How TweetDeck Could Take Over the World

And maybe kill Google, Microsoft and Wolfram Alpha in the process.  OK, that was a joke, but since all tech blogs use absurd, over the top headlines in a juvenile effort to attract readers, I thought I’d give it a try.

Back to TweetDeck. . .

tweetdeckI’ve dabbled with TweetDeck for some time, using it periodically but always finding my way back to my home-grown Content Master.  The Twitter part of Content Master, of course, is the excellent TwitterGadget, which does a lot of really neat things that other Twitter apps have surprisingly not implemented.  TweetDeck comes about as close as any desktop app I have used.  With a few additions, I think TweetDeck could become my Twitter app of choice.

But make no mistake, for that to happen, this has to happen:

First, it absolutely must allow multiple columns of “All Friends,” to allow users to better manage screen space.  The most important part of Twitter is the river of posts from the people you follow.  Having a single column to view this limits you to 6-10 posts on your screen.  That is far too few (sure, I could scroll down, but I’d rather allocate more screen space).  Users should be able to allocate multiple columns to the river, with new posts appearing in the first column and then moving to next column(s) before they rotate off your screen.  This is a must-have feature that should be implemented today.  Literally.

Second, how about a Google Reader implementation.  There’s already a way to add your Facebook data to TweetDeck.  Give me a way to access my Google Reader information from within the application and I’d be hooked.  Something similar to, but more robust than, the Google Reader gadget would be a great start.  I’d be happy with Google Reader.  I’d be thrilled if other apps were also incorporated, like Delicious, Read It Later, Photobucket, Dropbox, etc.  In other words, make TweetDeck as good for publishing Twitter content as it is for reading it.

Third, once all that additional source data is available from within TweetDeck, allow articles to be dragged from the applicable column (i.e., the Google Reader column), into the Tweet message box.  Populate the message box with the title of the article you dropped in there, and populate the link box with the URL, which should then be automatically shortened.

Fourth, provide a way to export all, filtered portions or individual items from your TweetDeck to other services, via RSS feeds.  That would allow you to use TweetDeck as the publishing platform not only for Twitter, but also for other services.  If I could selectively embed some of the content I read and publish in TweetDeck to my blog or some other site, that would be very helpful.

Fifth, create a top row of tabs for different TweetDeck page layouts, content and implementations.  If I could have my Twitter stuff under one tab and my Google Reader and Facebook stuff under another one, that would give me the flexibility I seek.  iGoogle, My Yahoo and other apps already have tab or tab-like features, so this shouldn’t be hard to add.

That should keep you busy for the rest of the day.  What are you waiting on?  Time’s a wastin’.

Why the Flock Doesn't Flock

Sarah Perez wonders why more people don’t use Flock, the super-charged Firefox based web browser that has lots of social networking features baked right in to the interface.  That’s a good question, and after thinking about it, I have a theory.

I think it has to do with the Facebook/geek ratio.  By geek, I don’t mean someone who swims deeply in the online ocean.  I mean the hardcore technophiles, like most of the people who write for and read the big tech blogs, etc.  I am a part of that demographic, along with lots of the people I blog and tweet around with.  Our population seems large, because of the world-shrinking effect of the technology.  The same technology that allows me to be friends and podcast mates with two dudes from Australia also allows people to have and stay in constant communication with like-minded friends all over the world.  So while the geek crowd seems large, it’s not.

As a result, we make the mistake of thinking that everyone views the net and the associated apps and services the same way we do.  But most people clearly don’t.

A lot of the tools geeks think are indispensible- like Twitter, for example- have not penetrated the larger population nearly as much as it may appear from our little corner of the net.  One celebrity gets a million followers, and others have to match that.  Take away the race to a million and the resulting celebrity turf/ego war and Twitter would still be just a popular, unprofitable Web 2.0 application that few of our real world friends have ever heard of.  I can still count the number of Twitter users I know in the real world on one hand.

Compare that story to the evolution of Facebook.  It was created and grew up out there in the real world, with millions of young people using it daily.  As those young people grew up, they took Facebook with them.  Then Facebook opened up and the momentum-chasing herd of geeks migrated over there and, on occasion, fooled themselves into believing they had discovered something new and cool.  To the original Facebook population, it was neither new nor cool.  It was just part of ordinary life, like a TV or a telephone.  While the newly arrived geeks began to honk and bray about Facebook taking over world, the young old guard just went about their lives, with Facebook as a utility, but not a religion.

A utility, however, that for most is the hub for their online activity and for many is their online activity.  The reason the Facebook walls have survived relatively intact is because the large majority of Facebook users are happy to live inside those walls.  Most of them have never even used Firefox, much less Flock.  It’s this demographic, not the vocal in our browsers but otherwise largely irrelevant geek crowd, that makes Facebook go.

At the end of the day, what this means is that Louis Gray is right when he says the operating system doesn’t matter to most people.  It doesn’t, because for many of them, Facebook is the operating system (for others some combination of Google applications are).  They don’t need a new or super-charged browser to use Facebook or some other social network, because they use Facebook to do all of that stuff.  Which explains why so many of these ancillary social networks seem so Facebook-centric.  They know where the biggest population of potential users are.

All these kids need is a way into Facebook, and maybe Gmail.  The best operating system and browser to do that with are the ones that  are already on your computer.

No Flock required.

What Will Office 2010 Look Like?

Here are a few early screenshots of Microsoft’s Office 2010.  Candidly, I find the whole ribbons thing to be an exercise in chaos and frustration.  But I’m not sure it would matter if they were as intuitive as dodging snowballs.

Why? Because here’s a screenshot of what I expect my Office 2010 to look like.

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I don’t know how hard Google is chasing the corporate market, but if it has serious designs on attracting business users, it simply must implement some sort of tracked changes or version/compare feature.  The absence of that feature is the primary thing keeping me from using Google Docs as my primary word processor at home, but it is an indispensable thing for business users.

Here are a few other tweaks that would make Google Docs more attractive to me.

There should be a way to synch your iPhone calendar and contacts with the corresponding Google app without affecting- or even touching- your Exchange synchs.  I tried to synch my phone and the Google apps and ended up with multiple instances of the same contacts and events, which was a pain to sort out.  In sum, it was an unmitigated disaster.  I’m not going to risk jacking up my much more important Exchange synchs, and no big company is going to make it easy to do three-way synchs, for security/paranoia reasons.  But it would be cool to have my iPhone synch separately with Exchange and the Google apps.  It would even be acceptable to have contacts and calendar entries pushed out to the Google apps, without the ability to move data the other direction.  But all of this needs to happen without doing anything unpleasant to the Exchange synchs.

Gmail needs to finally figure out a way to suppress the “on behalf of” business when your email is read in Outlook.  I’d be happy to use the Gmail interface, but I want to use my existing email account.  I’m not willing to trust Google as the sole archive of my old emails, but MailStore Home looks like an acceptable way to archive email locally.

It would also be great if Gmail allowed folders for us dinosaurs who are more comfortable with folders than tags.  I think this is a design limitation, as opposed to a philosophical position on Google’s part, but I have no basis for that other than intuition.

Gmail should add an option to have spam deleted immediately, without ever being seen, and to have your trash folder emptied more frequently.  I’d have it emptied every day.  The best thing about Gmail is the spam filter.  I want to supercharge it and let it make all spam invisible to me all the time.  I’ve never noticed a legitimate email in my spam folder, but I don’t care if there is.  If someone wants to contact me badly enough, they’ll write again.

I also need the ability to customize the links at the top of the Google apps page.

image_3

I’m not going to use Picasa for my photos, no matter what.  I want to replace that link with a link to Flickr or Photobucket.  I also want a link to iGoogle up there, as well as links to my internet starting page and my Content Master page.  In sum, I need more flexibility to customize the page layout and content.

Finally, Google needs to take a page from Lost and pledge not to give up on Google Docs like it did on Google Notebook and various other apps.  It’s difficult to migrate to a watering hole that could dry up at any time.

I’m close to going all Google Docs all the time, but I need a little more incentive.

Shooting the Bird: More on the Blog Publishing Problem

I’m working with some good folks at Microsoft to resolve the photo publishing problem I wrote about the other day.

This is a test post from another computer, but over the same internet connection.

birdftp

There is (or is not) my little test photo.

Initially the photo would post to the Blogger photo server (which I don’t generally use), but not to my server.  I got this error:

(Publishing Error) A publishing error occurred: 200 Type okay.
227 Entering Passive Mode (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
150 Data connection accepted from xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; transfer starting.

So I tried to post on my laptop, using an ATT wireless card.

It worked (there is the long awaited photo).

Which means the problem is caused by my network.  Hmmm.  Let’s see if it’s my computer or my internet connection. . .

Here’s another photo- this time I’m posting on my desktop, but using the ATT wireless card.

ftperror321

This also worked, which means that the problem resides in my internet connection, not on my computer, not in Live Writer and not on my web server.

I’ve narrowed it down, but I’m not sure where to go from here.  I guess I need to look at the router settings.

When I disable my router’s firewall, the photos publish correctly.  But I obviously don’t want to permanently disable my firewall, so I need to configure my router to allow Live Writer to publish these pictures.  It’s odd that Live Writer can publish the text of the post (via Blogger) but not photos.  It’s also odd that I can publish photos via an FTP client, but not via Live Writer.

Frustrating Live Writer – Blogger FTP Problem

All of the sudden, when I publish a blog post with pictures in it, Live Writer is unable to transfer the pictures to my server via FTP.  When I try to do so, I get the following error.  I have a screen cap below, but Live Writer replaced the picture with the word “ftperror,” which is the name of the picture I am trying unsuccessfully to post.


      I had to upload this picture to Photobucket
and then link to it. What a pain in the ass.

I can tell by looking on my server that Live Writer is creating a directory on my server the way it is supposed to, and there is an appropriately named file in the directory, but the size of the file is 0 bytes.  I used a jpeg for the screen cap below to confirm that it’s not a png problem.  It’s not, as Live Writer replaced that screen cap with its name too.


Here lies the symptom, but what is the problem?

Sometimes the 0 Filesize is a permissions problem, so I tried changing the permissions in the target folder on my server.  No dice.  So I restored the permissions to their previous levels.

For some reason, I’m starting to think this may have something to do with the way Live Writer names the image files.

I was able to upload the files via FileZilla, my FTP application, without a problem.  This indicates that the problem resides within Live Writer.  I tried to test that theory by uploading some pictures to my Photobucket account via Live Writer.  No dice.  Same error message, but I couldn’t get any FTP client to display the proper directory on Photobucket- the connection times out when trying to retrieve the directory listing.  So I don’t know for sure.

Here’s my test picture, so I can keep trying until I figure out how to fix this nightmare.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think Live Writer is the most useful and feature perfect application out there.  I have become very reliant on it, so I need to fix this problem.

birds42
If you can see this image,
I have fixed the problem.

The mysterious thing is that I didn’t change any settings prior to the problem arising.  On the one hand, it’s strange that Live Writer can post blog posts, but not pictures.  But my blog posts are published to my server via Blogger, whereas the pictures are set up to post directly to my server via FTP.  I deleted all the FTP information in the Live Writer blog account settings a couple of times and reentered it.  Live Writer was able to access the directories on my server at that point.  Somehow, when it tries to transfer the picture file, something goes wrong.

This makes the formerly simple process of publishing a blog post very difficult.  It requires me to separately upload the pictures and then link to them.  It was much easier to upload the pictures at the same time I publish the blog post.  Little pain in the ass problems like this that suddenly spring up for no apparent reason drive me crazy.

But my devotion to Live Writer requires that I continue looking for a solution.  Time for a Twitter SOS.

For Tunes the Bell Tolls?

The other day, after generally praising both MixTape.me and Blip.fm, I closed with a hope that both could stay in business, notwithstanding the RIAA’s assault on streaming music sites.  As it turns out, my concerns may have been even more immediate than I realized.

Marshall Kirkpatrick reports today that Seeqpod, the search engine used by MixTape.me and other sites, will soon start charging developers for access to its data.  This does not bode well for music discovery sites, some of which are really fun to use.  In fact, after looking further at MixTape.me, I had decided to do mix tape posts as a semi-regular feature at Newsome.Org.  If the loss of free access to Seeqpod’s data puts these sites out of business, I won’t get that chance.

Which is bad for listeners, and bad for the musicians whose music would have featured.  Both MixTape.me and Blip.fm have Amazon associate links beside each song, which is probably the best business plan in Web 2.0.  Rather than toss random ads for stuff we don’t want on the page and cross their fingers, these sites present the immediate opportunity to buy something that, by definition, the user is interested it.  This is targeted advertising done the right way, as opposed to the intrusive approach favored by Google.

And let’s be serious for a moment.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to use these song mixes as an alternative to a fully accessible music library- that can be taken with them on CD-Rs, iPods, etc.  And anyone who is going to go to epic trouble to record these streams could do the same thing at any number of “approved” music sites.  Or they could do it old school off the radio.

It hurts the artists.

When friends come to my house, it is very common for me to play a few of my favorite songs for them.  Often, one or more of them will then buy the record for themselves.  Heck, I bet I’ve sold 20 copies of Avett Brothers records this way.  Any right thinking musician would be happy that people are playing his or her music for friends, generating a buzz and record sales.  I see very little industry downside here, and no downside for the artists.

But in typical fashion, the empty bag obsessed RIAA is going to continue to lob bombs at these sites, in the hope that one day the cat will miraculously jump back into the bag.  It ain’t going to happen.

Rather that try to turn the music off, the music industry should issue a list of best (e.g., required) practices, to encourage these sites to hide the song location to prevent downloads, etc., and let the music play.

In honor of that, and because who knows if I’ll have another chance, I wanted to make a little mix for your listening pleasure, but it was very hard to access MixTape.me, and when I got there, few of the songs I found were available.  I wonder if that’s a beta problem or a bigger problem?

In any event, enjoy.

Why Sharing is Holding Back Application Development

I still love my iPhone.  I especially love the fact that I can read my iPhone reading list and browse the App Store for new applications that promise to make my life easier and more efficient.  The iPhone/App Store combination has been one of the biggest productivity advances I have ever experienced.  Heck, Apple may be taking over my tech life- I bought an AppleTV box today.  It’s another elegant device and, by far, the best device I have found for serving home movies.

But it could be better.

hatesharingEvery developer, every application and every blogger is obsessed with sharing, collaboration, yada, yada.  Today I read that the developers of my most useful app, Evernote, may be moving their focus away from their excellent iPhone app to focus on, you guessed it, sharing and collaboration.  Does anyone actually use the collaboration features crammed into all these apps for anything truly useful?  Most people I know are more interested in keeping people away from their data than putting it out there for the world to see.  Even if we wanted to collaborate with our partners, clients, etc., no corporate IT department in the world would let us.  And even if they did, there are enterprise platforms that permit collaboration while maintaining the big business-mandated level of security.

The iPhone has crossed over from the realm of the geek to the larger and much more profitable realm of the mainstream user.  I have numerous real world friends who can barely send an email, but who use and love their iPhones.  These people and thousands if not millions like them represent a gold mine for application developers.  And most of them couldn’t care less about the ability to share their documents with others.

The reason why the Apple Store was packed today, why I am morphing into an Apple lover after years of resistance, why so many of my real world friends have the Apple sticker in the windows of their cars, is simple.  This stuff works.  It’s easy to set up and use.  And most importantly, it makes tasks that lots and lots of people do every day more efficient and more fun.  Tasks like email, texting, information storage and retrieval, taking and emailing photos, finding a good nearby restaurant, playing Uno with your kids, etc.

The Evernote team, and just about every other app developer, would be better served and would more easily tap into that gold mine, if they forgot about sharing and focused on making their application more useful to non-geek users on an individual basis.  For example, while the Evernote iPhone app is intuitive and easy to use, the web application needs a lot of work.  That’s where the focus ought to be.

I think a lot of developers are electing to fish in a small pond, while the fish in the big pond swim around hungrily.

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Great Desktop XM Radio Player

The XM Sirius merger has rekindled my interest in listening to satellite radio over the internet.  5 of the 6 pre-sets in my truck are former Sirius stations: Outlaw Country (12), the Led Zeppelin Channel (39), 1st Wave (44), Classic Vinyl (46) and the Grateful Dead Channel (57).  Deep Tracks (40) is the only former XM channel to keep its place.

Until today, the main obstacle to listening to XM over the net was the burdensome login and navigation process at XM’s steaming site.  I want- no, I demand- a simple one or two touch process to get the music started.  The Pandora desktop application is the best example of this so far.  One click and I’m listening to my excellent Pandora station.

Pandora’s my baby, but sometimes I want to drill down into a specific genre or a mix other than the great alt. country genome I have mapped at Pandora.

Now, thanks to the free Lenware XM Radio Player Desktop Edition (here’s the developer’s site, for donations and support), I can easily crank up my XM stations and navigate to and between my favorite stations.

The first time you launch the player, it asks for your XM credentials.  After that, the player remembers your name and password.  I’ve been flicking back and forth between the Grateful Dead Channel and 1st Wave while typing this.

The Lenware player lets you easily navigate between genres via the tabs at the top, and within genres via the list in the main window.  You can add your favorite stations to the Favorites list with the click of a mouse.  The player is snappy, with almost no delay when changing stations.  You can see what’s playing on other channels as well, so you can song surf if you want.

This is a fine piece of software.  I highly recommend it.

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The Non-iTuners Manifesto

itunessux

We have previously rejected iPods, because we refuse to capitulate to iTunes, both the application and the format, as the toll road to our musical destinations.

We hereby reject iTunes movie rentals because we refuse to capitulate to idiotic viewing limitations:

[T]he convenience of downloading and watching a movie immediately isn’t that great that you should lose the former rental flexibility, and so harshly.

Amen. Just because you can download something, doesn’t mean you should.

Long live Netflix.

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