ProjectSlice and Online Shopping

ProjectSlice aims to help you organize your online shopping by analyzing your inbox, as Leena at TechCrunch puts it. I’m on the waitlist for the beta.

I’ve started using the Yahoo mail app, which has found a recent purchase from Amazon and the recentish purchase of an iPad from Apple. I can’t think of anything recent that the Yahoo app has missed. I was surprised that its request for an OpenID was out in the open. I’m pleasantly surprised that it didn’t insist on a Facebook or Twitter id.

Some other purchases go through my ChangingWay email (andrew@). I’ll have to wait for the beta to see how well it integrates mailboxes. It’ll be interesting to see how it handles requests to sign up for ProjectSlice from people who are already using the Yahoo app. Seamlessly, I hope, but we’ll see.

ProjectSlice has received quite a lot of coverage already (e.g., GigaOm, RWW). That’s not surprising, given that those who blog about tech are likely to do a lot of their shopping online. The $9M in funding probably doesn’t hurt, either.

Facebook, Google, and Privacy

So, Facebook “hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy.” I am rather late to the party in using that quote from Dan Lyons at the Daily Beast.

But I can’t resist jumping on this rather lovely insight into how low Facebook will stoop. And I can’t resist adding further quotes, this time from Michael Arrington’s account of the story:

  • “it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re changing the world’s notions on what privacy is.” They are Facebook. I hope that they are not changing the world’s notion of privacy. But they are certainly demonstrating how much of it people are willing to trade for being part of a large online herd.
  • “secretly paying a PR firm to pitch bloggers on stories going after Google, even offering to help write those stories and then get them published elsewhere, is not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It’s also really, really dumb.” Yes, and that’s the feel-good aspect of the story: the stupidity of Facebook.
  • “Google is probably engaging in some somewhat borderline behavior by scraping Facebook content… But many people argue… that the key data, the social graph, really should belong to the users, not Facebook.” Yes it should. But Facebook users should by now understand that they are the product, not the customer.
  • “Does anyone not see the irony of having to sign in via Facebook to leave a comment on this Techcrunch article?” That’s the first comment on Michael’s article (as of right now), and several other comments make a similar point. If TechCrunch knows Facebook to be dishonest, cowardly, and dumb, why is it inflicting Facebook’s comment system on the TC community?

Teaching and the Tools Thereof

I’m teaching in a strategic management class, starting next Monday. It’s the capstone strategy class in the MBA program at University of Maryland University College (UMUC). I’ll be teaching a “hybrid” section, which mean that it’ll be mostly e-learning, but with a few in-class meetings.

The learning management system (LMS) is WebTycho, which is well-established at UMUC, used at a few other institutions, but isn’t a generally-available or widely-used LMS. Having just completed an orientation course in WebTycho, I can give an opinion: it’s solid, and not often annoying.

Teaching at UMUC also involves using Microsoft Outlook, which is both widely-used and annoying.

That said, I’m excited about the 10-week strategy course that’s about to start.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Player

Cloud PlaygroundAmazon Cloud Drive is your hard drive in the cloud. You can use it, along with Amazon Cloud Player, as a music locker.

There’s coverage all over the place. NPR is mainly positive, but points out that there are legal challenges to music lockers. TechCrunch describes Amazon’s offering as fierce competition for existing music locker services, given the space it offers and its integration with Amazon’s MP3 store.

At Mashable, Ben Parr actually used the service before posting about it. Good for him! His first impressions are more positive than mine. To Ben, “it became apparent that Amazon wasn’t launching some half-baked product.” To me, it seemed strange that deleting just one MP3 file caused Amazon Cloud Drive to think that I had no files left, even though I was using some of my space allowance.

I’m confident that Amazon will fix the early bugs quickly, and otherwise improve its cloud drive and player. As an example of an improvement, how about looking at my prior Amazon MP3 purchases, and offering to shift them into my locker without having to locate them on my computer and then upload them?

This music locker service combines several of Amazon’s strengths: cloud management, MP3 store, brand name, etc. You get 5 GB of storage for free. To add another 20 GB, you only need to buy one MP3 album. MP3 purchases are automatically added to your locker, and do not count against your storage quota.

Now, let’s see what Apple, Google, and others come back with…

Apps = Web 2.0 + UX – Lots

One of the definitions of Web 2.0 was “the web as platform.” I used to think that was a good thing, and am still inclined to do so, and hence to regret the rise of platform-specific apps.

John Battelle (via Toni) seems to think along the same lines, and to have been prodded to commit his thoughts to paper, or at least to presentation and to pixels. Here’s his slide comparing core values of Web 2.0 from way back in 2004/5 with today’s web and with today’s apps.

When it comes to apps’ popularity, the bottom line is rich user experience. Apps’ UX lead is “so compelling we may be willing to give up all the other principles of Web 2 just to have a great experience.” Who’s this we? Well, it may include me once I get my iPad 2… but I doubt it.

Premium Spam

My spam filters seem to be having a tough time recently. I’m thinking more of email filters, rather than Akismet. That said, I wish that Akismet was a little less hospitable to certain Russian-writing agents. While I took a little Russian in high school, the main result was that I realized how bad at languages I am.

Three messages that gmail somehow let through (to andrew at changingway dot org) made me smile, though.

  • Healthier way to smoke.
  • Make happy the girlfriend! Present to the girlfriend unforgettable night!
  • hi! My neighbor died because his viral infection was mistaken for bacterial…

Each one pure spam comedy gold, but I have to give first place to the last on the list. The switch from the chirpy “hi!” to the details of death has a sort of brilliance.

If gmail is going to let spam through, then I’m not too unhappy that it picked these three.

Identity: Usernames, Rings, etc.

Three years ago, I was pretty enthusiastic about OpenID.

Those of us who use (or at least try) too many web services tend to regard OpenID as good news: it means that each of us can sign in to one service in order to access multiple services… Now we get to the bad news. Most of the services I use don’t accept OpenID.

The bad news never went away, and is in some ways getting worse. 37signals will cease to support OpenID on May 1.

There are at least three other strikes against OpenID, besides the fact that many sites don’t accept it. Your ID is a URI, which might seem a little weird unless you are actually a web page. That URI can seem like one more thing to keep track of, bookmark, etc: the OpenID as well as the sites you use it to access. And what do you do when your OpenID provider is down?

So, more and more, we see web services inviting us to sign in using our credentials from one of the big sites, often Facebook. This may seem a little like using the one ring forged in, and always owned by, Mordor.

But we do have our choice of lords of the login. Mike at RWW recently noted that LinkedIn is growing as the login of choice for business-to-business (B2B) sites. He deduces from this that “users prefer certain identities for certain online activities.” So maybe Jekyll and Hyde is a better literary reference than Lord of the Rings when it comes to logins.

Acquia's Strategy: Drupal as the Standard Platform

Acquia is a for-profit company, based on the free/open source content management system Drupal. When Acquia was founded, a little over three years ago, I remarked on its similarity to Automattic (which is based on WordPress).

Today, Acquia and Drupal founder Dries Buytaert posted about “the vision that we’ve been working towards for the last 3 years, and… how Acquia can help simplify your web strategy.” That’s based on the premise that “you” are (or are a member of) an organization with multiple websites. Since the sites differ in many ways (scale, rate of change, etc.), you find yourself with a variety of platforms.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a platform on which it was feasible to standardize? Acquia’s strategy is to provide that platform, in the form of Drupal and services to go with it.

That’s the big picture: Drupal as the Enterprise 2.0 platform (not a quote from Dries, but my summary of his post). One of the interesting parts of the picture is Drupal Gardens, which provides Drupal as a service. Dries contrasts Gardens with typical software as a service.

Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) providers employ a proprietary model – they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don’t allow you to export the underlying code. Users of Drupal Gardens are able to export their Drupal Gardens site – the code, the theme and data…

We call this “Open SaaS” or Software as a Service done right based on Open Source principles.

I’ve been interested in the “open software as a service as a trap” issue for a while. So it’s good to see this issue addressed head on in an account of a vendor’s strategy.

Please feel free to leave comments on Acquia, its strategy, and related issues here. You don’t have to read Dries’ post first, but I recommend you do.

Offers, Offers, Everywhere: Google, Groupon – and Living Social

Three weeks into 2011, the most interesting series of stories about the business to consumer web is local offers. They are all over the place, in the (new and old) media as well as on the map.

Since an excellent summary and opinion piece by Ben Parr at Mashable is just a few hours old, I’ll build off that. Google attempted to acquire Groupon. Groupon decided it could command even more billions by IPO than by being acquired. Google decided to launch its own service, Google Offers.

Ben op-eds that “Google will be an instant player in this market,” but that it “has yet to prove that it can build a successful social product.” For its part, “Groupon is prepared for (and not scared of) Google’s entry in its market.”

The first point I’d like to add is that Google faces at least one more well-prepared local offers service, besides Groupon. LivingSocial was also prepared for this announcement, and made sure it was also in the news this week with its offer of a $20 Amazon certificate for $10. That deal, which turned out to be wildly popular, put LivingSocial in the news during “Google Offers in the offing” week.

That’s good for Amazon as an investor in LivingSocial. It’s probably not bad for Amazon as a retailer, since orders will tend to be for more than the $20 on the certificate.

The second point is that the prominence of the local offers services seems to undermine, yet again, arguments that the web leads to “the death of distance” and makes meatspace irrelevant. On the other hand, the three services I’ve mentioned are (or will be) national or international in scope, and the offer that got LivingSocial in the news this week features an international retailer/partner/investor.

Finally, this seems good for consumers, with Google providing an additional source of local offers. For local business, however, it may further increase the pressure to offer deals that are too good for consumers to miss, and too cheap for the business to come close to covering its costs.

Whither Webinar Ware?

I’m currently in a webinar. What that actually means is that another browser tab is showing a big blank where there should be slides, along with the names of people who may or may not actually be seeing the slides I’m not seeing. What should be happening is that we should all be seeing and hearing the same thing, as if we were in, if not a seminar, then at least a lecture.

Maybe I’m not doing it right. I did opt for the browser-based mode of webinar attendance, despite the availability of a download client. But surely, with all the multimedia marvels I can access using a browser, slides plus accompanying voice should be feasible. AT&T, whose technology is powering the webinar, isn’t making it happen for me.

I’ve been in quite a few webinars over the last few years. They rarely work. They have the synchronous restriction that we all have to be in the same virtual room at the same time. But the back-and-forth I’m used to from seminars, conference sessions, etc., of being in the same room at the same time just isn’t there. And sometimes, as right now, there isn’t even the one-way of the slides coming up in order.

Comments are open, especially to people whose experience of webinars is more positive than mine.