October 31, 2007

All Out of Spokeo Invites, but Not Out of Updates

That sure didn't take long. After last night's post, offering five Spokeo invites to anyone interested, they are all accounted for. And the company wrote me this evening to say that until they order 30 more servers, "my engineering team would not let me give out more invitations." Dang.

So why all the interest? Just look at what's happening out there. The big rumors are all about how Google is going to team up with a host of "also-ran" social networks for an open social platform, including Ning, Hi5 and the like. There is a lust for a single stop to get all your updates, instead of having a dozen or so bookmarks to troll through on a daily basis.

Spokeo's spokesperson (a.k.a. Spokeosperson) reminded me that I glossed over what he felt to be "the biggest feature" in yesterday's release. Essentially, you can now import your address book from AOL, Hotmail, GMail or Yahoo! and automatically, Spokeo will spider out that person's social networks, dragging in updates from MySpace, Flickr, Pandora and the like.

Though I'd seen the feature yesterday, I hadn't used it, as I don't really use those e-mail accounts all that much - preferring to stick with Mac.com for personal e-mail (not yet supported).

But it does work, as you can see on the right. I input my long-neglected Yahoo! and GMail accounts and started seeing photos of people I hadn't talked to in a few years. More than getting me updated on them, it just reminded me I should clean out my online address books!

And therein lies the rub. I love the idea of Spokeo, and trust me, I'm using it, but they still don't support the networks I have embraced: Facebook and LinkedIn, and they don't support imports from Mac.com or from my Apple Address book (via VCF cards). Until that changes, this admittedly very cool feature won't add me much value.

Regardless, if you are a Yahoo!/Gmail/AOL/Hotmail junkie and you keep your address books tidy, this feature can save you a lot of manual labor for sure. We'll keep waiting and watching for more updates.

Web 2.0 Logos Celebrate Halloween - You Scared?

It's October 31st, which can only mean that while the kids go door to door to get candy, we're going from Web site to Web site to find out which Web companies are embracing Halloween in the true tradition of logo modification!

Google, which has a very long history of this thing, is of course participating. So is Google's subsidiary, YouTube, and Google competitors, Yahoo! and Technorati. Even Friendfeed, started by some ex-Googlers, has debuted a great Halloween logo.

Can you find any notable Halloween themed logos out there that I missed, and hopefully some that have absolutely zero to do with Google? Post them in the comments, and we can update the picture.

Double Feature Movie Night In Denver

With no scheduled appointments or meetings in the morning, Kristine and I took advantage of our evening and caught a double feature at the movie theater here in Denver tonight, catching George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" and Steve Carell in "Dan In Real Life" back to back - the first show at 8, and the second starting just after 10 local time.

Of the two, Michael Clayton was better designed, in my opinion. Of the many hundreds of actors who have tried to make the jump from television to the big screen, George Clooney has been among the best to pull it off. He's become a must-see actor, and has chosen some aggressive roles, such as that in "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Syriana", which were both quite notable. Carell seems to be working on his role as the next Jim Carrey, alternating slapstick humor with oddly fitting serious roles. Though he was fantastic in "Little Miss Sunshine", "Dan In Real Life" didn't feel like a modern-day classic by any stretch.

Michael Clayton dealt with Clooney's acting the part of a bagman for a top legal firm, whose job it was to clean up messes, only to get embroiled in one larger than he ever expected, which threatens to cost him his life. Though a subplot of his getting in money trouble due to a wayward brother was weak, it did serve to distinguish him from the high-rolling jet set lawyers who surrounded him.

Dan In Real Life followed a typical storyline of a lonely author seeking companionship, but finding it just out of reach. Though the plot was augmented with his being a widower with three young daughters, and sibling rivalry over a mysterious woman, it floated along surreally, with the occasional joke, while we all waited out the inevitable finish. Of course, the fact we lost video in the theater on three occasions didn't do the film any good. If I were more punitive, I'd have demanded a refund.

We haven't taken the time in recent months to be caught up at the big screen. I'm glad we took the time today and didn't have to rush home to feed the dog or get up early enough to keep our schedule normal.

Spokeo Upgrades RSS and Friend Tracker, Invites Available

Spokeo, the social networks and RSS feed aggregator who I first covered in September, is continuing to expand its product, with the goal of becoming a one-stop destination to get all updates from your friends in multiple social networks, rather than visiting each of them one by one. Like Friendfeed (covered here), Spokeo is looking to transcend the diversity of vertical social networks and provide users with one destination to not only get alerted to the latest news, but see exactly what friends are doing.

Tonight, as mentioned on the company's blog, Spokeo enhanced its services to better find friends' hidden MySpace pages or Flickr accounts, effectively helping you to sleuth out their content, rather than waiting for it to come to you.

While that was the banner headline of the announcement, I can already see some more under the hood changes. The site's main feed, where I have a few hundred RSS subscriptions, now shows more than just the headline, but often excerpts of a paragraph or so (like Google Reader's expanded view).

The site also added a tweak so that instead of viewing your feeds at www.spokeo.com, you're now redirected to www.spokeo.com/user - not to be confused with your user name or real name. Just "user", which obviously means an engineer chose that directory and not the Marketing team. Engineers always call users users... and it takes marketing to recognize we're actually people. (For example: My Friendfeed URL is http://friendfeed.com/louisgray -- a real name!)

Existing Spokeo users also can now invite up to five friends to the service. The whole idea of a limited beta is to drive up demand and show scarcity. After all, it worked so well for Google with GMail, didn't it?

If you want a Spokeo account, either leave a comment with your e-mail address, or send me an e-mail directly, and I'll be happy to invite you. While Spokeo doesn't yet have all the features of Google Reader, I have seen many cases where I get the RSS feeds fetched more quickly on Spokeo than from Google. More on that later.

October 30, 2007

No, I'm Not Your SF Bay Area Earthquake Expert

Wouldn't you know it? Just yesterday, I was joking with my wife that the one thing about California I'm missing by being in Colorado this week was the potential for an earthquake. Seriously. It always seems the "interesting" earthquakes take place when we're out of town, so the next time we're traveling, we'll be sure to warn you, as this evening the Bay Area was hit with a 5.6 magnitude event, the strongest in nearly 20 years.

How do you think I found about it? I certainly didn't feel it here in Denver. And nobody called to see if we were okay, as anybody who would care already knew we weren't in the danger zone.

I found out because while thumbing through the referrals to my blog on the Blackberry during some downtime, an odd string of searches from Google started popping up: "recent earthquake in silicon valley", "earthquake hits bay area", "was it an earthquake tonight in sf bay area?" and "sf earthquake tonight" for starters...

That of course got me curious. First, it turns out a note from early March (Yet Another Small Earthquake Hits SF Bay Area) is #2 worldwide in Google for "recent earthquake in Silicon Valley" and #1 for "was it an earthquake tonight in sf bay area?". People from around the Web were looking for answers, hoping I could help.

A few clicks later, and I too was finding out the news. I've talked about earthquakes before on the blog, in December 2006 and June 2006, and I actually see them as a unique bit of California, something to be respected but not feared.

We don't get home until late Monday night, but we don't expect anything to be different. The flat-screen TV better be right where we left it, and the house better be in the same level of disarray we saw when we closed the door Sunday. And maybe the next time there's a good-sized earthquake, I'd like to not find out about it from my Web log statistics.

October 29, 2007

Eight Reasons the Apple TV is Failing, and How It Can be Saved

I enthusiastically bought the Apple TV early this year, and was among the first to receive it when Apple started fulfilling orders. But what could have been the best conduit between the Internet and my Television has turned out to instead be a reminder of what even good technology companies can do when they don't make a product line a priority. Should Apple continue to neglect the Apple TV, it just might disappear altogether, and I'd be stuck using mine as an expensive conduit for playing iTunes, as I do now.

(See also: Jeremy Toeman: Why isn’t AppleTV an actual TV?)

Why the Apple TV is Failing

1. No Compelling Exclusive Content

Sometimes a killer application, game or content can drive a product from one of the crowd to a must-have. Witness how the X-Box, largely ignored in light of the Nintendo Wii's success, spiked in demand with the launch of Halo 3. The Apple TV, and its content provider, iTunes, don't offer any compelling television or film content that can't be found elsewhere. Bringing YouTube to the big screen isn't exactly innovative either.

2. No Flexibility In Displaying Content

Locking customers into iTunes and the iTunes Music store sold tens of millions of iPods. But the fact that I can't take downloaded .avi files, DiVx files, RealPlayer, Windows Media or anything else from my computer to the Apple TV, with the exception of QuickTime videos or iTunes downloads reduces my options to use it. Just like Apple once embraced the "Rip. Mix. Burn." slogan to attract downloaders, there's a mountain of people using BitTorrent and other services to get movies free. The Apple TV could become a must have box for those guys if they had an outlet. A simple tagline of "Don't Steal Movies" would give Apple enough cover, as the line "Don't Steal Music" once did.

3. TV is Free, Stupid

Let's see. I can either watch a show live for free with commercials, I could record it to my TiVo for free and skip commercials, or I could pay $1.99 to get commercial-free 22 minute episodes of my shows. I think I'll take the TiVo method. The iTunes package worked great for music because consumers were accustomed to paying for music, but we're not accustomed to paying for TV.

4. Purchasing Movies Makes Little Sense

How often do you watch movies more than once, even the classics? Not too often. There are many outlets to rent movies and return them, from NetFlix to BlockBuster and beyond. Why would I pay anywhere from $10 to $15 to wipe out a gigabyte of hard drive space and not enjoy it more than once? I haven't purchased a single movie from iTunes still, and can't think of why I would. (Also: See above for BitTorrent allowing for free downloads today or my post from April)

5. Apple Is Distracted

Apple only mentioned the Apple TV once during the last quarter's financial earnings call. They don't care, so why should we care? They don't even want to tell you how many they sold, and it's no secret that if a company won't break out one product line, but does for all the others, they're hiding something. With the iPhone, Leopard and Mac sales taking the headlines, the Apple TV is getting the short shrift. The recent ugly spat between NBC and Apple made it clear that nobody is winning the revenue game there when it comes to film and TV downloads through iTunes.

6. Apple Isn't Supporting Eager Developers

The Apple TV is a cleverly disguised cheap Macintosh, and the developer community was once excited enough to hack into the box to run native applications and get the Apple TV to act more like a Mac. With the right support, the Apple TV could be extended to be an excellent game machine, to add more video sources, and grab the eye of the geek community.

7. iTunes is Losing the Video Streaming War

One of today's biggest pieces of news was Hulu, NBC's attempt to take TV shows online, supported by commercials. ABC has long done the same thing. Joost has some extremely compelling software that lets me select shows on demand, run streaming from other computers, with minimal advertising. To even watch a single episode from iTunes, I have to download the whole thing and then sync it to the Apple TV.

8. iTunes and the Apple TV Have No Answer for Rentals

In my mind, it would be incredibly easy for Apple to offer movie rentals, with DRM, that would get me to download movies from iTunes. I would dump my NetFlix account if I could get films from iTunes to the Apple TV in an hour, rather than the days it takes to turn my NetFlix account around. But while there have been rumors about the service's debut now and again, we've got absolutely nothing to show for it.

How the Apple TV Can Be Saved

1. A Solution for Movie Rentals is Needed Now

Suck it up, Steve. Admit that people don't want to own their movies the way they own their music. Precedent has been set that movies are to be watched once or a few times, not many times (See my note from January). And as fast as networks are getting and as big as hard drives are getting, the concept of downloading movies of any quality is still a big deal. Let me download, watch, and delete. That's all I want. You work out the business model.

2. Cut Exclusive Deals With Movie Studios

Can you imagine if movies debuted in the theater at the same time as they did on iTunes? If I could see those films playing in the box office on my home screen instead of having to go to a theater, with its crowds, sticky floors and crying babies, I would do it. But if I have to wait 6-9 months to get it on iTunes, by that point I've either seen it already or stopped caring.

3. Make the Box Something New: A Game Device?

If it's really a Mac under that hood, Steve, then it's a lot more powerful than you're letting it be. See how the Nintendo Wii has captured the imagination of so many? What if you could make your one box the answer not only for music and videos and YouTube, but for video games? I don't care if you get Halo 3 on there tomorrow, as quite honestly I'd be content with Cribbage or Scrabble on the big screen, so long as you promised Tetris and sports games would eventually show up.

4. Open the Box Up to Developers and Support Them

Developers are not the enemy. In fact, they can be the best allies you have, doing the work your team isn't doing, and expanding your customer base, without much cost to you. You supply them the hardware and the network connections, and let them do the rest. Hold seminars on how to program for the Apple TV.

5. Act Like You Care About Apple TV

Don't call this box I purchased a hobby. I took it seriously, can't you? While I understand the iPhone is pretty cool, as is the iPod, and Leopard and Mac... don't you think this box, with so much potential, should get a little love? Don't tell me you shipped it to just give up on it.

6. Watch What the Industry Is Doing and Learn

Every few months or so, I read an article about how TiVo is dying. Really? Their box still kicks your ass. What about SlingBox? Couldn't figure out how to get me a way to watch my Apple TV when I was on the road, but some punk startup turned that idea into an acquisition worth hundreds of millions? What about Joost or Comcast OnDemand? How can you take this tremendous Apple TV and iTunes package and come up with an answer for real-time on demand? So far, you've got nothing.

Steve, and the Apple team, we're among your biggest supporters. That's obvious. I'm not the type of user who would complain if you dropped the price or added new features after I bought. I bought version 1 and I know the issues there. But for you to ship away and slip away makes no sense here. If you ever think iTunes will make it in the video world, you're holding on to the very best way to make that happen, the Apple TV. But if you don't do anything about it, it will be too late, and you will have failed.

Now please excuse me so I can go watch some Netflix DVD we rented. When I get back home, I also look forward to catching up on my TiVo shows. Will you have anything new for me?

We Landed, But the Rockies Crashed

Getting game 5 World Series tickets shouldn't have been that much of a risk, especially considering the home team for game 5 had won 21 of 22 games to wrap up the regular season and breeze through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Yet, as the Red Sox staked out a 2-0 series lead, and later extended it to 3-0, we saw our chances of attending the World Series grow increasingly slim.

Last night, as we flew eastward from San Jose to Denver, I listened in to the game on channel 9 of the airline's audio system, updating my wife with the score of the game throughout the trip by hand signals, flashing two fingers and then making a circle, to show the Rockies trailed 2-0. Later, I tapped her and said it was 3-0, followed by scores of 3-1 and finally, 4-1. Though the radio quality was poor, and I could make out only 60% of the words, I did my best to follow along, contemplating the miracle that would have to happen to make our Monday tickets worth anything.

As the pilot asked the flight attendants to prepare for landing, and our wheels extended toward the runway, the Rockies hit a two run home run, closing the gap to 4-3, and giving us hope. As other passengers filed out of the plane, I stayed connected to the seat, not wanting to miss an at bat. Then, we rushed forward and into the terminal, and joined the dozens of other passengers who had stopped to gawk at the sports bar's coverage of the game, as we watched the Rockies flail at Jonathan Papelbon and go down swinging in the 8th.

After getting our luggage, and jumping on the rental car shuttle, I turned on my Blackberry and "watched" the game update via ESPN.com. Already, there was one out and it was still 4-3, Boston. Then, quickly, there were two away, and my wife and I had to hope for the impossible. But it was not meant to be. The last batter came and went, and the game was declared final. Our trip immediately darkened, and much potential joy was lost. Now, instead of finding out how to stay warm among a sellout Rockies crowd tonight, I'm faced with the prospect of learning the ins and outs of StubHub's refund policy. It better be good.

Regardless, we're here, above 5,000 feet, where the air is thin and the clocks are all an hour ahead of where I'd like to be. Maybe someday, as one friend commented on this site, our A's will return again, and we'll get to experience the World Series "the right way".

October 28, 2007

Off to Colorado in a Few Hours

We'll be out of California (and Silicon Valley proper) for the next week or so, not that I expect you to notice much, given my tendency to be wired from anywhere we go. We're still keeping our fingers crossed that the Rockies can win tonight's game against Boston and extend the World Series, which would make Monday a huge day, but even if they don't, we'll try to relax and have fun around work.

(Who am I kidding? It'd be devastating if I had to return my tickets for a refund...)

Anyway, as always, in the packing process, it's always fun to notice what makes the cut, and what doesn't.

Making the Cut this Time:

* The MacBook Pro
* The iPod Shuffle
* Our Digital Camera
* NetFlix DVDs
* The Blackberry

Not Making the Cut

* The Nintendo Wii (dang)
* The iPod Photo (60 Gig)
* The Dog
* The flat-screen TV
* The TiVo

Where we are staying promises to have Web access. Of course, if it didn't, I flat-out wouldn't go, but as we've seen multiple times, what's stated in the brochure doesn't always match up to reality. I've been bitten too many times by unacceptable, intermittent or non-existent access.

(See: Spotty Internet Access the Scourge of Trips)

Hopefully, this week will be good, we'll get enough work done so I don't fall behind, and (cross your fingers) the Rockies extend the series to game 5. Next time you hear from me, I'll be in the Mountain time zone. We'll be back on the West Coast on November 5th.

AppFresh Keeps My Mac Apps Fresh

Apple's Mac OS X Update does a great job making sure I have the latest Apple operating system updates and associated software, including iTunes, iCal, Mail and the like. But when it comes to third party (a.k.a. not Apple) applications, there isn't one central location to be sure I am caught up with the latest and greatest. That's where utilities like AppFresh come in.

Most modern applications have the ability to connect to the Web and offer the opportunity to pull down the latest point release, but many don't. And if you have dozens or even hundreds of applications, as I do, there's no chance I'll be going from site to site to keep current.

AppFresh automates the entire process. After downloading, it scans the Applications directory on my hard drive, and then checks with a partner database at iusethis.com to see if I'm running the most-recent build. (See the image below for the first pass)

In my case, I had 135 applications, of which 28 were confirmed to be up to date, 27 had the opportunity to update, and 80 were not registered. I would expect over time that this number would decrease, as applications are added to the database for just this purpose.

From there, I was able to selectively update my applications, and AppFresh would either download the new disk images directly, or link me to a registration form where I could do so. Below, you can see the application in process. Notice how it doesn't just download one app at a time, but can do many concurrently.

While the application's database isn't covering 100 percent of my applications, it's a definite kick start to getting synched up with the best software developers have to offer, and it didn't cost me a dime. Additionally, if you find you actually liked the previous version of the software better than the new one, AppFresh has your back. Like Apple's Time Machine, the old copy can be stored in a safe place for later retrieval. And that's pretty solid.

Using AppFresh in parallel with Apple's Mac OS X Update should keep my machine and its applications up and running and humming for the foreseeable future. If you're a Mac OS X user on 10.4 (Tiger) or 10.5 (Leopard), give it a spin and see just how far behind you really are.

Leopard iTunes Best Served With Jelly

If you have your hands on Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 (a.k.a. Leopard), head over to your iTunes Visualizer, select "Jelly" and turn on Visualizer. Your screen will fill with some amazing visuals, much like those sampled above. Though it's been a long time since Apple highlighted the iTunes Visualizer in their marketing, it's a lot of fun to see the company's whimsical side.

Jelly is best experienced with Trance, Techno, Electronica or Drum 'N' Bass.

October 27, 2007

We "Could" Be Headed for the World Series

As we're watching the World Series this year between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, seeing the Sox up 2 games to none, and at this moment, holding the lead in game 3, we can only hope the trend will soon change - as for the first time in my life, I have the opportunity to attend a World Series game, but might see this opportunity snatched away from us in an unfortunate combination of one team's luck and the other's lacking.

Back in May, Kristine and I headed to Colorado to see landmarks from my early years, where I'd grown up in the mid 1980s. With a return trip planned this upcoming week, we watched with anticipation as the Rockies went on an incredible run to capture the National League pennant.

Looking at the calendar, we saw World Series games 3 through 5 would be in Denver, and if humanly possible, we would find a way to go. So, I set out on StubHub, and paid way too much for a pair of outfield tickets to game 5, which barring a sweep, would have us at Coors Field Monday night. Where the tickets' face value was $125 apiece, we saw bids rise from $400 to $500 apiece and beyond. But given the opportunity, the price wouldn't be all that important.

Now... I'm watching, mouth agape, as the Rockies look like they're going to blow it for us. Given their 20-1 run at the end of the season, the possibility they would lose 4 straight against the Boston Red Sox and turn our dream into a fantasy seemed impossible. But now, they're down 6-0 in game 3, and our window is closing from one of excitement to numbness, and what could be serious frustration, should they lose this game, and tomorrow's as well.

Regardless of the outcome, our flight is set for tomorrow, and we'll be in Denver. The question is, will we find this expensive, promising, gamble slip away?

Leopard Bug Fix Debuts In Less Than 24 Hours

That sure didn't take long. Leopard went on sale at 6 p.m. on Friday, and by 5 p.m. on Saturday, we already have a software update recommended for all users, which also requires a restart. It's one thing to be secure in knowing I'm 100% up to date, and quite another thing to have to update my computer on a daily basis.

At least they didn't call it Mac OS X 10.5.1...

Leopard's First Day: Highlights and Lowlights

The new Leopard dock - a bit smaller than "real world".

Yesterday, we let our Mac geek flag fly. Around 6:30, I donned my black Apple logo baseball cap, put on a black Apple logo polo shirt, topped by an Apple logo black fleece jacket, complete with one of my two Apple logo Think Different wrist watches, and headed to the Valley Fair mall in San Jose to pick up Leopard.

While I expected bedlam, complete with long lines and the potential of finding Leopard sold out, we were quite lucky. Though the store was near capacity, I was able to put my elbows out and muscle forward, grabbing a copy of Leopard from the shelf and heading to the register, behind only one or two people. Though it turned out I was too late to get a commemorative t-shirt, it was pretty obvious I already had enough Apple gear, and could live without yet one more homage to Cupertino.

Finding that transaction quick, my wife and I caught dinner, and then headed home - where I was surprised to find what should have been a seamless installation experience become anything but.

After unwrapping the Leopard installation DVD and starting it up, I had begun the installation process, when, dramatically, I was met with a bright yellow attention icon saying the installation had failed, and to restart. So I did.

I tried a second time, and on this occasion, after selecting my hard drive as the destination disk, I was greeted with another bright yellow attention icon, saying that in order to install Leopard on this disk, I would need to erase it and that I would lose all my data. Yikes. So, obviously, I said no, and restarted, back to 10.4.10, racking my brain to see if I could figure out the issue. So I went to System Preferences, applied any outstanding Software Updates, and even went into my Disk Utility, running it against the hard drive to find any bugs. Nothing.

Stubbornly, I rebooted again into the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD. And THIS TIME it worked. It took about an hour, and though I was nervous from all the warnings that my data could disappear, we finally had success. Below are a few highlights that over time will make the evening's nonsense worthwhile.

Spaces lets me have multiple virtual desktops.

If there's one thing Steve Jobs doesn't like, it's clutter. Well-known for his minimalist bent, the concept of moving folders and icons off the desktop, and moving multiple windows or apps to separate screens falls along those lines. While I haven't yet found the ideal formula, I'm aiming to have 4 windows: One for Windows XP in VMWare Fusion (primarily for Microsoft Outlook), one for Web browsing and blogging/bookmarking in Safari, one for Mail and iTunes, and one for the Finder. (See above)

Though I have seen some wierdness, like the Apple Mail window disappearing, or applications clicked on one screen opening in another, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it and find this among the most useful features.

Using Coverflow, I can browse my applications.

I didn't have high hopes for taking Coverflow to the Finder, but surprisingly, I really like it. It's aesthetically pleasing to thumb through folders, images or applications. While it's still faster to just type the first few letters of an application and open it, the eye candy is worth the wasted seconds. Above, you can see my browsing applications in Coverflow, and below, it really shines when viewing folders with many image. The below image is a folder full of Oakland A's photos intended for future ANtics comics.

Thumbing through my A's player photos using Coverflow in the Finder.

Stack also seems like a easy feature to use, to grab documents from frequently-accessed folders. For my convenience, Apple created a new "Downloads" folder, and put my Documents folder on the Dock. Below, you can see Stack in action, one way to click and find the document rapidly.

When buying Leopard, Apple's sales staff helpfully tried to say the OS was a lot faster than Tiger (OS X 10.4) had been on his machine, but I wasn't looking for more speed. My 2 GHz MacBook Pro is pretty darn good. I was looking for new features and new apps. Though I don't have screenshots, I tried out the new iChat theater, Stationary in Mail, and have become familiarized with Quick Look, which makes my documents look like their contents.

Apple has extended their lead over Microsoft Windows with this release for sure, but it's not something earth-shatteringly dramatic. If your Mac can run Leopard, by all means go get it, but don't expect the singing of angels. Just know you'll be using your Mac in new ways you couldn't before - more efficiently, faster, and more productively.

October 25, 2007

No Sneak Peek at Leopard for Me

It's more than Silicon Valley legend that if you find the right misguided tech shop, you can sometimes purchase items before their manufacturer wants them released. Whether its a game console, like Microsoft's XBox 360 Arcade, or an operating system, the retail shops just might not know or might not care.

On my way home this evening, I had a hunch that the Fry's superstore here in Sunnyvale would be one of those shops. Fry's is notorious for either putting an item on a shelf with no fanfare (the situation when I bought my wife a 2nd gen iPod Shuffle on the 2nd day it was available), or just flat-out not having an item at all, weeks after its debut. It's a serious hit or miss.

While I've already made up my mind that I'd like to hit up an Apple retail store tomorrow and be there for Leopard's unveiling, if I could get my hands on Leopard a day early thanks to Fry's, I would have purchased it tonight. But, no such luck. As I bee-lined my way to the Mac section of the store, they were all too prepared for geeks like me, with signs saying Leopard would be available for sale not today, but tomorrow, at 6 p.m. There wasn't even a box in sight. If there were, I would of course have played dumb and walked it up to the front register with intent to take it home.

So, I left the store empty-handed. I guess I'm not a real geek if I could get into Fry's and leave without buying anything, but today I'm willing to have that shame. Tomorrow however, is Leopard day. Meow.

Friendfeed Follows Friends' Web Activity

I've long been a Google Reader and Google Reader shared items link blog advocate. The service lets me call out to you what I'm reading in the blogosphere, and what I find interesting. But for me, and for many other people using a wide variety of Web 2.0 applications, my link blog only covers one facet of my activity.

Where Google leaves off, Friendfeed steps in, combining my updates from around the Web, not only from Google Reader, but also noting when I update louisgray.com, when I add new items to del.icio.us, when I Digg new stories, find something via StumbleUpon or add photos to Flickr. Others also use it to display their activity on Twitter and Pownce. This creates a feed for not just one facet of my activity, but many.

That answers the "feed" portion of Friend feed. But the "Friend" portion takes the service up a notch. I can subscribe to friends and watch their activity one by one, or go to a combined "Friends Feed" and see all their combined activity. From this page, I can see if MG Siegler Dugg a story, if Fred Wilson added a new post to his blog, or if Jeremy Zawodny added a new bookmark to his del.icio.us items. It's a lot like reading Robert Scoble's shared link blog, but one written by multiple people, and with more sources.

The site is currently in beta, and ramping up, having been started by a few notable ex-Googlers, looking to gain traction as the service goes viral. Their blog shows their new office space, as they're just getting started.

My feed is here. If you need an invitation to the service, just say so in the comments, and I'll send it via e-mail.

October 24, 2007

LinkedIn Is a Paradise for Smart Reporters

Given how much personal information and business relationships are exposed on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, I'm continually surprised that I see so little activity from the news media utilizing the updates each of those services bring. If I were a reporter, I would want to "Link In" to as many potential news sources as I could to companies I found relevant, and I would watch their activity to gain early insight into partnerships, promotions, and comings and goings.

As the use of LinkedIn grows in a wide variety of markets, not just those in technology, one can also gauge company size and growth relative to its peers by the total number of employees using the service. While it's not scientific, as one company's LinkedIn penetration can vary widely from the next, it's a good rule of thumb.


Current Company = Facebook: 191 records
Current Company = MySpace: 403 records
Current Company = SmugMug: 12 records

If I were a reporter linked in to spokespeople, management or even the PR flacks at a company, I would watch for "Profile Updates" that showed changes in title or responsibility, or if they had left one firm for another. I could see if that person had added a new connection - possibly to a new hire, or signifying a new partnership or customer. I could even do a search to see how often companies showed up as having been where someone had previously worked, but no longer does. If more people formerly worked for a company than are still there, would that signal unrest or a layoff? A good reporter could put two and two together to get the answers.

ValleyWag shows a great example of this, where they found Facebook and Microsoft "making friends" before the companies' announced investment.

Just within my own LinkedIn network, I can get early alerts showing people's changing career path. I've seen people become friends with customers or partners before their announcements hit the press wire. Often, by the time the media gets it, the story has had weeks or months to bake.

Want to know what's going on at the latest company in "stealth mode"? Search for their name, and see who they're hiring. Where did they come from? How many employees do they have? LinkedIn just might have the answers.

In a world where more data is becoming transparent, LinkedIn is a killer resource to gain information on industries, companies and competition. Reporters who figure it out and use it to the best of their ability will be a step ahead of everybody else.

TechCrunch Discontinues Internal Linking Practice

In what many readers here will no doubt see as a positive development, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch announced the popular blog will no longer link the names of companies they cover to the CrunchBase, the network's internal database on company information and resources.

As he wrote in a post today:

"We started linking to CrunchBase often in our posts. This tends to drive some readers absolutely nuts because they want to go to the company, not CrunchBase, when they click a link. As of today that policy is being discontinued."

I've been a vocal advocate for clarity in linking practices, and generally dislike unnecessary internal linking. Though I didn't call out TechCrunch for this practice, many here did in our previous discussions of common behavior from leading tech blogs.

Arrington and his blog network, despite the occasional criticism, have done excellently well at making a name for themselves, and becoming one of the leading resources for Web 2.0 information and news. I applaud this move, and hope that others will look to the leader and follow suit.

October 23, 2007

Fun With Technorati Chart Matchups

A week ago, Technorati turned over a new leaf, with the return of charts throughout the company's blog search service. Very quietly, the company also has enabled Web surfers to compare trends between keyword pairs, by using the VS command.

This "officially unsupported" command (per ex-CEO David Sifry), allows for comparisons of what's hot and what's not, over a specific time period, to a stretch as long as six months.

(The code: http://www.technorati.com/search/TERM1+vs+TERM2?authority=n&language=en)

Running a few comparisons myself, we saw more people are blogging about Slashdot than I had anticipated, especially relative to Digg, that the iPhone shot like a meteor to eclipse the iPod, and that a battle for higher profile between Robert Scoble and TechCrunch or Jason Calacanis and ValleyWag just might never be resolved. It's that close.

For all charts: Note the peaks and dips for weekends, as well as the scope of the chart. The most popular keywords register in the thousands, while less frequently discussed items just crack triple digits.

First Up: iPod vs. iPhone

In the Search World: Yahoo! vs. Google

Building a Community: Digg vs. Slashdot (Big surprise here!)

Social Networking: Facebook vs. MySpace
(MySpace plunging, with Facebook eking up...)

Long-Time Tech Titans: Apple vs. Microsoft

New Age Blog Titans: TechCrunch vs. Scoble

Let's Be Friends Edition: Calacanis vs. Valleywag

Mix and match the terms and see what you come up with. Others I tried included "baseball vs football", and Plaxo vs LinkedIn. What can you come up with, and do these charts accurately track the blogosphere's momentum as you see it?

October 22, 2007

300 More Inexpensive iTunes Trance Tracks

Offers like this are excellent reasons why we've moved away from physical CD purchases. Rather than purchasing and storing 24 individual CD cases, or taking the time to import each of the 24 CDs individually, the iTunes Music Store makes it drop dead simple to add 300 new tracks to my music library, with just a few clicks. And if that weren't enough, the cost for me to purchase these 300 tunes comes in even lower than 3 "real world" CDs. I guess that explains why, after this most-recent iTunes binge, I'm up to 5,431 songs, comprising 22.3 days and more than 31 gigabytes of music.

Thank goodness I've got my 200 gigabyte hard drive humming away.

If you're into artists like Jan Vayne, M.I.K.E., Vincent de Moor, and Elevation, or think you might be, a great way to start filling up your iTunes library with hundreds of new trance tunes, is to start at the following links:

Trance Top 100 | Top 100, Vol. 2 | Top 100, Vol 3

Good music. Cheap music. Easy to get music. Nice combo.

Prior Posts On this Topic:

7 Hours of iTunes Music: Just $9.99
iTunes Offers Up Massive Song Sets
100 More iTunes Trance Songs for Less than $20
100 iTunes Trance Songs for Less than $20

Apple Analysis Analysis - Earnings Call Extra

Following today's earnings announcement from Apple, the company held a conference call with analysts, which is typical. Thanks to Seeking Alpha, we have the full transcript from the call, and can see how often analysts and the company talked about specific aspects of the company's business.

As you can see in the below chart, despite having revenue of more than 60% of the company's business, the Mac, by all accounts, growing in market share, played the poor second cousin to the continued buzz around iPhone and iPod.

Click to Enlarge Image

Using Safari 3's "find matches" tally, we see the call featured the following terms the following number of times:

iPhone: 51 times
iPod: 41 times
Mac: 25 times
AT&T: 12 times
iTunes: 8 times
Leopard: 7 times
Macbook: 4 times
iMac: 4 times
Macintosh: 3 times
iPod Touch: 2 times
iLife: 2 times
Apple TV: 1 time
iWork: 1 time

** The two iPod Touch mentions are also included in the larger iPod number.

While Apple reported that Mac products and services were 62% of total revenue, in contrast to 36% for Music products and services, iPod and iPhone total mentions outpaced Mac mentions by a combined 92 to 36. Throw in AT&T and iTunes, and Music outpaces Mac by a whopping 112 to 36. Who cares about actual revenue when you've got buzz?

Also, the laggards in Apple's portfolio, iWork and Apple TV, got just about the amount of attention I would have expected - one mention apiece. It's not as fun to talk about those aspects of the business that aren't gracing magazine covers and becoming the must-have items of 2007.

To listen to the call yourself, check out Apple's archive on their Web site.

Mid-Day Apple Notes, Post Earnings

As anticipated, Apple blew past analysts' earnings estimates this afternoon, as has now become commonplace for the company. Apple sold more than 1.1 million iPhones in the quarter, partially explaining why I see them everywhere now. Seems every good tech geek has one except me! The company also is seeing continued Mac sales growth. With those results, Apple stock jumped more than $10 a share, and is now trading after hours in the $184 range.

As I noted earlier, I took the opportunity for a quick one-day trade, getting in around $170 at 6:30 this morning, and getting out at $183.7 after hours. I don't have the patience to watch the stock accumulate, even with all the long-term opportunities I've missed in Apple, Google and others in the last few years. Sometimes, you just have to accept the fact it was time to take profits, and look for the next quick momentum pop.

Obviously, that trade easily more than pays for my near-term acquisition of Apple's new operating system release, Leopard, which hits stores on Friday. I watched a helpful guide to the new operating system last night, and posted my comments over on The Apple Blog (Leopard Is Coming, and I Want It). Mac OS X is just extending its lead over Microsoft Vista, and the innovation from Cupertino continues to reaffirm that I made the right choice for my OS. Hopefully, more will continue to make the switch in quarters to come.

Ready to Gamble on Apple Earnings Today

After hours today, Apple is set to announce earnings for the most recent fiscal quarter. And for me, month after month after month of seeing Apple stock go up, without my being involved, ends now. While I still believe the stock is highly priced, it seems that there are enough investors out there to push the price ever higher, and so long as that is true, it's a worthwhile investment.

Apple has some incredible momentum behind it. The iPhone is an unqualified hit, even with the AT&T boat anchor holding it back. Microsoft continues to make missteps, around Windows Vista, around MSN Live Search, and around the Zune. Apple is days away from introducing Leopard, the latest iteration of the company's rock-solid Mac OS. And market share continues to climb.

I've been wrong on AAPL before, in the short term, but looking at my eTrade records, no stock has more reliably made me money in just about every trade over the last three to four years. A look at the chart in this post shows why. Apple stock has outpaced just about every technology stock out there, and doesn't show much sign of slowing down. I only wish I had been even less diversified than I already am, and had put it all on Apple in the first place, best practices be damned.

Today, I just might roll the dice and take my chances. We'll see by this afternoon if that was the right choice.

October 21, 2007

Is Microsoft Irrevocably Broken?

Microsoft is still number one in some major elements of the computer industry, without a doubt. It's number one in consumer operating systems and number one in enterprise operating systems. The company sells the number one office suite, has the number one position in Web browser software, just saw the XBox 360 beat Nintendo's Wii in the most recent month, thanks to the release of Halo 3, and undoubtedly is a major force in many other areas I haven't mentioned.

But over the last ten years, especially over the last five, the company's momentum has been overshadowed by some extremely nimble, innovative, companies, like Apple and Google. The company hasn't made much headway outside of its core businesses, with public failures of MSN, Live Search, and Vista, to name a few. The old status quo where every startup in the Valley was afraid to compete with Microsoft has been eclipsed with a new realization that not only can you beat Microsoft, but instead, it's Google that might end up being the 800 pound gorilla who could be your greatest partner or your greatest enemy.

Some of the very best blogging on Microsoft comes from two sources who have grown increasingly frustrated with the company's direction, and have seen their skepticism grow as the company continues to just tread water, quarter after quarter, watching as the latest buzz comes from Cupertino, Mountain View, or a gaggle of startups that have Microsoft begging just to be associated with - like Facebook, or prior to the acquisition, YouTube.

The first, Mini-Microsoft, plainly says the company has grown too large to lead in this new economy, asking for the Redmond monolith to scale down and simplify. The second, MSFTextrememakeover, looks at the situation from that of a shareholder, and the answer is not pretty.

Putting one's money in Microsoft stock for the last year, five years or ten years has been as close to a dead end as you can find. While it hasn't evaporated, the aforementioned Apple and Google have seen their stocks skyrocket.

All stock detail sourced: Google Finance | (Table: Apple's Keynote)

The difference is dramatic. That's why MSFTextrememakeover is asking this week: What If Microsoft wasn't a screwup? I think it's more than just screwing up. Microsoft once had a culture of aggressive tooth and nail competition and winning at all costs. Many antitrust suits later, with much of the old blood having moved on to newer, shinier things, the company has lost the competitive edge it once had. It's one thing to be huge, and quite another to be good.

Additionally, in order to be taken seriously as a stock or as a company, investors have to believe in the management and its direction. Bill Gates has lessened his influence on the company, working more on non-profits than for-profits. And Steve Ballmer doesn't have the credibility and the ability to inspire employees and customers the way Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page have. It could be time for a change there, as Microsoft looks more and more like yesterday's IBM than tomorrow's Google. The question is, is the company broken, and can it be saved?

Recently, Ballmer was seen saying the company would buy upwards of 20 startups a year with the company's cash horde. But truth is, smart startups don't want to be part of Microsoft. That's yesterday's story. Now, they want to be part of Apple or Google, or part of Facebook, if there's a match. There have been stories of Microsoft's richer offers being refused. And it runs contrary to Mini-Microsoft's hope for the company to focus and slim down before getting even larger.

If I wanted to stop using Microsoft software altogether, I could do it. I wrote this post on Google's Blogger, running on Apple's Safari browser, on Mac OS X. I edited the above graphic in Adobe Photoshop, after making it in Apple Keynote. The need to run Microsoft software is now gone, as companies move to the Web, and open source alternatives become a very real reality. Innovative companies win through having an edge and differentiation, and I strongly believe Microsoft's edge has dulled. Without significant change in leadership and focus, things are going to get a lot worse for the company before they get a lot better.

When Can I Celebrate Winning Again?

In my youth, my favorite sports teams seemingly challenged every year. The 49ers won Super Bowl after Super Bowl. The Oakland A's were in the World Series from 1988 to 1990, taking the title in 1989. Before I liked the Sacramento Kings, I liked the LA Lakers, and saw Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar take home their share of championships. But for nearly two decades, as fans from across the country have celebrated their teams, at least for one season, I'm growing fatigued of seeing my hopes for a pennant - in any sport - fade early.

Yesterday, Cal, once expected to challenge for a BCS berth, got dumped on by the UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles, going down to their second straight defeat after a season opening run to the #2 ranking in all the country. Now, the team will be lucky just to find its way to the unrewarding and poorly named Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

This disaster comes only months after the Oakland A's played their way into near last place in the AL West, avoiding the playoffs, which itself was preceded by a season-long funk by the Sacramento Kings. While the Kings' season is on the verge of opening up, I don't harbor any misguided belief that the team's fortunes will change.

As for the 49ers? First of all, as I've made clear before, I don't really care enough for their wins or losses to make much difference. But the truth is, they still stink. I came home from church this afternoon to see them completing yet another weak showing, as they lost 33-15 to the New York Giants.

A friend of mine says he knows not to jump on to a bandwagon unless he's absolutely certain they will win. I can't do that. I can cheer for the Rockies' improbable run to the World Series, but it's a hollow cheer. I can't root for the Cal Bears to find a way to finish with less than 4 losses. I had higher expectations. And what am I supposed to ask of the A's next year? A record above .500? How can I accept that as a real goal?

I'm not switching the teams I root for just because it's become so inconvenient to see them lose and lose after teasing me into thinking they had a chance. But I would like to be positively surprised for a change. Soon.

October 18, 2007

Underworld Releases First New Album in Five Years

This morning, while making a comment on Steven Hodson's WinExtra blog, a little note caught my eye: Listening to: Underworld - Oblivion with Bells - Crocodile. His blog software will imprint the song he's listening to, but for me, an avowed Underworld afficionado, to not know of this song, was outlandish. I demanded to know where he got it. His answer: iTunes. Duh. Stupid me.

On October 16th, Underworld released a new album, Oblivion With Bells, into the iTunes Music Store, and I had gone an entire 48 hours without knowing. After seeing the world-renowned group in concert twice, and owning virtually all their previous albums, this was a virtual call to arms.

I don't really need to tell you what I did next - I downloaded it. And I'm listening now. The songs are back into the classic Underworld sound - electronically altered vocals, catchy rhythms, and haunting intermixing of sounds, loops and unique lyrics.

After 2002's A Hundred Days Off, which had a pair of excellent songs, and more pedestrian tracks, I can only hope this one is as engaging as the epic Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld and Beucoup Fish, which led my musical library through college and shortly thereafter.

More on Underworld: Underworld Live

Will RSS Readers Ever Report Detailed Referrals?

It wasn't all that long ago that much of the blogosphere was abuzz around the power, or supposed lack thereof, from A-list sites and TechMeme. How come they were only counting a few hundred visitors? It could be, in my opinion, due to the growing use of RSS readers, like Google Reader, NewsGator and Bloglines, which mask the URL of the referring feed if a visitor clicks through.

Instead of telling site owners what feed, and what post, a visitor originated from, RSS feed readers trumpet their own URL as the source for the link. As a result, instead of giving TechMeme, Scoble or TechCrunch the credit, it's Google Reader who snakes the statistic. And God forbid a small site link your way that only has a few RSS feed readers, but one who liked your content. In that case, you'd see a visitor from the feed reader to a specific subpage, but not know who was linking.

Yesterday evening, after my flight from Dallas, I clicked through on my Blackberry to obsessively check my blog stats, and I saw an uncommon spike in traffic, sent my way from a post on Scobleizer linking to my Feedheads article. While I know that more than 500 unique visitors came my way in the last 24 hours from his note, scobleizer.com only is given credit for 40 to 50% of that amount in my site statistics, as you can see in the side graphic, which shows the share of referrals among my last 4,000 visitors. Instead, Google Reader, BlogLines, Twitter and other RSS feed engines snaked the rest.

Ideally, an RSS feed reader would pass to the site owner enough information as to ascertain which feed was being viewed, and even better, which post fed the link. It could be that this data today doesn't rest with the feed reader, but instead with today's browsers, and the URL passed to Web server logs is dictated, not by the feed reader, but instead by Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, but I'm sure somebody smart (like Dave Winer) could figure this out and help us get more detail.

October 17, 2007

Leaving Dallas for the Bay Area

After a quick two-day stop in Dallas, we're headed back home. Right now, I'm awaiting boarding for the flight to San Jose, and power surfing/e-mailing on the T-Mobile powered WiFi at the airport. If it didn't already cost $9.99, I'd be lauding its speed, but as I've paid, I expect the world.

In case you missed it, the big news of the day was that Steve Jobs announced Apple is going to open up the iPhone for third party applications, issuing an SDK in February. You can say a lot about the Apple icon, but he sure does appear more willing to listen to users and developers than Apple's reputation has shown previously. (Coverage: The Apple Blog | The Last Podcast | Apple Hot News)

I still love how Apple's using their Hot News site as a blog.

While in Dallas, it was also noted that Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) is to hit stores by October 26th. I'll have to check and see if my new MacBook Pro qualifies to get it for super-low pricing of $10, but the truth is, we'll be getting it as soon as possible, regardless. (Coverage: Paris Lemon | Webomatica | Chris Pirillo)

You can read through 300 new features expected from Leopard on the Apple site.

Of course, despite the above, the world doesn't revolve around Apple. Even I get that. So as I took in about 500 RSS posts here in the airport, I shared those I found most interesting in the last 12 hours on my Shared Google Reader link blog. We'll soon be back on the West coast, in the "correct" time zone, and back at full speed. Of course, I didn't ever adjust to Central time, finding the clock reading well past 3 a.m. before I called it a night. Silly me.

Facebook Google Reader App Rebrands As Feedheads

One of the more useful Facebook applications out there, enabling you to integrate your Google Reader shared items with your Facebook profile, and view most frequently shared items, has recently, quietly, undergone a rebranding, to "Feedheads".

While the application's author, Mario Romero, hasn't said anything about the change, it's possible that he made the change to avoid confusing people into thinking the application was produced, or endorsed, by Google. Another possible reason for the change? It now appears that Mario has added the option to include shared items from NewsGator, in addition to Google Reader.

Previously labeled as a "Google Reader" application, the application changed names sometime in the afternoon on Sunday, October 14th, to "Feedheads". You can see the change transparently occur on the right in a screenshot from my Facebook mini-feed.

The application, one of the few useful applications on Facebook, as has been well documented, says it has 348 daily users (myself included). Should Robert Scoble's hopes ever come true, and enough people use the program, its aggregate power could be very strong, in effect becoming a democratized Digg of sorts, where you could opt in to view your own friends' shared items, rather than that of the mob.

A Tag Cloud of My Shared Items in Feedheads

If you're on Facebook, and you're an avid Google Reader Shared Links user, sign up for Feedheads. To see my shared links in Google Reader without getting into Facebok, click here. To view my Facebook profile instead, click here.