Tag Archives: Google

No, you should not get the iPhone 4S…

… Unless you love Apple and didn’t get the iPhone 4.

Today Apple held their latest iPhone event where everyone expected the announcement of the new iPhone5.  After over 2 hours of following their announcement (most of which we had heard before, when Apple announced the release of their new mobile operating system to developers), Apple failed to deliver.

Still, they did announce a new phone, dubbed the iPhone 4S.

The new phone comes with an impressive new specs, including:

  1. Dual-band radios (GSM & CDMA) making this a “World Phone” for international travel;
  2. Never before implemented set of antennas to improve call quality;
  3. A new dual core A-5 processor, meaning a phone allowing 2x the performance of the iPhone4;
  4. A new graphics processor 7x faster than the one in the iPhone4;
  5. A built-in camera that rivals (or surpasses) the quality and speed of most stan-alone point-and-shoots;
  6. A new humble artificially intelligent assistant named Siri; and
  7. most importantly, 8 hours of talk time and 300 hours of standby battery life (compared to 7 and 200 on the iPhone4)

But is it for you?

The short answer: It’s actually a tough call, but I’d suggest you not get the 4S unless you plan to buy it no matter what I write here.

The longer response:

As with all upgrades, it depends on what phone you have right now.

If you have the iPhone 3G or 3GS

Some of you just *like* Apple products. The hardware is beautiful (made up of materials that aren’t even always available to the competition), the seamless way it works with iTunes (and now your Apple cloud services) is unparalleled with other desktop/phone combinations (though the cloud options may be paralleled), and the apps just work the way they’re supposed to.  If you’re one of these people and are still using the iPhone 3G or 3GS, now is a great time to upgrade, but should it be to the iPhone 4 for $99 or the 4S for much more?

The retina display and build quality on either are worth ditching the 3G or 3GS and making the move, and since you sat out one upgrade cycle, I’d recommend taking the money you saved and applying it to the latest offering.  You’re spending money anyway and likely locking in 12-18 months on this phone, so might as well treat yourself to all the bells and whistles of the latest.  You may not NEED most of what the 4S offers over the 4, but the camera, extra talk time, improved call quality (and maybe even Siri) will keep your phone feeling fresh a year from now, whereas with the iPhone 4, you’ll likely be jonesing for another one sooner.

If you’re on the 3G or 3GS and don’t fit in the Apple fan-boy camp, keep reading.

If you have the iPhone 4

If you already have the iPhone 4, then you’re going to be spending between $199 and $399 to upgrade; is it really worth that? The main benefits touted by Tim Cook today at the event aren’t really meaningful to most users.

A processor that’s 2x as fast and graphics 7x better than the prior model mean developers can build apps that they wouldn’t have attempted on lesser configurations.  But that’s unlikely to impact you right now.  It is going to take some time for Developers to conceive of, and build apps that really take advantage of the new hardware.  If the game console marketplace is a good indicator (and I’d argue it is), it could take a year or 2 before there is a critical mass of applications that max out the new specifications, and even longer before those apps will really suffer if you try to run them on the older models.  Given that you upgrade your phone every 18-months to 2 years, Apple will be on the iPhone 5 or beyond (the 5S?) by then and you can upgrade at that point.

So, for you, the only reasons to make the leap to the 4S are:

  1. You do a lot of travel overseas, but prefer Verizon at home, so getting a World Phone means you don’t have to pay 2 plans or deal with the hassles of switching for trips;
  2. You really need a better camera/video camera on you at all times; or
  3. That 1 extra hour of talk time and longer standby time will get you through the day.

To me, these aren’t compelling enough for the upgrade price.  I’d stick with the iPhone 4 a little longer.

If you’re on any phone other than an iPhone (or are on an iPhone, but you’ve never believed the iPhone was SO great in the first place)

This is where it gets tricky.  The iPhone 4S is the most promising Apple phone ever to be released.  Much of that promise, however, is wrapped up in the 200+ updates to iOS.  The latest operating system for the iPhone, iOS5, is a fantastic update.  The updates have been covered for months on various sites, including a great write-up by Gizmodo and one from my friends at Engadget, but to name a few:

  • A new notifications bar that eliminates the task-halting pop-up window of prior versions;
  • The ability to update and sync your phone to the cloud without requiring a computer or iTunes; and
  • Deep integration of Twitter to help you be more social.

These updates were sorely needed and will make for a much better iPhone experience, BUT they’re going to be available on the iPhone4 and 3GS as well, so is it worth spending the coin on the 4S?

Without devolving this post into a big debate between iPhone and the chief competition, phones that run Google‘s phone operating system, Android, I will point out that there are a lot of great Android phones out there.  If you’re already on a latest-generation Android Phone, there’s little or no reason to switch to Apple.

The Android Community blog put together a nice comparison yesterday showcasing the latest Android offerings and how they stack up.  Check it out on their site. And see their chart below:

iPhone 4S versus the Android competition

In both specifications and pricing, the Android phones are truly competitive and in many ways superior.  By using universal ports, like micro-USB for charging (the same one your new Blackberry and most other phones use) and HDMI for porting video out to your TV, these Droid phones save you money on accessories.  Android phones are also highly customizable.  The iPhone works right out of the box and largely without any crashes or tech support needs, while the Android is for tinkerers.

 Apple takes a heavily monitored approach to what it allows in the app-store, including denying products for too closely replicating the functionality of existing offerings; Android on the other hand thrives because of a nuance in one developer’s version of software that makes the difference between loving the functionality and hating it.  By way of example only, I keep my phone on vibrate.  With the iPhone (prior to Apple adding custom vibrations in iOS5), I was stuck with very limited options for alerts; on Android, I could find hundreds of programs forcing the phone to stay on vibrate, customizing the duration and intensity of alerts, and more.  This degree of customization won’t matter to most of you, but it is a real selling point for many.  The flexibility extends beyond what is allowed in the app store, with Android phones offering alternate keyboards, automation, widgets to put information right on the home screens (the phone version of your desktop), and even completely custom builds of the operating system being run (known as ROMS).  Lifehacker explains it well.

But, perhaps the most compelling feature of Android over Apple for those of us that live the mobile life is the case itself.  Apple’s case is locked down to end users.  The insides stay there.  By contrast, all current Android phones have removable backs and add-on slots.  What this means is that Android phone batteries can be swapped for a fully-charged backup at a moment’s notice ( I highly recommend keeping a spare battery in your bag), and large micro-SD cards can be purchased to add storage for songs, photos and other media.  While Apple’s battery life may be superior to most (or even all Android) phone batteries, it certainly doesn’t beat TWO batteries (or more even).  And, while you’ll pay a $100 premium to get 32GB and $200 for 64GB over the base of 16GB, a 32GB add-on Micro-SD card can be had for as little as $45.

And don’t forget that Adobe’s Flash is still a dominant format for web video and interactivity, and supported by Android, but not iPhone

Still, if you aren’t convinced of the benefits of Android, I’m not going to spend the entire post getting you there (perhaps a topic for some other time).  You want to know if you should spend the money on the 4S, go for retina display and cheaper price tag on the 4, or if you’re on AT&T, just get the 3GS for free.  If that’s you and you haven’t fallen into one of the buckets of people above, then there are likely only two remaining possibilities:

You’re on an earlier iPhone, your contract is up, but you’ve never believed iPhone was THE ultimate phone.

For you, did you read what I just wrote about Android?  The answer is Android, but if you’re still not convinced, sure.  Go for it.  Why not?

You’re a hold out using a Feature Phone

If you’ve been on what’s known as a “feature phone,” or a low-end phone that likely doesn’t have the ability to download the latest applications (Jave & BREW apps don’t count) nor utilize a touch screen, etc., then you have been waiting for the right moment to join the modern era.  It is time.  Accessing your email, the web, and all of the available applications makes you more productive and gives you access to your music, movies, books and more while on the go.  You wouldn’t be reading my post if you had no interest in these things anyway, so you’re ready to make the switch.

If money is not a real object, go for the 4S.  You’ll find yourself playing with all of the cool features and you might as well have the version with the latest bells and whistles.  Learn today’s tools, not yesterday’s.  Plus, you’re not the kind of person that has to upgrade every new release, so you’ll likely have this phone for a while and in 2+ years, the older models will feel dated.

If you’ve stayed on a feature phone because of price concerns, be ware:  the monthly cost of a data plan is not insignificant.  Most plans are at least $15 per month and ramp up from there.  If you’re going to spend an extra $180 per year on your phone, perhaps it makes sense to get the 3GS for free and still have the latest OS with all of its great features?

Conclusion

Ultimately, the 4S is a solid phone with some really well-thought-out features that help it stand apart from its ancestors.  It isn’t surprising that Apple was willing to put this out there on its own.  Even though people are disappointed that there isn’t a new hardware design accompanying an iPhone 5 versioning update, people will buy the 4S and you will be in good company.  But, to me, it isn’t really worth the price right now.  I prefer Android or one of the cheaper, earlier iPhones.  Go with your gut and don’t look back.

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Is iTunes Match Worth It or should you use another Streaming Music Service?

For those who haven’t heard, tomorrow marks the next big announcement from Apple about the iPhone.  There are many expectations for what we will see.  It is almost certain the iPhone 5 will be shown and possibly a new iPhone 4S, though reports on that are conflicting.  What is also widely suspected is that tomorrow will be the official launch of iTunes Match, the new Apple service that will store your entire music collection (whether you bought the songs from iTunes or not) and give you access across all your computers and devices for $24.99 per year.

iTunes scans your music and matches it with the 20 million songs in the iTunes Store -- and automatically stores it in your iCloud Library.

 

That’s a pretty big deal.  Not only does that give you legitimate copies of songs you may have obtained from Napster, BitTorrent, a friend, what-have-you, but it also means you don’t have to shell out big bucks for the largest hard drive inside of the device just to access songs you rarely listen to anyway. Coming from the biggest retailer of music, that’s a really big deal.  In fact, some might say it is a game-changer… But is it?

Yes.  Any time a company that makes consuming media as easy as Apple does makes an offering like this, it sets the standard.  People will hear about it.  They will understand it.  They will use it.

So, the question is, “Should you?”

The short answer (as I always promise to get to right away): No, iTunes Match isn’t worth $24.99 per year today; there are too many other services with great features at competitive prices, but stay tuned as that could change.

The longer explanation:

iTunes Match is sure to be a good service, and at roughly $2.00 a month, you can’t go wrong, but there are other, better services that offer you more that are worth using instead.  Principally, if you use an Android phone, you’re going to want a different solution.  The problem is there are so many, it is tough to know where to begin.  I’ll provide the breakdown.

Apple does something I’ve not seen them do before, and actually compares its upcoming offering to those of Amazon and Google, so let’s start there.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive Music Service and Amazon Cloud Player

Amazon’s offering (actually a pairing of Amazon MP3Amazon’s Cloud Drive Music Service and Amazon Cloud Player) has been available for a while. Right now, they are offering unlimited storage under any paid plan or for having taken advantage of some special offers around the launch, and they’re accessible from any computer as well as Android and your iPhone/iPad (via an HTML5 site you access from Safari, rather than a native app, which isn’t a big obstacle).  Also, like iTunes Match, anything you purchase directly from the Amazon store becomes immediately available in your account, and Amazon pricing is often $0.10 less per song and up to a dollar less for an album, so that’s a plus.

At first blush, this is a great option, but that free service is set to expire.  Amazon has already published their pricing plans for when it does, and as Apple points out, it will be more expensive than Match.  Also, while having directly purchased songs available immediately is great, most of us have a large collection already on our computers; Amazon’s MP3 Uploader takes weeks or longer to upload large libraries of files to the Amazon Cloud.  Moreover, you have to initiate the uploads manually, rather than being able to run a system service to monitor your music folders for changes, so it is non-trivial to keep your Cloud organized.  The player experience (especially on Android) is slick, but doesn’t support your old playlists and just generally feels a bit slow.

Given last week’s Kindle announcements, and the likelihood that Amazon could do much more with this service in the near future,  you can’t rule Amazon out, but if you have an iPhone, you’re going to prefer iTunes Match right now.

Google Music

Google also has a service that allows users to upload their entire libraries to the cloud aptly named Google Music.  Unlike iTunes and Amazon, Google doesn’t currently offer a store to purchase new music, but their program is in early beta and they’ve already started making songs available to those who are in the beta program for free with a service they are calling Magnifier.  Unlike Amazon, Google has created a system tray service to monitor your music, which can upload new tracks automatically.  It is called Google Music Manager, and works well, but also takes weeks to process a large local library.  With a 20,000 song cap, you are HIGHLY unlikely to fill up Music Manager, so this comes in at the cheapest solution.  Still, the Android app is minimally functional, with no playlist support and really a terrible UI.  Given that Google owns Android, I expect new versions to improve on the existing product.  Like Amazon, Google has made their web service accessible from Safari on iOS devices, so once again, it allows what iTunes Match doesn’t in promising users with multiple device types ubiquity.  Still, until the application is improved, playlists are added, and a store (or other way of accessing songs you don’t already own) is introduced, iTunes Match will still look very good to most of you.

Others

So, compared to the services Apple calls out for you, iTunes Match still looks like a good option, but what about the rest of the pack?

Well, there are replacements for the radio, including

  • Pandora – With either ad-supported or a subscription product, Pandora gives you access to music everywhere.  They’re on your computer, they have native apps for most every device, and they’re even in some cars, but it is not designed to give you access to YOUR library.  Instead, Pandora tries to provide you with music you’ll love by using computer algorithms to recommend songs based on your express preferences.  As they put it:

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart’s content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs, artists or genres into Pandora and let the Music Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings – new and old, well known and completely obscure – to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

  • Slacker – Much like Pandora, Slacker is available everywhere and programs listening experiences for you based on your preferences, but they don’t let you listen to your own collection directly.  They differentiate themselves from Pandora by having much more human involvement in programming music experiences (and they do a great job at it).  As they put it:

 Slacker Radio is much more than a playlist creating computer that chooses songs that are similar to each other. Our expert DJs hand-pick songs based on their extensive knowledge combined with your personal preferences. Our music library is larger than our leading competitor’s by millions of songs, so you’ll hear all of your favorites and a ton of new music that we know you’ll love!

  • Shoutcast, iHeartRadio, and SiriusXM – These services actually let you listen to radio (or web radio) stations programmed by others and also have nearly ubiquitous availability.
With ALL of these services, they’re competitiveness with iTunes Match is almost a philosophical one.  If you can listen to great music that you’ll love on any device at any time, is there any reason to OWN a library of music that you need to access directly?  These services would argue no.  I disagree.  I like to call up a specific song or a playlist I’ve built, and even the (really cool) customizations I can make to a Slacker station don’t quite compete with my own list.
So, there are all-you-can-listen services that do:
  • MOG – For $9.99 per month, you can get access to a near limitless collection of the most popular songs ever recorded.  You can stream them on the web or access them from your mobile device.  You don’t have to buy the song because you can access any song you want.  As they put it:
MOG’s all-you-can-eat, on-demand listening service provides access to a deep library of over 12 million songs and a million albums through its mobile apps on iPhone and Android, as well as on the Web and streaming entertainment devices for TV. It surpasses all other music subscription services in its ease-of-use, discovery features and audio quality.
  • Grooveshark – For $9.00 a month ($1 less than MOG), you can get access to a near limitless collection of the most popular songs ever recorded.  You can stream them on the web or access them from your mobile device… the only real differences between MOG and Grooveshark are: (1) Grooveshark gives you the option to take surveys to earn points to pay for the subscription instead of using cash; and (2) MOG was founded with support from the music industry, while Grooveshark has gotten where it is by settling lawsuits and flying under the radar.  Beyond that, MOG boasts 12 million songs to Grooveshark’s 15 million, and MOG has a bit more support from TV and other device manufacturers.
But, for these all-you-can-listen services, the downside is not about lack of control over what you listen to, but there is a catch… if you decide to stop paying the subscription, you have NO ability to listen the songs and playlists you put together with them.  All of the effort that went in to finding what you want to listen to and organizing it, with none of the long-term benefits and VERY high switching costs.  It isn’t for me.
Which leads to the point:  You should want to use a service that:
  1. Gives you unlimited access to the music you like;
  2. Allows you to create playlists and organize your music for consumption;
  3. Lets you keep your music even if you don’t want to spend money that month;
  4. Lets you access your music on any device at any time; and
  5. ensures a high-quality/high-fidelity experience (I haven’t talked about this point as all of these services do a good job on that front once you’re already happy with digital music).
So, who fits that bill?
Spotify and rdio.
Spotify has been the favorite of our friends across the pond for several years now, but they gave all that up to come to the States.  Users can register free accounts that are supported by ads (that can be both frequent and jarring) or pay $9.99 a month for no ads, mobile access and the ability to save playlists for offline listening.  (Note, for Spotify and other services, I’m skipping cheaper plans that don’t include mobile usage).
Rdio only offers a 7-day free trial, after which users must pay the $9.99 a month for access that includes mobile.
Both Spotify and Rdio offer desktop applications to listen to just about any song you can think of (15 million + song catalog in each case), and both match your current songs so you can listen to your own collection outside of your home.  Neither require you to actually upload the music, so it doesn’t take nearly as long as Amazon’s or Google’s services to get either set up.  And, both let you create playlists that you can share (or even collaborate to create) with friends.
Rdio focuses a bit more on social interaction and discovery by following what your friends are listening to.  Rdio is also available on more platforms.
With the ad-supported option to help get users acclimated and the well-thought-out user interfaces, Spotify may just prove to be a better service.  Either way, these services do what iTunes Match can’t.  They give you access to YOUR library from anywhere, and they let you listen to ANY song you can think of without buying everything you might want to listen to.  The extra $7.90 is something you’d likely spend buying extra songs on iTunes you don’t want once you’ve listened a few times.  These are both great services and well worth your time and money.
***
A nod to Turnable
I couldn’t finish a post about streaming music without mentioning one of my absolute favorites: newcomer, Turntable.fm.  Turntable also lets you listen to a ton of music and leverages community to expose you to new music.  On their service, users DJ for rooms of fans.  As of this writing, the top 10 rooms housed almost 1000 people.  And with the recent launch of an iPhone app, you can experience this on the go.  There’s something amazing about listening to someone DJ for you live and doing so in the comfort of your own home where YOU can become the DJ is even better.  But, Turntable is fully a synchronous experience.  If you show up to a room after everyone has left, there’s no music to listen to.  There’s no ability to automatically add all of your own library (you have to search for tracks individually to add them to your playlist) and you wouldn’t necessarily want turntable to replace these other services.  Still, if you’re a fan of music, you should definitely check it out.  It is free and worth your time.

You should use online password managers

Sincere apologies for the long delay in getting this post out, and thanks to @justinlamo for the question: “Are on-line password storage sites safe?”

Per my promise to all of you to get to the point first, the quick answer: Not 100%, but you should use them anyway.

And the longer response:

How many times have you received an email saying, “Please ignore that odd post/email/request, it seems my account was hacked”?  Or worse, how many times have you had to send one yourself?  Hacked accounts are a reality of the modern digital age.

Absent turning into a Luddite, your best protection is a strong password for all of your accounts.  A strong password is long, nonsense, and composed of a variety of different types of characters (including upper and lower case, numbers, and punctuation like #, !, @, &, etc.).  There is a lot written about why you should use a strong password, and you’ve all heard the horror stories, but also check out one man’s explanation as to how easy it is for him to crack your weak passwords.  Hopefully that’s convincing enough so I don’t have to dedicate time to hammering the point home.  To create your own strong passwords, reference this clear, concise article by Eric Wolfram.

Still, even the strongest of passwords can be compromised.  Unsophisticated companies can mess up and store your passwords in plain text, where they can be stolen from the servers; you can expose yourself by falling for a fake site asking for your password (known as a “phishing attack;” or perhaps you simply log in from a public computer and forget to log out.  Having your strong password stolen or hacked for one site can cause enough damage, but if you’ve used the same password for all of your social networks, bank accounts, blogs, email and more, the results could be disastrous.

So, the best practices recommendations for strong password protection is actually to use a DIFFERENT strong password for EVERY site (or at least every category of sites).  But, you ask, how can you keep dozens or hundreds of passwords straight?  The answer, of course, is that you can’t.  That’s where password managers come in.

Password managers in general are pieces of software that store and organize all of your passwords and the associated sites and accounts you use them for.  The most rudimentary are simply protected spreadsheets or databases stored as files on your computer; if you can remember one password (the one to open that file), known as the “Master Password,’ you can look up all the rest of them as you need them.  The trouble with the rudimentary form is that it is a tremendous hassle.  Taking time to log into a site is already a barrier to what you are trying to do and no one wants to make that harder.

So, a new breed of password managers emerged.  These new password managers were also form fillers and often came as browser extensions or add-ons.  In other words, these password managers work in coordination with your web browser, recognize the site you are on and automatically fill in the needed password.  You still need to remember the one master password, but after that, your browsing is much smoother.  But, there are problems with this set of managers as well, chiefly:

  1. If you’re computer crashes or you delete the files, you’ll lose ALL of your passwords; and
  2. If you’re away from home you either need to bring the files with you (on a thumb drive, by using Dropbox, or some other way), which can be hard to remember.

SO…  online password managers were invented.  Like the others in the new breed, the online password managers fill your forms and work with your browsers to save you time, but now, instead of storing all of the information on your own computer, you now keep copies online in ways that are accessible across multiple devices.

The concern with keeping this level of sensitive data online is that it too risks being compromised.  On the one hand, you’re using a password manager so your sites are more secure, but on the other, you’re storing your sensitive data in the cloud so that it risks being stolen.

There was recently a threatened attack on a reputable online password manager, but the threat was largely overblown.  Back in May (when Justin first asked this question), LastPass was attacked, but the CEO has since explained why there was little cause for concern in an article posted by PC World.

The reality is that the risk of your password manager data being stolen, given how securely it is encrypted and the protections the password manager companies have in place is very small.  The tension between privacy and convenience is an ancient one, and convenience always wins.  If one option for convenience is a system with dozens or hundreds of attack points (i.e. ANY of your accounts) and the other is a system with one attack point that is heavily guarded (i.e. your online password manager’s server), I recommend going with the latter.

Thus… yes, you should use online password managers.  I don’t have a recommendation as to which one is the best as I haven’t tried them all, but LastPass does a very good job.  For some other suggestions and help choosing the one that’s right for you, check out the following links:

  1. PC Magazine – Six Great Password Managers
  2. LifeHacker – Five Best Password Managers
  3. TopTenReviews – Password Management Software Review
Regardless of what you choose, you need to keep your passwords safe.  Think about how you do it.

Why Google+ should publish to Twitter & Facebook, and You Should Too

The walled-garden vs. open architecture approach to the web has been raging since the early days of the Internet.  AOL perfected the walled-garden with its keyword search while we were all on dial-up access, but the web (and AOL) have since moved on.  Which is why it was a bit surprising to see Google+ (still in project mode, admittedly) launch without an ability to pull in from, or publish out to, our other existing social networks.

That Google+ is first and foremost an “Identity Service,” according to Eric Schmidt, makes it even more baffling.  Another “Identity Service,” run by my employer, About.me, takes quite the opposite approach.  Even other social networks enable cross-posting.

But, I’m not arguing that Google should do it because others do, my argument is simpler than that.  Cross posting encourages discussion that might otherwise be missed.

This weekend, in a fit of annoyance at having to boot up my laptop after not being able to get information about Irene on my iPad that was hidden behind some Flash coding, I posted the following to Twitter:

LCMilstein Lee Milstein
After a year with the iPad, I can honestly say lack of Flash support is debilitating. I love it so much I don’t want to need a laptop too.
It got no retweets and the only reply was a spam message clearly picking up on “iPad” as a keyword.

But, because of how I have my accounts linked, the same post appeared on my Facebook wall.  24 hours later, there is a 15-comment string discussing the longevity of Flash as a web standard, Apple’s approach to controlling the user experience on its products, and whether next generation Android tablets will be able to compete with Apple’s dominance.
I never intended to engage my Facebook friends.  I thought Twitter was where the tech folks followed me and that I’d see traction there.  I was wrong.  Without this cross-publishing functionality, Twitter would have been unaffected, but Facebook would have lost out on this engaging experience.  As a one-off on my account it is meaningless, but taken to the natural conclusion, this is what makes a social network work.  This is what keeps people coming back.

Google, you may have other things you’re planning to build on Google+, and I am certain I line up to use them (Gmail, Picasa and Android are 3 of my all-time favorite products, so you have credibility with me), but I think you’re making a mistake here.  Who knows what kind of conversation my circles would have engaged in.

EDIT:
[I received feedback from some of you that this post didn’t really fit the blog; that it was industry analysis and not personal recommendation.  You’re right, but only because I ran out of time.  Here’s the last bit.]

For the rest of you, take this into account and take advantage of the linking capabilities built into your social networks.  For me, I have my Twitter publish to Facebook and LinkedIn, and I have my blog and Tumblr page post into Twitter which then pushes out to Facebook and LinkedIn as well.  I recommend you do the same.  And, as if on queue, a tweet from the Twitter team today:
twitter Twitter
#protip Have a Facebook account? Try hooking it up to Twitter for a little multitasking! Here’s how: support.twitter.com/articles/31113… 
So, to learn how to get started and link your Twitter account to Facebook to publish into both locations at once, check out their article, and see how your followers and friends engage.  You just might get more social out of your social networks.

Facebook is for Birthdays

[Note, I apologize for the delay in real posts.  They will pick up again, but in the meantime…]

Many of you have been emailing/texting/calling asking about Google+, and you’re not alone.  The web seems to have shifted focus overnight and Google has once again become the darlingof the industry.  The frantic, nightly, “Invites are open!” messages followed by the “aww, sorry, too late” jeers only served to enhance the perception.  At this stage, however, it seems most people who want to get on to the new service have found a way, and commentary is shifting to compare the service to other social networks.

While I don’t intend to argue that you should or shouldn’t use Google+ at this point, I did feel the need to share a couple of observations

  1. No one on Google+ wished me a happy birthday this weekend.  Perhaps this is because the number of users is so limited, and
  2. More interestingly, no one on Twitter wished me a happy birthday either.

Now, I’m not actually big on the whole “it’s my birthday” thing and don’t seek contact for it, but I received a LOT of wall posts, messages and emails wishing me a happy birthday as a result of Facebook making the event prominent on my friends’ pages.  By contrast, I received 0 tweets/DMs and 0 Google+ comments.

This really highlights the difference between the existing social networks.  Facebook is where people with real world connections connect, and Twitter is where information flows between acquaintances.

What’s really interesting about Google+, though, is that it could be both:

Google already maps my real-world connections with gmail, chat, and other services that haven’t been considered a “social network” in the past, and now Google+ makes it easy for me to follow acquaintances.  As I posted to my plus.google.com profile page:

Being able to change your stream just by clicking a circle is a GREAT feature. Works better than lists on Twitter and far surpasses Facebook’s current implementation of Groups. And I love that “Following” is a default circle.

By creating circles and switching the stream of news flowing onto my Google+ page, I can see updates from my friends, influencers, news sources, business colleagues, etc. and not get lost in too many posts.  It is an exciting feature.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when Google starts telling me about my friends’ birthdays.  In the meantime, check out the service and let me know what you think.  Start with my page.

How should I share my media with you?

You may not be surprised to hear that, as a former DivX employee, I’ve often gotten the question, “How should I share my photos/videos/files with you?”  What is surprising is that in the fast-paced world of the Internet, my answer has been consistent for more than 4 years.

You should use a combination of free tools: Picasa (client and web albums) and Dropbox.  I recommend these solutions because:

  1. When your goal is to share media with friends, your goal is not to “publish” it and many services confuse these needs;
  2. When you share media, you want to preserve the quality of it for the enjoyment of your friends; and
  3. When you share media, you want to allow your friends to use the media in their preferred environments or workflows.

The distinction between “sharing” and “publishing” is an important one.  If you are “publishing,” then you are disseminating a particular expression/experience (typically to a wide audience).  Sharing, on the other hand, means that you are enabling the joint use of a resource. If what you want to do is “publish” your media, Facebook, YouTube and blogging platforms (like WordPress or tumblr) are great, but they make privacy complicated, don’t give your friends flexibility, and typically reduce the quality of the file you’re sharing.

Picasa and Dropbox resolve all of these problems elegantly, simply enough for the least technical of your friends, and with versatility.

Picasa

Picasa is primarily a photo tool, but also has some video functionality, so while I would classify it as a unitasker, I think it is one worth your time (I think even Alton Brown would agree)  The (free) desktop client (PC and Mac) is best-in-class, and has seamless integration with the web albums. The combination provides a fantastic UI for photo management, photo editing (cropping, red-eye reduction, brightness leveling, etc.), online backup, album sharing, collaboration (designated friends can add photos to your albums), stand-alone slide shows, print ordering, and of course, full-resolution download.  Kodak, Shutterfly, Snapfish and others lock you into their services once you’ve uploaded and expire your account if you haven’t ordered prints recently.  By contrast, Picasa syncs up to dozens of the top photo printing sites and is agnostic as to whether you ever order a physical print.  SmugMug actually does solve a sharing problem more effectively, and allows your friends to download full resolution photos, but this is enabled only 1 photo at a time, which can be grueling for large albums, especially where Picasa makes it easy to download a full album.  Bottom line here, “sharing” on any other service is merely publishing.

Dropbox

For any purpose other than sharing full albums of photos, Dropbox is the way to go. Dropbox is primarily an online backup/cross-device folder synchronization tool.  By installing Dropbox on multiple computers (all associated with one user account), you can automatically synchronize any file you put in your Dropbox.  Thankfully, though, Dropbox doesn’t stop there.  It includes robust sharing features, enabling anything from sharing an auto-synced sub-folder with a friend who also has Dropbox to creating a web link to a file enabling anyone with the link to download the associated file.  Like Picasa, Dropbox includes a (free) desktop app with an integrated web client.  The Dropbox desktop app installs onto your PC/Mac and appears just like any other folder on the system, so if you know how to save a file to a folder on your computer, you know how to sync/share using Dropbox.  There are competitors in this space (chief among them is Box.net), but, in large part because of the fantastic implementation of Dropbox’s native desktop client, it stands out markedly from the pack.  It is worth emphasizing that Dropbox is filetype agnostic (while it handles photos admirably, the lack of photo-specific functions leads me to stick with Picasa for photo albums), so I can recommend it for sharing virtually any media.

A Note on Google Docs

I do want to give an honorable mention to Google Docs.  Google Docs is king when it comes to version control and collaboration, and since it technically does allow download as well as robust privacy settings, it shouldn’t be considered a “publishing tool.”  Still, because it requires conversion from native files and doesn’t integrate with any third-party internet offerings, it can’t be my recommendation for sharing media.

So, please do share your media, especially when you attend events and parties and promise someone they don’t need to use their camera since you’ll “share” the photos that were taken with yours.  Perhaps Color and its progeny will fix all of this, but in the meantime, consider my advice.


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