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December 31, 2007

The Mac's Role In My Getting Married

Five years ago tonight, as the clock passed midnight from December 31, 2002 to January 1, 2003, I proposed, and my then-girlfriend, now wife, said yes. While that story's unlikely to win any headlines, I have to acknowledge the Mac's role our courtship - a story which just might make you "Think Different".

In the fall of 2002, an acquaintance of mine from church asked if I could help her move from Foster City to Sunnyvale. Being the geek I was, I took out my Handspring Visor, and added an appointment in the calendar for Saturday to move boxes and carry furniture.

While we got along fine, we hadn't yet found a spark. And that could have been the end of it. But it wasn't.

Kristine knew I was a Mac geek, and a few weeks later, she called to see if I would help her go to the Apple Store and pick up a new Mac before the school year started. Of course, I said I would. I had made the trip to the Palo Alto Apple Store a few times before, with other girls, so this wasn't anything big. Or so I thought.

We picked up a new 12-inch iBook, and I did my part to talk the Apple sales rep out of forcing us into AppleCare, saving $299. I promised I would help where needed.

The next week, we set a follow-on "date" where I would set up her Mac, show her the ropes, and make sure she had all the necessary applications to kick the school year off right. As many of her fellow teachers were forced to use Dells, she needed some kind of support, and she had someone.

That date just so happened to also include dinner and a movie. And future dates didn't have much to do with the Mac after a while. Eventually, I was bringing my Mac over to her condo after work, and I was pushing to get an Airport high-speed wireless network. She did, and I was hooked.

Now, five years later, we've been married for four-plus years. She's since replaced her iBook twice. Once, because it was dropped at school, and more recently, because of an upgrade to an Intel-based MacBook. My PowerBook was upgraded once, and this year, I got a MacBook Pro myself. Our home is littered with iPods of various sizes, not to mention an Apple TV.

Clearly, Macs were part of us getting together, and have been part of our life together. While the ingredients to a successful relationship aren't always easy to nail down, there's no question ours could have been much different without Apple. Thank goodness, we don't have to find out what that would have been like.

Scoble's Link Blog Delivers An Influential 1 Percent

I covered most of my near year-end statistical data on Christmas Day, when I said a lot of my visitors in 2007 were not only coming from Google, but looking for information on Google. But there are still a few pebbles left to be uncovered. As I quickly looked at the year's statistics - through 5 p.m. today, a unique referral caught my eye.

Almost 1 percent of my visitors in 2007 came from Robert Scoble's link blog. In aggregate, after each of the Google properties, MySpace, BlogLines, and Feedburner, Scoble's link blog sent about 5,000 visitors in 2007, in little dribs and drabs, usually about one to two dozen visitors per item he chose to share in Google Reader. In all, there were 51 posts I made in 2007 that he shared, which delivered 10 or more unique visitors.


While the URL strings from Google Reader aren't pretty, they still work, as you can see in the quick screen grab above from my report from Analog.

It's always interesting to me to learn how we first find out about people, and find their blogs.

The way I first found Robert's blog? The infamous "Brrreeeport" experiment from early 2006.

As this blog was getting off the ground, I was peeking at Technorati, and this nonsensical word caught my eye as a common search term. After finding Robert's blog, it was off to the races for me. Clicking off to GigaOM and TechCrunch and eventually on to folks my own level was a serious rush, and I was dumbfounded I hadn't found it before. Somehow, I'd been so siloed as to not have the light bulb go on until early 2006.

You can see my first mentioning of this here in March 2006: Top Ten Sites for NextGen Tech Info

Others have told me they found my blog either through one of Scoble's posts, or from the link blog. I know it works. While I doubt I have the power to deliver people 1% of their yearly traffic from my link blog, that's one major reason I keep mine going. I want new people to learn what I'm reading, and find new sources for information. I read Scoble's Link Blog, and often open the links in a new window, and eventually find myself subscribing to their RSS feed in Google Reader. That's one of the major tenets of the new Web - sharing, following, and discovering.

So Robert, thanks for the 1%. And if you were one of the 1%, thanks for visiting. I hope you'll stay.

To subscribe to my link blog, start here.

December 30, 2007

10 Suggestions for FriendFeed

Over the last two months, I've become a FriendFeed addict. The innovative service essentially aggregates my activity from a diverse set of Web communities and presents it in one place. That defines the "feed". The "friend" half of their name refers to the fact I can subscribe to my friends, or other interesting people, and follow them as well. Needless to say, as the service gains in popularity, it has become increasingly useful, and I would love to see the following things happen for the site to get to the next level.

1) Add a small bio or profile to each person's individual feed page

As noted the other day, FriendFeed gives every user their own page, but doesn't have any background information - in effect, acting like the "anti-Facebook". I believe the service would have a lot to gain if I could optionally put in my company, my interests, my university, etc. While this would be yes, yet another profile, it would be tremendous to have the option to subscribe to all employees from a specific company or to subscribe to other alumni, for example.

2) Add the option to not see updates from particular services

By opting in to follow a FriendFeed user (like me), by default I see all of their updates, from their blog, from Twitter, Last.fm, when they add items to their Amazon Wish List, etc. But sometimes, finding out a person has posted 46 items to their Twitter just doesn't have value for me. I would like to be able to block any service I choose.

3) Given the above, add the option to not see specific updates from specific users

If I gained the option to block a service, I'd like to do it on a granular level, for instance blocking one person's Twitter feed, but opting in to another. For those people where I'd like to see their blog activity, and del.icio.us bookmarks, that doesn't necessarily mean I want to also learn what songs they like.

4) Add the option to follow a specific user's comments

FriendFeed recently added the option to make comments to specific updates, or to "Like" them. Often, I see comments from others I've subscribed to on those items. But I bet they're also likely making comments on feeds I'm not watching. I assume from the user's personalized feed page, I should have the option to "See this user's comments".

5) Add the option to make comments directly to the FriendFeed

Last week, FriendFeed had a special "Festivus" feature that let you air grievances directly onto the feed. A few of my grievances? "There's just not enough Festivus for the rest of us", "Paul Buchheit's blog should have a line at the top, saying, 'Dude, I invented friggin' GMail. Have you heard of it?' " and "Facebook applications involving vampires, winking, and throwing crap are completely useless."

But with the close of the holiday, this option disappeared. Obviously, FriendFeed has the capability to bring this back at any time, and those of us who saw its utility would like to see it return.

6) Add the option to share a private message for specific friends

Assetbar has the option to share specific URLs or messages to a subset of users by checking a "Private" box, and then selecting the recipients. Today, FriendFeed shares all activity with all users, without granularity. I would like the option to either send a specific comment to some people, or to specifically highlight an item from my feed to a subset of people.

7) Add a FriendFeed leaderboard

As silly as it seems, geeks like being measured and competing. It would be interesting for me to learn who the most commonly subscribed FriendFeed users are. It's likely there are some insightful people that I'm not familiar with, and this would be a good way to find them. While I could troll my own Subscriptions to see who they're subscribed to, one by one, or I could watch the Public Feed, a leaderboard would go a long way. Taking this a step further, the site could probably show us who shares the most total items, who Twitters the most, who shares the most items from Google Reader, etc.

8) Develop a Mobile Version of FriendFeed

I'm now occasionally sneaking peeks at FriendFeed using my Blackberry or my brand-new iPod Touch when I'm away from the laptop (as rare as that is), and while FriendFeed has an RSS feed, a Facebook app, and the ability to embed the application in iGoogle or my blog, there's no slimmed down version for my mobile phone for quick reading. With more and more people utilizing the mobile Web and surfing on their iPhones, the addition of this will be essential.

9) Customization of the Feed Page.

As with Google Reader's bare shared items page, the default feed on FriendFeed is simply text on a white background. While not every social network service has the option to "skin" a page, offering different looks for text or background colors, it's certainly nice to have. Spokeo offers this ability, offering users a range of colors, from red to orange, green, blue, purple and gray.

10) The Ability for Users to Suggest New Services

As I mentioned a few days ago, only Google allows customers to add an infinite number of services. With both FriendFeed and MyBlogLog, I simply select from a list they've already pre-determined. As there is undoubtedly a certain level of engineering required, I recognize it's not automatic, but I'd like to add my profile for Ballhype (e.g. Louis hyped 3 stories and made 42 game picks at Ballhype) and likely will find other services of note that have a common URL and user name path.

It can be hard to find fault with a service I already like as much as this one, and that's not how this post is intended. I just happen to want the service to be tremendously successful, and think you should be part of it.

If you're not already a FriendFeed user, you're certainly missing out. You can start with my feed here, or if you need a login, send me an e-mail, and I'll be happy to invite you.

For other suggestions on how to improve other popular products, see:

10 Suggestions to Improve Google Reader
10 More Suggestions for LinkedIn
Eight Reasons the Apple TV is Failing, and How It Can be Saved

10 Predictions for 2008 In the World of Tech

1) Google Will Trump Both TechMeme and FeedHeads

Amid the discussion of Google's sneaking in a social network, little has been said about Google Reader potentially tabulating and reporting the most commonly-shared items and most popular feeds. I believe that in 2008, Google Reader will start reporting the most popular feeds, clicked items and shared items. By the end of 2008, it will become equally important for bloggers, if not more so, to be atop this list, instead of on TechMeme. Google will also integrate this information for both Facebook and iPhone, competing head to head with Mario Romero's excellent Feedheads application.

2) Facebook Will Buy Digg in an All-Stock Transaction

With the company being valued at $15 billion, Facebook can offer around 5 percent of the company to Kevin Rose and team at Digg and net them pre-IPO shares of what's sure to be a white-hot 2009 offering. The all-stock transaction would value Digg above $500 million, the highest possible exit for the company. Public companies, including Microsoft, will counter with $300 million of real money and be rebuffed.

3) eBay Will Sell StumbleUpon to Yahoo! or News Corporation

eBay has done absolutely nothing with StumbleUpon since the service's $75 million acquisition. Unlike PayPal, which was a natural fit, StumbleUpon has no fit within the ecosystem of eBay. A more acquisition-savvy businesses, like Yahoo! or News Corp, will end up with the property by the end of the year. Expect this to accelerate alongside management changes at eBay and continued fallout after the Skype disaster. What it will do is pocket eBay some serious cash. This time, StumbleUpon goes for north of $200M.

4) Twitter Will Add Video, Photography Support

Moving outside of its 140-character niche, Twitter will enable bored microbloggers to show exactly what they are doing with still photos and 15 second video clips. Despite the novelty wearing off, many will continue to do so, gaining us precious photos of the window over their computer desk, overexposed facial closeups and pictures of their breakfast. The service will be integrated with Picasa, Flickr and Photobucket.

5) Apple Boot Camp Will Morph to Be Like Parallels, VMWare Fusion

Some time in 2008, Apple's Boot Camp application will no longer require a restart to run Windows applications. Users will be able to natively run Microsoft Outlook, Project, Access and all other Windows-only applications alongside their Mac OS X applications on any new Mac. While developers may decry the competition to Parallels and VMWare Fusion, Apple will remain quiet, and slowly take over the market.

6) At Least One Major Browser Will Embed Ad-Blocking

By the end of 2008, either Firefox, Safari or Opera will natively ship with the ability to block all ad banners and Google AdSense. Publishers and bloggers will make a lot of noise about it, while secretly avoiding ads themselves. A significant percentage of early adopters will change browsers solely for this feature.

7) Assetbar and FriendFeed Will Gain Early Adopter Audiences

Early adopters always looking for an edge will move away from Bloglines and Google Reader in search for something more cutting-edge. Many will turn to FriendFeed and Assetbar, following the latter's launch, to find a rich feed reader with social networking features. However, neither service will enjoy a significant market share prior to the end of 2008, and neither will be acquired by the end of 2008.

8) Video Blogging Will Remain Unpopular, Unprofitable

Despite advances in video capture and broadband speeds, Web users will not gravitate toward long-form video blogs, choosing instead to stick with text and photography. Only the rare extreme niche businesses will find any success with utilizing video for blogging.

9) iTunes Video Rentals Will Decimate Netflix, Blockbuster, Hurt Box Office

The introduction of video rentals on iTunes will not only force a dramatic subscriber exit for Netflix and reduced rentals at Blockbuster, but will also further slow attendance at movie theaters nationwide, as consumers find the service good enough, and much less inexpensive than a night out.

10) Fast Company Will be a Fast Stay for Robert Scoble

After joining FastCompany in early 2008, Robert Scoble will be at first jubilant, have initial success, and then plateau. While he will remain tremendously popular, there will already be discussions by the end of 2008 as to where he will end up in 2009, giving ValleyWag and Uncov, among others, plenty to gossip about.

Other 2008 predictions:
Jeremy Toeman: Technology Predictions for 2008
Paris Lemon: The Year Ahead 2008: 17 Predictions
The Economist: Technology in 2008
Mahalo: 2008 Technology Predictions
Center Networks: 2008 Predictions from CenterNetworks

December 29, 2007

A Big Part of Blogging is Writing to Your Readers

In November, when I sat down with Emanuel Rosen to offer some comments for the next edition of his book, "The Anatomy of Buzz", we talked a lot about blogging, what the new spheres of influence were on the Web, and what can keep a writer going, even when there's no money and no fame involved. One of the comments I made I believe caught him by surprise, when I said that over time, the very best blogs adapt and write to the readers, rather than the author.

While it's ideal to think the author's likes and dislikes will be so magnetic as to attract a wide readership, it's best to test storylines and topics. Over time, focus on those things which will best engage readers, community and conversation.

On some level, there's no question that's happened here. While I remain opinionated on politics, I don't talk about it here. And while I watch plenty of sports, I'm taking that commentary to Ballhype and Sports Blogs Nation instead of to louisgray.com. Over time, I've optimized the discussion on louisgray.com to discuss how I use and interact with technology, what new services I find interesting, and developments I think will impact people on the Web and in the real world. Living in Silicon Valley and participating in the Silicon Valley life gives me some edge at this level for technology, while it doesn't give me a leg up for politics and sports, in comparison.

So when I talked with Emanuel Rosen, that's what I told him. Over time, I learned that you, my readers, are RSS-savvy. Most of you read TechMeme, and are familiar with the A-list bloggers. Most of you hold strong opinions over what the best search engines, operating systems and social networks are, and believe strongly in innovation, openness and entertainment. Most of you have a dry sense of humor and don't mind the occasional off-topic post, so long as you know the next few will be on something you're interested in, whether it's RSS, Google or the Apple TV, the future of Web advertising, FriendFeed and Spokeo, iTunes or the iPod.

Through 2006, I was finding my footing. I posted on what I felt like, in no particular order or frequency. While I believe some of those posts were pretty good, I didn't stand for much, and as a result, I didn't get all that many readers. In 2007, I think I listened a little more and participated a little more. And I hope that as I've adapted my focus to what I believe yours is, I won't have lost the core elements of what makes this blog personal.

Also see:
Why Do I Blog? An Introspective Look
I Still Get Excited About Silicon Valley
Are You An ACTIVE Hub?

December 28, 2007

Will There be One Profile to Rule Them All?

Recently, I updated my Blogger template to include a new feature from MyBlogLog called the "About Me Widget". Introduced two weeks ago (See the MyBlogLog blog for more), this widget aims to summarize all the different services you use, from Digg to Del.icio.us, Flickr, Last.fm, LinkedIn and more, and give you a nice-looking, customizable, tool that keeps everything in one place, rather than what you see on many blogs, where you can have any number of links or graphics combining to do the same thing.

While MyBlogLog is aiming to be "The DNS for People", and has a ways to go this is a great start. But even this widget, in its current incarnation, has holes, and others, like Google and FriendFeed, are serving up knowledgeable profiles of their own.

See the below graphic - which one knows me best?


Let's take a look:

1. Google's Profile (... More)

Positives: As seen on my Google Reader shared links page, the Google Profile is extremely flexible. I can add an infinite number of services and label them however I want, as well as add a picture. If the service is a popular one, or Google can grab the "favico" icon, you will see that next to the service.

Negatives: The downside of inifinite flexibility is that you're really working with a blank canvas, and have to put it all in yourself. Also, it's not entirely clear if this profile is portable, out of Google's apps and to your blog or anywhere else.

2. MyBlogLog's "About Me Widget" (... More)

Positives: As seen on the right side of the blog, the "About Me Widget" can be customized to fit the look and feel of my blog, is well designed, and gives a uniform view for all my services. MyBlogLog also simplifies the process by filling out the basic parts for each service, and just asking me to add my user ID to complete the URL. As with Google, it includes the "favico" icons as well. MyBlogLog also gets bonus points for automatically importing my MyBlogLog sites and community links.

Negatives: MyBlogLog's trying to do me a favor by setting up a pre-determined list of services almost had me not installing it. Where the heck is FriendFeed after all? If I could add a new service to MyBlogLog and include FriendFeed, or Ballhype, or any other service where I have an ID they haven't thought of, it would be outstanding. Also a big miss - the ability to add e-mail or cell phone information. If they got some customization, I could further clean up my sidebar.

3. FriendFeed's User Profile (... More)

Positives: FriendFeed not only tracks where you can get my services, but actually does the dirty work by finding out what I've done on each one. It shows the "favico" icons for every service I use, and is continually adding more services for me to add to my feed. It also displays to anyone interested which other users of FriendFeed I've subscribed to.

Negatives: FriendFeed isn't trying to tell people who I am, so there's no summary or "about me", no room for e-mail, cell phone data, etc. It also, like MyBlogLog, is working in a set structure, so I couldn't add a profile for Ballhype there, until they set it up. It too isn't intended to be portable, although a Web widget for your entire feed is available.

So who wins?

Well, right now, as far as presenting on my blog, MyBlogLog is winning, though I'll still be miffed if they don't make it easy for me to add FriendFeed to my list of services pretty soon. I've already asked.

FriendFeed is a must-have service I'm checking multiple times a day, and if you need an invite, let me know in the comments. I feel FriendFeed knows me the best, as it knows all my activity, although the profile is light today. As for Google, again, they're building apps that are for engineers, and not real people. There has got to be some structure, and just maybe, over time, they'll get some.

TechCrunch Reports AOL Completes Netscape's Demise

It's silly how one can get nostalgic over a software application, but Netscape Navigator, in its original incarnation represented to many, including myself, the first days of massive Web adoption. Netscape was the first huge Internet IPO, and the first real solid challenge to Microsoft's monopoly, after Apple had made its share of missteps. Now, as TechCrunch reports, the browser is officially left to die.

While I had used Mosaic prior to Navigator, I dutifully downloaded all the beta versions of Netscape on my Mac my freshman year of college. My roommates didn't understand why I kept Navigator 0.93, 1.1 and 1.12 on my hard drive. Some part of me wanted them for history, I guess. But as we all know, it was Netscape who became history. Internet Explorer dealt them a body blow, and Microsoft squeezed their life from them. Then AOL's acquisition of Netscape made things unbearable.

The browser stagnated, and Apple had grown closer to Microsoft, as Steve Jobs told an annoyed Macworld crowd that Internet Explorer would be the Mac's default browser. Mac IE 5 was actually pretty good too! Meanwhile, Navigator skipped version 5 altogether, and rolled out a clunker, moving from Netscape 4 to Netscape 6, but it was too late. And by then, we'd all moved on - to IE, to FireFox, and eventually, to Safari. Now, Netscape is but a blip in Silicon Valley history, one that helped kick off the first Web bubble, preparing the way for future tech giants like Yahoo! and Google, and reinvigorating the economy.

A quick search of my Mail archives shows the importance of Netscape.

As I wrote in February of 1996 in a letter home, my freshman year, called "Bad tech day":
"About dinnertime, my computer went totally nuts. To make a long story short, my entire sytem folder was thrown away, including all extensions, preferences, and the like.The final result may still not be final, but there are some key things missing. ALL mail from Eudora which I had saved since October is GONE. All mailboxes. All adresses. All nicknames. All Bookmarks for Netscape, which I was proud of. Gone."

Later, from March of 1996 in another letter home, called "Checks and balances":
"Here's something annoying. I have a Macintosh. Non-Power PC, with a 68030 processor... This means I don't have a Java-supporting Netscape browser, to view live sports scores, and I can't download RealAudio 2.0, which I also need. Ahh. The life of the underprivileged."

Later in March, I sent home a "Top Ten Anagrams for Netscape Communications". I have no idea where I first got it, so apologies to whomever I ripped off:
Top Ten Anagrams for "Netscape Communications"

10.Companies can't consume it
9.I cannot compute sans mice
8.Can't access 'net... I'm on opium
7.Um, options scam can entice
6.Net's uncommon capacities
5.Connect communities, ASAP
4.Mosaic IPO, etc., can stun men
3.Optimum 'net access: An icon
2.Connect it up; amass income

And the number one anagram for "Netscape Communications":
1.Mosaic, minus neat concept

Just think, those e-mails home were from 11 years ago, and we're still talking about Netscape today. While AOL and Microsoft can take away the company and its browser, they can't take away its legacy. Long live Netscape.

Feedburner Milestone Reached: 200 Subscribers


Sometimes, a few days off can do you good. In my case, this holiday has given me more time to blog, and its paid off with strong traffic and new visitors. Yesterday night, for the first time in the history of louisgray.com, our Feedburner statistics reported 200 unique RSS feed subscribers.

While that's a molehill next to the mountains of TechCrunch, Mashable, Read/Write Web and the rest, its a number I've been watching. Other B-Listers, like WinExtra, Webomatica and ParisLemon, are in the same league.

As mentioned in my Christmas Day post, "Google Dominates My 2007 Blog Statistics", it'd be nice to have 500 subscribers or so by this time next year. If 2007's growth is any indication, we just might get that chance.

According to the chart, provided by Feedburner, at the top of this post, we first crossed the 50 subscribers threshold in April, and reached 100 in mid-August. Now, we're at 200 in late December, showing an approximate doubling every four months. You'll also see I wasn't doing much in 2006, and the occasional dip reflects a missing synch-up between Google's FeedFetcher and FeedBurner, much chronicled elsewhere.

If you're not yet a subscriber to louisgray.com's RSS feed, you should be. Sign up now!

December 27, 2007

Dave Winer Launches FlickrFan, Synching Photos With TV

Dave Winer, a true Web pioneer behind many of the major innovations of the last decade, including blogging, RSS and podcasting, to name a few minor ones, has fallen in love with the ability to bring a stream of photos via Flickr to your big screen television. Now, he's released a new app, in beta, for you to enjoy the same.

The new product, called FlickrFan, essentially connects your Mac screensaver with a stream of Flickr photos you have subscribed to, like RSS, and displays them on your TV or your Mac desktop. Of course, to get them to your TV, you need to attach your Mac, as he and Robert Scoble have done with their Mac Minis.

As with RSS, the possibilities here are wide-reaching. You could subscribe to photo streams from famous photographers and artists. You could follow friends or family, or famous people. But now, beyond the little screen of your computer, you have a new target - the big screen. Scoble swears by it.

It's only available for Mac users now, and we don't mind. Should be fun to watch its continued development. (Download it now)

Oh... and my boring photos are here.

As Google Relents, Spokeo Holds Tight to Auto-Friending

While Google Reader noisily backed off yesterday, stemming the tide of privacy complaints, other services, like Spokeo, are not changing their policies of automatically linking friends' data from one service to another.

In a post called, "Why we don’t require friend requests", Harrison, an occasional commenter on this blog, says that while some are uncomfortable with the idea their activities on one site will be shared with friends on another site, the service is simply utilizing public content, and as you don't need to ask permission to subscribe to somebody's RSS feed reader, you shouldn't have to ask permission to view their public Flickr photos, view their public Amazon Wish List, or view their public ratings of songs on Pandora, for example.

(See earlier coverage: Spokeo Upgrades RSS and Friend Tracker, Invites Available and PlugandPlay Expo Highlight: Spokeo)

New services like Spokeo thrive on transparency. If I have a friend on MySpace or Friendster, Spokeo will crawl popular services and find if I can get updates from their blogs or other activity. This can be done without the knowledge of the person being crawled, which is why I've heard other people refer to the company as "Spook-eo", remarking how spooky it is they can dredge up things you thought you had hidden away.

But Harrison brings up another great point, saying "We don't want to bother your friends."

I've complained ad nauseum about the stupid requests we get every day from applications my friends install on Facebook, or the countless e-mails from services I won't use, like Plaxo and Shelfari. If Spokeo sent out an e-mail to each friend to ask for permission to access each service, it'd be a nightmare.

It all comes back to the same issue, essentially, which we covered yesterday. If you have activity on the Web which is tied back to a single e-mail address or identity, it is public. That can range from posts on message boards years ago, to Google Reader shared items, to your del.icio.us bookmarks. There's no question I've probably said some silly things out there in the past I'd like erased, but we will live by transparency and die by it. I'm glad Spokeo isn't wussing out and changing its policy.

BlogBurst Intertwines New Media With the Old

Recently, I enrolled this blog in BlogBurst, a service which opts in your posts to traditional media, including Reuters, Fox News, and USA Today. It only took a few minutes to configure, and was worth taking a look at. Now, as of this morning, my first post, as far as I know, has been added to the Reuters news services, sitting alongside other wire stories from Reuters journalists.

See: Apple Finally Getting Around to iTunes Movie Rentals

This is both a positive development, and a negative one. It's good to gain the blog additional exposure, and have my content read by a new audience, but it also puts my posts on par with those from professional journalists with real-world fact checkers, editors and sources. Additionally, ads sold alongside the wire story will be gaining Reuters revenue, and not me.

I don't expect significant traffic to be referred my way from this service. It's just another distribution medium, like Digg, TechMeme or StumbleUpon. But this one comes with an old media brand.

December 26, 2007

Blogrunner Likes Me, TechMeme Hates Me

I've watched many a blogger follow the TechMeme feed, commenting on new, popular, stories as they happen, hoping to get captured as part of the ensuing "Discussion". There's not much mystery to it, and if you watch TechMeme for any amount of time, you can see who does it, versus who is actually adding new material.

I won't name names, as that's petty, but we have a good idea who they are, and so do they.

As I see this behavior, I have a natural tendency to actually avoid the more popular topics, so I'm not seen doing the same thing. In fact, had I not already talked ad nauseum about Google Reader and Apple TV, two of the most favored topics on this blog, I'd almost have skipped tonight's news on both. But, having written about both announcements, it's interesting to see that TechMeme's algorithm is keeping my comments out, and letting others in, while the New York Times' similar service, Blogrunner, found my post worth including.

Take a look at the below screen captures, taken around 11 p.m. Pacific tonight:

1. TechMeme's coverage of Google Reader's "Managing your shared items"


2. Blogrunner's coverage of Google Reader's "Managing your shared items"


In the first, I don't exist, whereas in the second, the post is prominent, though it will drop as new ones are added.

In June, we discussed, "What Should Drive TechMeme's Content?", as the powerful blog news aggregator is one of the very best of the Web, but often keeps people guessing and the non A-listers whining. Tonight's example, contrasting the two services, is quite interesting to see.

Apple Finally Getting Around to iTunes Movie Rentals

I'm hoping it's not in the "too little, too late" category for Apple TV, but it looks like Apple is finally making headway in negotiations with the major movie studios to offer customers the ability to rent films through iTunes, in addition to purchasing them outright. According to the Financial Times, Apple will likely announce a deal with 20th Century Fox at Macworld San Francisco next month kicking off a deal that would not only bring movie rentals to iTunes, but also DVDs rippable to iPods.

I've long said the Apple TV is on fumes without a rental option, and that if Apple could successfully roll out a movie rental service through iTunes, it could spell the death knell for services we enjoy today, from Netflix to Amazon Unbox and even Blockbuster.

While 20th Century Fox is said to be furthest along, the article also mentions Cupertino is working on also getting Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount and Warner Bros queued up. Here's to hoping Steve Jobs can pull out a big rabbit from his hat and make our early investment in the Apple TV a good one.

Also See:
Amazon Gets $11.97 of My Apple Money
Eight Reasons the Apple TV is Failing, and How It Can be Saved
Adding Movie Rentals to iTunes Would Save the Apple TV
Apple Entering Video Rental Download Market?
How Apple Could Crush Netflix Now

Google Reader Blinks, and the Mob Wins

As Google's features become more widely adopted, the company will have to transition from developing products an engineer would love to developing products that more mainstream, less geeky users can understand right away.

At times, it seems the company's high and mighty approach to software development can leave many guessing to their intentions, and the motto of "Don't Be Evil" just doesn't cut it any more.

As noted earlier today in my post "Forget About Privacy. Embrace Openness.", the blogosphere seemed up in arms over a recent innovation by the company's Google Reader team to tie in your "friends" list within GMail and GTalk with your shared items in Google Reader. While on its face, this innovation would more easily bring those things you find interesting to your friends, it instead raised holy Hell with those who never considered just who could gain access to a list of items they had made public. It had people screaming about privacy, saying Google had ruined Christmas, and had others demanding to know why someone they had a casual conversation with was somehow called their "friend".

While I believe the revolt was seriously overblown, and that those decrying the sharing need to wake up to the transparency of the Web, it looks like Google had enough bad press for one holiday, and cried Uncle. Tonight, the Google Reader team offered a new blog post, lightly titled "Managing your shared items", that enables you to make some of your "shared" items private. As they write, "Thanks to all our users for helping to make Google Reader better, so please keep your feedback coming!"

"Thanks for all the feedback" in Geek world is a euphemism for "Stop complaining and pointing out our problems!", slightly mixed with the angel dust of PR. And Google isn't a huge fan of bad PR, so they got this one fixed right away. For now... until their next innovation gets voted out by the TechMeme mob and non-expert netizens.

Forget About Privacy. Embrace Openness.

A couple weeks ago, when I was meeting with the Assetbar team, prior to getting my account, they asked, "How important is it for us to be able to block people from being able to 'follow' you?". I told them that it wasn't at all. If I join a site like Assetbar or FriendFeed, if I blog, or if I share items using Google Reader, I fully expect that content to be open to anyone capable of finding it. It's immediately in the public domain, as far as I am concerned.

That's why the ruckus over the last few weeks regarding Google Reader shared items is complete bollocks.

My Google Reader Shared Items has a public URL, which I've chosen to embed here on the blog. Others with shared items, including Arvin Dang, Jason Kaneshiro, Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins, Robert Scoble and Mathew Ingram, have similarly posted their shared items, in effect, giving you the option to surf the best of the blogosphere through their eyes.

But some are alarmed that people they didn't expect to read their shared items could. Some complained that competitors could see what they found interesting, and get to a story first. But cry me a river... if you've got some proprietary knowledge, keep it to yourself, and don't share it! That's why even though I read dozens and dozens of stories per day for work and have many search strings to find out about my company and the competition, I never share it in Google Reader, I never blog about it, and I never add those links to del.icio.us. Because when I do, it would cross the chasm from proprietary to public.

As a blogger, I am sharing my comments, insights, parts of my life and conversations with the Web at large, and through this, we've built a small community of frequent visitors and commenters. I do not believe I would be better served by putting my content behind a password-protected veil. I do not believe that I should be hiding my e-mail address or my cell phone number. I do not believe that my Google Reader shared items are not part of the public domain.

I believe as the Web evolves, the new generation of users will expect full transparency, and those of us resisting the change will be seen as dinosaurs. I want you to read my blog. I want you to subscribe to my RSS feed. I want you to befriend me on Facebook or follow me on FriendFeed. I want you to read my Google Reader link blog. I want you to follow me on AssetBar.

This is the way the Web is going, and we should take the blinders off our eyes.

See additional commentary:

Mathew Ingram: Google ruining Christmas? Get a grip
Robert Scoble: Google Reader needs GPC
Slashdot: Google Reader Begins Sharing Private Data
ParisLemon: Google Readers' Social Flaws Have Users Up In Arms

December 25, 2007

2007 Christmas: Four College Graduates Take On a Stupid Tree

After getting up way too early (as previously noted), the festivities kicked off in earnest around 9, when my wife started up an unbeatable brunch, complete with eggs, bacon, and homemade blueberry muffins. With the home full of good smells, my parents and youngest sister arrived, fresh off a 2-hour ride from Sacramento, their first time holding Christmas with us in the Bay Area. They ended up staying a full, eventful, eight hours.

As much fun as it is to receive gifts, it's even better to give, as we all know. This year, my wife was the recipient of a new suit (and matching skirt), our first camcorder (a Sony), dog calendars of the twelve-month and 365 day desk calendar variety, a new blue sweater, and a working cellphone, on Verizon. While I wasn't as giving with the rest of the family, we did get them a handful of games, both for playing with us, and with one another. As for me, I mostly gained a few items from my Amazon wish list.

But the hit of the day was the inexpensive remote control airplane I got my dad (similar to this one), still a kid at the young age of fifty-four.

We took the airplane out to a local elementary school, practicing take-offs and landings, and got some good air, but the winds were too gusty, and too many obstacles spelled certain death for the new toy. So the five of us packed into the car and headed to the football field at Palo Alto High School with the goal of a more successful venture. Yet, no sooner than we arrived did we find more trouble.

After seeing the plane bump, bump its way into a few false starts, we would start the motor as I threw it aloft, and into flight. On our second try, it spun, spiraling ever higher and further away, as my dad guided it through the sky. Eventually, it was out of reach of the remote control signal, and kept going despite my dad's shouts. Sure enough, it came to rest in a tree on the opposite side of the fence, a good 20 feet into the air, nearly obscured by branches.

We made our way to the crash site and eventually spotted the plane, but had no easy way to get it down. The tree was unclimbable, and as my dad got on the roof of one of the school's portable classrooms, he could not shake the limb to dislodge the plane. From below, I threw tennis balls, but could do no damage. Later, we moved upwards to throwing a softball, which would more likely hit a branch and make me cower below than anything else. Then, I found a soccer ball, and started to throw it toward the plane. No luck.

Sure enough, the soccer ball too got stuck. Then, so did the softball. For those scoring at home, we now had four college graduates, and a college senior staring at a tree with a plane and two balls stuck in its branches. What to do? I looked around and found a thick stick I could throw javelin style, at the plane, or the soccer ball. It stuck too. That led to a 2 by 4 plank of plywood, which after a few tosses, made its way into the tree, making the score one plane, two balls and two planks of wood for the tree, and nothing for us.

At this point, my mom and my wife took off to go get a ladder, laughing at our foolishness. But we didn't give up. I dislodged the plank of wood, and later, the softball, and after just swearing the softball would be useless, I hit the branch holding the plane, and it fluttered down to us below, making the endeavor a success. At this point, I'm plenty dirty and sweating a little. My hands have splinters. The soccer ball is still up there, as far as I know. My dad is on the cell phone, calling my mom to abort "Operation: Ladder Retrieval". It turned out that the actual search for the plane was more fun than flying the plane had proven to be, and we can all laugh about it now. My wife and mom returned, shaking their heads at us, as we piled in the car, and headed home, swearing the next time that plane flies, there will be no wind, and no trees, period.

Coming home, we battled one another on the Nintendo Wii, alternating bowling with tennis, and said our goodbyes. It wasn't a textbook Christmas, but the silliness and togetherness made it even better than had it been scripted. I hope that you too enjoyed your Christmas, and that you aren't one to leave that plane behind when it seems even two sticks, two balls and a little sweat won't get the job done.

Google Dominates My 2007 Blog Statistics

In honor of Christmas, and wrapping up the end of the year, it's pretty easy to see that 2007 was a revolution for louisgray.com, as we worked to mature the blog from a self-focused journal to a resource for technology news, Web 2.0 insights and interaction with a focused community.

Using the Analog Web log analysis software, it's reported that more than 1.1 million Web pages were read, good for more than 3,000 per day, transferring more than 100 gigabytes of data.


We went from serving up nearly 25,000 pages in the month of January to more than 130,000 in the record-breaking month of October, which also served up 15 gigabytes of data.

But most interestingly, if we walk down the 12 most popular posts of the year, from January 1 through today, one name pops to the very top - Google. Take a look:

Rank
Blog Post
Page Views
1.Soft-Core Porn, Sex Themes
Power Google Video
10,400
2.Google's Earth Day Logo Makes a Splash6,700
3.10 Suggestions to Improve Google Reader5,400
4.Facebook Google Reader App Rebrands As Feedheads3,200
5.Internal Linking On Some Tech Blogs Is Out of Control3,100
6.The Biggest Blogs Aren't Really Blogs Any More2,800
7.The Apple TV Debate Is Upside Down2,100
8.Hype It Up: Ballhype Is Here to Change the Game1,700
9.Google Video Still Peddling Soft-Core Porn Smut1,700
10.Eight Reasons the Apple TV is Failing,
and How It Can be Saved
1,700
11.BitTorrent Bails Me Out on TiVo's Simpsons Miss1,700
12.I Have Seen the Future of Social RSS Feed Readers1,600


And where did they all come from? Google, Google and Google, of course. Google Images, Google Reader and Google Search dominated referrals to the site this year, with BlogLines following behind. Additional bumps came from the occasional mention on Scobleizer.com, Digg.com and TechMeme.


I don't have "hard" expectations for this blog, but I would hope 2008 sees at least a doubling of total page views, and it'd be great to at least double RSS subscribers as well. As we're approaching 200 now on Feedburner, I think 500 would be a nice goal for Christmas next year. If you're not yet subscribed, get your e-mail on the list!

Also, for more end of year summaries, check out Pro Blogger's What was your most popular post in 2007? and Webomatica's 2007 summary.

Santa Needs a Quieter Sleigh

While Saint Nick has clearly sustained viability in a go-go world of e-commerce, e-greeting cards and PayPal, his transportation vehicle is in serious need of an upgrade - and I for one call on Silicon Valley to aid him in his quest to more efficiently deliver gifts to children young and old worldwide, in less time, with less ruckus and more efficiency.

Depending on which part of the world you reside, Santa may stop at your home anywhere between 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. local time on Christmas morning, from what I understand.

This year, he reached Palo Alto just about 3 a.m. I know this, because he woke me up, and we haven't been to sleep since.

His overburdened sleigh, with the unmistakeable clattering of hooves and heavy breathing from the crew of reindeer, out of shape from their months of inactivity, delivered such a clamor that it not only startled me awake, but jolted our two dogs and a cat out of their slumber, sending us on a so-far unsuccessful quest to get them back to rest and comfortable in their beds.

Now, nearing 5 a.m., while Santa is no doubt well west of here, his impact is still being felt. The presents are glistening in the living room, but while we're awake, there's little we can do, until my wife wakes up, and my parents arrive later this morning. Christmas morning, for us, has started far too early, and there's a certain jolly old man we have to blame.

Silicon Valley, if you can harness the power of the sun to energize homes, and send data across the world at the speed of light, surely you can find a way to reduce the drastic amount of burden left on this one man each year, and give those of us with sensitive ears and a restless stable of critters a chance to get through the night without interruption. This is your call, and duty.

December 23, 2007

Sunday Spikes Belie Day of "Rest"


Over the last 30 days, my three most highly-trafficked days on the blog are Sundays. Although typically, one can expect lower numbers of visitors on the weekend, with Saturday trailing Sunday, it's been this traditional "day of rest" that's gained the most activity over the last three weeks.

As you can see in the above graph, it seems my Saturday activity has often led to Sunday traffic, first with commenting on Feedheads' growth to 10,000 users two weeks ago, to the AssetBar preview last week. And for some reason, that story has resurged today, with StumbleUpon visitors once again giving it a whirl.

While I'm still no A-lister or record breaker, I love finding stories in the statistics, and SiteMeter is showing us an interesting one here. How are your Sundays shaping up? Is this an aberration, or a trend?

Want to Subscribe to this Blog by E-mail? Use Feedblitz.

Feedburner reports there are nearly 200 people who have added louisgray.com to their RSS feed subscriptions. The vast majority of these subscribers use an online tool, like Google Reader, Bloglines or NewsGator. But there is still a core group out there who would prefer to use e-mail, and get a daily update, rather than be sure they are caught up to the very minute.

That's where Feedblitz comes in. I've been a consistent user of Feedblitz for almost two years, and just over a dozen folks, myself included, are used to getting updates from my blog every day. But, in 2007, I didn't see this number move much, even as my total subscribers jumped by more than 600%.

So, with my latest blog template tweaks, I removed Feedblitz. But, in a conversation I had with Fred Wilson of A VC, he reported 10% of his subscribers used Feedblitz, and they tended to be "a very active 10% because it's delivered to the inbox."

So, with his comments, and in support of Phil Hollows, the company's Founder and CEO, who e-mailed me to see if there was anything he could do to help, we're both polling you, and offering the opportunity to subscribe.

Do you want to get louisgray.com by e-mail? If you do, then sign up here, or from the top right corner of any page on this blog. There's just one mailing, maximum, per day, around 11 p.m. Pacific time, which usually contains two posts.

Has the ease of online feed readers eliminated the need to send blogs by e-mail? I thought they had. Let me know what you think.

December 22, 2007

My Contrarian Move to eTrade Bank

It seems nary a day goes by without getting a new story from Silicon Alley Insider or another financial pub commenting on eTrade's woes. While the company's recent struggles have been well documented, many are waiting for the other shoe to drop - the declaration of bankruptcy, the report of massive losses, or a stream of customers heading for the exits. (See: E*Trade Tries to Instill Confidence, Fails)

Amid the din of bad news, I've already said I'm not leaving.

In fact, I'm doubling down, not only by staying with the firm on the brokerage side, but in a new development, I've opened up an account with eTrade's bank as well. Now, from one institution, I can have my stock activity, as well as checking and savings. And I've picked eTrade.

Why? It's actually quite simple. eTrade offers 4% or greater interest in checking, while my Wells Fargo account counters with 1/2 of 1 percent - eight times less. Also, instead of waiting days to transfer money from my bank to the brokerage, it should take minutes. And with eTrade, I don't have to pay ATM fees anywhere. Effectively, every ATM on the planet is now my bank's branch. No more hunting down Wells Fargo and avoiding Bank of America, or requesting cash back at the supermarket.

Essentially, my money is now easier to get to, easier to move and easier to see grow. While eTrade takes its time to sort out its own financial issues, I've got mine solved.

The Crunchies 2007: My Voting


According to TechCrunch, more than 82,000 nominations were given for companies and products that best deserve industry recognition for their effort in the past year. They were then whittled down to a final 100 in a wide variety of categories.

Here's how I am voting:
Category: Best technology innovation/achievement:
Vote: Move Networks

Category: Best Bootstrapped Start-up
Vote: FriendFeed

Category: Best New Gadget/Device
Vote: Wii

Category: Best Business Model
Vote: Zazzle

Category: Best Design
Vote: SmugMug

Category: Best Enterprise Start-up
Vote: Zoho

Category: Best Consumer Start-up
Vote: LinkedIn

Category: Best Mobile Start-up
Vote: Twitter

Category: Best International Start-up
Vote: Netvibes

Category: Best User-Generated Content Site
Vote: Facebook

Category: Best Video Site:
Vote: Joost

Category: Best Clean Tech Start-up:
Vote: Tesla Motors

Category: Best Use of Viral Marketing:
Vote: StumbleUpon

Category: Best Time Sink Site:
Vote: Pandora

Category: Most Likely to Make the World a Better Place:
Vote: Kiva

Category: Most Likely to Succeed:
Vote: Wordpress

Category: Best Start-up Founder:
Vote: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Category: Best Start-up CEO:
Vote: Dick Costolo (Feedburner)

Category: Best New Start-up of 2007:
Vote: Tumblr

Category: Best Overall:
Vote: Facebook
Robert Scoble also posted his Crunchies Votes. We agreed on only 7 of the 20 categories.

FestivusFeed: FriendFeed Airs Your Grievances

What do you get when you cross the holiday season with Web 2.0 technology, some free time and a sense of humor? If you're FriendFeed, you develop a new service called "Festivus Feed", letting us FriendFeed Addicts air our grievances toward one another, and the technology market in general, in the Festivus tradition, "Airing of Grievances".

The new service, which debuted late last night, celebrates the Seinfeld-inspired alternative holiday, and features the much-famed Festivus Pole, as you can see below.


My Grievance: Robert Scoble joins every network but this one. :-)

While the Festivus Feed is wrapped in fun, it does mask a true innovation, the ability to post directly to the FriendFeed news feed, in an interesting cross between Twitter and traditional chat. Now, FriendFeed offers the ability to combine your activity from services around the Web, it lets you post individual stories through its bookmarklet, and gives the option to post comments directly. I can't wait to see the new innovations this company has planned for New Year's Day.

See also: ParisLemon: FriendFeed Morphs Into FestivusFeed for the Holidays! and Paul Buchheit: Twas the night before Festivus... or follow me on FriendFeed here.

December 21, 2007

Amazon Gets $11.97 of My Apple Money

With the new TiVo HD installed, we have access to the Amazon unbox service, letting us rent popular movie titles directly through the TiVo box. For only $3.99, we can download everything from "The Simpsons Movie" to Jim Carrey's "The Number 23" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", and keep each show at home for a full 30 days.

So now, from one box, I can record multiple TV channels simultaneously, get recommendations for new shows I would like, stream my iTunes and iPhoto library via TiVo Desktop, and download movies from Amazon.

Meanwhile, my Apple TV just sits there. If Apple offered movie rentals through iTunes, I'd likely have bought them through iTunes, out of loyalty, and the company's typical leading interface and ease of use. But they don't... still. So tonight, I purchased three films for $3.99 apiece, totaling $11.97, sending my money to Seattle, Washington instead of nearby Cupertino.

The more I can do with my TiVo HD or my Wii, the less I see myself using the Apple TV. The Apple TV still offers the best way to get my full iTunes Library and access YouTube through the television, but that's it. And if I keep using the Amazon unbox service and find myself happy with it, then I just might become a fairly loyal customer for them instead, even if Apple eventually follows on with movie rentals.

Apple, your time for leadership with the Apple TV has passed. Now, just get your act together and stop forcing me to give my money to your competition.

AssetBar Early Access Delayed, Invites To Come Soon

Response to Saturday's note on AssetBar's imminent debut was a lot of fun to see, as the story stirred up quite a bit of interest this week. The post hit StumbleUpon, gaining hundreds of visitors, and, garnered links from a number of sources, including Library Stuff and Harsite.com.

Meanwhile, my e-mail inbox has been inundated with dozens of new account requests.


A screenshot of Assetbar in action

There is clearly demand for change in the RSS feed reading and consumption space, and I believe think AssetBar has seized upon an incredible opportunity to combine what's traditionally been a passive event with social activity. But while I expected to hand out new invite information to the several dozen people who have sent me e-mail, I'm waiting to hear back from the company's developers, who are still working to move the service to a more robust setup in anticipation of wider use. (See: Pre-Launch delayed: Bugs to Blame)

So don't panic if you haven't yet gotten an invite. I have all the requests flagged in my e-mail in box, and will get them to you as quickly as I can. And the wait... will be worth it. If you didn't yet request an invite, please send me an e-mail, and I'll alert you as quickly as possible.

December 20, 2007

Apple Posts "An Inconvenient Price" for Gore Documentary

Aside from a single presidential race, Al Gore has won quite a bit over the last few years, including an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. He won by getting on Apple's board of directors, and he won by being a high profile advisor to Google. He's winning by being affiliated with Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers and is winning by not being a part of the 2008 presidential race, already crowded with good candidates. But his ground-breaking film, "An Inconvenient Truth", is losing opportunities on Apple's iTunes store, both by being too highly priced, and by being incorrectly labeled.

Most Apple films are $9.99 apiece, unless they are a new release, in which case they are usually $12.99. Other sought after films gain a $14.99 price tag, as Gore's film has.

Amusingly, if you go the Movie channel in Apple's iTunes store, and select "$9.99 Movies", "An Inconvenient Truth" is included, with its $14.99 price.


So are a number of other titles, including "Babel", "Freedom Writers", "Glastonbury", "Jackass 2", "Jump In!", "Nacho Libre", "The Prestige", "An Unreasonable Man", and possibly more, all of which retail for $14.99.

So what is the criteria for being listed in the "$9.99 Movies" category, if not price? Is it arbitrary? Is it a bad script that just says (price ≠ $12.99)?

Whatever it is, it's fairly inconvenient that Al Gore's great documentary is included here, as potential buyers are turned away, seeing the quintessential movie of the generation on the environment remind us instead of waste - that of money.

December 19, 2007

We Welcome iPod Touch to the Family


Home is Where the iPods Gather

Despite my role as an unrepentant Mac geek, I've been a longtime (for me) holdout in the iPod Touch/iPhone arena. After my 60 Gigabyte iPod Photo started trying to die, I switched to the cheaper, lighter, iPod Shuffle for music, and the upgrade to a new MacBook Pro negated the need to cart the old iPod around solely for disk storage. When the iPod Touch and iPhone came out, I knew they were leagues beyond what I had, but as much as I knew I wanted them, I couldn't justify buying them.

So, imagine my delight when a frequent reader of this blog saw my call for help last Saturday, and bought me an iPod Touch.

Today, FedEx dropped off a package from Amazon.com at the office, containing a brand-new 16 gigabyte iPod Touch, free of charge. Now, thanks to their overwhelming generosity, I can watch videos in wide-screen mode, I can browse YouTube, I can download TV shows and take them with me, in my pocket, and browse the Web anywhere I can get WiFi. This new device, already far better than any iPod I've ever had, will be an amazing gadget for cross-country flights, and it makes me feel whole again, as a Mac geek. I no longer have to admit being so far behind when friends show me their iPod Touch, and when iPhones come up, at least I can keep my head up.

Since unwrapping the new iPod Touch, I loaded up more than 1,200 songs, visited a few Web sites, including FriendFeed and Louisgray.com. I logged into our company's Webmail access for Exchange, and it performed flawlessly. I checked out YouTube, enjoyed CoverFlow, and keep rotating the device to see the screen's orientation change. It's just too cool.


The Real Internet, In Your Pocket

As you can see in the top photo, the iPod Touch joins our first and second generation iPod Shuffles and the aforementioned iPod Photo in the louisgray.com household. Now, I will retire our iPod Photo to its permanent roost atop our iHome alarm clock, my wife will utilize the 2nd generation iPod Shuffle, and in the case I need to travel light, I'll keep my 1st generation Shuffle around. But if anybody tries to tell you there's such a thing as too many iPods, they're wrong. Just make sure the iPod Touch is one of them!

December 18, 2007

Doubling Down On Our TiVo Obsession

Not too long ago, I mentioned I had taken TiVo up on the company's offer to add a TiVo HD unit to our house and maintain our lifetime subscription, all while keeping our old unit up and running for 12 months. And while I got the new Tivo HD shipped some time ago, it didn't get set up until yesterday, thanks to my needing to install new cable cards, and having to wait around for Comcast to offer me the privilege of utilizing their services.

While relying on the cable company to show up in the all too familiar "8 to 12" window isn't fun, their serviceman came by yesterday and did a quick, efficient job.

After I configured the TiVo HD unit in our bedroom, attached to our 42-inch plasma TV, I took our old unit back to the living room, to our long-neglected 27-inch CRT, and got that one set up. Now, instead of my wife and I having to share the one functioning TiVo in the house, we can both be watching our recorded shows, pausing and rewinding live TV, and avoiding commercials. It's yet another excuse for us to be spending time apart while we're both at home!

While this is a tremendous advance, graduating from our current setup to home entertainment nirvana will still take quite a bit of work, however. We still need to:

1) Sell or give away our oak entertainment center (almost completed!)
2) Purchase a flat-screen plasma or LCD for the living room, getting rid of the older TV
3) Put the plasma TV on the wall in the bedroom (not the dresser)
4) Put the new, not yet purchased, TV on the wall in the living room
5) Move the Wii and Apple TV to the living room
6) Consider getting real home theater audio

As you can see, this project could take a while, especially at my typical glacial pace. We love our TiVos, and are excited to have the power of TiVo throughout the house now, but it's always good to have a plan to take things to the next level.

And yes, I haven't lost the irony that now we've gotten our second TiVo, there's absolutely no new TV to watch, thanks to the writer's strike. I guess that's why I'm watching ESPN Classic's rebroadcast of the 2004 league championship series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Please don't tell me who wins.

December 16, 2007

Millions and Millions of Search Results... Ignored

When you put a common term into a search engine, you're likely to get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of search results, whether you use Google, Yahoo!, or any other leading engine.

In fact, to some, the vast number of search results is used to see which search engine crawler has done the most thorough job at indexing the Web - and it's assumed that with the most results has the superior algorithm.

But did you know that regardless of how many results there might actually be for a query, both Google and Yahoo! will only let you see the first 1,000?


Sorry, can't go past page 100. You've reached the end.

This artificial limit is excused as saying the limit has been put in place to reduce software and hardware resources, and that 1,000 results is good enough for most people. So you'll never, ever, get past page 100 on Google or Yahoo!, even if a search for "Google" on either engine shows more than 1 billion results.


But it's retrieving that data somewhere, right? If Google has a mountain of results available for a term, and only delivers the top 1,000, then some database somewhere knows what are the results for positions 1,001 to 9,999 and beyond, to the tens of millions. Yet users have no recourse if they want to peer into that index. There's no option to "Show all results" or "Display the top 10,000 results". Google and Yahoo! have arbitrarily decided that 1,000 is good enough for you, and that's that.

Do you feel lucky? Some have said Google overwhelmingly optimizes for the first results, and as the company writes, "We try to make your search experience so efficient that it's not necessary to scroll past the first ten listings."

But isn't it likely that there are projects out there where it would be helpful to analyze the top 5,000 results? Or 20,000? If you were an SEO firm, there are obvious benefits to this, or if you're doing any kind of artificial intelligence research, Google would be one of the best data pools out there.

So why are they doing this? It looks like even Google, who is assumed to have one of the most redundant, robust systems known to man, is trying to save money and resources. They write, in an explanation, "It would heavily tax our system to provide these results for everyone."

While that's understood, then what data is propping up Yahoo! or Google's claims that they have the most thorough results? Could the last step from Google's algorithm state (multiply results x 2), solely to have the biggest number available? After all, if you could only see the first 1,000, why not report you got eleventy trillion? There's got to be a way to get to the rest of the data.

(Also see: Search Engine Roundtable, Instant Fundas and FirstStop WebSearch for more...)

December 15, 2007

I Have Seen the Future of Social RSS Feed Readers

Reading one's RSS feeds today is a journey of isolation.

Whether you use Google Reader, NewsGator or BlogLines, the typical interaction with a new feed item is to read it, and then move on, until you hit the next item. Some feed readers, including Google, have let you take things a step further, by sharing your favorites in a shared items link blog.

Recently, Google has made some noise about getting more interactive, through recommending feeds based on your Web history and subscriptions, or show that multiple people with link blogs shared a specific item.

Good. But not good enough. Not nearly enough.

Despite these efforts, I have no idea, for the most part, who my RSS feed suscribers are, and Google Reader doesn't tell me who is reading my shared link blog, what are the most popular shared items, or what my friends are reading. While I'm going through hundreds of feeds a day and almost a thousand items, I am not telling people what I think. I'm not adding comments, and I'm not getting social with others like me reading the same thing. And when I find something on the Web I'd like to share via Google Reader, I can't do it.


Google Reader can't do this...



Google Reader can't do this either...


And you know what? I don't think Google is going to get me there. After all, it took the company's interns to deliver their newest features... and some former Googlers are showing how easy it is to make new, more social, services, like FriendFeed, while Google stays comparatively quiet.

Today, I got a sneak peek preview of a brand-new application, called AssetBar, set to hit the Web in the next month, which not only lets you read your feeds, and share what you find the most interesting, but lets you select friends based on your interests, lets you share individual items with one or more friends directly, tells you how many times a feed or item has been read, and what others think about it.

The tool even lets you go beyond feeds, offering integration with services including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Pownce and more.

Utilizing an extremely scalable database built for this purpose, AssetBar does what Google Reader cannot do. It eliminates duplicate feed items. It shows me what are the most frequently shared feeds and posts. It allows for customization, where Google Reader does not. And it, like Friendfeed, allows me to share items with my friends or all viewers outside of feeds. If I want to share a screenshot of the Apple Web site, I simply click "Share on AssetBar" in my Firefox toolbar, select an image, write a note, and it's off.

There are calls far and wide from the Web for change. Take a look just from the last week's comments in blogs I read:

Kent Newsome says, "Bloglines is still slow and unreliable. I tried hard (for the third time) to use Google Reader, but I can't. I hate Google Reader. In fact, I could write 1000 pages on how much I dislike the interface."

Robert Scoble writes, in "Workaround for Google Reader’s suckage", "I still wish the Google Reader team would do a better job of getting rid of duplicates."

Webomatica says, "Let me just say that I now have nearly 1,500 articles waiting for me on a daily basis. And even as I try to comb through them, more appear as I mark others read. It’s like a fire hose aimed at my head."

AssetBar, while still teething through the development process, offers the most potential to successfully bridge the gap between high-volume RSS feed reading, and social interaction. Come this January, you'll get the opportunity to give it a trial run and see if it just might deliver on the promise of the true Web 2.0, and make RSS not just a passive, solitary sport, but a social, multi-dimensional activity. I bet, that with focused development, and your collective feedback, it can get there. And it just might see me leaving Google Reader behind.

If you want to get your hands dirty and test out a early pre-release version of AssetBar, send me an e-mail, or post a comment here, with your e-mail address, and I'll hook you up. If you don't want to get in on the bleeding edge, stay tuned here, and visit the AssetBar Web log. We will both keep you posted.