Author Archives: Craig Bailey

google-search

Google Search Options

searchologyI really like the new Google Search Options (as noted by Matt Cutts reporting on the Searchology press event this week). VentureBeat and others also covered the event in detail. I’ve only focussed on the search options in this post.

Now in your Search results, there’s a bunch of additional filtering options in the Options panel on the left (default it doesn’t show and you click a link to display it).

The ability to filter by timeframe has had plenty of interest, and I personally can see this being a major game changer in terms of SEO. Many have alluded to this being a strategy of pushing towards real time search, and I certainly can’t disagree. But to me the main benefit is being able to filter out irrelevant information, and hence I’ll likely be limiting my timeframe to the ‘Past year’ category.

I’m not so interested in the very latest (unless of course it is a breaking story), rather I’m interested in knowing that when I view results on say ‘top wordpress plugins’ I’m not seeing pages from 4 years ago that are likely irrelevant.

I’d ideally like to see a ‘Past month’ filter option also.

Here’s what it looks like when searching for this blog’s title:

Google Search Options

BTW I think the Wonder Wheel is pretty useless – can anyone point out a good use for it?

(via Matt Cutts)

url-shortener

URL shorteners: less is… less

Twitter - adding hurdles to IT I’ve been intrigued by the whole URL shortener explosion. Every man and his network has a shortener these days :-).

Although they’ve been around for years (tinyurl for example), the reason for the rise in popularity is undoubtedly Twitter with its need for brevity. So much so that some are getting funding in the millions (see my post on bit.ly a few weeks back for example).

What if Twitter changed?

But I wonder what would happen if Twitter decided to change its 140 character rule. What if they decided to add a new field for a full URL as part of their interface. One that you could enter any length URL into. You’d still be limited to 140 characters for your message, but the full URL could be ‘attached’ at no cost.

Its unlikely to happen of course, since it’d be a departure from their ‘keep it simple’ approach, and there’d also be outcry from all the Twitter clients (but, hey Twitter happily changed their email format without much care for the 3rd parties, so that probably wouldn’t stop them making other changes).

But just consider for a moment if Twitter did make a change like this.

Besides all the visible benefits to users (ie no need to have shorteners, ability to see the URL and make a judgement call about whether you wanted to visit the site, ability for 3rd parties to easily identify popular domains being tweeted about, and the list goes on), there’d also be one less step in most people’s process (although only small, there is bandwidth and latency overhead in having to visit the shortener site and then be redirected).

But then there’s the most interesting part:

What would happen to all the URL shorteners? They’d be rendered obsolete overnight.

Barriers for the sake of barriers

And here’s why I find this whole thing interesting:

One company – Twitter – has effectively put in place a barrier (the 140 character limit).

And now other companies are securing millions in order to overcome the barrier.

The net result to users is unchanged – they can include URLs in their tweets.

But the cost is high (3rd party services, obfuscated URLs, additional bandwidth overheads).

Taking a step back and looking at this, it seems inefficient and counterintuitive.

Far from encouraging efficiency, sometimes I think the Tech industry adds more inefficiency than it cares to acknowledge.

protected

The next Twitter trend – Protected Updates

Twitter protected updatesI’m predicting that Protected Updates are going to be the next big Twitter trend.

Why? Because the mad rush for maximum followers has run its course. And people are now realising that having thousands (or even millions) of followers is next to useless (except of course for the psychological reasons). There’s so much noise these days.

Instead of quantity of followers, people will want to build a quality following…

Pruning season

I’ve spent the last two weeks pruning back most of my social networking connections. Twitter and FriendFeed are easy (since it actually looks better to have more people following you than you follow right? :-) ) but now I’ve started culling friends on Facebook too. Yes, I’m actively trying to have less friends. Why? I’m trying to reduce the noise. I’m after quality and credibility. In relationship terms its about deeper, not wider.

Protected Updates

So, back to Protected Update Twitter streams… why would this be any better? Here’s my thoughts:

  • Firstly, if your stream is protected, then its likely you aren’t just out to garner a huge following. Instead you want a quality following.
  • Second, if you aren’t out to just get as many followers as possible, then chances are you’ll probably avoid all those ‘noisy’ Twitter tactics (linking to stuff for the sake of linking, asking questions you already know the answer to, criticising companies in the hope of getting a re-tweet, etc).
  • Third, and following from the second, you’ll like be interested in building credibility. It’s much better to have a few passionate people reading most of your tweets, than thousands of people very rarely reading anything you have to say.
  • Fourth, it creates exclusivity. Imagine if SMEs (subject matter experts) had special protected feeds in which they dispensed high value content, perhaps breaking news, or special tips, before they released it publicly. And you could follow their protected stream. Wouldn’t you feel privileged?
  • Fifth, it creates value. If you are amongst the exclusive few who are allowed access to a quality twitter stream, then I suspect you’re going to value the content on those streams more.
  • Sixth, it is a monetization strategy. This is actually the main reason I think. If you currently provide membership programs or pay-per-view content (including everything from small business programs through to Wall Street Journal subscriptions) then having a protected Twitter account is another way to offer value to your members. It is a feature they get for being a paid member. Imagine if you are a respected stock analyst with people on your exclusive members only email list. Providing an exclusive Twitter account for them to get immediate insights is the next logical step.

Problems

There’s a few problems to be overcome (eg there’s nothing to stop people simply re-tweeting a protected stream), but they’d get worked out in time (eg the person who re-tweeted the protected stream would likely get blocked).

It’s not about Privacy

You’ll note I haven’t mentioned anything to do with Privacy, since that’s a whole topic in itself.

Summary

Twitter (and social networks in general) have reached a point where their mass broadcast value is diminishing. The signal-to-noise ratio drops further everyday. Quantity of followers is becoming less important. Quality of followers is the aim, and credibility of content is the key.

In terms of Twitter, protecting updates is one strategy whereby acknowledged experts in their field can make their presence more valuable. And once the experts (and then the celebrities start doing it) watch as everyone else follows suit.

ms-tag

Microsoft Tag Custom tags contest

Microsoft TagI really like the custom tags idea that Microsoft is enabling via their Microsoft Tag technology.

The idea is that you can take the same concept as the original Microsoft Tags and overlay them on pictures. You can also replace the triangles with dots.

The result is a whole new set of marketing opportunities for your brand as you incorporate a tag into a picture or logo. Time to get those creative juices flowing.

In fact Microsoft is running a competition – called the Tag Slaps Design Contest – to see who can create the coolest custom tag.

Here’s the overview from the contest page:

The Tag Slaps Design Contest challenges you to create an original customized Tag and creative concept for an accompanying mobile experience. Your entry should include a working customized Tag that leads to a mobile web site, as well as a creative concept for a mobile site. The mobile site experience concept should engage your customer and encourage them to take an action such as signing up for a service, getting more information about your product, downloading a special offer or an application, and more.

Here’s a typical original tag:

Microsoft Tag example

And here’s a few examples of custom tags:

Microsoft Tag Custom Tag examples

The contest opens on 4 May 2009 and judging will take place from 22 June.

Don’t get too excited about any big prizes though – this is just for the glory of winning. The winner gets recognition on the tag site, Facebook, Twitter, and select media articles.

(via Neowin)

follow-friday

The #followfriday Twitter scam

Twitter Retweet sillinessIn the race to drum up a following on Twitter, people are using all kinds of silly tactics. The latest one I’m seeing is the fake #followfriday thank you tweets.

Basically you send an @reply to a bunch of people (that probably don’t even follow you) thanking them for recommending you as part of the #followfriday meme. But the thing is they don’t have a clue who you are, and they certainly didn’t recommend you. Perhaps they don’t even do the whole #followfriday thing.

I’m trying to work out what benefit people are getting from using this method – about the only thing I can think of is that by @replying to people with a thank you, the people being thanked might get engaged into some kind of conversation. Perhaps they’ll even follow in order to see what the scammer is talking about.

So, if I were to employ this silly technique I might tweet something like this:

Thanks for the #followfriday love @oprah @aplusk @barackobama @mrskutcher @britneyspears – much appreciated. You guys rock!

Actually, I probably wouldn’t use people this popular – everyone would know it wasn’t real. Instead I’d choose slightly less popular people, perhaps @guykawasaki or @stephenfry. My best case scenario would be if they responded (perhaps reprimanding me for mis-representing them). All the people following them might come and take a look at me and see what the fuss is about.

And the added bonus: any people who were already following me would see this fake thank you, and possibly re-tweet it to their steam.

When will all this silliness end?

torrent

Music Piracy and Purchasing

Music Piracy I initially missed this story last week about recent research that found that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don’t. Thankfully TorrentFreak pointed me to it.

The research findings are welcome news I’m sure to all modern day pirates :-), and for me also (as I get closer to succumbing to piracy). TorrentFreak attempts to explain why this finding might be the case:

The real reason is in fact very simple. The true music enthusiasts simply want to consume, sample and discover as much new music as they possibly can, and the most straightforward and convenient way to do this is through file-sharing networks. Music pirates are just regular consumers really, and they love music just as much as anyone else.

I’d like to delve further into the whole discussion about the findings, but I have to pull myself up, because once again this is a case where the research referenced is difficult to check. The source (UK Guardian) doesn’t link to the research, nor even to the BI Norwegian School of Management that they claim it came from (and I couldn’t find anything on their site about the research either). The Guardian does state however that the study was based on 2,000 users and asked for proof of purchase from those who said they purchased, so it seems to have some information about the study.

So this raises the issue of credibility (again). I’d really love to learn more about the behaviours of music pirates, and join the conversation about  how piracy can be better understood. But sadly I just don’t have access to real, credible information. Admittedly there are credible studies like this one from Industry Canada (see here for a summary) but it is close to 3 years old now – I’m sure habits have changed dramatically since then.

outlook-2010

Outlook 2010 screenshots

Office 2010 For those interested in what Outlook 2010 is shaping up to look like, here’s a few screenshots from the Microsoft PressPass Image Gallery. You may have read our post on Exchange 2010 a few days back. Whilst we were mostly critical of the increasing reliance on email, we also made mention of some of the good things coming that will help with managing your ‘corporate life’ in Exchange (and delivered via Outlook and OWA). These screenshots give an idea of how they will work. Notice also that Outlook has the ribbon in the main application now.

Here’s the ‘conversation view’ (in OWA):

Outlook Web Access Conversation view

Here’s the ‘mute button’ to take yourself out of a conversation:

Outlook 2010 Mute

Here’s the tips that help people stopping doing really stupid stuff:

Outlook 2010 MailTips

And here’s a few more:

Outlook 2010 MailTips

And here’s the voicemail preview:

Outlook 2010 Voicemail Preview

There’s further discussion on Zack Whittaker’s blog (from his April 18 post).

Frustrations with the 60% Twitter Quitter reports

imageI’m getting sick of all the stories that people are writing about this so-called 60% quit rate with Twitter. It’s hit all the news sites by now, and is gaining widespread acceptance. The problem though is that it is unclear what it is based on.

Here’s the grab from the Nielsen blog that reported the ‘findings’:

Currently, more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month, or in other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent. For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30 percent retention.

That’s it. Absolutely nothing about how they arrived at the 60% number, what dataset it is based on, what timeframe etc. And perhaps most importantly, no indication of whether it applies to all Twitter interactions (including Twitter desktop and mobile clients) or just the twitter.com site traffic. It is estimated that the twitter.com site accounts for only 64% of Twitter interaction.

If you read the comments in the post (71 so far), you’ll see people have been repeatedly asking for this clarification, but Nielsen has failed to provide even a reply.

And If you read Mashable you’ll see this was quickly raised as an issue with the data and they’ve asked for clarification also.

So whilst many news articles have jumped to speculating on the seriousness of this 60% abandonment rate, the real story should be focussing on how Nielsen can publish numbers without even explaining what they mean or how they were arrived at. To me they have zero credibility until they do.

share-graph

Microsoft and the art of making money

Hmmm, do you think we should be smiling about this?I agree with Joe Wilcox and his take on the current position Microsoft finds itself in: a very difficult one.

Times are tough. Interesting then, that announcing a drop in revenue last week resulted in an increase in stock price.

Microsoft share price after Q3 announcements

I’m no stock analyst and I’m not going to event try to understand the numbers, but I do think there is an underlying confidence in Microsoft at the moment.

I suspect there’s a few reasons for this. First, and perhaps this is just me, I’ve seen a lot less hype from Microsoft in the last 6 months. The days of flashy launch events seem to have died down (replaced perhaps by better advertising campaigns) and the company is focussing on delivering quality products. The Microsoft PR machine has played its Windows 7 cards very carefully so far, and it seems to be paying off. The sentiment for Windows 7 is very positive.

Much will depend on the success of Windows 7 later this year, and as I’ve mentioned before, it is my belief that Windows 7 will be the release that is looked back on in years to come as the even that saved Microsoft.

And the number of releases lately is very encouraging. SQL Server, SharePoint, Office, Vista all getting hype-low, quality-high updates (Service Packs); BizTalk and IE getting released; new technologies such as Silverlight 3, and Exchange 2010 Beta getting announced (these last two with perhaps with a little more hype than the others, but with restraint none the less).

As Joe notes, this is a time for Microsoft to be pushing out the updates and pre-release so that when the economy turns around and companies start opening their wallets again, there won’t be such a long lead time to adoption.

As you may know I’ve long been a Microsoft fan-boi but that hasn’t stopped me taking shots where I think they deserve it (example). But that said, the Microsoft I’m seeing today is undoubtedly on a very strong foundation (lay-offs and netbook pressures withstanding) in most areas. I will say however that I think they are weak on the mobile and browser fronts and will lose entirely there.

In terms of the result, Chris Liddell (Microsoft CFO) doesn’t talk up it up too much, although he does look for some light in their cost cutting measures. Overall, the down results won’t be turning around in a hurry (from Microsoft PressPass):

“While market conditions remained weak during the quarter, I was pleased with the organization’s ability to offset revenue pressures with the swift implementation of cost-savings initiatives,” said Chris Liddell, chief financial officer at Microsoft. “We expect the weakness to continue through at least the next quarter.”

You’ll note that in general Microsoft hasn’t attempted to spin its bad news. Bad news is bad news.

But overall, I think the news and outlook for Microsoft is good.

f-graph

Facebook Open Stream Apps

Facebook Open Stream APIFurther to my post yesterday, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into some of the applications taking advantage of the new Facebook Open Stream API (announced on Monday).

This video from CNET is a wonderful demonstration from Microsoft’s Brian Goldfarb where he shows two Open Stream enabled applications. The first, a Silverlight app allows beautiful interaction with a friend’s stream, especially their photos. The speed and UX is impressive. Even more so when noting it was put together in under 72 hours. Brian notes that the applications and their source code will be made available in the next few weeks. Also check out the Silverlight blog for more details.

The second app from Brian is a WPF app that allows rich interaction via the meta data that accompanies the steam. Using links between friends and photos, users can visualise their relationships in news ways. Very impressive.


Microsoft shows off Facebook Open Stream API demos from Rafe Needleman on Vimeo.

(via Neowin)

Attack of the SP2s

SP2It’s a big day of Service Pack Releases from Microsoft, with the following being made available today:

Office 2007 SP2

Office 2007 continues to improve with a substantial list of enhancements and fixes.

Whilst every product in the Office suite has received attention, the major focus (as we’ve mentioned previously) will likely be place on Outlook. The team have worked hard to improve the performance of Outlook, both in start-up and shutdown.

You can download Office 2007 SP2 here.

WSS/MOSS SP2

Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) get a nice update (via the SharePoint Team blog).

This release provides performance and interoperability improvements as well as a check for upgrade potential to SharePoint 2010 (due in the next year or two – nothing like being prepared :-)

Download links are on this Knowledge Base article.

By the way, when you are on the SharePoint blog take a look at the little hover panels when hovering over a link – it’ll tell you which links are the most popular outgoing.

image 

Kinda neat – I’d like to know what the key interest in these posts is – my suspicion was that deployment advice would be, but it doesn’t appear that way.

Vista SP2 (and Windows 2008 SP2)

Here’s the key benefits as noted by The Windows Blog:

  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones

As well as all the updates since SP1 rolled in. There’s a full rundown on TechNet.

Facebook, data and privacy

Facebook Open Stream APIIt’s early in the backlash cycle as people come to terms with what Facebook is and isn’t providing via its Open Stream API (and developer Wiki). Check out Xobni and Seesmic for details on some of the early examples of how it can be implemented.

ReadWriteWeb however offers a slight lament at how limited the data reach is, and overall Marshall’s post is spot on (IMO). Make sure you read the comments (especially comment 21 which captures the correct attitude pretty well I think).

The debate is mostly around privacy (as it should be) and how much Facebook is honouring privacy, contrasted with whether Facebook users actually understand the privacy terms. Scoble brings monetization into the discussion also. It’s a tricky situation.

The issue for me however is a much longer term one. It’s about credibility. Whilst I agree we are on a juggernaut of openness at the moment, and network after network is clamouring to open up its data, I think the tide is starting to turn. Our brazen flaunting of any need for privacy is starting to change. The pendulum will start swinging back – I’m predicting within the next 12 months – and when it does we’ll see services like Twitter, FriendFeed and the multitude of others come under close scrutiny as to what they provide access to. Watch then as they compete with each other to put the brakes on…

Amidst this, Facebook – if they hold true to their current stance – with be heralded as being reliable and trustworthy. They tread carefully. Credibility will count for much soon, and instead of rushing to ease access to data, companies need to be ensuring they have people’s real interests at heart.

Currently we all think its fine to have our personal information out there for everyone else to consume. But I’m starting to see signs that this casual approach is losing its appeal. The smart social networking companies will be thinking very carefully about how they match openness with privacy. I believe Facebook is one such company.

The FriendFeed chain of command

One of the things that has made Twitter so popular is its simplicity and the 140 character limit.FriendFeed

The reason I’m hardly on Twitter anymore is because it is too simple and has a 140 character limit.

Yep, I can happily live with it going mainstream and having @oprah around doesn’t faze me at all (as opposed to the reactions noted here). Even all the ‘social media experts’ spamming me isn’t really a problem.

For me, its the richness that I’m getting on FriendFeed these days that is really interesting. I made the switch about two weeks ago when the new real-time beta went live. Being able to write longer messages, reply with longer messages, and vote up the items of interest is difficult to do without. It’s like Facebook but a little nicer. I’m liking it there.

But there’s still a few issues. The main one is that many of the people I’ve subscribed to have numerous sources coming into FriendFeed. This results in a lot of duplication. A common example is when people use ping.fm to publish to multiple social networks, that all get aggregated into FriendFeed. Thus I’ll see the same message from them shown 3 or 4 times in a row. Here’s a typical example:

FriendFeed duplication

Chain of Command

So, there just needs to be a simple ‘chain of command’ in place.

Here’s how I’ve set mine up now:

  • I have setup FriendFeed to be the source of all my ‘content’ including messages, comments, and posts from my blogs
  • I post messages to FriendFeed
  • FriendFeed will publish this to Twitter
  • Facebook pulls in my Twitter feed

Thus my message only appears once on each.

I’ve also streamlined my networks, so I no longer post to Identica, LinkedIn and any of the other networks I’ve signed up on in the past few years. I’ve decided to keep my content to just these 3 (Twitter, FF and FB) for now. And Video or Audio content will be referenced by my blog posts, so there’s no need to pull from YouTube or Vimeo.

The final link is any bookmarking sites I use. I’ve limited this to Digg and StumbleUpon for now, and both of these feed into FriendFeed only.

Anyway, that’s how I’m working at the moment. Any suggestions on how I should improve this?

[You can follow me on FriendFeed here.]

BizTalk 2009 Released

Microsoft BizTalk Server 2009Well this one certainly hasn’t had the hype that Windows 7, IE8 or Windows Mobile 6.5 has experienced. And perhaps you aren’t exactly sure what BizTalk is yourself. You wouldn’t be alone. BizTalk is one of Microsoft’s enterprise tools, and has been powering away for almost a decade. It’s now in its sixth version and was quietly released on Monday.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, BizTalk is Microsoft’s platform for enterprise integration (here’s a quick overview). Basically, if you want to connect systems together then BizTalk is your facilitator. Think SOA and interoperability… EDI systems are a typical example implementation.

Here’s the list of new features in BizTalk 2009 (from the Microsoft PressPass announcement):

The BizTalk Server 2009 release delivers the following:

  • Simple, cost-effective service-oriented architecture (SOA) connectivity. With new and updated connectors, BizTalk Server 2009 advances interoperability by providing more than 25 industry adapters that make it easier for customers to connect critical business applications such as SAP, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel and Oracle E-Business Suite.
  • Increased developer productivity. BizTalk Server enhances the first-class developer experience provided within Visual Studio 2008 by offering new integrated capabilities including visual debugging, unit testing and access to code artifacts. As a result, BizTalk Server helps democratize and simplify sophisticated integration projects, enabling a broader set of developers to rapidly deliver more standards-based and scalable business applications.
  • Better visibility into data and activities. Enhanced Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) capabilities reduce the complexity associated with trusted data collection and simplify access to data.
  • Take advantage of the benefits of virtualization. With BizTalk Server 2009 running on Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V technology, businesses can take advantage of the benefits that virtualization provides, including cost savings, production server consolidation and business continuity management.
  • Simple RFID solutions. RFID capabilities reduce the need for complicated custom coding for disparate device types. Now, businesses can easily extend RFID capabilities to mobile environments and experience the benefits from updated standards such as Tag Data Translation (TDT), EPC Information Services Standard (EPCIS) and Low Level Reader Protocol (LLRP).
  • Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) made easier. BizTalk Server can now participate in the full application development life cycle by including new project management, testing and deployment capabilities that extend ALM capabilities already delivered through Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008. As a result, customers experience faster time to solution with improved quality.

The improvements include better integration with the 2008 stack (Windows 2008 Server, Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008) as well as use in virtualized environments (using Hyper-V). In fact its worth pointing to the entire Microsoft Application Platform. I’ve been involved in BizTalk projects in previous companies, and whilst it had a steep learning curve, BizTalk always proved itself to be a rock solid technology.

It’s one of those products that tends to be used widely (90% of Fortune 100 companies for example, according to Microsoft), and yet no one really knows about it. It’s products like BizTalk that often get overlooked by analysts, and yet to me are powerful indicators of Microsoft’s underlying strength across multiple sectors.

wordpress-comments

WordPress and Comments

WordPress commenting takes another step forwardI’m a big WordPress fan. Especially the self-hosted variety (like this blog is). So I’m always excited to see the new stuff coming in future versions. What get’s put into the wordpress.com (or wp.com for the tired-fingered amongst us) hosted versions usually makes it into the self-hosted release a version or two later.

One feature that is hopefully coming soon is the ability to reply to web comments via email. On the official WordPress blog this week they announced the new feature for replying to comments via email. That is, when someone comments on your blog you receive an email with the comment details. Instead of having to log into respond you can simply reply to the email with your comment. WordPress will take care of the rest. Very nice.

This is hot on the heals of threaded comments that made it into the site (and then the self-host release) a little while back. WordPress goes from strength to strength. This is yet another little example. And they allude to more coming soon…

(via ReadWriteWeb)

The Windows 7 RC drain

Windows 7 RC is comingI’m really excited about the upcoming Windows 7 RC availability (who isn’t?). As the Windows 7 Team blog announced on Friday, it should be appearing on MSDN on 30 April, with the public release to follow on 5 May.

I’ll be downloading it straight away, as will millions of others I’m sure. What’ll be interesting is to see the download performance. In the past I’ve been really impressed with Microsoft’s infrastructure (or more correctly their infrastructure partner’s) ability to provide excellent download performance even with huge spikes. There’s been a few hiccups, for example I remember downloading Visual Studio 2008 was a long process during the first day or so, but in general the user experience has been exceptional. I wonder how the Windows 7 RC release will cope.

One of these days I’d love to meet with an IT guru who sets up these kinds of infrastructures and get a proper understanding. I think it is amazing what IT manages to deliver, usually based on protocols and underlying methods that are decades old and never in their wildest dreams expected to be deliver the kind of traffic they do these days.

Microsoft releases coming up

Waiting for Windows 7Good to see some credible rumours about Windows 7 being published. May 5 seems to be the day when Windows 7 RC goes public (and hopefully earlier for MSDN and TechNet subscribers).

A week later on May 11 Windows Mobile 6.5 might be released (or perhaps not).

But before those releases we’ll have Office 2007 SP2 available on 28 April.

And of course the Exchange 2010 Beta was released this past week.

Chief Technology Officer of America

Aneesh ChopraYep, big title. Big job. Everyone will have an opinion of today’s announcement that Aneesh Chopra has agreed to serve as America’s Chief Technology Officer (see also The Washington Post article). TechCrunch for example doesn’t seem too excited with the choice, and there’s been plenty of discussion on FriendFeed (example, example).

Here’s some interesting grabs from the White House press release:

In this role, Aneesh will promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities – from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure.

and further (italics mine):

Aneesh and Jeffrey [Zients] will work closely with our Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for setting technology policy across the government, and using technology to improve security, ensure transparency, and lower costs.  The goal is to give all Americans a voice in their government and ensure that they know exactly how we’re spending their money – and can hold us accountable for the results.

I don’t know anything about the process, requirements, or candidates that were considered, so what can I possibly offer on the topic? Not much, except to point you to Tim O’Reilly’s excellent post covering the decision. In it he covers the reasons why Aneesh is a great choice.

Why piracy gets more attractive

Computer says No!Yesterday’s news about the clowns at The Pirate Bay being found guilty should come as no surprise. Justice has been done. Sure, many will make hair-splitting arguments about how they didn’t break the law (the letter of the law), but to me it is the spirit of the law that has been upheld (although perhaps not for long if they win their appeal).

What they’ve done is built a service that allows you to take an ‘experience’ (eg watching a movie) that you are legally required to pay for, and get it without paying. In the spirit of the law, that’s wrong. So, The Pirate Bay is wrong.

But here’s the bigger question for me. Should laws be changed to allow prosecution of companies who disrespect their customers? Take media companies who persist in locking down distribution channels as an example.

The frustrations of being disrespected as a customer are common. Here’s a few examples:

  • There’s a TV show or movie I want to watch. I can buy it on Amazon, but only if I live in the US
  • There’s an audio book I want to buy but it is not available outside the US, even though the book is
  • I want to watch Hulu but they can’t stream outside the US
  • There’s a new movie showing in the US but it won’t open here until next month
  • There’s an alternate version of the movie but I can’t get here because they are only selling the theatrical release here
  • There’s a new Xbox or PC game released in the US but not available here until next week

The rise of piracy

Whilst piracy has always thrived as a way of avoiding payment, I suspect much of its surge in the last 3-5 years has been due to the need for instant gratification. Consumers want the content, and they want it now. And they’re usually happy to pay for it as anyone who has experienced the following will attest:

Sucks to be me

Technology is an enabler, and it is now simple to enable access to anything, anytime, anywhere.

Thus, you have consumer demand. And you have technology to meet that demand.

What possible reason could there be for blocking it anymore? Especially considering it is more difficult and requires more complex technology in order to block the access.

It’s understandable then, that when confronted with barriers to accessing content legally, consumers find other means. The easiest path being piracy. Jump on a torrent site and download what you want to watch/listen to/play/etc.

The media companies have their reasons (outdated copyright and distribution deals are the usual patsy), but surely they realise the angst they create.

So why persist? Is it just a case of Old habits die hard, and no amount of trying to convince them they are actually losing revenue will change their minds.

Perhaps.

Taking action?

What if we could take legal action against the media companies for their attitude. What if we could argue that their approach is actually an abuse of technology. What if we could prove that their outdated practices are actually degrading society. What if we could prove that the rise of piracy and the associated illegal practices is a direct result of the media companies and their distribution policies? Should our laws be changed even?

Sadly, I doubt it would make a difference. After all, the claim would be likened to consumers suing a book store just because it was closed at night. It’d never fly.

It’s a shame really. The giant media companies should be embracing technology with vision and initiative, not persecuting the response to their lack thereof. What a wasted opportunity.

The obvious response

So what should consumers do?

Yes, we could perhaps take the attitude that downloading music should be declared legal, and then progress it to other formats, but there little chance that will be happening anytime soon.

I suspect we are left with little choice…

Which is why, for me, piracy keeps getting more attractive.

Exchange 2010 – when will email jump the shark?

Exchange 2010Most of us have a love/hate relationship with email. In spite of all its problems, email is still the main communication mechanism of corporate existence. That’s despite the spam, incessant interruptions and lack of proper tracking functionality.

I wonder if you’ve considered how insidious email is? Have you pondered the limiting effects of email on company collaboration for example.

  • Notifications of updates to company intranets, issue tracking platforms and release procedures are often delivered via email.
  • Reminders of workflow progress, forum responses and blog comments are all email reliant.
  • We even have voicemail delivered to us via email these days.

We take the time and effort to introduce new communication mechanisms into the enterprise, but then repress them with email as the main notifier. That’s really inefficient.

Far from being made irrelevant via new collaboration tools, email use is actually increasing.

Meetings

Speaking of inefficient, let’s consider meetings. In my experience there’s only one thing more unproductive than email, and that’s meetings. We spend so much time (mostly inefficiently) in meetings. But why are there so many meetings? I suggest its because of email. Consider how easy it is to call a meeting nowadays – its a simple email request. I’d like to see the correlation between the number of meetings people attend, and the ease at which meeting organization has been allowed via email requests over the last decade. I’ll wager that the rise of the unproductive meeting is another side effect of email :-).

And is it perhaps fitting that many people now spend time in meetings going through their email…

Microsoft’s Email Strategy

No surprise then that an email ‘platform’ is still a big money maker for Microsoft. Exchange – which granted is much more than just email – is a key strategy for the company, fitting in with its overall Unified Communications initiatives.

So, can Microsoft improve the efficiency of email? The news of Exchange 2010 being released later this year (beta available here) could be the start of an answer.

The feature list includes the support for ‘conversations’ (which I assume is similar to GMail’s much loved feature) and ‘email mute’ functionality to ignore certain email threads. MailTips will help you avoid the ‘Reply to All’ occurrences. All good improvements.

Next Wave

It doesn’t stop there. Exchange 2010 is also providing additional deployment options (you can mix both on-premises and partner capabilities) and archiving tools (as they address growing compliance requirements).

And then there’s the fact that Exchange 2010 is the first in the ‘next wave’. Here’s what the Microsoft PressPass announcement describes:

The next wave, which includes Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Visio 2010 and Microsoft Project 2010, is designed to give people a consistent experience across devices, making it easier to create and edit documents and collaborate from any location.

This is good right? Reduce the barriers to entry with consistent UI**. That should give some gains.

This all sounds good.

But sadly, its missed the main need…

The result

You can see what is happening here right? The next version of Exchange isn’t about improving the efficiency of email and combating all its side-effects. It’s not about reducing email or the time we spend consuming it. Sadly the reverse is true.

The result of all these improvements is that far from being reduced email is now being integrated into more and more of our lives, both business and personal. The inefficiency of email is hardly addressed, whilst its ubiquitousness gets yet another big push.

Corporate existence has been condemned to an even richer integration with inefficiency.

 

When will Email jump the shark? Answer: Never.

 

[**Aside: what about cross-product as well as cross-device UI consistency? This is something Adam Cogan has been lamenting (example) for many years – the fact that many Microsoft products have a completely different UI, so when you use Office it is different to SharePoint which is different to CRM which is different to Visual Studio which is different to the Live Essentials products and so on.]