Joe Wilcox's Microsoft Monitor weblog is always a good source of intelligent thought on our industry's dominant influence. Looking ahead to Google's big news on Friday, which now probably isn't a Google PC, Joe says of competition between MSFT and GOOG: 'Software is sticky. Right now, search is not... Stickiest software is the operating system, and that's Microsoft's Ace in the hole.'
He's right, up to a point. But I'm ever more impressed at the scope for Firefox, plus extensions, plus broadband, plus 'Web 2.0' projects to negate the need for an operating system (per se). I recently discovered Meebo, which gives you an Instant Messaging experience within your browser (and works remarkably well). I've used Writely when I haven't had a word processor handy. I store all my bookmarks at del.icio.us. We're all comfortable with email-over-the-web, via Gmail or Hotmail or whatever. Saving things to your hard disk just seems so old-school.
I'll tell you one thing that is sticky, though - password storage. The more Web 2.0 sites I sign up for, the more I'm accumulating usernames and passwords. Give me a rock-solid, reliable, trustworthy way to store those, and I suspect I'll be tied to your solution for life.
I never really understood Robert Scoble's obsession with RSS feeds providing the full text of the items they announced, rather than just a teaser. Rightly or wrongly, most websites - and by extension, most webmasters - are judged by their traffic numbers. And I can't see how anyone could argue that full-text feeds don't reduce through-traffic. I'm subscribed to several full-text feeds, and I almost never visit the mothership site.
Now that I'm using Bloglines to track my RSS feeds, particularly on a PDA, particularly using Microsoft's browser, I see his point. Good as the mobile Bloglines interface is, it's hopeless for hopping back and forward between pages - and there's always a risk that you inadvertently mark all posts as 'read' (as just happened).
Solution? Maybe a better mobile browser with tabs, although I couldn't get Minimo to work on my Windows Mobile 5 PDA, and Opera's WM5 version isn't available yet. Maybe a better Bloglines interface, but I can't think what they could do.
No, the only solution which could be executed instantly, albeit on a feed-by-feed basis, is to remove the need completely - by simply giving the full text up-front. It won't get you to your traffic target for the year, but it'll keep Scoble and other Blogliners happy. Me included.
I think this is the first reference to a 'Google Cube', as mentioned in the '800lb' LA Times piece - and as you'll see, it comes with a healthy dose of speculation. One del.icio.us commenter says: 'he's rarely all wrong'. But are we getting carried away?(tags: ephemeral.work)
Gothenburg's half marathon, 13 May 2006. 'One of the greatest long distance races in the world.' I'm considering doing it, as I can't see myself going much faster over 10k.(tags: running)
Useful if you're planning a trip, and want to catch a game or two? There's more to life than just the NHL!
I must confess, I didn't invest much emotion in the kidnapping of human rights activist Kate Burton and her parents. There's probably a reason why 'Bring Your Parents To Work Day' hasn't caught on in Gaza.
Suddenly, quite by chance, I discover that the family lives a couple of miles away from me. I pass the parents' home on a regular basis. Guess what - I'm a lot more interested now.
Thus far, personalised news works on a calculation of someone's predefined (or observed) interests. But how do you factor in the stories they aren't generally interested in? The closer the story, the more likely I am to care about it, no matter what the subject. I can see a time where all news stories are geocoded, with proximity given significant (if not the main) weighting in any 'news value' algorithm.
But as with true personalisation, only the biggest players - either huge monoliths like Reuters or the BBC; or huge networks of local media - will be able to offer the total coverage necessary to make this work. Every news story from everywhere, geocoded (and of course, subject-tagged) accordingly. An intimidating prospect.
Surprised this didn't get more coverage in the mainstream media... a CBE for Jonathan Ive, 'the man behind Apple's iconic iPod and iMac'.
Serious bloggers know why this is necessary. Choose which services you want to 'ping', then bookmark the results page for a one-click ping each time you post. Who knew so many ping services existed?
Expect big Google news late on Friday (6 Jan 06), from the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. What does Google have to do with consumer tech? The LA Times predicts a Google OS or digital media box. Also speaking: Microsoft's Gates, Yahoo's Semel.
Well done Downing Street, for getting a government website piece among the day's Top Stories. Of course, the decision to launch the 'exclusive insight into PM's working life' on one of the year's quietest news days was not accidental.
Films have been a part of the Downing Street website for ages; and to be fair, they have tried some interesting new media experiments - such as the (admittedly short-lived) series of weekly MP3 'radio addresses', clearly modelled on the White House's example.
At just three and a half minutes, today's new movie hardly qualifies as a documentary. And indeed, if one were to be cynical, you could see it as a further example of Tony Blair favouring 'soft interviews' rather than hard news programmes. With the 'interviewer' never being seen or heard during the piece, Blair is effectively interviewing himself - it doesn't get any softer.
The camera-work is a little amateur in places, and the video quality is perhaps a little disappointing, encoded at a relatively low 200-odd kbps. But Blair always comes across exceptionally well in such relaxed settings - one flash of his teeth, or the odd cheeky remark, and we remember why we fell in love with him in the first place.
Why have they done this? At the very least, the URL will get some free TV advertising today: you can't miss the address superimposed on the broadcast-quality version of the film issued to the news channels. Traffic to pm.gov.uk has never been high: and if you trust Alexa's numbers, the trend over the last three years is consistently downwards. But this is easy enough to understand: despite the PM's public profile, his office doesn't deliver any actual services to ordinary people.
Sky's Glen Oglaza hits the nail on the head when he describes it as a 'party political broadcast': that's exactly what it looks like. But the BBC's Jo Coburn goes a step further, seeing it as an explicit Labour Party response to the plentiful good coverage of new Tory leader David Cameron. If they really believe that, they should be pushing it further: Downing Street's website cannot be used as a Labour communication channel.
You rarely hear the words 'government' and 'IT' without the word 'disaster'. On one hand, this isn't fair: successful projects just aren't newsworthy, and don't receive any coverage. But on the other, when millions of pounds are thrown at a project that just doesn't deliver, for whatever reason, it's absolutely fair to make a fuss about it.
For perfectly natural reasons, this makes the average IT middle-manager a cautious creature. Many of them are long-serving ex-programmers, from days long before email and the web arrived on the average office desktop. They probably have one eye at least on their retirement, and don't want to do anything to put their pension at risk. Doing nothing - including preventing others doing anything - has much less (direct) risk than actually doing something, especially if your retirement date is fast approaching.
A curious story, this one, since it's impossible to justify public sector spending without evidence of Value For Money - which in website terms, means traffic. The internet director's comment - 'No one even knew it was happening' - really isn't smart.
Am I arrogant enough to think people want to read my 'best of' list for 2005? Of course I am. I'll try to be a bit different by choosing some off-the-wall categories and winners.
'Best-kept secret' website: HotUKDeals.com
A UK-based forum-stroke-website where bargain spotters post details of any offers or discounts they see on their travels. Thanks to them, I scored my purchase of the year - a 28" widescreen LCD TV/monitor from Dell - at a price so good that Dell probably regrets it now. If you sign up for email alerts, you'll get a lot of minor discounts for sites you've never heard of... but it's all worthwhile when a cracker like that comes along.
Regretted purchase of the year: iPod Shuffle (ooh, controversial!)
I used to respect Apple, and the devotion of their fans: no longer. Buoyed by the hype, and the 512MB capacity, I shelled out for an iPod Shuffle - only to discover that: a) it didn't fit my PC's USB ports without an adapter; b) iTunes was mandatory but rubbish; c) it started playing up within a couple of months; d) to upgrade the firmware, I had to download a whopping 48MB file containing upgrades for every iPod out there. The iPod Shuffle is now relegated to 'memory stick' usage; my new running companion is the TwinMOS Sushi, which I picked up for under £30 in the summer. Lesson: treat (flash memory) MP3 players as disposable, and buy cheap every time.
RSS Reader of the year: Bloglines
Yes, the daddy of them all is still The Daddy. Like Simon Waldman, I've really played the field when it comes to RSS client software. Bloglines won me over when I started working half the week at home, and half the week in central London - its PDA-friendly mobile version is a godsend. Over the last few months, I've really come round to the idea of web-based applications like Bloglines, del.icio.us, et al - although I don't yet feel reliant on them. I suspect it's only a matter of time though.
Mobile phone package of the year: T-Mobile's Web n Walk
By offering a whopping 40MB of 'internet browsing', T-Mobile's PDA and smartphone-friendly contracts point the way to the mobile future we were promised. With promo periods and online discounts, their Web n Walk 100 and 200 packages are more than comparable with similar talk-only tariffs. Great range of handsets at decent prices, too.
Mould-breaking moment of the year: Google Maps
How did we cope before this? Why do people persist with Multimap? How can they make the API so simple, even for someone like me who isn't entirely certain what API stands for? And the 'mashups' - wow. The Gmap Pedometer was an invaluable part in my setting a personal best for 10k in the autumn; I just wish OnOneMap had been around when I last moved house.
Damascene conversion of the year: Microsoft (TBC)
Awarded provisionally, in recognition of its open-minded blogging policy, its embracing of RSS, its recognition that looks are important (cf Windows Vista), and its return to products like Hotmail and Internet Explorer. Windows Live Custom Domains is a stroke of particular genius, letting you set up your own '@mydomainname.com' email addresses within Hotmail. (I'm sticking with Google's Gmail for now, but I'm secretly hoping they copy the idea.) Mind you, the whole 'Windows Live' branding - including the cringy 'Windows Live Local' - does not augur well. I know too many people who refer to the concept of instant messaging as 'MSN'... dropping the name doesn't seem smart.
Revelation of the year: online video
Having worked in a TV company's online unit, I was more than happy to write off online video. Traffic numbers were terrible, and it couldn't justify itself on any kind of cost-benefit analysis. But I'm now on a 2MB broadband line, with a huge monitor... and it actually works. For example: I'm an ice hockey fan, but there's little or no ice hockey on mainstream UK TV: but the NHL helpfully provides highlights of every single game, free, in more-than-decent 700k quality; and hockeyfights.com indulges every fan's guilty pleasure. Videoconferencing via Skype or MSN Messenger is a (qualified) success too.
And finally - the 'how did I cope before?' award goes to: Sky+
We invested in a Sky+ box (US readers: think Tivo) in the summer, ahead of the birth of our first daughter. We decided that, if we were to be kept up half the night, at least we could guarantee some quality TV to watch. I watch virtually nothing 'live' any more; I just have to make sure I record everything I'm likely to want to see. The Custard's tipsheet is a useful back-up to Sky's excellent EPG.