Archive for the ‘Information Technology’ Category
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
People have asked me if I know of any conceivable practical use for Twitter. This “microblogging” platform lets you publish 140-character updates to a group of friends and the internet at large.
Like you, I’ve probably made fun of the entire idea of microblogging as completely unrelated to anything but what the blogger is eating at the moment. And at first, it was like that: people tweeted (that’s Twitter-speak for “publish”) odes to cheeseburgers, curry and pizza.
However, like all technologies, microblogging has matured. It’s no longer for humans. Instead, it’s a way to automate up-to-the-minute news with a quick description and url.
If you look at any fairly active Twitter stream now, you’ll see that’s the case. I love metaphors, so here’s my metaphor for Twitter as it’s going to be in its second stage: a teletype machine.
There’s a convergence between Digg, Twitter and Facebook that allowes the publishing of “updates” that in their second stage are of a functional nature.
First stage was people chattering away like teenagers in illicit notes passed around math class; second stage is the industrial version. It will function in two ways:
a) Promotion of items found on the internet
b) Real-time updates of alerts, deals, offers, etc
If you look on the top right of this page, you’ll see icons for RSS and Twitter. If you haven’t seen it, this kind of option is stealthily invading sites that offer real-time information across the net; it means their Twitter updates, or “tweets,” or produced by their web software any time new information is posted.
RSS and Twitter are convergences upon the same idea: finding a way to centralize all of our information. Gone is the mid-1990s blather about the portal site. The new portal is the browser, probably a mobile one, and people are looking for a way to get a dashboard or control panel for information from all of the people, businesses and organizations with which they’ve involved.
It’s likely that at this point, over half of Twitter’s users are on mobile devices like phones or PDAs. I’m hearing Facebook has experienced the same thing, so that people meeting in bars simply exchange Facebook profiles instead of scribbled phone numbers. Then they can update each other, letting opportunities for contact form passively.
It’s like a teletype machine in an old-school news office: every thirty seconds or so, it prints out a one-liner of the news. It’s how different offices across the world stay in touch, not a diary.
The office is now a more flexible definition however. Individuals are like small firms; many are also small firms that contract labor. Here’s a vision of how these mobile tweeting technologies are going to fit into our lives:
A young woman steps up to the counter at an auto dealership. Her car needs an oil change; the person behind the counter informs her that there will be a 24-minute wait. She smiles, thanks him (ideally), and sits down on a nearby couch — and whips out her phone.
She then proceeds to conduct all of the business of her life outside of her job: ordering goods on the internet, staying in touch with friends, even paying her phone bill. Even more, when she’s done with that, she’ll try to stay on top of what others she knows are doing, usually through their blogs/tweets and so on.
In the late 1990s, web designers anticipated a day when smart automated “agents” would know a user’s preferences and seek out advantageous contracts and purchases for them across the net. Until we trust our artificial intelligence machines more, we’re going to be doing it the old fashioned way: reading the teletype and checking off items we’re interested in, even if we do it on a cell phone/PDA hybrid like a Blackberry or iPhone.
Like most technologies, Twitter has grown up — and we’re going to see tools that address this perceived need grow further. Now that we’ve linked the world and everyone has something to say, the real challenge is quickly filtering wheat from chaff, much like your grandfather may have done reading over the teletype in his office.
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
You’ve probably heard people saying that history repeats itself. This saying is troubling because events repeat in different forms, so you can’t look for similar appearances. You can however look for similar functions in the information ecosystem.
I’ve now lived through several cycles of the “this newfangled stuff is worthless” and, in my experience, that reaction occurs because when technologies first appear, people have no idea how to apply them. And if there’s anything that excites me about technology, it’s applying it. Making it address real world needs and functions.
Take for example, Twitter. The service allows you to post “tweets,” or 140-character one-line updates, to your online friends. The old joke was that most tweets were from people in restaurants. “Now at In-N-Out. The cheeseburger with bacon is a better option. Someone swiped my fries.”
That was the early adopters trying to find a reason to hold on to this neat new service. It’s more of a service than a new technology, but we still treat it as a new technology because interface design is what shapes technologies into products, and each product must be adopted just like any new tech.
First, people found out that while prices for texting a group of people on your cell phone are low in Europe, they’re high in the USA, so Americans — many of whom carry smart phones or PDAs — favor Twitter. But that was just an intermediate step to the real use of Twitter.
Remember how I said history repeats itself? That means we can use past patterns as metaphors to describe current ones. Kind of how we might describe an automobile as a chariot or a big military defeat as a Waterloo.
Here’s my metaphor for Twitter as it’s going to be in its second stage: a teletype machine.
In the old days, newspaper offices, government buildings and large corporations all had teletype machines. These enabled them to get updates from all over the world before they had been processed through the newspapers and radio.
Of course, these were terse updates — under 140 characters or less in most cases — because the teletype was a group-directed extension of an earlier technology, the telegram. Mechanically, it was barely different at all; however, since it allowed news to be broadcast instead of directed at one person, it changed society. The pace of the teletype defined how fast insiders were moving on the news, and the rest of society adapted to keep up.
Back to Twitter: it’s the modern teletype. From what I can see, most of the content on Twitter is generated by automated scripts. Your blog can automatically update others using Twitter. If you have a content management system, a bulletin board, mailing list or news service, the same is true.
Like a teletype, the Twitter page spits out these updates as they occur, so if you “follow” the Twitter accounts of all concerns in your life, you’ll be very well-informed and up to the minute, thanks to these automated postings.
Here’s one I’m using — the CDC’s H1N1 “Swine Flu” page. This box from the upper-right corner of that page gives you numerous options for staying informed without coming back to the page — which, given the amount of information the average person must manage, is an unlikely outcome.
It’s likely that at this point, over half of Twitter’s users are on mobile devices like phones or PDAs, and they tune in to see what the world around them is doing. They also catch these updates while they’re out being good consumers and buying products, which makes Twitter a good medium for making a pitch.
People are using Twitter for their businesses to offer real-time news, and updates like coupons or deal offers to draw in customers. They know that the savvy Twitter user isn’t posting restaurant updates — they’re subscribing to the best news feed you can get outside of a press nexus.
History repeats itself in other ways as well. I could point out how downloading MP3s has become like the new radio, or how the internet itself has become the new television, but you know these things already. Now just add Twitter to the heap.
Saturday, April 11th, 2009
The integrated installer has been a dream of mine for ages:
PC-BSD exclusively features the Push Button Installer (PBI), a push-button software installation wizard with a wide range of applications. The latest version of the Push Button Installer improves PBI self-containment to increase reliability.
The Add / Remove Programs tool and the Update Manager have been consolidated into “Software & Updates.” ^
Why separate between system updates and software? Or installed packages?
If Microsoft is listening, they’ll see a great opportunity here: a one-stop software shop. Imagine if you could search windows software and freeware and install it with a single click, straight from Microsoft.
If other UNIX-like operating systems are listening, they’ll see that for all their advances (Debian) in managing ports, users still want more: a single interface to manage every bit of code they have.
Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
Per an earlier post calling for this change, among other things, I’m delighted that Microsoft is making this change:
Have you ever wondered why Microsoft renamed the Add/Remove Programs (XP and earlier) control panel applet to Programs and Features (Vista onwards)? It’s possible that Microsoft is considering its own version of something comparable to Linux package management systems. For those that don’t use Linux, think of it like a Windows Update for all your software. Such a system could completely revolutionize how users interact with software on Windows, not to mention the security advantages of only letting users install software deemed safe (which in turn could cause privacy concerns, of course). ^
They’re going to put in a single area from which all updates and software is acquired and managed and, if they’re really smart, they’ll provide a way for this to automatically update the software and sell software from third parties like the iPhone does. This is a positive development for the transparent operating system, which would put the focus on people getting things done instead of using the computer for the sake of fiddling with a gadget, which is the 1980s paradigm we’re replacing.
Monday, January 19th, 2009
I got a chance to see the new Windows 7 beta in action. I am both impressed and non-impressed. I think they’ve improved on Vista, which I didn’t find to be a problem if you ran it on the right hardware, but I don’t think it will solve the problem.
People buy a computer for many reasons, but for most of us, being fascinated by the computer is not one of them. We want to use it to do things, in the same way we buy microwave ovens without really wanting to know how they work. We don’t need to, in the same way we drive on roads we have no idea how to build — this is specialization of labor.
What they want is what Windows XP started to give them: transparency. They want to turn it on for the first time and have it basically just work. They want it to keep working for the next four years while they use it as their primary machine, and probably for another four after that as a media server. They want to be able to easily swap out components, add consumables like RAM and disk storage, and upgrade the monitor easily if they need to.
They do not want to wade through spyware, or to learn a whole new visual language just to navigate the operating system. They do not want strange words to learn and confuse, or any terminology specific to the brand they bought. They also do not want to be abandoned by that brand: there should be one phone hotline, and one local store, where they can get trusted service and advice at non-ripoff prices.
Microsoft and Apple have been operating for too long on a “features” diet. Any time a problem or opportunity comes up, they throw features at it, adding bulk and interface complexity to the operating system. What they need to do is step back and see how many of these issues can be eliminated with good, transparent design, and how they can do it in as small and unobtrusive an OS as possible.
This description applies to both technical and interface concerns. People got really excited for “MinWin,” a tiny version of Windows that used little disk and RAM at the expense of backward compatibility and most of its features. They love the idea of a stripped down, nearly invisible interface, instead of a Pink Floyd light show. They want the thing to start quickly, not screw up, and be user serviceable without a CS degree plus Microsoft certification.
I don’t think this is unreasonable and suggest that the first of the two to actually deliver this will dominate the market for the next decade.
Friday, April 25th, 2008
“[Bill Gates] made an unbelievable contribution,” said Andreessen, while speaking at a keynote with John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. “It’s hard to conceive what this industry would look like today if Microsoft hadn’t standardized the OS . . . I think the industry would be much smaller if that hadn’t have happened.” ^
People love to hate whoever’s on top. At first it was Microsoft, now it’s Google, and soon it will be Apple.
Each generation has a series of platforms that allow people to be creative with technology without re-inventing the wheel. For the 1970s, this was UNIX. For the 1980s, it was DOS and Novell. For the 1990s, it was Windows.
These platforms don’t have to be perfect, and can’t be, because they are designed to accomodate roles and not be optimized for perfect performance. It’s possible they could get better, but so far indications are that desktop machines and server operating systems are different animals.
Without Windows/DOS we might all still be carrying around disks full of converter programs so we could share files.
Windows/DOS standardized the consumer interface to the internet and is as much a part of it as UNIX and HTTP. It’s hard for people to see that, because they hate the big guy.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
You probably didn’t, but I always did wonder about this. The answer is provided by our homies at Pipe International, who provide us with an informative illustration:
It’s a big thick plastic thing with a core of steel wires, and right at the very center, some tiny fluff of fiber optic cable that carries the signal.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
In so many ways, we developed computers and are only slowly learning to organize their power.
For example, we have variables in our FrameMaker documents. These can be set to pop out a value whenever they’re inserted, so if the version of software we’re writing about changes, we can have the right file name or version number in the text.
But what if we were to re-organize, and use hierarchical variables?
These would replace the variable with a condition, and that condition would activate any of the variables under it to have multiple values.
For a condition, defined as version 2.0 or 3.1 or 4.7, a set of variables — like book name, version number, product name, file extension, directory location, copyright — would all change in synchronization.
This is one of those features that should be standard in any application designed for professional use and, quite frankly, don’t most people want to buy those anyway even if they don’t use the extra capacity? In software terms, extra power is slightly longer load times and extra bytes on the disk — no big deal.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
Although this article got talked up on the web, few seemed to understand how important this data is, and why it signals a favorable Microsoft/Yahoo balance against Google in the next generation:
The study illustrates that heavy clickers represent just 6% of the online population yet account for 50% of all display ad clicks. While many online media companies use click-through rate as an ad negotiation currency, the study shows that heavy clickers are not representative of the general public. In fact, heavy clickers skew towards Internet users between the ages of 25-44 and households with an income under $40,000. Heavy clickers behave very differently online than the typical Internet user, and while they spend four times more time online than non-clickers, their spending does not proportionately reflect this very heavy Internet usage. Heavy clickers are also relatively more likely to visit auctions, gambling, and career services sites â€“ a markedly different surfing pattern than non-clickers. ^
Ouch! This means that many of those great online sales leads clicking away may be the same audience who are targetted by garden-variety spam. This of course threatens Google’s dominance of the adsphere, because they specialize in ads without tracking, and throws the balance to companies like Microsoft and Yahoo who offer a wider range of social networking-styled services to get users to log in, so that their searches can be tracked and better ad targetting can exist.
In other terms, hitting this 50%-6% audience is easy, because they’re going to visit the most basic and spammy services the net has to offer. Advertisers are increasingly going to want ads for, as an example, high-end laptops, to be directed to the audience that not only likes the product but has the wherewithal to buy it. The recent rush by Google to get people into online mesh applications is part of their desire to adapt to this new reality, as is Gmail. Want to bet their internal metrics, six months before Gmail’s launch, revealed this same trend?
Monday, January 21st, 2008
If you’ve bought a computer from a major manufacturer recently, you’re familiar with this gig. You bought Windows with the machine, but you don’t get an install disk. Instead, you get a second partition on the disk from which you can re-install Windows if you need to.
The only problem is that if the hard disk fails, and that’s the most common failure at 3-5 years of ownership, you don’t get to reinstall legally.
Microsoft makes a big noise about how many people pirate their software, but from a user-centric point of view, they’re forcing people into piracy. First, they charge corporate rates for their operating systems, which makes no sense as an operating system is required to make the machine do anything. Next, they tie you into these per-machine licenses.
It’s not very productive to encourage people to think of a machine as the way they get their operating system, because next time, they might just buy a different machine. More of them are.
Instead, Microsoft should concentrate on a per-customer basis, where customer is an individual, a family or a business. Get people accounts on the Microsoft site. Buy the operating system and updates are free. Need to add a computer? $25. Need support? Contracts are $50/year.
It’s clean and easy, and it allows Microsoft to sell other products from one Amazon-like interface. It might be too straightforward for the software industry however.
Bolg – The Chris Blanc Weblog is proudly powered by WordPress
© 2012 Chris Blanc