Thomas on Technology

Ruby on Rails. The Cloud. And More.

Google shuts down Google Reader - and the CalDAV API

Google shuts down Google Reader and a lot of people are furious about this (yes, even he).

It’s very obvious that this is the dumb idea of forcing more people into the G+ platform. Which is a very dumb if you think about it a second time: We don’t guarantee you a platform to manage your content - and hey, we’ve got another cool platform to even publish your content. Sounds like Twitter API failure.

@ReneBuest did put it in a good way:

Killing the reader after other services leads to the question how save Google’s cloud portfolio regarding a long time availability really is.

If Google shuts down a service like Reader, why should you trust their other services?

Google is also shutting down the CalDAV API. Yes, that’s the API your Mac iCal, iPhone and even Windows Phone 8 uses. Only possibility for Apple is to support the Google Calendar API natively.

Morale:

If you’re publishing something worth reading on the Internet (and I don’t mean your Facebook Status Updates where people rather care how to remove them and Facebook wants to keep them), be sure to chose a platform on an open basis (WordPress, Ruby On Rails, whatever …) instead of putting your contents in a locked cage.

Anyway, but this is all due to focussing on the real important things:

"We need to focus. Keep the self-driving cars, magic glasses, laptop, handheld OS, and Brazilian social network. Ditch the feed reader."

Oracle buys Nimbula - and what that means for IaaS Cloud Providers

Interesting: Oracle buys Nimbula, one of the competitors of OpenStack - whereas OpenStack has been chosen by IBM just a week ago as it’s main architecture backend for all cloud services.

This basically means three things:

  1. Nobody of the large software companies really managed to create a good IaaS backend software.

  2. AWS as IaaS-Provider will get some more competition, especially regarding the rent-computing-power-minutes-business (EC2).

  3. As IBM and Oracle simply weren’t able to build a decent solution (but rather bought one), AWS broad spectrum of cloud services (DynamoDB, SES, SQS, …) will remain unbeaten for quite a while. Why should they build other great services if they couldn’t even manage to provide the basics?

The myth of “The Mobile Web”

Maybe the best article I’ve ever read about this myth of “the mobile web” and designing for it:

So, we can no longer get away with treating a website like the cupboard under the stairs where we throw all of the stuff that has nowhere else to live. Strategy must guide sharp and focused communication — communication that informs, persuades and provides the next step towards your business goals. […]

Focus isn’t really a new requirement for our “new digital world” or anything else. It’s basic business and marketing. That many have gotten away without it has been a temporary glitch. And that is now being amended. It’s time to recall Mark Twain’s wisdom and to take the time to do online communication properly.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Less Becomes More

[…]

Mobile short isn’t about providing less for mobile. People want just as much on mobile as anywhere else. But when “short” works on mobile, should it not also be enough on a desktop?

“The headline is 80% of the communication.”

David Ogilvy

(Source: smashingmagazine.com)

How to use your european iPad in the US with a local data SIM

I’ve recently had the challenge that I wanted to use my iPad on a trip to the United States with a local SIM with a data plan in order to avoid roaming charges. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • You can only use AT&T as your US provider, because Verizon uses different frequencies.

  • You need to go to a AT&T Store (http://www.att.com/storelocator/) and get an “iPad Replacement SIM” for $15.

  • Get a prepaid credit card (VISA, Master, AmEx). When entering your address details, you need to enter an US address (e.g. the one of your hotel you’re staying at). The credit card will be checked against this address and fail. So you need a prepaid credit card – I’ve bought one at a Duane Reade store…

  • AT&T will charge you a dollar for an AVS check. So don’t buy a card with exactly the correct amount ($25) but rather the $50 gift card. I chose the $30 plan and spent the $20 remaining for my metro card.

Fire up your iPad, and it’ll ask you to register. Create a new account, enter a valid US postal address (your hotel) and your prepaid credit card data. Any volia: There you go. If you’ve got an iPad 3, you’ll even get LTE.

The next big thing

It’s currently an incredible exciting time beeing involved in the IT industry and watching the changes this industry is currently undergoing. The interesting thing is, that lots of people in executive positions do not realize the changes which are currently happening - or at least they don’t want to realize it.

I do regulary speak at conferences and workshops, and of course, one of the big things in the last years was: Web 2.0, obviously (even if I don’t like this term too much). I’ve been talking about this topic for quite a long time, and I was watching the developments carefully, especially because I’ve got a quite good insight in the german blogging community.

But all these things which are so obvious - like the conversation on the web - seem so far, especially for the ones working at big companies. There are not that much large companies who do have a web strategy which covers the fact that customers want to talk directly to them on the web. We’re a bank, why should we allow customers to rate our services on our website. Sun does it? Well, not our business. Really? A few months ago an eight year old book came into my hands: “The Cluetrain Manifesto”. Does someone remember it? Surprisingly, lots of things which I didn’t realize when reading this book first back in the old 2000 days are so obvious nowadays.

Examples?

  • "The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media."
  • "We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?"
  • "Markets want to talk to companies. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance."
  • "As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally."
  • "There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone." Blogs, anyone?

Remember: All these things have been written around ‘99/’00 - and they’ve all become oh-so­true eight years later. They just sound very familiar today and rather represent a status quo than a outlook to the far distant future. So companies will undergo a change in their communications behaviour, whether they like it or not.

A nice example which I’ve been regulary showing to company execs who are denying the need of communications is “Zpeech”. It was a nice startup which allows to look at any website in the world and give your own comments to this site visible to any other Zpeech user. No modifications on the site required. Okay, Zpeech was not be big and well known (and has faded away), but just imagine what would happen if Google would include the ability to comment and rate any webpage in its toolbar.

So sometimes it’s even not your decision whether to participate in the whole Web 2.0 thing or not. Nowadays, as the priciples and technologies of Web 2.0 are getting more common and more and more people and companies start adepting it - even at a quite slow pace - everyone’s asking what the next big thing would be. Well, when looking back the last ten years and closely examining how the playground for the whole internet industry has changed, you’ll find out that it’s been always rather evolution than revolution. Take a prime example: Search Engines.

Everyone in these days takes Google for granted - in Europe even more than in the United States. You couldn’t imagine that there has been a life before Google - except Yahoo, the only (current) survivor in this game. But there was: Remember Altavista? Lycos? HotBot, anyone? There was a HUGE competition in the search engine industry for years - and lots of money has been invested. But at some point, a company named Google came along and just “made it right”. Search engines have been there before, but the offer Google had was just too convincing. Ease of use and high quality results. And after reaching a certain tipping point, everyone started using Google. And so it turned out that the late adopters of the Internet were never introduced to a search engine different than Google.

A one time effect? Certainly not. Take a look at the mobile phone market. There is a company which is a complete newcomer in this market, called Apple. The introduction of the iPhone changed the rules of the industry - even more than they do realize right now. A phone without brading? Nearly impossible in Europe, especially at the big carriers (Vodafone, T-Mobile, …). Offering access to a music download store different from the carrier?

But besides the renewed rules of the carriers, the iPhone changed the whole mobile industry. Before the introduction of this device, browsing on the web through your mobile was really a geek thing. The best thing you could do was taking your subnotebook and using your phone as a Bluetooth-3G gateway. But now all iPhone users are browsing the web. Or in another way: The whole mobile-browsing crowd consists ONLY of iPhone users. But why is that? I mean, you could perfectly use your E61, E70 or whatever and start the built-in webbrowser. It’s even the same web rendering technology in symbian phones like in the iPhone (WebKit). But once you start doing it - and trust me, I tried really hard with my old Nokia E70 - you’re quickly going to realize that it’s just awful. Browsing the web with a non-iPhone is more a specsheet feature and a rather theoretical possibility.

The morale of the story? The iPhone didn’t invent web browsing on the phone. Google didn’t invent search engine technology. But they just “made it right”. Again, we’re talking about ease of just, just like Google. Of course it’s also about timing. The iPhone wouldn’t have been possible six or seven years ago. Despite of some absence of some hardware components (touch screens, small batteries) simply the technology of others was missing. No real Wi-Fi coverage. No EDGE or even 3G. The iPhone wouldn’t make much sense without high speed internet connections. So it’s not enough to “make it right”, the timing is also important.

So, what’s the next big thing? Let’s stick a bit on the fast growing mobile devices market. Maybe the next big thing location based services (LBS). You can already see lots of these Applications in the iPhone App Store. There are lots of sarcastic bloggers out there who are always laughing at these kinds of application, but in my opinion there hasn’t been someone who “made it right”. There have been a lot of companies investing quite remarkable amounts of money in this market, but no success yet. Why? It’s because they’re dependant on the mobile device makers which didn’t “made it right” yet. The first phone which could be a suitable device for LBS was the Nokia N95 because of its built-in GPS receiver. But when I first was introduced to it by a friend working in an executive position at a large mobile carrier, I was largely disappointed. The mobile took several minutes to pinpoint your location. Well, I’d rather ask someone on the street for what I’m looking for rather than waiting minutes for my mobile to boot up. The iPhone 3G and the new Blackberry Phones do have a GPS receiver built in.

A few years ago it was still a dream about pulling your phone out on the street and locating the next ATM within 5 seconds anywhere in the world. Or find out where my favorite movie is playing and book the tickets online. That’s now reality But it goes much further than these obvious examples. Services like Qype could benefit largely from such devices. “Show me all medium-priceѕ italian restaurants within walking distance and have been rated good by other users.” And so we’re in the loop of the Web 2.0 social services.

Location based services in conjunction with social networks could be one of the next big things. And as usual, the geeks are adopting it first. Take a look at Twinkle, a inoffical Twitter client for the iPhone which sends your current location together with your tweets. “Someone around for a drink?” “Where should I go to have Sushi?” In Switzerland there has been a service a few years ago which tells you when friends of yours (who want to be seen) are within walking distance. But as it was awful to use, the idea was right, but the timing was wrong. But now there’s Google Latitude, which does exactly this.

The hard part for LBS is to make the devіces available - like the example that iPhone which wouldn’t make much sense without EDGE/3G and Wi-Fi. But as the requirements for LBS are there, the challenge to “make it right” is all about software. I think there are going to be a lot of services like the ones I’ve been talking about, because it’s just so easy to start a new business these days, also thanks to technologies like Ruby on Rails (but that’s going to be a topic for another blog post).

So if you’re looking for the next big thing - you better look for something which already exists and is currently too awful to use.