Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Social Networking - iPhone Style

I have upgraded my iTouch to the 2.0 version of the iTouch software, this makes the iTouch equivalent to the iPhone, but without the Phone. The software available is very good, some of course have problems, but the ability to social network with the iPhone is huge. The latest application I have been playing with is "Twinkle".


Twinkle has huge potential, right now though it's going through some growing pains with some unfortunate crashing, release 1.1 of the software is supposed to be released soon, hopefully this will resolve the crashing. Twinkle allows you to determine a radius of users you want to see and associate with, ranging from 1 mile to everywhere (and sure enough with everywhere selected I'm seeing people in Japan, Russia and Europe). I have some great ideas for Twinkle or a Twinkle like application (I need to write these down and have a talk with my developers), that would fill huge holes in Twinkle. For geeks like me who've been around for a few years, Twinkle reminds us of our youth and services like CompuServe. I'm not sure what the business model for this group is, but I'll bet that it is to get a good user base and then sell to Google.


The iPhone has the great ability to locate you on the map (the iTouch shares this and uses the internet to locate you with almost too good precision). This helps tools like Twinkle locate you. It also allows tools that will find the closest hotel, restaurant, movie theater, etc... It's very cool and very well thought out. One restaurant locator called "SilverSpoon" uses the motion sensitive capabilities of the iPhone and offers the user the ability to shake the iPhone to pull up a random restaurant. It does give you the ability to lock in the city closest to you, the type of cuisine or the amount you want to spend, but this application could solve the age old question of "Where do we eat", you just turn on your iPhone, give it a shake and go to where the application tells you to.

Favorite Application

OK, while Twinkle is cool, it's fun to talk to everyone around me (not many in my town, so I have my range set to 100 mile radius, I now have friends all over the area), and apps like SilverSpoon are great, my favorite app is called "Light Saber". Light Saber is just that, it has a little Jedi light saber, you can pick the color of the blade, and then as you move the iPhone it will make the same sound of a light saber as it moves. Yeah, I know I'm a Star Wars geek (and proud of it).


I don't like the syncing of the iPhone, it has a problem syncing my pictures, Apple needs to fix that. Overall I think the iPhone is a must have for those who have good AT&T coverage and want a cool toy (it's more than a toy though, it's functional as a PDA also). I've come to think of my iTouch as something that also does music, go figure.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Distributed Networks...

I'm seeing a trend that is a bit disturbing, this trend is companies trying to force their users to use their network and systems. A few examples sit out there right now, Google Mail, Hotmail, Blackberry and now Apple with "me". One of the great concepts of the Internet is that it's a distributed network, an outage with AOL will not affect me if I'm not using AOL, if I have a problem, I need to get it fixed (or the people I'm paying need to get it fixed), but since it's distributed my outage doesn't affect the rest of the world.

As I've seen in my history, Gmail is constantly going down (at least their IMAP version), Hotmail has been better lately, but it used to have huge issues, I also remember using CompuServe (I'm dating myself) when it was pretty much the only big network out there, same issue. You want to see panic, take down BlackBerry's network, every suit in every city will start shaking and panicking as if they were just told that they would never be able to get another grande latte at Starbucks. The Apple network has shown horrible reliability, it seems especially prone to heavy loads (such as when they have these launch events), I understand that they've so messed up "me" that they are offering all their users a free month of service.

OK, what am I getting at? Well as consumers we need to make sure that manufacturers don't require us to use their networks, especially for critical infrastructure pieces (such as email or web services). There is a good friend of mine who is into Resilience, the concept behind Resilience is that no single item is critical, when you make something critical and it fails, you end up with a disaster. The companies aren't doing this to build a better system for consumers, they are doing this either because they are lazy or because they want to make tons of money, they don't care about the consumers.

As a developer, designer, and professional, I have always put my customers needs over money, these people are paying me money to do something for them and they expect it to be done right. Of course that doesn't mean that I build outside the scope of our original agreement, but I do make sure that the agreement that we've made gets executed to it's fullest and most efficient potential, even if I have to do extra work to do it (of course this could explain why I'm not living in a big mansion and driving fast cars).

iTouch - Review #2

OK, I've had a bit more time to play with my newly upgraded iTouch. I do have Outlook syncing with it fine, though the ability to sync is a bit hidden in iTunes. I like the ability of being able to have multiple desktops on the iTouch, I currently have three desktops that I've set up in groups of Utilities, Social Networking, and Games.
Currently my favorite game is Sudoku from EA, I've mastered 4 levels in it, there are 5 levels, the first three (Easy, Normal, Hard) are all fairly easy. Very Hard required me to use the notes feature in the tool (the first three levels I could manage the numbers in my head with little problem).
AOL Radio
I saw a review of AOL Radio on SomeWhatFrank, so naturally I downloaded the application and started to play with it. It's very cool, I was able to dock my ITouch to my radio docking station, tune into AOL Radio and play it through my ITouch to my radio. OK, let's think about this for a second. I'm using my ITouch (which is supposed to have the music that I want to listen to), to connect to a radio station and play the radio station over my radio, hmm..... Though I have to admit that it is cool, and if you want to listen to a station that isn't in your neighborhood and that station is available via AOL Radio, then you're set.
I need to stick with my previous review of this device and say it's really cool and a must have for any gadget freak like me. I wish I could get the phone, but until Apple builds a version to work on Verizon, I'm stuck with the lousy toys that Verizon gives us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Apple iTouch Upgrade

I just purchased the iTouch upgrade to version 2.0, it bothered me to be required to purchase this upgrade, since before the upgrade the iTouch was barely usable. Now I'm able to download and install Apple sanctioned software, which I guess means that if I purchase the software Apple gets a piece of the action. I'm not hot on purchasing upgrades like this, especially when it's not so much an upgrade, rather it's a fix for poor software on it's intial release.

OK, I'm done with my rant, what do I like about the upgrade? Quite a bit actually, though there's still a lot I need to play with. One of the great items is that it handles IMAP, for those of you who know me, I love IMAP. They try to push a product called "me", which requires you to store all your information on an Apple server, hmm let's think about that, I'm going to put all my contact information, emails, and schedules up on a server and trust a third party to secure it, uh nope.

Besides do we honestly think that Apple will keep it up and working at all times, such as when a new release comes out and everyone needs to resync their device? From my experience with Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail, I'm not sure if I believe that everyone should be accessing the same site for information.

OK, I'm ranting again. The iTouch does allow you to download games (which is great for when you're bored), it allows you to handle multiple email accounts, stocks, maps, contacts, etc... I'm not sure how it syncs with Outlook, mainly because I keep my music on one machine and my Outlook on another machine. If you have the old iTouch I'd upgrade, if you're purchasing an iTouch, don't do it unless you have the upgrade installed. For me it took a few hours to complete the install, since the upgrade backed up my device and then restored it (it did a great job at that, I was impressed).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Social Media

Lately I've been researching social media, trying to figure out what good it is outside of kids wanting to show pictures of their latest parties, people showing what they are doing on trips or everyone trying to find a "friend". As I'm sure you know there are several social media sites out there, sites like: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Swurl, Blogger, VisualCV, YouTube, etc... Most do the same thing, some do a bit more. I'll breakdown the sites as I see them:
  1. Facebook - This seems to be fairly well put together, it doesn't have a strong search interface, you can't change the look and feel of the product, which is fine by me (you can do this on MySpace and most of the sites people build are unusable). Facebook is purely for family and friends, you shouldn't be using this to build a business network. You can hook facebook up to items such as blogger, though it doesn't give you the ability to do things like sort your posts, and it seems like you can have only one blog.
  2. MySpace - The search with this is great, but I think everything else is second rate. The advertisements on the pages overtake the screen. The ability to tweak the look and feel of the screen has made most of the sites unreadable (things like white text on pink background). You can also associate music with your site, which is awful, everyone seems to have some junky background music playing
  3. Twitter - I need to play with twitter some more, I'd love to find a business use for it, but outside being able to twit with all my friends, this doesn't make much sense to me. Now if you could develop streams that were business friendly, that would be fantastic for remote development teams who need to be alerted to something ASAP.
  4. LinkedIn - LinkedIn is great I think, but it's for business only. Odd thing about linked in are the people who want to be ranked high by having hundreds or thousands of connections. I think it's useless to link in with these people, since you are then connected with everyone through them (and they don't know most of their connections). If you can manage your LinkedIn site properly, it can be a very valuable tool for you, try not to get into the "I've got more connections than you game", it should be the quality of connections that matter, not the quantity. I believe every professional should be using LinkedIn to keep contacts. The plus for LinkedIn is that in theory as people change jobs, they update their contact information in LinkedIn so you can contact them.
  5. Plaxo - This is an interesting tool, it seems to be a combination of LinkedIn and Facebook. You can segment your content to friends, family, or business. This is great, but it's still another social site to maintain (phew it's getting tyring maintaining all of my sites).
  6. Swurl - This site is supposed to aggregate of all your other sites, though I'm not sure if it's working that way. I've hooked up blogger, twitter, picasa, and youtube. My concern with Swurl is that there isn't much security, if there's anything I want to have private, well with Swurl, it's out there.
  7. Blogger - I think Blogger is pretty decent, it's got a good editor (not great, but it works), it saves regularly and automatically (which is good for any work on the web were items such as browsers crash). You can modify the background HTML, use custom built templates or build your own (build your own is bad in some hands). What it doesn't have is a way to push your information to the world, that would be nice. I've got a couple of ideas about how to do this, but I'm keeping them secret for now ;).
  8. VisualCV - VisualCV allows you to build a visual resume. It's not really a social site, but I think it's the wave of the future. It has some limitations, such as you can't modify the HTML behind the scenes, but overall it's a great site. Everyone should have a VisualCV ready to hand out.
  9. YouTube - For me (actually my daughter) this site is purely for fun, take a funky video and post it up there. In the real world it's been gaining grounds as a place to start your viral marketing. It's been very well received in that world.

My take on Social Sites are that they are great tools for both play and work, and everyone should have something up and remain active, but you need to be careful about what you put up. One example is a coworker called in sick, seems she wasn't feeling good, if you checked her facebook page you would see pictures of the wild party she was attending the night before.

Security is a big issue, you should lock down all of your sites to only friends, there really isn't need for people to know all this information about you. Be careful in linking sites, I think tools like Swurl are cool, but they could cause issues with security. Be aware that in order to contact everyone, you'll most likely need multiple social sites, which means that unless you use something like Swurl, you'll need to update them all (swurl has an excellent timeline feature).

Are there any big winners, I don't think so, there isn't a simple and excellent tool like Google Search for the social media world. Biggest issues are security and having to maintain multiple sites. Great advantages, you can update most sites via an email, so if I go on vacation I can email my blogs in from my phone, I can even include a picture with that (of course I'm a geek, so I have a phone that can send emails and take pictures).

Who should be using these sites? EVERYONE! In my family all my neices/nephews and two of my brothers are on either LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace (I think my 3rd brother should be, but I'm not sure if he'll do it or not).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Content Management

Content Management seems to be a very large blanket lately. It can cover anything from managing data on the back end to managing information for delivery to a web server. In today's blog I will be covering Data Conversion, Publishing Systems, Content Management, and finally Web Delivery. This will be a brief conversation, since I could possibly write a book on data conversion alone. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at

Data Conversion

Having cut my teeth in data conversion, I naturally believe the most important concept in delivering information to print or the web is having total control over your data (after all your data IS your business). What is the best way to do this? Well it seems that even today a lot of organizations are storing their information in proprietary formats such as Word or Quark. While these tools might fit your current work flow well, they will fall apart as formats change or if the supplier's business model changes, let's assume that Microsoft decides that Office is no longer where they want to be, they could put an end to Word and all your data would be stuck. My belief is that you need to place your information into XML (10 years ago I would have said SGML, just goes to show that even these formats change).

What is nice about XML is that it is a very structured text based markup language. The advantage of it being text based is that you will be able to use it on a Windows PC/Mac/Linux system, with only a text editor. XML is concerned with the structure of the data instead of the formatting, this is a key difference between XML and markup languages such as HTML or Word. In this world formatting is derived from structure not from random bold and italic tags thrown throughout the data. I am not an XML purist, so I will allow emphasis tags to be inserted into my XML for bolding and such, but a purist will be strict about the structure bit.

It isn't easy to migrate your information into XML, which means you will need to spend time and money to have someone analyze the information, build a DTD (the DTD describes the structure of the XML, there are many out there that can be used or modified for your purposes), then you need to have someone convert your data into an XML format that is supported by the DTD. Note that this isn't easy or cheap, it requires a complete knowledge of what you want to do with the information, but once it has been completed, your information should be set for the next 100 years. When you start this process be ready for arguments, concessions, and revelations, it's an exciting process.

Publishing System

The Publishing System will be used to edit your information, an XML based publishing system will look at the XML and the associated style sheet, format the information in a fashion that is viewable to the editor or writer, then allow that editor or writer to write their article without regard to the XML. The system will enforce the structure of the XML, but the end-user would just see this as applying styles. It would be as if they are using Word or Quark. A good system will allow you to apply meta-data to the file and understand if you have a Print/Web/CD-ROM or other delivery method that needs to be supported, and be able to prepare the data for that method. It will also hopefully alleviate the dreaded editing in print composition that always seems to happen.

Traditionally print has driven the publishing industry, what happens is that the print is moved from the publishing system to a composition system, in this composition system, the data is edited, but these edits never make it back to the source data, which means that your other delivery methods are no longer up to date, this could be a dangerous issue depending on the information content your are working with. In a good system, print composition will happen in the publishing system and will affect the source data, this will ensure that all data streams are up to date.

Once your data has been modified it goes to the next step in the flow, in our case we'll ignore Print/CD-ROM/Other and go directly to Web. When I publish to the Web I prefer to format my information as HTML before it gets to the Content Management System (CMS), ultimately the information is delivered to the browser in HTML, if you don't convert the data, either the users browser or the CMS will need to deliver the information. Being a data control freak, I would rather have my system convert the data up front and not require the CMS to spin extra cycles converting data.

Content Management

Content Management is specifically that, it manages your content. A good system will allow you to add/modify/delete information on the fly, index information on the fly, and will maintain security in the system, either with a built in Digital Rights Management System (DRMS), or by securing the information so users can't bypass the systems DRMS. This system will also maintain all meta-data for each document, meta data can consist of the documents title, published date, expire date, document hierarchy, topic, subtopic, etc... The meta-data is important for displaying browse trees within the web interface or for searching the information.

A content management system can be very complex or very simple, it depends on the amount of money you have to spend and the structure you want to enforce. There are systems, such as Joomla, that are free and there are systems out there that will cost you $100k plus. For many years my content management system consisted of a SQL server that contained the data as blobs or a set of directories using the file system (these directories were not directly accessible via the web server), this wasn't great since it didn't allow us to really index on the fly, but it did allow us to stand up a site quickly and cheaply. We also had an off the shelf indexing engine and a custom built DRMS to manage access to the information.

Either the DMRS or the CMS should be able to log access to your site. This should not only include file access, but should also include queries and any special features, such as bookmarking, that have been built from your system.

Web Delivery

The Web Delivery seems to be what gets the most attention, but to be honest, I believe it is the least complex. When you build our your entire system you need to understand how you would like to deliver the information, but in the end, this is just the cosmetic portion of the site, it's what looks pretty and it's what will ultimately sell the site. For this you will need a graphic artist (note, your developer is NOT a graphic artist, if you want an ugly site, ask your developer to layout the look and feel of the site). When you develop the interface, you will need to have a knowledgeable systems architect on hand, someone who understands the entirety of your system. Given a good design and system and a graphic design, a new site should be able to be stood up in a couple of weeks once the data is ready.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cell Phones

This is going to turn into more of a RANT instead of anything else, but I'm surprised yet again by the lack of forsight in the corporate world, it seems that they want two things. One is to push a product to market very quickly, and two is to charge as much as possible for services.

I have been looking for a new cell phone for the past several months, unfortunately due to my location I am stuck with Verizon. While Verizon offers superior coverage to any other carrier in the area, it offers horrible phones. I'm currently using the Motorola Q, the Q is a phone that is great for basics, but there are several features that make you cringe, just because you know that they could have gotten it right. I've played with the iPhone and despite the people jumping up and down screaming that they have to have it, Apple also missed the boat. The latest phone that I was looking at was the LG Dare VX9700, it seems that this phone is lacking something as simple as IMAP, go figure, anyone wanting to use this phone, outside of an MP3 player, would want IMAP. Why can't manufacturers build phones with the essentials, here's my list of essentials:
  1. Good Quality Phone
  2. Excellent Battery Life
  3. Email Cleint IMAP/POP (Ability to handle multiple accounts)
  4. Zoomable web browser (Ability to handle Flash)
  5. Touch Screen (this is just for screen real-estate if nothing else)
  6. MP3/Video
  7. Ability to Sync with Outlook
  8. Wi-Fi capability
  9. Bluetooth headset
  10. Bluetooth modem (the Q can act as a modem if it's tethered, but not via bluetooth, that's just bass-ackwards if you ask me)
  11. Ring Customizations, including one that works off the clock on the phone, so I can have the phone use a different ring tone when I'm asleep (either very load or off)
  12. Mapping Utility that utilizes the phones GPS system

I'm sure there are items that I'm missing, but this seems to be the basic list, that keeps getting left off. The manufacturers are selling form over substance, we're getting some very sexy looking phones that are dumb. Personally I'm not one who will take sexy if it's dumb.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Traditional vs Social Media

I Started thinking today about the differences between traditional online media, such as newspapers, newsletters, research sites, etc... and social media, such as blogs, twitter, instant message, etc... How can these be intertwined and should they be?

I guess we need to figure out the definition of traditional media and social media. It doesn't really matter if my definition matches with the rest of the world, but it needs to be something that I can work with in my blog (this is one of the joys of being a mathematician, I can define things as I like it and not worry about the rest of the world).

  • Traditional Media: Let us define tradition media as sites that come from traditional paper sources, such as newspapers, newsletters, magazines, research sites (such as professional sites developed for legal, scientific, monetary, scholarly, etc... research).
  • Social Media: Anything that is generated from the public at large, such as blogs, twitter, IM, websites, etc... It doesn't have to be something done by an amateur, since there are professional bloggers or people who blog since their jobs require it.
  • Gray Areas: There are gray areas, there are "blogs" that are written on news sites by the anchors or other writers, I'm assuming that in these blogs they can express their opinion (subjective), instead of the news (objective). I can't use objective to describe traditional media, since it could be material that has been written subjectively.


Can the two forms of media merge? You betcha! It's already happening with traditional media, they are pulling in postings from users, taking live polls, publishing blogs, etc... all without the editorial over site that happens with their primary means of communication. Could this mean that we'll end up getting our news via our phones and twitter, possibly.

The bigger question to me is that can we apply some of the methods that are used in tradition media to apply structure to social media? I believe that this could happen on a level, but not without people providing labels for this post. These labels are essentially meta-data that is attached to the blog, this meta-data can be used for structure, it could be used to build your own personal taxonomy (hmm, I think I'll add that to my labels, taxonomy is just one of those words I think are cool). How can we apply meta-data to twitter? Some is inherent (date/time), can we also get location from the phone's GPS (do we want to).


I'm not really looking for answers to this, but I'm actually pondering more than not.