Will Zune Stumble and Fall Like Origami?

zuneWord about Microsoft’s upcoming media player continues to crawl around the blogosphere, with Engadget reporting today that the device, currently dubbed Zune, will support wireless song transfers. I’m sure that will either require a potload of DRM or invoke the wrath of the priority-challenged RIAA.

Anyway, Gizmodo reports that the Zune device is the flagship product of a new line of portable devices. Everybody seems to have a plan to dethrone the iPod. Here is Microsoft’s:

“Microsoft’s concentrating on features the iPod doesn’t have, instead of trying to beat Apple at their own game. The tipmeister reiterates that ad-hoc networking feature will be there, as well as a possible buffered internet radio streaming feature. If you’re within range of a WiFi signal and you’re listening to a station, the device will snatch as much of the feed as it can so when you wander out of WiFi signal, it’ll keep playing the stream as if you were in range. This might not make its way into the final product, so don’t get your hopes up too high.”

I’m guessing once the RIAA gets wind of this most excellent and logical feature, it will let slip the lawyers of war and yet another great idea will be canned in the name of preserving a dying business model.

What I am more interested in, however, is Microsoft’s marketing, or lack thereof, with respect to new products. Microsoft doesn’t seem to know how to manage a proper build up to release- particularly with hardware.

Recall the great buzz that was generated prior to the release of Origami, now renamed a buzz-killing UMPC. I wondered at the time whether Microsoft would walk the walk or toss the product out there and let it twist in the wind.

Well, I have read many reviews of UMPCs, and most of them have been negative. My blogging pal James Kendrick believes the bad reviews are a result of a misunderstanding of the UMPC’s purpose and features. While I have never held a UMPC, I tend to agree with James (I would love to have a UMPC to read news, etc. around the house and on trips). But in the face of a lot of negative press, Microsoft seems to have moved on to phones and iPod killers, etc.

Robert Scoble used to try as hard as he could to manage the build-up to release of new products. But Robert has left Microsoft and there’s no one left with the mindshare to try to point bloggers, and the three non-bloggers who read blogs, in the right direction. Sometimes, how people feel about something depends more on their expectations than the actual thing itself. Einstein, relativity and all that.

Get enough press, real and citizen, to understand a product and write about it from a place of understanding and you’ll go a long way towards ensuring a successful release. Let people speculate wildly, toss something out and forget about it and you’ve ensured the opposite.

Someone needs to step up for Microsoft and help inform, direct and manage expectations.

Otherwise, I predict another stumble out of the gate for Zune.

Seth Finkelstein Says No Thanks

Seth Finkelstein says he does not want a Wikipedia entry.

Which is probably a good indicator that he is entitled to one. In this day and age when so many people are trying everything to get a Wikipedia entry- from ghost writing for a friend to actually writing their own entry, Seth says no thanks.

I missed all of the debate about Seth’s entry- which is a good thing for him because I’m afraid I would have been on the other side of the argument. But then, as I have made clear in more than a few recent post, I am a Wikipedia believer.

I have also read Seth’s blog since the first day I entered the blogosphere and he is a frequent Commenter here. I have always been amazed, and a little envious, of his ability to stay focused and on point. His blog posts and Comments are among my favorite reading.

More importantly, he is one of the most effective watchdogs and critics of censorware. As pointed out in the very Wikipedia entry he doesn’t want, he received the EFF Pioneer Award for his contributions “to decrypt and expose to public scrutiny the secret contents of the most popular censorware blacklists“. As Newsome.Org is blocked by some censorware applications, I have personal experience with being censored.

If Seth wants out, at the end of the day I would support him as a friend. But when it comes to notable and worthy of inclusion, he is clearly on the in side and not the out side.

Wikipedia and the Deadest Guy in the Room

Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post has an article today examining Wikipedia and using the running of the historiographers at Wikipedia following the death of Ken Lay as a object lesson.

The article cites the evolving Wikipedia content that mirrored the content of office conversations everywhere after the news of Lay’s death broke. The cause of death went from suicide to unknown to heart attack. There’s not a person out there, whether online at Wikipedia or curled up in a chair reading their Encyclopedia Britannica, who didn’t wonder if he’d killed himself when they first heard the news. Yes, it’s a little morbid to wonder about such things, but when you live the unspigoted life Lay did and then get convicted on an OJ-like stage, it comes with the territory.

Many people, including me, still think the timing of Lay’s death is a little curious, to say the least. But that’s not the point.

The fact is that as far as we know, he died of a heart attack.

Frank outlines the evolution of Lay’s Wikipedia entry in the hours after the news broke- as the cause of death went from suicide to unknown to heart attack. And he mentions some questionable additions made by the very people I wrote about before (in a post Commented upon by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales), who really should be reading encyclopedias and not writing them.

In the article, Frank writes:

“But here’s the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you’re getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it’s fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.”

While I agree that the immediacy of Wikipedia will necessarily result in some inaccuracies from time to time, particularly with respect to highly controversial matters and breaking news, I would make two points about that.

First, Wikipedia is not Encyclopedia Britannica, and I don’t think it should be compared to a traditional encyclopedia. It is the flat earth alternative, the way blogs are supposed to be the flat earth alternative to the New York Times. They cover similar topics, but the process is different and so the product is different too. Rather than written by a bunch of alleged scholars to be sold to users, Wikipedia is written by users for users. I’m all for scholars, but Andrew Keen spends a lot of time telling us he’s a scholar, and I’d rather read first grade book reports than the arrogant drivel that emanates from his pen- big words or not.

Second, and more importantly, the Wikipedia system worked. Yes, the entry was wrong at first. That is the price you pay for not having to wait and year and pay a fortune to read about it in the next edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. But it was fixed- and quickly. The collective brains of the “amateurish citizens” as Keen calls us are greater than the brain of an entry-level scholar writing for profit.

Wikipedia isn’t perfect. But this time it worked. Just the way it is supposed to.

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Blog Improvements and the Backup

I tell my friends all the time how important it is to always back up their data. That to choose not to back up is to choose to lose data, and all that.

But yesterday, when I was making some changes to the left and right columns of my blog, I didn’t take the time to back up my current template before I made those changes. I am pretty good changing the html and scripts used to pull and display information, so I figured I’d be in and out in less than a half hour.

What I didn’t count on was the second half of my template page getting accidentally selected and deleted by mistake, along with those few lines I intended to delete. I still don’t know how it happened, and only realized it had happened when I went back to my blog later and there was nothing but random code on the page.

Big honking problem.

I have many old backups of my template, but none from the last few months. So I had to spend about 3 hours figuring out what was missing and rewriting the template. That is not a recipe for a relaxing Saturday afternoon. At least it was raining cats and dogs, so I wasn’t missing anything fun.

At the end of the day, my improvements were added. Here’s a summary of what I did and how I did it:

paint1) I added an automatically updating “recent links” list using Dave‘s advice given in a Comment to my WordPress Blues post. I tried that approach a year or so ago, and only got 3-4 links in the list. Technorati must have fixed it in the meantime, because now it seems to work reasonably well. One beauty of the blogosphere is that it allows you to have smart friends from all over the world who can help you out. Thanks Dave!

2) I added a tag cloud using ZoomClouds. It is easy to set up and configure (I had to make mine very narrow to fit in the column). The links lead to a page on the ZoomCloud site where the relevant portion of your RSS feed is displayed. I wish it linked to the actual blog post, but ZoomCloud has to pay the bills, so I can live with it the way it is.

3) I fixed my Last.fm plug-in to J. River’s Media Center (the best media player on the market, yet one that is ignored by many writers), so my playlist will appear on my Last.fm page. I also designed a weekly top artists chart, which I am not going to display all the time, but which I will post from time to time. Here’s how it looks:

4) I deleted all of the old feed buttons in favor of the standard one, and put it, my email subscription form and a new mobile feed via Plusmo at a better location, to encourage more visitors to subscribe. If you aren’t subscribed to Newsome.Org, how’s about clicking that little orange button over there?

5) After considering removing it altogether, I moved my Skype button to a less obvious place- below the fold. Anyone who ought to be Skyping me will know it’s there, and it will hopefully keep me from getting too many young, drunk and clueless calls.

6) I added an automatically updating list of people who recently Commented on my posts. Note that it isn’t the last 10 to Comment anywhere- it’s the last 10 to Comment on a post that is still on the front page. Not my preference, but that’s the way the system I found works.

The idea of a lot of the new features is to give people who link to me and Comment on my posts some instant and automatic return traffic. I am good about responding to people who link and Comment, but when I get busy or distracted, I don’t want links and Comments to go unrecognized. After all, blogging is about community and about back and forth.

Lastly, I updated my music and book lists. Many thanks to Donncha Caoimh, who recommended Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure in a Comment. That is the most helpful photography book I have ever read. Bryan knows how to teach exposure. I just wish there were a few more photos of his extremely fine wife in that book. If you’re a guy and you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

Donncha is a fantastic photographer. Visit In Photos to see his amazing photography.

Back to backups. While I was finally able to get things back up and running with the new content in place, my failure to backup my data made a 30 minute job a 3 and a half hour job.

Do as I say, not as I (sometimes) do- go back up your data.

Top Tablet Apps

Warner Crocker has posted his Top 10 Tablet PC Applications at GottaBeMobile.Com. It’s a great resource for people looking to get the most out of their Tablet PCs.

Tablet Enhancements for Outlook is, as Warner says, a “must have” application, and is the first application anyone should install on their Tablet PC.

There are a bunch of applications on the list that I don’t use, so I’ll be checking them out over the next few days. I am particularly intrigued by PDF Annotator.

One program that I would add to the list is xThink Calculator.

Check out Warner’s list for some great applications for your Tablet PC.

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Pet Roll: Pet 2 (Clancy)

Shortly after we moved to the new house, my parents gave my sister a Scottish Terrier for her birthday. She named him Clancy. Like Pepsi before him, he also took off when he got out, but since he didn’t have an old house to run back to, he ran down the road to a neighbor’s house- ironically enough the grandmother of the ones who had earlier shot Pepsi.

She would feed him steak and other treats, and before long he stopped coming home altogether. Eventually, he officially became her dog. I guess that family was determined that we wouldn’t have any pets.

I have no idea how long Clancy lived or what happened to him. I don’t remember seeing him after he moved down the road, so he must not have lived too long.

I have never seen a photo of Clancy and as far as I know, none exist.

Later, I went to work for that same lady, cutting her yard and the field behind her house for $20 a pop. I remember riding the tractor and listening with one earpiece to a little red AM radio I’d won playing bingo at the beach. Stone Age iPod and all that.

One day I found that a cat had her kittens in a shed on that lady’s property. I told her I would find a home for them, but by the time I went back the next day, one of her other men had killed them.

I guess she ran hot and cold as far as pets go.

All of that notwithstanding, she was a generally nice lady. I liked her and was sad when she died, at a very old age.

Coming up next is Buck- the closest thing I have ever had to a brother.

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