Now when if tee up 2-3 posts, I’ll just schedule them for later in case I get behind again and miss a day.

One thing I noticed is that if you edit the timestamp to schedule a post publishing at a later date, WordPress still appears to send out a ping when you actually hit “Publish” rather than when the post is scheduled for publishing. I noticed this because Google was trying to hit posts that had not yet been published, but that had been scheduled, which was generating 404 errors. 404 errors are not search engine friendly, so I would consider this a fairly egregious bug. Since you are sending out pings, which include URL’s containing the words included in your post stub this could be something of a security hole in the sense that you might divulge time-sensitive information before it’s intended for release.

I tried reporting the bug to WordPress, but could not log in with my WordPress.org credentials. Curses.

Aug 08

Quick Firefox Tip: Scroll through multiple tabs

If you use Firefox and have open more than about 12 tabs they will scroll off the tab bar where you cannot see them unless you use the pull down menu on the end. However, if you hover over the tab bar and scoll your mouse wheel up and down the tabs will scroll left and right, allowing you to select one that is not currently visible.

Aug 08

Online password management

With all the various web services and email accounts we use on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose track of all your passwords, unless you use the same few for everything, which is not safe. Password management is a common problem with several different options:

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Aug 08

Kindle: Let anyone safely email your Kindle

I love my Kindle. I use it nearly every day. Even though there are many books I can’t get on it, I prefer to read this way now, so I usually just move on to something I can read on the Kindle. Take note book publishers!

I’d like to use it more for other things, but the web browser is limited. One cool feature is that since every Kindle has an Internet connection and an email address you can email yourself documents that will be converted and sent to the Kindle for 10 cents (unsure on why the cost unless it’s to throttle network-crippling usage). Also, your Kindle will only receive messages sent from a sender whitelist, so you should not receive spam. Unfortunately, this means you have to add various friends and colleagues to your Kindle whitelist if you want to receive documents from them on your Kindle. If you have a lot of friends or colleagues this is a pain in the butt and will require ongoing management. There’s an easy way to liberalize access, which should still prevent spam:

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Jul 08

Free Wall Street Journal: Part Deux

In the previous entry, I explained how you could read full articles at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by tricking wsj.com into thinking you originated from Google News. Basically, any WSJ traffic from Google News is allowed to view the full article.

My previous solution was awkward kludge, but it got the job done. Of course, I should have known there was an easier way to do it. The problem is two-fold: the Journal site checks the referer and the URL parameter. So, if you can change the referer and rewrite the URL’s to include the URL parameter, the entire site will be in subscription mode.

Step 1: Change the referer to appear as if traffic is originating from Google News. This is easy with the RefControl extension for Firefox. Just install the extension and set the referer for any traffic to “http://online.wsj.com” as coming from “http://www.google.com/news”. See screenshot below.

Using RefControl to changes referers

Step 2: Rewrite all URL’s on the WSJ site so that they include the Google News parameter. In other words, take all links on the site and add “?mod=googlenews_wsj” to the end. With the referer set manually and the modification in place, you should be able to view the full articles. So, how do you rewrite the URL’s on the WSJ site? I recommend creating a Greasemonkey script to do this, which should be pretty simple. When I get some more time I might do it and upload to my defunct userscripts library.