Loose Thoughts On Technology

Sometimes I wonder what the point of technology is anymore. All of our basic functionality needs have been met, or at least mostly so. At this point, we have begun trading privacy for minor improvements. I’ve already talked about my Luddian emotions, but it seems that a growing group of people are becoming more perturbed by the audaciousness of companies like Google and Facebook.

I already have issues with phones, but that’s a personal choice, Google Glass is a precursor to a much wider spread issue in which individuals may lose their choice. I just wonder what we’re doing to ourselves, when technology provides only minor benefit but can have such a negative impact to privacy. Maybe we’ll adapt to it as we have other things in the past, but there are questions to ask. Should we accept these tools and what are the responsibilities of the users?

Should we accept the tools? I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but to me they personally don’t make sense. I find them to be a bit tacky, as I prefer life to be more simplified. Maybe others will accept them, but the decisions need to be made. I can’t possibly lay out all the responsibilities, because there are more than one technologies to talk about.

Also let’s talk about reliance on things that we don’t control. We’ve recently seen Google close Reader and it’s had a pretty large backlash, but nothing to be said from inside. You can no longer rely on these technologies, and if it breaks you very well may not have a way to fix it. That is another issue, but it’s not necessarily the technology, but our reliance on SaaS.

Another tangential issue is that most recent improvements have been minor. The ecosystem is vibrant, but what’s getting put out just seems stale. Today’s news is the same stuff as yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same, just with a new coat of paint.

Solving the Social Intent Problem, or Why Facebook Will Succeed

This is one of the biggest issue needing to be solved for the current and future crop of social media companies. As I had ran down in the previous post on user intent, Social Intent is lacking a direct monetization system. I believe that it can be solved and will be; this is my run-down of the issues and a few points of focus that maximize potential. Throughout the post, I’ll try to keep the points mostly agnostic, but still make specific points in the case of Facebook.

As is well known by now, Facebook recently had it’s financial potential put into question. The question came in two rather bold points, the faltering of the IPO and GM’s decision to pull it’s ads from Facebook. In my mind, both are wrong-headed if you look at it from a long-term perspective, believing Facebook can solve the Social Intent problem.

The first step in fixing the model is understanding what type of associations and products lend themselves to socializing in the real world where the money is. One area sticks out instantly here, communications and mobile, which I’ll come back to momentarily. The other areas to focus on are where we’re already doing in-person socialization and real sharing: sharing food(at restaurants), sharing music(albums and concerts), watching movies(at home or in the theater), other forms of in-person entertainment, and even things like sharing tools at work.

I have just listed a few different areas where advertising still makes sense on the platform, and enhances it. The next step is figuring out where and how to do the advertising. A few things that I think will work in the environment is promoting deals to groups of friends, using a focused approach to kick-off a word of mouth campaign, or promoting tools that extend or even compete with the platform.

Promoting deals to groups of friends is focused on experiences, and sharing them. Offering small group-buy discounts on services that bring people together would be a good sell. Also things that people would want to share with their friends after buying. The biggest thing though is where this should be, it needs to be mobile. Mobile means you can promote live deals on location data, this will be key for Facebook.

Facebook provides one of the most detailed systems for focusing on specific user for promotion. Using this to promote to a specific market that will love and share it with others will be gold. If you can find a product that is shareable enough, and can get some enthusiasts hyped about it, it makes sense to try this approach to reach a broad base cheaply. Not all products have a broad capacity though. Take GM for instance, vehicles aren’t one of the products that individually have broad capacity. GM’s ads weren’t fit for the market and eyeballs still don’t mean much ever after a decade.

This one is a bit questionable, considering I mention helping to promote competition. Of course, if they’re paying you, you get to see some metrics on how they’re doing, and you the sub-graphs may still be maintained or tightened by them. Promoting extension and competition make sense for a platform as it keeps the network tight, while allowing a form of escapism. In many ways, Facebook has huge advantages over most other companies in that they have both a large network that has hit critical mass and have a successful platform for extension.

This is a market or two and it’s currently anyone’s game to solve. I don’t know who’s going to get to the fruit first, but it’s there and I see it. Time to figure out if and how to sneak past the giant and grab it.

Ok, now mostly FB. There have been rumors and talk about Facebook phones or advanced cameras to compliment their service and photo-based extension of that service. I think, as I pointed out reason above, this is a no-brainer. You want to maximize the sharing on the site, but also promote real world interaction for the substance to share. If you can provide the tools to make this seamless in setting up and sharing experiences, from beginning to end, you’re in control. I’m not saying they need their own device, but it would make it more simple to do.

Facebook as it stands is profitable. They have the time and resources to solve this problem, and most of the secondary and sub-problems that I have missed and would surely arise during the process. If they figure this out they won’t have to worry about the doubt. It’s also why I feel long on Facebook, though I still believe it will come down further.

Usage Caps: Hidden and Invisible

I’ve been thinking about it, usage caps make sense, but the implementations that providers are offering don’t, with these arbitrary usage caps, that are mostly hidden. There is already a theoretical cap, that for all current intents and purposes seems invisible. That theoretical cap exists do to the maximum bandwidth that the provider supplies you with.

Let us look at some of those numbers. I’ll start with a simple example for a 1Mb/s connection and assume that this contains both up/down streams.

1Mb/s connection = 1/8th of a MB/s ;

MB/30 day month = 60s*60m*(24h/8)*30d = 324000 MB/month = ~325GB/month.

That’s the invisible bound on a 1Mb/s connection for 30 days, you can’t achieve greater than ~325GB/month. Then you have to factor in decay caused by latency and dropped packets on the line and assume maybe 90% capacity is possible, which brings you further down to ~290GB, realistically.

Taking that information, I think I would start people off with a percentage based amount of their bandwidth. I’d start off with a provision of a 40% utilization(~130GB/month), and allow it to be increased/decreased. It’s entirely possible that this is too high of a utilization offering to start with; for example,  when you get to 5Mb/s lines that same 40% is ~650GB/month. On the other hand, some companies want to cap it at 250GB/month which is less than 20% utilization of a 5Mb/s connection. It is my belief that they need to scale their utilization cap with their speed offering; to me, it doesn’t make any sense, otherwise.

If I can do this math, I’m sure they can and have done it as well. They already know what they are theoretically being asked to provide at peak times, and also what they’re capable of handling. How hard would it be for them to optimize this, and increase their efficiency?

Maybe offer a 10% utilization at 1Mb/s(~32GB) as a baseline, for those like RMS who don’t use the web with the exception of email? Then they can automatically roll you into the next 10% for the month, if you go over that limit. You automatically get rolled up 5 or 10%, at some percentage of cost. Once you have the roll over and initial utilization provisions determined, you can go about extrapolating and targeting different areas of what you provide.

Lets assume that you start with a base fee of maybe $10 + taxes and then a rate for bandwidth/speed similar to this:

For a 1Mb/s  plan: 32GB(10%) @ $10, 64GB(20%) @ $12, 96GB(30%) @ $14, and 128GB(40%) @ $16.

For a 2Mb/s plan: 64GB(10%) @ $15, 128GB(20%) @ $18, 192GB(30%) @ $21, and 256GB(40%) @ $24.

For a 4Mb/s plan: 128GB(10%) @ $25, 256GB(20%) @ $30, 372GB(30%) @ $35, and 512GB(40%) @ $40.

You can extrapolate further.

Maybe my scaling is a little off, a little too linear, as I’m not really accounting too much for trying to limit peak loads. Also I’m starting each tier at roughly the cost of the tier below at 35% utilization. There are lots of inefficiency in my model, but that’s because I don’t have the actual data required to see if this is feasible. I think it is still better than their blind caps that they try to hide.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how this could be done, or if it’s feasible, leave a comment.

PSA: Time To Step Out From Under Text-Shadow

Over the past few, weeks I’ve been noticing more and more often that when I highlight text it gets blurry and muddled. The culprit that causes this being text-shadow. Until now, I’ve normally marked it down to some obscure default in a theme, or something that makes it appear so frequently.

Twitter Text-Shadow

Can we please stop this.

Unfortunately, I noticed it on the new StackExchange homepage and decided to tweet my outrage. While I was there I decided to check Twitter. Sure enough, in their footer box they had the same damn affliction. While they do it mostly right, it still bothers me. Can we please get to grips with this.

Here are a few rules:

  1. If it’s content that is meant to be read, and actually consumed, don’t use text-shadow. Period.
  2. If it’s a headline/html5 logo, you might be able to use it, but 90% you shouldn’t. Think hard first.
  3. If you don’t know why you need it. You probably don’t. Let it go, you won’t regret it in the least.

So let’s all play our part and clean it up. Stop using text-shadow in your stylesheets.

Why I Don’t Use Google+

I was asked for feedback in a conversation about the new names policy for Google+ by Louis Gray, Product Marketing Manager for Google+. I had pointed out that this doesn’t solve any big issue I have with the service. This statement provided no value, and I felt that my response deserved to be more thorough and possibly actionable. My biggest issues revolve around responsiveness of the site and the social experience.

My experience with the site has been pretty crappy as far as responsiveness goes; I can’t put all of this on Google, as I do have a slower connection. I can like, er, +1 an item and it doesn’t take, I do it again, and then it takes and un-take simultaneously for example. Posting has horrendous lag particularly when trying to select circles, all 8 of them, in which to display. Notifications are so slow, they’re sometimes as far off as several hours at this point, which is the worst I’ve seen since launch and continues to degrade. If you’re browsing, occasionally comments don’t show up without a refresh of the page or opening a thread in another window. So as far as responsiveness of the site, I’d put them above Twitter, barely, but still way, WAY, behind Facebook or Friendfeed. They’ve made improvements, but even so it still seems to be degrading faster than they can keep it up, this without mention of the memory issues.

My personal social experience with the site has felt off. It is okay at a lot of things, but isn’t the best at any. Circles are in theory good, but in practice this doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m not going to share anything I want my close friends and family to see, because Facebook already does that and is more closed off; there is no need to try and pull all these people over and shove in a circle. It’s hard to find valuable content, without immense amounts of effort at some point in the loop. If I follow someone who occasionally shares something I find interesting, or shares a topic I want squared away to the side; the only recourse I have is to put them in a circle, otherwise I have to wade through the noise, and even circling them isn’t a perfect solution. Twitter is much better at handling noise, by having compressed context. I can parse a tweet a lot faster than the longer form content shared on Google+.

The service just feels like a waste of time, when there are alternatives that aren’t as much of a waste of time and more productive. The only exception I make is when I have specific need to share with a few specific people that do use Google+, and it would be quicker to contact them this way. I don’t have any good ideas on how to fix the social experience, but they can start with the responsiveness of the site.