Emerging Technology

I’m a Zero

November 28th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Mobile

I got very excited today over the news via Truemors that Google is going to start offering location-based services using cell towers to determine the location.

According to the news reports, you press zero on your mobile phone while using Google Maps to find your approximate location using cell towers. The iPhone lacks GPS so this new service sounds like a winner.

Except you can’t press zero on your iPhone. There is no zero key to press. There are no keys at all on the iPhone.

Here is where my foolishness comes in. I decided to use Google Maps on my iPhone and search for zero. Amazingly, it worked. It put a dot on the map just a few blocks from my house.

I couldn’t wait to share my discovery with my coworkers. It was only when one of them said searching for zero returned a location in South Carolina that I realized the error.

Turns out there is a business near our house with the name “0 1 All Day 24 Hour 1 Locksmith.” Searching for zero didn’t find my current location. My current location just happens to be near the top result starting with a zero.

And that’s how I ended up being today’s zero.

Brand Affinity and Brand Fans

November 21st, 2007  |  Published in Community, Emerging Technology, Marketing

Everywhere I turn lately, there has been a discussion about brands and our relationship to them. One of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Lyza, wrote about Brand Affinity recently. My ex-coworker Chris Higgins picked up the theme on Mental Floss. Finally, Facebook’s recently unveiled its big advertising push with an emphasis on “Brand Fans” and “Fan-sumers.”

When Lyza and Chris write about their brand preferences, I find myself thinking that, yes, I indeed follow brands and buy brands. However, when I first read about Facebook’s new advertising plan relying on me declaring myself a fan of a brand, I laughed aloud. Yeah right, how many people are going to take the time to sign up to become a fan of Coke.

But if you read Jeremiah’s article on Facebook, he provides some convincing supporting data in support of Facebook’s brand pages. In particular, he points out that people trust the recommendations of friends and acquaintances more than any other source of information. Because of this fact, having your friends endorse a brand on Facebook would make a big difference in your decision-making.

The data is right. The conclusion is wrong.

Few people have blind loyalty when it comes to brands. I generally like Apple products (as do both Chris and Lyza), but I would never buy nor recommend that anyone buy an iTV. Because I generally like Apple products, I will look at their new products, but I don’t purchase them blindly.

And when I like something, I evangelize specific products, not the brand itself. I think this is true of most people whether we talk about Apple or Coca-Cola. People like specific products created by companies, not everything the company has ever done.

This is why I think Facebook is on the right track, but misguided in a fundamental way. They have taken a marketer’s approach to creating a relationship with brands when the real value comes from recommendations at the product or service level.

TinyURL’s Outage: Conspiracy Theories

November 19th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Web Development

Last night I pooh poohed a Slashdot article talking about the frailty caused by relying on TinyURL.

Less than 12 hours after I wrote my post, TinyURL.com started returning 404 errors prompting real concern from netizens.

Steve Rubel wrote, “The thought of an evaporating TinyURL…is all more than a little bit frightening, yet fascinating.” Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote about the dangers of using TinyURL and then jokingly harassed people on twitter who used TinyURL.

Everyone is missing the boat on this story. Less than 24 hours after a Slashdot article raising the alarm, the service that has been reliable for years goes down? Sounds like conspiracy to me.

Could it be that someone felt it necessary to prove a point about the dangers of TinyURL by taking the service to its knees? Or has the most unprobable outcome occurred and the long forgotten Slashdot effect finally returned? :-)

Mirroring the Past

November 19th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Mobile, Web Development

“There was a day when Web development was in a sad state of affairs. The majority of developers laughed at JavaScript, and were focusing on a killer new server-side web framework, or a new ORM library. The consensus was that that browser was dumb. The modern TN3270 if you will…

…We finally feel that the time has come for mobile phones to be the major device that users have for accessing their data and getting things done. You only have to travel around the world to see that already happening. Now, with the iPhone, a decent Java system, and more, we see the toolkits that will allow developers to build fantastic applications on the phone.”

Source: Devphone.com

Site Performance Updates

November 19th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Site Performance, Web Development

Some recent news on web site performance:

Getting a chance to present again was a lot of fun. I forget how much energy I get from talking to people about web technology. I want to thank Richard Appleyard again for the opportunity.

True Impact of TinyURL

November 18th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Marketing

Slashdot today has an article asking the question, “Do Tiny URL Services Weaken Net Architecture?” The argument in the Slashdot article is pretty hilarious (Short version: TinyURL goes down and the Internet crashes). Instead of chicken-little scenarios, let’s talk about the one significant way that the growth in TinyURL-like services is changing marketing.

Shorten url services are all the rage these days. The key factors in their popularity are the increase in mobile devices, especially text messaging services, and emerging technology like Twitter and Pownce. When people use these systems, a premium is placed on short messages. Shortening a url to save characters becomes a necessity.

The impact of use of TinyURL-like services is that it becomes much more difficult to track the conversation surrounding your company or product. Savvy marketers today have multiple searches set up to scour the web looking for urls that point to their web sites. However, when people use TinyURL and other services, links to your web site are impossible to detect because the TinyURL is random.

This makes it more critical than every to watch incoming referring urls to find Twitter references and other places linking to your site. My testing shows that the referring url will show up correctly in web analytics despite the use of TinyURL.

gPhone = Open Handset Alliance

November 5th, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Mobile, Standards

The gPhone isn’t a Google phone. Instead, it is the formation of an alliance to develop an open platform for mobile devices.

The new consortium is called the Open Handset Alliance. The Alliance is formed around the Android platform that Google has contributed to the Alliance. Andy Rubin, Google’s Director of Mobile Platforms, describes Android as:

The first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation.

If this is true–and the devil is in the definition of “open” as it always is–this could be a substantial development for mobile devices.

UPDATE: According the Open Handset Alliance FAQs, the platform will be released under Apache v2 Open Source License. The code will have a publicly accessible repository. It sounds very open thus far.

Last summer at Web Visions, I had an extended conversation with Kinan Sweidan of Ximda who had presented on determining location using mobile devices. During the conversation, Kinan talked about how difficult it was to develop on mobile devices.

The primary problem seemed to be carriers who don’t see their phones as a platform for other development. Handset manufacturers are beholden to the carriers because their hardware and software are useless if the companies like Verizon and AT&T decide not to allow the phone on their network.

The economics also favor the carriers because the cost of developing a phone is higher than most consumers will pay which is why the cost of the hardware is often underwritten by signing contracts that lock in services. Apple is rumored to receive another $432 from AT&T for every iPhone that is sells.

With this as context, it is possible to see why the Open Handset Alliance could be a game changer:

  1. The price of developing new hardware will presumably decrease because of an open and shared development of the OS. A decrease in handset costs will loosen the hold carriers have on phone manufacturers by decreasing the need for underwriting of phone costs. This does not decrease their stranglehold on their networks. Legislation would be required for change that dynamic.
  2. The combination of Android and Apple’s recent decision to release an SDK may mark a turning point in the understanding that the value of mobile devices will increase as they open up to outside developers.

If the second point has actually come to pass–if in the last few months the mobile industry has woken up to the realization that their future is dependent on becoming a platform for a wide variety of developers–then things will get very interesting very quickly.

The possibilities for mobile devices are astounding. 2008 is shaping up to be a very big year for mobile.

Mobile Dominates Social Media

November 3rd, 2007  |  Published in Community, Emerging Technology, Mobile, Social Networks

With all of the buzz this week about Google’s Open Social, everyone’s attention is focused on the web-based social networks and missing the impact of mobile technology on social media. Per usual, the Communities Dominate Brands blog is ahead of the game on this one.

In Tomi T Ahonen’s latest post on Communities Dominate Brands, Tomi points out that:

Informa’s latest Mobile Industry Outlook report for 2007 reveals that yes, mobile social networking services did continue their dramatic growth for the past 12 months, and are already worth over 5 billion dollars in 2007.

$5 billion dollars! This again dwarves the revenue associated with web-based social networks. Tomi’s post echoes one of his posts from a year ago where he put the then $3.45 billion in mobile social networking in perspective:

3.45 Billion dollars this year! Wow. A bit of context. All of iTunes revenues last year were about 400 million dollars. TV-interactivity (voting for Big Brother, Survivor Island, Pop Idol etc) were worth 900 million dollars. Internet gaming revenues, all multiplayer games etc, were worth 1.9 billion dollars. All internet adult site revenues were worth 2.5 billion dollars in 2005… Oh, just to be clear – that mobile digital content revenue is more than all (non-mobile phone based) online social networking revenues combined. In only two years, the mobile side of digital communities has shot ahead of the online world. Amazing!

There you go. If you weren’t previously convinced that mobile is the next big thing, it’s hard to dispute the fact that today’s big thing–social networks–is already bigger on mobile devices than on PCs.

Dangers of Context-based Advertising

November 3rd, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Humor

Someone recently pointed me to this funny blog post entitled “15 Unfortunately Placed Ads” (Some of the content is a bit risqué).

The humor of the ad placements alone isn’t enough to warrant a blog post. Instead what interested me was the online ads were almost certainly placed by software attempting to match keywords.

One of the example is a Folgers Coffee ad placed next to an article entitled “Coffee Might Trigger Heart Attack in Some.” Folgers likely bought ads to be placed on Yahoo’s content network whenever the word “coffee” showed up. However, they probably wouldn’t chose to place their ad next to this story if given the opportunity to chose.

This is the danger of context-based advertising. The current filters are not smart enough to know whether or not the true context of the content is conducive to the advertising.

I wonder whether sites like Facebook will encounter this problem more frequently because it is just as likely that someone is going to be ranting about coffee as they are praising it. I imagine Google and the other leading advertising engines are already experimenting with ways to determine the positive or negative nature of the content.

I think we’ll see a lot more ads with unfortunate placement before the technology progresses to the point where it can be prevented automatically.

Twitter Updates and Facebook Status

October 21st, 2007  |  Published in Emerging Technology, Social Networks

Twitter’s Facebook application has recently been updated to allow you to change your status whenever you post to Twitter. This sounds like a good idea in practice, but in reality, it turns out to be simply redundant.

Status updates is one of the few Facebook items that are available via RSS. Now that Twitter updates change the Facebook status, most of the RSS that Facebook provides is now full of updates that I’ve already read in Twitter.

The only updates I can get out of Facebook’s walled garden is something that both started outside of the garden and something that I’ve already read. It’s easy to see why everyone thinks Facebook is so useful. </sarcasm> :-)