Back in the Black

I was one of those early Blackberry users and loved it. Over time, however, I became tired of carrying both a pager/PDA and a mobile phone, so a few years ago I switched to the Palm Treo 600 and then the 650. But I always missed the unlimited push email that Blackberry provides. Running a POP3 or IMAP client on a cellphone isn’t even close. I’m planning some foreign travel this Spring, and since my Sprint (CDMA) Treo won’t work there, I decided it was time to shop.

As good luck and timing would have it, Cingular recently started selling the Blackberry 8700c for only $299 after rebates. You have to buy monthly plans for both voice and Blackberry (data), but you can get unlimited email and browser access.

In short, the 8700c is brilliant. I picked up a Jabra Blutooth headset (works great) and the superb PocketMac for Blackberry (free!) that synchs calendar, contacts, etc., with my Powebook. This is the best phone/PDA/email combo I’ve seen, and I find the costs to be quite reasonable. Push email is alive and well once again.

IT Conversations News: January 17, 2006

(Hear the MP3 version with additional commentary in beautiful monophonic audio.)

New Programs Last Week

Because of our switch to the new ratings system, we don’t have accurate ratings for our most-recent programs. Here are last week’s programs without listener ratings.

  • Alex Lindsay – The Next Generation of Digital Craftsmen As ‘Chief Architect’ of PixelCorps, Alex Lindsay merges the very old idea of a guild system made up of independent craftsman with the demands of mastering new and emerging media. PixelCorps serves as ‘a guild for the next generation of craftsmen–digital craftsmen.’ They are currently transfering skills in digital imaging and animation to regions in the developing world, so that those citizens can capitalize on the coming media revolution.
  • Tony Gaughan – Open Source Licensing Open Source software has yet to make substantial inroads into the Enterprise market, but when companies as established as Computer Associates not only release a technology as powerful an the Ingres database but also continue to build their enterprise applications on that platform, the combination adds stability to Open Source efforts. In this Keynote from O’Reilly’s 2005 Open Source Convention, Tony Gaughan, Senior VP of Product Development at CA, discusses CA’s decision to release the Ingres database to the open source community.
  • Saul Klein – Skype Voice over IP is a technology which is changing the way people view telephony, and Skype is a major player in this paradigm shift. The host of Larry’s World, Larry Magid, speaks with Saul Klein, the Vice President of Marketing for Skype. The talk about changing the playing field for telecoms, Skype’s new video capabilities and what is upcoming for Skype and its partners.
  • What is a Sustainable Business for Data? Thanks to the internet, people have access to maps like never before: you just point and click. The data contained within the maps, however, can be much harder to acquire. This panel discussion, moderated by Simon St. Laurent of O’Reilly Media, brings together five leaders from diverse sources to talk about the challenges inherent in the collection of mapping data.
  • Jamais Cascio – Personal Memory Assistants More and more people are using mobile phones with integral video cameras to capture events. Some of the most harrowing pictures from the London bomb attacks in July came from amateur video taken underground by passengers with camera phones. We seem to be heading towards a future where everything we experience will be captured and stored for retrieval. Perhaps only the sheer scale of the numbers of people involved will be the biggest safeguard we have against the nightmare of ‘Big Brother’ surveillance.
  • Lynn Fritz – Using Supply Chain Innovations to Save Lives A few days after hurricane Katrina hit, Lynn Fritz, Director General of Fritz Institute, opened the Effective Disruption Management Seminar convened by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and shared his vision for the enhancement of disaster relief operations to a floor of highly engaged humanitarian disaster relief actors. Check out the free DVD offer for humanitarian disaster relief organizations.

One Week’s Lessons

So what have we learned after one week of The Conversations Network new website and features?

  • Listener-Supported Audio Works. Well, it’s too early to declare complete success, but so far the rate at which our listeners have signed up for paid memberships ($25-$200 per year) has met our expectations.
  • Communities Give Great QA. As much as we tried to find and fix bugs before launch, nothing is as good as a few thousand people who beat up on your web site. I continue to be impressed that so many people take the time to carefully document problems they find and send them in. Even the typos.
  • Restricting Access to Anything is a Delicate Business. Did we make the right decisions as to what features and access to limit to paid members? Again, it’s too early to know for sure, but it may be that we’ll need to loosen some restrictions in the months ahead. For example, since the rating system is now for members only, we’re getting far fewer ratings — not even enough in some cases to provide statistically accurate results. The same may be true in our new discussion forums. Since only members can post, very few people have done so.

We had forums on IT Conversations about two years ago, and they failed to gain traction then even though access was unrestricted. But listenership was very small then, and perhaps we didn’t give the forums enough time to succeed. We’ll be looking at all of these issues over the next 30-60 days and make adjustments as necessary. Ain’t the web great? I love that unlike the old packaged software business it’s so easy to have real conversations with listeners and change course with relative ease when listeners tell you what to do. It’s like Doc Searls keeps saying: The demand side is taking control. I’m just along for the ride.

CN Converstions

After one week, 5.2% of the registered members of IT Conversations have take advantage of the offer of free membership in The Conversations Network through March 31. One reason that number isn’t higher might be that as many as half of the members are inactive, but I’m sure we can get the number up to 10% by the end of the month. If you haven’t converted your membership, here’s your chance.

IT Conversations News: January 10, 2006

(Hear the MP3 version with additional commentary in beautiful monophonic audio.)

New Programs Last Week

Listed in increasing order of listener rating.

  • Robert Denaro – Driving the Mean Streets (too late for ratings) For the last 18 years, NAVTEQ’s employees have driven the national road system to capture real-world information about its layout. In the last year alone they drove about 10,000 miles every day – for a total of over 3 million miles – to capture the existence of 120,000 dividers and 50,000 gates that couldn’t be seen in satellite images. In this presentation from O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference, NAVTEQ Vice President Bob Denaro discusses his company’s tools, practices and business model.
  • Tim Bajarin – Looking Back on 2005 (rated 2.5 by our listeners) January 1 is just a date on the calendar but it’s a good time to look back and look forward. And who better to reflect and prognosticate than Tim Bajaran, one of Silicon Valley’s leading tech analysts? In this brief podcast, Tim and host Larry Magid talk about how consumer technology and media is evolving and what we can expect in 2006 and beyond.
  • John Hanke – Google Earth (2.5) Google’s suite of location tools includes local search via mobile phone or the web and rich mapping applications at Google’s site. The granddaddy of Google’s mapping tools, though, is Google Earth – a downloadable client that allows the user to virtually fly over the world and view satellite imagery from almost anywhere. Prior to its acquisition by Google, John Hanke was CEO of Keyhole, the company that built the application that is at the core of Google Earth. In this talk from Where 2.0, he demonstrates some of the secrets of Google Earth.
  • Jerry Paffendorf – Brave New Virtual Worlds (4.0) What would it be like if the Internet were a 3D immersive experience, if browsing the internet felt like walking down the street in a virtual town? In this introduction to the Exploration sessions at Accelerating Change 2005, Jerry Paffendorf discusses the convergence of 3D modelling and Internet interactivity. Programs like Google Earth and games like Second Life offer a glimpse of what the internet may be in the future.
  • Bran Ferren – Web 2.0 High Order Bit (4.0) Bran Ferren believes that there are still many things that ‘suck’ in Web 2.0 but that many of these will suck a lot less by the time we reach Web 3.0. In a stimulating short talk from this year’s Web 2.0 conference, Ferren explains why he believes the computer revolution has not yet started.
  • Barry Diller – In Conversation at Web 2.0 (4.5) Owning 34 Internet brands offers as many opportunities for failure as for success. In a freewheeling and provocative conversation, Barry Diller – legendary media mogul, chairman of Expedia and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp – explains his own recipe for success and speculates about the future of business on the Internet.

The O’Reilly Pick of the Week:

This week’s pick is from August of 2004:

  • MGM v. Grokster MGM v. Grokster: On August 19th, 2004, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided whether distributors of peer-to-peer filesharing software, such as Grokster and StreamCast, could be held liable for the copyright infringements of their users. The court said that, under the circumstances, no. The case has many ramifactions for technologists and innovators. Ernest Miller discusses the decision with four leading legal analysts, including Fred von Lohmann of the EFF, who argued the case.

The Conversations Network New Site is Up

We launched the new site for The Conversations Network on schedule today. Not without bugs, mind you, but now 12 hours post-launch, I think we’ve swatted the worst of them. Special thanks to David and Francis at Loomia, whose new recommendation engine we integrated as part of the process, Tim McNerney who’s aweseome work as our sysadmin saved endless hours by having great backups of everything, Dorothy Yamamoto for her beautiful graphics, and the rest of our Team for their testing and feedback. It was a soft launch, with no press releases or hype machine, but already a few thousand folks have found it and are exploring its nooks and crannies.

The reaction so far is about 97% favorable, mostly ethusiastically so. The other 3% aren’t happy about the new paid-membership model even though it’s not a tollgate to the content. More on that topic in the next few days, after I’ve had a chance to get some sleep. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of what you can expect on the new site.

  • Paid Membership. We closed the IT Conversations Tip Jar, which was being distributed every month to Team ITC, those 40-or-so volunteers who do all our post-production work in their spare time. As we looked at growing the network to 12 channels by the end of the year — IT Conversations will become just one of those channels — we realized we needed something more structured than a tip jar. Like U.S. public radio, membership will be one cornerstone of our revenues, the rest coming from grants, underwriters and commercial sponsors. But we’re serious about listener-supported audio on the web, and that means listener supported. We surveyed thousands of our listeners prior to this decision and learned a lot about how many people would be willing to pay and how much. Basic membership is US$50/year or US$5 per month. Student memberships are available for half those amounts. To ease the transition, and to allow our faithful listeners a chance to evaluate the benefits for themselves, we’ve given every previously registered member of the IT Conversations web site a free basic membership through March 31, 2006.
  • Personalization. The primary benefits of membership (other than knowing you’re supporting our vision) are all based on knowing who you are. Registered members can opt-in to a variety of features such as our newsletters, email ballots, etc.
  • Recommendations. With nearly a thousand progams in the catalog and more than that number coming in 2006, this is where Loomia comes in. Our members can rate programs in a variety of ways, and those ratings are used both to provide so-called community ratings for all, as well as personalized recommendations using Loomia’s proprietary algorithms.
  • Forums. We’ve long wanted a place for our members to discuss our more thought-provoking programs. Two years ago I tried (unsuccessfully) with forum software. I think we just didn’t have enough listeners and the integration of the forum software was weak. This time the software and integration are better by far and we have many, many more listeners. Everyone can read the forums. Only registered members can post messages.
  • Personal Program Queues (PPQs). This feature was previously available on the IT Conversations web site, and we’ve preserved everyone’s queue contents for the port to The Conversations Network. This is the only case of charging for something that used to be free to all, but since we decided that personalization was the point at which the tollgate would be errected, PPQs become the one feature that shifted to the other side.
  • Infrastructure. This will only interests the geeks, but perhaps the greatest benefit of the new site is its architecture for the future. We’ve abstracted the identity issues, and created single sign-on for the main site (based loosely on WordPress), the forums (punBB) and the individual channel web sites, such as IT Conversations. All of the features such as recommendations, PPQs and forums, will operate across all of our channels and are entirely distributed. You’ll get recommendations from all channels, and a single PPQ can likewise be populated with programs from different sources on our network. Considering that each web site and the forums can live on different servers, this was no small feat, and I’m personally quite proud of the design. We’ve managed to put into place the building blocks on which we can now roll out a virtually unlimited number of channels on as many topics.

If you want to learn more, I suggest checking out our mission, our Recommendation/Queue system tutorial, the new IT Conversations forum, membership info, our Team (and information about our new apprenticeship program) and our FAQs. And of course, I look forward to your feedback and continued support.

Tips and Techniques Podcast

A few weeks ago James Polanco and I were interviewed by Jack Harrington, author of Podcasting Hacks, all about podcasting audio gear and techniques. Geeky stuff. We used an ISDN studio-to-studio link. I was here in The Conversations Network Studio 2 (my second bedroom), and Jack was in the studios of KQED-FM in San Francisco.