Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Archive for May 2009

Notes, comments, Windows Live and Friendfeed

with 10 comments

I have using Windows Live wave 3 for about 8 months now and there is one feature that I really don’t like, namely profile notes.

Profile notes do what they say on the tin, they are notes that people can leave on your profile at http://profile.live.com if you allow them to. My problem with notes is that they fail in what should be their principle aim, that is encouraging and enabling conversations. The main reasons for this as I see them are:

  • The notes are marooned at the bottom of the profile page, usually below the fold. Who is ever going to see them there let alone reply to them?
  • The notion of reply doesn’t really exist. There is nothing that ties 2 notes together and indicates that one is a reply to another and hence there are no threaded conversations between multiple people. In fact, there really isn’t anywhere on Windows Live that ad-hoc, informal, threaded conversations actually get persisted for other people to view them; Live Messenger conversations aren’t public and thus have a different purpose whereas conversations on Live Groups discussion boards aren’t really what I would call ad hoc.
  • If someone DOES want to reply to a post then its not obvious where they should to it. For example, when I leave a post on someone else’s profile should they reply with another note on their profile or by putting one on mine? I’ve seen people do both and its not obvious which is the better course of action.

Another gripe I have about profile notes is that there is a lot of overlap with the private message feature which is also part of our profile. Granted, notes are public and this is a key differentiator between them and private messages but still, people largely use them both in a similar way. Profile Notes have, in my opinion, degenerated into a rather useless feature of Windows Live and I wouldn’t mind if they were removed in wave 4.

A similar feature to notes is commenting; comments are now strewn all over Windows Live (e.g. Skydrive, Profile, Spaces) and this wide smattering doesn’t help to engender conversations. I’ve often thought that adopting Friendfeed’s behaviour of allowing inline commenting in the What’s New feed would be a step forward because that would bring conversations front and centre of the Windows Live experience – exactly where (in my opinion) they need to be. Dare Obasanjo was one of the main decision makers on the What’s New feed commenting features and he blogged about it back in December 2008 at Some Thoughts on Inline Comments in Activity Feeds where he explained why we can’t comment directly on items in the What’s new feed and thus have conversations developing there. The two main reasons are:

  • They don’t want the What’s New feed filled up with comments from people you don’t know
  • They don’t want to take comments away from where they deserve to be (e.g. on a person’s blog post)

Those are fair justifications but I disagree with them. Firstly, I don’t actually mind reading comments from people that I don’t know, in fact I welcome it. Comments are the lifeblood of social networks and I want to encourage commenting regardless of who is making those comments whereas I think the current behaviour (or lack of it) actually discourages commenting and thus conversations don’t happen. If those comments are appearing in my What’s new feed – so be it. At least I won’t miss them like I tend to do if they are in my profile notes.

Second, with the benefit of hindsight I don’t really agree with the justification that it would take commenting away from blogs. I don’t recall anyone ever clicking from my What’s New feed to my work blog and leaving a comment there. People DO do that for my Spaces blog posts but I see no reason why comments that other people make on one of my Spaces blog posts shouldn’t show up in my What’s new feed – I WANT people to see that conversation, not be oblivious to it. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no way to subscribe to comments on a Spaces blog post and be notified when anyone replies to that post (a feature that has been sadly lacking in Spaces for far too long in my opinion). It sometimes seems to me that the Windows Live team don’t actually want conversations to occur anywhere other than in Live Groups discussion boards and in Live Messenger (both of which I’m a big fan of by the way) and I think that’s a shame because there’s definitely something missing from the experience currently; something that I believe Friendfeed has captured very nicely..

The issue of comments in the What’s new feed though is slightly different to my main gripe which is that of profile notes which I would be happy to see disappear. I’d be interested to read Dare’s thoughts on these matters so hopefully he takes this rather blatant bait and leaves a comment down below!

-Jamie

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Written by Jamiet

May 29, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Its been a big week for Microsoft followers

with 7 comments

A big week indeed, I can’t remember when this much news came out in such a short space of time. Let’s review:

Plus there’s promise of more exciting Zune/XBox related news at E3 next week (my money’s on remote streaming of recorded TV from XBox direct to your Zune)

That’s a hell of a lot of news for just one week, in fact it was actually just in the space of three days. A lot of this stuff has only been announced and is not yet available but its all going to be here before the end of 2009 so when you couple that with the upcoming Windows 7 and Windows Live Wave 4 plus general availability of Windows Azure and SQL Data Services (which, again, none of you will care about – but I do!) then you realise that there’s a big 6 months coming up. Bring it on!

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

May 29, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Bing and Windows Live

with 5 comments

I’m sure many of you reading this will be aware that Microsoft today announced a new search engine called Bing (not live at the time of writing).

I’ve been checking out the videos at http://www.discoverbing.com/behindbing/videos.aspx and was excited to see a very cool new feature that integrates with Windows Live. You can now save the results of your searches into your Windows Live Skydrive so that you can access those results at a later date or, if you think those results might interest other people, you can share the results with your Windows Live network via Windows Live Favorites. Here’s a shot from the video that shows that happening:

image

And here’s the whole video:

(If the video doesn’t appear here then go and check it out at http://www.discoverbing.com/behindbing/videos.aspx and find a video called “Kumo Session history”)

Cool stuff. Paul Dawson who heads up the User Experience team at EMC Conchango (my place of work) often talks about using search engines as “scrapbooks” and this new feature in Bing is a great example of that.

I’ve talked at length in the past about how Skydrive could be used by 3rd parties for online storage and here is the first really great example of that although unfortunately it won’t be available to anyone outside of Microsoft until an API appears which, as I’ve said before, I am pretty sure will happen when Live Mesh fully arrives.

In the meantime its fun to consider the capabilities that online storage of search results could deliver. The aforementioned Mr Dawson often gives the analogy of teenagers tearing cuttings out of clothing brochures and taking them with them on shopping sprees; what if they didn’t have to take those cuttings with them, instead they just stored them from Bing and were later able to access them on a mobile phone? That’s the sort of compelling experience that should be available in the not too distant future and I’ll bet that mobile access to stored search results is high on the agenda of the Bing team (think app stores and mobile marketplaces, people).

Interesting stuff. I’m really looking forward to playing with Bing when it becomes available in 6 days time!

-Jamie

In the clubhouse: clubhouse, story, bing, skydrive, favorites

Written by Jamiet

May 28, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome to Vine

with 7 comments

I awoke today to find an invitation to Microsoft Vine sitting in my inbox which was a nice surprise at 6 in the morning. Hence I’ve spent part of today (during my lunchbreak of course) poking and prodding at it to see whether it was worth my paying attention to. The answer to that one is “When they start supporting the UK then….maybe”.

The install experience was very pain free. A 5MB download, 30second install and I was done. Let’s take a look at some screenshots.

The first screen you see when you login to Vine (using your Windows Live ID) is this:

imageThe map is a Virtual Earth map although for some reason its in black and white. The blue boxes overlaid on the map are news items from various content suppliers; news is only available for the USA currently folks. Strangely, hovering over one of these news items does not actually tell you what the news item is all about:

image

In order to discover what the news actually is you have to double-click on the blue box which then launches a web page where you can read it. (In my early experiences the majority of the news items are from Reuters.) I find this process ridiculously laborious – I shouldn’t have to open the web page to see what the news item is actually about but with Vine, sadly, I do. It doesn’t even tell me the headline. I assume this will change in the future.

Turns out I made a slight mistake. Hovering over does indeed show you very little information but what I didn’t know was that right-clicking on the news item brings up something more useful:

image I’d prefer if that popup appeared when hovering rather than right-clicking but at least its available.

 

The main facets of Vine are “Vitals”, “Places” and “People” and for each one of those there is an additional screen that pops out when selected; I have so far discerned that this additional screen is called a drawer and hence we have a people drawer, a places drawer and a vitals drawer.

The Vitals drawer is where you enter your personal information such as address, telephone number and all that paraphernalia.

image

The Vitals drawer is also the place from where we tell Vine which social networks we are a part of; currently those available to choose from are Facebook, LinkedIn and Windows Live:

image I haven’t so far been able to tell what the benefit is of adding your social networks into Vine other than being able to switch between them in the same web page. Observe:

imageMaybe that’s useful for some, I’m not sure!

The real interesting parts of Vine are the Places and People drawers. Places is where you tell Vine which parts of the world you want to get information for. So far I’ve chosen my (a) home town, (b) my current place of work and (c)Seattle seeing as I figured there would be more information there than for any other city (for reasons that should be obvious). Sure enough there’s news items a plenty available in Seattle as you can see on this screenshot of the Places drawer:

image

In the People drawer I build of groups of contacts that I may wish to share information with:

image The people drawer is also where I see updates (“reports” or “alerts” in Vine terminology) from my contacts and I suspect over time this is where we shall see such things as Facebook and Twitter status updates. I’m disappointed that there is no integration with the contacts and groups in my Windows Live contact list but I am told that this is being considered for the future.

Back to the main screen. You may have noticed from the screenshot at the top of this page that we can post alerts and reports to our contacts:

image Remember that one intended use of Vine is the ability to keep in touch with people during times of crises and the “Send Alert” feature is here for just that purpose:

image     image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can send alerts either to a group or individual recipients. This is where Vine really starts to differ from services such as Twitter (which it has been mercilessly compared to) because alerts are directed to particular people rather than being broadcast. Moreover, those alerts won’t just get sent to the recipients Vine software, every Vine user can opt to get alerts and reports sent to their email or mobile phone (via SMS/text message).

The last section to draw your attention to is “People I care about” on the main screen:

imageEach of those pushpins represents either me or one of my contacts and when I right-click on one of them I get the option to send them an instant message, an email or view their Facebook page (if they have registered it with Vine). Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The pushpins can be moved about which ostensibly appears to have no value whatsoever but upon enquiry it transpires that the relative distance of each contact’s pushpin from your own will (one day) determine how prominently that person’s updates are displayed to you. To quote Vine team member Oren Trutner:

The metaphor is that if you pull someone closer, you hear more. If you push them to the back, you only "hear" the urgent messages. That would add a dimension of volume control over the communications. It also lets you pull someone closer temporarily. For example, if a remote relative is suddenly in trouble, I might pull them closer for the duration, even if I’m not normally all that involved in their daily life.

(http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/vine/thread/3fd9d97c-7b49-4b9a-9e46-5bbeb3414721)

That sounds very interesting indeed and I’m eager to see how this metaphor of visually arranging your network’s priority to you plays out; its certainly a unique feature that I have never seen on any other social networking site so far.

Some last observations before I finish:

  • It would be nice to have keyboard shortcuts for opening and closing the drawers.
  • Everything within Vine (address entry, phone number entry, news sources) are currently intended for use in the US and nowhere else. If you don’t reside in the US then you’re not yet going to get much value out of this.
  • I don’t like that news items get opened in a separate browser, I’d like to view them within Vine.
  • I would also like to be able to comment on and annotate news items and have those comments/annotations be viewable by my contacts
  • Location based services (i.e. based on GPS information or mobile phone triangulation) are being considered for the future so says Vine team member Chris Mitchell.

All in all I’m very interested to see where Vine goes even though I have no use for it right now due to it being wholly US centric. I’ve said before in my post Untangling the Vine that I believe there is a lot of untapped potential in the usage of groups and locales in social networks and I’m looking forward to seeing if Vine can exploit that.

-Jamie

In the clubhouse: clubhouse, story, vine

Written by Jamiet

May 12, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What next? Future predictions for the next 40 years.

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I have a hobby which those of you who read my post Future gazing with Wired magazine in November 2008 will be aware of; I enjoy recording predictions that people make and returning to them on the date for which the prediction is made to see if the prediction came true. For example in the afore-mentioned article I noted a prediction that said on 24th November 2020 polar bears and bees will be extinct; I have set myself a reminder for that date to check whether or not the prediction came true. At the moment its a rather one-sided hobby because as yet we have not reached any of the dates for the predictions that I’ve recorded but trust me, in about 10 years there’s going to be a lot to talk about 🙂

The inaugural edition of Wired UK magazine in May 2009 contained an article called “What next?” which was awash with future predictions and I’ve had a great time recording them in my calendar so that I can revisit them in the future. Here is the list of predictions that I have recorded:

  • 2010: Citywide free wifi. And not just supplied by the local authority. “A crowdsourced wi-fi network would be created if everyone turned off the encryption on their home wi-fi” – Saul Parker, anthropologist.
  • 2014: Life-browsing. “As more of our digital lives go digital, we may use a program to sort our data. And it could hook up to software that understands the things people forget.” Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Research.
  • 2015: Intelligent advertising posters. Advertising gets personal. Posters that adjust to your presence and address you personally become as common as TV ads tailored to your profile.
  • 2017: Windows power. Environmentally sustainable buildings aren’t just carbon neutral, they will also make a clean contribution to the power grid in the form of solar-power-generating windows.
  • 2017: Intelligent packaging. Using smart RFID chips, the food packages in your cupboard will talk to each other, then suggest what you can make if you combine them.
  • 2018: Teledildonics: Remote control sexual stimulation. “There are Japanese scientists who are focusing ultrasound into a pinpoint, creating sound that you can touch in the air.” – Violet Blue, sex columnist.
  • 2018: Active contact lenses. These will project words and images into the ye. We will also be able to download software to influence our dreams and share them with others.
  • 2018: Meal replacement patches. A patch will deliver all the nutrients you need without you having to open your mouth.
  • 2018: Non-touch computer interfaces. Operate a computer without touching anything, using gestures instead.. “Still ten tears away partly because of the need for accurate tracking.” – Vint Cerf, Google.
  • 2018: Nanotech drugs. Treatments will deliver themselves directly to the site of the problem.
  • 2018: Everything online: There are sensors throughout your home and all your appliances share a network. Your house automates itself, runs more efficiently and reduces its carbon footprint.
  • 2018: Office video walls. Networked offices will take video conferencing to the next level. This could develop into “holographic projections” by 2030. Jeremy Gutsche – trend hunter.
  • 2019: Folk-art revival. “Media production tools will be in the hands of the people, and the line between pro and amateur media is blurred”. – Douglas Ruchkoff, professor of media culture, New York University.
  • 2019: Electro-sex. From the orgasmatron to the robotic sex dolls, this will manifest itself into one form or another by 2030.
  • 2020: Death of web 2.0. Amateur hour ends. “Everyone accepts they need a mechanic to fix their car, but everyone also thinks they can be a journalist. They can’t, its about expertise.” – Anne Skare Nielson, futurist.
  • 2020: A machine passes the Turing test. A computer develops conversational skills indistinguishable from those of a human being.
  • 2020: Space currency floated. A space currency has been designed, but “it does not appear to have legal tender status anywhere” – Willem Buiter, professor of European political economy at LSE.
  • 2020: Universal cloud computing. After software makes the leap from desktop to thin air, storage goes the same way. Data is accessible all the time, everywhere.
  • 2021: Emotionally aware machines. Cars will read drivers’ moods and adjust their driving accordingly and computers will be able to tell you if you are too busy to be pestered with an email alert.
  • 2021: Global warming conflict. Floods in Bangladesh will lead to mass emigration, and drought in South East Asia will cause battles for water.
  • 2021: Male birth control. A pill or an injection, this would provide reversible birth control for men.
  • 2021: Affordable genetic prophecy at birth. Everyone’s genome is assayed. Gene-specific medicine will improve the world’s health – or just make huge swathes of unhealthy people uninsurable.
  • 2021: Remote-controlled surgery commonplace. The patient is on an operating table in the UK while a surgeon in the US performs the surgery down a fibre optic cable. Lag time could be a problem, especially on injured astronauts.
  • 2023: Electronic telepathy. Controlling a machine with our minds will enable us to type and send messages using thought.
  • 2023: Fully immersive virtual reality. Active contact lenses provide the visuals while haptics, the science of touch, adds the feel. This could also involve “some kind of hallucinogenic drug” – Richard Watson.
  • 2023: Live to over 100 with ease. New discoveries in healthcare, especially in nanotechnology, will slow ageing and beat common killers such as heart disease.
  • 2024: Woolly mammoths in the zoo. Advances in genetics will enable us to reconstruct mammoth DNA and bring them back from extinction. Modern vegetation is close enough to their original diet.
  • 2024: Microboal diesel provides most of our fuel. Forget “drill baby drill” – the next oil barons will be sitting in labs, cultivating bacteria.
  • 2024: AIDS vaccine. Breakthroughs in anti-viral medicine make a working vaccine widespread.
  • 2025: Personalised nutrition. Although a possibility, “the real idea (after an analysis of someone’s genes) is to have diets for each person” – Sara Risch, Food Consultant.
  • 2026: A moon settlement. We will reach the moon again around 2020 and “begin the build-up of an outpost, probably in the 2022/2024 timeframe”. This will be operational a decade later.” – Carl Walz, Astronaut.
  • 2026: Vertical city farms. With limited space and increasing food shortages, skyscraping greenhouses will make up a growing proportion of the world’s agriculture.
  • 2026: End of school as we know it. “The biggest change is the elimination of existing schools. Those countries that don’t invent better forms of education will be left behind.” Alvin Toffer, futuroligist.
  • 2028: First child disqualifies for academic doping. “There are going to be a lot more brain-enhancing drugs. it won’t be enough any more for kids to be just naturally intelligent.” – Lisa Bodell.
  • 2028: Global mobile phone penetration explodes. Eighty to ninety percent of the world will have mobiles. “Censorship becomes difficult and the ability to operate in secret, whether you’re a local council or a superpower, is lost”. Josh Calder.
  • 2029: Lab grown meat in fast food restaurants. Although technologically this could be developed sooner, psychological hurdles push it later in the timeframe.
  • 2029: Tissue re-engineering. Advances in stem cell technology will allow us to replace body parts as they wear out.
  • 2030: The panda improves its sex life. “With advances in genetics we could say ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the panda had a better sex life?’ and find the genome so that it could have one” – Ian Pearson.
  • 2030: Artificial eyes. “Damage to the retina affects millions of people.  I hope we will be able to rebuild retinas well before 2030 using adult stem cells.” – Patrick Dixon.
  • 2030: Child born outside the world’s gravitational field. Space tourism makes this possible but “If you were a pregnant woman, would you want to risk prosecution for child endangerment?” – Charlie Stross
  • 2032: Cancer no longer a problem. Target drug delivery and other advances in nanotechnology will turn cancer from mass killer into a manageable irritation.
  • 2032: New York sinks. “{There are people] who work on boats…people who really strongly believe that the earth will be, you know, submerged.” – Faith Popcorn.
  • 2035: China goes global. As China dominates the world economy, its worldview will change the global culture.
  • 2035: Humans visit Mars. Its not the technology but the money that’s holding us back.
  • 2035: Self-driving vehicles. Using GPS, lane-changing technology and AI, the cars of tomorrow make take drivers automatically to their destination.
  • 2036: Cheat death the cold way. Freezing a human body after death, to be reanimated at a later date, is not in our timeframe – although a form of suspended animation is more likely.
  • 2038: meet ET. Statistically improbable, but there’s a slightly better chance that we will receive signals from an alien species.
  • 2038: Invisible eyesores. We will clean up the visual environment by “forcing light to travel around an object, effectively making it disappear.” – Richard Watson.
  • 2043: The end of gender. Gender will define our character less and less and “children will no longer be taught gender” by the culture – Douglas Ruchkoff.
  • 2045: Super-intelligence. Machines will build other machines. The challenge will be to avoid human beings being rendered subservient.
  • 2048: Space elevator. Certainly theoretically possible if nanotechnology can create a material suitable for the cable.

Anyone out there willing to stay with me until 2048 to see how many come true? By then I shall be 71 years young and one of the predictions above gives me confidence that I will still be around to pass judgement. Personally I’m still holding out for a cure for baldness before my locks completely fall out; seriously, has no-one come up with that yet?

Incidentally, for future reference here are the main headlines from today’s BBC News:

Cameron says MPs must say sorry David Cameron says MPs must say sorry over expenses claims, as his own party’s claims come under the spotlight.

‘Steep rise’ in Sri Lanka deaths An official in northern Sri Lanka says 378 people have been killed in 24 hours, but the government denies shelling the area.

Seven further UK swine flu cases

King ‘regrets’ nightclub incident

Obama jokes about his next 100 days at White House dinner

Tevez inspires Man Utd derby win

Button wins Spanish GP

Lions show their bite Passions run high as Millwall take a slender play-off lead against Leeds at the New Den

-Jamie

Written by Jamiet

May 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

More information on Vine

with 3 comments

I’ve been watching the interwebs for information on Microsoft Vine since it was announced three days ago and here’s what I’ve found out so far:

  • The Vine team have a blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/vine/
  • …a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Microsoft-Vine/87254316053
  • …and they’re on Twitter too http://twitter.com/microsoftvine
  • So is the executive whose name has been mentioned most in conjunction with Vine, Tammy Savage (and her first tweet was in reply to me)
  • In their second blog post the Vine team confirm that Vine is not intended to be a Twitter compete which is exactly what I said in Untangling the Vine. They say “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Microsoft Vine was conceived and built from the beginning to allow people to continue using their favorite social network while allowing others to have a consolidated view of the people they care about the most…We aren’t going to compete with these other tools and we sure don’t think of ourselves as Twitter on Steroids”
  • Many people on Twitter have goaded Vine for providing their demo videos for Flash rather than Silverlight. Tammy Savage puts the record straight by saying “if you have silverlight the videos will play in silverlight, if not they will play in flash.”
  • Again from Tammy Savage, the beta is initially only available in the US, UK is coming in the second wave.
  • Vine is built on Windows Live ID, Live Search, Virtual Earth and Messenger according to Brady Forrest of O’Reilly Media.
  • Vine will not be ad-supported, the business model is premium services (again, thanks to Brady Forrest)
  • Non-Windows and mobile clients will be added in the future (Brady again)
  • Tekorama.com has the deepest dive into the product that I’ve read thus far.

More when I hear/read/see it… I’ll continue to update this post throughout!

Written by Jamiet

May 1, 2009 at 6:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized