Understanding MySpace

Jesse James Garrett in BusinessWeek online:

It seemed like an also-ran. But in less than two years it built up a community of more than 20 million users. And then it sold for half a billion dollars. The site is MySpace, a social-networking space where people connect with their friends and make new ones as they share their interests and personalities through the blogs, photos, comments, video, and audio they post. MySpace has developed a particular appeal for young people because the site makes it especially easy for bands to set up pages to communicate with their fans. Today, the statistics are staggering: 43 million users so far, 150,000 new ones every day. Ten percent of all advertising impressions across the entire Internet happen on MySpace -- twice as many page views as Google (GOOG). And in the wake of its recent acquisition, MySpace's growth has only accelerated.

… the system allows users to do almost anything to the look of their pages, whether it's a good idea or not. Regardless of its aesthetic consequences, this customizability is one of the site's most attractive features, and the do-it-yourself sensibility of the site resonates with the audience's desire for self-expression. …the unpolished style invites users to try things out, telling them they don't have to be professional designers to participate. The unrefined look of MySpace sends another message to users: We're like you. You're not a designer, and neither are we. We're not here to show off our design skills, we're here to connect. … Throughout, MySpace knocks down the distinction between the people who run the site and the people who participate. You'll never be isolated on MySpace, because the site's operators are your friends.

… crafting a site experience that acknowledges both what users care about and what they don't may be the smartest design strategy of all.

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Nokia's SmartPhone revolution

The Nokia N70 is a fine, fine phone. (I was fortunate to be sent one as part of Nokia's 360 SmartPhone Study.)  Jason Fried sang its praises last month: 'overall the N70 is the best phone I’ve ever used'. Marc Eisenstadt produced a very informative posting of his experiences with one (a 'Swiss-Army Phone') which is also a vade mecum for all phone buyers:

… there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews … :

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front …

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen …

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ’satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for trimming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget, you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

… the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress. … what are my biggest gripes?  Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. …

So, there you have it.  Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it). … Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ … I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’.

I agree with Marc on his plus point 1 (but see below) and gripe number 1. As for one-handed (thumb-centric), my experience is that using a SmartPhone when busy makes one-handedness desirable. I'm not yet satisficed (?) with the camera: at 2 megapixel it's much better than what I've had before, but I still long for the day when I can leave my digital camera at home and just take my phone. And I have another gripe about the keypad: the menu/option keys are too close to the green and red (left and right) phone keys and also don't feel sufficiently different to the touch. I've mis-hit these a number of times now.

The N70 does seem to be a huge step on from the 6630 in the clarity of its software. (I haven't tried to work out why, but it immediately felt more intuitive and less like being parachuted into a jungle.) Its ease of navigation and use has encouraged me to run things on it such as LiteFeeds (RSS for mobile devices). I'm pleased with LiteFeeds, particularly as feed-reading on a mobile has been problematic until recently. (FeedBurner Mobile Feed 2.0 is not yet available, but I'd like to try it when it's out.)  Mobile Gmail works well. Audio-only podcasting is a no-no, but video can be done: see here (and there's a pdf guide here).

If I hadn't got the N70, I'd have been looking at the N90 (which Ross has blogged about here) — a far bulkier but very interesting transformer phone. My recent phones (SE P900, Nokia 6630) have been on the heavy side, and the N70's lightness is a delight. (If Christian Lindholm's right, mobile phones will soon be wearable, and the PDA will be a separate item again. And check out Nokia's 770 as reviewed by Russell Beattie and his challenge to Silicon Valley.) However, Ewan Spence's All About Symbian review of the N90 concludes:

To sum up, the N90 is Nokia’s first true cameraphone to focus on the camera, and it’s all the better for it. Yes, the unit has a number of quirks in the design, but the software, the operation and general polish of Series 60 continues, and makes the N90 the high-end phone of the moment in both Nokia’s N range and in terms of smartphones in general. It might be marketed with the camera as its killer feature, but with Series 60 it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Right now, there’s no solid reason to not look very, very seriously at the N90.

But back to light-and-thin: on the near horizon, the slide form factor N80 looks very interesting indeed. All About Symbian had a preview of an early version of this phone:

… in slide closed mode, the phone at 95.4 x 50 x 23.4 mm is essentially the smallest Nokia S60 phone yet. As a slider it is a few mm thicker than a monoblock such as the 6680, but this is hardly noticeable. It is bigger and heavier (134g) that the other modern S60 Slider, the Samsung D720, but that is a reflection of the extra functionality found in the N80. …

High resolution screen support makes a real difference – physically the screen has not changed in size, but the increased density of the pixels results in a much crisper display. … The new S60 browser, based on Safari's WebCore and JavascriptCore components, is also found on the N80. The 'minimap' feature allows you to see a full page at a glance and navigate around it, while other new features include 'visual history' and support for RSS feeds. … In use, the browser is much faster than Nokia's previous efforts (and) will start to change the way people think about browsing the web on a mobile device. Previously, sites aimed at PCs were only accessible using SSR (small screen rendering) technologies and this had usability problems since it was always limited by the intelligence of the re-rendering algorithms. Higher resolution screens, together with minimap, mean that it is possible to quite comfortably view any web site on the phone.

A 3 megapixel camera, Flash Lite, improved Java support, Nokia XpressMusic, UPnP and Wi-Fi (to name just a few of its features — possibly Skype connectivity, too!) add up to a very powerful mobile device:

With features such as UPnP (play music on any device anywhere wirelessly), Bluetooth 2.0 (wireless stereo headsets), 3G and Wi-Fi Connectivity (music download/purchase over the air) the N80 is the most feature rich and powerful digital media playback device on the market. Imagine the reaction that wireless headphones, wireless music sharing and playback around the home and over the air song download and purchase would get if they were features announced in a new iPod and you can start to grasp the significance of the feature set of the N80.

The smartphone is often touted as the ultimate convergence device, and the N80 is just one more step along that road. Nokia made it clear they see the N80 at the heart of the digital home with UPnP, with its auto-discovery and remote control properties as the enabling standard. But it is also clear that this is just the first stage and we can expect to see increasing integration with other devices around the home in the future, which will be achieved through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) 1.5 guidelines (which aims to enhance interoperability and user experience). All About Symbian

I blog all this because I am personally interested in what these slender, hand-held devices can deliver but I also believe that they will alter fundamentally the way schools and students operate. Moreover, although they are as yet so much the playthings of the richer countries these new generation phones have the potential to make the world more equitably connected — and for education that is also very exciting.

Or, if you prefer, as AAS concldues: all this is 'a story of four years of development in which the smartphone has moved from the initial concept smartphone to a series of feature-rich and powerful multimedia computers which will sell 100 million units in 2006. For the consumer electronics industry, it is an unprecedented story of product-line creation, growth and success and one that is largely unnoticed by mainstream technology pundits'.

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Conference retrospect: Reboot 7.0 & Open Tech '05

A pretty good range of podcasts from Reboot 7.0 is now up: see here and here. (I missed the Doug Englebart film and linkup, but Ross blogged about it here and the film is available on the web. There are useful comments on the presentations here.)

Reboot was far and away the best conference experience I have known and has so far resisted my attempts to write it up: too much to say, with each line of thought multiplying into several new ones as idea leads on to idea. So I'll just have to let Reboot and Open Tech do their work and come into what I blog, as I go and bit by bit — which shouldn't be hard as so much in both is continually under discussion on the web right now.

The sight of the main hall at Reboot is still worth gawping at. It was a busy two days+ that let me meet a range of exciting, stimulating people and left me in no doubt that a new way of doing (so many apparently different) things is upon us. Like Nicole (Cruel to be Kind), I don't want the Reboot spirit to slip through my fingers. I can't think of anything I've come across that approaches the inter-disciplinary, collaborative excitement of the best of Reboot and Open Tech.


Sitting here, thinking about our so-seemingly-long-gone election and the French referendum on the proposed EU constitution (with the Dutch voting today), I enjoyed John Naughton's post about Neil Kinnock's Today programme interview (live yesterday, Tuesday):

Talking about the French referendum result, he outlined a cogent case for regarding it as a wholly French-made shambles. He blamed Jacques Chirac for mismanaging the disastrous Nice summit which launched the thing on the world, and pointed out that instead of a simple document setting out the rules needed to make workable an EU of 25 countries, it had ballooned (under the tutelage of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former French President) into a bloated half-assed attempt to do for Europe what the Founding Fathers once did for the United States. As for the interpretation that the Non vote was an expression of dissatisfaction with Chirac, Kinnock pointed out that it was the French Left who had put Chirac where he is today. Their failure to agree on, and support, a viable left-wing candidate in the last Presidential election led them in a panic to vote for Chirac in order to keep the fascist Jean Marie le Pen from winning. But on Sunday, those same leftists allied with fascists, racists, Europhobes and sundry discontents to ‘rebuke’ the guy they had installed in power. It was a truly great rant. If only Kinnock had been that sharp when he was Leader of the labour Party.

On Tuesday, the interview could be heard again here on the Today site.


What interested me about this is what Tom Coates and Dan Hill have drawn attention to in posting about the new BCC Download and Podcast trial: it is 'one of those areas where the BBC's traditional mission to explain, demystify and advocate new technology is entirely in line with the need to create useful, usable user experiences' (Dan Hill); 'the move towards "three ways of listening" really excited me and I love the fact that the XML button is clickable and you have a form input box where you can select and copy the URL without accidentally clicking on the XML link and getting a page full of mark-up' (Tom Coates).

Online life and education

It's been well over a year since I and my colleague, Ian, started dabbling with TypePad. We've learned a lot and made many connections — face to face and online — and learned, too, to join "small" bits together (TypePad, Basecamp, Flickr, del.icio.us, 43 Things, Backpack, Ta-da, Audioscrobbler/Last FM …). It's been a stimulating and creative time.

The online magazine that is again waking up, Sed contra, is soon to be relaunched with its own Flickr and music feed, and with podcasting. I was very interested to see that Musselburgh Grammar School has already got to the podcasting stage. Indeed, its work in the blogging sphere (its geoBlog is a collaboration with a school in Silesia) has won it an award as Scotland's Best School Website for March 2005, and it has been nominated for a New Statesman New Media Award for education and innovation (news via Blogger Me, where Alistair Shrimpton, UK Business Development Manager for Six Apart, reports that via their weblog MGS 'received over 1400 letters and emails exchanged between pupils in 20 schools in seven countries with four languages'). Earlier this month, the TES had a very brief article on podcasting and schools, and I've just come across Adam Burt's mobile learning blog, m-learning.

Reboot 7.0 lies ahead for Ian and me, and thereafter plans for further developments at Radley (online calendaring, student-camphone feeds, video blogging, internet-radio/podcasting, state-sector/private-sector collaboration — the last is a major project). It's a good time to be involved in the internet and web-based applications, and teachers have lots to learn and exploit.

From blog to DLA

Tom Coates wrote recently:

I'm beginning to think that the thing we have to do is start to reconsolidate and refactor the weblog concept itself. We need to take a step back for the first time in years and re-ask the question - what is it for? How do we find something hard and shiny in the middle of all these hybridised trends and make it the ideal shape to support all the other services that will grow upon and around it. In a whole range of issues - from the collation of our browsing to the handling of our photos, from the posting of our opinions to the way we're relating to our social networks - the traditional weblog format is starting to buckle. So rather than concentrating on the specifics of clashing informational streams in our feeds and looking to fix them, I'm going to make the problem even larger and ask - are these clashes evidence of something more seriously broken? Does anyone really have any idea what we do next?

The sense of strain in weblog-land is very obvious and I'm quite certain that Tom is on the ball in asking these questions. Today, via Marc Canter, I came across Barb Dybwad writing at geeked. in a post entitled, Thoughts on the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator:

I am still hooked on Marc Canter’s concept of the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator. Think of it as a local node that lets us have the best of both worlds: the awesome informative and communicative power of the distributed internet, and the centralization/aggregation of those bits of information created by, or most relevant to, an individual person.

So now I want my DLA to have both a front end and a back end - a public and private view. The public view will contains all of the data bits I want to be social:

  • my bookmarks (an aggregate collection of del.icio.us, Furl, Spurl, and any future -url that may come into being)
  • my public photos (an aggregate of my Flickr photos and… well, no other service is worth mentioning, really ;))
  • my blogs (an aggregate of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, this blog, my business’s blog, my personal blog, all of my photoblogs, and all the future blogs…)
  • posts I have made on other blogs (see sidebar on this blog for a woefully incomplete list of conversations)
  • posts that I have made in message boards (trickier)
  • some sort of aggregate of my media collection, media tastes and/or media recommendations (pull in last.fm, musicmobs.com, Netflix’s social component, All Consuming, when will the itunes Music Store get a comprehensive social component? etc.)
  • public calendar, commentable. I want to broadcast where I’ll be, recommend events to others, and I want them to be able to recommend events to me.
  • extra-blog conversation interface: my blogs are driven by my own posts, but I want a way for my friends/colleagues to be able to initiate messages and questions for me, as well: publically and privately. A sort of email/message board hybrid.
  • An aggregate of my aggregates: syndicate my blogroll(s) for others to enjoy, and be able to leave local comments on. They can participate in any discussion on the external blog too, of course, but it would be cool to have the option to start up a more localized discussion on the post, as well.

Barb then goes on to detail what she would like to see on the private site of the DLA ('I want aggregated everything that is relevant to interacting with my digital life: a centralized dashboard of sorts') — read her list!

… all through the history of weblogs, the technologies have opened up new doors and created new problems. Different functionalities make it possible to do one thing much more easily or effectively, but they come with a smaller cost elsewhere. We're definitely moving in a positive direction, but each time we make a leap to a new level of functionality, things get more complicated and fractured and difficult for a while. Our feeds are ugly, and they don't quite work right and neither do our sites. But this is because the technologies that we're using to organise and collate our lives aren't quite communicating perfectly and aren't splicing themselves together in the way that we might like. And things are getting ever more complicated, and we need to do something about it. Tom Coates

Podcasting stuff

die puny humans:

mfeeds: "This lets you receive a podcast from any page that has MP3s on it (or .movs, .torrents, etc). For example, you can "subscribe" to a band's MP3 page or to a radio station's archive. When they post new stuff you'll get it automatically."

Unbound Spiral:

Skype + Podcast Recorder = SkypeCasters

Introducing instructions for SkypeCasting. The front-end solution for podcasters to create great sounding audio recordings from interviews and conference calls using Skype. For the last few days I've been recording podcasts using Skype. As the call ends with a couple of clicks it is converted to mp3 and uploaded to a blog. This is a real bloggers solution providing podcasting in almost real-time without resorting to studios, or fancy gear. Let the New Year ring in with new voices, and new conversations. Audio and podcasting will make a difference. Let's get the thoughts out into the world. Innovate in 2005 --- start podcasting. This post contains my first podcast and the instruction on how (links at the end).

The SkypeCasters' recipe is simple and we have written it up in detail. Add together Skype, Virtual Audio Cables, Windows Sound Recorder, a simple Wav to mp3 converter MT_Enclosures and iPodder and you can be Podcasting later today! The solution will cost you $40.

Why podcast? Why record?
There are many situations on the phone or Skype where you would like to be recording. Professional interviews are a prime example. Makes it easier to write up your notes later while you can completely focus your attention on the interview. Then we have the equivalent of "panel" discussions. The mini conference call fueled by good chatter and a great topic. Perhaps you are a budding poet wanting to spread a reading to a small group? Want to send a joint message or birthday greeting where the parties are dispersed, record a Skype conference call and e-mail the mp3. Similarly, finishing up a conference call --- create a simple 5 minute SkypeCast of the key action points. Blog it to your group. An hour in five minutes. It's over to you now. Tell us how you use it.

Approaching podcasting like this is different to staged professional recording studios and big production values. We know that if you have a talented studio behind you then mixing and turning out a professional Podcast will be no problem. This is the solution for those with no money who are happy to create SkypeCasts on the fly.


via Unmediated:

  • BBC Radio today announced that a trial of an MP3 downloading service, which saw 70,000 downloads of Radio 4’s In Our Time programme in November, had been a massive success. MediaWeek
  • blinkx.tv — 'allows you to search the web for video and audio clips. Unlike other search providers, blinkx TV not only lets you search using standard keyword and Boolean queries but you can also use conceptual search. This type of search is provided by blinkx only, and allows you to enter normal text for which blinkx TV will return results whose content is conceptually similar to your search text.'
  • P2P TV: Guido Ciburski, a television software engineer, wants to launch Cybersky, a Web service that aims to do for TV what already applies to music and video, which can be downloaded free from the internet. At the end of January, his company, TC Unterhaltungselektronic, will unveil its Cybersky TV web service which will enable broadband users to distribute video programmes free, and exchange them with others. Unmediated
  • Lifestyle governs mobile choice: Consumers are far more interested in how handsets fit in with their lifestyle than they are in screen size, onboard memory or the chip inside, shows an in-depth study by telecommunications company Ericsson. "Historically in the industry there has been too much focus on using technology," said Dr Michael Bjorn, senior advisor on mobile media at Ericsson's consumer and enterprise lab. "We have to stop saying that these technologies will change their lives," he said. "We should try to speak to consumers in their own language and help them see how it fits in with what they are doing," he told the BBC News website. … Dr Bjorn said that people also used their camera phones in very different ways to film and even digital cameras. "Usage patterns for digital cameras are almost exactly replacing usage patterns for analogue cameras," he said. Digital cameras tend to be used on significant events such as weddings, holidays and birthdays. By contrast, he said, camera phones were being used much more to capture a moment and were being woven into everyday life. BBC News
  • mozilla is planning to release a version of Minimo (Mini-Mozilla browser for portable devices) for mobile phones.
    "Due out in January of 2005, the 0.3 version of Minimo is already in use by two mobile phone companies, however they cannot release their names due to an embargo. Mozilla Firefox has been taking over the share of Internet Explorer users very quickly, Minimo on the other hand, will be much harder to bring to market since manufacturers make the choice as to which browser to use, rather than consumers." Unmediated