The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

Twitter launched it’s very own photo-sharing and video uploading service today, courtesy of the great minds behind Photobucket (who are still around..apparently?). You can’t help but feel bad for TwitPic or yFrog or any of the number of photo-sharing services that launched with the open API that Twitter provided. All you needed was an API key and some gumption perhaps to create the next cool thing that could operate as an adjunct on the site. Now that any number of these sites have taken off, Twitter has decided to step in and offer their own service. So what do you do if your TwitPic? Die off in oblivion I guess…Twitter Lgo

Last week Google announced some housecleaning for some of it’s API’s: Places, Prediction, Tasks, and Translate. Of these 4, I’ve only used Translate to any real success (or need). However, the outcry of some of the developers in the comments is truly sad. Some of these folks have created entire applications or infrastructure around these API’s that Google freely hosted. There was never a guarantee that these things would stick around forever. I don’t think anyone ever really thought about it–Google offers essentially unlimited space for just about everything, why would they even bother to deprecate and remove code they were giving away for free? Some of these services have been replaced with elements that can be called from within an HTML5-compliant browser so its not a complete loss. But if I were a dev that was using the Translate API through JS or other libraries, I think I’d be a bit pissed off.

So where am I going with this? These platforms that are created by these companies are artificial islands of relevance. By leveraging the (often) free API platform you’re helping raise the awareness level for those tools that you’re using: I had a friend show me how to write simple JS Translate widgets that would real-time translate a page in the DOM without re-requesting the page. I’ve seen rather kick-ass things done with data manipulation done using the Charts API. For me, they increased my awareness of some of the cooler things one could do with Google’s external tools. Maps is a huge one–something I’d like to leverage in a future showcase.

Gaming is one area where I can draw a lot of corollaries. With the rise of the mature PC FPS in the late 90’s, games were becoming little islands of activities. Mod tools were being released by the developers or often being generated by the community and were being used to create substantial in-game works. I one saw an interactive museum someone built in the Half-Life 1 Source engine. Game mods for Unreal Tournament? How about Akimbo Arena, or any of the more create DM maps made available? id Software made it easy to modify Doom and put it back out provided you weren’t modifying the core game engine files. What happened to these platforms? For the most part they were killed off by console gaming. With a “security” barrier barring entry, user-made downloadable content has been a no-show on the Xbox or PlayStation systems. Often publisher’s will pack together a sampling of top-rated mods from the community and push those out under their own container, but this is few and far between.

Most of the mod tech I’ve seen recently is visible, but doesn’t get a lot of exposure unless you’re specifically looking for it. Bethesda highlights folks who are still creating mods for their games such as Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind at least once a week. I’m sure somewhere, there’s a kid making a mod for Quake 3 Arena, but I haven’t been looking for it regularly. For me that platform island is no longer relevant and is gone.

Next week I’ll explore some of the newer platforms out there and what those companies are trying to do to bring you on board. It’s a busy week between Apple’s WWDC, and the opening of E3. We’ll see.

Digital Wallet: NFC’s, Google, and Square

I’ve written about the coming of Near-Field Communication (NFC) devices a few times here. You can refer back to these posts for a bit of a primer. In the past few weeks though everything has really started to take off, and in an area that I really don’t plan to use that much.

 

First, meet Google Wallet.Google Wallet Logo Google’s new service allows you to essentially embed the same data that would be transmitted using prior NFC technology, notably MasterCard’s PayPass system except this time the data is phone accessible and put out by the phone’s internal NFC chip. Cool, eh? Instead of wiping my debit card over a PoS terminal, I could wave my Android-based phone. Aside from the geek factor, or perhaps more aptly put: the novelty factor I find myself wondering how this could be extremely useful. I’ve done the PayPass thing once at a 7-Eleven to pay for my slurpee– it was odd, the checker had no idea what I was doing, and still I had to do it twice for the thing to go through– he had to manipulate something on the terminal first. Couple things I learned that day– It was only useful for purchases under $10, and aside from using it someplace small (like 7-Eleven) where the hell are you only spending $10?

Of course, this is good for MasterCard and other CC companies– they charge upwards of 5-10% of each transaction that runs through that terminal. By making it easier I’m sure they’re gaining an impressive revenue streamer. If you’ve got a friend who owns a small business (like me) ask em what they lose on CC transaction fees. It’s quite ridiculous.

So your credit card company gets some good stuff out of it, but what about you? Google Wallet aims to make it easier to track fraudulent purchases or inspect some of the data about your purchase. Of course, Google has to get their’s too so somewhere that data can be anonymized to help make the Google system better. Do you want that? It’s up to you– I use Google Checkout and a host of other services provided by the big G, and while I am cavalier about it…somewhere you’ve gotta draw a line.

On the other end you have a (relatively) new kid on the block, Square. Square provides a cool headphone-based dongle that allows anyone, anywhere to record a transaction with a credit card and get money.Square in Action For the small biz owner, or the need to grab funds from an acquaintance or friend is quite useful. Square charges 2.75% of the total transaction, much less than owning a CC terminal with any of the “Big Three”. I myself own a dongle (partially because it was free to get), but have yet to use it in a biz transaction. It seems much easier to send off invoices and wait for folks to pay you.

A couple of weeks ago the Apple rumor mill went active with mutterings that Apple would start using the Square devices in-store to replace their handheld POS-CC readers that are packaged as “gloves” around the iPhones in store. Square did indeed launch something, but nowhere near as large as “teh interwebs” were making it out to be. A digital wallet sure, but in essence many virtual cards that were to be used at specific retailers. Personally I think that’s the wrong way to head, but I’m not an investor in Square. Anyway, I thought this would be a huge mistake because I feel that Apple will have to include NFC capability in the next iDevice they release. Google’s Nexus S already has the tech built in, and I think they’d be stupid not to include it in the next iteration.

Can I let slip what I really want this tech for? Identification. Screw payment stuff, it’s got higher-than-normal security issues, and someone else is making the cash. I looking to abolish things like Tradeshow badges, stickers that say “Hi, My Name Is”, and create some really cool uses for this extra bit of data. Think about it: It’s Bump without Bumping, it’s Bluetooth transfers finally, the way they were meant to be designed. It’s the old several connected devices. It’s your personal cloud, all the time. Sure it has some risks, but the first uses of this technology are going to be nifty.

Disclaimer: I own Apple and Google stock.

GeekApproach.com Update!

I’ve finally completed a rather drastic upgrade of the back-end of GeekApproach as well as its theme.  This change is long overdue and I’m finally away from the fixed-width (yuck!) type interface towards something that at leasts floats as you resize your browser window.  There’s more spare to add media to posts and ensure that they all aren’t weighted to the right.

I’m not sure what I want to do with the header, but we’ll see how it goes.  I also think I’ll jazz up some colors for the slug/category pages.  They drastically need some help.

On the back-end I’m using some plugins to build Google-compliant Sitemaps in XML, as well as an upgraded SEO tool on a per-post basis.  Here’s hoping I can keep some traffic up.

Drop me a comment and tell me whatcha think!

Comcast DNS Hijacking

Last year Comcast turned on a rather controversial feature on their High-Speed Internet users known as “DNS Hijacking”. It was designed to be a feature: try and access “www.wallstreetjournal.com” and it’ll instead take you to a Comcast branded search portal and give you some simillar suggestions if the domain does not exist. Sounds great right? WRONG. I use Google Chrome and typing into the AwesomeBar up at the top will automatically search Google (or another provider if you wish) with your relevant query. But because Comcast interprets that query as a search amongst its stupid DNS Helper service first!! Check out this example results window below:

Results Page using Yahoo Search

Results Page using Yahoo Search

Here’s the most irritating thing of all: Last year, I opted out of the stupid thing . There was a handy link on the Accounts page that enabled you to wipe out their stupid service (You can get there too: http://dns-opt-out.comcast.net/. Now suddenly today I’ve been magically “opted” back in! Upon returning to the same Account Settings page from last year, the link to change DNS Helper settings is now gone.

Below this line sat an option to opt out...

Below this line sat an option to opt out...No longer.

In fact, their own opt-out link in the stupid results page doesn’t work.

GRRR….

Before the nerds pounce on me, yes I could be using OpenDNS or even Google’s DNS to try and straighten this out. However, I VPN into…”a company” a lot for work and “the company” won’t allow a non authoritative-DNS to query from. It sucks. I either have to flip my DNS settings back and forth when I sign in (not fun) or turn this stupid crap off at the source.

Military CAC Access

Anyone in the Armed Forces and need some help accessing their own networks? I found this excellent site, MilitaryCac.com which shows step-by-step information for anyone needing to legitimately gain access from their home machines (following DOD policy of course). The instructions are well put together and detail out some of the absurdities of gaining access, one of which is needing to drop into the secure portal from a different machine, which you can only do by using a CAC (Common Access Card) reader.

Anyhow, once we got it figure it out was dead simple. You’ll need to install the ActiveClient and not just the drivers for the CAC reader. That client is what is behind closed doors and requires authentication. It did require going out and fetching DOD certificates which are apparently freely available which kind of tripped me up a bit– shouldn’t those certificates be hidden? Aren’t they essentially keys? Maybe I’m misunderstanding all this…

I used to work for a company that would self-sign their SSL certificate in order to have “secure” https Outlook Web Access (OWA). Given that the certificiate was signed by “itself”, and not some other authority, what is the purpose of having a certificate that can’t be vetted against a chain?

Clearly I don’t know enough about this…I’m hoping to do a bit of research as a side project and come back with some notes. Some day…

In the meantime I’m fooling around with iOS4, and thinking lazily about that new shiny thing that was announced yesterday. It’s very nice, but I haven’t had the brainpower to really drill too deeply into it…

Alternative OS: MeeGo + Jolicloud

I spent the weekend doing a bit of searching around the web on alternative OS’s. Now that my little Hackintosh has been superceded by my mighty MacBook Pro, the poor thing sits unused in my home office just colleting dust. It was never a mighty machine, an Atom-based N450 in the Dell Mini 9 shell. The keyboard is cramped; function keys are mapped funny, and it wasn’t terribly large. At 9 inches everything was just a little bit different and frustrating to use on it. Bonus points were its 16-gig SSD that Dell later stopped offering as an option, an SD card reader, and it’s price: $299 on a one day sale.

I spent some time digging into two OS’s, with somewhat of the same aims: MeeGo and JoliCloud. I should mention that I installed both only in the USB key scenario, not actually loading a full installation.

Jolicloud promised to be the OS with the most initial satistfaction for me. It supports the vast majority of “netbook” systems already out there, and aside from needing to jury-rig my Wireless the first time worked quite well. The entire system promises a bevy of new, recommended, and lightweight cloud-based apps to help you get everything done.

Jolicloud App Directory

Jolicloud App Directory

The staples are there: Chrome, Gmail, VLC, Twitter, and other social networking toolsets. Generally it was was snappy, colorful and seemed well designed. It fit well with my small 9″ screen.

MeeGo also promised a cloud-based experience. The UI interface reminds me a bit of TweetDeck’s– things are running in a 3-column layout and are mostly very easy to read.

Meego Desktop

Meego Desktop

Apps are launched from category buckets and that’s how your “installed” programs are organized and sought out. I ran MeeGo in the same USB-boot key method as Jolicloud, but drivers for my device weren’t readily apparent. Video and audio worked; WLAN did not. Apparently I’m not alone in this. My entire trial was based upon being in a hard LAN environment which may have tainted my final review of the OS. What’s really promising about MeeGo is the variety of devices it wants to run on: mainly in-car devices, and connected TV embedded OS opportunities. They’ve got some substantial backing from Nokia (which I can only assume means there’s a Tablet-like device somewhere in the wings), and today Acer announced they will have MeeGo running on their future devices as well.

That seems to be a substantial alliance going against Google’s Chrome OS– I’m not sure what the ramifications of that are yet because the Chrome OS still isn’t out. I’m going to keep scouting for alternative OS’s, but for right now I think I’ll wipe the ol MacOS and load up Jolicloud for a bit. If I hate it, I can always continue my tour.

Buzz… Or Maybe, Howto Not Buzz.

Still not sure what to make of this whole Google Buzz thing.  On the one hand I see its usefulness– instantly linking and gathering your individual social networking services, contacts out of Gmail, add some visibility to your Google Profile are pretty nifty things.  On the opposite end it has a lot of problems, namely– instantly linking and gathering your individual social networking services, contacts out of Gmail, and adding visbility to your Google Profile.

I think the reason that different social networking circles have cropped up is because they each have their own unique audience–Twitter is great as an outlet for this site, GeekApproach.  I can communicate with some personal folks and post some random stuff that drives traffic back here.  Flickr is still somewhat legacy for me, but I enjoyed its simple interface and great respository of images it once supported, even though it seems Picasa has superceded it.  The main reason I don’t have a Facebook account or ( shudder) a MySpace page is that I just don’t want to interact with people I might’ve met.  I’d rather talk with those people in person, or really, want to talk to me enough to seek me out via other means.

I feel like I maintain rather visible avenues of communication: I freely publish my email address, you can instantly call me via Google Voice (in the right sidebar over there), this website is public, my twitter feed is public– I’m even on LinkedIn.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Google is turning a bit into Microsoft, and I’ll explain why.  When you’re at Microsoft and you use the combined Microsoft suite of things, it actually works out really well.  You start to see how all of these individual pieces of hardware and software, the social interaction of doing work…they all work very well together.  It’s crazy, but its true.  When you’re in your own environment and you’re only using a subset it becomes much more difficult to actually use their tools.  Maybe Google is suffering from the same sort of issue–Internally, I’m sure they thought all this integration was fantastic but externally?

At least they’re listening to the masses– I can’t fault them for having a fast turn-around time with changes.

Now on Ustream.tv!

I’ve been fooling a bit with UStream (which is awesome btw…) and its potential use in a proposal I’m busy developing. I hope to have a bit more info soon, and I can’t even begin to describe what might end up here (or not). Instead, I thought I’d just broadcast it out and see what develops. Maybe some of my famed training courses? I dunno…

GeekApproach Feed on UStream

Last.fm Interview

I really love last.fm as my streaming music provider. Pandora has a special place in my heart as well, but rather than having a building of folks make some recommendations of music for me based upon some mathematical preferences, last.fm makes recommendations from other users near you. It’s occasionally wrong, but right now I can’t beat the sheer number of devices I can stream my music on. They’ve recently added X360 support through the dashboard, although you can’t stream the audio in the background of a game…Which is probably what you’re using your Xbox for in the first place. I’ve got my currently scrobbled tracks running in my sidebar widget here, feel free to take a peek. There’s some insane amount of music I’ve listened to in the past year.

But anyway, here’s the CNET article if you want to check it out: http://crave.cnet.co.uk/digitalmusic/0,39029432,49304380,00.htm

Droid does what iDon’t (or something…)

This video for Motorola’s new supposed iPhone killer, code-named “Droid” is interesting. Not because of the many things that the iPhone can’t do (apparently), but because the word “droid” is wholly owned by Lucasfilm, Ltd.??

WTF? Are you kidding me? I guess he might’ve been one of the first authors to popularize the word but…c’mon. It’s a shortening of the word “Android”. Wow.