Following my tradition of being a late gadget adopter, I’m about to purchase my first GPS device (for our cross country drive this summer). I’m thinking of getting a Dash Express. It’s getting the thumbs up from Raanan and the Dash people have a WP blog – two big pluses.
I got a noticeable increase of “Twitter followers” in the last few weeks. This is amusing (I have a single tweet from over a year ago on my Twitter account, not much to follow there) and it also made me wonder what’s changed. It could be due to recent improvements that make it easier to find people on their network. Or are there other new promotional features that could be the cause of this? There’s also been a corresponding bump in traffic that started a few weeks ago.
A while ago, I asked for a Firefox computer, a simple solid state laptop that’s optimized to run just Firefox. Yesterday I got an EeePC and it almost fits the bill.
What I like:
- It’s affordable ($399, models under $300 are forthcoming)
- It’s small and light (and cute)
- The out of box experience was very nice, just the basics, none of the extra steps and bloatware you get with PCs and Macs
- It runs everything I need: Firefox, Open Office, Skype (all of it, plus a bunch more, pre-installed)
- It starts up quickly (under 30 seconds, much faster than my MacBook) and is very silent (it has a solid state drive)
What I don’t like:
- The screen and keyboard are tiny
- I was hoping for a longer battery life (seems like it gets about 3 hours)
Update: Check out my comparison of the eeePC and the OLPC XO
The Firefox computer
Jon Callaghan has some thoughts on how easy it was for him to switch from a PC to a Mac.
This made me think about the Windows Vista launch and the inevitable OS X vs Vista comparisons, and how come I’m deeply uninterested in any of it.
I run a PC at home and a Mac on the road. Their respective operating systems just don’t get me very excited these days. The only thing I care about is that they run Firefox. That’s because my digital day is currently spent in the following apps: WordPress, Yahoo Mail, Bloglines, 30boxes and Google. And they all run perfectly well in Firefox. So as long as I can get to Firefox, I’m pretty much surrounded by everything I need for my work. The only desktop app I use regularly is an IRC client and occasionally I’ll use Open Office to edit a Word document (I bet I could move both of those to web based apps as well).
This leads me to the following conclusion: I want a Firefox computer. A nice, sleek, solid state notebook with a big screen that you open up and it just runs Firefox. I bet this could be had for a reasonable price, it could have a nice long battery life and start up almost instantly. I’d still have a PC or Mac at home to store my photos and music, but for my everyday work life the Firefox computer is all I need.
YDN Supports JSON
Konfabulator 3.0 Goodness
There’s a new version of Konfabulator, now called Yahoo! Widgets, available at widgets.yahoo.com. Since Konfabulator became part of Yahoo! in August, we’ve seen some pretty amazing usage numbers (all of it organic – there has been no promotion or marketing):
- 1.5 million downloads of Konfabulator/Yahoo! Widget Engine (not surprisingly, almost 90% of that is on Windows, the rest on Mac)
- 10 million widgets downloaded from the Widget Gallery (widgets.yahoo.com/gallery)
- 50-100 widgets submitted by developers to the gallery every week (there are over 2,000 widgets in the gallery now!)
And here are the goodies in the latest version of Yahoo! Widgets:
5 new widgets from Yahoo:
- Search widget (see above): this brand new widget is a search box that sits on your desktop (nice and small when you don’t need it), let’s you search the web, images, news, videos, etc and maximizes and minimizes beautifully to show you the results. I think I’ll be using this a lot as a way to do quick searches without opening a browser window.
- Maps widget: the Maps widget gives you fast access to Yahoo Maps right from the desktop, like the Search widget it stays out of the way when you don’t need it and opens up to reveal more functionality when it springs into action. Very pretty and useful. I’m impressed by how quickly the maps load and scroll around when you drag them.
- Notepad widget: this one is funny and it will be interesting to see how many people use it: you can jot down notes and they get saved to your online Yahoo Notepad (so you can get to your notes from any PC/browser), you can also blast/blog the notes to your 360 blog. I wonder if developers will find some cool ways to use the underlying functionality of storing and retrieving little bits of text for a user.
- Contacts widget: quick access to your Yahoo address book from the desktop. Perfect for looking up a quick address or birthday.
- Mail Checker: a simple little widget that tells you when new mail arrives in your Yahoo Mail account.
4 improved widgets from Yahoo:
- Picture frame: my favorite widget (along with the weather widget) got even better: in addition to viewing photos from my desktop I can now see photos from Flickr and Yahoo Photos, the widget also acts as an upload tool for Flickr/Y Photos and lets me edit tags and other data in my online photos.
- Day planner: fka PIM overview, I have not spent a ton of time with this guy but it’s basically a calendar widget that can now talk to/synch with Yahoo Calendar, Outlook or iCal.
- Weather and stock ticker: a few little tweaks to these widgets to make them easier to use (for example the dialog to add a new stock symbol is a lot more slick now).
New features for widget developers:
- Yahoo login: you can now build widgets that use Yahoo login and tap into a user’s photo albums, calendar, notepad, etc
- Frames/subviews and scrollbars: widgets can now have subviews with scroll bars to show data that doesn’t all fit on the surface of the widget (the new Yahoo Search widget pictured above uses this feature)
- XML parsing/DOM Level 1 support with XPath 1.0, plus support for XMLHttpRequest – yay!
- Lots of other stuff like text area focus improvements, asynchronous image fetching, and as always lots of bug fixes
- Security: users are now asked to confirm that they want to run a widget the first time they start it up (this goes for any widget that did not come directly from Yahoo and is designed to prevent widgets from running without the user’s knowledge or consent)
PS: Now that widgets can access personal user data such as Yahoo photo albums, calendars and address books it is possible for any developer to look at our new widgets and figure out how to tap into that data as well. However, please note that the calendar/address book/etc APIs that we’re using in these new widgets are not officially supported through the Yahoo Developer Network, so proceed at your own risk (or wait for the official APIs to come out).
Two Cool Mashups
Two fun mashups I’ve recently come across: Find Lawton and Angie and Derek’s Videos. Both are simple and compelling examples of how online maps make for a surprisingly good UI into various bits of data.
J Wynia has created an “OPML sampler“. It creates a nice summary view of someone’s list of RSS subscriptions. Here’s an example. This feels like a great basis for letting people share their RSS subcription lists. Instead of today’s process of having to import someone’s OPML file, subscribe to all their feeds, read the feeds and unsubscribe from the ones I don’t like, I’d like to be able to view a Wynia style summary view of someone’s OPML file and click to subscribe to the ones that look interesting.
A Digital Gap
Recently, I’ve been noticing people say things like “MySpace is just for kids – over 30 year olds will never use it” or “I still don’t get SMS, why would anyone SMS when you can just send email?”. It’s usually 35+ year olds who say those things. What struck me the other day is how they sound just like my parents who said things like “I don’t need a PC and I don’t understand why I’d ever use one”. Back then, we started seeing a gap open up between analog and digital generations. The young generation embraced PCs, the old generation tried to avoid them and stick to their tried and true ways. Now we are seeing a gap appear between the first and second digital generations. The PC generation is holding on to their PC worldview and feels that the emerging always-on, always-connected world of social networks and mobile devices is somehow annoying, superfluous or dangerous. Meanwhile, the next generation – the connected generation? – is embracing the idea of being constantly connected, their digital devices and personas are a natural part of their lives and technology is the primary means of connecting with friends.
Today’s Wall Street Journal says “Many Internet Start-Ups Are Telling Venture Capitalists: ‘We Don’t Need You'” (subscription required).
The article talks about a theme that’s been discussed in Silicon Valley for a while: “It’s a scenario playing out all over Silicon Valley — and one with potentially big ramifications for venture capitalists. A new generation of Internet companies — many offering online photo and blogging services or downloadable software for businesses — have been built for a fraction of the cost just a few years ago. That’s mainly due to the increasing popularity of cheap “open source” software and programming tools, as well as dramatic cost reductions in computer memory, storage and Internet bandwidth.”
I agree with this, but only to a certain point. Yes, it’s gotten cheaper to get an internet company off the ground, to get to a prototype or even beta stage with very little money. However, a couple of things haven’t changed:
1. Prototypes take a couple of months, but solid, scalable, feature rich software takes at least a year to build (often longer).
2. Even with a great product, it takes at least another year to reach a critical size audience and customers.
This means that even with free software, servers and bandwidth, you will need people to work for free for 2+ years if you want to start a company without VC money. Those people will need to be very smart and at the top of their field in order to succeed in the competitive internet software field, and most of them can’t go without a salary for 2 years. And yes, you can outsource some work, but the core design and scaling of your software as well as the critical distribution partnerships that will grow your audience can’t be outsourced. Finally, in addition to salary costs, distribution costs will be rising again as the competition for finite internet audiences heats up.
All in all, I agree it’s cheaper today to get a company to a beta stage where it can be sold to someone looking for a smart team with interesting technology, but to build a sustainable company will still require venture capital for the foreseeable future.
Personalized RSS Feeds
Over the years, I’ve found that one of my favorite uses of RSS are personalized, or parametrized, RSS feeds. They are feeds that track mentions of a specific topic, company or product that I’m personally interested in. I’m currently subscribed to a couple of ego feeds (tracking the (rare 🙂 ) mention of my name and blog in the blogosphere), several feeds tracking news mentions of companies I follow and six Craigslist feeds tracking rare cars for sale and some real estate I’m curious about in San Francisco.
Just for kicks, I put together this page with examples of personalized RSS feeds . One of my favorite ones, Craigslist, is a little more complicated to point to (it’s easier to just go to one of their search result pages and click on the RSS button to get a custom feed for that search, for example this feed tracks Alfa Romeos for sale in the Bay Area). I’d love to hear from people who know of other types of personalized feeds.
I wonder why the idea of personalized feeds has not yet taken off. It gets talked about, for example Dave Winer mentions it often, recently by saying “Intrusive ads, the ones that Google sells, are so so tired. Feeds containing commercial information people want, are wired”. Personalized feeds seem to deliver great benefits to users and publishers, they’re technically easy to build and the business model is compelling (as a realtor, wouldn’t you want to figure out how to show up in my personalized real estate feed?). Yet these feeds are only accessible to determined geeks at this point. I’m puzzled that no one has gone through the trouble of making them easy to publish, find and use.
Some quick impressions of the iRiver T10 as an iPod Mini replacement.
+ Seamless integration with the Yahoo Music Engine, I can drag any song, album or playlist from the entire 1+ million song collection onto the player and it just works (no extra software to install or per track charges)
+ 44 hours of battery
+ Record and radio functions (not sure I’ll use them)
– Bad packaging, one of those molded plastic monstrosities that you have to pry open with a blowtorch, I managed to cut my hand while unpacking it
– Feels plasticky when you’re used to an iPod (especially the headphones, they feel like they cost about 2 cents to make, sound OK though)
– Battery won’t charge via USB (uses a regular AA battery)
I listened side by side to an album on the iRiver and the iPod (downloaded using the respective Yahoo and Apple services) and the audio quality is very similar (they’re both good, not great).
I’m Dumping My iPod
As much as I like it, it’s time to retire my iPod. I’m switching from iTunes to Yahoo Music, and the iPod has to stay behind (because it only works with iTunes). I’d been holding off on switching because I listen to a lot of podcasts on my commute and iTunes has nice built-in podcasting support. Today Yahoo released Yahoo Podcasts and a Yahoo Music Engine plugin to go along with it – that was the final piece I needed to make the switch.
Here are my reasons why I prefer Yahoo Music (where Yahoo Music = Yahoo Music Engine + Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription) to iTunes:
1. I’m listening to a lot more music: During one year of using iTunes I bought maybe 10 new albums. In just one month on Yahoo Music Engine (YME) I’ve added over 30 new albums to my collection. One reason is that it costs $10 per album on iTunes compared to $5 a month for as many albums as I want on Yahoo (I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, but I don’t burn CDs anymore, so it doesn’t matter to me that I “own” iTunes music and “rent” it on Yahoo). More importantly, I’m finding it easier to discover new music on Yahoo than I did on iTunes (more on that below).
2. Podcasting: As I mentioned above, I listen to lots of Podcasts. iTunes has nice built-in podcasting support. The new Yahoo Podcasts product offers all the same features as far as I can tell (searching for podcasts, featured/top podcasts, subscription management, etc). In addition, Yahoo offers tagging and one-click listening which should help in discovering new content.
3. Music sharing: This is probably my favorite YME feature and it’s mostly missing on iTunes. YME allows me to browse the music collections of other users. It imports my Messenger buddy list and I can see what my friends are listening to when they are online. When I find an album I like in their collection I simply click to add it to my own (all included in the $5 per month). I’ve found lots of great new music to listen to in this way. iTunes on the other hand has been a solitary experience for me with no chance of discovering new music through my friends. The closest thing on iTunes is the iMix playlist sharing feature, but it’s kind of impersonal, you have to buy all the songs from someone’s playlist to listen to them (which gets expensive in a hurry), and YME has a better version of this feature via the YMEplaylists plugin which lets me browse other users’ playlists and play them without extra cost (more on plugins below).
4. Recommendations: YME knows my taste and recommends new music for me when I log in. The recommendations are pretty good (often pretty mainstream, but still useful) and have helped me discover a bunch of new music. iTunes has “people who liked this album also liked…” but no personalized recommendations.
5. Streaming radio: Both YME and iTunes offer genre based streaming radio stations. YME in additon has theme based stations, and more importantly it has “my station” which is based on my music tastes, as well as access to other users’ stations (I’m listening to Scottt106‘s station as I write this). I’m listening to more streaming radio on YME than I thought I would (for some reason I never used the feature on iTunes).
6. Plugin bonanza: While no music service I know of is truly open (DRM’d content, etc), YME is ahead of everyone else by having open APIs to create plugins to extend the basic YME functionality. You can check out the plugin site to see what people have built. I’ve got the unfair advantage to see a bunch of pre-release plugins through my job. I’ve been running several of them to show Flickr photos of currently playing artists, control my YME from a remote browser, browse concert dates for the artists in my collection and create collaborative playlists via Messenger. No plugins for iTunes.
7. Remote access: I can walk up to any PC with YME installed, log into my Yahoo account and start playing my music collection (only songs from my Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription, not my MP3 collection). Since I access YME both at home and at work, this has been very nifty. I also like this as a backup feature of sorts: if my hard drive fails I can simply reinstall YME, log in and it’ll re-download all my tracks. There might be a way to make this work on iTunes as well, but I never figured it out.
The iTunes/iPod combo does have great overall product fit and finish, but there are enough advantages to Yahoo Music that I’ve decided to switch. For me it all comes down to the fact that I’m listening to significantly more music (especially more *new* music) on Yahoo than I did on iTunes. I’ve got a Dell Pocket DJ on order. It’s compatible with YME (I’ll be able to load any music I want from my YME collection into the player as part of the $5 a month). I’ll report back once I’ve used it for a while. I’m still experimenting and would love to hear people’s thoughts on these products.
Sphere Blog Search
Om Malik is writing about his early impressions of a new blog search engine called Sphere. I’m an advisor to Sphere and excited to see that they are about go beta. Back at Oddpost, shortly before we got acquired by Yahoo, we were working with two guys, Steve Nieker and Martin Remy of ThinkTank23, who were going to help us with feed search and discovery for our RSS reader. I really liked them and their technology, but we never got to build a product together because of the acquisition. I thought the least I could do was introduce them to one of Oddpost’s lead investors, Tony Conrad. It turns out the three of them hit it off and started Sphere together with the goal of building a second generation blog search engine (one that can tell you what authority a blogger has on a given search topic, rather than just list everything that’s being said in the blogosphere). I’ve been very impressed with their product to date. If you use blog search frequently, please sign up for their beta. They are looking for people who are able to tell the qualitative differences between various blog search results.
So Google released Sidebar which is competitive with Konfabulator. What I find interesting about it is that they called it Sidebar. There is already a similar product called Desktop Sidebar. More importantly, Microsoft has been showing a similar feature as part of Vista, their next version of Windows, and they’ve been calling it Sidebar for ages as well. Obviously Google knows this. Are they using the same name as Microsoft to annoy them or is sidebar supposed to become a standard name for this kind of thing?
It’s been a while, and I’ve been waiting for something important to blog: Rockstar: INXS rules! Just kidding (though Jordis is going to win).
But seriously, I’ve been working on a very exciting project: Yahoo’s acquisition of Pixoria, the makers of the amazing Konfabulator software. As of today, Konfabulator is part of Yahoo and available for free (it previously cost $20 per user). If you haven’t already, you have to try it out. Konfabulator lets you run awesome, beautiful mini-applications called Widgets on your desktop.