Gotta love cloud storage

I’ve never lost any data. Ever.

Actually, I tell a lie. I once lost ALL my data. I was recklessly drinking some Becks beer while doing some file management and somehow managed to delete everything from a drive that didn’t have the trash can activated. Thirty rather desperate (and suddenly sober) minutes later, I’d downloaded a good undelete utility and recovered it all. Phew.

Apart from that however, I’ve been something of a back-up freak over the years. It started when I got into home music production. All those hours of recording, arranging, mixing… to lose it all would have been devastating. This brings into sharp relief what we mean about the value of data. Sure, it has business value when you make it work for you. But it can also have immense personal value.

But as our data grows, and becomes more sensitive, backing up becomes more onerous. You forget. You can’t be bothered. You get out of the habit. You need a 1TB hard drive to back up a 1TB hard drive. You need secure, off-site storage – and when you’re working freelance from home, you might not have ready access to a nice, locked drawer somewhere else. And the more human intervention comes in, the more likely you are to screw it up. One day you will back up the wrong way, from the backup to the live. Or, your backup drive will corrupt and you’ll only find out when you really need it. I shudder to think…

Enter cloud storage. Now, I can just hear the stifled laughter. You’re thinking “Why is Brendan talking about cloud storage so late in the day? It’s been around for ages.” This is true enough and I suppose I’m a relatively late convert. But you never know, someone might be looking around for opinions on this, and if they find mine, then I’m telling them: go for it. In fact, if you’re looking around for opinions on this, and you just found me, then I’m telling you: go for it.

Cloud storage is brilliant. I never realised how brilliant until I really started using it. Now, whenever I save a file, and that cute little icon on the systray spins around, I know that I’ll never lose it, that in fact I can go back to a previous version if I need to, and that I can access it from any of my machines, anywhere in the world (mostly). And I don’t have to do a single thing. In fact, I don’t even have to spend one Bitcoin on it. It’s free. This is absurdly amazing. If it didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it. Which they already have, of course.

But cloud storage also opens up creative possibilities. For example, I’ve developed my own social media monitoring system, called ‘Bob’ until I think of a better name (although I’m starting to like it). Bob downloads data, aggregates it, cleans it, and then presents it in ways that I – and my clients – find useful. Where does Bob download the data? To cloud storage, of course. This means that I can query Bob at home, or in the client offices. It doesn’t matter. It’s entirely transparent to Bob. If I ever licensed Bob, I could have clients each with their own private cloud storage, all feeding data into their version of Bob. Marvellous.

Another possibility: your own personal music library. If you can get enough storage (or don’t have too many songs), then just port it all across to a cloud drive and you can access that from any machine, anywhere, and you’ll never need to back it up again.

Cloud storage is also a hugely useful facilitator for collaboration. I run the social media and programme editorial for the Kop Hill Climb, now a major international automotive event in Princes Risborough, Bucks. The entire organisational crew, comprising well over 20 people, uses cloud storage to share and store files. And, as Kop Hill Climb is a charity, generating around £50,000 each year to local causes, the fact that this storage is free is a welcome bonus.

So there you go. Cloud storage. It’s ace. There are plenty of articles out there detailing the various offerings available so I won’t bore you with the details, go and have a look (the PC Advisor cloud storage review seems comprehensive and up to date at the time of writing).

But if you really want to know, this is how I’m using it (note that I’m using several services because that means I get them for free within their storage limits because I’m a cheapskate):

  • Microsoft OneDrive – for my personal work. I use this simply because it’s baked into my Windows 8 installation. It seems a bit slow to upload but apart from that it chugs away nicely in the background.
  • Dropbox - for Kop Hill, and for one client, because they both use it. I find Dropbox rock-solid, but it doesn’t cope with concurrency very well (that is, when two people are accessing the same file). This can result in lost work or duplicate files, so watch out for that.
  • Google Drive – for another client, again simply because they use it. Honestly? Don’t touch it with a barge pole. I’ve had serious issues with Google Drive not syncing, resulting in lost productivity trying to figure out what the latest versions of files are. Really. Don’t go there. Unless something radical has changed, this is, in my opinion and experience, not fit for purpose. Sorry Google.
  • Mega - to store all my music, because you get a wopping 50GB free. OK, so it’s run by Kim Dotcom. OK, so he’s a controversial figure to some. But in a strange way I trust him more than I trust the likes of Google and Microsoft. At least there is a spotlight on him. And it just works.

I’ve also dabbled with Amazon Cloud but I found that a bit clunky. Just my own take on it.

There are other services too, so check them out as per that article. This just works for me. Between them, OneDrive and Mega ensure that when I save stuff, it remains saved. And, so long as I have strong passwords that I change, it remains safe too. Meanwhile Dropbox and Google Drive enable me to work with other people, albeit with more than a little frustration from Google Drive.

Let me know how you get on.

Whither Social Mention?

Social Mention is a pretty good social media aggregator. Think Google, but for social media.

When I say ‘pretty good’, I mean it’s not without its faults. It doesn’t do real phrasal searches – that is, a search for “Brendan Cooper” in quotes will give results with just “Brendan” and “Cooper” in them, which is a bit naughty really – and it also has a tendency to be a bit slow.

It does have some quite cool features though. You can get RSS feeds off searches (which you can’t do with Google but you can with Bing and Yahoo). You can get alerts (which you can also get from Google, but not exclusively for social media). You can download results as CSV files, which you can then open in Excel and start analysing. You can start to get an insight into where people are talking about topics, who they are, what words they’re using and who is the most active for a given topic. And Social Mention even gives you some metrics around sentiment, engagement and so on, and if you keep the salt cellar handy while using these figures, and apply liberally, you might find them useful.

But wait. There’s something wrong with this post. It’s all in the present tense.

Because, as of around two days ago, Social Mention vanished. It reappeared briefly, but has disappeared again. Not a peep from the @socialmention Twitter account, or from @jonnyjon who created it.

So change all the ‘is’ to ‘was’ and the ‘does’ to ‘did’.

This is causing quite a lot of consternation in the Twitterverse. Social Mention is/was pretty much the only game in town when it came to a free, full-on social media aggregator/search, especially one so well featured. Which should tell us all something, I suppose. If something is free, and it’s the only one, then there’s a reason for that. Meaning, it’s really bad, or really really good, or it’s unsustainable. I do hope it’s not the latter in this case.

So what is to be done? Apart from wringing our hair,  pulling our teeth and gnashing our hands? Stephen Dale has come to the rescue with a list of alternatives but you still need to be canny to work out how to replace the unreplaceable.

Solution #1. Do all the searches separately and aggregate them yourself. So, do a Google Blog search, get the RSS off that, aggregate it with an IceRocket search maybe, a Twitter search (if you can find out how to get RSS off Twitter searches nowadays – fortunately I made a note of how to do this before they removed it from visibility), a Google News search, etc etc. Aggregate these in Google Reader or Netvibes some such thing. Good luck with Facebook, fingers crossed Twitter doesn’t remove RSS altogether, enjoy the vaguaries of how YouTube, Flickr etc handle search queries, and so on. And, of course, you don’t get the metrics or the other coooool stuff.

Solution #2. Roll your own solution with Yahoo Pipes. I put a lot of work into Pipes quite some time ago. I built myself a completely modular social media aggregator, so you could change keywords and all the searches reflected it, or change the engine and all the results reflected that. Then I realised I’d just built my own version of Social Mention. But things kept changing and breaking, so I realised that Social Mention was doing the job for me, and instead of driving myself nuts keeping up with these changes, decided to use that instead. Guess what though? Yahoo Pipes stopped being reliable enough to use, and remains so despite a recent relaunch of the v2 engine. And guess what again though again? It’s the only solution out there that does what Yahoo Pipes does, for free. Sound familiar? Which heavily implies solution #3…

Solution #3. Accept that singularly useful, free services are an anomaly of the early years of social media, bite the bullet, and go to a pay-for service. There seems to be a new one every time I look, and I’m sure one of them will do what you want it to do. Check out the PDF report on Stephen’s page, it’s a good summary of them.

So, that’s my take on it. Solution #4 is, of course, to wait and see what happens to Social Mention. I really really really really hope this is not The End because I had plans for it. Same thing nearly happened with Delicious, which survived. But if this really is It, well, it was fun while it lasted.

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

Goodbye Delicious, hello… what?

So the news is out. Yahoo have screwed up. They’re closing Delicious. I don’t even need to include a link here – just go out and look for mentions of it right now and you’ll see the news.

This is A Big Thing. It throws up all sorts of substantial issues, not least among which is, if the social web is such a big thing, then how come the biggest bookmarking service is about to go belly up? If a major company like Yahoo is experiencing difficulties monetising Delicious, then what does this mean for other cloud-based services? And, from that, how confident can we be when we store things in the cloud? At what point do we need to back things up locally, or – shock horror – actually have to start paying for this kind of service?

These are all important topics for debate that I’m sure will be covered over the next few weeks. But right here, right now, this is bad news for me, because I rely on Delicious for several important activities.

  • Distributed information gathering. Ever wanted to harness the collective effort of a team to gather knowledge as they go about their daily activities, quickly bookmarking something and slowly building up an incredibly useful, dedicated database? I have. In fact, I did, before I got into Delicious. I set up a team with Google Reader, where every member subscribed to every other member’s shared items, so that we could all see what each other had shared. It was a very useful way for us all to be clued up – maximum returns, minimal effort required. But the Delicious solution was much more elegant, in that you could install the toolbar to bookmark pages quickly and easily, add notes explaining why you’d bookmarked them, and so on.
  • News feed creation. From that same Google Reader-based project, in turn, the shared items could generate a branded page and an RSS feed, so we could pump information out to clients. They could then see what we were sharing with them, as a feed that we created based on our judgement of what was important, rather than search engines.
  • Monitoring. You can (in the near future, change that to ‘could’) search Delicious without needing to sign in. You can (could) create an RSS feed off that search. This is (was) a wonderful facility, meaning you can (could) see not just what people are (were) saying about a brand, but what they consider (considered) important enough to bookmark. Its human-based nature complements (complemented) machine-based searches extremely well.
  • Measurement. If bookmarking is a form of engagement – that is, actually taking action rather than passively reading – then you could use Delicious as a form of engagement metric. If more people are bookmarking you, then they’re engaged with what they’re reading about you.
  • Auto-publishing. Delicious has (had – ok, I’ll stop this now) a great feature whereby you could get it to post automatically to your blog at the end of each day with the bookmarks you’d created that day. You get two quality outputs for one input. Fabulous.

That’s just five reasons I have had big plans for Delicious. I have one client that I was imminently going to: install the Delicious toolbar on each member’s machine; create a set of core tags for them to use on web pages; create RSS feeds from searches for those tags; bring those searches into a dashboard for monitoring; share them with clients as a news feed; and occasionally measure the number of hits across Delicious to gauge engagement.

Now, suddenly, I have to think of a viable alternative.

There are some out there, and it seems to me the frontrunners are Diigo and StumbleUpon (which I have heard of before and used briefly before realising Delicious was far superior), and Xmarks, which I haven’t heard of before and need to look into. There is also, I guess, Google Bookmarks, but I don’t know how that’s faring nowadays given Google discontinued support for Notes some time ago.

But as far as I can tell, none of them offer the ability to create an RSS feed off a search without having to sign in. So I can still conceivably create shared knowledge systems and use metrics to a degree, but I cannot monitor or create filtered news feeds for clients. Bum.

Meanwhile I also have the major headache of figuring out where else to store the 1,107 bookmarks I have on Delicious, which I use for my own research and even for navigation using the toolbar. Double bum.

There’s a huge amount of hue and cry about this online right now, so I’m probably going to get lost in the noise here with this post. But, if anyone can point me in the right direction to get this sort of feature, please let me know. Otherwise I may need to go back to basics – Google Reader, which some people find fiddly and is not as elegant, as open, as ubiquitous, as plain old useful and great, dammit – as Delicious. Bum bum bum bum bum.

Thin client? What thin client?

I just spent five minutes waiting for my laptop to boot up. It’s a fairly standard spec, running the dog’s breakfast that is Vista, but still, it shouldn’t take that long. In a world of cloud computing, could we be looking ahead to instant start-up as clients get thinner? I doubt it.

I’ve documented my history with computing on this blog before, but very briefly you go ZX81, ZX Spectrum, IBM PC running DOS, GEM (a precursor to Windows), Windows, self-built PC, and now I’m the proud owner of four networked machines that all do their own thing in their own inimitable way (sorry about talking tech with long words but I’ve just been listening to the Fry Chronicles and marveling at how Stephen Fry reacted to tech in the same way I did).

In one way it’s a history of progression, from a 1KB system that didn’t have enough memory to fill the screen with characters, to being able to store all my DVDs, uncompressed, on one hard drive.

But in another, it’s not.

The ZX81 and Spectrum were so-called ‘clean machines’, that is, you just turned them on and they booted up instantly because the operating system was built into the hardware. The early DOS-based machines were similarly quick to start up, not as immediate but pretty fast. Certainly not five minutes. And, for the record, I cannot remember one instance in which a DOS-based machine crashed. Not one.

Since then, machines seem to take longer and longer and longer to start up. And despite the laptop I’m typing at right now being several orders of magnitude more powerful than the PC I built several years ago, it doesn’t strike me as much faster. It does more things, and it’s easier to use, but it’s not really faster. My netbook, if anything, is quite a lot slower.

An anecdote: I used to work for a company that delivered financial information to the City via a web browser. It was very forward-looking stuff (too forward-looking perhaps – it never made it). I remember trying to nail down the specs for running the system and in the end we just decided ‘if it can run Windows, it can run us’. This was quite neat, but still we got enquiries from people running machines that were only a year or so old that couldn’t handle it, particularly if the City was feeling quite bullish.

I remember saying to the tech manager, with heavy irony, “So they don’t have enough capacity to run our thin-client system then?” My how we laughed.

So why, if we’re putting more onto the cloud, are we still suffering? Even the web technologies themselves – Antivirus, Flash, firewall, Java, javascript, Silverlight, the list goes on – are demanding more of our local processing power. That’s without even thinking about the supposedly processor-intensive stuff such as multimedia.

Here’s what I want: a completely online operating system. Something so server-based that all I have to do is switch my machine on, and everything runs online. The only thing the local machine has to look after is the web connection, maybe some security, and that’s it. I know there are versions of this – my Samsung netbook came with one that didn’t work so I uninstalled it – but I cannot name any.

But I doubt that’s going to happen. Chip designers and manufacturers will, out of necessity, produce faster and more capacious chips because they’re in a competitive market. In response, and for the same reason, software designers will use that computing power to do more. Your local machines will continue to gain weight.

So I’d really love not to have to wait for my machines to boot up, or to have to update every sodding piece of software on a daily basis. Instead, I’d like to transfer all the computing online, because it’s a much neater way to do it. I want a dumb but trim terminal, not a clever, overweight machine. I want something more akin to my clever little black cat rather than my stupid fat one.

Advanced Search: Facebook gets it slightly wrong again

Today I actually used Facebook for something. My partner wanted to find women’s networking groups online, and I suggested Facebook. Of course, she didn’t listen to me so I decided to have a look myself.

Immediately, I came up against a problem. I wanted to search for groups in London, but couldn’t find an easy way to do it. I’ve been giving training on Facebook recently so I’ve been waxing lyrical about the wonderful demographic data it contains. So surely an advanced search would be easy to do? After all, Facebook’s advertising does a nice job of opening up the demographics and helping you zero in on specific groups.

The answer, as is often the case with Facebook, was ‘Yes, sort of, but not very well’.

Facebook does have an advanced search, but it’s a beta application. You can find it at Once you get onto it you’re prompted to complete your profile, which I skipped. Then you’re confronted with this page:

Three guesses what’s wrong with it. OK, I’ll tell you. It’s awful. It just looks… awful. There’s far too much text. And there are far too many buttons. I get dizzy just looking at it.

So, let’s try and look for networking communities for women in London. I have to look a few times before I realise the Pages button mentions ‘Business’ in between Bands and Celebrities. So I click it. And I get this:

Is that it?

What about all the other information you can specify for a business page?

What about address, town, phone number, email?

What about birthday (hang on, why is that even a field for a business page? See what I mean?)

What about website, personal information, personal interests?

And why am I being asked about cupcakes?

Maybe Facebook thinks it’s so clever that it doesn’t need to lay it all out for you. So why does it then do this when searching for a person? See what that screen looks like below.

Eurgh. What a mess.

I have a theory about Facebook. I think they don’t really know what they’re doing. People give Google a lot of stick nowadays but whenever they update their software, it just slots in elegantly. You find new functions without looking. Everything is in its right place, because – I think – they design things properly from the outset. Which makes it easy to build on that solid design.

Facebook, on the other hand, seems to be thrown together. They don’t have a coherent design policy.

I used to design interfaces for a living. I was no Jonathan Ive, but I’d try and think about the best way for someone to interact with a page, and then challenge the programmers to make it work. I’d try and keep it consistent and think about how it might develop in the future, so it could have functionality added without a design change.

I have a strong feeling that Facebook does this the other way around. The programmers take what’s available and challenge the users to make it work. They are to online application design what Microsoft is (or was) to local application design. That is, the design follows the tech. It’s just wrong. Ask Apple.

But who knows. Perhaps by the time it comes out of beta it’ll be slick, easy, intuitive. If so, it’ll be running against the grain of everything else Facebook does.

Just how fast does a PC need to be?

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes (plus 4:13 if you watch the video all the way through)

In an effort to get myself back into blogging habits, and to make sure I’m up to date with everything I need to be up to date with, I’ve decided to set myself a schedule. So, today is tech day – that is, I post about something a bit techy, a bit digital, a bit wey, a bit wah.

So, PCs. How fast do they really need to be nowadays?

I ask this because I was looking through my bookmarks the other day and found a video of some guys at Samsung putting together a PC that used Solid State Drives (SSDs).

In one respect this is a very cool thing. Hard drive storage tends to be a big bottleneck in most systems, so if you can speed up data access, you speed up the whole system. Hard drives are fairly clunky old things, in that they need to find data on the (rotating) physical medium, and this takes time. But SSDs are, as their name suggest, solid state: nothing in them moves, and the data is accessed directly, exactly as it is with your PC’s memory. Which, in fact, it pretty much is.

In another respect, it’s not a cool thing. But take a look first:

Apart from the slightly self-congratulatory nature of the video, it’s pretty good. And the speeds are astonishing (although they’ll be commonplace before too long).

But the reason I’m not sure about it is this: do we really need those sorts of speeds?

Before you accuse me of being like the guy who said we only need four computers in the world, or the other guy who said everything that could be invented has been invented, or the guy who said any given program will expand to fill all available memory (I think his name was Moore) I do have a reason for saying this.

And my reason is: everything is going into the cloud. Already I have access to a super-fast computer with super-massive storage. It’s called the web. I can run seriously complex queries online through systems like Pipes (or at least I could before it went a bit crap, and I’m hopeful that it’s going to get better soon). I can – and have – uploaded spreadsheets that freeze my PC but which Google Spreadsheets handles easily.

So given the choice, I’d rather have greater upload and download speed, but do I really need a faster PC? I’d argue my PC is fast enough now. I wouldn’t have argued that about five years ago when everything was local and I needed oodles of power and storage at my fingertips. Yet today, the power and storage exists ‘out there’, in the stuff of the web.

So, it’s an impressive video if you’re impressed by that sort of thing (which frankly I am – I’m never happier than when up to my elbows in bits of kit). But do we need it? Do we? Do we really? If you’re one of my three regular readers, let me know what you think.

Everything does something, but nothing does everything

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to monitor, capture, measure and report. The good news is that there are ways of doing all of these. The bad news? None of them do it all.

Here’s the current state of play:

  • Google Reader is really good for monitoring and going back through old posts, but not for displaying (eg charts and so on),  and not for pulling out reports.
  • Netvibes is great for display but useless for pulling out individual items to analyse, share or report on.
  • Google Docs is great for display and analysis, and good at pulling in RSS feeds – BUT (and I only found this out after doing a lot of work) it only stores up to 20 RSS entries at a time. So, in other words, if you start monitoring pretty much anything on for example Twitter, that total is filled up within minutes and you have no way of knowing what else is going on.
  • Excel is great for offline display and analysis, but it’s very clunky when bringing in RSS feeds and often crashes. Plus, it just appends without figuring out whether it’s duplicating content so your spreadsheets quickly become massive and unworkable.

See what I mean? Everything does something, but nothing does everything – unless you actually create your own databases and reporting and all that stuff, which I want to avoid.

So, what we need is:

  • Google Reader – a decent front end and some sort of report producing facility – even output to CSV file would be good, for example.
  • Netvibes – some way in which to readily share or mark items privately, as well as pull out reports from that.
  • Google Docs – a vast increase in the number of RSS entries.
  • Excel – a better way to interface with the web, ideally one that recognises items already pulled in. And some way of pushing content back online would be nice too.

Or: we need a package that displays as well as Netvibes; that enables sharing, tagging and general RSS manipulation like Google Reader; and that pulls in data as readily as Google Docs but with the capacity of Excel. One day someone will produce that. Until then, we just have to keep banging the rocks together.

Unless I’m missing something? Given that I seem to have about three readers nowadays, if just one of them could suggest an alternative, that would be great.