Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Some Companies Still Don’t Get “Online”

Posted by Alan at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2010

When it comes to web technology there are still some companies that are back in the 1980′s.  Okay, I know, there was no web in the 80′s, but there might as well be no web today for those certain companies.  I had the misfortune of dealing with two of them this evening.

It all began when I stopped to get gas at a Flying J on my way home from work.  It’s a station I frequent for two reasons -  low prices and proximity (a few miles away) to my house.  As always, after swiping my debit card at the pump, I was prompted to either swipe my Rewards Card or press Enter.  And, again as always, I thought “I really need to get a Rewards Card and get the discounted prices”.

The difference today was that, when I arrived home, I actually remembered and went to their web site to request a card.  And that is where this story takes a turn for the outdated.

After logging onto their website (and knowing what I do now I am surprised that either company in question even has one) I located the link for the Rewards Card.  A nice page explained the benefits which, based on my habits, would save about $0.20 per gallon on my costs.  However, there was no “Apply” link.  I tried several approaches to this problem without luck.  I searched the site and found a page that contained an “Apply” link, but, when I clicked it I receive an error.  I was using Firefox, so I opened IE and tried again, but got the same error.

Frustrated, I called Customer Service.  An nice rep informed me that they no longer did this because they had merged with Pilot and Pilot now handled it.  “So, I need to go to their site?”.  “Yes”.

So, they thought letting users get an error message when clicking on “Apply Now” was tantamount to letting them know that the service was no longer offered through Flying J?  And we could just ascertain, somehow, that they had merged with Pilot and that that Pilot now offered the service?!

Okay.  I went to Pilot’s website.  Here, though, I can find no link to apply, even with a site search.  So now I call Pilot customer service.  I am informed that they do not offer an online application, but that I can pick up an app at any Flying J or Pilot location.

Really?!  No way to apply online?  No link from one site to the other, after the merger, to let users know where to go?  Just let them get an error message instead?  I don’t think I have encountered this kind of online ineptitude since the 90′s.  To be fair, both offer great prices at the pump and both had very friendly customer service reps.  But maybe they could wake up to current technology and learn how the modern web works.  They need to find the last great innovation before the next one leapfrogs them again.

Location, Location, Location

Posted by tomwiles at 1:06 AM on July 22, 2010

A few days ago I posted an article here entitled “Waxing Nostalgic” in which I reminisced about the original three Podcast & New Media Expos held at Ontario, California and how special they were.

Upon further examination, it’s suddenly become obvious to me what set these three conferences apart and what made them such a success from a social standpoint.

The thing that made the three Ontario podcast conferences unique was the fact that perfect strangers felt very comfortable striking up spontaneous conversations with each other. As a result of this comfort level, something rather remarkable happened. People talked a lot (these were podcasters, remember) and in many instances formed lasting friendships.

When the podcast conference was moved to Las Vegas, an entirely different mindset took over. In Las Vegas, strangers simply don’t feel comfortable approaching each other and striking up spontaneous conversations, even if they see that the other person is wearing a conference badge. The open, spontaneous conversation mindset generated at the Ontario Convention Center was perceived as perfectly normal in Ontario. However, being open and starting spontaneous conversations in Las Vegas would be perceived as weird and so therefore isn’t done.

This is a simple principle, yet it can have a profound effect on whether or not a given conference will be perceived as successful. I could see how conference planners could get caught up with other ideas surrounding where to hold a conference, but forget that the mindset generated in particular places is going to potentially produce very different behavior from the same people, which may or may not be detrimental. If the wrong behavior is produced by an incompatible mindset, it can spell disaster.

I believe the mindset generated by location also extends to and in part explains the old business axiom, “location, location, location” as being important to the success of a business.

Generate the right mindset in part with geography and surroundings to get people in a buying mood for particular types of products and services, and your business has a chance at being successful. Ignore this all-important mindset generation aspect of specific locations at your business’ peril.

Why Did The Initial Joost Experiment Fail?

Posted by tomwiles at 10:15 AM on July 6, 2010

A few years ago remember seeing all those “Joost” commercials pushing their Internet TV application? “Proper TV – Joost” the sophisticated-sounding British spokesman endlessly blurted out towards the end of the ad.

Of course, the initial Joost experiment ended badly. The Joost application stopped working December 19, 2008. Literally millions of dollars went down the drain.

I remember downloading and playing with the application and watching a few minutes of the various included streaming videos. I wasn’t impressed, and never opened the application again.

What went wrong? Why have Hulu and Netflix ascended to near household name status, and Joost flopped with the thud of a drunk elephant tripping over it’s own trunk?

There’s something the Joost folks, savvy as they were, failed to take into account. It’s a little something called choice. Joost failed for the same reason that broadcast, cable and satellite providers are losing viewers and subscribers. The “choice” offered by channel surfing revolves around searching for the least-boring junk content that is currently playing. It is choice, but not a very good one. People sitting in front of their Internet-connected computers watching the Joost application trying it’s best to replicate the conventional channel surfing TV experience lost out to the Internet itself. Joost – b-o-r-i-n-g, close it and move on to another website and find something more useful and/or exciting.

The lesson is choice. Enlightened, sophisticated content consumers will choose that content based on three primary criteria – Entertainment, Information, or Character – either any single one or a mixture. By the way, these are the same three filters you apply to your choice in selecting friends.

The failure of the initial Joost experiment was inevitable, and should serve as a warning for all content creators and marketers. Sitting in front of an Internet-connected screen and the conventional channel surfing model don’t mix well. The Internet will easily win the battle.

Will You Survive The Coming Changes?

Posted by tomwiles at 2:11 AM on July 5, 2010

Get ready for a world where everything is on demand and à la carte. Traditional broadcasting is going to change whether it wants to or not. Marketing will be forced to change in profound ways. As a result, content-making will also go through a major metamorphosis.

Marketing and traditional broadcasting have long had an interesting relationship that has had a potentially detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of available content. Television in particular has long been known as “a vast wasteland.” If one thinks about how this lowest-common-denominator programming can exist, the realization emerges that anxious, aggressive television advertisers have often been willing to sponsor junk programming content to capture passive viewers. In the pre-Internet world of broadcast TV, people would surf channels in order to find what was often the least-boring programming. Also because of the hypnotic potential of this type of TV watching, many viewers were willing to sit in front of virtually any programming without really caring about what they were watching, using TV viewing itself as a sort of nightly drug. Marketing messages get programmed into viewer’s brains, but more importantly using this type of passive TV viewing as a drug has definite detrimental side effects to both the individual, the family unit, and society at large.

After a few months of agonizing, I recently cancelled my Dish Network account. I was already a Netflix customer and was watching more stuff from Netflix than I was from Dish Network, so it has been a remarkably easy transition.

There are differences. One of the differences is that I’m now forced to choose what I want to watch when I want to watch TV. Being forced to choose necessarily forces me to choose something I find personally interesting. The net effect is I’m making a conscious choice of my television influences. Of course, another difference is that streamed Netflix content has no ads.

Hulu.Com offers streaming content with ads, and recently started offering an inexpensive monthly premium streaming content option, which also has the added benefit of vastly expanding the list of devices they will stream to beyond the desktop/laptop computer to include media extenders and cell phones. Like Craig’s List cannibalized the local newspaper ad business, Hulu.Com and similar emerging streaming services are going to further cannibalize the now-breaking and broken broadcast TV model. I say this not to blame Hulu and other services as I believe this push for choice has been well underway for a long time and these emerging streaming services are simply accelerating it.

The ad-supported content will be forced to change because the programming must be appealing-enough to consumers to get them to choose the particular content. Non-ad supported content will continue to have a market but will be forced to appeal just the same to induce consumers to choose that content.

Do Paywalls Ever Make Sense?

Posted by tomwiles at 10:09 PM on June 27, 2010

PaywallThere was a recent article at Arstechnica.Com describing how The Times in the U.K. ended up cutting its web traffic in half by simply requiring registration so that viewers could read their articles. Prior to this, the articles on the site were freely available. The registration requirement is in anticipation of their future paywall plans.

I have to admit that I’m one of the people who left their site more than once when I clicked on a link and was presented with the registration requirement. I’ve done the same thing on other newspaper sites as well. Will people pay for online news?

At its essence, news is often glorified gossip.

There are plenty of successful paywall sites. Here are three sites that incorporate paywalls that I personally find worthwhile enough subscribe to: Netflix.Com,  Rushlimbaugh.Com and FHU.Com.

Netflix began life as a DVD rental service and most recently added a very popular streaming service as value-added subscriber benefit behind a paywall. The Netflix streaming service helped convince me to sign up and become a customer, as well as the availability of Blu-Ray discs. If Netflix had DVD’s only, I wouldn’t be a subscriber. Streaming and Blu-Ray make me willing to open my wallet.

Rushlimbaugh.Com puts the site’s massive and growing archive behind a paywall that includes access to the Rush Limbaugh podcast version of his radio show where they perform the courtesy of cutting out all of the network ads. Being able to receive the ad-free podcast of the daily Rush Limbaugh radio program is why I subscribe. I rarely sign into the site and go behind the paywall. I want the ad-free daily podcast, so I pay, even though I could get the program for free by listening on the radio.

FHU.Com also puts a massive and growing archive of radio programs, books and video behind a paywall. I want access to this material, and since it’s a charitable organization, I am willing to donate to gain access behind the paywall and support them.

I don’t envision myself ever paying for access to a newspaper website. I have never subscribed to a printed newspaper. I used to subscribe to a number of printed computer, stereo and photography magazines, but somehow that lost its appeal a number of years ago and I let the subscriptions run out.

For a paywall site to be successful, it must have something behind that wall that people want access to. They must offer something of value that revolves around the essence of what they do best.

YouTube wins Big against Viacom!

Posted by geeknews at 8:42 PM on June 23, 2010

Today the court handed down a big win for YouTube and a lot of other companies that have potentially infringing media on their websites. In two words the court agreed that YouTube has protection by “Safe Harbor” provisions as part of the DMCA. When you think about the thousands of videos being uploaded to not only YouTube, but the varies other sites around it is nearly impossible for any company to monitor all the uploads.

That is not to say that YouTube does not have to take videos down when informed by the copyright holders, only that YouTube is not financially liable for materials on their website that they are not aware of.

When you have millions of passionate people sharing moments from movies to music videos that they love that is a hard thing to stop. Copyright holders should be rejoicing that people love their content and learn that it will be nearly impossible to control where their media is distributed. While I believe people should be able share moments of material in accordance with fair use standards, I can sympathize with media creators frustrations when whole bodies of work are stolen.

Media creators do have to get a grip that times have changed  embrace what is occurring,  instead of sending DMCA takedown notices. It makes a lot more sense to work with YouTube and others media sites to monetize that shared content.

While I know Viacom will fight this all the way to top of the court system, my hope is that YouTube will prevail when the decision is appealed and we can claim a final victory on the safe harbor provisions.

Fighting Fires Instead of Preventing Them

Posted by susabelle at 10:04 AM on November 20, 2009

flame“There are businesses that want to make sure they keep making money by having cures that fix the last one, but not the next one.”

The above quote is from Dr. Fred Cohen, President of the California Sciences Institute, and inventor of the first ever computer virus over 26 years ago. He was speaking specifically about how virus prevention software builders are working only towards having cures, but not really towards prevention. This got me to thinking. How many of the patches and upgrades we install are done as an eye for fixing an existing problem, rather than preventing future problems?

As geek-tech workers, a more-than-fair amount of our time is spent putting out fires. Malware infected machines, network cables that have gotten chewed by mice or a rolling desk chair, trying to find a replacement cable for that syncing device that has been lost. Imagine how much time we’d have back if we weren’t busy putting out fires, and instead were looking for ways to keep us from having fires to put out in the first place.

One of my biggest beefs these days is the variety of cables needed for all the devices we have. My iPod has one type of syncing cable, my electronic note-taking tablet another, and the camera a completely different one. Then there’s the very strange cable that belongs to my Sony Ericsson phone, and the very odd mini-cable that goes to my Kindle DX. When I traveled last week, there were five different cables in my laptop case to accommodate the multiple devices I was carrying. When I set up for my presentation, my laptop’s USB ports were completely full with all of these devices as I demonstrated syncing and updating onto these multiple devices from my laptop. It was a virtual spaghetti factory up there on the podium, and I could not just plug in one cable and rotate devices around, there was a different cable for each one. No wonder people are always losing cables.

Standardization of cables and chargers would go a long way toward preventing problems these types of problems. So does decent cable management (what does it look like under your desk right now?). And in the case of malware/viruses, why aren’t we, as geek-techs, demanding that programs prevent infection, rather than cure it? If Dr. Cohen is right, and I believe he is, we are actually setting ourselves up for more fire-fighting in the future. And while that does create some measure of job security for all of us, it sure would be nice to come to work and do actual planning and development, instead of dealing with crisis after crisis.

Paying for Online News

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2009

Newspaper boy

Are you willing to pay for the news. That is what Rupert Murdoch maybe betting on. Rupert Murdoch is the owner of a media empire which includes the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones. Lately he has been talking about removing his news empire from Google Search and putting them behind a pay wall

Clearly for this to work it would depend on if people are willing to pay for their news. I found an article on Technologizer that said that 45% of people surveyed were willing to pay for news. When I saw this article red flags immediately went up in my head, based on what I had previously heard and read. I wanted to find out more about this survey. The original article came from the New York Times, upon reading the Times’ article I found that the survey was done by the Boston Consulting Group.

I went to their Web site, where there was a fuller explanation of the survey. People are willing to pay for the news, but only under narrow and specific circumstances. This is the key paragraph that the New York Times and Tech chose to ignore.

“• Unique, such as local news (67 percent overall are interested; 72 percent of U.S. respondents) or specialized coverage (63 percent overall are interested; 73 percent of U.S. respondents)

• Timely, such as a continual news alert service (54 percent overall are interested; 61 percent of U.S. respondents)

• Conveniently accessible on a device of choice.”

Consumer, however are not willing to pay for news that is freely available all over the Internet. The consumers that are most willing to pay for their news are those that are already paying for newspaper. I suspect that this is an older and increasingly smaller audience. Even if consumer are willing to pay for their subscription, they are not willing to pay enough to make up for the lost of advertisement that newspapers have been dealing with. A pay wall might slow the decline but it will not stop it. The only way that newspapers can survive is to adapt to the new world, the old model is no longer viable and to try to save it is doom to fail

HP to buy 3Com

Posted by Mike Dell at 11:43 PM on November 11, 2009

3com-logo-rgbRemember the early 90′s dialup internet? Back in those days, you were likely using a US Robotics modem. US Robotics was taken over by 3Com in 1997. Now, 12 years later, 3com itself is being bought up by Hewlett Packard (HP).

HP announced that they will pay $2.7 Billion in cash for 3com Corporation.

This will put HP in the Networking Hardware business. David Donatelli, H-P’s vice president in charge of the corporate-computer division, said 3Com has a better set of networking products for large corporate clients than H-P currently sells and a market share of more than 30% in the China networking market. With the deal, Mr. Donatelli said, “we get industry-leading products.”hp

“By acquiring 3Com, we are accelerating the execution of our Converged Infrastructure strategy and bringing disruptive change to the networking industry. By combining HP ProCurve offerings with 3Com’s extensive set of solutions, we will enable customers to build a next-generation network infrastructure that supports customer needs from the edge of the network to the heart of the data center.”
Read the press release from 3com here

SourceForge changes it’s name to Geeknet

Posted by Mike Dell at 12:01 AM on November 5, 2009

SF04925LOGO SourceForge, Inc. announced on Wednesday that it has changed its name to Geeknet, Inc. to more accurately reflect the company’s business and the growing market it serves. The name change also supports the company’s intention to expand the reach of its online advertising services into new categories.

Sourceforge has always been a place to find open source applications and tools.

“Renaming the company Geeknet is the latest step in our rapid transformation,” said Scott L. Kauffman, President & CEO of Geeknet. “Our new name is a more accurate articulation of our business. With Geeknet as our calling card on Madison Avenue, we are now able to clearly define the audience we serve and more effectively capture the business opportunity that we are addressing.”

The Geeknet network, also includes  Slashdot, ThinkGeek and Ohloh, among others, and serves  more than 40 million geeks each month.

Geeknet has laucned it’s new website over at www.geek.net. Read the full announcement on geek.net

The sourceforge.net site will remain as it was.

I’ve downloaded a lot of great software from there over the years. It looks like they will be around for the long haul!