Thursday, 26 June 2008

Micro-blogging needs syndication

Phil posted today “Is twitter a serious business tool or just a complete waste of time?”. I dropped him a comment but in writing it, I came to a realisation that I felt deserved it's own post here.

twitter is the most successful micro-blogging platform in town but it still only serves a niche community of hip, internet things who love whatever is new. Pownce and Jaiku are the closest competition but the problem is critical mass, if I'm using twitter do I want to use pownce to interact with friends you follow there and jaiku for another set? No.

Very few people actually read this blog ( steady, there's more to this sentence ;) ) from the website, most read through an RSS/ATOM reader of some kind. They aggregate the feeds from a number of different sources into one easily consumable window on the blogging world. This is why blogging has become so damn successful, because it gives the reader control of how they consume.

In the micro-blogging world I need to visit multiple websites or download lots of clients to keep up to date with each network, which just isn't practical.

If all networks were to introduce a standard syndication methodology, something more suited to live messaging and the Internet like XMPP then clients could take feeds from all the sites that I like to track in one easily consumed form.

If I particularly liked Pownce's file sharing then I could use that through it's desktop client but it wouldn't preclude me from keeping up to date with all my other networks in an easily digestible form. Further if I liked the russian roulette that is twitter's up-time I could stick with that as my micro-blogging platform.

The problem is all these services want to attract audiences and keep them so they can advertise to them or whatever the business model based on subscriber numbers is, so they think they need a closed shop. However, if they don't grow the micro-blogging market, they won't grow themselves. Good ol' Catch-22.

So I ask you, micro-blogging platforms of the world unite, enable syndication and make micro-blogging as relevant and useful as blogging. Then you can concentrate on providing the best platform for your niche. For if you do there might just be a significant market to aim at.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Nokia vs BlackBerry vs iPhone

The web is awash with opinion and comment, so why not add my two-penneth.

I sit here with a Nokia E51, BlackBerry 8707v and an iPhone. When the iPhone morphs into a 3G monster something's got to give and that something is the BlackBerry. Ugly hunk of plastic with terrible browser that it is.

Fantastic email device but that's all it is. It's an awful phone. Exchange access on my iPhone, yes please. I actually like typing on the iPhone's touch screen now more than on the BlackBerry keyboard. Who'd of thought?

I think of all the losers in the wake of the iPhone success, it's BlackBerry that are going to suffer most. They are making a big move into the consumer and SME space. Vodafone here in the UK have most definitely nailed the colours to that particular mast. The problem is the iPhone is just so much better for that market.

Whether or not Apple crack the big enterprise market, or even if the really want to, the Exchange support added to IMAP and POP3 means if you want mobile email as personal or SME user, the iPhone is the one to choose because it's also an iPod and an amazing mobile Internet experience.

So why am I keeping the Nokia? They operate in a very different space and I'll be keeping my E51 because of it. Apple's closed app distribution model will prevent true innovation when it comes to mobile apps. if you want to do things like Qik or Shozu, they're going to come first to Nokia because it is the most feature rich and that is what all the mobile geeks use. That unpaid QA department in the cloud that are happy to work through the foibles of the platform because they desperately want the new stuff to work.

Yes the Nokia OS is a pain to use but the hardware is the business and features allow developers and entrepreneurs to flex their technical creativity.

So bye-bye BlackBerry, all being well you won't be missed.

Security in anonymity

Amazon have had some recent outages (Bots to blame for outages? | The Register) which raise a spectre of doubt for me over the viability of cloud computing services.

These services allow smaller organisations to benefit from large investments in computing power made by a small number of organisations, Amazon, Google, etc and buy IT infrastructure as a service.

The concern for me is that they provide a very, very big and obvious target for people of nefarious intent to aim at. Global brands like Amazon represent a prize for hackers and it would seem if one goes down, everyone goes down. Their being S3 services were affected as well, taking down all customers services that rely on them.

Doing it for yourself, on your own servers gives you the protection of the crowd in much the same way as being in a shoal of fish provides protection to the individual members from predators. Of course, you have to do a certain amount of self protection but being far less likely to be a target makes that a lot cheaper.

The counter argument is that these large cloud services organisations have the resources to hire the best defensive minds in the business to protect their investment, a level you couldn't possible afford or justify on your own. The problem is that these people are defending against the best attacking minds in the business because they're protecting the biggest prize, it's a classic arms race.

Another argument is that these services allow you to scale your service rapidly in the face of unprecedented demand. You never know, your service might become de rigueur and in the Internet world that means millions of hits.'You only get one chance'.

Entrepreneurs lap this one up, being the eternal optimists that we have to be to survive the start-up trials, of course my service is 'the one' I'm just waiting for the market to realise and then I'll be ready. Looking at it a little more pragmatically, this is a million to one shot.

What's more likely, should your business succeed, is that growth may well accelerate but not more than is copable with. The trick is to architect your service so you can rapidly scale it, then it just becomes an issue of cash hardware. If you've got your business model straight then this shouldn't be a problem.

So, home grown for me. It's not hard or expensive these days with so many open source services and stiff competition in the ISP market; and I haven't even got onto the perils of locking your pride and joy to a proprietary app hosting architecture.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Are email read receipts rude?

A couple of people I email on a regular basis request a read receipt by default. I don't send them, partially because I hate the dialog that pops up asking me whether I want to every time I receive an email from them and partially because I'm just plain awkward.

I'd much rather have an SMS style delivery receipt, ie I know it's got there, the transport mechanism has done it's job, I'm happy for the recipient to operate according to their own timescales and tell me when they're ready to respond.

The problem with read-receipts is that they're cross that line into the recipient exposing what they are doing to you. If I read an email, I might want consider a response, I might just be scanning to prioritise and get to it later. Indicating to someone that I've read it implies that I'm working on it straight away and they should ready themselves for a response.

So requesting a read receipt from me will certainly not get a response but you might succeed in raising my blood-pressure slightly ;)

Friday, 6 June 2008

SMS Home Routing, let's have a discussion before it's too late

In my interview with Informa yesterday we discussed among many things was SMS Home Routing and that, in my opinion, it represents one of the biggest threats and at the same time biggest opportunities for our industry. What I was concerned about was no one had mentioned this to the journalist before, a specialist in the mobile messaging arena.

A while ago I added a Google Alert for the term to keep me up to date with discussions, nothing. Absolutely nothing has come through. I imagined that in the vast expanse of the Internet, there would be someone who was worried about this or at least might have mentioned it.

Ewan at SMSTextNews has posted a couple of pieces (Verizon’s banning of abortion discussion highlights home routing issues, The arse with SMS home routing) about this (he's not in favour, can you tell? ;-)) but the comments have petered out.

I'm perplexed as to why industry figures like Mike Short, Andrew Bud, et al. are not leading a discussion into this. Why doesn't the MDA have an opinion?

I firmly believe that if SMS Home Routing destroys the validity of a delivery receipts, enterprises are going to walk away from SMS at a time when they're just starting to embrace it. It doesn't have to be this way, we just need some transparency from the operators.

O2 and the new iPhone, perhaps I might be stuck

Next week it seems we'll find out about the 3G iPhone, and hopefully O2 will put me out of my misery about whether they'll let me upgrade (Will O2 penalise me for being an early-adopter?).

In the shower this morning, location of most of thinking, it occurred to me that if they did let me upgrade, I'd be left with a 'useless' iPhone, at least in the eyes of Apple and O2. My purchase agreement prohibits me from jailbreaking it so as soon as my number is ported over to the new device and the SIM deactivated it's officially a brick.

Apple are very public about their dislike of jail-breaking  but I'm sure the networks will be equally keen to upgrade people and extend their contracts. All those early adopters with a 'spare' iPhone will head straight to eBay via an unlocking service to recoup some of their outlay.

In many ways this is the most environmentally conscious approach. Make sure the device, that is still in excellent working order, can still be used by someone. Rather than ending up in a landfill somewhere,  leaching it's delectable cocktail of heavy metals and other substances in to the surrounding ecosystem.

An alternative is for Apple + operator to provide a return scheme, probably with a cash back or new contract penalty if the original phone isn't returned when it's deactivated. If this is the case, it will be very interesting to watch the prices on eBay to see whether money's to be made.

This would be expensive for Apple as they still have to do something with the phones when the receive them. If it happens it will have probably come down to a battle between the Apple Cool Police and the money men over how much control freakery really costs.

Unfortunately this is all personal conjecture as there is a still a significantly less appealing alternative, no upgrades. But that doesn't bear thinking about...

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The great British iPhone mystery | The Register

This popped up on The Register today, well worth a read.

The great British iPhone mystery | The Register

I've currently got a Nokia E51 so I can do some R&D as well as trying out some of the new mobile apps which all seem to be for Symbian S60. It's a great bit of hardware but the OS is a real pain to use, Nokia really need to pull their fingers out if their to remain at the top of the smartphone market.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Is it cool to dis Twitter?

I don't know about you but I'm getting a little fed up with hearing about how hard it is for the guys at Twitter to scale their service. What's recently tipped the balance for me was the call to the community for assistance with their architectural problems: Twittering About Architecture.

In an interview with the founders (Scoble Interviews Twitter Founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone) they appear quite candid about the problems they're having but also appear to contradict the above blog post by saying they have ex-senior Google engineers and plenty of VC cash in the bank and don't need anyone else.

During the interview the founders admit to getting out of their depth technically when Scoble probes a bit deeper into the architecture and I wonder if that is part of their problem, the technical people don't have enough power. If they did maybe they would have recognised that twitter is a messaging system earlier.

It's a neat service but I'm perplexed as to why the community is giving them so much leeway.

As soon as VCs get involved, the notion of altruism quickly exits stage left, they've invested to make money so why should the rest of us help out.

I can only guess that it's just not cool to give them a hard time.

I, like probably most messaging system architects, reckon my team and I could have a pretty good stab at building it properly. The challenges they are facing are very similar to ours. Developers of content based web apps often underestimate the complexities of messaging systems,

That said, the most robust and technically excellent systems are useless if no one uses them. What ever magic juice twitter has got in it's lunchbox is certainly giving them plenty of time to get it fixed.

They just better hope it doesn't run out before the bell rings and people have to get back to class.