Monthly Archives: March 2009

Would you give bit.ly $2M?

bit.ly gets $2MI have to admit when I first read that a URL shortening service managed to get $2M in funding I was bewildered. How on earth will the investors get any return on that I wondered? But the article (on ReadWriteWeb) goes on to explain why very convincingly (although most of the people commenting on it totally miss the point).

You see, doing the shortening bit is the easy part. The real value is in analysing all the URLs that people are shortening. There’s a massive amount of information that can be gleaned in terms of trends, hot topics and overall traffic. And the kicker is that bit.ly are aiming to provide this in real time. That’s very powerful and very valuable.

Take a look at the bit.ly Tools page for some ideas. Also check out the bit.ly Search page – this is what people are linking to right now.

The ability to adapt quickly is going to be a key differentiator for companies. And by adapt quickly we mean within minutes. No more waiting days to study analytics. Companies – especially media companies – will be wanting to adapt immediately to behaviours on social networking sites, and the Twitter impact is only going to get larger. This is just the start.

I’d be surprised if Google isn’t already implementing some kind of reverse algorithm against URL shortening services. If millions of people (for example) were all linking to a single page using a shortened URL I think Google would consider that an important factor in the pages’ favour.

UPDATE: My misunderstanding here. Most of the shorteners (bit.ly included) do 301 redirects (see this excellent article from Danny Sullivan for a full rundown), so this last point is moot.

$2M. I think they’re worth it.

Facebook and Flash

Facebook and AdobeHot on the heels of the MySpace and Silverlight partnership, comes Facebook’s partnership with Adobe (via TechCrunch).

Called the ‘ActionScript 3.0 Client Library for Facebook Platform’ (and I thought Microsoft had boring names!), the API allows developers to build applications that connect the social aspects of Facebook into the Flash interface.

Its important to note that these applications (or ‘rich Flash experiences’ as the site refers to them) can be in Facebook applications, as well as desktop applications. Yes, don’t miss that last part – desktop apps (see here for more details on the Adobe DevNet). Facebook is about to jump out of the browser in a very meaningful way, as opposed to just the minimal interaction that some of the existing desktop apps allow you to update (eg status).

This is a significant announcement, and one that opens up a number of opportunities.

In some ways the concept isn’t new, since the ability to mix Flash and Facebook has been available for a while. What is different is that it is now getting official support and will be actively encouraged by both companies (as well as having a ton of new functionality in this release).

Here’s the line from the Facebook developer page:

With Flash and Facebook, you can extend rich Internet experiences across the Web to become social. New ideas may include the next generation of social games, seeing friends sharing and commenting on video or music streamed through Flash, or manipulating photos of yourself and your friends.

The ActionScript 3.0 Client Library for Facebook Platform API is available for download here.

Bracing for April Fools Day #aprilfool

April Fools' DayAs I write this it’s less than an hour until April Fools’ Day starts here in Sydney, Australia. I’m actually looking forward to the inevitable batch of lame jokes. Everyone knows (well, almost everyone) that anything odd sounding is likely to be a prank, and so the enjoyment is in who can come up with the funniest prank, as opposed to the one that actually fools people.

The days of actually fooling people are over. Or they should be at least.

You see, the problem with April Fools’ Day is that with the instant connectivity of the internet, time-zones no longer mean anything. So whilst it might be April Fools’ Day here, it might not be where you are for another 8 hours. And thus getting ‘fooled’ is just as meaningless as if you were ‘fooled’ in a months time.

#aprilfool

So, here’s an idea. We want to enjoy the jokes, so how about we make it clear to our readers.

Simply flag your prank as an an April Fools’ Day post, and perhaps on Twitter (where the ‘keyword density’ of April Fools tweets is likely to be high) with a hashtag. How about tagging them with #aprilfool

Oh, and to be clear, Rickrolling isn’t funny at the best of times. Rehashing it as an April Fools’ joke is just sad.

If you have some time to kill, check out this list of the Top 100 April Fools’ Day hoaxes.

Twitter hires Douglas Bowman from Google

Douglas BowmanDouglas Bowman, who Google gave the title of Visual Design Lead, is going to work for Twitter. This was rumoured a few weeks back on Valleywag and FastCompany, but appears to have been confirmed yesterday by Spencer Ante. We’re looking forward to Part 2 from Douglas, following up his Part 1 from just over a week ago.

Why is this news? After all people move all the time. The reason this is interesting is because it indicates a shift in the Twitter approach. What has so far been a small, tightly wound company is starting to expand. Yes, they’ve had the funding for a while, but changes like this are not to be underestimated. Consider this passing comment from Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder):

“The Twitter Web page looks pretty simple,” says Stone. “But from our perspective the design needs a lot of work.”

This is a company that has just shifted from niche developer community to mainstream social networking company in the space of 2-3 months. It is on massive trajectory and needs to ensure it presents a good experience to the masses.

Reporter Joe Tartakoff puts it well I think when describing Bowman’s role:

At Twitter, Bowman will be in charge of finding a balance between the site’s stated desire to keep things simple while also ensuring that the site’s user interface remains relevant—and useful— as the service grows in popularity.

It’s popularity been has due to its simplicity, so any changes need to ensure the site’s inherent differentiator (simplicity) isn’t sacrificed.

Catching on to Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface - your time is coming real soonArs Technica (who I love reading by the way) have a surprising piece on kids using Microsoft Surface. Surprising because it seems as though the writer has only just cottoned on to the fact that Microsoft is making a big push into the education sector.

For those interest I covered some of the Surface developments on my personal blog here back in January. Last year August de los Reyes (he’s the Principal Experience Architect behind the Surface) spoke at Web Directions about the approach Microsoft are taking with Surface. His interview with Sitepoint back in October gives a good overview of where Surface is headed, in particular the embracing of emotion.

Little surprise then that kids are a captive audience. Get children working cooperatively on education tasks and you’ve got a winning combination. 

Quietly, quietly

Microsoft has been quietly pushing Surface, and making it available in more countries is just part of the plan. The Surface is a sleeper, and it won’t start making a big impact until late this year (in my opinion). It’s funny how Microsoft often gets accused of being behind the 8 ball when it comes to things like touch and user interface. But keep in mind that Surface has been around for years now. It’s effect on the technology landscape has been underappreciated.

With only a few hurdles left to remove (ie the whopping $15K price tag for starters, the difficulty of getting access to the Surface SDK for developers for another), there’s plenty of opportunity awaiting those brave enough to jump on board.

Make sure you check out some of the videos on YouTube for examples of what is possible. And the Surface blog for the latest news.

Here’s how to purchase one if you are really keen.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile preview

Windows Marketplace for MobileThanks to Long Zheng you can view a promo of the coming Windows Marketplace for Mobile experience. It looks pretty good actually, although the guy doing the voice over did sound a tad cheesy. (The screenshot on the right is taken from the video on Long’s site.)

The selection process, rating system, easy download and general look’n’feel are all good… just like they should be when you’re playing catchup to another vendor who shipped months ago. Oh well, at least they are trying.

And speaking of trying, it sound like they are listening to feedback. They’re now allowing free upgrades for the lifecycle of the application. They’re also offering a money-back guarantee on any apps you download. A nice touch in my opinion.

Back on March 14 over on my personal blog I lamented the ‘charge the developer’ mentality that seemed to be pervading this initiative, and I agree with Long’s thoughts along those lines also. So I’m happy to see improvements from the Mobile team.

Here’s the comments from the PressPass announcement:

In addition, people will be able to return an application after purchase within 24 hours for a full refund. Microsoft also announced today that developers will now be able to deliver updates to their applications for free* throughout the application lifecycle.

Another interesting note form the press piece is how many companies have signed on to be a part of the program, including Facebook, EA Mobile, Netflix and MySpace (who we covered separately earlier today).

Windows Live for Mobile

And on April 2 the Windows Live for Mobile suite will be available for free download. Here’s the details:

Microsoft also announced that Windows Live for Mobile will be available for free download this week for customers in 25 languages. Windows Live for Mobile is the company’s mobile suite of Internet services designed specifically to take advantage of the Windows Mobile platform. It includes mobile versions of Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Contacts, Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft Live Search and enhanced photo upload capabilities. Customers who have Windows Mobile 6.x phones can visit http://wl.windowsmobile.com on April 2 to download the suite.

Things are certainly starting to get exciting (for a change) in the Windows Mobile space. Please, let it continue.

TomTom and Microsoft are friends again

Microsoft and TomTom settle This is good news, although probably not for the lawyers involved who may have been getting ready for a long running case. Microsoft and TomTom (who make the in-car navigation devices that we all seem to be needing these days) have come to a resolution over the patent infringement cases raised recently.

Reading the Microsoft PressPass post you come away with the distinct impression that TomTom were in the wrong and Microsoft have helped them see the error of their ways. But that’s the spin I guess. Who’s to know what the full intricacies were, I’m just glad to see that Microsoft can put its attention back on making stuff better, as opposed to stopping other people use their stuff.

Here’s part of what the Microsoft IP lawyer said:

We were able to work with TomTom to develop a patent agreement that addresses their needs and ours in a pragmatic way. When addressing IP infringement issues, there are two possible paths: securing patent coverage or not using the technology at issue. Through this agreement, TomTom is choosing a combination of both paths to meet the unique needs of its business, and we are glad to help them do so.

MySpace and Silverlight

MySpace Silverlight SDKThere’s no doubt that Silverlight is powering ahead in many circles. As Ars Technica reported earlier, the latest development along those lines has Silverlight and MySpace working together. MySpace is now allowing developers to host Silverlight applications on the MySpace Open Platform.

From the MySpace Developer Platform Wiki:

Using Silverlight and the MySpace Open Platform, Developers can rapidly create and deliver sophisticated MySpace applications that provide streaming video, graphics and audio to a variety of platforms and devices.

The MySpace Silverlight SDK is available here.

Windows Mobile

But the Microsoft love doesn’t end there. Later this summer (whatever that means) MySpace will be releasing a Windows Mobile app for managing MySpace details, including Profile Management and Messaging friends.

These are good developments for both Microsoft and MySpace. MySpace is starting to lose traction in the social networking arena, and have a few more interesting integrations such as these can’t hurt. Microsoft also stands to benefit of course. Whilst having a Mobile app might not seem the biggest achievement (after all there’s an iPhone app for just everything these days), the penetration of Silverlight into yet another area is good to see.

Personally I think Silverlight is going to be unstoppable and will dominate the browser in a few short years. Windows Mobile on the other hand has a very shaky future. At least Microsoft are hiring more talent to boost the platform.

The Internet Marketing Handbook by SEOmoz

SEOmoz | The Internet Marketing Handbook SEOmoz has a really useful set of tools and links for those of you working on the SEO aspects of your site. It’s called the Internet Marketing Handbook and it is a free resource. I’d rate it as one of the best collections of internet marketing and SEO tools I’ve come across.

The tools cover:

  • Link building
  • Keyword research
  • Content creation
  • On page optimization
  • Crawling and indexing
  • Social media marketing

The list was compiled by Danny Dover, and he gives an introduction to the list in his blog post.

SEOmoz | The Internet Marketing HandbookI’ve been using SEOmoz for the last month and a bit and have been impressed with their resources. I’m currently weighing up whether to continue with the membership subscription. I was fortunate enough to get a trial, and now have to decide whether to continue. At $79 / month it is on the high side for me at the moment (especially with the exchange rate), but that said, the tips and techniques I’ve learnt have been valuable.

These resources are part of the reason we’ve been able to get pages from Get Organized Wizard onto page one for a number of our keyword terms. In the process I’ve been using a number of resources, and between SEOmoz (Rand Fishkin) and SEO Book (Aaron Wall) everything has been covered well.

(Note that the Internet Marketing Handbook is free to all, not just members.)

Microsoft still hiring

Careers at MicrosoftI don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing a lot of requests for developers lately. Seems as though despite what the media might be reporting, there are a lot of companies still hiring.

Case in point: Microsoft. Although they had to initiate some layoffs earlier this year, that hasn’t stopped them hiring in important areas. As The Standard reports, there are currently 466 job openings in Seattle alone. Interestingly there were numerous roles in Windows Mobile (34 by my count) and Live Search (31). This is good news since those two areas are particularly weak in the Microsoft stable.

Some roles however have been around for a while, like this one for a Programming Writer dating back to March last year.

(via Steven Bink)

Twitter Statistics

Apparently Twitter is getting popular You’ll be shocked (NOT!) to learn that Twitter is growing at a massive rate. Stats last month put the growth at over 1300% for February (compared to a year earlier). You can read all the latest numbers over on the Nielsen site (which I came across via the TwistImage blog). For me the two most interesting details were these:

  • 42% of the Twitter audience is in the 35-49 age bracket
  • Over 10% of visitors were via mobile

Having such a large mobile audience is not surprising, but will have the interesting effect of pushing mobile social networking engagement into the mainstream.

BTW, you can follow me on Twitter here.

[Facebook by comparison had a 220% growth over the same period (but obviously is a much bigger audience).]

Outlook 2007 SP2 Improvements

Outlook 2007

There’s a huge batch of performance improvements coming in Office 2007 SP2, especially for Outlook users. This Microsoft Outlook Support article details the enhancements.

Gains in general performance, storage algorithms and user interface are top of the list. As are a ton of bug fixes. Even just focussing on the startup process has seen dividends. Here’s a comment from the team:

Our approach to optimizing the startup process is fairly straight-forward. We analyzed all the tasks Outlook queues and improved the boot time by removing a few operations that were considered unnecessary, and by better orchestrating the execution of the necessary tasks.

One of the key items I noticed was the improved shutdown performance. Life can be frustrating when you are running for a meeting and need to shutdown. Waiting a few minutes (yes a few minutes feels like an eternity when you are in a rush) for Outlook to disappear from Task Manager so you can shutdown Windows can be a hassle. This fix alone will be reason to apply the update.

The improvements are coming SP2 later this year, although you can request to download just these Outlook updates via the support site.

All-in-all this looks very positive.

Thanks to SBTUG news for the link.

Windows 7 RC and Release rumours

Windows 7 Release CandidateArs Technica reported on the ‘accidental’ TechNet page detailing the Windows 7 RC release coming. The page (since taken down) details how the Release Candidate will be available in May 2009 (and not expire until June 2010).

This adds further weight to a July release of Windows 7, noted back in February on the Windows 7 Center site.

I’ve been using the 7000 build since January and just love it. I can’t wait for the RC.

Camtasia Error Failed to resume recording:: Invalid Configuration State

I have literally spent half a day getting to the bottom of this error, so I’m posting my findings here in the hope it saves someone else having to do the same.

Bottom line: it’s your microphone settings.

I’ve been using Camtasia for years now and never had a problem. Yet, all of sudden today it started giving me this error when I started recording:

Failed to resume recording::Invalid Configuration State

Camtaisa error - Failed to resume recording

After doing all the obvious stuff via Google, uninstalling everything I’ve installed over the past few weeks, changing display settings, installing DivX codecs & changing compression settings, and basically tearing my hair out, I finally found the problem after reading this post where user ‘malikah’ suspected something in the audio settings. Indeed he/she was right.

I discovered that my audio settings looked like this:

Camtasia Audio settings

You’ll notice that I have two entries for the general Microphone (High Definition in the dropdown. Using either of these caused the crash. By simply switching the Audio device to be my Headset Microphone, everything worked fine. Simple when you know right?

Now, I’m not sure why exactly, but I suspect there are some conflicting microphone drivers or perhaps two copies of the drivers both attempting to grab the audio and thus causing problems. Why it has just started happening today I don’t know.

Anyway, I hope this helps. If you are having this problem, and you rule out the audio, then you may want to check this post where one of the Camtasia developers outlines a possible problem (and the solution) due to video compression settings.

Now, to go and reinstall all those applications…

[UPDATE: I tried to go and post this solution on the forum but it needed me to register. Annoying, but OK. Tried to register and their site has an unauthorized reCAPTCHA key and won’t take any new registrations. I tried…]

Windows Marketplace for Mobile

I was a little disappointed to read Microsoft’s Developer Strategy for the Next Generation of Windows Phones.

Windows Mobile Development Unveiled last week, this PressPass piece indicates that Microsoft will be sharing 70% of sales revenue with developers for any Windows Mobile 6.5 applications sold through Windows Marketplace for Mobile. (Note: 70% is the same as Apple shares on their AppStore)

Put another way, Microsoft is charging you 30% of your sale, for giving you the opportunity to make your app available via Marketplace for Mobile. This seems high to me. Of course, having access to a huge international market is fantastic (and well worth the 30% commission I’m sure), and the promised feedback to developers on whether their apps meet certification requirements is extremely valuable.

But in a catch-up strategy (which Microsoft is definitely in), and with established channels such as Handango already in play (although to be fair they charge a whopping 40%), I was hoping for something spectacular from Microsoft.

Microsoft may still have significant market share in the mobile space, but it is eroding, and thus the success of endeavours like Marketplace for Mobile is vital for the platform. Microsoft needs to be attracting amazing mobile developers and encouraging the development of amazing mobile apps.

Ideally we’d be seeing Microsoft offering 95% share, with weekly competitions, awards for exceptional apps (as judged by their certification committee), special promotions of quality apps, etc.

Obviously there is significant infrastructure (and thus costs) required to facilitate the Mobile Marketplace, but extracting this from developers is not the way to proceed.

No, in this catch-up-to-the-iPhone-App-Store climate, Microsoft needs to view Mobile Marketplace as a marketing expense, not a monetization strategy.

 

Aside: In some ways this reminds me of the mistake Microsoft made with the early versions of its developer tools for Office (VSTO).  Initial versions required special ISV partnerships, followed by versions charged at a hefty license fee. Not until recent years has VSTO become part of the Visual Studio install, and even now it still has some hurdles, since it is only included in the Professional Version and above. IMO, putting the VSTO tooling in the Express versions is long overdue, but that’s a topic for another post…

Photosynth and Location

Photosynth Map Explore

Perhaps you missed this little gem: Photosynth Map Explore.

I hope not, because I think it represents an interesting insight into the future of location.

A little while back I was underwhelmed with Photosynth, but I did look forward to improvements with location being tied in. Photosynth Map Explore is the answer. It’s early days, but the potential here is huge. I love it.

I was, and still am, looking forward to every photo being geo-tagged and angle coded. But here’s the obvious tipping point I missed. At some point we’ll get to a point where we have enough geo-tagged photos that we’ll be able to go in reverse. We’ll be able to upload an older photo, and with technology like Photosynth, be able to reverse calculate where it was taken.

You can see where I’m heading right? With enough photos catalogued in a site like the Photosynth Map Explore site, we’ll be able to slot in a photo and have it tell us where the photo was taken.

And the beautiful thing… every new photo that gets reverse located, adds further to the overall database, and makes the coverage even better.

The possibilities are endless. We haven’t even discussed the overlaying of timestamp data on the coverage. You’ll be able to reverse not only a location, but perhaps even the time it was taken (as landmarks, seasons and other characteristics change). And then the obvious step is to be able to do this for any frame in a video.

I’m actually pretty excited about this. And intrigued. Just as Google Maps and Live Maps has brought national security considerations into the conversation (and with just satelite imagery), imagine how potentially disruptive technology like this could be. 

Find out more about Photosynth here.

(For a good overview read the LiveSide post.)

The Twitter Popularity Contest

Twitter has changedI’ve been wondering what’s next after Twitter. Where are all the cool kids heading these days?

After all, it has become so mainstream now that the inevitable transformation from intimate community to marketing broadcast is all but complete. The vibe on Twitter has changed.

Yes I know, that’s what the Un-follow option is for, but that doesn’t stop the fact that Twitter has changed. And for me, I guess I’ve become a little disillusioned of late. Here’s a few thoughts.

Warning: tongue-in-cheek *analysis* follows:

People follow you to be followed back

Can you spot our next contestant?Has this been going on for a while, or has it just started in the last few weeks?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to say it is a shame to see that some of the ‘interaction’ on Twitter has changed to promotion and micro popularity contests. I realised this recently when I started getting followed by a lot more people than normal. Strange, I thought. Perhaps I’ve got something useful to say :) Think again.

The giveaway is when you get a whole bunch of new followers each day, and yet you finish the day with less followers than you started. Why is that?

Here’s another giveaway: you get followed by someone, and then they follow you again a few days later. Yep, you were quickly un-followed, and then they’ve had another go, not realising that you were a previous attempt.

I suspect that a fair proportion of my new followers are simply following me in order to get a follow back. Why? Because… if you have a lot of followers you must have something important to say, right? And if you have a whole bunch more followers that you follow, then you must be particularly important. And (so the logic goes) if you’re important then people are more likely to buy your stuff.

Now, a few months ago this was probably true. In my usual circle (technology), if you had a lot of followers you probably did have something worth hearing. But since moving into additional circles recently (SEO, social networking, small business, media, etc) I’ve seen much different behaviour. It seems as though ‘conversation’ has been replaced with ‘competition’.

Gee, I’m starting to feel a little left out in this competition…

How to feel more popular

Take my profile as an example. I’m always following new people, as well as following back probably 70% of people who follow me (the interesting ones). As such, here’s my profile as of Thursday 12 March.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

You’ll notice I follow more people than follow me. Ooops. This represents a major no-no in the popularity stakes. Fun little tools like Twittergrader will help me see the light. For example, here’s how Twittergrader grades me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Time to make amends. I need to improve my followers-to-following ratio.

No problem, I’ll just go through and un-follow a bunch of people. Here’s the results after some purging.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

Let’s see how Twittergrader rewards me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Awesome. I’m now ranked 2,000 positions higher and my grade has improved slightly. See, ranking higher is as simple as cutting back on the conversations you engage in! My online engagement experience is poorer, but I have the warm fuzzy feeling of being just a little bit more popular.

With a bit more purging I reckon I can improve my grade into the 99 percentile and fool myself into thinking I’m actually interesting!

(btw: wouldn’t it be good if Twittergrader added some categorisations too: <80 = you’re boring, >90 = scintillating, >99 = The sun shines from your…, etc)

How to be popular

A quick start guide for the newbies – here’s how to fool yourself into feeling really popular:

  1. Find someone that actually is popular (example)
  2. Go through their followers list and start following
  3. Wait 24-48 hours – you can probably expect at least a 20% follow back response
  4. Un-follow just about everyone
  5. Inspect updated Twitter grade
  6. Enjoy warm fuzzy feeling
  7. Find someone else that is really popular and repeat

Advanced strategies

Here’s a few advanced tips for newbies, particularly those working in marketing departments or small businesses, who have just heard about this new ‘Twitter phenomenon’:

  • Do: buy in to the whole ‘Twitter is an un-tapped market’ philosophy
  • Do: treat every follower as a potential sale (as opposed to a conversation)
  • Do: send out marketing messages almost straight away (hey, people can’t wait to buy your stuff)
  • Do: assume that you are one of the first to discover this Twitter thing, and that you have a wonderful window of opportunity to do nothing else but promote your products
  • Do: promote yourself as a social media strategist/expert even though you’ve only just joined Twitter this week

 

Don’t underestimate the change

Hey, look, obviously I’m just having a bit of a light-hearted look at things here, so don’t take it too seriously. Sure, promotion and marketing are important – don’t get me wrong – of all people I’m especially aware of this as I build a new business with my wife.

And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having lots of followers, or a good ratio.

The problem is when the pursuit of followers changes behaviour, conversations and engagement on what has been a wonderful, intimate, ego-less ecosystem so far. It’s a subtle change, but one that’s growing.

Am I over-reacting? Perhaps. And yes, quite possibly this is just a case of sour grapes because I’m not very popular :-)

But here’s my prediction: give it a few months and the release of soon-to-be revealed Twitter monetization strategies and I think many of the foundational Twitter members will be moving on.

And thus my opening question: Given that Twitter has changed, where are all the cool kids heading to now? Any thoughts?

[This post was originally published on my personal blog]