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

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

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.

Jun 08

Free books for the Kindle

A while back I broke down and bought the Amazon Kindle, which I love. I have been waiting for a perfect ebook reader since I would like to get rid of any material possessions that are not necessary. Let’s face it, books are pretty useless unless you’re actively reading them. Books are an inefficient medium in that they are heavy and take up a lot of space.

One of my goals is to reduce my material possessions to the absolute minimum. Like many people I no longer own CD’s for music (having sold them several years ago), but I have also been scanning in all paper records and photos and have sold a lot of furniture and junk on Craigslist. I would eventually like to get to the point where my possessions consist of: a car, some clothing, computing tools, and a few personal effects.

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May 08

No more Exchange: MilkSync for Blackberry

Remember the Milk!A while back I ditched Microsoft Exchange to save some money, which made it more difficult to sync my PIM between my desktop and handheld. Even though I liked having everything synced through Exchange, the cost was annoying for something so simple. With basic Blackberry service you get your email quickly, so it seemed like overkill to pay $20 extra a month just to sync tasks, calendars, contacts, etc. Shortly thereafter, Google released a nice Blackberry app to sync Google Calendar to the Blackberry Calendar, which replaced the Exchange calendar syncing for free. After that, the only thing missing from Exchange was synced contacts and synced tasks.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Remember the Milk were nice enough to build a new Blackberry app to sync your RtM tasks with your Blackberry. MilkSync effectively costs $25 a year since you have to have a pro membership to use the app. It’s worth it.

Now the only thing missing is Exchange-less over-the-air syncing of your Blackberry contacts. You can get contact data if your contacts are in Gmail using the Gmail mobile app, but it doesn’t sync with the Blackberry Address Book. Hopefully, Google will release a tool to do this.

Google will sell a lot of phones if they release similar tools for the Android platform.

Mar 08

Google Book Search a joy for antiquarians

Google Book Search is a project that exemplifies Google’s vision for information. For the past few years they’ve worked with various libraries and universities to digitize books, periodicals, and journals that might otherwise have remained untouched in their collections. Each resource is scanned by hand and rendered into indexable text. For older works whose copyrights have lapsed, you may read the entire thing online. Even for books under copyright, Google Book Search is a good way to search the contents of published works and is a great supplement to the usual search engine results for many research topics. Over the past few months, I’ve come across several books I might have paid for available online via Google Book Search. For any older books, this is now the first place I check. Here are a couple good books you may read online. They’re mostly aphorisms or concise wisdom, so it should be good for casual reading:

  1. The Maxims of Cháṇákya: The Maxims of Cháṇákya are an interesting record of thought by an early Indian statesman.
  2. The Maxims of Francis Guicciardini by Francesco Guicciardini. Practical and political philosophy by a contemporary of Machiavelli, the historian Guicciardini.
  3. The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, a Roman Slave: From the Latin
  4. Maxims and Moral Reflections by François La Rochefoucauld