Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Protect innovation and your online rights

It’s that time of the year again. Because once more, on virtually an annual basis, big media lobbyists have succeeded in getting Congress to fast track legislation to turn the government into their personal cops. Apparently they didn’t get the memo that Occupy Wall Street pertains to all corporate overlords, not just banks.

The Senate bill is called Protect IP. In the House it’s E-Parasites. Of course it’s big business’s IP that they seek to protect and the parasites are them for transforming your friendly neighborhood ISP into their direct attack dog.

Once more they overreach in the name of online piracy, which is getting old. This legislation chills innovation, compromises online security, and strips consumer rights. It was written with no input from the technology industry or consumer advocates.

Please take direct action now. Tell your representatives in Congress to keep their slimy hands off your Internet through the EFF Action site.

Your Bubble or Mine?

Alex Epstein comments on and shares an excellent video of TED presenter Eli Pariser on Beware the Online Content Filter Bubble.  Pariser shows that Google search results are highly customized.  They are not uniform from user to user.  They represent an insular view of the online world based on the user’s preferences and behavior, a personal bubble cut off from the rest of the Net and the real world.

Pariser innocently pleads that large companies like Google and Facebook have a social obligation to connect that bubble to the world.  They should include content that isn’t just relevant but important and fair, and even challenging and uncomfortable.

He points to changes in the newspaper industry a century ago that resulted in a seachange of social-based journalistic and editorial ethics with the hope that such integrity will happen again.

Eli, seriously?  [Insert evil laugh here.] This isn’t your great grandfather’s society. This is anarchy.

Current media can have its benefits, like social media used to report atrocities and uprisings. But that’s a lucky side effect. No one calls Fox TV on its absurd claims of being unbiased. It’s only when it gets truly outrageous like the News of the World’s voice mail invasions that anyone notices … long after the government has been co-opted. Google’s mantra of Do No Evil quickly gets compromised in the complexity of a pluralistic international community. Facebook is frequently lost when it comes to personal privacy.

Corporate self-regulation is a failed experiment, especially in a competitive tech market that must produce ever better results to generate more revenues the next quarter. The US Supreme Court has given corporations individual-like powers to spend money on elections and influence government and policy but without the concomitant nuisance, I mean obligation, to be a socially responsible citizen.

Our me-first consumer generation expects higher service and relevance in an Internet awash with virtually unlimited choices. And even if people aspire to higher ideals their actual actions don’t reflect it, such as in dating.

Externalities be damned, even in politics. The current conservative government and the rise at all costs of the individual as the final  decision-maker and budget spender over government and social institutions mean the bubble will have metamorphosed into an entire virtual universe before anyone gets around to worrying about it, much less noticing.

Still, it’s good to know. I applaud Alex Epstein for sharing a few options to insulate oneself from the prying eyes of the Net.

Me, I’m done training wives and search engines. I don’t want to start again. I don’t have any boundaries. I’m thrilled Google is listening to me and creating my own bubble. I’m fine with my dalliance with leather crotchless chaps and hairless goats a few days years ago following me around. I just want to know when I get to name my bubble and start selling virtual real estate there in my new world. I’ve long said that I live in Marcland.  Come over and join me any time.

Tech venture insight

Choice takeaways from VC Fred Wilson on tech and Internet ventures when he spoke at HBS from Seeing Both Sides.

  • “Early on in a start-up, entrepreneurs should be hunch-driven more than data-driven.  If you are only data-driven, the risk is that you will move too slowly.  It’s more important to have a hypothesis about what might work and what might not work and then see what happens in the marketplace to prove or disprove that hypothesis.
  • Lean start-up as a methodology or approach is very useful, but isn’t a guarantee for success by any stretch.  Think of the methodology as a machine.  If you have garbage inputs, you will still have garbage outputs.  There’s no substitute for good strategy, great entrepreneurs and a very large market opportunity.
  • When considering when to monetize your new product/service, think carefully about whether the monetization strategy actually improves the service or is a distraction.  Banner ads on Facebook are a distraction (as Zuckerburg supposedly said in the movie Social Network, “No ads. Ads aren’t cool.”)  But, for example, on Etsy if someone pays for a product, it inspires producers to create more products.  Thus, the monetization is harmonious with building the service.
  • If you are going to fail, and certainly with more start-ups being created and seeded we will see more failure, be sure to fail gracefully.  How you handle yourself as you unwind / seek a soft landing will reflect heavily on you and will cement your reputation.
  • Don’t worry about whether you are building a feature, a product or a company.  Build something great, have huge passion for it, engender affection with a large customer base, and let the rest follow.
  • If you get traction, transform your company into a platform.  The most valuable companies are those where third parties help you grow by plugging into your services like a utility.
  • VCs don’t make companies successful.  They can believe in and support a company, but ultimately the entrepreneurs make or break the company’s success and don’t let anyone (particularly an egotistical VC!) imply otherwise.”

Free fone for all

I wrote about Google Voice in Free US long distance for more people.  It’s come in rather handy at the moment as I just lost my phone.  I’m suffering smartphone withdrawal while its replacement is on the way.  But my clients don’t have a clue.  All their calls come to me like normal.  It took me a whopping 30 seconds to switch my Google Voice number from my AWOL Blackberry to my office landline.

There are now numerous free calling options from Google Voice to Skype to apps for the iPhone and over Wifi.  David Pogue of the NY Times does a nice job summarizing them, including TruPhone, Fring, Line2, FreePhone2Phone, Textfree with Voice, Talkatone, Nettalk, and Whistle Phone, in the Ins and Outs of Calling via the Net and the Appendix: Apps for Free Calls to Regular Phones.

Power developing

As the Web grows, so does its infrastructure.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or single signon.  Just find someone else who already built it  so you can focus on the pure chocolatey goodness of your own app.

APIs are the glue that gives developers direct access to the  services of others, from big guys like Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn to new startups.  It’s especially critical in a disaggregated web-based world of cloud and mobile computing.

GigaOm has an excellent article on 5 Predictions for APIs in 2011.  The ProgrammableWeb directory lists and rates over 2,600 APIs.

Free US long distance for more people

I was one of the beta users of Grand Central (now Google Voice) 5 years ago.  I extolled the service’s innovations in Unified Communications.

What makes it a breakthrough is the innovative integration of telephony, Internet, and usability (similar to what Apple did with digital music). I use Grand Central for long distance calling to any phone from my office that is faster, cheaper (currently free for long distance), more convenient (I’m already at my computer), and more powerful (integrated with online address book, automatically adds phone numbers from previous calls) than picking up the phone to dial. Plus I can put their widget on my web site for free so that visitors can call me for free (they just enter their number and it dials us both, calling all my phones).

Google Voice has spread its tentacles to mobile and now email spheres. Any Gmail account can now initiate free US long distance phone calls.

You no longer need a Google Voice account.  But you might as well get one.   Google finally opened the free service to all visitors after its eternal “beta”.

The only surprise  is that this expansion has taken so long. Innovation has virtually been at a standstill as Google has slowly assimilated Grand Central over the past three years.

The only technology sector where prices go up …

… continues to be mobile phone services that retain extortionary control.  It’s the power of oligopoly at work.  It will be several years before ubiquitous mobile Internet (the grand grand grandchild of WiFi) smashes the monopoly, much like the wired Internet killed the landline phone business.  The telcos that the Feds broke up 30 years ago have  not only reassembled, they’ve transitioned to wireless where they can play the same monopoly game.

The latest tricks include increasing the number of phones that require an expensive monthly data fee, increasing the $175 early termination fee to $350, and sleight-of-hand marketing.   Cnet catches Verizon’s shell game in “AT&T-Verizon price war debunked (FAQ).”

Verizon & AT&T want you to think they’re cutting prices with their new reduced-rate unlimited plans.  But the reality is that many customers already have essentially unlimited calls at lower fixed minute plans due to free minutes for Friends & Family, night and weekend calls, mobile to mobile calling, and rollover minutes.  More people will have higher cell phone bills due to new and added data rates than will save with the unlimited plan.


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