Why isn’t it Soapbox.live.com?

More brand confusion is on-tap from the MSN/Live.com folks.  They are slowly opening up the beta of their Soapbox.msn.com video site.  Now many folks are going to be confused as to why this isn’t Soapbox.live.com.  It’s for user-generated content right?  That’s kinda like spaces.live.com.  It’s for sharing with your friends & family.  And strangely, the beta invitation signup appears to be handled through ideas.live.com.
Back when the whole live.com branding thing was new, there was a lot of discussion about what it all really meant.  Sanaz Ahari posted some clarifications, and then later a bit of a mea culpa on behalf of Microsoft. 
The original explanation points to the reasoning for why Soapbox is an MSN site.  MSN is about supposedly about content, and Live.com is about services.  Unfortunately, there are many problems with trying to make this distinction.  Blogging is all about content.  95% of the value of a service like spaces.live.com is the content!  Gallery.live.com? Content as well.   Yes there is a services aspect to spaces, gallery and soapbox, but after seeing the flury of live.com announcements, I was totally expecting Warhol to come out under the live.com banner.  Maybe you at least put an CNAME record in the live.com DNS to redirect Soapbox.live.com to Soapbox.msn.com.
On a lighter note, was everyone else as disturbed as I was by the disco/robot/etc butterfly?

Virtual Earth Mobile Updated

The Windows Mobile team has posted to their blog about an update to Virtual Earth Mobile. The new version is 1.67, and includes an option for a traffic overlay and a bunch of other fixes.

Virtual Earth Mobile is one of my favorite free Windows Mobile applications.  It runs great on my Motorola Q, and after I figured out how to hook up my Bluetooth GPS, it became very useful for in-city navigation.

I experienced some of the same install hiccups that others were commenting on on the update announcement post, but after doing a manual uninstall of the old version and restarting my Q, it installed fine.

If you’ve got a mobile device with an internet connection, this is a must-have package, and if you’ve got a Bluetooth GPS, it rocks!

I haven’t checked, but I don’t think they have updated the version posted to ViaVirtualEarth, so make sure you grab the cab file from the Windows Mobile Team Blog post.

Vista SKU Soup Runs Counter to “Connected Person” Ideal

MSFN is reporting that all Vista Editions will be included on the same DVD, but that the discs will be color coded to indicate which version the consumer purchased.  The good news is that consumers will be able to upgrade to a higher version of Vista if they decide they need more features.  I still think that the number of different SKUs is excessive, and it’s going to lead to confusion.  Especially with things that we’ve read like splitting off the Fax functionality to the Business SKUs. 

Microsoft likes to talk about how we’re going to be connected everywhere we go.  How our digital life, both work and personal, will be able to follow us.  Just like we take the occasional personal call or email at work, many folks field business communications, and do real work during their “personal” time.  Segmenting the functionality of Vista runs counter to this “Connected Person” ideal.  I know they are trying to increase revenue by offering differentiated products, but they are doing so at the expense of some of the consistency of the platform.

I’m hoping that if any of the feature splits end up being pain points for consumers, that Microsoft will do the right thing and just offer a free update to correct the issue, instead of constantly repeating the “you can pay to upgrade” mantra. 

Apple’s iTV points to the future.

I watched Engadget’s coverage of the Apple announcements (and by “watched, I mean I contributed to the slowing of their servers by repeatedly hitting F5 the whole time), and I’m intrigued by the iTV announcement.  I actually went looking for something similar a few weeks back when Amazon’s UnBox launched.  While many folks are lauding Apple for this innovation, I disagree that this is really innovation, it’s just the next logical step.

There are devices out there already that provide a way to shove content to a TV wirelessly, but that are about as expensive as the proposed iTV, and much more difficult to work with.  The folks at Apple will probably make the iTV experience pretty user-friendly.

The interesting point of this whole thing is that during the iTV announcement, I had my first “Maybe I don’t really need cable or satellite anymore” moment.  If we get to the point (not far away now) where all the content I watch can be downloaded or streamed, then why should I keep paying DirecTV?  I can buy a lot of a la cart programming for what I pay in satellite bills each month.  If the local news channels get on board with this new form of content distribution, then I really won’t be missing anything.

It is a bit of a leap conceptually though.  People generally don’t feel bad about sitting down for an hour to watch a television show because we’re conforming to the TV’s schedule.  If all my content is on-demand, then I’m probably going to watch less TV because watching an hour long show means I’m more overtly committing that time.  Since the show can fit into my schedule now, it’ll get prioritized just like everything else, and many shows would probably fall off the bottom end of the priority stack.

Things the search engines can’t help you find

Tonight I have something stuck in my eye.  I’m guessing it’s an eyelash, but I don’t know for sure because I can’t get it out.  I figured that the internet would yield some tips for me, so in between opening my eyes under water and dousing with saline drops, I decided to hit up Google and Windows Live Search.  I tried various combinations of “eyelash”, “eyelid”, “stuck”, “remove”. I even through some desperate pleas at the search engines with plain language queries.

Almost every result I found had to deal with fake eyelashes, makeup, or contact lenses.  The internet failed me tonight.  The problem is that the search engines still see my queries as keywords, and they don’t know what I really mean.  Either that, or there really are no tips on the internet for getting eyelashes out of your eye. I can’t really believe the latter.  The internet is supposed to know everything.

I know I’ve had several of these “the search engines are useless for this” moments in the past.  I’ll try to remember some more.  Does anyone else have any experiences with situations like this? 


Jason Kolb is trying to reinvent the Internet.

Alex Barnett linked to Jason Kolb’s recent blog miniseries about online presence and identity.  

Here’s links to all of Jason’s posts (descriptions from Jason’s “Featured Posts” listing)

Reinventing the Internet, part one – How the evolution of social networks is going to fundamentally change the Internet and the way we use it to communicate.
Reinventing the Internet, part two – A domain name in every pot – Why and how our online identities will eventually revolve around our own personal domain names. 
Reinventing the Internet, part three – Unlocking the potential of the URI – this is really WHY everyone needs to have their own domain name.
Reinventing the Internet, part four – Connecting the dots – A look at the open peer-to-peer social network at various levels, and an overview of how it’s all hooked together.
Reinventing the Internet, part five – Decentralized network, centralized identity – Why and how our online identities should be nodes in a decentralized social network.

If you think you might someday want to have a part in the evolution of the internet, Jason’s posts are a great read.  He has some very interesting ideas that relate to how our personal data is stored and located on the internet.

After reading through these posts, I have a few thoughts to contribute.

  1. DNS is not a solved problem.  Jason seems to think that since DNS has served him reliable for over a decade, it is sufficient.  There are many problems with DNS, and they mainly come down to trust.  The distributed nature of DNS makes it powerful and reliable, but it also makes it susceptible to many different attacks, including spoofing & cache poisoning.  Now this doesn’t really matter much for a lot of information, but what if we were relying on the security of DNS to verify the authenticity of stock tips coming from Warren Buffet?  As the payoff for fraud gets higher, we need to increase the security of the underlying systems.  The good news is that this problem has mostly been solved from a technology standpoint, check out http://www.dnssec.org/ for links to lots of resources, and this PDF specifically for a great overview on threats and mitigation details.  An alternative to this is requiring the personal server to have an authentication certificate from a reputable authority, and then relying on that to bootstrap any authentication.
  2. Jason seems to focus on individuals, but this model could be applied to business entities as well.  Businesses have for the most part missed the social networking boat.  Yeah there are some entities that have set up shop on MySpace, or who publish company-focused blogs, but the value proposition hasn’t really taken off.  Jason’s model for publishing and consumption of information should apply to businesses as well, and it might be easier for early versions of it to gain traction in this space.
  3. Something that will probably be critical in both the personal and business space is the idea of Views, or adapters that will convert the format and protocol of the data.  This way, I post some new family photos to my private data store, they get emailed to my email savvy relatives, they show up in a rss feed for those using newsreaders, they get published to a picture site for those who only want to occasionally browse my pics,  and possibly get sent off to kodak.com for printing and delivery to the grandparents. That way adoption isn’t held up because the folks on the receiving end aren’t living in the land of XMPP yet.  Of course with this last bit this beast would start overlapping with products like BizTalk.
  4. Many of these issues have been solved in very complicated ways in the past by CORBA, and more recently HLA implementations.  These are both distributed models that allow publishing and subscribing of information, based on some predetermined schema, although HLA calls the schema the Object Model Template, and CORBA uses its Interface Definition Language.  What Jason is proposing seems much simpler at first, but the lessons learned from HLA and CORBA, especially in terms of schema development probably apply.
  5. Many folks see this idea as being at odds with the MySpace crowd, but really it just requires that the main players allow you to use your own domain name on their servers.  In reality, not too many people want to run a server in their basement (Unless it’s dirt-simple and provides real perceived value).  It’d be great if this framework was open enough that I could own my personal domain name and get access to all of the tools of Myspace, Youtube, Flickr, etc.  Ideally, they would just be service providers (format conversion, friendly interface, etc.) and the the data would be pushed back and stored on my personal server (which is hosted by yet another company).  Microsoft and Google are already getting into this space with Live Domains, Office Live, and Google Apps.
  6. Social networking sites provide a hub for communities to form around.  The “social momentum” that these sites have is going to make implementing the distributed model more difficult.  Right now soandso.myspace.com equates to “cool” and soandso.com means you are a geek.  Unless the “cool factor” of the distributed model can be raised above MySpace, then there’s no chance it’ll get any traction.  All of us geeks see this personal server idea and think it’s a utopia because it plays to things we think are important, data ownership & verifiable authentication without sharing personal information.  Will it really matter to the teens who sign up on MySpace because it’s “cool”?

That’s it for now.  Cool ideas Jason, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

The Real Problem With The Network Neutrality Debate

I’ve been reading lots of well written arguments in the Network Neutrality debate, but unfortunately most of them are missing the point.  Not to say that they aren’t factually correct (although some are a little shady), but they aren’t positioned properly to win the arguement.
For the record, I’m pro-neutrality.  I believe that the greater good of our economy and society is served by a neutral net.  Some more thoughts in that vein can be read here.
But for the sake of the debate, most of the pro-neutrality folks are attacking this from the wrong angle.  Most people, even politicians, don’t understand the economic and technological forces that keep the internet running, yet we keep offering more complex explanations supporting neutrality.  “Lets see, you didn’t understand my last complicated explanation, so let me offer an even more complicated explanation.”  It’s just not going to work that way.
Everyone likes to poke fun at Senator Stevens’ “Series of Tubes” analogy, but there’s a real lesson to be learned from the popularity of that gaff.  Simple analogies have traction.
If the pro-neutrality folks want to win this debate, they have to come up with simple analogies that will allow non-technical folks to grasp the reality of what neutrality means to the economy and society as a whole.  The telcos are doing a very good job of framing this argument in a way to make it seem that certain companies are exploiting neutrality at the expense of everyone.  They are doing this by putting up a smokescreen of complex explanations, and then offering simple but disingenuous analogies that support their position.  When faced with either struggling to understand the complex reality, or accepting the simple analogy, most non-geeks will accept the simple analogy.
The pro-neutrality camp needs to focus on developing simple, believable, and truthful analogies.
Want to get involved?  (I am not affiliated with this site, just found it while googling.)