Sam Davyson

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The Internet Should Not Be Too Meta

25/09/06 - 15.17

Imagine if the Internet was just websites about web browsers. And for the purposes of this post assume that all you can do with a web browser is surf the internet. The internet would be completely useless. You could use to get all the details on all of the different browsers. Which you could supposedly then download and try. And if you made the switch you could view all of the content about all of the different browsers slightly differently. So the whole internet would be about the possibility of changing the way you view information which is all about changing the way you view the information. It is cyclic.

It’s like having a colour changer that just changes the colour of the colour changer. It’s like using an iPod just to listen to podcasts about the next iPod. Or like buying a Mac and just using it to talk on MacRumors about the next Mac. It’s like having a forum where you can only post about updates to that forum’s software. Or having a blog that you just use to detail the changes you are making to the layout of the posts. It’s like just having TV programmes about winning TV sets. It is pointless.

The key word in this post is “just”. If you have browser sites, and other sites then the internet is useful, and so are the browser sites. Similarly with the other examples. If you listen to more podcasts than those about iPods, then suddenly the technology has been useful. But at the moment it seems a lot of new media is about new media. I can get a lot more podcasts that continually talk about podcasting than I can about any other subject. The best example I have ever seen of this is the Tom Green show. Where they are producing a live Internet TV show, but all they ever talk about is how great it is that they can do this live TV show. And how groundbreaking it is.

I am not saying these new strands of media are not going anywhere. I am just asking you to be careful with the amount of meta you broadcast. For this reason, this post needs to be kept short. About this long is ideal.

September 25th, 2006 - 3.17 PM | No Comments »

Hotmail Closure – A Final Plea

21/09/06 - 15.04

Today I wrote a final plea to Hotmail Support. Here it goes:

Dear Christopher A., Christian M., Christian N., Anne Marie O., Christina S., Vendrelli R., Jimmy B., Janet B., Leo and Mark Anthony F.,

I write to you 201 days since my initial request. Yes two hundred and one days. That is 6 months and 17 days. Interestingly all 10 of the representatives that have written back have indicated that the suggestion I made was a good one and would be included in an upcoming release. Unfortunately however somewhere along the line you misbranded adding a help article as a some sort of product upgrade, rather than the simple task of writing a few words it is.

Never have I had a response from any representative that wasn’t highly canned. The template is very clear by now and the deviations from it are often embarrassingly slight. No one seems to be capable of actually doing anything at your end. Yes you can write back, but can you get anything done? No. Of course not.

So in the 201 days that have passed what have you done towards the article? Lets summarise your progress. All 10 of you have done… precisely nothing. You said that time restrictions made it difficult to write. So I wrote the article for you. Why didn’t that speed things up? Why isn’t my article on your site now?

Why is the paper pushing in your office such a significant part of your job that it is now all that you do? Why has one of the world’s largest companies got the most useless support team?

I am doing everything I can to publicise my experiences with your team. And of course I am still desperately pushing to get the article published on your site. The high profile ex-Microsoft employee Robert Scoble commented on the issue with “If I were on the Hotmail team I’d just put up an article that simply linked to this guy’s post”.

You’ve lied to me. You’ve ignored my requests. You’ve done precisely nothing to help the situation. And still I bet you’ll come back with an automated email. Listen. I don’t want your automated rubbish. Delete the template. Don’t bother to email back if it means you can get the article done quicker. Just “The article is up” would be very good.

I ask again and again to have the contact details of your manager. And of course I don’t get them. But I’ll ask again. What is the email address of your immediate manager?

As always my article is online and copyright free for you to use at http://sam.davyson.com/hotmail and every email between me and your team is published at http://sam.davyson.com/hotmail/story .

Remember when you reply, your response will join that record.

Sam Davyson.

If you are not familiar with this campaign: I am trying to get a Hotmail help article that states Hotmail do not send forwards as a means to tell their customers that accounts are closing. Seemingly simple. But apparently not. Read all the emails, or just a summary.

If you think your Hotmail account is closing, because of a forward you received. The good news is it is not. Please don’t forward the message to anyone.

September 21st, 2006 - 3.04 PM | No Comments »

Zoho Writer: Testing Reading Online

18/09/06 - 23.20

Zoho Writer today launched the possibility of opening office documents that you find online in their online editor. This completely cuts out the desktop application. Previously users would have to download the document and then open it in their word processor. To me at least this new way of getting at documents sounds like it is going to be quicker. And if you are using Zoho Writer to make and edit all of your documents then obviously it is best to get your documents straight into Zoho rather than having to upload it later.

How Does It Work

Picture 21.png Picture 11.png

You download a plugin to use in your browser (IE and Firefox) and then you can right click to get the option to open the file in Zoho Writer. The plugin has a nice options window that lets you decide whether you want it opening in a new tab, a new window, or the tab you were in. It works on .doc, .rtf, .odt, or .sxw files. Similar services for their spreadsheet and powerpoint systems are also being released today.

Performance Tests

Of the file formats that work .doc is the most common you see on the web, so I decided to use it for the test. I uploaded a small document of 32 kb to my web server and then I tried to open it via both of the methods. I started with Microsoft Word closed as that is my normal state. Here is the link to the document so that you can submit your findings in terms of times to load in the comments:

  • test1.doc – (if you don’t have the Zoho Writer plugin then click here for the Zoho Writer test).

My timings from the time I clicked to the time I could read the document were:

Microsoft Word – 9 seconds.
Zoho Writer – 6 seconds.

Now lets try something a little different. Something a little harder. This time the file is 204 pages long and 960 kb. You can download them using these links:

  • test2.doc – (if you don’t have the Zoho Writer plugin then click here for the Zoho Writer test).

I got:

Microsoft Word – 14 seconds.
Zoho Writer – 24 seconds.

So it looks like Zoho Writer is much slower than Microsoft Word with longer documents. Hopefully they can work on the script that they have running their end to try to get this time down. But significantly the time is comparable to using Word, and therefore if you were using Zoho for all your writing this would be a good solution. Since if the time for Word had to include reuploading and importing into Zoho then the direct Zoho import would definately win out.*

Problems For Zoho

Google and Zoho seem to me to now be the two companies most advanced down the Office 2.0 line. But Google already has a lot of people grabbed. And it’s products are getting more and more sticky. The day we see this particular tool appear for Google’s word processor, Writely, then Google could put the link right next to the Word document in the Gmail message. This sort of cornering is not available to Zoho. Obviously using plugins like those they have released you could always right click to get it in Zoho. But it is one more click. We’ll have to wait and see how it works out. Integration often comes at the expense of a free market.

*Note that right now it is not actually possible to directly import the content to your Zoho account using the new tools. But Arvind of Zoho assures me that this is coming soon.

September 18th, 2006 - 11.20 PM | No Comments »

Omnidrive Mac Client

17/09/06 - 02.17

Omnidrive is a very web 2.0 file storage company based in Australia. The idea is that storing files on a remote server should be just as easy as storing files on a local drive. Of course in reality it isn’t, so Omnidrive’s desktop clients bridge this gap in an effort to make online storage as seamless as possible.

On Windows it appears in an explorer window. Very similar to how any other explorer window looks. And it is great. You can fiddle with your files just how you want to as if they were on the hard drive of your computer. And on the Mac it is mounted in the Finder so it appears almost exactly like an external drive.

That is, if you can get it to work.

When I tried to install the Mac client I got this window:

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I reported this to Omnidrive staff on numerous occassions. But they never got back to me. Anyway the other day I got a new external hard drive and I ran the installation again except this time selecting the external drive as the installation destination. It worked fine and then I was able to drag the program into my Applications folder. A bit of a work around but it now works fine.

I know what you are thinking. What is the point of having your stuff stored or backed up with Omnidrive if you need this bastard-to-install client to get at it? That cyber cafe is hardly going to have it installed is it. No, it is not. And this is where the beauty comes in. There is also a web client. It is basic, but it is useable. This is another perfect example of the ideas I suggested in my web 2.0 post. A desktop client for the best user experience on the computers you use most and a web client for all those other places where you might be caught on a computer without the client. This gives storage perfection.

September 17th, 2006 - 2.17 AM | No Comments »

What I Read

16/09/06 - 22.01

I am reading blogs through Vienna these days. I subscribe to:

  • The Dreamhost Blog. – http://blog.dreamhost.com/
  • Google Blogoscoped. – http://blog.outer-court.com/
  • Mashable. – http://mashable.com/
  • Nik Cubrilovic. – http://nik.com.au/
  • Official Google Blog. – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/
  • Omnidrive. – http://omnidrive.com/blog
  • Pandora. – http://blog.pandora.com/pandora/
  • Rocketboom. – http://rocketboom.com/vlog/
  • Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger. – http://scoble.wordpress.com/
  • Signs of the times. – http://sillysigns.blogspot.com/
  • The Jason Calacanis Weblog. – http://www.calacanis.com/
  • theshow. – http://zefrank.com/theshow

Thanks to all of them for magnificent content. All day, every day.

September 16th, 2006 - 10.01 PM | No Comments »

Web 2.0 – Not Everything

16/09/06 - 19.42

The UI and user experience degrade by having applications running in the browser is not always worth the upgrade in being able to access your information from everywhere. Or put a bit more simply:

Web 2.0 is not worth it everytime.

I don’t want to upload my entire music collection to web2.0musicplayer.com to stream it back when I want to play it. It simply isn’t worth the bother. No one has suggested that as far as I am aware so far but that is an illustration of how it can be overdone. To me that example is clearly over the top, and I find some of the real Web 2.0 ideas to also be too much bother for not enough gain. You might be able to “get” it anywhere, but it is super fiddly to do so.

Take the idea of putting office applications online. For me this is very much on the border. For word processing I can just about see that it is a simple enough activity to mean the simpler interfaces are usable. You can word process with a glorified text area. The benefits of knowing that your documents are all safe, and not having to carry round a USB drive with them on mean for me they get the thumbs up. But spreadsheets is a whole other story. They are complicated things where you need to be able to enter formulae with confidence into the cells. I don’t really use many much, but when I do I need a complexity that is not matched online. I need to be able to drag formula to more cells, and for them to sensibly change to fit their new locations. I need to be able to write 1, 2, 3, in a column and drag them for a list of as many integers as I want. I don’t want to feel limited for space. And I need customisable charts and graphs. I havent seen an implementation that can give me this. So for a spreadsheet I would say no.

Since therefore you are going to have your spreadsheet files offline it makes sense to keep your documents with them. Which makes the word processing online option look less attractive. With your documents online you can also only get them when you are connected to the internet, unless you make a special arrangement to download them. This means that in that period of time when you lose connectivity not only can you not work on your document – but you can’t even read what you have done so far! I would say that all things considered “Web Office” is not ready yet for using. It is not worth it.

There is something similar with email. Email is now generally read in webmail services. They are hugely advantageous over using a non web based service as you can get your email from anywhere which is hugely important. The interface’s are never quite as good as what you get in a desktop client but this is overridden by the huge gain in accessibility. Most people though use 1 computer most of the time I think. Especially people with laptops. That is why I think it is best to use a desktop client hooked up to a decent webmail service for your email. You get the best interface there is for email in a very responsive desktop product, and you get access to your email from anywhere with a web connection too. That is an ideal solution.

Calendaring for me gets the same rating as the email issue. You need it everywhere, but the deaktop client’s are better. So you use standards to get a compromise. I broadcast my calendar up to a web service as well as having my web service’s calendar streaming into my desktop application. It isn’t a perfect sync situation. But I can add events and they will show up on both ends. And since most of the time I will be on my main computer I get the great experience that the web 2.0 version still can’t match.

So the ideals are: Office – No, Email & Calendaring – Half Way.

What about everything else Web 2.0? What about social networking? What about social bookmarking? They are both great uses of Web 2.0 technologies. They both get a big “yes”. They can’t and don’t exist without the internet. It doesn’t make sense to even ask this question about them.

My message is simple. Web 2.0 is cool, but not for everything. Not yet anyway.

September 16th, 2006 - 7.42 PM | No Comments »

Meta: Writing A Post On Web 2.0

16/09/06 - 16.58

Writing this post proved to be enormously tricky for some reason. I started out with this:

The trend set by Web 2.0 to move your applications into your browser is going at a hell of a rate. You can now do your email, your calendaring, your word processing, your spreadsheets, your slideshows, your project management, your IM, your photo organisation… all within your web browser.

The Benefits

The real reasons for using these services is that it means you can get your email, work, photos etc. (“your stuff”) from any computer with an internet connection. And as everything is hosted over on the service if your computer fails then your work is still safe. As it is continually backed up by the service you are using. So it is a pretty neat way to do things.

The other huge incentive comes with pricing. Online services tend to be powered by advertising or sponsorship and come generally free to the end user. This is a far cry from the big amounts you have to pay to just get a copy of Microsoft Office for instance.

The Problems

The main drawbrack is that the browser was not designed to host such a complex range of activities. The programs have to therefore be much simpler and tend to be much more fiddly than their desktop counterparts. The most basic task is ridiculously difficult to replicate in the browser in the same style. Not that this is a real problem to the end user they don’t have to code it! And luckily there are plenty of web programmers who seem more than willing to work flat out to produce near desktop style applications.

Where It Works

Some things work much better in the browser than others and these have been adopted much commonly. In these applications the ability to be able to access the information from any location is paramount. Tools like email clients are being replaced with webmail. Why? Because it is worth the loss in user experience to be able to get your emails from anywhere. And …

Then I thought “What is this a manual?”. Come on! I can do better than that. So I went for a completely different beginning:

What do you use most on your computer? If you are saying Notepad then you really aren’t the subject here. You may however be the target. I’m looking for those people that when they go and buy a computer from the physical computer shop they answer this question with: the internet, email, word oh yeah and messenger. They are then assured that their computer will be perfectly sufficient to do all those tasks. “It is a basic computer. It can handle the basic tasks that everyday users preform, and do so with ease” says the sales assistant. If you’ve heard those words and immediately written out the cheque then you are what I mean by “people” in this post. The normal people. They don’t have blogs, they don’t listen to podcasts, they don’t read digg. The Internet for them is the blue E. You probably know the type. It is the majority of people.

These are the people that I don’t think Web 2.0 is getting through to…

But then I realised that wasn’t what I wanted to write about at all. I still wasn’t really clear about what the title should be for the post. All I knew is I wanted to write something that generally said that the UI and user experience degrade is not always worth the upgrade in being able to access your information from everywhere. That was really the central statement I wanted to hit. But I didn’t want to go crazily detailed about everything everwhere like the first attempt. Or go way out of my way like I for some reason did in my second try. I need to get to the point, and get there fast. So this is how I eventually decided to start.

Stand back for the actual post. It is here.

September 16th, 2006 - 4.58 PM | No Comments »

Apple iPod Pricing Mess Up

15/09/06 - 15.21

The conversion of prices from dollars to the British pound has always been a bit of a mystrey. But nothing is more baffling than the new prices given to the iPods. The top of the range iPod Nano (Black) costs $249 or £169. The bottom of the range traditional iPod also costs $249. But wait for it… it costs £189.

Picture 72.png Picture 81.png
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There is clearly something funny going on here. An extra £20 has come from somewhere. Either Britain is being ripped off for the traditional iPod or Britain is getting a bargin on the iPod Nano. I know that the price conversions to pounds are quite complicated. First they have to be converted to pounds, then VAT is added and then they have to made into a sexy price… probably by some rounding up. I decided to investigate this process.Lets first take an example outside of this conflict. Say the iPod Nano 4GB. There it is $199 or £129. A direct conversion of dollars to pounds says that $199 should be £105.75. Now take VAT at 17.5% it comes to £124.25 which they round to the £129 price tag. So this method of conversion seems to work well.

Lets now try it on the iPod Nano 8GB (Black). So we take the $249 and we get £132.57. Plus the 17.5% VAT gives £155.77 which is quite a bit less than the £169 that the British are made to pay. But if you think that is bad then look at the £189 that is charged for the full iPod (30GB) that is a full £33 above the price worked out through considering tax.

So lets take a little closer look at this price conversion process. Below I list the price differences between what the British prices should be (including tax) and what they are.

iPod Shuffle: £5.53 – $10.38
iPod Nano 2 GB: £5.69 – $10.68
iPod Nano 4 GB: £4.75 – $8.92
iPod Nano 8 GB: £13.23 – $24.83
iPod 30 GB: £33.23 – $62.35
iPod 60 GB: £40.47 – $75.93

Quite a premium on the highest range iPod too. It is just it was much more noticable for the 30 GB iPod given the same price was used for it and the iPod Nano 8 GB.

I can’t do such an indepth analysis for other country stores as I am not aware of taxes that may be applicable. One thing I can see without any knowledge of customs and taxes is see if the price of the 8 GB Nano is the same as the 30 GB iPod in each store.

And it is in:

Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and the USA.

But it isn’t in:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Suomi, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

The pattern is pretty clear. Europe and Hong Kong (where the price increment for the iPod 30 GB is very slight) have the different prices. That is the majority of the courtries that are offered by the store so the question should perhaps not be why the prices are different in all of these places but why they are the same in Australia, Canaga, Japan, Singapore and the USA. It seems completely crazy. Perhaps some EU wide tariff only on things with more than 8 GB of storage? It just doesn’t make sense.

September 15th, 2006 - 3.21 PM | No Comments »

Apple Special Event – iTunes Changed… it’s Logo

12/09/06 - 22.06

Today at the much hyped Apple Event “It’s Showtime”, Apple announced significant changes to the iTunes logo. Here are the images:

itunes_logo.jpg Months of design work. Thousands of ideas. Picture 2.png
V6. Before   V7. After

The Musical Note

The thing that immediately hits you is the colour change. They have taken the plunge and gone straight from green to blue for the musical note. But that isn’t the only change. Not by a long shot. Just look at the shape of the note. The bar between the notes has got thicker (or “taller”) and has a new style of sheen which makes it look less 3D. The angle of the top of the note has slightly changed too and it has been lowered with respect to the disc behind it. Whilst the left corner of the note used to coincide with the edge of the CD behind it the CD is now higher at that intersection. The effect of this is seen throughout the image. No longer can the white background be seen between the two sticks of the note at the right hand side. This triangle of white is completely lost. The balls at the bottom of the note seem more rounded. Their angling has changed too and they are less elongated and more spherical. The shadow effect of these on the bottom disc beneath has totally changed. The old logo shows a clear shadow to the lower right of both balls whereas the new design has much lighter shading for the shadow and whilst it is to the lower right for the leftmost ball it is not seen at all for the righthand one.

The CD

The disc itself has also been changed. Again the most dramatic change comes with the colouring. The spectrum has been completely reversed in a rather bold move with the red in the lefthand spectrum now starting at the bottom. It’s center has changed to now be a lighter shade than the rest of the disc and due to shape changes in the disc (as well as repositioning decisions) you can no longer see through the disc’s central hole to the left of the left stick. The only viewpoint via which the hole in the disc can be seen is actually between the sticks themselves. Back with the spectrum, we see the colours have been really focused or “deblurred” for this new release. The spectrum is much more split up compared to the very smudged approach seen in the original design. The disc seems to have been raised vertically too. By this I mean that it is standing more upright than previously. The main indication of this is seen in the shadowing behind the disc of which more can be seen.

This is clearly a hugely significant change. And to unveil it on the same day as new iPods, iPod Games, iPod Movies, iTV to come, and a revamped iTunes program is incredible. Needless to say, the logo is shipping today.

Update: I think we were all kind of wondering if Apple would go full out and update front row to match the blue. And we shouldn’t really have wondered. Of course they did. They aren’t however so pedantic to update the information about front row on say the Mac Book page. Good for them.

Picture 71.png

September 12th, 2006 - 10.06 PM | 1 Comment »

Hotlinking Picasa Web Albums Images

12/09/06 - 16.42

Picasa Web Albums seems to be smart at preventing image hotlinking. They have this embed feature that provides a link back to Picasa Web Albums and that works fine. But if you just try and take the image URL and embed it I find it breaks pretty soon.

For instance here is an image embedded using the Picasa Web Albums code that is available from the left hand bar in Picasa Web Albums:

The above code snippet straight from Picasa Web Albums uses this URL for the image: http://lh6.google.com/samdavyson/ROm95iJ2ABI/AAAAAAAAAFM
/ZpTxZPsUuIA/flower.jpg?imgmax=288. If you just use this URL and not the link back to Picasa it still seems to work. Here is one just using the URL:

But when you remove the thing limiting the image’s size (?imgmax=288) it breaks.

As you don’t see the image above it has clearly broken. The clever bastards. So lets see if it will work with another value of imagemax. So lets try 576 (2 x 288):

No. That doesn’t work either. So at the moment you can only hotlink in the 288 size. I hope Flickr doesn’t start using similar technology soon.

September 12th, 2006 - 4.42 PM | 5 Comments »