Going Google

If you’re anything like me (and since you’re reading this post, you probably are), you do one of two things upon booting-up your computer: 1) Open your browser, or 2) open your e-mail client – if it’s not your browser.  Being online / networked is pretty much a necessary part of computing.  If you don’t believe me, just unplug your network cable, and turn off your WiFi.  I can assure you the experience won’t be very satisfying.

There’s one company that gets it, and as far as I’m concerned, is leading the movement to Software As A Service (SaaS) for the general internet user: Google.  I’m still really new to using a lot of Google’s services and applications outside of Search, but here’s what I can tell you so far.  These services are easy to setup, they’re pervasive, and they simply work.  You hearing this, Microsoft?  My Google odyssey began with my reading of Six Pixel’s Of Separation by Mitch Joel.  In his book, Mitch writes about personal branding, and being able to leverage Web 2.0 services to grow your personal (and your business’) brand.  The first step to doing this is to be aware of what people are saying about you or your business online.  Here’s what I did…

  • Setup a Gmail account: Even if you have an existing e-mail account, or two or three.  The gmail account is the account name that will be employed to utilize many of Google’s services.  Don’t forget to review all your contacts to see if any of them have gmail accounts.  If so, invite them as friends.
  • Setup Google Alerts: It’s important to know what people are saying about you and where.  With the Google Alerts service, you can literally have Google notify you (on a frequency you determine), when your name is mentioned… pretty much anywhere on the internet.  You can also setup notifications for other important words or phrases, like the title of your blog, or important events, etc.  You can obviously configure the Alerts to go to your newly created Gmail account.
  • Checkout iGoogle: This will replace your typical ‘Classic View’ Google search page.  It has all sorts of applets and widgets that you can configure based on your preferences.  Basically, tailoring the Google page to your own personal preferences.  Note: it may take a little longer to load the page than before, so you will have to judge if it’s worth it.
  • Gotta Go Mobile: Google maps is really a more robust application than most other mapping software for your GPS-enabled smartphone.  Also, if you’re building your network of Gmail friends, you can configure Latitude to track whether any of them are in your general area at a given time.  It’s actually kind of cool.
  • Register your blog (if you have one): with Google Blog Search, although that’s the one service that I have not gotten to work correctly yet for this blog!  If there’s anyone with suggestions out there, please let me know…

Google obviously dominates internet Search, and has for years, but they are really getting into cloud services surrounding personal productivity.  Even  more recently, hitting enterprise customers with some impressive results.  The best part is that (right now) all these services are free, and they are actively innovating these solutions.  Stay tuned for a post on Google Wave!

The Mobile Imperative

I have one request of anyone taking the time to read this blog; go buy a smartphone, if you haven’t bought one already.  Last year, I had the good fortune to get invited to RIM‘s Toronto launch party of the Blackberry Bold 9000.  The event itself was pretty cool.  There were free booze and salsa dancers.  But the product… Even a year later, I still have a tough time harnessing the true power of this device.  It’s amazing.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Blackberry’s.  While somewhat of an anomoly, you’re more than entitled to that totally lame opinion.  Checkout the iPhone, the Pre or the new Droid instead.  

My simple point is that the smartphone market is burgeoning, and innovation in this space is absolutely staggering.  In North America, mobility is no longer an option.  It’s an imperative.  I managed mobility solutions for several years at my current employer, and I wanted to share some simple tips and advice for you, the soon-to-be-consumer, of the smartphone.

  • Avoid long-term commitment.  I realize contracts are often a requirement to get a decent price on the phone, but don’t go beyond a 24-month maximum term.  The technology advances are just too rapid in the mobile space, and you’ll be left with a choice between antiquated hardware or pricey cancellation fees.
  • Identify what you want to decommission or converge.  Smartphones can really do it all, but do you want yours to?  For example, you may decide you will also use your phone as your portable media player, but you will continue to use your GPS, despite the fact your phone has that feature as well.  Often, you will find that while the smartphone provides that option, the features and functionality are not as robust as devices specialized in a given vector.
  • It all about the applications.  Make sure the phone’s Operating System has a vibrant and active development community.  Obviously, the iPhone has a ton of development already completed, but the Pre does not have as many options.  Be aware that Apple’s review practices are beginning to frustrate some developers, and many are moving towards the Blackberry SDK or the new Google Android
  • Hardware matters.  Your phone goes everywhere with you, so get one that feels durable and rugged.  Remember, don’t cheap-out.  The cost of the smartphone pales quickly when compared to what the carriers are going to charge for your monthly plan.  Don’t get sucked in to a lower-end phone because it’s free with a given plan.  Buy the one you want, and that you think will provide value for the (not-to-exceed-24-month) term.
  • The network effect.  So while EVDO may be the more advanced technology, it’s losing to HSDPA in terms of pervasiveness, and international availability.  In the US, both technologies are near ubiquitous, but AT&T’s network is really hammered.  In Canada, all carriers are moving to HSDPA, so do not buy a EVDO or CDMA phone.

So, there you have it.  A bit of advice in time for the holidays.  I have to say, these are only my opinions based on my exposure both as a consumer and as a technology manager at work.  I’m happy to hear any of your views, so please feel free to leave your feedback!

The Virtual Pioneers

Having played World of Warcraft for a year and a half, it would be remiss of me not to blog about it (at least once).  I miss Azeroth, but I haven’t played WoW since March.  Unlike many who have stopped playing, I’m not embittered towards the game or other MMORPG’s at all.  In fact, I’m thinking about what MMO I will play next.  I’m even more excited about logging in one day with my children, and questing together.  Hopefully a couple of them get into gaming… I have three!

The reason I’m blogging about WoW is to provide you with a bit of perspective.  A lot of people hear the words ‘World of Warcraft’, and immediately think of some pimply-faced mouth-breathing teenage boy in a messy bedroom staring at a glowing rectangle (or two).  I can assure you that stereotype, typically, is not the case.  Personally, I had the opportunity to play with several of my close friends and coworkers.  These individuals are well into their 30’s, and are professionals with careers ranging from Holistic Nutrition to IT Management to a Film & TV Programmer at iTunes.  So?  What if several demographics play MMO’s?  That still doesn’t make it important, does it?

Absolutely.  By December 2008, total subscriptions hit 11.5 million, and while subscriber volume is important, it still takes second place to WoW’s impact on technology.  To me, MMO’s represent key aspects of what will evolve into Web 3.0.  I envision an internet where ‘social networks’ become more like online cities or towns; where avatars are more visceral, more alive; where classification and semantics are far more structured and effective than in today’s social networks; where online collaboration, competition and even artificial intelligence are more pervasive; and finally, but most importantly, where the User Experience is exponentially more engaging.

I envision this internet, because it exists today, albeit on a far smaller scale within the MMO, and millions of people playing them will want to apply their experiences to other aspects of their online experiences.  For me, I’m anxious to see more of The Secret World and Warhammer 40,000.  In the meantime, parents, girlfriends, wives, you may want to consider suspending the disbelief for awhile.  You may even want to consider playing a bit.  You never know, surfing the net may soon look something like this…

Flying Mount - World Of Warcraft

The GDGT’eers Guide – A Social Network

I joined an interesting Social Network several weeks ago.  The name of the site is GDGT.  Essentially, the concept behind the site is that a user create a profile, and proceed to add their electronic gadgets.  They can then connect with others who have similar gadgets.  Everything is there from smartphones to keyboards, or headsets to D-SLR’s.  The networkers can rate their gadgets and participate in discussions about features, tips and troubleshooting from other consumers. 

GDGT - Blackberry Bold

I`m sure you`re all thinking how great joining another social networking site would be.  Obviously, that`s not why I`m blogging about it.  I’m not here to market anything.  Instead, I want to tell you a story.  The team I work with deals with a lot of software providers on a daily basis.  I recall one occasion discussing a defect with a tech support analyst at the vendor’s call centre.  After a while of fruitless troubleshooting, he said to my teammate, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to go to a developer’s discussion forum, and post the issue there.”  I was pretty mad when I heard this.  We pay this company for support, and they wanted us to ‘check the net’ instead?  C’mon.

Thinking about it now, I suppose some of these consumer-facing contact centres for electronics must be jumping for joy about GDGT.  Here you have numerous social networkers troubleshooting and discussing issues on various devices on a daily basis, as opposed to engaging the manufacturer.  Some organizations could actually (long-term) begin to see a decrease in tech support costs if this network-effect catches on for GDGT or similar sites.  Funny.  Crowdsourcing is a trendy new paradigm in some development shops, but I’ve never heard it applied to contact centres before! 

The site was created by Peter Rojas and Ryan Block.  Some pretty prolific bloggers in their own right.  For a bit of fun, I`m embedding my GDGT widget on this blog.  Feel free to take a peek.

Why Standing Stones?

Standing Stones is meant to be a blog about technology.  Just as the ring at Stonehenge was a marvel of technology for its time, so too, the internet’s impact on modern society.  I can’t help but want to contribute in some small way to this phenomenon.  What then, of this blog?  Well, building on the Standing Stones theme, I thought I would write a quick note about a brick-and-mortar, but not just any store.  The store… You know the one everyone has talked about.  The Microsoft Store at the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

From A Blackberry Camera

I actually had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix last week for a business conference.  Upon hopping off the plane from Toronto, I headed to the Scottsdale Fashion Square.  After all, business could wait.  Anyhow, the store itself is pretty non-descript.  If it weren’t filled with PC’s, Zunes and Windows 7 versions, you’d think you were in an Apple Store.  Honestly, the stuff and the staff were nice, and if you’re in the area it’s worth checking out, but don’t make any special trips.  Everything there is available online or at some other computer retailer. 

One thing worth noting is that if you do make the trip, take some time to familiarize yourself with the Microsoft Surface technology.  It’s worth it, and I believe as the novelty diminishes, so too might the price point.  As a result, this technology will only become more pervasive in a short period of time, and the fancy touchscreen-tables are there at the Microsoft store in abundance.  The only thing I was tempted to buy was the Zune HD.  It would be a bit of a showpiece in Canada, since they’re not sold here.  Ultimately, I decided not to pick it up.  The Zune Marketplace in Canada leaves too much to be desired.

Lastly, I just finished reading “Six Pixels Of Separation” by Mitch Joel.  Standing Stones is the result.  Thank you.