A Read/Write Web? Sometimes

Another good piece over at Read/WriteWeb about the coming shift to the browser as the only program you’ll need, when all applications come from online. But, frankly, they’re going to have to get a lot better before that happens.

I love, for example, Google Calendar, and have foolishly started relying on it. At least, until it stopped behaving more than 24 hours ago. All I get is the above portion of the calendar application, the rest a blank page. It is the holidays, of course, so a snowy-white canvas seems somehow apt, but actually I’m still busy with stuff, and organising my life gets more complicated around these times, not less. So losing access to my calendar, and those I share, is, frankly, a bummer.

The fact that Google hasn’t offered a real person to fix this problem for me — the automated email I get says “Due to the large volume of emails we receive, we may not be able to respond to your email personally. Please be assured, however, that we read all of the emails we receive, and we use your feedback to improve Calendar” — means that I am stuck. Probably for Christmas, now, probably for New Year too. If I forget to turn up to something between now and then, blame Google.

Emre Sokullu in his piece talks about how a Google Operating System being “such a small system, that the number of possible problems will be very limited.” I don’t know much about operating systems, but I know enough about what goes wrong on a computer to know that anything on a computer is not a small system, and that it will go wrong. (Look at the cellphone for example: Every person I talk to with a smart phone and their first complaint is about hanging and resetting.)

Google is playing with us when it gives us great tools but leaves us hanging when they don’t work. Of course, the tools are “free” so we shouldnt’ expect too much, and they’re always in Beta too, right, so we should know what we’re getting into. (Everything in Google is in beta except for search, just in case you thought your Gmail account was a real product.)

I, and you, should learn the harsh lesson here: Anything online is only accessible when you’re connected and the service is running. Anything offline is accessible so long as you have your computer and the program is working. I know which one I’ll stick with for now. Everything online? No thanks. Not until it’s cooked.

Getting Your Treo in Sync via USB

Here’s another one of those public service announcements for a very specific problem. Skip it if you haven’t had problems not being able to synchronize your Treo with a PC. In some cases an error message will appear “USB device not recognized” or somesuch. Here’s what worked for my Treo 650, after lots of messing about with more complicated solutions that didn’t (thanks to Palm for some of these, as well as some forums here and here):

  • First off, try removing the USB cable and sticking it back in again.
  • Try sticking the cable in a different port.
  • Try a different cable. The cable that comes with the Treo is notoriously unreliable.
  • Soft reset the Treo and try again. (Worked for me.)
  • Take battery out of Treo and leave for a few minutes.
  • Try synchronizing via Infrared. If this works, at least you’ve got a backup and you know the problem  is not terminal.
  • Reboot your PC and try again.
  • Try cleaning the connector on your Treo. This can get dirty. Be careful. Use an eraser or a soft cloth. Or lick it.
  • Reinstall your Palm Deskop (rebooting after uninstalling before reinstalling.)
  • Hard reset the Treo.

My rule of thumb with fixing things like this. Try the simplest first. Don’t follow radical advice of people on forums (reinstalling Windows XP, drivers for your motherboard, replacing parents) unless you’ve tried every possible simpler solution first. Remember the simplest answer is probably the right one.

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Podcast: How To Find Your Way Around

Here’s

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I recorded for the BBC World Service Business Daily show on StumbleUpon, a service that allows you to wander the Internet via signposts left by others. Email me if you’d like the transcript

If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes. My Loose Wire column for The Wall Street Journal Asia and WSJ.com, can be found here (subscription only; sorry.)

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

To listen to Business Daily on the radio, tune into BBC World Service at the following times, or click here.
Australasia: Mon-Fri 0141*, 0741
East Asia: Mon-Fri 0041, 1441
South Asia: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741
East Africa: Mon-Fri 1941
West Africa: Mon-Fri 1541*
Middle East: Mon-Fri 0141*, 1141*
Europe: Mon-Fri 0741, 2132
Americas: Tue-Fri 0141*, Mon-Fri 0741, 1041, 2132.

My pieces usually appear on Wednesdays.

Loose Wire the Stocking Filler

Still looking for the perfect Christmas present? My publishers are offering a one-off three for two deal on the Loose Wire book. I know I’d say this because I wrote it, but readers really are saying that they are buying the book for relatives both already schooled in the art of technology, but also for those who, well, aren’t. So we really are reacting to customer requests to offer a kind of bulk family discount — one for junior, one for granny and one for mom. And, at least until Christmas, you can get free delivery in the US, UK, Singapore and Indonesia. Order them here.

Seasons’ PR Greetings

It’s that time of year: Lots of Christmas greetings messages from PR folk. I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but I’m never quite clear why they bother with these things.

Nokia sent me a link to a flash message with lots of phones doing stuff and thanks for “my continued support for Nokia”. A nice sentiment, though I’ve never thought of what I do in those terms, and I suppose I’d much rather have an answer to my now six-week old request for Nokia to do something about the piles of angry comments left on my blog from customers in India. Some of them are poignant, like messages from the afterlife or some terribly tragedy being played out online.

Yesterday I got one from Veena Meksol, who from her IP address is writing from Bangalore, and writes “sir, pl give me nokia service centre in bangalore, my hand set is just 5 months old but from 2 days i am not able here,” and then the message ceases. Heaven knows what happened to Veena, but I’d happily sacrifice a Flash-based Christmas card or six if Nokia could track her down end her agony.

 My problem is that I can’t really distinguish between a PR greetings card and spam, especially when spammers’ subject fields look remarkably similar . Is there any difference? And what is the correct protocol when you receive one? PR turnover is so high, most of the names mean nothing to me, which is presumably why some of them attach photos to them. They’re all extraordinarily good-looking, I have to say:

 I’m just not sure I’ve actually met any of them, or even communicated with them. The problem then is that I feel guilty. I don’t want to be one of those hacks that treats flacks like, well, flacks. On the other hand, who sends Christmas cards with pictures of themselves looking, well, great, if not to lure the recipient into some sort of trap?

Anyway, I knew the season had hit a fresh low when I got a box from the PR of a certain company which contained a card (thanks, guys!) and, buried amid the packaging, a small box of chocolates from Norman Love. The mouthwatering blurb that accompanied the chocs was impressive — “Norman Love Confections welcomes you to your first step in a delectable journey into the world of fine, handsome chocolates,” it began. All this may well have been true — including the assertion that each of the six chocolates was “an edible work of art” — but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the chocolates had not weathered the 10,000 km trip from Silicon Valley to Indonesia that well.

Frankly, they looked as if someone had sat on them, half eaten each of them, spat them out, sat on them again and then sprinkled the contents of their computer keyboard over them before putting them carefully back in the box and retying the ribbon. Maybe that’s the message the PR company intended to convey? If so, I’m surprisingly cool with that.

The Name’s Bristly. Sickling B. Bristly.

I don’t want to encourage spammers because, frankly, they’re so out of control even people who don’t have email accounts are getting spam, but you have to admire the creative ones. I’m a sucker for a good ‘from’ name, so here are a few more (not that these are as good as earlier ones; you know who you are, and we expect better):

Assent. V. Brainstorm
Virgie Hightower
Levity S. Heehawed
Bazooka I. Cultivation
Netzahualcoyotl R. Rocker
Cynics G. Jauntiest
Invincibly B. Haycock
Isthmi B. Troubling
Pauperized V. Denote
Anemone P. Tarrier
Misery D. Converters
Rapist O. Renew
Sickling C. Bristly
Beguiled A. Lousy

Not about to call my kids these names. But I’m open for offers. Spammers: If you’re going to spam us, at least entertain us.

Bloggers Bash Into Chinese Walls, Part XVI

Once again, the non-journalist end of blogging is finding that its world is surprisingly like the old world of media. TechCrunch, a widely read blog of things going on in the social media world of Web 2.0, has run into the kind of conflicts that traditional media grappled with (and are still grappling with) since time immemorial (well at least since last Wednesday.)

The story, in a nutshell is this: TechCrunch sets up a UK version of its site. TechCrunch, itself heavily sponsored by Web 2.0 startup advertising, co-sponsors a Web 2.0 conference in Paris. TechCrunch UK editor attends said confab, which ends in controversy and accusations that the organiser, one Loic Lemeur, messed up. Organiser lambasts TechCrunch UK editor’s own accusations. Sparks fly, one thing leads to another, and TechCrunch UK editor is fired by TechCrunch owner and the UK website suspended. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth within blogosphere and talk of raging ethical debate.

I can’t pretend to have read all of the raging ethical debate (as raging ethical debates go, you want to set aside a good chunk of time for one that rages in the blogosphere: Harrington’s post on the subject currently has 78 comments, a few dozen more here before its suspension. Even Journalist.co.uk and The Guardian wrote about it, although judging from the headline I don’t think it was for the front page.)

Now there’s plenty of fodder for good debates here, and it’s not only Arrington who is getting a fair amount of flack for all this. But there’s an easy way of looking at this: Arrington is the publisher of TechCrunch. He’s Murdoch, Maxwell, whoever you want. TechCrunch is his brand. Anything that damages that brand, or appears to be damaging that brand, needs crushing, and that trumps everything else. You can’t blame him for that; if the editor of The Guardian starts damaging the brand of the paper you’d expect him to come in for some flak from the owner.

It gets complicated further in, however. Arrington is also an editor and writer. He’s also in the advertising and circulation department, since he’s out there drumming up business (often with the people he writes about, but that’s another story). So his role as publisher clashes with his role as editor, since a good editor will demand the independence necessary to criticise anyone, whether it’s sponsors, advertisers, even (and we’re talking theory here) the owners or publisher. Arrington in his role as editor was in conflict with his role as publisher and owner.

This is why traditional media separate these functions, and why, inevitably, TechCrunch and its ilk will have to too, as these kinds of crises occur. Editorial departments in traditional media have little or no contact with other departments, so oftentimes have no idea whether they’re sponsoring an event they’re attending. That’s how it should be, although it does perhaps contribute to the notion that journalists occupy their own little dreamworld.

Who knows where the truth lies in this particular mess, but if it awakens the blogosphere to the need to have Chinese Walls between advertising/sponsoring departments and the editorial side then that can only be good. In this case, if I were Arrington, I would start building them quickly. TechCrunch has at least 144,000 readers, a very respectable circulation, and that, whether he likes it or not, puts the publication into the realm of an outfit that needs to clearly demarcate the boundaries of its interests.

What Probably Won’t Happen in 2007

The BBC has asked me to make some predictions about the coming year, something I’m always loath to do because I seem to get it wrong. Anyway, here are my notes. They’re based in part on my own bath-time musings, and partly inspired by the thoughts of others (tried to credit them where relevant.)

1999 just took longer than we thought, that’s all

Web 2.0 is not just about AJAX, mashups, blogs and all that. It’s about building a platform. That’s now been done. All we need to do now is let people use it. That is already happening, but it will REALLY happen in 2007:

Delivery will get better

RSS will stop being something we have to keep explaining to people, because they’ll be using it. It will be seamless — a way for anyone to join something, whether it’s a newsletter, a service, a MySpace group. It will stop being known as Rich Site Syndication or Really Simple Syndication and be Really Simple, Stupid.

Content will get better

The real improvement in computers will be the rise of the dual- and four-core processor, i.e. one that uses more than one chip. Think of it as the computer having more than one brain. This will speed up, and make easier, the editing of video and other multimedia content. Our computer, in a word, will no longer be an expensive typewriter. With faster connection speeds, too, video will be the thing that really makes the Internet compelling to people who were previously uninterested. What we watch on YouTube will get better. Individuals will have their 15 megabytes of fame. But this will couple with a rise of content generated specifically for the Internet, further blurring the lines between TV and computer viewing. Silicon Valley is no longer a tech center, but a media one.

The demise of big software

The rise of online applications will in turn blur the distinction between what is going on in your computer and what is going on at the other end of the line — the server. Vista will seem more like a farewell than a big hello, as big software from big companies locking in users to specific ways of doing things will give way to open source alternatives like Ubuntu. Microsoft will fight this tooth and nail, but I’m sure they already know it.

The mainstreaming of social media

 Web 2.0 is really all about breaking down barriers by making it easier to do stuff, and to mix it up with other people doing stuff. In a way what the Internet has always been about. Expect the influence of blogs to further pervade those last few citadels that have been resisting it, breaking down walls within organizations — internal blogs that flatten hierarchies and build up feedback mechanisms for employees to talk back to their bosses. Think government departments. Think universities, schools and anywhere else where hierarchies exist. This won’t be a one way street: anonymous bloggers in places like Microsoft and China may find themselves outed and lynched.

The rise of the maven

As the Web gets bigger, Google will need to reinvent itself to keep up. Web 2.0 offers some great ways to find stuff through other means, leveraging the knowledge of others who have gone before. We will acknowledge the contribution, and marketers will acknowledge the power, of the maven: the person who seems to somehow know stuff, and is ready to share it. Tagging, blogging, and other social tools will be recognized as extremely powerful ways to do this.

The demise of the big computer

The cellphone will get better at what it does, and we’ll grow to trust it more. We’ll stop calling it a cellphone and just call it a wearable device, or something snazzier I can’t think of right now. One day we’ll think it quaint that we had to sit in one place to do stuff, or near an outlet, or within range of a WiFi signal. Cellphones don’t have those limitations and this will start to hit home in 2007:

Teenagers will show us the way. Again

They’re already sharing everything via Bluetooth, creating networks on the fly (that, incidentally, fly under the radars of commercial networks and marketers). They share videos, ringtones, songs, games, either by exchanging content or playing against each other.

Space-shifting

The cellphone has already redefined what space is, and that will continue. Sexual liaisons involving public figures will be recorded by one party as insurance against future hard times. Cellphone television will become more popular, not just because it’s mobile but because it’s personal, a time to be alone under the sheets, on a bus, waiting for a friend, stuck in traffic. Maybe not this year, but soon they’ll be pluggable into the hotel TV. This is tied into the idea of personal space being something you control, either through presence, or through intermediary services where you only ever hand out personal details of your virtual self.

The End of the iPod

The iPod will decline in importance as the music-phone takes center stage. I didn’t think this would happen because cellphone manufacturers mess up the software on the phone, but they’re getting better at it. Even Nokia. So expect most people, starting with teenagers who don’t want more than one gadget and probably can’t afford them, to switch to one device. This will again throw open the mobile music/MP3/DRM debate, and iTunes will start to look a bit wobbly until Apple gets something sorted out so non-iPod users can download from the site easily and cheaply.

The downsides

It’s not all fun and games. Bad things are going to continue to happen, and there’s not much we can do about them. It’s partly just the normal process of utopians being pushed aside by realists, but it’s also about an ongoing debate about how to, or whether to, police a space that seems largely unpoliceable.

A dual identity crisis

Mainstream media’s identity crisis will be compounded by an identity crisis among bloggers. The rise of pay-me blogging, where bloggers get paid for writing about specific companies or products, will lead to some scandals and make people explore more deeply the ethics of blogging, and how they’re not that much different to the ethics developed by journalists over several hundred years. This won’t however, lead to the demise of blogging, but the rise of a sort of online press corps, with its own associations and rules, both written and unwritten. Many bloggers will end up being journalists, and the best journalists will move effortlessly and happily through the blogosphere. Many already do.

Keep up, grandma

Things are moving so fast the slow will look like they’re running backwards. If 2004-6 were anything to go by, 2007 will move quite quickly. Some folk I spoke to said that not much has popped up this year that’s exciting, and that’s true, in a boiling frog type way. It’s the earth shifting that is changing, and we need to change with it. Young people just get it, but us digital immigrants need to not just learn the lingo but keep up with the fast-changing slang. Oh, and MySpace won’t be the place to hang out in 2007; it’ll begin to look like a sad school hall dance arranged by the teachers.

The Rise of the Snoop

We tend to make a distinction between these things, but they’re actually all part of the same thing. Spam is getting worse, and it’s not just an invasion of privacy but an invasion of our productivity (91% of email is spam.) Music and video files will also rise as vectors of trojans, malware and other PUPs. GPS devices married to phones will enable people to track their employees, spouses or offspring, and further empower stalkers. Cellphone monitoring devices like FlexiSpy will get better at distributing themselves, and will be powerful not just in the hands of eavesdropping acquaintances but identity thieves. The rise of virtual worlds will also lead to the rise of virtual identities and virtual identity theft, along the lines of CopyBot. Expect to see cellphone eavesdropping and data theft from cellphones to surge. And we’ll start to realize that Google isn’t as cuddly as it looks; it’s a snoop, too.

What Probably Won’t Happen in 2007

The BBC has asked me to make some predictions about the coming year, something I’m always loath to do because I seem to get it wrong. Anyway, here are my notes. They’re based in part on my own bath-time musings, and partly inspired by the thoughts of others.

1999 just took longer than we thought, that’s all

Web 2.0 is not just about AJAX, mashups, blogs and all that. It’s about building a platform. That’s now been done. All we need to do now is let people use it. That is already happening, but it will REALLY happen in 2007:

Delivery will get better

RSS will stop being something we have to keep explaining to people, because they’ll be using it. It will be seamless — a way for anyone to join something, whether it’s a newsletter, a service, a MySpace group. It will stop being known as Rich Site Syndication or Really Simple Syndication and be Really Simple, Stupid.

Content will get better

The real improvement in computers will be the rise of the dual- and four-core processor, i.e. one that uses more than one chip. Think of it as the computer having more than one brain. This will speed up, and make easier, the editing of video and other multimedia content. Our computer, in a word, will no longer be an expensive typewriter. With faster connection speeds, too, video will be the thing that really makes the Internet compelling to people who were previously uninterested. What we watch on YouTube will get better. Individuals will have their 15 megabytes of fame. But this will couple with a rise of content generated specifically for the Internet, further blurring the lines between TV and computer viewing. Silicon Valley is no longer a tech center, but a media one, as Andreas of the Economist told the .

The demise of big software

The rise of online applications will in turn blur the distinction between what is going on in your computer and what is going on at the other end of the line — the server. Vista will seem more like a farewell than a big hello, as big software from big companies locking in users to specific ways of doing things will give way to open source alternatives like Ubuntu. Microsoft will fight this tooth and nail, but I’m sure they already know it.

The mainstreaming of social media

 Web 2.0 is really all about breaking down barriers by making it easier to do stuff, and to mix it up with other people doing stuff. In a way what the Internet has always been about. Expect the influence of blogs to further pervade those last few citadels that have been resisting it, breaking down walls within organizations — internal blogs that flatten hierarchies and build up feedback mechanisms for employees to talk back to their bosses. Think government departments. Think universities, schools and anywhere else where hierarchies exist. This won’t be a one way street: anonymous bloggers in places like Microsoft and China may find themselves outed and lynched.

The rise of the maven

As the Web gets bigger, Google will need to reinvent itself to keep up. Web 2.0 offers some great ways to find stuff through other means, leveraging the knowledge of others who have gone before. We will acknowledge the contribution, and marketers will acknowledge the power, of the maven: the person who seems to somehow know stuff, and is ready to share it. Tagging, blogging, and other social tools will be recognized as extremely powerful ways to do this.

The demise of the big computer

The cellphone will get better at what it does, and we’ll grow to trust it more. We’ll stop calling it a cellphone and just call it a wearable device, or something snazzier I can’t think of right now. One day we’ll think it quaint that we had to sit in one place to do stuff, or near an outlet, or within range of a WiFi signal. Cellphones don’t have those limitations and this will start to hit home in 2007:

Teenagers will show us the way. Again

They’re already sharing everything via Bluetooth, creating networks on the fly (that, incidentally, fly under the radars of commercial networks and marketers). They share videos, ringtones, songs, games, either by exchanging content or playing against each other.

Space-shifting

The cellphone has already redefined what space is, and that will continue. Sexual liaisons involving public figures will be recorded by one party as insurance against future hard times. Cellphone television will become more popular, not just because it’s mobile but because it’s personal, a time to be alone under the sheets, on a bus, waiting for a friend, stuck in traffic. Maybe not this year, but soon they’ll be pluggable into the hotel TV. This is tied into the idea of personal space being something you control, either through presence, or through intermediary services where you only ever hand out personal details of your virtual self.

The End of the iPod

The iPod will decline in importance as the music-phone takes center stage. I didn’t think this would happen because cellphone manufacturers mess up the software on the phone, but they’re getting better at it. Even Nokia. So expect most people, starting with teenagers who don’t want more than one gadget and probably can’t afford them, to switch to one device. This will again throw open the mobile music/MP3/DRM debate, and iTunes will start to look a bit wobbly until Apple gets something sorted out so non-iPod users can download from the site easily and cheaply.

The downsides

It’s not all fun and games. Bad things are going to continue to happen, and there’s not much we can do about them. It’s partly just the normal process of utopians being pushed aside by realists, but it’s also about an ongoing debate about how to, or whether to, police a space that seems largely unpoliceable.

A dual identity crisis

Mainstream media’s identity crisis will be compounded by an identity crisis among bloggers. The rise of pay-me blogging, where bloggers get paid for writing about specific companies or products, will lead to some scandals and make people explore more deeply the ethics of blogging, and how they’re not that much different to the ethics developed by journalists over several hundred years. This won’t however, lead to the demise of blogging, but the rise of a sort of online press corps, with its own associations and rules, both written and unwritten. Many bloggers will end up being journalists, and the best journalists will move effortlessly and happily through the blogosphere. Many already do.

Keep up, grandma

Things are moving so fast the slow will look like they’re running backwards. If 2004-6 were anything to go by, 2007 will move quite quickly. Some folk I spoke to said that not much has popped up this year that’s exciting, and that’s true, in a boiling frog type way. It’s the earth shifting that is changing, and we need to change with it. Young people just get it, but us digital immigrants need to not just learn the lingo but keep up with the fast-changing slang. Oh, and MySpace won’t be the place to hang out in 2007; it’ll begin to look like a sad school hall dance arranged by the teachers.

The Rise of the Snoop

We tend to make a distinction between these things, but they’re actually all part of the same thing. Spam is getting worse, and it’s not just an invasion of privacy but an invasion of our productivity (91% of email is spam.) Music and video files will also rise as vectors of trojans, malware and other PUPs. GPS devices married to phones will enable people to track their employees, spouses or offspring, and further empower stalkers. Cellphone monitoring devices like FlexiSpy will get better at distributing themselves, and will be powerful not just in the hands of eavesdropping acquaintances but identity thieves. The rise of virtual worlds will also lead to the rise of virtual identities and virtual identity theft, along the lines of CopyBot. Expect to see cellphone eavesdropping and data theft from cellphones to surge. And we’ll start to realize that Google isn’t as cuddly as it looks; it’s a snoop, too.

Are You a Pirate?

In my town piracy, I suspect, is the norm. But in an effort to to see whether that’s true, and how that compares to other places, I’ve launched a survey, which I hope you, dear reader, will take a few minutes to complete.

It’s entirely anonymous, I’m not connected to the industry, and I have no intention of kowtowing to anyone, except perhaps my wife.

The questions are kind of designed to find out how widespread consumption of pirated content is and where, if any, the moral boundaries lie.

Thanks in advance for any time you spend on it. Feel free to pass it on to a friend. If you’d like to be added to a list of exclusive Loose Wire Surveyors, with the chances of free prizes and glory, drop me a line.

Needless to say, the irreverent tone of the survey is not meant in any way to condone or encourage piracy or the consumption of pirated materials. And this survey has been created using entirely non-pirated software. So there.

Oh and if you came here by mistake looking for pirate outfits, you can buy ’em here. (No the survey isn’t sponsored by them, although that’s a great idea.)