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


Is Twitter all That?

Posted by geeknews at 1:12 AM on September 16, 2010

I use Twitter every day, but being I have about a million other things to do, like work! I do not have time to follow the ever updating stream of information. Sure I take a look 3 or 4 times a day but I do not live on Twitter.

Some have made the argument that because of Twitter and Facebook, that RSS and RSS Readers specifically are dead. I find this ridiculous because in the world that I live in, along with the 6000 people we represent, without RSS we would be out of business.

Most of the luminaries saying this are individuals with significant influence in the online space. They are often privy to information before the news even breaks, and have significant online followings. Robert Scoble is one of many that has been on the RSS is dead campaign I like Robert and respect his opinions, one thing for sure he obviously has significant connections in the valley. Could his influence and connections be skewing his perception about how important RSS and RSS Readers still are? Not all of us live in that circle of influence. Robert attributes Twitter as his primary source of news and information.

The question to ask is how is he getting that info. I have 5k followers, and only get 1 or 2 direct messages a day. So from my perspective news and information is not coming from the followers maybe this why he made the following statement. Robert made it clear in a recent blog post about the new Twitter design that he could care less about his followers.

This is shocking out of context, but when you read what he has to say about the new design, Robert says it does not do enough to improve the functions of lists. Robert has a number of lists, those lists is where he gleans most of his news and information. That information is largely from those that “he” follows not those that follow him. So what he is saying without saying it, is to only pay attention to those you follow and ignore the rest. Which in my conclusion is why he says he could care less about his followers?

We all know the volume of chatter on twitter is staggering and impossible to keep up with, I follow a lot of people largely because they follow me, maybe I have been using Twitter incorrectly. For me it’s too time consuming to build lists, if there was a easier way to really separate the wheat from the chaff, then Twitter would become more valuable to me.

I like Twitter, but it is not my main source of news and information. I get that from a handful of websites and about 1000 other unique blogs I follow in Google Reader. Google Reader gives me one thing Twitter is not able to do. Google Reader guarantees I will not miss something while I have been working, and I can look back at the days news and get my self caught up. I react like everyone else about the big news events. But I still like to dig around in the weeds for the rest of the story.

Until twitter finds a way to feed me a steady stream of info that I want without a lot of hassle, then the RSS Reader will continue to be my daily source of news and information. 140 characters is never enough. Twitter will never replace blogs if you think it will try and grab a tweet you made 2 years ago off of Twitter.

Broken Twitter Clients

Posted by Alan at 2:40 PM on September 3, 2010

If you use a Twitter client (either on your desktop or phone) then you may have had a surprise on Tuesday.  A nasty surprise, actually.  That surprise was a broken app.

You probably thought, as I did at first, that Twitter was down.  After all,  that is something we have become used to.  The “Fail Whale”, as it is known, may be one of the most recognized symbols in today’s pop culture.

This time it wasn’t the Fail Whale, though.  It wasn’t Twitter themselves…well, not exactly.  It seems that they switched the log-in process to be compatible with OAuth.  That’s a good thing, but it sure caused a lot of people problems.  They announced that they were going to do this.  They gave plenty of notice.  We, the users, probably didn’t pay attention, but it seems a lot of developers also didn’t pay attention.  And that’s where the problems arose.

Many clients, such as mine (TouchTwit), Twikini, and HTC’s Peep for Android, to name just three, stopped working.  Twikini does not have the resources to update and has shut down.  I would assume HTC has plenty of money to throw at developers to fix Peep and, as of today (Friday) I am seeing that TouchTwit has an update to make it OAuth compatible.

I am glad TouchTwit is fixed, but it’s a bit late since I went and purchased MoTweets.  That is frustrating though because I had paid for TouchTwit a few months ago.  Okay, we’re not talking about bank-breakers here (TouchTwit is $1.99 and MoTweets is $3.99), but I still expect these things to be updated before they are broken and not three days after.

As for Twitter themselves they may have released information that this change was coming, but they apparently did not do a very good job because developers were crying that they had no warning.  Twitter was even forced to send an email to all of its users on Wednesday (the day after they broke the apps) to let everyone know what had happened.  That would have been a prudent move on their part if only they had done it a month, or even a week, before the change went live.  It seems both parties were at fault in this little fiasco.

Custom Apps

Posted by tomwiles at 8:16 PM on August 11, 2010

The smartphone’s in many consumer hands today are as powerful as the desktop computers we were using five years ago. They may be as powerful from a hardware standpoint, yet the smaller interface demands different methods of interaction. The smaller interface also places different demands on the software that runs on it.

Smartphone software apps typically need to be smaller and very narrowly focused in order to be maximally useful. Smartphones have turned out to be convergence devices, with the functionality of traditional desktop and laptop computers concentrated into a handheld phone.

The best smartphone apps tend to be apps that present a finely honed slice of functionality.

Many podcasters are coming up with their own smartphone apps. One I recently installed is called “Survive!” for Android. It is an Android app for “The Survival Podcast” available at http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com, hosted by Jack Spirko. It’s a great example of simple, functional design that places the web presence of The Survival Podcast in a neat little Android app package.

“Survive!” has a simple home screen that simply lists Survival Podcast Episodes, Videos (YouTube), Twitter, a link to the main website, and recent website forum posts. The single configuration option decides whether or not to download new Survival Podcast episodes automatically or not.

The inclusion of both Twitter and recent forum posts is a great way for the community that Survival Podcast host Jack Spirko has built up around the podcast and it’s website to keep up to date with the latest posts. Additionally the app includes instant access to all of the latest audio and video media.

“Survive!” is an excellent example of a well-crafted smartphone app that presents all of the main podcast and web-based elements in a simple, extremely easy-to-use package. “Survive!” can be found in the Android Marketplace by searching the term “survival podcast.”

What Makes A Tech Success?

Posted by tomwiles at 1:23 AM on July 12, 2010

It seems in the world of computers and the Internet there is always a steady stream of new things on the horizon, as well as a steady stream of new products and services. It’s been this way for many years at this point.

There are always winners and losers. Winners can win big, and losers at worst fail to make any marketplace splash or even a ripple and end up in the tech dustbin of obscurity with few people ever knowing that the product or service ever existed.

What is it that makes for a successful product? Why is it that some products and services that seem very similar to other products and services end up becoming household names, while others end up being cancelled domain name landing pages?

It’s obvious there are a variety of factors that come into play. If it were easy to predict these things, we would have a lot fewer losers. Why did Twitter become a household name, whereas similar services such as Plurk and Jaiku languish in the shadows? What enabled Facebook to steal most of the MySpace thunder?

New products and services that end up being successful frequently incorporate elements and principles of previously-existing successes, but package them in more compact and useful forms.

Initially when Twitter came along a couple of years ago, I heard people talking about it, but I was a bit resistant to sign up. I felt like I had plenty of ways to communicate with people, so why did I need to add yet another account to a service that would steal away time I already had filled, only to ultimately let yet another account go dormant? I finally signed up for Twitter, and after I began using it I began to understand the value of it. With a service like Twitter, the more people that are using it, the more valuable it becomes.

About the same time I signed up for a Twitter account, I also signed up for a Plurk account. After a few visits to the Plurk website over a period of a month or two, I haven’t been back to the site since.

I believe what is valuable about Twitter is that 140 character limit per Tweet, forcing people to be succinct with their wording. Twitter and Tweet are cute names. The site design is simple, the blue bird logo pleasing to the eye, and the developers kept the API and name open to other developers, allowing an entire ecosystem of ancillary products and services to develop around it at the same time it was rapidly increasing in popularity. Twitter is very much like chat, which was already well established, but it had the added value that it either could be in real time, or not, able to be accessed from a vast array of devices beyond the Twitter website. Twitter also allows you to subscribe to just the people you want, and ignore or even completely block the rest. Twitter also allows you to reach out and touch people, and it allows you to monitor what others are up to whose lives are at once very similar to your own, yet often radically different. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish interacting with the service. Another thing that turned out to be incredibly useful with twitter is the vast 24/7 real-time data stream that it generates. Real-time Twitter data mining has proved to be quite valuable to many people.

To be honest I have always thought that many MySpace pages were often monstrous, unbelievably cluttered messes that often took a long time to load. Nonetheless, MySpace became popular because it obviously served a need with a younger demographic.

I’ve always thought Facebook’s interface is somewhat confusing, though allowing for far less cluttered and confusing-looking profile pages. I still don’t quite understand what got Facebook to the level of critical popularity – perhaps the less-cluttered, faster-loading profile pages gave it the critical edge over MySpace.

It should also be noted that Facebook allowed for an open API, allowing a myriad of interesting and often useful applications to be plugged in to its interface.

However it did it, Facebook managed to get to a critical mass of users where it became THE thing to sign up for and THE place to be to stay connected with family, friends and business associates. Something interesting has happened with Facebook that has never happened before – everyday, non-geek people who had never built website profiles in all the years they had been doing email and web browsing were suddenly signing up for Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Mothers, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc. were suddenly showing up on the same service with their kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Once the ball rolled, Facebook became an incredible success.

I started noticing a while back that many people were starting to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other in lieu of email. At this point I find myself getting pulled into that trend myself. These services don’t offer the relative privacy of direct email, but they allow for easy, frequent public conversations and easy sharing of personal media such as photos between friends and family on a global scale.

What I take away from the success stories versus the less-successful competitors is that oftentimes the differences in design and implementation can be slight, but those slight differences can offer real, tangible advantages to the end user. If those often-slight advantages can somehow help get the product or service to a critical mass threshold, they can find themselves catapulted to the point of planetary awareness.

The Impact of Twitter

Posted by Alan at 7:14 AM on July 11, 2010

I was pretty early in signing up for Twitter.  I don’t remember exactly when, but early.  I followed a few people, mostly ones in the tech world such as Leo Laporte, etc.  I didn’t check my account all that often and, when I did, there were too many posts to read back through.

After a while, I discovered Twitter desktop apps and things improved.  I think it was twhirl, but I couldn’t swear to it.  My use of Twitter went up with this new advance.  Now I could keep the app open on my desktop, in the background.  I started to follow a little more, post a little more, and was better able to keep up with the posts of those I was following.

Then I got an app for my phone.  After a while I changed to another and then yet another.  Currently I use TouchTwit.  This, the phone app, was the biggest revelation for me.  Now Twitter is always with me no matter where I am.  Now I no longer miss any posts from any of the people I follow.  And I post much more than ever.

This phone revelation, which began for me a couple of years ago, prompted more changes than those I just mentioned though.  It prompted me to really think about who I followed.  I made changes.  I added and I removed.  I discovered there were two distinctively different types of people (or in some cases entities) I was following.  There were those I followed for fun – some are my friends, some are pro athletes, some are tech journalists.  And then there were those I followed for news and information – for instance a local news radio station and local newspaper keep me up-to-date on local news, Breaking News keeps me informed of national and world news, ProCyclingLive keeps me up to the minute about what is going on during a bike race, AmazonMP3 and AmazonVideo give me deals on purchases and rentals (complete with the occasional coupon code for a discount), and this list goes on.

There is humor to be found – take a tweet I remember from a year or so ago from Lance Armstrong (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Dear ATT, it’s been two weeks since you said you’d fix my home phone.  Maybe tomorrow?”  Followed a few hours later by another tweet along the lines of “just returned from a training ride and there’s an ATT truck in front of my house.”  Not only was it amusing, but it also demonstrated the power that having a LOT of followers can have, even over a major corporation.

There’s the real human impact that came home to us last year when we all sat spellbound as the only news that we, or even the major outlets like CNN, could get about the Iranian Election protests came to us via the citizens of Iran as they posted to Twitter what was happening, complete with pictures and videos, in their country.  Their internet shut off by a dictatorial regime, they got word out to the world using Twitter apps and cellular connections.  They nearly brought down a tyrannical government using modern technology that these old-style regimes weren’t prepared to deal with.

I sat dumbfounded over my breakfast one morning as tweet after tweet rolled past revealing the horror of the Chilean earthquake and subsequent tsunami warnings.  The information leapfrogged the best news outlets we have because it came, first-person, from those who were there on the ground, in the middle of the devastation.

And, I will close with a gem (for me at least).  Recently my daughter celebrated a birthday.  She is also a huge football fan of, thankfully, the same team that I am a fan of.  I took a chance and tweeted to one of her favorite players that she was a fan and it was her birthday.  Within 20 minutes I received a reply from him wishing her, by name, a happy birthday.  She now has a printout of that tweet hanging on her wall.  I certainly can’t say that all such people in his position would have done this.  But it’s great that we have this way of communicating with even the famous and, if they want, they can communicate back with their fans.  (Note: I am not naming him because I wouldn’t want him to be swamped with requests.)

In a short time Twitter has gone from posts about what you had for breakfast to changing the world.  They may have fewer users than Facebook, but there’s a very real reason why many say Facebook has Twitter-envy.  They may have the power and the technology to change the world in very palpable ways, especially in places where governments have a vested interest in the suppression of information.

Better Apps and Better Data Needed

Posted by tomwiles at 7:20 PM on June 19, 2010

Better Apps and Better Data NeededWhen it comes to certain types of software or social networking sites, I have tended to hold back and let others to be the first to jump on the bandwagon. For example, Twitter was around a year or two before I decided to sign up and see what all the fuss was about. I did the same thing with Facebook. After all, it seems in the initial stages there are dozens and dozens of similar types of sites that are trying to compete for the big prize, and I refuse to sign up for any or all of them until it becomes clear that they are doing something to set themselves apart to garner real interest. In the past I’ve signed up for plenty of sites and it seems like I’m the only one present. The formula is easy – the more people that sign up and actually use a site, the more useful it becomes.

In the smart phone realm I’ve been hearing people talk a lot about Foursquare. I kept hearing it mentioned, but really had little clue what functionality it offered. I kept hearing about Starbucks discounts and Mayors in conjunction with Foursquare and wondered what on earth that was about and what that had to do with a smart phone app.

Since I’m the proud owner of the Sprint Evo 4G smart phone, I’ve been checking out all sorts of interesting Android apps. The Foursquare name kept periodically coming up, so I decided I would check it out.

Once I loaded Foursquare on my Evo and opened the app up for the first time I was presented with a Foursquare login screen and realized I had to go to their site in a browser to create an account, which I did. As part of the Foursquare account generation process, they present you with options of connecting your new account to Facebook and Twitter – very smart on their part, because it helps to connect with friends that are already Foursquare members.

After I logged in on my phone, it was cool to be able to see where those friends had been when they “checked in” from various restaurants and businesses around the country and the world. That’s cool. However, the “Location” tab makes the app EXTREMELY useful for me. I’m an over-the-road truck driver, constantly driving up and down freeways across the country. I happened to be at Gas City, Indiana when I installed Foursquare, so I was a bit surprised to see listed all the restaurants and convenience stores at the exit I was at along I-69, and the distance in meters they were away from where my truck was parked. It uses the phone’s built-in GPS chip so that it knows exactly where it’s at and what businesses are around – within “four square miles” perhaps?

All of these GPS-enabled smart phone apps are great, but they don’t solve all of my problems. I’m constantly looking for truck washes (refrigerated trailers constantly need washed out before reloading) as well as truck stops and truck parking. Even Google’s database has been gamed – try typing “truck stop” or “truck wash” along with the city name of your choice into Google and see if the search results aren’t misleading. “Truck wash” and a city name will often result in car wash business listings, useless for my purposes.

The bottom line is there’s still plenty of room for future smart phone app development. More specialized apps and better databases are two elements that can result in more useful apps.

The Death of Feed Readers

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 5:29 AM on May 27, 2010

I recently realized that I haven’t looked at my feed reader of choice in weeks, except occasionally on my Iphone. I was a big feed reader user. I tried several over the years, including Google Reader, Feedly and Netnews Wire among others whose names I can’t re-call. Each of these programs have their own plus and minus, but the one thing that all of them lack is real time notification. Increasingly, I want information coming to me in as real time as possible. Feed readers are just not made to be truly real time.

So If I don’t use a feed reader how do I keep up with the news. I use a combination of Socialite and recently Seesmic Desktop 2 Preview. Socialite lets me follow both Twitter and Facebook, while I use Seesmic to follow Google Buzz, which was recently added with the release of the API. I have divided my Twitter following into lists based on my various interest, including technology, ecology, local news and cooking. I add people and companies based on their knowledge to the appropriate list. The reason i don’t use Seesmic to follow everything is I prefer the way Socialite is set up. Socialite places the lists on the left hand screen and the messages flow down the center. There is a indicator next to each list with the number of unread messages. I can go thru each list individually, when I am ready. If there is a link that I am interested in I can either click on it to open it immediately or I can send it to Instapaper to read later.

I have been using this method for about a month now and I really like it. I doubt I will go back to a feed reader full time anytime soon. Do you use social media applications to keep up with the news, If so what do you use and how do you use it.

Twitter and Tweetie

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 3:40 PM on April 18, 2010

It has been a busy week for Twitter, not to mention a controversial one. First on Wednesday of last week Evan Williams, the chairman of Twitter announced that they had purchased Albeit the company that owns Tweetie. Tweetie is one of the most popular twitter clients on the Iphone. Then just a few days later, Twitter announced that they were going to start monetizing Twitter by introducing what they call promoted tweets. At first they will show up only if you are searching for a specific product . However, eventually they will become apart of the normal Twitter stream.

Evan Williams said they purchased Tweetie, because they wanted to alleviate user’s confusion, when the user looked for a twitter applications in the Itunes app store. While this maybe true I don’t believe it was the real reason they brought Tweetie.  I suspect that the announcement that they are placing promotional tweets within the Twitter stream is the real reason they purchased Tweetie. Promotional tweets will not roll out to third application until later and the revenue will be shared. Which meant without the purchase of Tweetie, and other apps for Blackberry and Android, Twitter’s only guaranteed revenue flow would have been the Twitter web site. If you look at a typical user’s stream most of them are coming from third party applications and mobile devices. Twitter needed to have an official app for all the major mobile devices including the Iphone, Blackberry and Android to widen where their revenue pool.   The interesting thing is will third party apps developers join forces with Twitter or go more toward paid ad free models and where does Apple fit into the equation.  I don’t have the answers to the questions, but I pretty sure things are going to be interesting in the app development community for the next couple of months.

185 Twitter Posts A Day: The Social Experiment

Posted by J Powers at 1:25 AM on March 27, 2010

185 what?

A few months back I looked at some hard data on my Twitter usage. Actually, it was more usage across the board between Social Networks like Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Buzz and others. I did a rudimentary count of how many Twitter posts I looked at in a day. I tallied the numbers for a week, then averaged it out. That is how I got to 185.

I also took into affect how many Twitter followers I had. At the time it was 1170. I counted only the Twitter posts I saw in the “All friends” area – Mentions and DM’s did not count.

The same idea was applied on Facebook. It was a lot higher in 350. I think that is because my Facebook is geared more toward the people directly in my life and Twitter is pretty much everyone I follow.

I did the Buzz thing for a while, but lost interest. Plurk – Haven’t been up there in a while. Friendfeed? Well, that is almost the same as Facebook, right?

The reason why I counted? Well at that time, everyone was talking about paid Twitter posts. Anyone with around 5,000 followers or more were getting requests to pay-post. In thinking about it, I wondered if someone does post an ad, how likely would it be that I would read it?

I suppose if you were to post the ad every hour, then I would eventually catch it once. But in all reality, with reading 185 posts a day from 1170 people (which is more like 300-400 people), that post might never be seen by my eyes. But if you have 5,000 people following you and this 185 model was applied, I suppose someone will see it. More likely about 30-50 people will read your post. A small, but useful number.

Of course, I went by my own habits. I have an iPhone, so I can check these things while I am mobile. And as they say – Individual results will vary.

I challenge you to figure out how many Twitter posts you read in a day. Is it more? To do this – Do a daily count of posts you read for a week and average it out. I would do separate counts of each social network you visit.

As for me, I am working on the 185. I will most likely do another count / average in about 6 months. See if my numbers increase.

Lisa Tickled Pink Hates Technology: The Social Experiment

Posted by J Powers at 11:29 AM on March 9, 2010

If you by chanced checked out “This Week in Tech”, you watched as Leo Laporte talked with Kevin Rose, John Dvorak and Clayton Morris talk about events in tech. I had the show on live as I was working on other projects as they did something that was not only interesting, but also shows how someone can turn from a nobody to a social mediate. Someone who didn’t even expect to become one.

They were talking about how Conan O’Brien had announced he was following a random person. They decided that this group could do the same thing. Therefore, Kevin Rose got onto twitter and looked for someone that only had 2-3 tweets. But what he found was the perfect twitter account.

@Lisatickledpink Hates Technology

The foursome started talking about this Twitter, in which all the viewers (about 1,700 at the time) started to follow Lisa Etheridge. They realized that she was in New Zealand and had notifications turned on. Therefore, she got an interesting wakeup call to everyone following her on Twitter.

By the end of the show, she had over 2,000 followers. The news instantly topped on Digg, which helped with more followers. Her count right now? 12,526.

Yep, she did in 2 days what most of us couldn’t do in 3 years. And while a lot of those followers could be bots and soon-to-be-dead profiles, she still has a considerable audience that will receive her status updates throughout the day. An amazing feat and a great way to start her iFame.

I mentioned Conan O’brien before. His experiment has netted a couples’ wedding to be paid in full. Of course, Conan wasn’t the first to turn a nobody into someone. However, with Twitter gaining more users than it ever has before and an average of 600 tweets a second, the world is getting more connected than ever. Where as my Twitter hits something like 0.00002 percent of the population, Lisa has an ear of 0.00025 percent.  To put into perspective, @aplusk (Ashton Kutcher) has 0.092 percent (Based on 4-5 Billion user accounts)

So to Lisa Etheridge – Enjoy this new fame and use it wisely. You have been put in a position that can mean people are listening to you. Don’t forget to mention my twitter handle every now and then, too – @geekazine