Content and services

Google has a problem

Google has wads of cash, and has to spend it on something. So the company has been experimenting with Orkut, a "social software" platform similar to other services like LinkedIn. It has also started offering Google Maps, which now works with more browsers. Unlike Mapquest and some other similar services, Google Maps is fast and produces legible maps. I've always found Mapquest an exercise in frustration; not only are the maps fuzzy and hard to read, the zooming feature is extremely slow.

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"Virtual" sales a big business

In my talks to community leaders, I talk about the ability to sell goods and services that are, literally, weightless, via the Internet. I get a lot of blank stares, as some folks still have trouble understanding the revolution in business.

The latest news comes from Apple, which reports it sells more than one million songs PER DAY from its online music store, or nearly half a billion songs per year.

SMS and youth

An article in the Roanoke Times yesterday (a NY Times reprint) discussed the phenomenal rise of SMS, or Short Message System. SMS, more often called "text messaging," is the cellphone service that lets you send short text messages on your cellphone.

The article was irritating because it implied that because most SMS users are twenty-something or younger, there must be something wrong with older people. The article, without any data to support the conclusion, said that older people were "more comfortable" with the telephone, implying we old geezers just could not get with the new technology.

I've seen a lot of dumb technology reporting, but this article was one of the dumbest. In conversations I've had with "youngsters" who are SMS fanatics, the only they could tell me they used it for was when they were bored. One twenty-something businessperson told me how great it was because when he was in meetings, he could send messages to his friends. The article also said that SMS was popular because you could use it when you were bored.

So here is the "old geezer," "not comfortable with technology" take on this: when I'm in a meeting, I'm trying to pay attention and contribute to the discussion, rather than text messaging about what I plan to have for lunch. That's not "uncomfortable with technology," that's called being mature and responsible.

The article implied that using the phone was somehow a quaint and old-fashioned mode of communication. No, it's fast and efficient. When I have something to say to someone, it's a lot quicker to pick up the phone than to try to type on a 12 button keyboard the size of my thumb. That's not old-fashioned, it's just sensible.

One unfortunate aspect of this technology revolution we are in is that there is this unsubstantiated belief that youth know more about technology than anyone else. I hear it almost every day. While it is true most young people have a higher comfort level with some of this stuff, the fact that a nineteen year old uses it does not inherently make it good or mean that everyone should use it. Let's not throw commonsense out the window with the crank telephones and VCRs.

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More life without Google

A colleague sent me a link to another up and coming search engine called Vivisimo. It's a bit different than Snap, which I wrote about yesterday, but like Snap, it handles search results in a way that is genuinely useful, as compared to the typical "jillions of hits" Google result.

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Open Source software and the iPod

In a brilliant marriage of a free Open Source piece of software and the iPod, medical radiologists around the world are using iPods to store the huge image files generated by CT and other kinds of scans and x-rays. Eweek has the story of a frustrated radiologist who helped develop the free OsiriX software that allows radiologists to store and manipulate the images on the iPod.

Life without Google

Can anyone imagine life without Google? More than any other Internet service, with the possible exception of email, the availability of Google has become a kind of icon for the changes the Internet has brought over the past ten years. It's even become a verb.

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Music sales up

The NY Times (reg. required) has a short story on the music industry. Music sales are up 1.6% this past year, for the first time in four years.

What happened? Apple legitimized the online music market with it's highly successful iTunes Music Store, and a horde of competing online music services rushed in to give consumers a wide array of choices. Music sales went up.

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AOL dumps broadband services

AOL has announced that it is dumping its broadband customers in nine states. AOL has been in decline for years, and this is one more indication that the company is completely adrift. AOL's foray into broadband service was a mystery to me in the first place, since they had to resell access purchased wholesale from other providers.

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MPAA to sue movie downloaders

The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has decided to sue grandmothers and fourteen year old kids who are allegedly downloading bootleg copies of movies.

Like the music industry attempts at litigation, it accomplished little except prove the stupidity of these movie execs. When "millions" of people are trying to watch your movies, that's called a market opportunity, not a field day for lawyers.

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Earthlink adds VoIP services

Earthlink faces the same problem AOL is already struggling with--a shrinking market for dial access to the Internet. Earthlink has been staying in the black by slashing customer support and by providing barebones access, as opposed to AOL's tedious, ad-laden interface.

The changing shape of the news

Andrew Sullivan, in Time magazine, illustrates perfectly the changing landscape of writing, journalism, and more generally, the power of the Web that we now all have in our hands. Here is the most instructive quote from the article.

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Record companies making a fortune

According to this article in the UK Independent, the record companies are making a killing from online music sales. The paper says that of the average ninety-nine cent cost of a downloaded song, the record companies are taking sixty-two cents, or apparently almost double what they made on a CD. Not only that, their distribution costs have fallen to virtually zero.

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MIT invents community network

Apparently at least one faculty member at MIT has been off the 'net entirely for the past twenty years. This story discusses Professor Keith Hampton's iNeighbor network.

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Design and community portals

Community portals should be clean, simple, and easy to use. Jakob Nielsen, one of the top Web usability experts in the country, has a new column out on the importance of good, usable Web sites.

I see too many community portals that make the same mistakes Nielsen outlines.

  • Flash animations and splash pages that provide little or no information about what is on the site. Who wants to sit and wait while a pretty picture downloads over a dial-up line, only to have to click to a second page just to do anything? You may love that picture with the panoramic view of the mountains, but it's the wrong thing to put on your home page.
  • Overly complex menus and toolbars that offer too many choices to visitors. If you try to list every single thing in your town and every single organization on your home page, it overwhelms people and they often just move to another site.
  • Using Web designers who just want to use your money to design a "portfolio" site to help them get their next job. These sites are easy to spot because they are visually busy with lots of widgets, gimmicks, too many drop down and pop up menus, and other eye candy that makes it difficult to navigate.
  • Nielsen does not mention this, but I see this all the time--hiring novices to build the community portal. You would never have a junior in high school or a part time hobbyist design a fifty page, color book about your town, but when it comes to Web sites, it happens all the time, with predictable results. We saw the same thing in the early days of Pagemaker--suddenly everyone with a copy of Pagemaker was doing the company newsletter, with predictably ugly results. It's even worse with the Web, since you don't even need a copy of Pagemaker to claim you are an expert. When it comes to qualifications, "I did the site for Cub Scout Pack 238" is not adequate.

Your community portal is how the rest of the world learns about your community. You want to put your best foot forward, so that you attract Knowledge Economy businesses and entrepreneurs who will want your broadband and your great quality of life. If your community Web sites are the very best they can be, you are missing a lot of economic development prospects. Disclaimer: Design Nine helps communities design and develop high quality community and local government portals.

Cong. Boucher talks about the Induce Act

Congressman Rick Boucher (D, Virginia) represents southwest Virginia, including Blacksburg. Boucher is guest-hosting law professor Lawrence Lessig's blog this week, and there is a cogent and fascinating discussion of the Induce Act. The Induce Act would build on the already questionable DCMA law to make it more difficult (in theory) to pirate digital media.

Most spam sites are in China

The Register reports that China continues to be the world's primary source of spam Web sites--hosting the Web sites that show up in all that email spam. The U.S. continues to be the source of most email spam.

Is Google going to pop?

The San Francisco Chronicle is one of many papers covering the impending Google IPO. I've written extensively on Google, and I still expect the stock to be grossly overpriced, because Google is overrated. Not as a search service, but as a company. Google's two recent forays into other services, the controversial Gmail and the quickly aborted Friendster-style social software indicates that the company has much work to do. It is almost beyond belief that the company thought Gmail's instrusive scanning of private email would not cause protest, but apparently they did. Google's Friendster imitation lasted all of two weeks and disappeared quickly because of massive security holes, which indicates Google is not immune to a common disease in the IT industry--the "we don't need to test our software because we got it right the first time" syndrome.

Finally, Google does not have a monopoly on good results from a search engine. Try Gigablast. The Google IPO could encourage investors to free up cash to fuel innovation in the IT industry, which has been starved for cash since the dot-com bubble burst. That would be a good thing. But it could also set off a new round of fanciful businesses based on the same arrogance and hubris that created the last bubble.

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Gigablast: Better than Google?

Just as Google is finally going to sell stock to the public, yet another search engine, called Gigablast, has appeared, with a name that is at least partly a sly pun (google is a '1' with a hundred zeroes after it; 'giga' is a billion).

Gigablast appears to have a different set of algorithms than Google, and a few queries I tried seemed to offer slightly better results, with fewer extraneous hits. As always, competition is a good thing, especially with Google's strategy of late of trying to tie their own content to search results--not a good thing fr

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