The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for May 2006

Samsung launches Nokia 770 competitor

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Samsung have launched their Q1 ultra-mobile PC which will compete against the Nokia 770 Internet tablet. This is one of the first of the Origami machines that Microsoft designed to make the PC more mobile. Like the Nokia 770 Internet tablet it's a small (pocket sized) handheld with a touch screen and no inbuilt keyboard.

The launch didn't go that well, according to the Korean Times (via Chris Head). The demo machine had problems during the press release:

"[T]he new PC proved to be too revolutionary, enough to baffle the three firms' executive officers who publicly tried to demonstrate how to use it."

Interestingly they quote Kim Hun-soo, Vice President of Samsungs PC division who says that the battery life will be short:

"Kim later admitted that Q1 has three hours of battery life and two hours when watching a DVD, which is comparably short to other laptops."

The unit will cost about 1.2 million won in Korea, which converts to 673 GBP. Aside from a quick chuckle at a failed demo it's great that machines based on the Origami concept are getting to market. Bob Young the co-founder of RedHat used to say that he didn't want all of a small pie, but a small piece of a big pie. More Origami PC's can only help to increase the popularity of the mobile Internet and hopefully will bring new users and applications to the party.

Has anyone played with a UMPC yet? And, what do you think the Nokia 770 developers can learn from the Origami?

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Written by Steve George

May 24, 2006 at 12:20

Posted in Internet, Nokia 770

Managing your identity with ClaimID

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In the Internet's environment of free expression passions often run hot. Flamewars and vitriolic rants enliven online conversations making them interesting and human. But, will those passionate words come back to haunt you? What picture do they paint to a prospective employer, and what inferences will be drawn about you in thirty years time? A digital world is transforming our identities, making them public.

Our online activities leave a trail of bread crumbs behind us that search engines gather together. Try searching yourself on Google or egoSurf, to see what trail you've already left behind. As more of our activities migrate online they become public, indexable and searchable. The read-write web envisioned by Web 2.0 is increasing this trend as it stores social relationships and interactions. Consider what Flickr, Delicious, Technorati and Friendster could reveal about you: this might include information on your holidays, hobbies and work.

Managing our identity is a complex issue because it involves issues of ownership, perception and change. A key problem is we all play a variety of parts (personas) in different social spheres. As Shakespeare said in As you Like it (Act ii. Sc. 7):

"All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts"

For example, character aspects we emphasise in work may be different to those we accentuate in our local community. The virtual world doesn't recognise social boundaries so merges our interactions into a single identity which may be misleading.

ClaimID is a service that helps you to categorise your personas and present a multi-faceted on-line identity. You gain control by sifting and sorting links about yourself into groups. These groups represent social spheres and together they represent how you wish to be perceived. When someone wants to find out about you, or you want provide information about yourself you can direct them to your ClaimID page.

To use the service you sign up for a home page where you collect and group links that describe and annotate your identity. So you might have a group called Personal where you collect links that describe you personally such as your blog, delicious and flickr. Another group would be Professional with links to organisations and places you've worked. ClaimID lets you specify who authored the link and whether it's about you or not. The completed page is a list of groups that defines your personas and aggregates them into a single meta-identity. This is my page for Steve George.

It's a nice service, cleanly presented and executed. It took me about two hours to decide what groups I wanted and to populate my page. It would have been nice if there were some templates to use, and perhaps a wizard to make searching for yourself easier. The most time consuming aspect was finding links and deciding what was appropriate. My name is very common and my online footprint anaemic so my links were sunk under a army of impostor Stephen George, Steve George and slgeorge pages.

ClaimID doesn't tackle information collecting about you on the Interent. And we often value what we find out about someone more than what they tell us about themselves. Nor does it authenticate us and attest to our identity. But it is an interesting first step to managing our identity.

Do you think that the Internet is changing identity? And, is ClaimID a useful way of managing your identity?

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Written by Steve George

May 23, 2006 at 14:23

Nokia 770 raw but indispensable

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The Nokia 770 device needs work, but it’s indispensable to my daily routine! Nokia developed the Internet tablet as a new category for mobile use of the Internet. Viewing web pages, reading e-mail and news (RSS) through Wi-Fi. It competes against the Origami, UMPC concept, but is cheaper and available. Yesterday, they pre-announced that the next release will include Google Talk providing instant messaging and VOIP.

Plenty of reviews cover the device, so I’ll focus on how I’m using it. As with any new platform it has warts but overall I find the device useful and usable. It’s designed for mobile usage of the Internet, whether from the sofa or at a wifi hotspot. Think of it as a portable TV for the Internet.

I don’t use most of the applications. The e-mail client is poor, it’s unusable for monitoring lists. And I’m not really into media. So I don’t use the Internet radio, because I haven’t bothered to find any stations: there should be a default list like Apple’s iTunes radio section.

But, I use the device every morning to catch-up with RSS. You can read news feeds off-line so I can take advantage of it on my commute or sitting in the local coffee shop. If I see anything interesting I can e-mail it to myself for further investigation. This completely transforms dead travel time enabling me to do something useful. Automatic podcasts downloads might be a nice addition but I’m not sure I’d use it.

I also use it to access Webmail, particularly if I’m on holiday so that I don’t need my laptop. The notepad application is limited but usable for quickly jotting stuff down: I’ve often carried around a notepad for this so perhaps I’m just addicted to notes. Hopefully, a new full screen keyboard will make this easier.

The biggest challenge to Nokia’s ubiquitous Internet vision is the unreasonable prices of Wi-Fi and mobile phone data packages. Most wifi providers charge about 12 GBP per month and you often can’t roam networks. I would probably have to sign-up for more than one package if I wanted to use wifi at Cafe Nero and Starbucks! As for mobile data-plans, these are even more expensive and have limited data transfer. Perhaps IM and VOIP will improve the value proposition, but at the moment it isn’t compelling.

What do you think, will the Internet tablet concept catch-on? How do you use your Nokia 770? And do you think VOIP/IM will increase Wi-Fi take-up?

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Written by Steve George

May 17, 2006 at 14:48

Posted in Internet, Nokia 770, VoIP

Visualising web search

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Attended an interesting talk by Karen Blakeman on Getting more from the Web at the Institute of Directors last night. The audience were business leaders, not technology people so Karen's talk focused on tools and strategies for accomplishing better searching. She did a great job in the time available.

With more time I'd have loved to hear how she undertakes some common business searches. I'm sure every business has looked for information on their competitors, customers and market dynamics. New tools like RSS and blogs also have great potential for actively monitoring market perceptions.

I was surprised how few of the audience had used the advanced search capabilities of Google, probably less than 25%. Admittedly, I'm a Google addict, colleagues get sick of hearing me say "Google is your friend!" to every question. But without some basic knowledge like using phrases and boolean logic you can't get the best results.

Better user interfaces would help searchers to undertake the right search and visualisation tools help to interpret results. My research for web search visualisation tools didn't turn up anything brilliant – ironic I know!

Grokker is the best visualization/visualisation tool I found, it shows you an outline view by subject and a dynamic map view. It's in Flash and searches Google and Wikipedia. It works fine on Mac, I haven't tested if it is compatible with the Linux version of Flash. The Brain does simple but easy to navigate visualisation. It's in Flash and doesn't work properly on Mac or Linux. Kartoo is again written in Flash, and the look and feel seems like it's designed for children but it's an interesting tool. Quitura may be the best tool, if you are a Windows user and are allowed to install software on your computer.

The only cross-platform, non proprietary interface, visualisation for search engines I could find was Clusty. It gives you categories which are somewhat useful. I think the one I may use is, Dogpile, although it isn't aiming at visualisation you can do some comparison between different search engines.

Do you have any secret search tips? And, do you know of any good search visualisation tools or use any of the ones I've mentioned?

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Written by Steve George

May 16, 2006 at 13:06

Posted in Google, Internet, Web

Open Source document management missing

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OpenOffice has been gaining momentum in the wider world, but document management is an important piece of the jigsaw that's missing. Every office produces a mountain of documents that need to be managed, and commercial systems are often far too expensive. A Free Software alternative would be a great opportunity to make headway amongst small businesses.

There are lots of great revision control systems in the free software world, in fact there seems to be an overload of options. All the same problems that something like Subversion solves exist for knowledge workers who use Word and Excel. Just one example is that often the largest part of project co-ordination is document management. It's a constant stream of boring administration ensuring that team members can:

  • Access the documents they need
  • Have added all their project documents to the repository
  • Are using the latest version of a document
  • Integrate all their changes into the documentation

If you can't afford a proper document management system there aren't that many options. Wiki systems such as Writely and Jotspot can be useful but aren't a complete solution. It's difficult for users to learn a completely new program and they often resist. Wiki syntax is fine for straightforward document but can't fully replicate the capabilities of an office suite. And the users have to be on-line to edit the documents.

Searching today turned up lots of ways to publish office documents through a Content Management System (CMS). But I couldn't find anything that was designed for keeping documents synchronised and doing real revision control. There are some references in the OpenDocument applications wiki page, but none were very promising.

Ideally the user would use a document management system from within their office suite. So in OpenOffice when you checked in a new version of a document it would tell you if there was a later version and show you any conflicts. The downside to this sort of integration is that it limits the content types you're managing, and means that each office suites would have to implement a different system. Perhaps a system could be based on something like iFolder, and then plugins could be written for each individual application – potentially any application could provide a form of revision management.

I'm really surprised that there isn't anything out there for doing this. What do you think, would document management be a good free software application? Are there any that I missed? And why do you think there aren't any well known options?

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Written by Steve George

May 12, 2006 at 18:52

Posted in Free Software, Linux

Mobile phone tracking

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Want to check your partners movements, or make sure employees are sick and not taking a break at the beach? Mobile phone tracking allows you to watch a phone globally without the owner knowing! The Guardian reported a while back one journalists sneaky girlfriend stalking experiment. I forgot to publish this when it came up, but it's still an interesting story.

Her apathetic reaction to being monitored mirrors that of most people I've spoken to about privacy, the impact of technology and their impact on society. Most people have a general expectation of privacy and don't realise that in a ubiquitously networked and sensored world we leave a constant trail of bread crumbs.

Information is power so it's natural that governments and institutions want more information so they can analyse it for their benefit. The question is what level of monitoring and data collection we're willing to accept. It's a complex question and my fear is that society won't become aware of the issue until long after the decisions governing this area have been taken. There often very little media interest, though The Independent newspaper has recently been drawing more attention to the issues.

It's quite easy to get over-focused on the drawbacks but many of these technologies will be beneficial – making the decisions that much harder. What could be more useful that knowing that your friend Bob is at your favourite bar and that he knows the barmaid you like.

Location awareness using systems like dodgeball is just a small part of what will be possible. The online world where more information is recorded and interlinking is easier will probably see the results ahead of the offline world. If Generation C really exists then the interplay between content creation, mash-ups (aka web services), findability and human nature is going to be very interesting. Just imagine the impact on job hunting or dating if you can deep dive someone's personal history; at least you could get straight to the point! For a minor window on the possible, try seeing what the Internet knows about you on the Egosurf site.

Before you start pulling the battery and keeping your mobile in Walkers crisps bag The Register reports that the system does notify you when being monitored: well if it's by a member of the public anyway!

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Written by Steve George

May 10, 2006 at 22:28

Posted in Internet, Privacy