Archive for February, 2006

I love my laptop

February 24, 2006

Glyn's laptop

I’ve had a laptop for over 10 years, but it’s always been given to me by the company I was working for, and their IT departments always stuffed it full of bloatware to ‘improve’ its performance and limit my access to it.

But now I’ve got my own.

It’s PC, because I couldn’t afford a Mac *and* all the software I need. It’s also a very sensible silver-grey Dell PC. And it took me ages to get set up just like I wanted. But now it’s humming.

It starts fast. It suspends properly when I shut the lid. I’m working on getting all my music ever on it. It hooks up to WiFi easily (and I realised recently that everywhere I’ve wanted WiFi this year now has it). I’ve recovered everything I’ve written professionally from CD backups of laptops past, so I have everything at my fingertips. With Skype I can co-coo with my fiancée or talk to my boss. It’s got all my photos memories on it.

I know it’s odd to say I love a dull little PC, but there is definitely a pleasure (for me at least) in getting something working so well. I’m trying to avoid the temptation to tinker too much; to add that one bit of badly written code that might introduce a glitch and slow it down. And I don’t know what I’d do if somebody nicked it…

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Skype stories

February 13, 2006

The Skype website now has some lovely films and photos telling the real stories of how real people use Skype in their relationships.

Skype 'playing games'

Skype stories

Two big frustrations with the Nokia N70 on Orange

February 13, 2006

Grrr.

I am trying to be a good little early adopter, using Nokia’s new N70 phone. I mean ‘personal multimedia computer’, or ‘wand’ as Bruce Sterling calls them. Basically it’s a computer with a phone-like form factor, and where one of its applications is to make phone calls on a mobile network.

What you’d hope though is that it is pretty good at running that most important of applications. Unfortunately Orange have ‘improved’ the device, adding a homescreen that attempts but fails to improve usability over the Nokia original UI. It also seems to be a badly written bit of code, as it slows the whole OS down unacceptably. Sometimes it takes 8 or 10 seconds to open my contacts or a text message. And it’s not just me; people in forums are getting pretty agitated about it too. An acquaintance of an acquaintance who works in the product team at Orange tells us:

…they have now added in the ability to turn off the Homescreen and revert back to the original Nokia UI. This will be available on on future handsets as part of Homescreen v1.9 onwards. The next two Nseries Nokia handsets which we’re launching in the UK… will not have the Homescreen present at all.

So, good if you want one but haven’t got one yet. Very bad if you were a keen upgrader, like me.

But Nokia don’t escape without ire either. They’ve changed the charger for the N Series, but do a good thing by bundling an adaptor with the device, so you can still use your old chargers. However, according to the nice lady at the MPC, they won’t let shops order any adaptors. You can get them through their website, but that doesn’t help if you forget to charge your device and forget to carry your charger – as I did today. So I’ve just had to drop £20 on a new charger.

Grrr.

Making social software work for real people

February 10, 2006

I spent a fun day working at Leslie’s house in the countryside yesterday. It was a gorgeous crisp winter’s day, and we spent the day debating and developing ideas for a particularly knotty client problem, while eating delicious sausage sandwiches and being hassled for grapes by his chickens.

What is probably more interesting is that about an hour of the day’s discussion focussed on social software. More specifically, me trying to explain social software to my colleagues, some of whom are self-confessed luddites. Rather than talk about the technology or some clever principles, I instead decided to just demonstrate three well-known applications: Flickr, del.icio.us, and Last.fm.

They didn’t get Flickr at all; it just raised privacy concerns. “Why would you want to share your holiday photos with strangers?” They understood del.icio.us, but couldn’t see the benefit in their lives as they “don’t bookmark many websites anyway”. Last.fm however really clicked for them, because they could immediately see the benefit – “a tool to find new music that I’ll probably like”. “Like Amazon, but better.”

This got me thinking a bit about where all this Web 2.0 stuff is going, and how we are going to make it work for real people?

The trick for me is to remember that nobody outside of the protocracy is, or ever will be, interested in this stuff. Also, we must realise that there is a generational gap in understanding of how your social network can be leveraged.

In the research I’ve been doing recently in the UK, younger people are impatient for this stuff. They are already doing some of the things that social software enables, through clumsy improvised methods, mostly using text. Remember though that because they want it doesn’t mean they find it clever or sexy. “It’s just how things should work isn’t it?”

Older people though (generally over 28?) see anything social in very friendsreunited terms, and worry about their ability to maintain even more relationships. “I’ve got enough friends.” They have trouble with the concept that (apart from networking tools like LinkedIn), most social software is about the infocloud generated by the relationships, not the relationships themselves.

So how can we shape this stuff to make it acceptable for the mass market? My first thoughts are:

  • Make the social network an enabler, not the thing.
  • Barriers to participation (rating/tagging) must be very low or non-existent.
  • Make it very clear to the user how they are insulted from the weirdoes.

 

I’m not sure that big fonts have a bearing either way.

Distinctive and/or curious behaviours of Skype usage by Skypers

February 9, 2006

I’ve been working with Skype for four weeks now, and before they become normal for me, I wanted to record some of the distinctive and/or curious behaviours of Skype usage I’m noticing. (I’m sure most of these are obvious, but despite being a fairly tech savvy person, I’ve never really used IM before, never mind VOIP.)

  • There’s a quite lovely etiquette of asking someone by chat if it’s OK to call, even when their presence shows ‘available’, and then thanking them afterward (again by chat) for a good call.
  • Multichats are great. Bring many contacts in on a chat with a general topic, and keep it going indefinitely. They lay dormant for a few hours/days, then someone will post a link/ask a question, and there’s a little flurry. For a team at work, it means problems are solved or ideas hatched right there and then. The team doesn’t have to convene a meeting for an issue that doesn’t need one, or wait until the next-scheduled meeting to discuss it, by which time the opportunity will have gone/gone stale/been forgotten anyway. I’d like to try to open one with my friends. I just need to persuade them to get Skype first.
  • The noise, echos etc you get on a voice call have a uniquely Skype (or soft VOIP?) quality to them. Although on Tuesday I was in a meeting where four people were taking part via Skype and a conference phone, and to me it felt like they were orbiting the moon on Apollo 13! They didn’t say anything all meeting, but there was the occasional whisper of analogue-sounding static that reminded me of a sound effect used extensively in the passable Tom Hanks film. Weird.
  • In face-to-face meetings, nearly all the Skypers have a laptop in front of them, sometimes taking part in unrelated chats simultaneously, sometimes writing notes into Notepad or PowerPoint.
  • I think it may be that power in the organisation is signalled by not having a laptop in a meeting.
  • I think there may be a macho thing about making the last contribution of the day to an ongoing multichat. I’ve only seen men do it so far…

 

I look forward to reading back over these observation in 1 week/month/year to see which are part of the landscape, and which disappear and seem quaint.

Clears throat

February 3, 2006

Ahem.

This feels a bit like speaking to an empty conference hall – an occasional nightmare of mine, back in the days of the first ‘dotcom’ boom, when I used to talk about how the web would change brands.

But if this blog gets off the ground (unlike the previous efforts I’ve left cluttering the web) then I suppose some people might go back and read my first post, so I suppose I better write something of some worth.

A few things have prompted me to have another, hopefully more sustained, go at blogging.

Firstly, after 10 years of employment by very big, big and big-acting companies, I’ve just gone freelance, so I thought I should have a place on the web where prospective employers can get a sense of who I am, what I do and how I think.

Secondly, one of my first post-wage slave jobs is working with the communications agency Albion on their client Skype. So after a few years of creating ideas to help knackered old companies try to sort out their problems, I’m delighted to find myself back helping exciting new companies to make the most of their opportunities. I feel energised about my work in a way I haven’t for a little while now, and this too has inspired me to blog.

Thirdly, having Skype as a client means I need to be playing with all this cool stuff, so I can try and work out what it means to my mum, and how to get her to buy it.

I’ve been using the ideasdepartment.com domain for my personal email for a while, so it made sense to use it for my blog too. Although sitting here now I realise for the first time that it might create certain expectations in a reader…