Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Friday, December 6, 2013

To Match or Not To Match: A look at moving from iTunes Match to Google Play Music or Amazon Cloud Player

I'm contemplating a move away from iTunes Match.

I have had it for the last year, and have been very happy with it.  I have an iPhone 5c at this point, and used it on my iPhone 4 previous to that, and it worked very well on both.  Importing was easy, one step, just drop a CD into the drive while iTunes was running, and it would rip them locally, then match or upload the songs.  Easy to use on the iPhone as well.  If I want to stream it, I can play it the same way I would songs synced to my iPhone before the days of Match.  If I want it available offline (which is important with the phone service in parts of the Rocky Mountains, and having moved from unlimited data to limited where I have to pay for the extra), all I do is hit the download icon, and the phone does the rest.  Perfect.  Almost.

The limitation comes in the form of iTunes itself.  Despite Apple having made almost everything available without having to have Windows or a Mac, a few things require the iTunes application itself, which won't run easily in Linux, nor on tablets or Chromebooks or anything else not running Windows or MacOS.  And the application continues to grow in size and overhead, making it unusable on older computers.  Everything else has now moved to be available online or straight from the phone, but two things, to my knowledge, remain.

There is no way to put ringtones on the iPhone that aren't purchased through an app without a computer, and very difficult without using iTunes itself.  This requires the iPhone to be synced to that specific installation of iTunes.  Using another computer later, even with the same Apple ID, requires syncing the iPhone before ringtones can be added.  And syncing it will wipe any existing ringtones.  A minor thing, and not too important, but it's odd that with everything tied to the Apple ID, Apple still requires a one-to-one iTunes installation to iPhone link, and can't sync what's on the phone to a different installation under the same ID.  But this is not the topic of this post.

The bigger concern is that iTunes Match requires an iTunes installation.  Now, to import music, this makes some sense.  But I discovered today that if your iTunes Match subscription expires, and you don't update billing soon, there is no option to renew it on the iPhone.  It tells you you don't have a subscription, please use iTunes on a PC or a Mac.  And there is no way to update it through the Apple website.  I called the Apple tech support, and they confirmed this.  There is no way through Apple, whether on the phone, through their website, or from the iPhone itself.  This is true for iPods and iPads as well.  It is not possible to renew your subscription if you don't have a Mac or Windows machine that can run iTunes.  In a world where more and more people are moving to cloud based computing, and moving away from traditional computers to tablets and Chromebooks and similar devices, this seems very odd.

Apple is doing nothing to keep my business.  If it wasn't for my dislike of Android, the limitations of the Blackberry, and my dislike of the Windows mobile platforms, I would move away from the iPhone completely in favour of something I can actually use as a true mobile devise without depending on a traditional computer.

I have just under 8000 songs in my iTunes library, 33GB of data.  These are all in iTunes Match.  I am very mobile, as I work in Colorado and own a house in Wyoming where my wife is.  I have imported songs into iTunes Match from a number of computers, and in most cases I have removed the local copy, as I don't listen to music from that device, as I always have my iPhone with me.  My computer here in Colorado has iTunes on it, but is old enough that it is barely usable.  I am contemplating if it is worth the time and effort it will take to get the application loaded up, get logged in, and resubscribe.  The issue being, I don't have that music in one place to import into a different service.

If I move, my main options are Google Play Music and Amazon Cloud Player.  There are pluses and minuses to both, as there will always be.

Both allow playback online, which allows their use on MacOS, Windows, Linux, ChromeOS, and most other platforms without installation of an application.  In addition, there are apps in both iOS, and, Android, and likely other mobile platforms.  Amazon Cloud Player is also available on the Roku, and has a native Windows app.  This means any music in them is available in many places.  Amazon Cloud Player also makes the music available on my Kindle Fire.  In contrast, iTunes Match is available on Macs and Windows machines that have iTunes, and on iOS devices.  Much more limited.

One of the big advantages of iTunes Match is that if you have a low quality, low bitrate, or poor rip (for instance, if your CD is too scratched for a good rip of it), iTunes Match makes the high quality version available in most cases.  This has been a plus for me.  Both Google Play Music or Amazon Cloud Player have added this feature since my initial iTunes Match subscription last November.

Library size can be an issue.  Apple will match up to 25,000 songs, not including those purchased from iTunes, and has no limit on what you can upload, for $24.99 a month.  Google Play Music will allow 20,000 songs to be uploaded, for free.  Their pay service, $9.99 a month, gives access to streaming of music you don't own, which can't be downloaded, but does not increase your song limit, more a service competing with things like iHeartRadio custom stations, Spotify, iTunes Radio, and Pandora than with Amazon Cloud Player or iTunes Match.  Amazon Cloud Player only allows 250 imported songs on their free service, but 250,000 for the $24.99 premium version.

Not all my music is in iTunes currently.  I have CDs I never ripped because I haven't had the desire to listen to them.  I have ones I ripped before my iPod days that are in MP3 format and I haven't imported because I haven't had the desire to listen to them.  And I have music I bought from iTunes or ripped from my CDs that are only in iTunes.  For a long time, I ripped both a copy into iTunes and a separate MP3, in case I ever moved away from Apple, but I stopped doing these when I got iTunes Match.

When Google Music first came out (before the change in branding and name), I was an early adopter.  I started the process of importing my MP3 music, and have 16,000 songs in it.  This puts me close to the limit, and I'm unsure what is and isn't there of the music I'd specifically want.

On the web app, both Google and Amazon have a limitation that is of note.  Google only allows one song downloaded at a time.  This means if you ever want to download your entire library, it will be infeasible.  The Download Manager, which installs on MacOS or Windows, might have an option to do this now, I haven't used it for a few years.  Amazon allows multiple downloads on MacOS and Windows but not on Linux or any derivative of it, including ChromeOS.

The iPhone apps are of course the most important for someone looking at moving away from iTunes Match.  Both allow streaming of music just as iTunes Match does.  And both allow downloading of albums or songs.  The only real significant feature difference is that music downloaded from Google Play Music is available in the native iPhone Music app and Amazon songs are only available to their player.  On the other hand, music in the built in iPhone Music app are not available within the Google Play Music app, but are in the Amazon app.

Google is of course the best cost point, free.  But the limit of 20,000 songs might or might not prove an issue unless I delete the entire Google library and start over with only the songs in iTunes.  iTunes Match and Amazon Cloud Player are the same cost, but the Amazon limit is high enough that I'd never hit it.  Being able to manage my subscription online without needing iTunes is a big plus for Amazon, and Google doesn't require managing it at all.

The availability on the Kindle Fire is a big plus for Amazon, for my situation, and both Amazon and Google are far more accessible across all my devices that Apple.  Being able to import from anywhere without an application is a big plus for both over iTunes, it allows a moving away from a dependency on a traditional computer, as I can use shared computers to rip the songs and upload them.  The ripping is a bit more complex, and Apple does so in one step, but the Windows apps for the other two may be able to do this as well.  The Amazon one appears to.  It appears Google may be able to import AAC files, the format Apple uses.  Amazon does not.

The biggest show stopper is getting music into either of the other two services.  I would need to renew my iTunes Match subscription for another year, download my entire library, convert the AAC files to MP3, then import them into whichever service I went with.  With 33GB of music, this would take a very long time, and require over 70GB of free disk space on a machine able to run iTunes.  A daunting task for sure.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Next Generation IOS: A Review of IOS on an iPhone4


This week, Apple released IOS6, the next generation of the operating system for their iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad.  I've been looking forward to this version for a while based on one feature, their Do Not Disturb setting.  Mine phone is an iPhone4, which is the oldest model IOS6 will install on. Apple supports two generations back with each version, so IOS5 supported the iPhone4S which was released around the time IOS5 was, the iPhone4, and the iPhone3.  IOS6 supports the new iPhone5 that's coming out next month, the iPhone4S, and the iPhone4.  Similar things in iPod Touch and iPad lines.

I was a bit nervous upgrading, as those I knew with iPhone3's when IOS5 came out had a lot of problems.  Their phones slowed to a crawl.  As that was the oldest supported model for IOS5, I was worried about IOS6 on an iPhone4.  I need not to have worried.  IOS6 runs as fast as IOS4 did, a bit faster than IOS5, honestly.  IOS6 runs great on the iPhone4.

There are a lot of changes, but most of them are small and unnoticed, small changes in interface or placement of options.  A few things, however, stick out, and I'd like to address a few of them here.

App Store


One major change is the App Store.  It felt out of date and clunky in IOS4, and wasn't updated in IOS5.  It's about time it got an overhaul.  I often said it was ironic that the worst app on the iPhone was the Apple App Store where you get the apps from.  The new interface is very slick and pleasing to look at, a much better design.  Apps scroll right to left like a book rather than up and down like the old version.  There is more detail shown on the search screens making it easier to determine what might be a good app, and the app detail screen now shows what has changed in the newest version and a version history, which was a big missing hole in the old version.The screen shots are now at the top of the detail page, which gives a good visual, but means more scrolling to look at the description which is my main interest.  Not really a flaw there, just a change that is better for some and worse for others.  The only down side I've found is they failed to correct one thing I disliked in the old version.  When you're scrolling through apps and go to the detail of one, then press back, it still goes to the beginning of the list you're scrolling through.  When you're a ways into the list, this is a big problem, one I hope they fix at some point, preferably sooner than later.  There are times I stop looking at apps because of it.  This could mean lost sales, purely do to not saving a page state.


Mail App


The main change I have noticed in the Mail App is VIP contacts.  You can set in a contact for it to be VIP.  What this means is that there's a new item on the Mailboxes page called VIP.  In it, you will find all conversations from all accounts where one of the senders is a VIP.  Very helpful when you get as many emails a day as I do.


Photos App


The big change here is the changes to the Photo Stream and iCloud.  Apple added the ability to have multiple streams, and to share those streams.  It still has the default Photo Stream that everything is automatically added to, though it's now on an Photo Stream tab in the Album view instead of listed as an album, but now you can have more than one stream.  You can create a stream on the Photo Stream tab, or when you are adding photos to it.  You add them, not by clicking Add To, but clicking Share and choosing Photo Stream.  In other apps, when you go to select a photo, it no longer shows all albums, just those with pictures in them.  Empty albums are hidden now.  Below your albums, other apps show your photo streams, and you can select pictures in them the same way you do in regular albums.  The only thing you can't do is edit them in the Photos App.  On the computer now, Photo Stream now shows up as a drive in Windows with all the streams there.  You can create streams there and add photos to them.  You can also share photo streams, except the default, with other people, both in the Photo App and from the computer.  It sends them an invite and they can accept and it adds the stream to their account, if they have an Apple ID, or gives them access via the web if they don't.  The stream is read only for them, and they show as subscribers from your end.  You can also make a stream public, which makes it available to anyone via a web link.



Do Not Disturb


This is the function I was waiting for, and it's very simple.  In the root of the Settings App, there is now a switch for Do Not Disturb.  Switch it and all alerts, sounds, and vibrations are temporarily turned off until you turn Do Not Disturb back off.  This means not having to change the settings, then going back in and setting them all back, and means not having to turn the phone off if you want to be sure it won't make a sound, won't vibrate, and won't create light.  A very good feature.


Facebook Integration


A major feature added is Facebook integration.  In IOS5, Apple added Twitter integration, allowing sharing to Twitter natively in apps and allowing authentication with Twitter without a separate login in apps.  And the ability to have multiple Twitter accounts that you can switch to to share to different ones without logging out and back in, including within the Twitter App itself.  I was looking forward to the addition of Facebook integration, hoping it would be the same.  And it does, all except the multiple accounts part.  That was a part I was hoping for, because I have a Facebook account specifically for some pages I run that I want kept separate from those for my friends and family.  It isn't uncommon in this day and age where Facebook is sometimes required for professional or work purposes to separate those aspects from personal friend and family aspects.  Facebook integration doesn't allow this.  If you use multiple Facebook accounts, you have to log out of one and into the other to share to another Facebook account.  However, unlike Twitter, the active Facebook account for IOS isn't the active Facebook account in the Facebook App, so you can change the account in the app without effecting the account in IOS.  The other Facebook apps, Facebook Messenger, Facebook Pages, and Facebook Camera, use the Facebook App as the default no login required account to log into and don't connect to the IOS account at this point.  I have not had a chance yet to work with the sharing, so can't yet judge on how it works yet.


Podcasts and iTunes U


In the past, the only way to put podcasts and classes from iTunes U onto your IOS device was using iTunes on a computer and syncing them.  They appeared within the Music App.  With IOS6, these have been separated out.  They are no longer present at all within the Music App, but each have their own app.  These are installed apps, not built in, so have to be installed from the App Store.  They allow management of your podcasts and iTune U classes respectively from in the app on the device.  You can purchase or subscribe from in the app, and download them as needed, either manually or automatically, just like songs you purchase from iTunes and songs that you have in iTune Match.  You can delete them from the device and redownload them later if you want to.  A big improvement.


Cosmetic Changes


The rest of the changes I've noticed are cosmetic.  Colours have changed in the Camera App.  The Music App has been completely reworked in how it looks, with reordering of the default placement of tabs, but no real changes I can see except the removing of podcasts and iTune U classes.  There are some small cosmetic changes in the Mail App.  The iTunes App has been reworked in the same way the Music App has, so the two match. The Find My Phone App looks a bit different after the update as well.  There are supposed to be a lot of enhancements to the Maps App but other than cosmetic changes, I don't see much difference.  Maybe I will find more as I use it more.





Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Friday, August 31, 2012

Phone Blogging: Chosing a Blogging Platform (3 of 4)

So you decided to start a blog? Or have been blogging for years? Or don't even really know what a blog is, but think you might ant one? Whether you're a veteran in the blogging world or a neophyte just learning the vocabulary, you need to consider your options and decide on a platform to use going forward. Especially is you are going to blog on the go, as each platform option presents different mobile options for aspiring mobile blogger.

First, some background for new bloggers. The word "blog" came from the term "weblog", "web log", basically a log of articles published on the world wide web. The idea is that you write up an article and post it, and it is prepended (placed at the beginning of the page), so readers see the most recent first. Simple concept, it's the content of the articles, or posts, that takes skill and art.

While existing bloggers obviously already have a platform chosen, there are times the move in necessary when your needs change. And new bloggers don't have experience with any platform, making the decision difficult. Below, I will discuss several blogging platforms I have experience with and their strengths, weaknesses, and some reasons to choose one over the others for your needs.

When I first started blogging in November of 2004, I started on LiveJournal. It was a personal blog to just post my thoughts. I chose LiveJournal at the time because most of my friends across the country who blogged were using it, and it allowed me to read their posts easily. LiveJournal was one of the first blogging platforms, and is an open source platform, and also the name of the website that is the primary User of the software. There are a number of other popular sited that use the LiveJournal platform. LiveJournal is more feature rich than most other platforms, and is one of the few that has group or community blots built in for social interaction. LiveJournal also allows full customization of the look and feel of your blog. It has the best built in integration with Twitter and Facebook, allowing easy automatic sharing on each, and automatic sharing of Twitter on LiveJournal. The Twitter posts, however, give the blog a bit of a spam like feel, so I would only recommend utilizing it on a personal blog. On the actual LiveJournal website, statistics require a paid account as goes a custom URL not ending in .livejournal.com, and there are limits that are higher with a paid account. On the downside, LiveJournal has a less professional feel, and the social aspect is designed in a way that lends better to personal than professional applications. RSS functionality is very limited. I have mostly moved away from LiveJournal even for personal blogging, because of the lack of easy import ability and issues getting formatting to work pasting blog HTML code from other blogging software.

Blogger is a platform owned by Google. It is currently the primary platform I use. Blogger does not have the social elements LiveJournal has, but is more professional in feel and allows multi-author blogs. Blogger is completely closed source and doesn't have any option to run on a separate server. Blogger is fully functional with no cost, but requires a Google account. All customization is available in to all users. Blogger integrates with Google Plus, Google Analytics, Google Adsense, and FeedBurner.

WordPress and Blogger are two of the most popular blogging platforms, but WordPress is much more popular for business blogging than Blogger. Like LiveJournal, WordPress is open source, and, unlike Blogger, WordPress can be installed on other servers. WordPress is less integratable with other services than Blogger, but the ability to install it in another website is a big plus in its favour, especially for corporate blogs. WordPress is very well written and very feature rich. It has a very professional look and feel, and excellent import ability from all the major blogging platforms. The downside with using the actual www.wordpress.com is that, like LiveJournal, a custom URL requires a paid account. Unlike LiveJournal, customization requires a paid account as well. Currently, I import several Blogger blogs into WordPress blogs each time I post, and am still testing to decide if I want to fully move over or stick with Blogger as my primary platform. The import ability makes WordPress an easy platform to migrate to or use as a mirror as I do now.

I've discussed Twitter here before. While it is a blogging platform, it is what is referred to as micro-blogging. It is limited to 140 characters per post, so it works better for quick thoughts, announcements, and sharing links, pictures, and videos than for full blogging. It is useful, as I discussed before, in getting the word out about blog posts on other platforms.

Tumblr allows full blogging, but isn't well equipped for formatting. It is much better suited to sharing pictures, videos, quotes, and links. It is probably the best platform for a photo blog, but not as good for a traditional blog with articles.

MySpace has a descent full features blog. I used to cross-post my LiveJournal posts to it, as I had friends on MySpace that weren't on LiveJournal. I moved away from it because most of my friends moved to Facebook. It is not a good platform for most professional or corporate blogs because of the MySpace integration, but works well for personal blogs and musician and band blogs, as MySpace has excellent support for both the Indy and mainstream music industry.

Microsoft Live had a decent blogging platform in the past that I cross posted to for a while, and Xanga was a decent platform at that time, but I haven't used either for years, so am unsure what they are like now. With some investigation, it appears when Microsoft acquired WordPress, Microsoft Spaces, the earlier Microsoft blog, was migrated over to the main WordPress site.  Xanga appears to be alive and kicking.  Both were good for personal blogs, but didn't have a professional or corporate feel.

Some people blog directly in Facebook and/or Google Plus. While the reach can be very good because readers can stay on one website and read stories and articles directly there, and some readers will read something that way who won't if they need to leave the site, both platforms give little to no ability to format, and don't give the freedom other sites do with online images. So you get better reach with the cost of the ability to create eye pleasing and visually professional blogs.

Of all the choices outlined above and other options available, I'd say for most people looking to start a blog or migrate to something new, Blogger and Wordpress are the front runners. But before you decide. visit all the sites and any others you come across, look the site over, and find several blogs on the website or using the platform, and decide what you think of the look and feel. On the ones you like, go ahead and create an account, you're not obligated to use it. Look around, explorer, play, experiment. Decide what platform you like the best, based on look, interface, and features. And remember, you can change your mind later if you need to.

http://www.livejoural.com
http://www.blogger.com
http://www.wordpress.com
http://www.twitter.com
http://www.tumblr.com
http://www.myspace.com
http://www.xanga.com
http://www.facebook.com
http://plus.google.com


Ken Kennedy
IT Professional


Next: Mobile blogging discussion of applications and strategies.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Phone Blogging: Chosing a Device that Fits Your Needs (2 of 4)

I sit writing this on my Kindle Fire, sitting in the evening sun in a hammock, as my huskies play around me. Later this evening, I will open it on my iPhone, sitting on the couch, without doing anything to transfer it between devices, and post it using an app on my phone. Technology allows blogging without a computer, and in settings a computer is not suited for.

Before we can begin blogging on the go, we must first chose a device, or several devices that fit our needs. Here, the Boy Scout Motto, "Be prepared!" applies. Obviously, you need to have whatever device you will need, with the necessary apps or settings prepared, before you need it. If you see the perfect picture for your blog and have no camera, it's too late. If you need to write something down and can't see your screen in the sun, it might be too late by the time you can get in the shade. Think through your potential needs and the available options before heading out. The right device can make or break a post.

Of course, each generation of device adds improvements to features, speed, and what applications will run on them. And cost of course. If you can afford the newest generation, it will mean less headaches and more productivity, but older devices will do most things you need. What multimedia capabilities and quality you desire will be the breaking point on older devices.

The main question in relation to devices is, why choose which range. Obviously, a desktop computer isn't portable, so isn't helpful for mobile writing. But if you don't need portable but need more speed, computing power, and longevity, a desktop of some type is your answer. For portable, you're looking for a laptop, a netbook, a tablet (like older Windows based stylus based tablets from companies like Gateway, iPads, Galaxy Tabs, Playbooks, and other newer tablets, or later book readers that support apps like the Kindle Fire or later Nooks), or a hand held device like a pocket organizer (older Palm devices and they're competitors), a media player (like an iPod touch or a competing portable MP3 and similar format players that support apps), or a smart phone that does both and more like the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Microsoft based devices running Windows CE, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, or Windows Phone.

Laptops are the largest, in size, in power, and in general use. It is the most flexible in use, but also is larger than the other options and harder to use on the fly, as it works best on your lap or a surface where you can use both hands. Also, any cameras it may have are designed for video chat, so can't really be used for taking videos or pictures of your surroundings, but can for video posts of you talking. Laptops are best used when you have a smaller device for on the fly writing and picture taking, then find a coffee shop or restuarant to polish things up and do actual blog posting. Short of a desktop keyboard, laptops have the largest and best keyboards, making writing easier, in the right setting. Another consideration is most laptop and netbook screens are unreadable in sunlight, often even in indirect sunlight if it's too bright. This is also true of older tablets and other devices. If you want to write in the sun, you'll want a different device than a laptop, at least until you get inside.

Think of a netbook as a small laptop. Both the screen and keyboard is smaller, there is no CD or DVD drive, and a netbook has a lot less power. A netbook will run any software a laptop or desktop will, unless the software requires more resources like memory or processor speed than the netbook can handle. It is primarily designed for Internet application (net meaning Internet, book meaning book sized), so it will work great for blogging, if you can handle the small screen and keyboard. However, it still works best on a surface like your leg or a table, and has the same issues as a laptop in the sun. Choose a netbook if you want the function of a laptop, but need something smaller, more portable, or cheaper. I recommend trying one out in a store first, as the screen can be constricting or hard to read for some people, and the small keyboard doesn't work well for large hands.

Like with all ranges of products I'm discussing here, choosing a brand or model of tablet would require a post by itself. If you choose to go with a tablet, research the various options as each one works best for certain people. The first question, then, is do you want or need a tablet. Older tablets, and some newer tablets, are essentially laptops with no keyboard, or a keyboard that swivels behind, to give both options. These use either a stylus or a touch screen with a image of a keyboard in place of the traditional mouse and keyboard. They are like a netbook with a bigger screen in place of a keyboard, essentially. Most newer tablets are essentially large smart phones or related devices, giving you the advantage of a larger screen, but the portability and specialization of the smaller devices. Either type is more portable than a laptop and more usable without a surface to place them on than a laptop or a netbook. A bit less portable than smaller devices, the tablet is easier to type on and has more screen real estate. The book readers like the Kindle and Nook are a bit more limited than other tablets, as they are designed for a certain function and other applications, like those relevant to mobile blogging, are secondary.

Smaller devices vary a lot, and too much discussion id beyond the scope if this post. Smart phones typically have the most features and support more apps than some other types. They also allow Internet connectivity without needing access to a wireless network, through the cell network, which most other devices don't. They also typically have better cameras and microphones, for multimedia creation, from pictures to videos to voice or video posts. Media players have historically had the same shortcomings for blogging that book readers do, but that has changed recently. Many media players, like the iPod Touch, are basically smart phones without the cell network and with less powerful hardware (including the camera if it has one). They are of course cheaper than a smart phone. Pocket organizers are typically very good for writing but lacking to various degrees in multimedia and connectivity. Often they require syncing to a laptop or desktop and posting from there. Most modern smart phoned will do everything the other types of devices will do, but cost considerably more.

Each type of device has it's advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, the best combination for blogging is a smart phone for portable blogging and note taking on the fly and most multimedia creation, a tablet for composition and text editing of phone composed text, and a laptop for fine polishing, formatting, and multimedia editing.


Ken Kennedy
IT Professional


Next: A discussion of various blogging platforms and their pros and cons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Phone Blogging: Making Due With Smaller (1 of 4)

Blogging can be challenging without considering technology. How often do you have an idea to write about but forget it before you can write it down? How often do you start writing then have to stop when you're in the middle? How often do you lose steam and have troubles getting your writing flowing again? How often do you just not have ideas when you need to or want to write? This issues are present for anyone who writes, be it blogging, magazine articles, newspaper articles, short stories, novels, how to books, travel books, school papers, poetry, or private journal or diary entries. There is a long history of writers carrying small notebooks or journals with them, keeping a journal beside their bed, doing whatever it takes to be able to write or jot down notes whenever and wherever the Muse takes them.

This still holds true today, but with laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones, there are more options for the inspired writer. The fact that many of these now have decent if not amazing cameras, wireless Internet capabilities, and apps to make writing and multimedia more accessable and full featured opens up whole new worlds.

But how do you get started? What device, what blotting platform, what apps do you use? Though some things I will discuss in the following posts will help any inspired writer, and many of the ideas, platforms, and apps are available on other devices, in this article, I will primarily discuss blogging from Apple IOS devices, the iPhone and its sisters the iPod Touch and iPad.

I will address the subject of mobile blogging in the next three posts. The first will discuss choice of devices and function and use of each type. The second will discuss some blogging platforms and the pros and cons of each. The third will discuss some apps on mobile devices, the pros on cons of each, and some strategies for effective phone blogging.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Google Plus Gets a Facelift


Okay, so Google released a new version of Google Plus this morning.  I was logged in with the old look, clicked on something, and everything changed.

First impressions?

I like it.  It's elegant and original.  It's still fairly simple in design, and I'm finding it easy to use so far.

I've been reading some complaints on Google+ today, and there seems to be three.  First, people with large hi-res monitors don't like all the white space and don't like how it looks.  Second, people think the adding of the cover photo makes the profiles look too much like Facebook's profiles.  And three, people don't like the chat panel at the right hand side.

Google Plus in Wide Screen View
On the first one, I run Windows 7 on a laptop, with a second monitor that's 21 inches, wide screen.  If I make it full screen on the big monitor, yes, there's too much white space, and it looks goofy.  But I normally run Chrome docked on the right hand side of the big monitor, so that it's only half a screen, and the new layout looks quite nice that way.

Google Plus in Narrow Screen View
On the second, though there are similarities, I really don't think they look that much alike.  The profile picture on Google+ is on the opposite side as the one on Facebook, and instead of being a small picture overlapping a fairly tall cover photo, n Google+, the profile picture is large, with the cover photo passing behind it in the centre and showing a small amount on the other side.  The Google+ cover photo is much narrower and longer than the Facebook one.  The name is at the top above the cover photo rather than below like Facebook.  In Google+, the friend related information is on the right of the stream instead of above it like Facebook.  Facebook's Timeline of course has a two column profile stream, whereas Google+ is a single column.  So basically, the types of content are very similar, but the layout and design are much different.

Facebook Profile
On the third, running the browser narrower like I described above completely hides the chat module.  Even scrolling over, it isn't visible.  So it's not really a problem if you run the browser narrower.

The other complaint I've heard is that it's not very intuitive.  I actually haven't had a problem with that.  It all comes naturally on the new interface for me.  Maybe it's just written for the way I think.

Google Plus Profile
Biggest strengths?

I think the profile looks classier than it did, and more business like.  While Facebook's Timeline does look nice, it feels like something that's good for personal things, not for a business.  The Google+ profiles feel very professional, and though not as "fun", seems like a much better design for business.

As expected, and this was already part of Google+, Google Plus has a much better search ability than Facebook.  That has always been my biggest complaint about Facebook.

The sidebar controls take up less vertical real estate, so I don't have to scroll as much as I did in the old interface and in the current Facebook.  And the fact that the bar stays static makes using it much easier.

Biggest weaknesses?

I haven't really found any that cause me a problem.  I think the biggest weakness is that while the new design is definitely an improvement in my opinion, it didn't really fix any existing issues Google+ already had.  It's just basically an interface face lift, not a bug fix or a solution to known issues.  And the added features like Explore and new ways to find people don't seem to be too useful, at least to me.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Sunday, December 25, 2011

First Impressions of the Kindle Fire




I am holding in my hands my new Kindle Fire.  Anyone who knows me knows I love to play with, explorer, and experiment with new gadgets and bee technology.  I received the Fire as a Christmas present and spent three hours downlouding apps and seeing what this new Kindle can do.  The perfect Christmas Eve.

Two years ago, I bought a 2nd Generation Kindle.  When I bought it, I was unsure whether I would use it.  I do enjoy physical books, the look, the feel, the smell.  But I was curious to see how it worked.  At that time, the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Sony e-reader were both out and I took a look at both.  The Sony was the smallest, and felt too small to effectively read on it.  The Nook and Kindle were comparable.  The main differences were that the Nook supported ePub and the Kindle supported Mobile, and that there were in store advantages to the Nook.  The in store parts didn't make much difference to me, as there isn't a Barnes and Noble where I live, and I only visit one about once a month.  The main advantage of ePub over Mobi is that most libraries that support electronic checkout do so with ePub.  Online, every site I've wanted to download from that supported ePub also supported Mobi and often native Kindle format.  Ultimately, I went with the Kindle because I usually shop online through Amazon not Barnes and Noble, and because our local library doesn't support electronic checkout and isn't likely to for years.

That initial Kindle was amazing for reading.  It was very nice on the eyes with its electronic ink, compared to reading an ebook on a computer.  The interface for reading was very simple and intuitive.  I loved being able to carry many books with me without the space and weight issues.  I loved being able to highlight something or write a note and having it available from a web browser.  I loved being able to buy a book and have it immediately.  But everything else left a lot to be desired.  PDFs were unruly to read, and didn't support bookmarks, highlighting, notes, and resizing (except by turning it and viewing half at a time).  The web browser was abysmal and barely usable on websites made since Mosaic was popular.  And there was no way to add apps, though no one else could either.  It was a ebook reader, everything else was experimental.  But it did its job well.


About six months after I got it, there was a major update to the software.  This improved web browsing a little, but mainly added the ability to share your notes and highlights on Facebook and Twitter.  I really liked that as it allowed me to share interesting parts with friends and family.  And some of them bought books from Amazon because of reading what I shared.  It was a very nice feature to add that I took advantage of and enjoyed.

Last April, I played with an iPad 2 in an Apple store down in Colorado.  I really liked it, and have wanted one ever since.  My experience with the iPhone 4 I got in June to replace my Blackberry Storm 2 that broke solidified my desire.  Over the last eight months, I've looked at and dismissed every other tablet that has been in stores for me to try out in person.  None of them impressed me like the iPad.  This Kindle Fire, though, comes close.

First impressions?  It's a beautiful device, runs well, is easy to use, but is missing some things, enough that it isn't an iPad killer and hadn't changed my mind about wanting an iPad.  I am very happy with it.

Pros:

* The colour and clarity of the screen are amazing.  I think it beats the iPad and every other tablet I've seen in this area.
* The size is perfect.  The screen is quite a big larger than my old Kindle, but the over all size is a lot smaller and very thin.  This Kindle fits perfectly in one hand.
* It runs very smoothly with no app crashes so far, and no slow downs.
* The battery life seems good so far.  Three hours of use used about 40% of the battery, maybe less.
* It runs a customized copy of Android 2.3.  Because if this, there are a lot of apps in the Amazon App Store that are generic Android apps that wouldn't be available yet if they had to be rewritten for a new device.
* The WiFi support makes downloading and browsing very fast in comparison to my old Kindle.
* I really like hoe the autocorrect shows a strip of suggestions you can see easily and select.


Cons:

* No support for sharing from books to Facebook of Twitter.  This is a step backwards.
* Fairly low selection of apps.
* The colour display is nice but hurts my eyes more that the liquid paper.
* The Blogger website doesn't work correctly so I'm typing this in Evernote and will copy it on the computer to post later.
* Lack of 3G support means if requires WiFi.  But the hotspot on my iPhone solves this.
* The key spacing doesn't seem quite right, so I make ggd same mistakes I make on my iPhone despite larger buttons.
* No camera or GPS chip, making some of the apps I want for the iPad impossible on the Fire.


Over all, I like it a lot and am happy with it.  It is a good replacement for my old one, and will tide me over until I get my iPad.  It really is a wonderful device and woryh having.  If they can fix the lack of Facebook and Twitter support, it will be a wonderful replacement for the older Kindles.


Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Twitter: Different Clients for Different Needs


How do you access Twitter?  From a web browser?  An application running on your computer?  Text messages on your mobile phone?  Applications on your mobile phone?  Through a third-party website?

As Twitter has grown, so has the Twitter app industry.  To begin with, you could only use Twitter on their website.  Now there are literally thousands and thousands of ways to use Twitter.  Twitdom holds a directory of over 2000 Twitter applications, and this doesn't include websites that post, display, or interface with Twitter, or applications not registered with the site.

Today I read the following article in the Ars Technica blog on my Kindle.  It raises some concerns.
Twitter permission change hurts third-party mobile apps
While the authentication issue is a concern for developers and may impact end-users, the wider concern of Twitter wanting to limit third party applications has a direct effect on me and many Twitter users.


Web sites won't have an issue with the new authentication change, as OAuth is built for that.  And it doesn't look like it's websites that Twitter is concerned with.  It's actual clients.

On the desktop, I have tried many Twitter clients, some web-based, some traditional applications.  Of these, Seesmic Desktop is the one I've found most useful.  The abilities to use it with other services besides Twitter is very nice, and the support for multiple accounts is the main draw for me.  But most of the time, I use the normal Twitter website when I'm on the computer.  With Chrome plug-ins to allow URL shortening right on the Twitter website, and using a separate website like twitpic for pictures that has the ability to post to Twitter, the website works pretty good.  But other people have other needs.

On a mobile phone, the Twitter website isn't as useful.  Twitter's preference seems to be for people to use their application or to use text messages.  If you use a supported phone, the application is an option, but there's phones that only support third party applications.  If support for third party apps is removed, this will only leave text messages.  Some people love doing Twitter that way, while others don't.


I've used a bunch of different Twitter applications on my Blackberry.  Each have their pros and their cons.  I settled for two:  Seesmic for Blackberry and Twitter for Blackberry (Twitter's own client).  The main reason I don't use Twitter's client solely is that it only supports one account at a time and is difficult to switch accounts. In Seesmic, I can add as many accounts as I want and it's simple to switch which one is active.  I can also post to multiple accounts at once if I want to, which is nice, but not necessary.  Many people have both personal Twitter accounts and business accounts.  If Twitter's client supported mulitple accounts, I would probably use it exclusively, since there seems to be less connection issues with it.  The other advantage over Seesmic with Twitter's client is when it comes to lists.  While Seesmic finally allows you to add people to lists, it still doesn't allow you to manage your lists, to create or delete them.  This is the main think I use Twitter's client for.

As I said, different people have different needs.  It is impossible for one client or application to do everything that everyone wants or needs, and to do it the way each person wants.  While Twitter has come a long way with their clients, third party applications are necessary to meet this wide range of wants and needs.  Part of Twitter's current popularity is all the things you can do with it because of this wide range of applications.  If Twitter limits desktops and mobile devices to only their client, many users will no longer be able to do what they use Twitter for.  Only time will tell it Twitter has reached a critical mass where they can eliminate people's ability to do things they don't support and still maintain the momentum they currently have.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Future of Game Consoles

Original Nintendo.  Image
from TOFURIOUS blog,
originally from  Jen May blog.
I'm not a huge console video game player.  I played on the original Nintendo at friends' houses as a kid, and we had a Commodor with paddles and a few games we got at a garage sale growing up, but most games I played were on computers, our TRS Color Computer and Tandy 1000, and later my 286, the first computer that was mine, which is still out in the garage somewhere.

Gaming consoles have come a long way since my childhood as have all technology.  My wife owns a Sega Genesis, a Play Station, a Play Station 2, an XBox, and an XBox360.  I did end up buying a Wii for myself, the first game system that actually appealed to me enough to buy.  There has been many advances since the original Nintendo and earlier systems.

Cartridges have become disks.

Playing Kinect on XBox360.
Image from Indyposted.
Paddles and joy sticks gave way to the two-button controllers of the Nintendo.  Two button controllers have grown to many buttons with triggers and bumpers as well.  four-way control pads became thumb sticks, basically mini joy sticks.  Wired have given way to wireless.  With the Wii, Nintendo introduced controllers that used motion, not just buttons and thumb sticks.  Floor pads for dancing, and boards for balance related things have introduced exercise to gaming.  With Kinect, Microsoft has introduced using your body as the controller.  There are guitars, drums, guns, swords, all types of different "controllers" to allow different types of interactions with games.

The games with no ability to save gave way to memory cards, where you could save a game to continue it later, or even play it at a friend's house.  Memory cards lead to internal hard drives like a computer.

The original stand alone consoles added networking so more people could play than one console could support.  Networking led to online gaming, allowing you to play with people around the world and download content and even games.

Newer consoles can play DVD or Blu-Ray movies and disks, and online gaming has led to streaming video on consoles, as well as social networking like Facebook.  Video game consoles are continuously evolving as technology, innovation, ideas, and demand allow.  The modern video game console is approaching being the combination of a video game console, a computer, and a multimedia centre.  Anything that can be displayed may one day be on gaming consoles.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where's Waldo: A look at cell phones, GPS, and MapMyRun

Get Smart shoe phone.
Image from Slice of SciFi.
There was a time that the idea of people talking over long distances was the stuff of fantasy, science fiction, or even witchcraft.  Who would have imagined a telephone in every house?  But science fiction became reality.  Later, a telephone was something confined to one place, connected to a wall.  The idea of a portable phone, one you could take with you, was still the realm of fiction, like Agent Smart's "shoe phone".  Who would imagine the world of today, where almost everyone has a cell phone, even children?

First Motorola mobile phone.
Image from TechPin.
The first cell phones were bulky affairs, not that portable by today's standards.  And it was just a phone.  It didn't have today's staples of text messaging and a camera.  This things were long off.

Cell phones have evolved a long way since those early days.  Who would imagined Internet on a phone, let alone Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr?  The cell phones of today, especially the smart phones, are way more powerful than the desktop computers when I was a kid.  They are faster, have more memory, have more storage, and have many features unheard of or dearmed of then.

iPhone browsing the Web.
Image from last100.
Today, people use cell phones more for apps, text (email and SMS text messaging), and as a camera than for talking.  In fact, I'm currently writing this post as an email on my phone and my wife us looking up information on the game she's playing on the computer using the web browser on her phone.

GPS satellite in space.
Image from howstuffworks.
When GPS (Global Positioning System) was first created, it was a purely military project (as was DARPA net which became ARPA net, which, together with other networks, became the Internet) to allow ships, planes, and personnel to be able to locate themselves and their destinations and targets without calculations and estimates.  Eventually, the military released it to the public, but with limited accuracy.  Since then, they have released more and more accurate algorithms.

Cell tower.
Image from eHow.
When GPS was first released, you had to buy a specific devise to use it.  Integration came later.  When cell phones first started using location services, they used cell tower locations to triangulate an estimated location.  In areas with lots of towers, this was pretty accurate, but in Wyoming with only one tower within reach most places, it was far off.  My old pre-GPS Blackberry had accuracy of 500 feet down in Colorado, but 9000 here in Laramie.  But now many cell phones have GPS using the newest, most accurate algorithm, and 911 centres can use it to find someone who makes a call.

Route for a 15K race mapped
using a GPS device.
Image from South Shore
High School
.
GPS can be used for more than just locating you on an X,Y axis, longitude and latitude.  It can place in you in four dimensions.  Because it uses multiple satellites at different angles from where you are, it can pinpoint your elevation, giving X,Y,Z coordinates.  It also gives a timestamp, synced from the GPS satellite network.  A series of X,Y,Z,T coordinate points give you the route you took and the direction you went, and the distance between the points combined with the time gives you your speed.

MapMyRun running on a
Blackberry.  Image from
Cythi Construction.
My Blackberry Storm 2 has a built-in GPS and there are many apps out there that take advantage of it.  One such app that I tried out is MapMyRun.  It's simple to use.  You just press start and it starts recording your workout.  Press stop and it asks you if you want to save it.

I got my dog, Juneau, all hooked up for canicross, with my belt, the towline, and gee harness and we headed out.  I pressed start on the app.

Juneau intent on the
trail ahead.
It was a nice walk, not too cold and definitely not too hot.  She did good most of the walk, pulling nicely, though she did get distracted.  I think it was a fairly normal walk and represented our daily walk pretty well.  The program seemed to record my average speed, current speed, distance, and elapsed time pretty accurately.

Juneau carrying a stick.
I got back and pressed stop and saved it.  I got my husky and myself disconnected, then took my phone back out to look at it.  I went to the workout screen where it's supposed to show the last twenty recorded workouts, but the list was empty.  No matter what I did, even rebooting the phone, nothing shows.  I don't know if the app failed to save it or if there's an issue with the program.

I tried viewing my workouts on the website instead, but it uses something the Blackberry Browser in Blackberry OS 5 doesn't support, so I couldn't see if it was saved.  When I get on a computer, I will check and then finish this post.

---

I'm now on my computer and the walk was saved to their servers, but it's saved as a "Run" not a "Work Out".  There's no way to view "Runs" on the Blackberry after you press stop.  You have to go to the website and see it there.

It appears we walked 3.9 kilometers, hence 2.4 miles.  I can't seem to get any other data except the route, though.  I found a place where it is supposed to "Time Series / Graphs" which I hoped would show them, but it just says "Loading Time Series Data" and never loads it.  I tried it on several browsers.  What I remember was averaging about 20 minutes per mile, so three miles per hour, and that the trip took about 50 minutes.  Calculating it, I get about 48 minutes.

A tired dog is almost home.
After the messing around I had done on the website, the app on the phone now shows the trip in the Workout screen.  It doesn't give average speed, but does say that it took 59:59 minutes and was 2.4 miles long.  I think the last time I had checked the duration was back a bit before finishing the walk.  I'm guessing the difference between the reported time and my calculated time above is that the average speed probably doesn't incorporate when we were stopped, but that these periods were included in the recorded duration.

My end analysis?  The app is a good idea and does what it intends to.  It shows what you can do with the GPS in your phone, records what it needs to, and saves it correctly, online where you can access it anywhere, ie, cloud based.  However, you can't just use the phone.  You have to go to the website and edit things before it will show up on the phone.  Also, the website isn't very intuitive if you recorded your trip using the phone and takes a bit to figure out.  I'm not sure I could repeat what I did except by trial and error again.  Also, the Time Series page on the website needs to be fixed.

Good concept, but the implementation post-save needs some work.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

*Cross-posted to my Skijoring blog.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Art of Socialization: Blogging to Twitter, Part 2

So you know the value of publishing your blog posts to Twitter.  Now how do you do it?  Some blog platforms have this ability built-in (LiveJournal, for instance), while others require a plug-in or a third-party product.  Whether you use a built-in feature, a plug-in, or third-party product, there are pluses and minuses for each solution.

My experience with blogging is with LiveJournal, Blogger, Tumblr, and Twitter.  One of the most popular blogging platforms is WordPress.  I haven't used it, so my knowledge of it is limited.  My mother in law uses WordPress and seems very happy with it.  Her blog is called Designin' with Judy and is hosted on her company web site, TechPalette Design.  The CleverWP blog has an article about using the plug-in WP to Twitter to publish your blog entries to Twitter.  I haven't tried the technique since I haven't used WordPress, but it seems to be a workable solution.

One third-party solution that will work for any blog (or website for that matter) that has an RSS or Atom feed is FeedBurner, which is currently owned by Google.  Blogger, also a Google product (though not originally as with FeedBurner), doesn't contain any built in ability to do this, so a third-party product is necessary.  If you have a Google account, you can use the same account to log into both.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Future of Delicious

One problem with the Internet has always been to keep track of the sites you like.  This was true twenty years ago, and, with the constant expansion of the Internet, it is even more true now.

Back in the 90s when I was first on the Internet, I used the bookmarks in my web browser.  This worked to a point, but it causes problems if you need to access your sites when you're on another computer or if your computer dies and you don't have them backed up somewhere.

Later, when I was hosting my own website, thyme.net, on my own FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and then Slackware Linux server, I wrote a program in PERL, a scripting language.  I entered my links into a text file, then ran the script and it created a web page that I could then access remotely.  This worked pretty good, but I was limited on where I could add links from.

Then I stumbled on a website, early in its history called Delicious.  They got a clever domain name of del.icio.us. It was catchy and easy to remember and it took off quickly.  You can save your links on their website and access them from anywhere.  You can make your links public or private.  You can send links to friends on the site from within it.  You can search or browse other people's links.  It is basically social networking for links.  It solved my problems.

Later on, Delicious was sold to Yahoo!.  Yahoo! kept it in tact.  The only change I know of during the time they've owned it was allowing people to create accounts on it using their Yahoo! ID, so they didn't need a separate account with a separate password.  But my existing account still works without being linked to my Yahoo! account.

Over the last month or so, there's been a rumor that Yahoo! is looking as selling Delicious.  Today, I received the following email:

Delicious has a new owner -- what this means for you

Dear Delicious User,

Yahoo! is excited to announce that Delicious has been acquired by the founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. As creators of the largest online video platform, Hurley and Chen have firsthand expertise enabling millions of consumers to share their experiences with the world. Delicious will become part of their new Internet company, AVOS.

To continue using Delicious, you must agree to let Yahoo! transfer your bookmarks to AVOS. After a transition period and after your bookmarks are transferred, you will be subject to the AVOS terms of service and privacy policy.
So, AVOS now owns Delicious.  They claim it will stay free and that they will develop it.  They did do amazing with YouTube before Google bought it, so I don't doubt their abilities.  We'll see where it goes from here.

I backed up my bookmarks just in case and agreed to the new terms.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Education Revolution: Online Education

Image from MBA for Better Future
Since earliest university-like schools were founded by the Roman Catholic Church in the 600s, education has been identified with a classroom setting.  Students go to a building or room and a teacher, lecturer, or professor stands up and teaches them.  But in the Information Age and the age of the Internet, this is changing.  Online classes in various forms and at various levels are growing in popularity.  Technology is changing the way learning is done.

For many years now, my father-in-law has been teaching real estate classes online.  He is able to teach far larger classes and still give the students the interaction and attention they need.  These classes have been very successful, and have allowed students at universities that don't offer the subject matter he provides the opportunity to take the classes.

This is just one of the areas that online education is opening up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Art of Socialization: Blogging to Twitter, Part 1

Why do you write a blog?  Whether you write as a place to share your thoughts or activities, a place to share your art or the things you love, a place to promote your business, are a step in changing the world, chances are, you write to be read.  A blog with no readers is just a personal diary.

One of the big hot things on the web right now is social networking.  What used to be done in clubs and bars, conferences and conventions has moved to the web as social networks.  Everyone's heard of them, Facebook and MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter.  People build their social network by finding people they know in real life, finding people with shared interests, finding friends of their friends.  The more people you know, the faster your network grows.

People use social networks for many things.  Some just want to know people, read about other people's lives.  During the Great Depression, cinema took off.  People were looking to escape their daily lives and their own troubles.  In a movie, you could watch other people's lives and forget about your own.  Centuries before that, novels became popular for the same reason.  While people still go to watch movies and read books, TV has really filled this escapism void.  And know On-Demand and Netflix, TiVo and DVR, Youtube and IceFilms, have made it so we can watch what we want when we want.  We can escape from reality any time we want with whatever we want.

Social networks and blogs fill this same need for people.  They give people a window into other people's lives.  But with these things, it is real people, real stories, not the fiction of movies and television.  Well, presuming everyone is honest.

No matter what you blog about, there is an audience.  There is someone out there somewhere that is interested in what you want to talk about.  The Internet is world wide (hence the name World Wide Web).  There are 6.91 billion people in the world, and, though obviously not every one of them is connected to the web, there is bound to be someone out there that shares your interests.

So, you want to write to be read, and there's someone out there that wants to read what you have to write.  How do you find each other?  The reader of course could do a search in Google or Yahoo! or whatever search engine they like and hope they find you.  But how high in the search will your blog be?  While the terms your reader searches for be the ones that find you blog?  There's no guaranty.

The goal of the blogger is to connect with people who share her interests who want to read what she has to say.  Isn't this what social networks are designed for?  One good way to get readers is connect with people through your social network that share the interests you write about, then share your blog with your social network.  Posting links to your blog entry to a social network is called socialization.

I talked in my last entry about Twitter.  Twitter is one of the larger social network, and there are applications set up that make it easy to share your Twitter Tweets with most other social networks.  If you can get it to Twitter, you can spread it to the rest easily.

In the next series of posts, I'm going to talk about ways to get your blog seen on Twitter.  From there, you can share it with the world.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional

Monday, April 18, 2011

Twitter: The Epitome of the Information Age

I started using Twitter January 11, 2009, three and a half years after the company started.  For those people not aware, Twitter is a service where you can follow other people and post short, 140 character "microblogs" called Tweets that your friends, or whoever, can read.  The idea of Twitter was born from a desire to have a text-based dispatch service, so people could text on their phone and the service would let their friends know what they were doing.  The character limit was 140 characters based on limits on cell phone SMS (text) messages, however, the first version was entirely web-based and SMS service was added later.  In the five years Twiiter has been around, it has grown from zero to over 200 million users, though it's estimated only 100 million of these users actually use it regularly.  But even 100 million is a huge number.

During the events in Egypt and the early days of this newest conflict in Libya, I learned most of what I knew directly from Twitter and from links posted to Twitter.  Minute by minute news (and rumour of course) spread quickly through the Twitter network as people posted what they knew and everybody retweeted it.  Even some news sites were posted details that came from Tweets from their readers.  The Twitter phenomenon is like nothing ever seen before.  It is the epitome of the Information Age.

I originally got joined Twitter for an easy way to post messages to my Facebook profile, but quickly Twitter took on a life of its own in my life.  You can do many things with Twitter.  My LiveJournal and Blogger blogs post to Twitter, LiveJournal using its built-in connection and Blogger using twitterfeed.com.  I use Seesmic on my Blackberry to read Twitter and also to post to it.  Websites like bit.ly can be used to shorten URLs (the web address used to get to webpages) so they don't use up as many characters in Twitter.  Both Seesmic and twitterfeed.com integrate with bit.ly as well as similar services.  I also use a bit.ly plug-in in the Google Chrome browser to shorten URLs right on the Twitter home page.  Seesmic and other clients integrate with other services like twitpic.com to embed pictures into Tweets, so they aren't only text anymore.  There are literally thousands of applications and websites that integrate with Twitter.  I even have a gadget on this blog that shows my latest Tweets.

Earlier today, I read the following article from CNN Tech:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/04/15/twitter.status.taylor/index.html

The article talked both about the origins and history of Twitter and its future.  Many people are predicting the end of Twitter, based on a plateau in use of the website.  However, as the article points out, this is misleading.  This only counts direct web hits, not the plethora of applications that are used to access it, the websites like Facebook and LiveJournal that Tweets can be sent to, widgets and gadgets on websites, and the people who subscribe, send, and reply to Tweets from their regular cell phone with SMS.

Twitter isn't going anywhere, but with new applications, widgets, gadgets, and services coming out to increase its functionality, who knows what it will be like in two years, let alone ten.

Those of you who haven't heard of Twitter before now or haven't used Twitter, I suggest giving it a try.  You might just like it.

Feel free to follow me.  My Twitter account is kethar  (http://twitter.com/kethar).  Comment on this blog if you do follow me, and I'll be sure to follow you back.

Ken Kennedy
IT Professional