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It's hard to say these days

My92 - Finally a radio station for people who don't care about their privacy

clock December 26, 2007 22:16 by author Tom

I'm back from vacation (having driven most of the morning to get from Northern California back to my home in Southern California).  It was an interesting trip and one that brought up a few issues that I'll be tackling here in the next few days.  But to start off I wanted to bring up something that happened today.

When I was a kid I spent a lot of summers in Sacramento, CA and one of my favorite radio stations was Y92 a.k.a. KGBY Sacramento (Yes, I liked Soft Rock as a kid, sue me).  This morning, as I headed home at 6am, I got to hear Y92 go off the air for the last time as it switched formats and was replaced by My925 FM moving from "Adult Contemporary" to "Adult Hits" (Goodbye Elton John, Hello Foo Fighters). 

The change wasn't just skin deep as the station fired all of its on site talent (some of which had been on the air for 20+ years) and decided to go with a JackFM-esque automated format.   Matthew of radiomatthew.com (which I read regularly) has the official blurb on his blog.   To quote from there...

Introducing: My92.5. As speculated, My92.5 will feature harder alternative styles from bands like Led Zeppelin (perfect in time for their comeback), Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, and Santana. There will be no jocks or on-air talent; instead, the station will deliver a playlist driven by station listeners. My92.5 will become one of the first stations in Sacramento to utilize the Internet and the social networking atmosphere to create on-air music diversity.

Now as much as I loved the old Y92 I obviously love technology so as soon as I got a chance I headed over to their site to see what this new "Social Networking based Radio Station" had to offer.  What I found was this...

My92 copy

The actual station itself is equally unimpressive with songs being played one after the other with a voice that sounds a lot like the lady you get when you dial a disconnected number announcing the title and artist after each song.

If there was ever a template for how to badly re-launch a radio station while badly launching a social site this is certainly it.  The web site gives no explanation of who they are, why they need the information they're asking for or what they are going to do with it once they get it.  Yet they are asking anyone wanting access to hand over all their contact information from Cell phone to IM Screen name upfront. 

Beyond that they're collecting the information badly.  If you want to run an automated station you probably should have some way of putting the user's songs directly into a database (like for example fields for "Artist of Song #1", "Title of Song #1", etc...)  To have the user enter the songs in to a text box and then pay an actual person to transcribe them manually is a waste of time. 

Anyway, Not wanting to judge the book by its cover I coughed up my personal info to see what they had (or the personal info I give sites like this at least).  What did I find?  The above shown site...I kid you not...is their entire web site.  Once you enter your info it redirects back to the page you see in the graphic. 

If this is all that Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the U.S., can put forward when it comes to interactive programming than it reinforces my feeling that radio is a dead medium.  More over, if you are going to try to use the Internet to boost a dying property you should really find someone who knows what they are doing in the space and team with them rather than embarrassing yourself like this. 

I certainly don't agree with everything a guy like Mark Cantor has to say but there's no doubt he could have done something a thousand times better than this and almost certainly done it cheaper (since there are resources he'd have available from previous projects).  Rest in Peace Y92, I suspect your predecessor will be joining you on the scrap heap before too long. 



Of mice and men...

clock December 24, 2007 00:27 by author Tom

So what happened?  Well, my plan of putting up pre-written posts didn't take into account the fact that the screen might go out on the notebook containing said pre-written posts.  I did bring a back up (having a notebook is vital for me on a job-related level) but as expected various Christmas activities have kept me from posting anything original here (and will probably continue to do so).

So I'll be MIA for a couple more days and then hopefully back up to normal posting.  Luckily, the blogosphere seems to have taken a bit of a vacation itself.  When the top story on Techmeme is fake news from fake Steven Jobs you know everyone must be on holiday.  (Though on a personal note congrats to the Blogengine .net team who released version 1.3 of the software that runs this blog)

So that's it, to those who celebrate it have a Merry Christmas and to those who don't have a nice Tuesday.  I will see you back here on Wednesday. 



Welcome to BlogEngine.NET 1.3

clock December 22, 2007 06:00 by author Admin

If you see this post it means that BlogEngine.NET 1.3 is running and the hard part of creating your own blog is done. There is only one thing you need to do from this point on to take full advantage of the blog and that is to set up the first author profile.

Write Permissions

To be able to log in to the blog and writing posts, you need to enable write permissions on the App_Data folder. If you’re blog is hosted at a hosting provider, you can either log into your account’s admin page or call the support. You need write permissions on the App_Data folder because all posts and comments are saved as XML files and placed in the App_Data folder.

Username and password

When you've got write permissions to the App_Data folder, you need to change the username and password. Find the sign-in link located either at the bottom or top of the page depending on your current theme and click it. Now enter "admin" in both the username and password fields and click the button. You will now see an admin menu appear. It has a link to the "Users" admin page. From there you can change the username and password.

On the web

You can find BlogEngine.NET on the official website. Here you'll find tutorials, documentation, tips and tricks and much more. The ongoing development of BlogEngine.NET can be followed at CodePlex where the daily builds will be published for anyone to download.

Good luck and happy writing.

The BlogEngine.NET team



When Pet Peeves Collide (Twitter vs Bandwagon Posts)

clock December 20, 2007 10:08 by author Tom

Another pet peeve of mine is when people make a post with seemingly no other purpose than to jump on the bandwagon of an existing "hot topic".  I feel that is what ZDNet's Michael Kringsman is doing in his post entitled "Twitter is Dangerous" (oooooh)  

In it his basic thesis is...

Imagine this scenario: 20 people are in a confidential meeting, one of them using Twitter. This attendee broadcasts an off-hand “tweet” (Twitter comment) to his or her “followers” (Twitter friends). With traditional instant messaging, that message would be received by perhaps one or two others. With Twitter, that comment may be seen by 10, 100, 1000, or more followers.

No offense to Mr. Kringsman but this theory could not be more flawed.  The assumption is that either (a) users have no understanding of their tool's functionality or (b) they simply don't understand the difference between public and private conversation. 

So to give a real world example, saying someone might use Twitter instead of IM to discuss something that they know is supposed to be confidential is like saying someone might use a bullhorn rather than a phone to inform a colleague down the hall about something confidential.  It just wouldn't happen because the primary thing people consider when using a method of communication is "who specifically does this tool allow me to communicate with?"  That makes the difference between personal tools and macro tools crystal clear to every user I've ever spoken to. 

Anyway, Mr Kringsman goes on to give this advice...

  • Pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Not being one to advocate head-in-sand methods, I can’t recommend this approach.
  • Block, or monitor, Twitter, as you might do with traditional instant messaging programs, such as Yahoo or AIM. It’s a tried and true method - not the best, but it works.
  • Acknowledge the inevitable, and establish clear information sharing policies and guidelines. In the long run users, like water, will seek their own level. In other words, users will eventually adopt the tools they want, whether you want them to or not. The wise among us will recognize this certainty.

Now 1 isn't really worth discussing because the very act of bringing the topic up (or reading this post) means you are doing something.  2 is equally not worthy of discussion because people don't need their network connection to Twitter, a cell phone will do just fine.

As for 3 I have to point out that it doesn't really solve the initial scenario given above.  In that scenario the user who shared the info via Twitter knew it was confidential so they were already violating a corporate privacy policy.  So saying that another policy would solve the problem doesn't really hold water.

In the end, the best advice about Twitter or anything online is that you need to have a corporate communication policy that decides what is shared publicly and what is not.  Things like Twitter or blogging only change how easy it is for the user to make their thoughts public they don't change anything about the act of making those thoughts public in the first place so even a pre-Web 2.0 communication policy should suffice as long as it is well written.  The issue is communication not technology.

If anything, I would advise against a specific twitter policy only because it sets a precedent saying "each service will have its own privacy policy through the company" leading some employees to believe that any service that doesn't have its own policy is ok to use with impunity.  That is the worst thing you could have happen.



Building My Blogroll: Dare Obasanjo

clock December 19, 2007 15:15 by author Tom

I started reading blogs using a software called SharpReader.  It wasn't that bad a reader but after a while it just didn't seem sufficient anymore (I honestly don't remember the exact reasons why I stopped using it)

In the end I just remember thinking the creator of it either wasn't or couldn't be dedicated to keeping it up so I began searching for a new Blog reader that was a little more feature rich and was in active development. 

That led me to RSSBandit.  This post isn't about RSS Bandit so I won't go into it except to say that I was impressed enough to start using it and because of that Dare Obasanjo's blog was added to my reading list.

I've since moved to Google Reader for my blog reading but Dare is still one of the first blogs I look for when checking my feeds.  There are two reasons for that, one of which is easy to describe and the other not so much.

The easy one is just that he's insightful and very good at sharing those insights with his readers.  There are a lot, A LOT of people on the blogosphere who are talking out of their posterior end when they talk about technology but Dare isn't one of those.  He's built actual technology, he's put effort into knowing that technology as well as knowing the business needs that necessitated it in the first place and he speaks about it from that perspective.  I honestly think he's the most authoritative voice out there on many of the topics he speaks on.

Read his posts on either JSON vs XML or Building RESTful Web services (two of my personal favorites) and you'll see what I mean. 

As far as the second reason I like Dare, its hard to find words to say it.  But basically it boils down to him not letting go and being willing to carry the conversation on to a logical conclusion.

What I mean by that is that the blogosphere runs on a flawed philosophy of: I say something, you disagree so you say something and then we both forget about it.  No serious debate has ever taken place in one isolated exchange.  Dare's a guy who will keep the discussion going either by posting several entries or by taking to the other bloggers comments and continuing the conversation there.  That's a trait I really appreciate in a blogger.  It shows someone who is concerned with getting to the truth and not someone who just types to hear himself talk. 

Anyway, for those reasons and many others that I'm forgetting I put Dare Obasanjo at #3 of my Blogroll list.



Online Office Applications

clock December 18, 2007 16:29 by author Tom

The big Techmeme story of the day is that 73% of Americans haven't even heard of online office alternatives.  To quote Duncan Riley of TechCrunch...

Google and others are working hard to change the way businesses use basic services such as wordprocessing with a continued marketing push into the enterprise sector. The challenge is to overcome over 25+ years of what people consider to be normal (desktop apps) by proving that the online alternative is ready and capable of being used. There’s little doubt today, at least based on OS X and Linux adoption figures that there is a very real and definite move away from Microsoft, accelerated by the disaster that is Vista. Whilst there are always desktop alternatives on both platforms, there will be a continuing number of users who question the need to buy Microsoft Office, be that as an upgrade for an existing OS, or brand new as they switch to Mac. It’s a slow switch, but given the online alternatives there is little doubt that the number making the switch to online apps will continue to grow.

I think there is a lot of truth to the above statement but the one thing I would add is that I think the real disaster Microsoft is going to face (in this arena) isn't Vista its Office 2007. 

Office 2007 is deceptive because its received fairly positive reviews from the type of people who review things for a living.  But as someone who has done usability testing with actual users I can say it was nothing short of a disaster.  The new UI essentially makes the suite a new program so what you get is either users digging through tabs trying desperately to find the command they need or users trying repeatedly to use shortcuts that no longer work.   All the time what they are really trying to do is unlearn over a decade worth of previously gained knowledge of Office.  It wasn't a pretty sight and when people go to upgrade I think they'll find they're essentially choosing from two all new solutions.  One of which is free.

Again, not good for Microsoft.

That said, until the online office crowd wises up and makes some kind of solution like Google's Search Appliance for these suites I don't think they'll get much traction in the enterprise.  No serious enterprise is going to put all their data on Google's servers given the lack of guarantees that Google offers up in regards to that data. 



Building My Blogroll: Techmeme

clock December 18, 2007 13:13 by author Tom

There is a lot of talk in the blogosphere about Techmeme and how effective it is at chronicling everything that goes on in the blogs.  I have no interest in being part of that debate because, to be honest, I don't really care.

For me, and I have to admit I stole this observation from Scoble's late night Techmeme video,  but for me Techmeme is simply Gabe Rivera's linkblog and that's good enough.  Does it matter to me that it might not pick up some great idea on a small blog somewhere out there...not really.  It's entertaining to me as it is and that is all I ask of any site that I frequent.

So maybe Techmeme won't manage to find the next big thing but it will find a lot of good stuff.  Beyond that it does a good job of documenting the "A-List" bloggers which allows me to ignore those blogs for the most part.  I mean, I like Jeff Jarvis and I'm glad a lot of people enjoy reading his blog every day...but I don't.  That said I do think he has some very interesting things to say and when one of those "very" interesting things come along I know that Techmeme will let me know about it. 

Finally, and this is a bit of an aside, but I just wanted to say that I think Techmeme has the classiest system of dealing with ads that I've seen on the web.  Their off to the side with graphics so they draw attention if you are interested but don't bother if you aren't.  Then they are ever so subtly slipped into the site's RSS feed in one big post so that I can check them out if I want to or again ignore them if I want.  Beyond that they are forced to actually use blog posts as their ads which makes it much more likely that you'll get something useful if you are interested in the ad. 

Anyway, all of the above things make Techmeme #2 on my Blogroll list.



A SimpleDB Critic

clock December 18, 2007 05:30 by author Tom

 

Hopefully this will be my last SimpleDB post for a while since I think I've spent way too much time on this(especially for a guy who should be laying off the blogging this week because he has way too much stuff to do already).  But I felt the need to quote this post from uncov.com.  It says...

One of the stupid parts about SimpleDB is XML. All of the query responses come back to the client as a blob of XML. Of course, as a blub coder, you don't see any of this because you are just using an API, so why should you care?

Let's have a gander at a typical query response from SimpleDB, provided in the developer documentation:

<QueryResponse xmlns="http://sdb.amazonaws.com/doc/2007-11-07"> <QueryResult> <ItemName>eID001</ItemName> <ItemName>eID002</ItemName> <ItemName>eID003</ItemName> </QueryResult> <ResponseMetadata> <RequestId>c74ef8c8-77ff-4d5e-b60b-097c77c1c266</RequestId> <BoxUsage>0.0000219907</BoxUsage> </ResponseMetadata> </QueryResponse>

 

Well, that's just fantastic. A 316-byte response when all you need is 18 bytes worth of data (the 3 unique identifiers). A 1,755% transmission overhead. And don't you give me shit about needing that RequestID, that is a consequence of the protocol.

Now that is a good point.  Looking over my last few posts on this topic I think I come across as a SimpleDB advocate but that isn't necessarily the case.  All I've been trying to say in my previous posts was that the criticisms should be fair.

Anything has advantages and drawback and that is more true of SimpleDB than it is of most things.  I'm all for putting the negatives out there as long as they're valid.  The above quote is just that which is why I wanted to put it out there.



On being a long term resident of Userland

clock December 17, 2007 23:25 by author Tom

I wanted to give a quick take on a post made by Ryan Tate entitled "Babes in Userland".  The post is honestly more free-form thought than it is an article with a single point in that Mr. Tate begins by saying he thinks SimpleDB is a clunker but then goes on to praise Amazon for its web service strategy thus far (pre-SimpleDB) and finally ends up making a point unrelated to SimpleDB whatsoever. 

It is that point that I wanted to address.  To quote...

Amazon is a company that sells books and a bajillion other things over the Internet. That's what it does. Retail. It is not a software company, not even today, despite EC2 and S3, despite the fact that it has had kick-ass coders since its launched, despite what it may yet become.
Amazon is a user selling the software it made for itself.


This is important. This is new.


Microsoft and Google have always dog-fooded their own software, but that's the exception that proves the rule, which is this: Software companies make software to solve other peoples' problems.
And software companies never understand the problems they are solving as well as they understand the problem of making software.

This is flawed logic in my opinion.  It assumes that companies are monolithic, singular minded entities and that the people within those companies are all just cogs in a system that works flawlessly.  As anyone who has ever worked in a company will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. 

The truth is that companies are just tiny microcosms of the industry as a whole.  To give an example, Microsoft makes tools for developers who are their customers and they understand their customers about as well as they can through interviews and various usability tests. 

But then those developers turn around and make software for their internal employees who are essentially their customers and those developers are no more informed about their employees needs than the Microsoft person was about the developers needs.

So there really isn't that much difference between Amazon's IT people (who probably know little about actually selling books, CDs, etc...)  making software for their internal employees and Microsoft making a web service for an external customer. 

I'm going to have to ask for a little indulgence here because this is a really important point and one that is intimately related to the purpose of this blog but that is a much longer discussion and will have to be saved for another day.  For the time being just remember that any company large enough to do more than install and maintain pre-packaged software probably has a little software company tucked away inside it that works under most of the same rules and limitations as any external software company.  To think otherwise is to give Corporate America and its ability to communicate internally way too much credit. 



Building My Blogroll: Robert Scoble

clock December 17, 2007 17:01 by author Tom

Where to begin...

I honestly don't remember how I ran across Robert Scoble's blog or even when I read my first post but whenever it was that marked my entry into the world of the blogosphere.  As my feed list has grown over the years (largely due to Scoble)  I still don't think I've ever come across anyone who is better at the art of writing a blog than he is and though I rarely succeed I go out of my way to emulate  his style (in format not content of course)

Below are some of the lessons I've learned from reading his blog over the years...

(I should say that these are lessons I've inferred from reading his blog and not necessarily things he's said so if you take offense at it blame me not him)

Appreciate the Blogosphere:  Scoble is fond of advising people to link as often as possible but I honestly think there's more to it than that.  Linking is about sharing the fascinating things that you're coming across and in order to do it well you have to really want to show people the ideas that you are linking to.  A lot of blogs just use other posts as a jumping off point to go on their own tirade and I  don't think that is what the blogosphere is all about.  Bottom line: If you aren't fascinated enough to need to share the post that you are linking to than you probably shouldn't link to it at all. 

Credit Ideas: To a certain extent this belongs above but it's such an important point that I think it needs to be reiterated.  Even if you are just repeating something you heard at a conference it is important to give credit where credit is due.  A good blog doesn't have a lot of ego because the blogger realizes that the beauty of the blogosphere is in our collective knowledge and not in any one person looking good.  When you embrace that attitude it isn't that big a deal to say that 'x person' was the first to bring up an idea because he or she is part of your group and it is the group's collective knowledge that is really important. 

Blog what you find interesting: This seems obvious but in the race for more subscribers and higher page rates people tend to start blogging for other people instead and that is a mistake.  Again, a good blogger is all about enthusiasm and enjoying the chance to speak to the world about what is important to them.  People who try to tailor their message not only make it hard on themselves (by not writing about what they enjoy) but make it less entertaining for those who read them.

Embrace your detractors:  I think this is one of the most important lessons I've learned from reading Scoble's blog.  The reality is that anyone writing a blog is going to have someone launch an attack on them at one point or another.  People who try to ignore it or respond in kind just end up starting a flame war which leaves everyone worse off. 

By not taking the attack personally and even drawing attention to the attack you convey to the attacker (and to the blogosphere as a whole) that its ok to disagree with you.  Moreover you send a message that you're willing to listen to anyone who is willing to exchange ideas.  In doing that you both diffuse the situation and start a meaningful dialogue with the person who attacked you in the first place.

Acknowledge your readers: Before I was a blogger I was a commenter and being a commenter is not always an easy life.  It seems to have become cool in the blogosphere to bash the comments sections and I think that's a pity.  I'll be the first to admit that the anonymity of the comments can cause a certain negativity but there are also a lot of people who are just legitimately trying to share their ideas and (for whatever reason) aren't ready to start a blog of their own yet.  They shouldn't be disrespected for that.  The blogosphere is about ideas and those ideas should be cherished whether they come from the comments section or from another blog.

Be Open: One of the least understood lessons in the blogosphere is that of actually being open.  A lot of people pay lip service to it and a few people even try to live by it but very few actually accomplish it.  One example that jumps to mind is in the area of acknowledging a posts impact.

A lot of bloggers will make a post which causes a stir and then never say another word about it.  I don't know if that's out of modesty or what but it always comes across as a little disingenuous.  Scoble is one of the only bloggers I know who will actually come back with a follow up and say "I didn't expect that to cause so much controversy" or "Wow, I can't believe that got on Techmeme".  That's openness to me.

If you're going to be open than you have to say what you are thinking and ignoring your own impact is just one of the ways in which bloggers show they aren't doing that.

Pick sides while staying neutral:  There is an art to picking sides between two bloggers in the midst of a flame war.  Many choose to stay out of such conflicts or to go in guns blazing for one side or the other but I don't think either accomplishes much.  What Scoble does is to express an opinion without taking a side and to this day I've not seen a better means of moving a discussion forward.  Again, in these situations its all about diffusing the situation even if you aren't the one in the midst of a war.  By giving an opinion in a calm manner and being complimentary to both sides you can hopefully help them move forward and actually do some good for the situation rather than just ignoring it or making it worse.   (and on a side note, ignoring a big controversy that everyone knows about isn't being very open either)

There is probably more that I'm forgetting but that is all I can think of off the top of my head.  I'd suggest everyone check out the book  Scoble co-wrote with Shel Israel called Naked Conversations.  Though it focuses more on businesses using blogs its also useful for an individual wanting to take blogging up (in many ways the concepts are one in the same since businesses wanting to use blogs need to embrace personal communication between employees and customers)

In writing this I was hoping it wouldn't come across quite so "gushing" but its hard to write a blog entry about the man who is largely responsible for you blogging without gushing a bit.  The truth is that I disagree with Scoble at least half the time and I have no doubt that I'll eventually end up writing a critical post about him in the future but even that will be following his example which is why I'm praising him so much now.

(and for those who think this is a cheap stunt to get a link I'll have you know Google still doesn't consider this blog worthy of indexing...so nyah!)

Anyway, for all the above reasons and any I may  have forgotten Robert Scoble will probably always be #1 on my Blogroll list (and his Link Blog will be #2).

Addendum: In re-reading this post I think some people might get the impression that I think I'm some kind of great blogger.  I don't.  The fact is I'm new at this and though I can list the rules above pretty easily I don't always follow them as well as I should.  It doesn't necessarily take a wise man to share wisdom. 



About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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