I know, I’m a total sucker for glittery user interfaces, but isn’t this 3-D flyby of my Flickr Photostream just a really cool way to browse through the pictures?
The tool that is producing the interface is called PicLens and comes in flavours for Mac and Windows, and supports the major browsers on both platforms. It’s also not limited to working with Flickr – it can do the same party trick on Google searches, Facebook galleries and a load of other sites as well, and you can even set it up your own site to show slide shows of your own pictures using the same effect.
Over the past couple of days I’ve been giving ReadBurner a try. The concept is pretty simple, once you’ve pointed it at your Google Reader shared items (mine can be found here) it looks at your items along with the items everybody else has shared and creates several aggregate lists showing the current most popular linked items, the items that are getting a lot of recent links, a straight list of recently linked items, and a couple of longer period popular item lists.
Of course it’s not a new idea, there are a number of other popularity sites, Digg probably being the best known example. It’s also not the first attempt to do something like this with Google Reader, as the Facebook based FeedHeads does the same task. However the big advantage that both these have is that they just piggy back on the existing shared item feeds, as a user I have to to nothing else. The advantage that ReadBurner has over FeedHeads of course is that it doesn’t need you to be a Facebook user to use it. Also, ReadBurner seems a lot more reliable at picking up on shared items – FeedHeads quite often needs a shove to update.
ReadBurner is currently only operating with a relatively small number of source blogs, and is under development by only a single developer. Having said that, it does have the potential with enough linked shared item feeds to be quite an interesting view of the kind of things that people find interesting. Perhaps the biggest question though is why Google themselves haven’t added similar features…
Update: Typical – I write a post, and then find another one aggregating shared Google Reader items – check out Shared Reader which is doing the same sort of thing as ReadBurner, but with some variation in features.
It has to be said, I’ve not been massively excited by the past couple of Macworld Keynotes – either they’ve been things I’ve not really been interested in buying, or things that weren’t available outside the USA, or both.
It’s a bit different this year. The keynote included for key announcements, all of which were interesting to some extent or another.
First off there was Time Capsule, which is effectively the Apple take on Network Attached Storage, and is closely tied in to the Time Machine backup utility that shipped as part of Leopard.
Now it has to be said, that I couldn’t see a pressing reason to upgrade to Leopard, despite all the glowing reviews that were quoted (even from a PC magazine). Although Time Machine was a nice idea, I wasn’t looking to supplant my current backup solution which uses SuperDuper! to produce a fully bootable clone of my main drives. What I wanted to do was use a network attached storage, but although my current solution, a Buffalo Terastation worked fine for a PC, the claimed Apple support was absolutely lousy – and no amount of hacking around has seemed to improve it.
In typical Apple fashion, the Time Capsule is a plug-in and go solution, just turn it on, tell Time Machine, and off it goes, automatically backing up the drives over the network.
I suspect of all the new kit that was on show today, this will probably be the top of the list – the Terastation will remain for the PC backups, but an upgrade to Leopard and a Time Capsule will almost certainly be on the shopping list pretty soon.
Next up is the iPhone updates. Now however fantastic the user experience is with the iPhone, from my point of view it still needs to be 3G. Having said that, keeping a regular phone and having an iPod Touch as a PDA seemed to be a possibility – more so now, as alongside the new toys on the iPhone, Apple have released some of the extra applications onto the iPod Touch. Chief amongst those is the mail client – which will make a big difference, but they’ve also included the new iPhone version of Google Maps. The main feature that doesn’t work is the my location – but that is pretty ropey even on my regular mobile, but in terms of usability with the multi-touch gestures that the iPod Touch supports it is streets ahead of the client on any other mobile device. Suffice to say that when iTunes offered me the upgrade to my iPod Touch tonight, it wasn’t really much of a choice to install it, and I have to say as well, having played with the other applications, a 3G iPhone is looking a really attractive proposition compared to the current competition.
After that we had Apple taking a second stab at the Apple TV. Now it’s fair to say that this is one product that hasn’t been a massive success up to now. Certainly when I first saw it I wasn’t enthused. For take two, Apple are taking on the movie rental market. The requirement to have a computer is gone, effectively all you need is a TV, the Apple TV, and a broadband connection, and then you can rent movies, get TV shows, music, pictures from Flickr and videos from YouTube. If you’ve got a computer, the box will also sync up media with that as before. The real boon though is that they are renting high definition copies of the movies, and again, it’s all just point and click – compared to current solutions where it seems to score is the ease of use. Of course in UK terms, it will really come down to the quality of the available content, so it’s a definite wait and see on this one.
The last big announcement was not the much predicted touch-screen MacBook, however it was a new laptop, and one designed to slot in between the consumer MacBook line and the professional MacBook Pro, filling the gap left by the missing ultra portable pro laptop that was the 12â€œ Powerbook. What was shown was the Macbook Air, the worlds thinnest laptop. On a purely technological level it is impressive how thin the laptop actually is – amazing compared to most of the laptops people lug around. However screen wise it’s a reasonable size – 13â€?, the same as the MacBook, it also has a decent sized keyboard, and comes with an 80gb hard drive and 2gb RAM. What is amazing is quite how thin it is – a wedge shape 4mm at the front, and 19.4mm at the back, and it weighs in at just over 1Kg. With the same graphics as the MacBook it’s not going to be great games wise, but as an easy to carry laptop it’s great. Price wise it’s not too bad, at just under Â£1200 for the basic model – although that shoots up to over Â£2000 if you want the solid state disk option. Alongside this, the laptop introduces a lot of the gestures that appeared on the iPhone and iPod Touch – so it definitely would be a tempting package if I were in the market for a laptop – especially as just like all the other Apple machines you can dual boot into Windows too.
So in terms of the coolest thing announced, it’s certainly the new laptop, but from a personal practical point of view it’s the iPod Touch update and the Time Capsule that are probably what I’m going to end up using… Having said that, it certainly was a great keynote. The whole show is now up on the Apple site so you can ooh and aah along with the Apple faithful, and also proof that in even the best prepared presentations things don’t always quite go according to plan.
Alternatively, if you haven’t got ninety minutes to spend – this is the whole thing compressed into sixty seconds:
The site is probably the kind of business that most internet entrepreneurs wish they had. It continues to be a massive success – the NY Times article states that it is earning Markus $10 million a year, for about ten hours work. He has only one permanent employee, and his users don’t pay anything to use the site – it is entirely advertising driven. Most of the support is provided by other users, for free, as is the administrative tasks of vetting the online singles notices.
When you also realise that the site was written in the first place as a programming exercise because he wanted to learn ASP.Net, and he’s kept the site free almost as an exercise in seeing how long he could go before it got too much to handle. The site won’t win any design awards either, but much like Craigslist the site is successful, seemingly despite the acknowledged failings in the web design.
Perhaps all of that is an indication that with all the snazzy design and grand plans in the world, being a success on the internet is just as much about having the right idea, and shed loads of luck as anything else…
Grabbing a copy of Google Earth today the download page pointed me in the direction of other things that I might find interesting, one of which was Google Mobile Maps. Essentially what it does is take the underlying database used by regular Google Maps, but put a J2ME front end onto the data so that you can access it from a mobile phone.
Of course with the volume of data that Google Maps chucks around, you’d expect the performance to not be exactly stellar, however I was really impressed by the speed with which it generated maps. I put in our post code and it zipped straight to our street. It even has the same choice as the full size Google Maps to switch to a satellite view – the shot above shows the satellite view of the Church.
But it’s not just the maps that have made the transition, it also hooks up to the search facilities to allow you to find local amenities such as restaurants and hotels. Coupled with the fact that it includes the Get Directions facility and it is a fantastic little package. Of course you’ll probably end up paying for it in data charges, but if you find yourself needing a map, all you need now is your mobile phone, nothing else. In fact the only feature it actually lacks, is the ability to work out roughly where you are but I suspect that may turn up at some point too. Even if it’s not something you’re going to use a lot, Google Mobile Maps is definitely a useful tool to have installed onto your phone for an emergency.
Living within a few miles of Microsoft’s UK HQ, I do know a few people who either work for Microsoft themselves, or work under contract. Apparently, as a result of the rising tensions between Microsoft and Google, all staff have been told to stop using Google for searching, and instead use MSN Search, the Microsoft equivalent. The order to swap over is being made primarily on the grounds of loyalty. However what is interesting is firstly that not everybody has swapped over (apparently the initial ditch Google memo was followed by a second more forceful version when people carried on), and secondly, that although they could, Microsoft are not using their web gateway to block Google – it is still available to all staff.
So why is it that if they want people to stop, Microsoft haven’t just blocked the site? Also, why is it that the employees aren’t swapping? To be blunt, it’s because they’ve found that Google gives better results. As an example, I’ve been shown a patent search that produces nothing in MSN Search, but on Google produces the full text of the patent. Whilst there are numerous examples of the inferior product winning a battle (think VHS/Betamax for a start) does Microsoft really have a hope from this far back, or should they as Dave suggests, stick to their core markets?
Update: In amongst the unfounded rumours about Google doing a deal with Sun for Google Office, I spotted this little confession from Scoble, that he still has Google Toolbar installed… Bear in mind that MSN have a toolbar as well, but even someone who is supposed to be evangelising Microsoft admits to using the competition! If you read the rest of the article, Scoble is clear that the IT market is changing again, and that Microsoft is trying to adapt. However, my impression has always been that Scoble is primarily a technology enthusiast, who will praise something and promote something good even if it isn’t by Microsoft, and equally will criticise his employer if they are doing something wrong. But the point remains that if they’re having trouble getting their own staff to switch, why should anybody else?
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in Southern England.