Monday, May 11, 2009

I don't hang out here anymore

If you haven't figured it out yet, I don't update this blog often anymore. I am mostly at nowadays. Go visit me there! :-)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Singapore iPhone Fans Will Get A Chance to Show How Mobile-Savvy They Are

There are two interesting news about the Apple iPhone lately. First, ChannelNewsAsia reported rumors of iPhone launch in Singapore around September 2008. If this is true, Singapore will be the first country in Asia to be the official market for iPhone (although there are 10,000 units already present in this 4.6-million people country).

The summary of the rumor is:

  • The operator will likely be SingTel. It is unknown whether the phone will be locked. It is a terrible, terrible idea to sell locked mobile phones in the South East Asia market, so Apple may arrange something like they do in France.
  • By September 2008, the iPhone to be launched is likely the newer version with 3G or HSDPA.
  • Will this coincide with the launch of iTunes Music Store in Singapore? One can dream. Meanwhile, all you can do is go to sites like

Second, there is an article at the New York Times on 18 March 2008 about the usage of iPhones:

The results, from a January survey of more than 10,000 adults, are somewhat dramatic. 84.8 percent of iPhone users report accessing news and information from the hand-held device. That compares to 13.1 percent of the overall mobile phone market and 58.2 percent of total smartphone owners – which include those poor saps with Blackberries and devices that run Windows.

iPhone Users Love That Mobile Web - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog

It's interesting that iPhone users' activities reflect a more mobile-savvy users compared to users of other smartphone platforms. One possible reason is because users of iPhones chose to buy their phones over other phones because of its features. Users of other smartphones may get their phones solely because their employers issue them and that they could care less about the features that make their phones smart. Or they may get their smartphones for other reasons. Indonesia is the biggest market for the Nokia Communicator, mostly not because of its incredible features, but because its consumers perceive the phone as a status symbol.

But it's clear that there are simple lessons learned here for Blackberry and Windows Mobile:

  1. Consumers appreciate ease of use
  2. Consumers will browse and use internet services on their mobile devices more if the experience is good
  3. Blackberry and Windows Mobile don't provide a good experience

The truth is, Microsoft has a decade of head start in the mobile OS technology and they just have not learned fast enough. This article points out this fact really nicely: The top 10 things that are wrong with Windows Mobile. At the very least, Microsoft should get Pocket IE back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Social Network Aggregators

When I moved from Jakarta (Indonesia) to Virginia (USA) to go to college in the early 90's, it took about a month via post mail to tell my mom how small my dorm room was. Now in 2008, I get up-to-the-minute updates from across the world via Twitter on what my friend's dog is licking. Some people have a whole universe of "friends" on the internet. They post their thoughts and opinions using Multiply, update their friends using Facebook, or give mini-updates using Tumblr. They share web bookmarks using delicious, recommend interesting stories on Digg, and showcase photos on Flickr. These sites are called social networking sites (check out a cool video explaining social networking here). There are literally hundreds of social networking sites out there, relentlessly feeding you streams of your friends' new blog posts, recently snapped pictures, snarky comments and pets' activities. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

How do you keep up? Enter social network aggregators. These services aggregate updates from the various social networking sites you subscribe to, so instead of having to go to all those different social networking web sites, you can get the gist of your friends' updates by going to one web site.

I have managed to get my hands on three so-called social network aggregators: Plaxo Pulse, friendfeed and socialthing!. Here is my impression of them.

Plaxo Pulse

plaxo Plaxo started out as a company that promised you that your address book will always be up-to-date. By using Plaxo, when your friend updates his contact information (phone number, address, etc.), your address book will be updated automatically. In August 2007 Plaxo had a vision to be more than just your address book's synchronizer and be the internet's glue. They came out with Plaxo Pulse which is a social network aggregators for your Plaxo contacts (aka friends).

Plaxo Pulse was built on top of their existing service, which is address book management. This strategy certainly has some advantages. You may already know a lot of details about your contacts, e.g. their birth dates -- Plaxo Pulse uses this information to give you birthday reminders. You also have different security/sharing settings depending whether your "friends" are merely business contacts, actual friends in real life or family members.

On the other hand, due to their address book model, the people that you befriend in Plaxo Pulse will likely be limited to those you know in real life and not the internet celebrities that you freely follow (stalk? Smile). This is probably the main reason why Plaxo Pulse has not caught fire since it first launched. To a lot of people, the social networking scene is about quantity of relationship, not quality.


FriendFeed FriendFeed officially launched on 25 February 2008 and have been gathering a lot of steam lately. Unlike Plaxo Pulse which starts from the continuously-updated address book analogy, it's a lot easier with FriendFeed to "follow" the activities of a person who is not in your address book. You can follow the activities of just about anybody who shares their social networking activities publicly (i.e. the internet celebrities).

FriendFeed does not have a lot of features right now, but I'm sure they will be adding more and more.



Along with friendfeed, socialthing! is probably the social network aggregator with the most mind share these days. socialthing! is still in invitation-only private beta, but it has been garnering positive reviews. Like friendfeed, it's easy for you to follow somebody's publicly-available activities. Its main differentiator from Plaxo Pulse and friendfeed is that it recognizes your existing friends. For example, if I tell socialthing! my Facebook account, it will import my Facebook friends automatically and provide me with their updates from within socialthing!. Another differentiator is that you can interact with Twitter (e.g. reply to Twitter post) without having to go to the Twitter web site.

I expect a lot of good things coming out of socialthing!, however as of the writing of this post they have a fairly limited number of social networking sites partners.


Here's a comparison between the three social network aggregators:

  Plaxo Pulse friendfeed socialthing!
Aggregated sites (as of 19 March 2008) 35 28 6
Comment on feed entries Yes Yes No
Marking feed entries as "favorites" Yes Yes No
Pros Better security granularity when sharing information: your contacts are divided into Family, Friends, Business Contacts and Public.

Have the most features and partners compared to other aggregators.
The community is already large and interactive -- they create comments and join discussion, etc. Plaxo Pulse provides the same features, but the community is more quiet. Automatically recognizes your friends.

You can post to Twitter directly from socialthing!
Cons Does not have the "excitement" and the mind share of socialthing! and friendfeed. Web site design is dry compared to socialthing! As of now, does not have a lot of social networking partners

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How concerned should we be about data collection?

In the movie Se7en, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman got a big clue on the identity of the killer by looking at library records for people who have borrowed both religious books and books on torture and serial murderers. Once your book-reading records are viewable, it's fairly easy for others to profile your interest. And once your interest is profiled, somebody may go one step further in profiling you as a person.

The New York Times posted this article last week:  To Aim Ads, Web Is Keeping Closer Eye on You

A new analysis of online consumer data shows that large Web companies are learning more about people than ever from what they search for and do on the Internet, gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.

Although the practice of internet data collection for targeted advertising is not new, the technology is getting more and more sophisticated to the point where the collected data may be traceable to the individual. With cookies being implemented in a lot of web sites, it's easy for internet advertising companies to track your browsing and searching habits and use this information to profile and target you later. Yes, there are ways to block your activities from being collected by internet advertising companies. The Adblock extension for Firefox browser is one option that I personally use. But in a bigger picture, blocking advertising is not the solution. Advertising is a very big reason why the internet is experiencing phenomenal growth in the last few years.

Handling of collected data is a serious concern. There is no mechanism implemented to ensure that only aggregate (and not personal) data is accessible to the company that collect them. In some countries like Indonesia, for example, there is no law whatsoever on internet data privacy. Above all, consumer awareness is key. Most people are not aware what information about them is being collected, let alone provide consent.

Yet another point to think about is the accuracy of data interpretation for the purpose of target marketing. I'll leave you with an old joke:

A young guy goes to a checkout counter in a local supermarket with one can of beer, one box of frozen dinner, one pack of Marlboro, one carton of milk, one bag of potato chips and an issue of Playboy. The cute girl behind the counter is ringing this stuff up and asks him, “Single, huh?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Is it because I'm buying one of everything?”

“No. Because you’re ugly.”

Saturday, March 08, 2008

If The American Idol judges were Project Managers

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 5 years, you know who these three people are. They are on TV three times a week, influencing millions of Americans on what phone number to dial. What if your Project Manager is like them?

head_Shoot_BW-Randy_Jackson The Randy Jackson Project Manager. This is your buddy Project Manager, your hangout pal. He takes interest in your life outside of work. He wants to know your playlist on Last.FM, the stories you Digg and whether you caught that TWiT episode when Steve Wozniak was on. When you pass his desk on the way to the rest room, he would greet you with a "What up, Dawg!" without fail. When your module passes unit test, he would slap you in the butt and exclaim "That was hot!"

paula-abdul The Paula Abdul Project Manager. Project Manager would be a misnomer because she is more of a cheerleader than somebody that leads or manages. She believes happy coders are productive coders. She does not direct or coach, nor does she know what stage the project is in. When you can't figure out how to tune that stored procedure to finish under 3 minutes, she would pull you in for a pep talk and tells you that she sees a little Tom Kyte in you. She gives such generic kudos to everybody all the time, you wonder if she ever noticed the weekend work you put in to install the patch to fix that annoying crash when more than 2 people log in at the same time.

simon-Cowell The Simon Cowell Project Manager. This is the manager who always lets you know whether you're in the doghouse or the penthouse. He doesn't mince his words. When you get your performance evaluation, you will not be surprised because he's been giving you constant feedbacks since day one. When a lot of your bugs are spelling errors, he will gladly give you a kick in the pants. When you don't sound confident during status report meetings, he will tell you so. Sometimes you wonder why he picks on so many little things and sometimes his feedbacks de-motivates you. Sometimes you hate him and even fear him. But you know that if you don't take his criticisms personally he can make you a better code monkey.