Quick Update About The Blog

I know I haven’t posted in ages, but I intend to get back to it shortly after the new year. I’ve actually written quite a bit since my last public post, probably upwards of about 20 full articles. Some have been posted on other sites or at least intended for other sites, while there’s a couple handfuls that have sat idly in the Drafts folder. I’ve got a bad perfectionist habit and it gets in the way of hitting the Publish button when it comes time. I promise, I’m going to get better about that.

When I do return to writing, I will be switching to a new blogging system and a new hosting site. WordPress has it’s virtues, mostly being free and easy. Unfortunately, WordPress also has it’s massively overwhelming flaws. Leading the pack is the horrible analytics system and the synthetic exclusion of Google Analytics as an option. There are other problems, but I frankly can’t find reasons to continue using WordPress when there are other options. When I do change over, I’m going to take a little time to seek out alternatives, either something based in ASP.Net or possibly going the route of static blogging with something like Disqus for comments.

Anyway, I’ll post something when I make the switch, so followers need only watch for that.

Facebook really is afraid of Google+

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Facebook appears to be untouchable in the realm of Social Networks, having become the first page loaded and the last page closed on many people’s browsers and it’s the single most commonly installed application on every major mobile OS.  For many people Facebook has become their only window to the Internet. At 845 million active users worldwide, including nearly 1/2 of the entire US population, Facebook truly is a phenomenon.

Enter Google+, the 4th effort Google has made into the social space.  Unveiled on June 28th, 2011 to a swarm of people trying to get into the invite-only “field test” and nearly crashing the service in just a short few hours (I was one of the few who got a working invite and I’ll confirm it was barely functional for several days due to crowding).  The excitement quickly waned, but the service has been quietly gaining an estimated 625,000 new users daily with a massive leap in users coming in December.  Despite a common perception that few people are using Google+ the estimates suggest that it will reach 400 million users by the end of 2012, nearly half of Facebook’s current total.

Facebook has not let Google+ go unnoticed, quickly adapting to mimic many features for which Google+ was initially praised.  Within a week of the unveiling Facebook had unofficially released a tool for treating their existing Lists feature as a version of Circles, later introducing automatic lists based on workplaces, schools or other significant commonalities. Facebook also signed a deal with Skype to offer video calling services in an attempt to rival Google+ Hangouts. They’ve even added a feature allowing people to Subscribe to other users, making it easy to see public updates from people without having to become friends.

Facebook has also taken to another strategy as well, not just to slow Google+ but to cement their position as the dominant social network of the internet.  When Google+ first arrived, the most common complaint wasn’t that it was slow or clumsy to work with, there wasn’t much to do, or even that there just weren’t enough users…The biggest complaint was about fatigue from setting up another social network; having to find and organize friends, creating albums, uploading pictures, customizing security settings and learning how everything works.  This complaint lead to an ‘A-Ha!’ moment for Facebook, by giving users the perception that too much work is involved in using another service they will simply stay where they are at.

How is Facebook going to add a cost to joining other social networks?  I first realized their goal when I saw a friend asking about the new Timeline feature, mostly complaining that it wanted users to add even more information and photos from their past to fill out the history.  People often assume Facebook wants this information to sell to advertisers, but the reality is that most advertisers don’t want that information, it’s basically useless to them.  Facebook simply wants you to make an investment by storing as much data as possible on their servers.  They aren’t looking to sell or abuse your data (well, not yet) or expose it to the world (like they’ve done a few times in the past), they just want to make it increasingly complicated to migrate your history to a competitor down the line.

Just yesterday Facebook announced plans to purchase Instagram, a social network directed at sharing photos.  At first glance this seems trivial, even a bit confusing.  Instagram doesn’t do anything substantial that’s not already offered by Facebook or can’t be added very quickly, it can’t be a patent or talent acquisition (not at the $1 billion price tag) and there’s already features in Instagram to cross-post your photos to Facebook.  It becomes increasingly clear that Facebook’s primary interest is absorbing Instagram’s existing database of users and pictures.  As a benefit, Facebook is surely looking to also integrate the wide discoverability offered by Instagram’s design, encouraging people to explore publicly shared photos.  I’m not predicting the dismantling of Instagram, rather I expect it will soon meld into the Facebook ecosystem as a separate application connected through your Facebook credentials.  All of this serves to deepen the integration Facebook has with user data.

Is this new tactic malicious or creepy, I don’t think so.  Facebook is simply playing into peoples’ laziness by asking for a little more information at a time until it’s unmanageable and impossible to relocate.  It’s really just smart business.  It’s also very telling; expect Facebook to become more aggressive, possibly even taking some bigger risks soon.

Both networks are stepping up their game.  Google+ is now integrated (non-invasively) into Android 4.0 and with several of the sister services (most notably Google Search itself) while Facebook has partnered with Microsoft to offer social search results and huge marketing opportunities.  Back in the late stages of 2011 it looked like Facebook had nothing to fear but their actions over the last 3 months hint that they are preparing for a fight.  It might be a crazy thought, but I think somebody could make a movie out of this. ;)

Why Microsoft can’t sell Windows Phone

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Ok, this article got away from me a bit and I’m a bit too lazy tonight to edit it down further.  Software Developers and Smartphone Enthusiasts will want to read the whole thing while the rest of you may want to just read the first three paragraphs which contain the more interesting stuff with the big numbers.

It’s clear that Windows Phone has about as much traction in the market as bald tires on a freshly buffed hockey rink

I’ve been rather annoyed lately about a relatively pathetic effort by Microsoft (and partner Nokia) to push Windows Phone devices to customers.  Microsoft’s recently leaked plans to spend upwards of $200 million on marketing for their mobile OS have proven that they still don’t have a proper grasp on the real problems with gaining traction in the market.  Here are the problems facing adoption of Windows Phone devices:

  • Their total app count in the store is still around 50,000, a pretty low number compared to the roughly half-million that both iOS and Android boast in their own markets (and the number climbs higher if you consider the outlying markets)
  • Many potential customers are comparing hardware specs and can see that there’s some disturbingly obvious weaknesses in the windows phone lineup.  While the OS runs great on the hardware today, customers realize that current devices will be woefully underpowered when compared to dual-core processors, substantial ram increases, and higher resolution displays hit the market.
  • Currently, few people own a Windows Phone, which means that few people are getting recommendations from their friends that they should make the investment and take the risk of being stuck on a phone for the next two years.

Surely the reasons number beyond the three above, but it’s plainly obvious that they still haven’t achieved traction.  Unfortunately there’s no clear set of numbers for Windows Phone sales, however Microsoft did admit that in January 2011 they had sold 2 million handsets (sold to carriers, not necessarily to consumers).  Estimates vary wildly but even Microsoft admits to missing their original goal of 30 million for this year.  By contrast, in late December Google reported that 700,000 Android devices were being activated daily (that’s ONLY Google certified devices with a cellular contract, no wifi-only or off-brand devices are included) and just on the 24th and 25th of December they more than doubled that rate; yeah, that’s almost 30 million devices in one month.  At this rate, it’s unlikely Windows Phone will become the #2 smartphone platform in 2015.  It’s clear that Windows Phone has about as much traction in the market as bald tires on a freshly buffed hockey rink.

Microsoft thinks they can solve this problem with marketing, pushing the advertising costs high enough that I wonder how many Super Bowl ads will they be ready to buy this year.  I think they are wasting money, pushing ads on people who aren’t going to notice or care about them.  I picture solving their problems in another way, a way that few companies short of Microsoft could afford…Invest in giving it away.  Two of the three biggest problems with gaining attention for the platform are only solved by having more Windows Phones in the wild.

First, the low count of Apps in their marketplace is due in large part to the low number of users out there to buy paid apps or even to use ad-supported free apps. This is the Chicken-and-Egg conundrum…With too few users the developers don’t want to invest in building an app if the cost of building it is more than they can hope to make from it, but with too few apps the platform can’t attract more users.  By putting phones into the hands of more people, there are more customers for developers to build for.

Second, most people are stuck in 2 year contracts with their phones and they won’t be upgrading for a while.  When time comes to pick the next phone, many of them are considering what phones their friends have and who has been happiest.  Since most people don’t know anybody with a Windows Phone (I only know a few people and every single one works at Microsoft), then very few will give much thought to strapping themselves down to an unknown option for the next 24 months.  By putting one of these phones in close proximity to a lot of people, it’s giving them the opportunity to ask about them in real-world conditions.

Here’s how I would do it.  First, simply give away devices to all MSDN subscribers.  Most people haven’t heard of this program but at renewal prices ranging from $500 to $3,800 per year (yes, the initial year is substantially higher, topping out at $11,900….seriously) you can have nearly unlimited access to all old, current and even some unreleased software Microsoft produces.  The great thing, only developers are likely to be signed up.  By giving them devices, you’re hitting your target group head-on…These are exactly the people you want developing apps for the platform.  Follow up by targeting Network Admins and other developers, as these guys are often seen as the “smart guys” and are frequently the people to ask about gadget related stuff…and an ever larger group of people who might be writing apps in their off hours.  Final step, hold a lottery.  Yes, really.  Make sure it’s geographically spread out, but simply get a bunch of phones out to regular people.  Every month, just send out a couple thousand of these phones.  Who cares if the recipients give them away or even sell them, as long as somebody is using the phone then the goal of putting it in somebody’s palm is met.

I know the obvious question, how much would this cost.  The average retail price of off contract devices is a bit below $500. Surely Microsoft doesn’t pay retail, so let’s estimate closer to $300 (I’ll bet they still don’t pay nearly that much).  With $1 million dollars you can buy more than 3,300 handsets.  Remember when I said they were going to spend $200 million just this year on marketing?  Just imagine, that much money could send over 660,000 devices into the world.  Obviously that might be going overboard, but spending about 1/10th of it that would be easy.  At $20 million, they could easily push around 65,000 handsets out, focusing on developers and spreading the rest to various cities across the US and Europe.  By putting the phones into the right hands, they are doing more for the platform than pushing tv ads in front of people and earn a ton of good will from both their hardware partners and the consumers.

Open Letter to 2012

2011 Sucked!!!
I mean it, it really really sucked…
It sucked in the way that I’d like to take it back to the store with receipt and yell at the innocent customer service person who’s job it is to simply ask what was wrong with it before refunding money back to my card.  Just yesterday the Grandmother that I grew up with passed away and in the same day I had to make the decision to put a very beloved pet to sleep.  This year I’ve had two close friends betray me, one of them I’ve been friends with for nearly two decades and I’ve sacrificed quite a bit to help him out over the last year.  To top it off, the hard drive in my laptop is probably a couple days from failing and I don’t have a screwdriver that will fit so I can replace it.  Believe me, there’s more, as most of this list is just from the last 6 weeks, but I’ve worked pretty hard to block out the rest.

I’m a bit angry.  Well, after the last 6 weeks, that probably isn’t surprising…but I just read yesterday that fuel was the top export from the US this year despite the fact that they are going to make about $200 billion this year and based on taxes from last year only paid about $5.7 billion thanks to countless tax breaks that Congress won’t repeal…wouldn’t you like to pay only 2.5% – 3% tax on your income?  In other news, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) somehow still has traction regardless of several protests and boycotts.  Again, I could continue listing more abuses and absurdities, without even going a full week into the past…Yes, I’m a bit angry.

How is it that the people responsible for the financial collapse are all still indescribably rich and none of them have gone to prison, been fined or even seriously questioned? How do we have the smallest middle class in the history of this country while we watch CEOs who can’t even keep a company running are receiving massive yearly bonuses that exceed what most of us will make in our lives?  Why is it that our elected officials are now openly flaunting that they want to put laws into effect that have absolutely zero support from the people, yet they are confident they will be re-elected?  Twenty years ago we were trying to stop the atrocities taking place in foreign countries, ten years ago we experienced an atrocity on our own land and today I feel like we are being enslaved in our own country, where are we going to be in another ten or twenty years?

I’ve never been big on pushing for social movements, but it’s becoming clear that things aren’t getting better.  The population of this country is being goaded into thinking that we should not talk about politics with friends and family because the conversations might be uncomfortable, that there are politicians looking out for our best interests and that we have a voice.  None of those things are true, but most people believe all of those things.  With the recent opposition to SOPA and the rather profound anti-GoDaddy efforts, it’s clear that we can start to fix one of the biggest problems facing us, that we have no voice. I’m not calling for pitchforks and torches, but any form of mob justice is hard to ignore.

I haven’t spent enough time thinking about how I see solving the problem, but there are other people who have already started down this road.  I believe part of the solution is to reduce the noise and make it easier for people to organize, much in the way that the Anti-SOPA/PIPA movement worked; they helped people by giving them the names, phone numbers and email addresses of their state senators and district representative.  There’s also a lot of issues to cover and trying to fix too many things at once ensures they all fail.  Our lives are complicated and we don’t have time to become active and vocal on the subjects that matter to us, but that shouldn’t prevent us from being counted.  Given that we’re coming into a major election year, it’s definitely time that We The People recover the rights we’ve afforded ourselves.  In the mean time start by taking to heart the motto used in New York after the September 11th attacks, “See Something, Say Something”.  Become more vocal about the things that need to be fixed and let those who are making things worse fear for their loss of power.  Go on twitter and use #letsfixthis to talk about bigger issues that are broken.  Start getting people together to fix the gross abuses of power and corruption in this country, and call out the guilty.

2011 sucked and the powers that be are on pace to make 2012 worse.  Let’s change that direction.

Carriers Criminally Control Commerce

In recently breaking news, it was exposed that Verizon Wireless would be actively blocking Google Wallet from their soon to be released Galaxy Nexus phone.  The reason for this move is to prevent Google Wallet from making traction while they develop a competing technology currently going by the name ISIS.  In light of the soon to explode subject of Carrier IQ, the cellular carriers within the U.S. are patterning themselves as dangerous and likely criminal.

History has already shown that consumers in the United States have already been abused and mistreated by the carriers in virtually every possible way from overpriced plans and features to abusive and even predatory overage policies.  Verizon themselves are infamously known for detrimentally modifying the handsets they sell to customers; for example, in 2008 they began selling the HTC Touch Pro, unlike the other 3 major carriers (and a couple of smaller ones) they ordered the handsets with half of the original RAM and initially released it at $50 more than anybody else.  AT&T has done little to earn themselves a positive reputation after being exposed for attempting to buy T-Mobile for no better reason than removing competition in the market.  If you’re looking for examples of how pricing is inexplicably high, simply look to any carrier in Europe where even the more expensive carriers make Sprint look costly and most of them are delivering higher call quality and reliability with data services that are far cheaper and faster.

The Carrier IQ scandal is only just heating up with lawsuits about to be filed against AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint (along with HTC, Samsung and Apple) with the intention to elevate them to Class Action Status.  For those who don’t know about Carrier IQ, the very short explanation is that there is software installed on many phones sold in the US that can log every keystroke, button press, phone call, website address (even those that are SSL encrypted) and more.  The data being logged is being sent back to server farms and to date it’s unclear of how the data is stored and secured or how it’s being used.  The various versions of the software has been discovered running on HTC, Samsung and Apple handsets from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.  So far nothing has been found on Motorola or Verizon handsets, however Verizon’s specifically qualified statement that they don’t run Carrier IQ has raised the question if they are merely using a different or custom made solution.  While proof is still coming to the surface, it’s clear that the carriers are guilty of a major violation of privacy and security.

Update: Verizon is in fact using a similar app named Motricity to do their dirty work.  Consider me unsurprised.

Google Wallet is now restricted by all of the carriers except for Sprint in favor of pushing their own version called ISIS.  For those who haven’t heard of Google Wallet, the easy way to describe it is allowing people to use their phone like a credit card by passing it over sensors in a store and then authorizing the payment.  This may sound like a small issue of little importance, remember that whoever is successful in this market will eventually provide their own payment method and become a major provider in the credit and financial world.  The 3 major carriers (excluding Sprint) are trying to collectively build their service in hopes of excluding Google.

Cellular coverage is already a $50 Billion industry in the USA, and it’s not unlikely that these carriers will eventually try to spread this system overseas.  Between installing spyware on the phones they sell to us, lying about policies, manipulating fine print in ways that would make the nations’ banks proud and joining in highly anti-competitive tactics…well I don’t much trust them to also get involved in the financial industry, especially when they are actively working to exclude their competitors.  This actually is the definition of Anti-Trust and over half of the names involved are direct descendants of the broken up Ma’ Bell monopoly.  While we need cell phones, technology, credit cards and other electronic payment, the least we deserve a choice of which ones we use.  While I suspect there will soon be an online petition to push Verizon into allowing Google Wallet, and hopefully an DOJ investigation into the ISIS partners, at the very least I would urge people to complain to Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile and request that they stop blocking Google Wallet on their “Nexus”-branded phones (and any phone that supports NFC).

A Customer Should Be Accidentally Happier Because of Your Product

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“A Customer Should Be Accidentally Happier Because of Your Product”

It’s a mantra Apple never realized they had.  It’s also practiced by many of the most successful product companies in history.  Sadly few companies today believe in this notion and the number is steadily approaching zero.  Off the top of my head, Apple is the only company lately to have convinced people to buy a product with certain expectations only to surprise them with something better.  They’ve certainly had their failures and letdowns that I could surely rant about for hours (or weeks), but the experience you have from the instant you open the packaging to the point of being fully immersed in the product is nothing short of programmed excellence.  This should be the goal of every company, to reward their customers with an experience that is better than expected.

Too many products today are haunted by features that don’t work and advertising that overpraises what does.  Consider buying a brand new and very expensive smartphone which is running an old version of the OS, contains bloated software from the carrier, some features won’t work due to imaginary restrictions and it doesn’t even get the advertised data speeds.  In my case, I voided my warranty by flashing a custom rom onto the phone to solve ALL of those issues.  But I shouldn’t have to fix a product I just bought so I can get what I paid for.

If 1% of the experience is bad for 80% of people, your product should fail

I’ve had to return countless things to stores over the years because some part was not working as it was supposed to.  It’s a small wonder that some products have ever made it to manufacturing when significant flaws are remarkably obvious to anybody at first glance.  I’ve had to return blenders, mice, lamps, laptops…I even returned DVDs to Wal-Mart that were warped or melted inside the case.  I get that there can be flaws in manufacturing, but this is unacceptable.

When there are false promises or corners were cut, ask how many of the most vocal customers are going to notice and multiply that backlash. We’re in an age of consumers who are far more informed and knowledgeable than ever before thanks to blogs and forums.  People are researching their purchasing decisions and asking their knowledgeable friends for recommendations like never before.

The butterfly effect is prevalent in the purchasing decisions of the mainstream populace.

Consider that alienating just 0.01% of the market today will lead to losing about 5% of the market over the next year, which dominoes into another 20% or more the next year.  The butterfly effect is prevalent in the purchasing decisions of the mainstream populace.  When 10 of the geekiest customers purchase a phone, they will effect 20-30 people a month later, who will then collectively effect 200-300 in another month.  Imagine engineering this effect to your favor by impressing just those 10 in the beginning and watch the thousands of new customers line up for your next big release.

Obviously there are aspects that can’t be fixed like cramped quarters on an airplane, but if one airline gave up about $1 per passenger to offer everybody free wireless internet for the duration of their flight.  Instead of charging $15 to the %0.25 of the passengers who normally buy it, that airline would max out their flights and have to add new flights for the next six months while every other airline scrambles to match them.

Imagine if HTC, Samsung, Motorola or any other smartphone manufacturer released updates to all of their android phones within 2-3 weeks of a new version.  The first company delivering on this will have massive customer loyalty.  If you doubt that theory, consider the response to ‘Nexus’ phones which do get updates right away, people respond to them the way they do to the iPhone.  The reality is, most of these efforts would suffer a cost unto the manufacturers of around ONE HUNDREDTH OF 1% (0.0001) of their profits, but it is likely that it would net at least another 10%-20% in customers because current and potential customers will be more vocal about the quality experience.  It’s a leap of faith, but it’s a small leap that any company would be foolish to ignore.  Deliver an experience that is superior and allow customers to notice how much better they have it.

As consumers, we must demand better.  When products don’t work as advertised or are hugely flawed, return them!  Make sure to write an email to the companies or at least go on forums or write a blog to complain about the things that aren’t ok.  Pay attention to the flaws and be useful when describing them so the engineers and developers have more than “it didn’t work right”.

As producers, we must do better too.  First, listen to customers to solve the problems and test what you’ve done for ways that both regular and irregular people will use it.  If 1% of the experience is bad for 80% of people, your product should fail.  One of the most important questions I ask when writing code is, “What can I do to make the user think my software does magic?”  We don’t need to add options and extra features if it doesn’t make the product any better.  Our products don’t need to solve every problem, but they must do what they are supposed to and solve the problems in the best way possible.

What can I do to make the user think my software does magic?

“A customer should be accidentally happier because of your product.”  I thought of that quote about a week ago and wrote it down immediately.  It says so much about so little.  After all that I’ve written, I suspect it goes to show that a great product is no accident…but if there is an intangible feeling that everything else has been made better in ways that weren’t intended, then somebody did something very right.

Incumbent Technology vs. A Better Future

iPhone owners buy 1 app per month average.  Lacking any good reference numbers, I’m going to make a crude assumption that most successful apps average about $2.  A little basic math says that in a given year a person is likely to spend $24, 2 year contracts get us about $48…Let’s just round it to $50 to keep things simple.

Why is it important to realize that your next-door neighbor has probably spent $50 or more on iPhone apps?  Because it’s one of the most compelling reasons for people to avoid migrating to another platform.  Microsoft Windows ruled two decades by simply having more software than anybody else.  I won’t suggest that the iPhone will have the same success, especially when they’ve already lost the battle for market share.

The problem, it’s too easy to stay with an older and less capable OS than to spend the time and money to migrate to the improved options competitors bring to the table. Microsoft recently unveiled Windows 8, basically the answer to the iPad and Android tablets.  My feeling is that between Android and Windows 8, there’s little reason to even consider an iPad in the future.

Let me explain using a moment of nerd-speak. In Star Wars novels following the movies, Luke Skywalker was sometimes criticized for being trained only as a warrior because that’s what was needed at the time, but he never learned the political aspects of the Jedi which would have been of great value once the Empire fell.  In a similar light, the iPhone came at a time when everybody was tired of ugly smartphones and really crappy performance and lag. The iPhone was designed to be light and smooth, answering all of the problems left behind by Blackberry and Windows Mobile while hoping people would overlook the flaws and missing features.  Fast forward only 4 years later and the design decisions that made the iPhone good then are now catching up, a technical debt that is going to cost Apple years to pay off.  Among some of the substantial features lacking in iOS, there’s yet to be a form of widgets as found in Android and Windows Phone, the notion of multitasking is there but it’s been harshly crippled with API decisions which will be hard to reverse for a couple of years to come and the worst of them all is Apple’s strict push to continue using Objective-C as the exclusive language of iOS.

Both the Android and Windows (Windows 8 and Phone 7) platforms bring much richer programming environments, better multitasking models, and much more open environments for innovation.  It’s predicted that in 2015 Microsoft will finally overtake Apple for Smartphone Market Share, I suspect these numbers may even be an underestimate once Windows 8 is released and Windows Phone 7 is eventually replaced by a compact version of Windows 8.  While it’s clear Android has cemented it’s place in the Smartphone world for years to come, it’s interesting to be watching the technological landscape now with the knowledge of what’s to come with the obvious shift away from Apple and towards Microsoft.  In a way, I see history repeating itself with the imminent fall of Apple, but also the breaking of new ground with a Linux-based OS finally taking the lead position.

To bring back the simple math at the beginning and why it matters…When our technology now suffers from fragmentation and division across multiple platforms, increasing the time and cost of development while also forcing each competitor to re-engineer each feature that comes along; the sad truth is that the bottle-neck preventing adoption of the platforms we want to be on is going to always be the investment in the technology from last year…

Say Hello to True Personal Computing

In the wake of watching the Build Keynote Presentation put on by Microsoft I started picturing the future of computers, phones and everything in between.

Before I get into anything else, I want to start by saying I’m already sick of hearing people say “The Post-PC Age”. The phrase is simply wrong, in fact egregiously wrong. Years ago when writers still wrote for magazines you might buy off of a shelf, there was surely somebody who coined the term ‘Personal Computer’ to describe computers that were owned by regular people instead of large corporations. The notion these computers were truly personal was a stretch though, given that they usually belong to the whole family.  I expect anybody reading this can see where I’m headed, that the lower cost of computers and natural ubiquity of them has finally made them mostly personal. As I see it, the more people see Tablets as their general use substitute for a laptop/desktop, the more we reach the final step that finally personalizes the computer to a person rather than something intended to be shared.  If that doesn’t convince you, just remember that there’s no tablet or phone on the market that supports multiple sign-in and there’s no PC operating system on the market that doesn’t.

Getting back to the point and for the one time I will use the term as everybody else does…As we enter The Post-PC Age the entire industry and how it affects our lives is going to be turned upside down.  I may be reluctant to credit Apple for changing the cell-phone market as much as some people, I don’t deny that the effect was staggering. Over the last 4 years we’ve seen the explosion of portability and how much it matters that people can be constantly connected. We’ve also seen the numbers of people that are abandoning classic feature phones and getting on board with smart phones. The obvious success of the iPad and now increasingly the market for Android Tablets has shown us that people are basically ready to leave behind the shackles of devices that require a long power cord and secondary peripherals (mouse, keyboard, etc.).

One of the hardest things for me to get across to people over the years is that 99% of people don’t even require a computer made in the last 5 years to accomplish any of the things they want to do. With the exception of movie editing (or watching in High Definition) and possibly larger projects in apps like Photoshop, there’s just no need for high-power processors or massive amounts of RAM (unless you always keep 40+ tabs open in Firefox like I do).  In reality there’s nothing we are doing today that we weren’t doing 5 years ago with nearly the same quality and speed.  A little over a decade ago I briefly worked as a salesperson at Dell; this is where I found myself constantly wanting to admit to customers that the cheapest model of computer with a single bump in RAM was all they needed when they only wanted to browse the web, get their email and maybe listen to some music.  Today has only made the situation more obvious, we don’t need more power anymore, we need a better interface, a better form factor and a better experience.

In the month that I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Tab I’ve found that I prefer reading web pages and RSS feeds on there while I want to use my laptop to handle downloads.  I’m still torn because I haven’t yet found a time where I want to watch video or listen to music on the tablet over my laptop, but that will probably come the next time I travel, though the hassle of converting video and loading on the tablet isn’t ideal (worth noting, it’s only slightly better on an iPad than it is on my tablet, so I don’t think I’m missing anything).

I suspect a lot of people are starting to really enjoy the experience that comes with tablets and phones.  Generally apps are safer and more easily sandboxed (kept separate from other apps and the OS), the launch time and functions of the apps are usually simple and easy to learn and the cost of the software is so low that a cup of coffee starts to sound unreasonable. The few arguments for sticking to full blown computers are usually limited to hard-core gaming. For the regular person, I suspect another year or two and the tablet will soon look like the more plausible option over the classic computer as we see it today.

Google+ can finish Twitter, if Business Profiles are done right.

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One of the things that’s made Twitter so successful is the immediacy and flexibility of the platform, making it the fastest way to spread a message and declaring most information old news by the time most other news sites or social networks have just started their coverage. In my previous article Google+ to Twitter, “you’re safe for now” I stated the thing that Twitter has which Google+ isn’t designed for is the discoverability factor where following one person’s side of a conversation easily leads to the possibility of finding many other people also worthy of following or commenting on. I still stand by my point, but I’ve realized that Google’s semi-recent announcement for business profiles offers the potential to deliver features that have long been missing from the Twitterverse. While the features I foresee don’t explicitly replace a lack of discoverability, they may be of greater value for the G+ audience.

The Problem

To begin with I think we need to establish the boundaries of what people really want and where so many other services have come up short.  One single issue comes up more than any other with virtually every content creator on the internet, they spout too much noise and not enough of what we value.  For the sake of an example, as an on-and-off web designer I used to keep my RSS reader pointed at the blog for Matt Cutts, a Google Engineer who works (at least at the time) on a team dedicated to increasing the quality of search results, which closely neighbors the subject of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Matt, while surely a great guy, began posting a lot less about SEO and Technology and a lot more about his personal life and especially his extensive traveling. Certainly no offense to him, but I just wasn’t interested and I became increasingly tired of manually filtering the extra information. I finally gave up and stopped following him. I simply can’t manually filter the 40 different blogs and RSS feeds and then go through everything people say on Twitter (especially for the people who are highly conversational on there)…

The Solution

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest an actual name for the feature before even describing it.  I think Google needs to call it “Outlets”.  Not only will it the name appeal to programmers and other technophiles, but it’s simple and makes sense. If I’m a business, let’s use HTC for this example, I know that some of my customers are huge fans of Android Windows Phone 7 and care nothing for Windows Phone 7 Android.  I would still want to publish information, but my fans just don’t want everything I have to offer.  The fix is to simply create outlets that people can subscribe to individually.

Going the extra mile…

There’s a lot of things that will land between the regular person and a company the size of Microsoft…Well-known bloggers and podcasters, small companies and organizations are just some of the names that will grace the network shortly. It will make sense for companies and organizations to have a single purpose account, but that will not be so for individuals that may be the face of a company, a well known podcaster, or even a world-famous celebrity.  For the people who use their name as a brand, Google+ could give them the option to have a Persona for the aspects that they need to represent under their name. The idea of the Persona should not be limited to people either, as both Google and Microsoft can demonstrate, with that many departments in the company, there’s a lot of information to get out and not enough people to read it all.

Google+ to Twitter, “you’re safe for now”

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While adding yet another reply to an already long G+ thread regarding Twitter and Facebook, I realized something oddly profound…the people reading it are exactly the opposite of the people who would have read it on Twitter.  The original post was made public by Scott Hanselman, but the interesting replies came from some of his many followers. In the Twitterverse, Scott’s other followers probably wouldn’t have seen our comments unless they also followed us, Scott re-tweeted, or they went out of their way to dig deeper into his replies to us (if he ever makes any). By contrast, in Google+ the only people seeing these replies are people who have commented on that thread already or possibly reading it for the first time. Despite the original post being completely public, the visibility of comments is very poor, relegating comments to lower value.

The subtle shift Google made was to turn Twitter conversations from being a mash of unconnected messages into coherent and topical threads (more like they are on Facebook). The dynamic becomes different because a great comment is not easy to see, even as a follower of the person who made the comment. This paradigm that made Twitter work for so many people falls apart when their own followers can’t get at everything. In this, we find the reason Google+ can never truly replace Twitter.

The version of Google+ we see today is lacking the one thing that makes Twitter useful, Discovery.

Most content creators on the internet rely heavily on their traffic; either for profit, inspiration, or simply an ego boost. Without a the ability to add new readers/followers, the ability to expand your audience is woefully lacking.  Equally, once you have an audience, the inability to feed them content also curtails the ability to keep them coming back. With the design of Google+ as it stands, the only way most people can earn their soap box is to be compelling in both comments so they can attract followers, and then produce their own content for their new readers without relying on their followers to see most of their comments in the future. Perhaps this was Google’s goal from the start, to pull the truly personal aspect away from Twitter while allowing the real qualities of Twitter to shine through for the more serious posters. No matter the case, the next thing Google should do is make public comments more discoverable and more visible for followers.

In the mean time, Twitter isn’t going to lose it’s base…it might even benefit by losing some of the crowd that did little more than tell us what they had for breakfast.

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