June 30, 2009

10 People To Follow On FriendFeed For June 2009

Tenth Edition Of a Monthly Series (combined with Mike Fruchter's efforts)

New registrants of any social network can no doubt find the quest to find interesting people and friends a challenge. That's why Twitter built a manually-selected Suggested User List, and why FriendFeed prompts new signups with avatars showing the most subscribed people from across the network. But as we know, popularity doesn't always reflect quality, and often, some intriguing users are much less visible. That's part of why my tag team partner Mike Fruchter and I have taken the effort to highlight ten FriendFeed accounts every month. Even in month ten, I know the well's not dry, so if you believe you or others should be included, you know how to reach me - in the comments, via e-mail, and of course, on FriendFeed.

June 2009's featured FriendFeeders are:

1) Layne Heiney (LPH and His Dog P)

Short Bio: Layne Heiney has one foot in the world of education and another in the world of technology. Holding teaching credentials in both biology and chemistry, this high school teacher also started developing Web sites almost 15 years ago, expanding his "Tux Reports Network" to more than 100 domains. Layne claims to share the his FriendFeed account with his dog, Pascal, a three year old mutt, who does not like baths.

What they find interesting: Technology, Education, Politics

FriendFeed: Subscribe

2) Alex Scoble

Short Bio: Alex Scoble is an IT security professional, video gamer and home theater enthusiast. Though not as visible as his brother Robert, Alex is just as devoted to FriendFeed, and on some days, is much more active. He is more than happy to debate with your your choices of television, and to be honest, will debate practically anything with a smile on his face.

What they find interesting: Finance, Technology, Entertainment

FriendFeed: Subscribe

3) Trish Robinson

Short Bio: Trish, a Houston, Texas native, works in the legal profession, and is mother to her 10 year-old son, Kyle. Trish has a sharp sense of humor, and always seems to manage to find interesting news in the world of families, entertainment, and tech.

What they find interesting: Culture, Family, Politics

FriendFeed: Subscribe

4) Paul Buchheit

Short Bio: Paul is a co-founder of FriendFeed, and was an early employee at Google, coming up with the company's unofficial slogan "Don't be evil", and also making a small Web-based e-mail application, called Gmail and companion ad platform called AdSense. He also is an angel investor through YCombinator and recently started an initiative called Collaborative Charity, aiming to crowdsource donations to worthwhile causes. Paul is father of two children, Camilla and Thomas, the latter of whom celebrated his first birthday last week. His wife, April, was featured in this series in January.

What they find interesting: Entrepreneurship, VC, Programming

FriendFeed: Subscribe

5) Shey Smith

Short Bio: Shey is a Jamaican Web designer living in Toronto, Canada. Shey works for SweetSop Design, which creates Web sites, presentations, magazines, brochures and eBay storefronts. Shey has a degree in IT management from Ryerson University.

What they find interesting: Web design, Sports, Technology

FriendFeed: Subscribe

6) Adam Helweh

Short Bio: Adam is the founder of the online marketing and branding firm, Secret Sushi Creative. Adam helps clients develop online marketing and social media strategies, Web design and development.

What they find interesting: Web technology, Food

FriendFeed: Subscribe

7) Mary Ann Chick Whiteside

Short Bio: Mary Ann is a multimedia journalist with three decades experience, including a 13-plus year stint at the Flint Journal as an interactive media manager, as part of 30 years at the paper, starting in 1978. Since finishing her activities there in 2008, Mary Ann has been freelancing on multiple projects, including Web sites and ghost blogging. She is passionate about the news business, and helping her daughter in her fight against breast cancer.

What they find interesting: Journalism, New media, Health Care

FriendFeed: Subscribe

8) Bwana McCall

Short Bio: Bwana McCall is a quality management technical lead at Hewlett Packard, in Jacksonville, Florida. An avid podcaster and YouTube maven, Bwana stays on top of the world of video gaming and consumer electronics as well as practically anyone.

What they find interesting: Software, Consumer Electronics, Podcasting

FriendFeed: Subscribe

9) Rob Michael (Atmos Trio)

Short Bio: Rob is a professional musician who leads the instrumental Jazz group, Atmos Trio. He has a private teaching practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also works as a freelance writer for music magazines.

What they find interesting: Music, Technology, Blogging

FriendFeed: Subscribe

10) Rahsheen Porter

Short Bio: A Customer Account Executive for Comcast High Speed Internet, Rasheen is a graduate of Georgia Tech University, and a part time blogger, hip hop fan and rapper. A technology enthusiast, Rahsheen is a blogger for Black Web 2.0 and is among the more physically fit members of the community, considering most of us spend more time in front of the computer than at a gym.

What they find interesting: Entertainment, Culture, Technology

FriendFeed: Subscribe

Five Blogs Under the Radar: June 2009 Edition

Sixteenth Edition Of a Monthly Series

Even as many people are debating the importance of blogging, the number of active bloggers is still growing. And even if we have grown comfortable with the number of people we are reading, there are voices we are no doubt missing. Each month, I try to find five new ones that you may not have heard, who are working hard in obscurity. Most are interested in a lot of the same things I am - including technology, information gathering, gadgetry and social networking,

To get on this list, bloggers need to post regularly, cover something resembling technology, and have less than 1,000 subscribers or so. We are more than happy to take nominations as well, either here, by e-mail, FriendFeed or Twitter.

The June 2009 blogs are:

1) Jungle G by Jorge Escobar (jungleg.com)

Focus: Social networks, Influence, Technology
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

2) Spatially Relevant by Jon Gatrell (spatiallyrelevant.org)

Focus: Product development, Social media
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

3) Sticky Figure by Steve Woodruff (brandimpact.wordpress.com)

Focus: Social Networking, iPhone, Marketing
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

4) OwenGreaves.com (owengreaves.net)

Focus: High Tech, Business, Social Media
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

5) Twittercism (twittercism.com)

Focus: Twitter, Microblogging
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

Want to be on this list? You can catch my eye by posting great information in the field of technology, social media, blogging and the Web. I'll be more likely to highlight you if you blog almost every day, and bring new stories to the table that don't repeat discussions launched elsewhere. And if you have more than 1,000 subscribers, you're probably too big for this.

To see even more new blogs I'm adding to my reader, or get a sneak peek for next month's highlighted blogs, follow my activity on Toluu. If you don't have a login to Toluu, send me an e-mail to louisgray@mac.com and I'll get that set up right away.

June 29, 2009

Silicon Valley Shutdowns Mean Quieter Business This Week

The global recession has not spared Silicon Valley, or of course, the state of California, which stares in the face of bankruptcy, forced to grapple with an unprecedented budget shortfall. With a statewide unemployment rate exceeding 11 percent, the nexus for much of the world's tech innovation has been severely strained. The unemployment rate for Santa Clara County stands at 10.8 percent, with San Mateo County looking a bit healthier, at 8.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In an attempt to reduce fulltime job losses, companies throughout the Valley have turned to every play in the book to reduce costs - stopping and slowing projects, eliminating contractors, reducing pay for both rank and file and executives, forcing vacations, and the ever-popular move of company shutdowns (which we also saw in the 2002-03 recession following the crushing death of the first dot com era).

With Fourth of July looming, this week will see many companies in the Bay Area have their doors closed to non-essential, non-customer support facing employees. Among the known companies shutting down this week are Adobe, Autodesk, NetApp, and a number of other firms, both public and private, who are looking to draw down on company vacation during a time when some employees' thoughts are toward the beach and barbecues.

(See details from Autodesk and one Adobe contractor)

And for those companies that are staying open at a time when their counterparts are sleeping in, there's no doubt many employees are opting to take the week themselves, so you can expect fewer phone calls, reduced Web traffic, and yes, reduced real world traffic as well. So maybe that drive up the peninsula that used to take 45 minutes in morning rush hour just might take 25.

So if you drove into the office today and wondered why you didn't see the usual hustle and bustle, the shutdowns are why. It's a solution that makes the finance guys on one side of the building happy, and possibly the other side of the building isn't complaining much either, with a much-needed respite from the daily grind.

See Also:Know of any other Silicon Valley companies that are taking the week off? Let me know in the comments.

June 28, 2009

Blogging Is Still the Foundation In A World of Streams

Last week, Edelman's Steve Rubel made an aggressive jump - away from traditional blogging, turning over his site to a lifestream, which captures all of his activity from around the Web. His move, he reported, was due to a feeling that blogging "feels old" and that the new reality is about the flow of information. This followed on to a conversation he, Steve Gillmor and I had a month or so ago, which led to my post saying that RSS felt slow. But while I see some of the same issues Steve has, I haven't made a full move away from the blog, don't ever plan to do so, and for any company I give advice to, I tell them to do so would be a mistake.

The blog is the foundation and center for who you are - either as an individual, or a brand. While I believe the best bloggers in the world are participating outside of their blog, on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and everywhere else, to only participate in those areas leaves a gaping hole. The world of lifestreaming and real-time is fun, but it can be as deep as a soap opera in a world that still demands insightful documentaries and news reporting.

In August of 2007, I said there was a new reality and that "Your Blog Is Your Brand". Most of you weren't reading me back then, but it holds as true now as it did two years ago.

Fellow blogger Jeremiah Owyang added his thoughts on the issue last week, asking, Is Blogging Evolving Into Life Streams? Interestingly, he noticed that Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, who were the authors of Naked Conversations, were now more focused on micromedia (FriendFeed and Twitter) than they were on their own blogs. It's a big reason why Mike Arrington told Robert he needed an intervention at the end of 2008. (Amusingly, Robert is going 'blog only' this week...)

In the last two years, the rise of microblogging tools and lifestreaming services has given blogging a less-prominent role on everyone's tongues, but it, in my opinion, is as important as ever. One just needs to make a conscious decision as to what type of data is most appropriate where. Longer, more thoughtful pieces with graphics and type style should go on blogs. Maybe a few photos and text go to FriendFeed or Facebook, and short status updates go to Twitter. The addition of more options shouldn't mean the elimination of the original.

The Blog Is Still the Foundation

In a presentation I gave to one company this week, I stated the same - I said the corporate blog is the foundation of your entire social media strategy. It may make sense to have secondary and tertiary blogs, but if you tried to just use Twitter and other services and neglect the blog, you would a failure from the beginning.

Blogging is not for everyone or every company. Blasphemy, I know. But it is work, and it can never be stopped. Once you start, there is no finish line, until you drop and become a 24 hour trending topic on Twitter. But blogs are your public whiteboard - extending your voice to your peers, your family, friends, or in the business world, your customers, prospects, partners, competition, press and analysts, and of course, your own employees. 140 characters just isn't enough.

June 27, 2009

ClaimMyName Mines My Social Media Identities

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

With the proliferation of so many social media services, identity management has become a full time job. What sites do I participate in? What sites do I stake my claim so someone doesn’t swipe my name?

DandyID just announced their new automated identity mining service, ClaimMyName, allowing you to select your vanity ID and up to 3 alternates to search across all of DandyID’s listed services. Choose to purchase a Starter Pack allowing you to choose 20 services or opt for the Pro Pack with 300 services. The automated engine will run behind the scenes and send you a digest e-mail within 3 business days.

Watch as Sara demonstrates how it works:

The Starter Pack starts at a robust $79.99, and may well be worth it for those seriously interested in protecting their brand across most of the major social media services. For those who live and die by use of their name, the Pro Pack has been made available at $699.99, or just over $2.00 per service.

Clearly the equation here is whether the time it would take the serious social media maven to manually and individually sign up for each service would be worth this entry fee. As the world of social media matures, more and more services will have to turn to various for-pay models. However, with so many social media services having trained their legions of users that free is the admission price, even the starter pack will seem a steep price, in my opinion.

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. He is always interested in connecting; To discover the many ways you may connect with him, visit him at DandyID.

Ten Year TiVo Veteran Talks History, Hacking and Partnerships

About two years ago, I had my first visit to TiVo's headquarters in Alviso, just outside of San Jose. That visit only lasted a few minutes, and gained me a new remote control, replacing an original that had passed on. But on Friday, I had the privilege to stay quite a bit longer, as a guest of Stephen Mack, Director of TiVoCast Operations, as he took me on a quick tour of the company's offices, and we caught lunch, talking about his decade at the DVR pioneer and providing insight into one of Silicon Valley's arguably most interesting companies, sporting an incredibly loyal fan base, which includes me as a member.

Mack joined TiVo from SGI in March of 1999, less than a month before the company's first digital video recorder units were scheduled to ship. As he told me, co-founder Mike Ramsay had made the promise that the units would ship by the end of the first quarter of 1999, pushing the company to practically work around the clock, including nights and weekends, to meet the aggressive goal, making their offering first to market, just ahead of then-rival ReplayTV. This episode of Silicon Valley folklore came despite the fact the company, as he put it, had no working software, no working hardware, and no way to sell the products only weeks before the impending launch. Just squeaking in under the wire, the first units shipped on March 31st of 1999, on a blue moon - which is commemorated on the last Friday of each March each year at TiVo, as "Blue Moon Day" - an official company holiday.

Stephen Mack In His Busy Cubicle at TiVo

In the ensuing decade, TiVo set the gold standard for digital video recorders in an extremely competitive market that saw the term DVR genericized by a stream of copycat providers, including the local cable companies, DISH Network, and an on-again off-again relationship with DirecTV, who helped provide the bulk of TiVo's initial subscriber base, even as the company gained more dollars per subscriber with its native sales. In the most recent year, the company turned a profit of more than $100 million, after years of red ink, that had some declaring a TiVo Deathwatch, not unlike the struggles of Apple Computer just ten years prior.

The linkage of TiVo and Apple is more than just in their role as pioneers, but the pair also feature some of the most loyal customers in technology. The pair is also known for two other facets which gain alternate praise and scorn - including its penchant for secrecy and an adherence to NIH syndrome, well known in the Valley as "Not Invented Here".

TiVo's New Facebook Application, "My TV"

In June of the last year, I openly railed on TiVo to work on creating a social network to try and take advantage of its strong brand and to connect users. (See: TiVo Is a Zero On the Social Web. It's Time They Fast Forward.) And while they still have yet to follow on to my suggestions word for word, they are making strong progress in terms of showing they are actively listening and participating in the social space. The company has launched a little-known Facebook application called "My TV", which invites you to share your favorite shows, see friends' favorites, rate shows and comment on recent episodes. So it's close.

And yes, like all other good marketing companies, they are on Twitter, here: http://twitter.com/tivo. Meanwhile, although Mack doesn't consider himself a TiVo spokesperson, he has responded to blog posts of mine in the past that mention TiVo, and he is active on FriendFeed. In fact, in light of changed television programming in the last few days following the celebrity deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, he posted official word from the networks there, in case you needed to make edits to your recording schedule.

Working to grow TiVo is a very interesting business. Steven walked me through the company's need to colocate in highly secure data centers in multiple geographic locations - which would ensure the service's survival, even if the state of California were to off and fall into the ocean. We also talked about the struggles that are common to most OEM businesses, where large partners see every proposed change as a potential for compromise. In particular, he recounted to me the challenge of having DirecTV's huge services team trained when TiVo started to enable broadband updates to their DVRs, in addition to standard phones - and getting the staff ready for practically any kind of modem or broadband issue.

Stephen Mack Checks Potential Issues While at TiVo

The issue of DirecTV came up a few times from others on the Web who knew we were to meet today. First, it is public knowledge that the new DirecTV TiVo boxes are scheduled for the first quarter of 2010. Secondly, the hope that DirecTV units would attain feature parity with the go to market offerings from TiVo just isn't going to happen. Units sold through TiVo will always be the first to support the latest updates, especially as partners will remain conservative.

I also talked with Stephen about the visible hacking community around TiVo's units. My first box, a hand me down, had come with a larger after-market hard drive, a common upgrade. Such modifications violate the company's user agreement of course, but the company knows such activities go on, and some smaller "garage" firms have even built up side businesses to upgrade units, which TiVo has no interest in shutting down. Most of the time, the hacks are harmless, although it was not uncommon in the DVR provider's early days to see customers load Phillips software on Sony boxes and vice versa, introducing issues.

What was shut down, however, at least for now, was the company's Rewards program, that gave TiVo ambassadors points for signing up friends and family, which could be exchanged for TiVo gear and other equipment. It turned out that rather than the program's generating a waterfall of referrals from excited fans, it turned into something of a side business for a handful of individuals, who would buy used units from garage sales, sell them to new buyers and gain activation codes, exchanging them for goods through TiVo. Mack said one such entrepreneur was making enough action that they earned themselves 500 iPods in a year (which they no doubt sold).

In the fast pace of Silicon Valley, a ten year tenure at any one company, especially one that has seen such peaks and valleys as TiVo is a rarity. But Mack says as many as a quarter of the initial 80 people at the company who were there when he joined remain, acting as historians among the company's nearly 500 employees.

The company's offices, tucked away off to the side of Highway 237, neighboring Foundry Networks, Brocade and others, feature the interior bright colors of a typical Valley startup. Its meeting rooms are all named after TV shows, and Mack offered up that he had the bright idea to name one of them, optimistically, "60 Minutes". Meanwhile, outside, even in today's heat, a vigorous basketball game was being played, featuring many of the company's system engineers, who battled in a fullcourt contest of Shirts and Skins. The scene was idyllic enough to want to take out the TiVo remote and hit pause, but I'm just as eager to hit Fast Forward and see what the next several years will bring for the technology pioneer.

June 26, 2009

Ignoring Rationality, I Subscribed to Sirius Radio Yesterday

Last week, I told you that the new iPhone application from Sirius Radio solved a problem I didn't have, namely gaining access to good music - which I can get from numerous sources, including my bulging iTunes library, Last.fm, Pandora, or even streaming radio sources built into iTunes itself, like those from Digitally Imported. But despite my protests, I gave in yesterday and paid up, making Sirius' foray into iPhone applications already responsible for at least one net new customer.

As I mentioned last week, I always had hoped to have streaming high quality satellite radio in my next car, but missed the boat when I bought a used 2006 model and didn't get the chance to configure it myself.

After initial struggles getting the app to work in the car, the application has worked beautifully for the remainder of the seven day free trial that came alongside the iPhone app. I have made turning on Sirius Radio (and primarily the station Area) part of the process of my turning the car on. And if you're a diehard electronic music and techno fan, I can tell you there is just no substitute for Sirius' set of stations on any network I have ever tried.

The Sirius Lineup on Pulsar

But if I were only using Sirius in the car, I still would have passed. Instead, I have also been playing my Sirius stations on my laptop, using an application called Pulsar, from Rogue Amoeba, that makes getting the music on my desktop very easy indeed. Now, I can listen to Area, and get shows from Robbie Rivera, Bennie Benasi, Paul Van Dyk, John Digweed, Carl Cox and Paul Oakenfold any time I am near the computer or the iPhone (which as you can assume is darn near all the time).

My Favorite Sirius Stations on Pulsar

And it's not just the unmatched content on the channel that had me convert. It's also the complete lack of commercials on Sirius, and of course, elimination of static. Pure satellite sound pumping through my BMW speakers on 280 is just amazing, as you can probably imagine.

Last week, when I was first talking about possibly buying Sirius Radio, Thomas Hawk repeatedly said "music wants to be free". But I will always pay for quality - and Sirius Radio has it. I cannot wait until the next long trip when I can charge up the iPhone, hook up to the dash and hit the gas, with perfect music flowing alongside. So don't tell me it was an irrational move, one that was a waste of money, or that I had better alternatives elsewhere. Music, like art, is emotional, and I have no qualms about reversing my position.

Slow Down My E-mail and Slow Me Down Too

Even if I may like to gain access to early versions of cutting-edge Web tools and communications apps, there is simply no replacement for e-mail. It remains my starting point to my information consumption each day, and the major thoroughfare for communication, even as I pile on all sorts of social networking activity on its head. Simple access to all my e-mail accounts from any location has become expected, and when anything happens to get in the way, the results are visible right away.

Over the last few weeks, I have been getting worse about responding to e-mail quickly, not due to any lack of interest on my part, or even the result of an increasing workload. Instead, a new working environment, and new rules from IT, are turning processes which should be a snap into an obstacle course - ostensibly keeping them safer, but at a clear cost to me, and I am sure many of you see similar issues.

The first impact comes from the office's hard and fast rule against supporting POP3 activity on the company network. No doubt a preventative move to reduce potential exposure to e-mail borne viruses and malware, or even a move to reduce the export of confidential data, this move means that instead of getting all my Mobile Me mail quickly into my Mail.app, and responding rapidly, I am forced to read messages through the Webmail equivalent or on the iPhone. As we all know, Apple's Webmail for Mobile Me is substandard - with failure being more frequent than success, and the latency has me seeing red, so I tend to view my accounts on the iPhone and delete junk, before responding to a select few and hoping the Mobile Me gods are happy that moment. Usually, they aren't.

So, while my in box was once somewhat clean, it's piling up, and I'm looking less responsive. It's already led to some missed stories, and people resending messages to be sure I got them the first time.

The second impact runs in the opposite direction. Office Exchange mail is not supported on the iPhone - only on company Blackberries (or through Webmail). Now, this means that if I am away from the office, or not at the laptop, I am literally away from company mail.

I haven't seen the official rule on this one, in terms of why iPhones are not supported. Suffice it to say that "it's just the way it is", and that's probably not changing soon. It could be an issue of not wanting to field more outside requests, or a training issue, but this too slows down my responding to messages, accepting calendar invites, or generally feeling connected.

The combination of these two issues finds me doing a lot of e-mail from home, after getting appropriate network access speeds secured, responding to fewer messages or in shorter length, or generally feeling like I am running an uphill battle. It's almost like I am being penalized for going into the office, when things actually go faster from the couch.

And yes, before I hear the cries for me to move to GMail, I am aware that solves issue #1 (I assume), but it won't fix issue #2, and I don't believe I should have to swap out the address I have used for nearly a decade due to this issue.

For those of you who are under similar limits, how do you handle finding roadblocks put in your way?

June 25, 2009

The Marketing 2.0 Revolution: Who Is Driving?

This evening, the San Francisco American Marketing Association put on a panel featuring the just departed from Google Kevin Marks, Jeremiah Owyang, Mark Silva and Robert Scoble. I took notes on the panel and posted them to FriendFeed. These notes are embedded below. The topic was billed as how tech bloggers are pushing the new version of Marketing 2.0, and strayed away from the core topic, bouncing to PR, social media, and how marketers and advertisers can take advantage of these new tools.

In a month, I will be back up here, participating with Guy Kawasaki, Scoble and others, discussing the potential demise of Marketing and PR, hosted by Mark Evans, who just so happens to be the president-elect of the SFAMA and father to triplets.

June 24, 2009

Are Authors or Publications Impacting How You Consume the News?

Over the last few years, participating in the tech blogosphere and meeting many of the people who create and report on the tech news we read every day has made the entire process of consuming the news more than simply a passive exercise. While in 2005 or early 2006, I may have imbibed any new posts that come to my RSS reader as manna from heaven, reading every word to find out what was new and interesting, I now find that my own personal interactions with the authors, the publications, or even the story subjects themselves is impacting how I take in the news. And I know I can't get zapped with a mind-eraser like in Men In Black to have it all go away.

Many times, I have told you that Google Reader and FriendFeed are my two major tools for information discovery. On a typical day, north of 600 news items hit my reader, and I spend a few hours clicking through FriendFeed, relying on my social connections to fill the gaps. And, given my need to make a decision, in seconds, as to whether I will read the article, click through, comment or share, I am now finding that the name behind the story is as much an element of that choice as the headline or subject would be, try as I might for that not to happen.

Sometimes, if a big story hits, all the major blogs will write about it in the space of minutes. That means, as FeedBurner and Google Reader go to work, I'll see headlines from ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, CenterNetworks, Mashable and others come in a rapid fire. Sometimes, I will just share the first relevant story I come across, only to find that the second or third version of that story from another author is just a bit better. So do I share both, or should I hit "K", go back to that first share and undo it?

And that's not even getting to the real fun part. As time has gone on, I've gotten to learn pretty much the entire matrix of who likes who in this space. Suffice it to say that not every blogger likes his or her counterpart across the aisle - and I am being watched. I get direct messages on Twitter, or separate e-mails, following my actions, whether I shared one blogger's item on Google Reader instead of another, whether I linked to one person's story and forgot somebody else, or even if I went out of my way to comment on one blog that one guy particularly might not like. Truth be told, there's no good way to come out of the mess smiling and seeing that everyone's happy - because for some, you're either with us, or you're against us, and there's no chance for middle ground.

So as those messages pile up, and my own personal interactions with many of these folks occur, by phone, by e-mail, on podcasts, or on Silicon Valley events, I start to read and share the news, not with the virgin eyes of an excited early adopter tech consumer, but more often one that has to consider the downstream response I might get if I click here, link there, or comment somewhere else. And I see the names flow through next to the headlines, reminding me of their previous stories, good and bad, their arguments, public and private, or even, who is in a relationship with who... because sometimes that news gets around as well.

I'll be honest with you - for the most part, I recognize I have been incredibly lucky in almost every case. Even though I don't have my neck out there, turning this blog into my source of revenue, I've had the chance to shake hands with most of my brand-name counterparts out there. Even those who have gained a reputation for being difficult from others have been good to me. My online interactions and my one phone conversation with Dave Winer were very good. Every single conversation, by phone or in person, I have had with Mike Arrington has been very positive. I clearly have had a solid relationship with Robert Scoble, and fellow bloggers like Jesse Stay, Rob Diana, MG Siegler, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Steve Rubel, Brian Solis, Jeremiah Owyang and others. I trade e-mail often with those who are not nearby geographically, including Steven Hodson, Allen Stern and Duncan Riley, enjoyed my one time on This Week In Tech with Leo Laporte and had a great conversation with Loren Feldman at SXSW in Austin. Largely, the tech blogosphere is a positive community, despite the occasional rumble that threatens to pit friends against friends.

And for that I am grateful. I just wonder if it would ever be possible again to go back to a time when I got really excited about seeing the news for the first time, for its sake, and could eliminate any personal impact that might overlay the story - not needing to wonder if one blog broke an embargo, or wonder why one product got sent to another blog and not me. I wonder also for those who are not as embedded in this space, how they are letting blog brands and authors impact how they take in the news. Are you choosing favorites? Do you see names and titles, and skip right by, or can you see beyond the names and learn what you came for?

June 23, 2009

10 Ways Apple's iPhone Leaves Me Wanting More

Ever since I switched from a Blackberry mobile phone to Apple's iPhone, I've never looked back. In fact, at this point, following a full year's use, I am more likely a bigger proponent of the iPhone than I am of the Macintosh itself - something I never thought I would say. While I've gone on record saying that which operating system you use is not as relevant as it once was, I have yet to be impressed by any real iPhone competitor, including the Android-powered models from T-Mobile, or the Palm Pre. For me, I still hold to my comments back in December, when I said there are two phones in this world: those that are iPhones and those that are not.

But that doesn't make the iPhone perfect. As with any other product, it has its holes - some of which seem to be oversights on the part of Apple. Spurred forward by fellow blogger Tamar Weinberg's comments today on one of her own pet peeves, I thought I would discuss my thoughts.

1) Application Sorting Is Practically Non-Existent

I am hardly breaking new ground here, but as somebody who downloads a lot of iPhone applications, I am well into my 7th page of 16 icons, in addition to the core four applications stored in the iPhone's faux dock. To find the latest adds, I have to finger-swipe six times until I find the right one. Even worse, I often find I don't recognize an app's icon, and will have to go back and forth until it is found. It would be significantly better if I could have some kind of categorization and navigation, almost like Windows' Start menu or the Apple Menu to navigate to games, social networking, etc., or even do something simple like sorting all applications alphabetically.

And for those who say this situation is alleviated with the introduction of search on iPhone OS 3.0, it's hardly the answer. For example, I tried to search for Sirius or XM on my iPhone and found nothing, despite having the Sirius/XM Radio application. Why did this happen? Because the app is named "Online"... I kid you not.

2) Multi-Tasking: Where Art Thou?

One of the bigger selling points for the Palm Pre is its ability to multi-task. Just like I can swipe my finger right to left to flip pages in the Safari Web browser, why couldn't I also do the same to flip between open applications on the iPhone? On the Mac (or any computer) it's assumed that you would have a Web browser an e-mail client, and an office application open practically at all times. But with the iPhone, I have to exit out of the app, go to the home screen and launch something new each time. That's silly.

3) There's No Way to Set Preferences On App Music

The crux of Tamar's complaints today... While some applications let you still listen to the music you are hearing on the iPod when you open them up, the vast majority do not, deciding that whatever music background they have provided, or whatever sound effects they have embedded in their game or other application have precedence. It would be great to set up a way to either mute all background music on all applications from the preferences app, or have them all prompt you upon loading. The worst thing is when you're grooving to a great iTunes track and have it fade down to pick up some ditty on a miniature golf app. (Hat tip to Tamar)

4) Rented Films Still Hog Space After They Expire

When I flew to and from Philadelphia to visit Drew Olanoff, I "overpacked" on rented films from iTunes, grabbing three. I managed to watch two, and still have one left to make time for. But while that one film takes just over 1 gigabyte of space, and I can no longer see the expired rentals (having passed the 24 hour period), I saw even this morning that they were taking 4 gigabytes in total of my available data. I had to go to iTunes and manually manage the films, deleting them myself instead of them just going poof and releasing the space for other music or data.

5) The 3G Toggle Switch Is Buried

Everybody knows that 3G is faster than Edge. But it can suck down battery power like nothing else. As such, I often find myself toggling back and forth between 3G and Edge. But to do so is a dumb process. I have to go to the Settings application, select "General", then "Network", and then choose whether or not to enable 3G.

In contrast, "Airplane Mode" sits atop the Settings app, with a simple on/off switch. Why not put 3G in the same space, or let me toggle it in hardware, like I can with the volume or the on/off power switch? I know I move between 3G and Edge a lot more than I ever find myself switching in and out of Airplane Mode.

6) You Can Only Configure One Exchange Account

Need to manage more than one Exchange account? Well, sorry, you're out of luck. Pick one. While we should in theory be grateful that Apple gave us the option to check our work mail on the go, there are a number of scenarios that can see people needing access to more than one Exchange account. For example, if you are a consultant, and you have access to the Exchange server on your company network, but also for the client address you've been given, you can't run both Exchange accounts on the iPhone - period. It won't even let you try.

7) You Can't Customize Alert Sounds

Apple wants so much control over the way your iPhone looks and sounds, they don't even let you choose what your "New Mail" or "Calendar Alert" sounds are. They are either on, or they are off, period. While I don't expect the iPhone to get to the fun heady times of the mid-1990s, when we could customize our Macs to run all number of soundsets, one would think there would be some alternative ways to hear your alerts.

8) Phone Calls Can Interrupt Applications Altogether

We've all seen how cool it can be if you're listening to music and a call comes in. The music fades down, the call takes place, and then it comes back up. Awesome. But for some applications, the phone call can stop it in its tracks, including the aforementioned Sirius/XM app. Streaming music just isn't treated the same way as iPod music, so it doesn't come back when the call is done.

9) AT&T Exclusivity

As if I even need to bring this one up. AT&T is dead weight holding back Apple's ability to grow. One is a flexible, creative, innovative company. The other is a recovered monopolist who trails the rest of the industry in rolling out cutting-edge features, and expecting you to pay a premium for it. Opening up the iPhone in a legal way to additional carriers could spur a feature race that would accelerate the iPhone's capabilities even further, while possibly lowering prices for customers everywhere.

10) Four Icons In the Dock - Period

Adding on to the pain around not being able to do jack with the way my app icons are displayed on the iPhone, it would be nice to see the iPhone dock work a lot more like that on the Mac. My dock on the Mac features 28 total icons, including the system trash. The iPhone offers 4 and 4 period. I don't expect I should be able to post the two dozen I do on a full size laptop, but why not five or six in smaller icon mode? Why should I have to make the tough call of adding the iPod or the Address Book over Safari?

Don't get me wrong - I am a happy iPhone user. But in the face of additional competition from the Android platform, Palm and others, Apple should be trying to plug any and all holes to try and maintain its product leadership. Targeting some of these issues, and those that you've come across in your use of the iPhone would no doubt go a long way. What else do you think Apple should be doing?

June 20, 2009

Matthew and Sarah Turn One Year Old! (12 Months of Photos)

One of the Earliest Pictures from Stanford Hospital A Year Ago

Exactly one year ago at this moment, my wife and I were at the Stanford University hospital in Palo Alto. She was in labor, and the two of us were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our twin boy and girl. We didn't know what they looked like. We didn't even know what we were to name them, and we didn't really know how much our lives would change. We didn't have a crystal ball into their budding personalities, and we never imagined how much fun we would have once they joined our family.

On June 20th of 2008, Matthew David Gray and Sarah Elizabeth Gray joined our family. We share with you some of the highlights in pictures. Even for those of you who follow us closely on other networks, some of these photos are new - having never been posted to the Web. Scroll down just to watch the kids grow before your eyes. You can catch more on Matthew and Sarah by following our Smugmug account or The Gray Effect.

Thank you for being part of our extended family and community.

June 2008

My Tweet that night, alerting the world we were on our way.
(Discussed on Friendfeed)

Matthew and Sarah debuted on June 20th, but were quite small. Sarah stayed at the hospital another week, as she worked hard to grow.

July 2008

Once we got the twins home, it was remarkable how small they were.

August 2008

By August, they grew used to being part of our family.

September 2008

In September, many evenings were spent with me, as my wife attended her masters' program.

October 2008

By October, though still small, the kids' facial expressions became very clear.

November 2008

By November, the two were playing along with our Schwag Magnets routine, sporting Web 2.0 logos which previously couldn't fit at all.

December 2008

December saw Matthew and Sarah grow more curious about the world around them.

January 2009

The two spend practically every waking (and sleeping) moment together.

February 2009

As the twins grow, they present quite an armful.

March 2009

One thing we never expected was how happy and upbeat Matthew and Sarah both are. The times they cry or get frustrated are far outweighed by their smiles and shouts of glee.

April 2009

The two tag along with my wife to CostCo.

Sarah exults at a friend's party. (Photo by Rachel Fox)

May 2009

Matching clothes are too tempting for the boy/girl twin set.

June 2009

As the twins grow, they get more inventive about boundaries.

The pair relax together on Robert Scoble's recliner.


Flying down to San Diego for a cousin's wedding, the two prepare in the airport.

Anybody who has ever been a parent knows the perfect bond that can exist with children. That we were so blessed to get two amazing children at once is something that is indescribable. We are ecstatic every day, even during tough times. But there aren't that many, and we are looking forward to year number two!