30 Sep

PC Makers Hit Speed Bumps; Being Faster May Not Matter

NYT:

"But computers have reached a point where for the most common home purposes – Web surfing, e-mail and word processing – they are already more than fast enough to suit a typical home user’s needs. […] Computer and chip manufacturers have long used advances in speed as a central point to sell new computers. To be sure, such marketing will still appeal to people who edit video or process complex photographic images, for example, or make calculations with large masses of data, or play video games on the PC. They still see big benefits when they upgrade to faster chips for their processor-intensive tasks."

We just need more software to drive hardware upgrades. I’m currently editing some footage with Adobe Premiere. Why do I need to manually type what’s being said to get a written transcript of the video or add subtitles? This should be done automatically during the acquisition/logging process. Software is still too oblivious to the data it manipulates. Why do I need to tell Winamp about the beat in the tracks it plays back? Come on Winamp, can’t you hear the beat and tap your feet[*]? Even basic stuff such as multi-tasking can improve: Premiere stops playing back video if it’s not the foreground app, say when I switch back to Word to type the text I’m listening to.
This industry should celebrate that we don’t need to keep upgrading and changing our PCs incessantly anymore just to do the most basic things. It took two decades, but now the typewriter doesn’t fall apart while you type. Good news, your product is less and less a synonym with painful hassle. It’s time to move on to new applications, and convince more people to use them. It took a while to turn people into TV couch potatoes; getting the masses to actually produce content is not going to happen overnight either. How many people draw, play musical instruments or practice a sport assiduously? The "digital revolution" will be behavioral as much as technical or won’t happen at all.
And these new apps belong on the PC. Using the XBox as a counter example is as ludicrous as saying that laptops would kill desktops (as Toshiba claimed a decade ago.) The XBox is just a stripped-down PC proprietary subset that ships without some of the traditional devices and peripherals. Anyway, if current PCs have CPU power to spare, it’s probably because they don’t empower users enough. A powerful engine a sports car doesn’t make. You need to transfer that energy to the wheels and keep the vehicle drivable.
[*] Update: some software such as AtomixMP3 does beat recognition, though what I just tested didn’t work so well (the beat it reported kept changing, though the real tempo didn’t.) Anyway my point is that we have too much hand-holding to do with software even to get menial tasks done.

30 Sep

“Smart” URLs are navigation tools

Holovaty:

"Adaptive Path examines good and bad URL schemes, suggesting Web addresses are "not just a handy way to address network resources. They’re also valuable communication tools." It’s an interesting counterpoint to an IBM article I pointed out 10 days ago, which proclaimed: "Only techie people glean information about the structure of a site by examining the words between all those forward slashes." I suppose the truth is somewhere in between — but if a feature helps at least a few people, why not include it?"

If only from a strict marketing perspective, I advocate practices such as predictable and legible URL schemes or RSS feeds to score good points with people that might not be numerous, but who are probably disproportionately influential. Maybe only 50 people will subscribe to your feed, but what if they link to your site on their blogs, which are read by 10,000 visitors, who in turn will spread the word? The same logic applies to easy URL navigation, which allows proper deep linking as well as automation.
Likewise, Daypop or Blogdex don’t drive that much direct traffic, but people will hear about sites there and will in turn mention them on their blogs (popularity feeds on itself). Of course you want to influence the influential! But do it in a way that provides value to them, rather than through the kind of deceptive practices we’ve recently been hearing about.

27 Sep

New Software Quietly Diverts Sales Commissions

NYT:

"Some popular online services are using a new kind of software to divert sales commissions that would otherwise be paid to small online merchants by big sites like Amazon and eToys. […] In many versions of the software, a purchase will look as if it was made through the software maker’s site even if the shopper came in through another site that has its own affiliate agreement with the online store in question. Those affiliate sites include small businesses and even charities that use affiliate links as fund-raisers."

You can credit Amazon.com for always having stood on the right side of this issue. When this kind of hijacking practice first occurred about 3 or 4 years ago (was it DealTime the first to do this?), some sites such as Reel.com (RIP) washed their hands, while Amazon demonstrated they understood what it takes to build a channel.
Why is it that I’m not surprised to see the guy from CJ not getting it? I do the sale, but someone else gets paid for it? HELLO! If your public service statement doesn’t forbid this, change it. It’s nothing to do with legality, and it’s all about the sound business judgment needed to build lasting relationships. Mister Jeff Pullen (provided you’re quoted accurately and in context, but that’s how it looks), you just demonstrated you’re severely lacking in that department. In the "physical world," that kind of bullshit would get you kicked out of the office of any large reseller if you were to take it to their face.
If you’re managing your affiliate program with Commission Junction (big sites such as eBay are), I urge you to pressure them to reconsider their position, and if they fail to, to take your business elsewhere. If your affiliates are hurt, you’ll feel the pain too. Alibris recently moved to Linkshare, I witnessed it was a bumpy ride but they eventually made it, and I guess their experience must now be documented. Don’t let a technical provider like CJ damage your brand.
09/30/02 update: I think Dash.com is the precedent I was half remembering.

27 Sep

Amazon to launch a beta version of their Web Services 2.0

From their Associates message board: "We wanted to let you know that on Monday evening (9/30) we are planning to launch a beta version of Amazon.com Web Services 2.0. We will be following up with more details of this launch next week, including how you can participate in the beta, but right now we just wanted to apprise you of the changes that are coming."
Regarding the comments I made about their compensation structure, they’ve been listening and a new system is on trial for Q4. I they’re persistent in their technical and commercial efforts, they might build a strong competitive advantage through an online channel that no other site I know of is even trying to build.

26 Sep

Richard C Winters’ blog (an Academic Attending Physician)

If, like me, your only "knowledge" of emergency medicine is through TV fiction, get the point of view of someone real. Though this does sound like ER, as well as this: "Diversion ends up being like dominos. As one hospital diverts the other hospitals struggle to handle the increased patient load. The hospitals then fall to diversion one by one." Well Crichton was a doctor, right?

25 Sep

Enron “E” went for at least $32K!

GiveIt27, giveit27, giveit27… The room gave up at $26K, then they went to the web bidders, then it went back and forth between the room and a couple web guys. I got disconnected, so I don’t know what’s the final price. Anyway seems there’s still money in this economy! Now it’s a woman handling other lots, and she sounds like a robot speaking on a 33rpm record played at 45.
I’m growing a passion for DoveBid. It’s just too fun to follow. I’ll try to bid on lower profile auctions. One guy got a pair of Viewsonic 21" monitors for $400 yesterday (3 or 4 year-old models, but still pretty cool screens.) According to Cameron prices for big plasma screens went up irrationally like they did in London back in February.
If you’re happy to bid for overpriced Enron memorabilia on the web and you know it, clap your hands.
Update: she just said 1,000 people in the room and 13,000 online!
Update: CNet says the "E" was auctioned off for $44K.

25 Sep

Channelroll bugfix, RSS continuity

Jon Udell:

"It strikes me that with namespace support for RSS, an element might be added that would enable aggregators to redirect in such cases. […] I’ve used a client-side redirect (HTTP-EQUIV="refresh") for the home page, but haven’t figured out how to do the same for the RSS channel. If you see a way, please clue me in. Otherwise, if you want to keep subscribing to my feed, you’ll have to switch your aggregator to the new link."

When I switched to Blogger Pro I feared I might lose some people who read me exclusively through RSS. Well, in a weird circular chain of events, Jon Udell was victim of my relocation, as well as looking for a solution to RSS continuity for himself. I should probably have published the new URL in a lost post the old RSS feed before I changed providers (from Voidstar to Blogger Pro.) Since Blogspot was down for maintenance yesterday, my old RSS link broke Jon’s feedroll.

25 Sep

Smart alarm clock lets you lie in

BBC:

"A smart alarm clock that will allow you a lie-in or wake you up early depending on traffic conditions has been invented by researchers at Brunel University in southern England. The Rise alarm clock has in-built internet access and can be connected to the web via a normal telephone line."

Nice idea found through Lockergnome. They need to do a WiFi version.