February 23

NPO Evaluation, IE6, Still Waters for Wave

[Oops! Forgot to publish this Idealware post from late January...]

Here are a few updates topics I’ve posted on in the last few months:

Nonprofit Assessment

The announcement that GuideStar, Charity Navigator and others would be moving away from the 990 form as their primary source for assessing nonprofit performance raised a lot of interesting questions, such as “How will assessments of outcomes be standardized in a way that is not too subjective?” and “What will be required of nonprofits in order to make those assessments?” We’ll have a chance to get some preliminary answers to those questions on February 4th, when NTEN will sponsor a phone-in panel discussion with representatives of GuideStar and Charity Navigator, as well as members of the nonprofit community. The panel will be hosted by Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, and will include:

I’ll be participating as well. You can learn more and register for the free event with NTEN.

The Half-Life of Internet Explorer 6

It’s been quite a few weeks as far as headlines go, with a humanitarian crisis in haiti; a dramatic election in Massachusetts; A trial to determine if California gay marriage-banning proposition is, in fact, discriminatory; high profile shakeups in late night television and word of the Snuggie, version 2 all competing for our attention. An additional, fascinating story is unfolding with Google’s announcement that they might pull their business out of China in light of a massive cybercrime against critics of the Chinese regime that, from all appearances, was either performed or sanctioned by the Chinese government. There’s been a lot of speculation about Google’s motives for such a dramatic move, and I fall in the camp that says, whatever their motives, it’s refreshing to see a gigantic U.S. corporation factor ethics into a business decision, even if it’s unclear exactly what the complete motivations are.

As my colleague Steve Backman fully explains here, here’s been some fallout from this story for Microsoft. First, like Google and Yahoo!, Microsoft operates a search engine in China and submits to the Chinese governments censoring filters. They’ve kept mum on their feelings about the cyber-attack. Google’s analysis of that attack reveals that GMail accounts were hacked and other breaches occurred via security holes in Internet Explorer, versions six and up, that allow a hacker to upload programs and take control of a user’s PC. As this information came to light, France and Germany both issued advisories to their citizens that switching to a browser other than Internet Explorer would be prudent. In response, Microsoft has issued a statement recommending that everyone upgrade from Internet Explorer version 6 to version 8, the current release. What Microsoft doesn’t mention is that the security flaw exists in versions seven and eight as well as six, so upgrading won’t protect you from the threat, although they just released a patch that hopefully will.

So, while their reasoning is suspect, it’s nice to see that Microsoft has finally joined the campaign to remove this old, insecure and incompatible with web standards browser.

Google Wave: Still Waters

I have kept Google Wave open in a tab in my browser since the day my account was opened, subscribed to about 15 waves, some of them quite well populated. I haven’t seen an update to any of these waves since January 12th, and it was really only one wave that’s gotten any updates at all in the past month. I can’t give away the invites I have to offer. The conclusion I’m drawing is that, if Google doesn’t do something to make the Wave experience more compelling, it’s going to go the way of a Simply Red B-Side and fade from memory. As I’ve said, there is real potential here for something that puts telecommunication, document creation and data mining on a converged platform, and that would be new. But, in it’s current state, it’s a difficult to use substitute for a sophisticated Wiki. And, while Google was hyping this, Confluence released a new version of their excellent (free for nonprofits) enterprise Wiki that can incorporate (like Wave) Google gadgets. That makes me want to pack up my surfboard.

February 21

Why Google Buzz Should Be Your Blog

Buzzcafeteria
Now, you might think that’s a crazy idea, but  I think Buzz is about 80% of the way there. Last week, in my Google’s Creepy Profiles post, I made a suggestion (that someone at Google has hopefully already thought of) that it wouldn’t take much to turn a Profile into a full-fledged biography/lifestreaming site.  Just add some user-configurable tabs, that can contain HTML or RSS-fed content, and add some capability to customize the style of the profile.  Since I wrote that, I’ve been using Buzz quite a bit and I’ve really been appreciating the potential it has to deepen conversations around web-published materials.

I think some of my appreciation for Buzz comes from frustration with Google’s previous, half-hearted attempts to make Google Reader more social. If you use Reader heavily, then you know that you can share items via a custom, personal page and the “People You Follow” tab in Reader. You also know that you can comment on items and read others comments in the “Comments View”.  But it’s far from convenient to work with either of these sharing methods.  But, once you link your reader shared items to Buzz, then you aren’t using Reader’s awkward ionterface to communicate; you’re using Buzzes.  And Buzz, for all of Google’s launch-time snafus, is an easy to use and powerful communications tool, merging some of the best things about Twitter and Facebook.

So, how is Buzz suitable for a blog?

  • It’s a rich editing environment with simple textile formatting and media embedding, just like a blog.
  • Commenting — way built-in.
  • RSS-capable – you can subscribe to anyone’s Buzz feed.
  • Your Google Profile makes for a decent public Blog homepage, with an “About the Author”, links and contact pages.
  • It’s pre-formatted for mobile viewing

What’s missing?

  • Better formatting options.  The textile commands available are minimal
  • XML-RPC remote publishing
  • Plug-ins for the Google Homepage
  • As mentioned, more customization and site-building tools for the Google Homepage.

Why is it compelling?

  • Because your blog posts are directly inserted into a social networking platform.  No need to post a link to it, hope people will follow, and then deal with whatever commenting system your blog has to respond.
  • Your blog’s community grows easily, again fueled by the integrated social network.
  • Managing comments – no longer a chore!

This is the inverse of adding Google or Facebook’s Friend Connect features to your blog.  it’s adding your blog to a social network, with far deeper integration that Twitter and Facebook currently provide. Once Google releases the promised API, much of what’s missing will start to become available.  At that point, I’ll have to think about whether I want to move this island of a blog to the mainland, where it will get a lot more traffic.  I’ll definitely be evaluating that possibility.

Category: nptech, Open APIs, rss, strategy, techcafeteria, tools, twitter, Web | Comments Off
February 15

Google’s Creepy Profiles

Google Profile

Google Profile

Google unveiled a bold new product last week; one of critical and compelling import to anyone who believes that their online reputation is important.  I’m not talking about Google Buzz.  I’m talking about Google Profiles.  This isn’t a new service — Google introduced the profile pages a few years ago.  But the release of Google Buzz has illuminated how important they are in Google’s plans, and how important they can be for us.  And if this profile is now a major component in my personal branding strategy, I demand better tools to manage it than Google has provided.

About a year ago, Google pointed out that, if you have a populated Google Profile, they will include it below the search results when people google your name. So, for someone like me — who does want to be easily located on the web, but has a reasonably common name, this seemed like a good deal, and I filled out my profile.  As a result, I’m prominently placed in the profile links when you search for my name, even though I’m about the fifth best known “Peter Campbell” on the web.

A Google Profile page contains four important pieces:

  • Biographical information about you.
  • Links to your important web sites.
  • Secured contact information.
  • Google Buzz integration.

The bio and links are much like other online profiles, such as Yahoo! and Facebook.  The contact info option is interesting, as you can share it with groups defined in your Google Contacts.  I can’t see a good reason to do this, as any group I’d be willing to share with (such as “family”) already knows how to find me and, if they don’t, they aren’t going to think to look at my Google Profile(!). So I’ve left this blank, as it seems like better security to not publish my address and phone number online if I don’t have a good reason to.

The Buzz integration is particularly worrisome.  First, by default, Buzz publishes your connections to your profile.  It’s easy to turn off, and recommended if you have any concern about anyone in the world knowing who your online friends are.  I turned this right off.

Second, your Buzz stream is published to the profile as well. So consider that — anything you say on Buzz gets added to your profile, which might be prominently placed in search results for your name (whereas your buzzes might not be).  We all know that employers are getting savvy, and searching the web for info about us as part of a candidate review.  But I assume that an employer seeing my Twitter stream on Twitter will bear in mind the context — Twitter, like Buzz, is a conversational medium.  A profile is much more like a resume.  I may well buzz about my favorite Doctor Who episode, but I’m not going to discuss TV shows on my resume…

The furor over Buzz’s privacy violations at rollout were really much more about the profiles — many new Buzz users didn’t even know they had  a Google Profile prior.

So, Google — I hope you’re listening.  If my Google Profile is going to factor more and more into my online identity — and the way that Buzz both highlights it and depends on it suggests so — you need to give me more tools and flexibility about how that profile looks and what information it contains.  Here’s what would make me feel like I have a profile on the web, as opposed to Google having a dossier on me on the web:

  • Less structured content.  The “what can’t you find on Google” question is cute, but it’s not a key component of my personal branding.  Get rid of the cute stuff, and give me more options to share the info that I want to share, not that you necessarily want to hear.
  • A logo, stylesheet, and other basic web design tools.  I’d like this to look more like this blog, with the black background and the Techcafeteria logo.
  • My own tabs, and the ability to remove the extra tabs that you think I should have.  Mostly, the decision to publish my Buzz feed to my profile should be mine, not yours.  Make that optional, but add the ability to add new tabs and link them to other websites or RSS sources.

For an example, look at my home site at http://techcafeteria.com.  That is a profile, with info about me; lifestreaming; shared resources via RSS; and a contact form.  If Google Profiles could do what I ask, I’d scrap the current Techcafeteria site and link this blog, along with my other feeds, directly to my Google Profile, and redirect both techcafeteria.com and peterscampbell.com to it.

Until then, that’s not my profile.  That’s Google’s profile of me, and it’s a bit creepy.

February 13

About that Nexus One

Nexus OneTwo weeks ago, I bit an expensive bullet and bought a new Nexus One phone, directly from Google. I’m a T-Mobile customer, and, as long-time readers know, an early adopter of the T-Mobile G1, the first publicly-available Android phone. I went for the unlocked version of the Nexus One (at $529 before taxes) rather than the $279 upgrade. My analysis of what the cost would have been, under the arcane T-Mobile condition that I can’t get a Nexus One and maintain my family plan at that price, was that it would have cost hundreds more over the two year contract term.

Here’s the short review: Fast, fast, fast, fast and shiny!

Here’s the long one:

My critique of the G1 has always been that it is mediocre hardware sporting an awesome operating system. I love Android; I loved it before there were any decent apps available. Maybe it’s because I appreciate a mobile OS that acts like a desktop OS when it makes sense to and doesn’t when it doesn’t, which is about the opposite of Windows Mobile with it’s “start menu” and “Program Manager” metaphors carried over from the PC and the incessant pop-ups interrupting whatever you’re trying to do. Android is like a computer OS in it that it is highly configurable, whereas every other mobile OS is tightly structured.  Android features unobtrusive notifications and a cloud-based approach to managing the phone’s data that makes it far simpler to deal with than something that requires Activesync or iTunes.

The Nexus one erases almost all of my G1 hardware peeves, with one big exception: it has no physical keyboard. That I miss, and I would gladly add an eighth of an inch to the thickness in order to have one. But, that said, the soft keyboard is much better than earlier Android soft keyboards and it’s not stopping me from using the phone. Another saving grace is that the Nexus supports voice input (as well as voice searching and dialing), so I can input an email by speaking into the phone, clean it up a bit, and send, rather than type the whole thing. The voice dictation isn’t perfect, but it’s really not bad.

The battery lasts exactly a day for me. That’s with GPS and Bluetooth turned off unless I have need for them, and average use. It’s about half a day less than I had after I impregnated my G1 with a fat replacement from Seidio. Seidio has one for the Nexus One, too, but I’m not willing to fatten it up for it, as opposed to just keeping a sync cable handy.

So that’s the bad news: no keyboard and a battery that’s as good as the iPhone’s. Everything else is awesome!

The 1Ghz Snapdragon processor — the fastest in any phone on the market today — just pops. The only time I ever see any churning is on occasional loads of the Android Market, and I know that those are on the server’s end. Email, games, maps, and most web pages are so snappy I have to blink and wonder if I’m really on a mobile phone. The snapdragon also features 512MB RAM and 512MB flash storage, which is worlds more than the G1. One of the liberating things is the ability to install and try out apps without having to first scrutinize what I have installed and remove a thing or two, another killer flaw for the G1.

The 3.7″ 480×800 resolution screen is beautiful. Unless you have a Verizon Droid, which is the same size with slightly higher resolution, you’ve never seen a screen this nice. Along with the multi-touch (added to my phone in an update that arrived on the same day that I got the phone), you can really read web pages and view photos. And the camera — 500 megapixel; flash; auto-adjusting. I finally have a better camera phone than my wife, who has the excellent Blackberry Curve 8900.

The phone itself sports two microphones, one that captures voice and background noise, and another that catches only the background noise and filters it out of the broadcast. this makes the Nexus One a very clear phone. This is big for me, because in my cubicle culture workplace, I often duck into the noisy server room in order to have conversations with my wife and kid.

I use all five home screens on the phone, with icons, folders and widgets. A handy included widget let me toggle the wifi, GPS, bluetooth, etc. I may ditch the ubiquitous Google search box widget because one of the four buttons on the phone pops it up. I’ll probably remove the pretty live wallpaper that shows autumn leaves falling behinds the icons in order to preserve a little more battery, but it has too much of a show-off factor right now to disable.

I’m appreciating a couple of apps that I never bothered to try on my stuffed G1. Seesmic’s twitter client is faster, stabler and better than Twidroid. There, I said it. I stood by Twidroid for over a year, but Seesmic includes bit.ly links in it’s free version (there is no paid one yet) and just seems to be more logically laid out. GDocs has replaced my beloved Wikinotes. I’m losing the Wiki, but I now have a notepad that integrates with my Google Docs account, allowing me to sync notes I write to the web and edit them in either place. That’s very cool.

I had MyBackupPro on the G1, and it lived up to it’s claims, restoring all of my Android preferences when I first set up the phone. And Bluetooth File Transfer and PDANet both seem to do what they claim, allowing me to transfer files to and from my Mac when a sync cable isn’t handy; and to use my phone as a 3G modem if I’m stuck without WiFi available for my Mac.

One issue I’m experiencing is that the phone won’t accept subbing in Google Voice as my voicemail carrier, but this might be because I have yet to make it down to T-Mobile and tell them that I’ve made this swap. I anticipate that they’ll tell me that i have to pay $5 more a month for their “Android plan”, which is somehow different from the “G1 plan”, but I also need to drop a monthly $5 equipment insurance fee that I doubt they’ll honor on a phone that they didn’t sell me.

I downloaded the WordPress app as well, but I’m cheating and typing this post on my computer. Next one, I’ll dictate into the phone. :-)

There have been widespread reports of 3G connectivity problems with Nexus Ones. I’m crossing my fingers as I type, but I haven’t seen any of them.

My friends with iPhones still all believe that they’re better off because they have 50 million apps to choose from. And a phone that’s half as fast, with a smaller screen at half the resolution, a lousy camera, an operating system that they can’t customize, AT&T 3G, poor call quality and no ability to multitask. They have full iPods, yes, and I considered that significant for some time, but now that there’s Doubletwist, which can sync your own — or your iTunes — playlists to an Android phone, that’s not so big an advantage.

I’m confidant that the Nexus One is the best smartphone, period — I can’t recommend it enough. Android has come of age.

Category: android, mobile, nptech, tools | Comments Off