Living Wirelessly

It has been about 4 months now since I had been using a Blackberry 7730 device as my multi-functional handheld for all my communication needs (Phone calls, SMS messages and Emails on the Go). While I have reservations on calling this Blackberry a handheld (since it is quite largish in size) and not the greatest thing under the sun to handle phone calls, I still have gotten rather hooked to 2 because of the sheer beauty of Wireless Internet access when I am on the move.

Since I have a Chauffeur who drives me to & back from work every day (which adds up to about 2.5 hours of total travel in a day), I get to spend time on the device to read all the Jasmin live news and XML feeds in my feed reader.

To this purpose Bloglines Mobile quite simply rocks. Bloglines may look a bit ‘uncool’ and may lack a lot of the AJAX goodness that some of the other newer Web 2.0 darlings have, it still does it job and does it really really well. If you havn’t tried it yet, give it a swing.

The other cool thing that I find really used is GMail Mobile. I think GMail is perhaps one of the very few non-search winners that Google has got, and though they did take a very long time to launch the Mobile version, they have done a good job out of it.

Algorithmic Search Vs Social Search

Mark Cuban has written a rather interesting post about the debate of whether the future of search would be driven by logic & algorithms or would be social / people driven. In a way, the points he makes are right at the center of the differences in approach being taken by Google and Yahoo!. Google for all practical purposes seems to be relying (atleast for now) on the intelligence & competence they have developed over a period of time and the advanced PageRank / Relevance logic they are known for. They are further using a user’s historical search / click patterns through the use of Personalised search to increase relevance.

Yahoo! on the other hand seems to be taking a more diversified approach. They obviously do have their Search engine logic that spits out results, but interestingly are also going down the path of adopting Social Web, ie., using User generated Livejasmin content as a means to get a grasp of what people actually want / express and using this to fine-tune search results (eg., MyWeb 2.0, del.icio.us).

I do not want to do a potential foot-in-the-mouth jumping-the-gun guess here, but my heart says Social Web is the way to go … but then again Mark Cuban does have a good point.

Google! Where are you heading?

To repeat an old cliched statement, we live in interesting times and over the past few weeks, the Search world has only got far more interesting.

On one front you have Yahoo! making all the right moves in becoming the leader of the Social Web (with its acquistions of Flickr, del.icio.us and also the investments they are making into MyWeb 2.0).

Then you have Amazon, which in a way has opened up Alexa’s search index and thus sowing the seeds for a thousand other Googles (and some of them might actually implement a much better Search ranking algorithm than Google’s PageRank) and sowing the seeds for verticalization of search (ie., people may NOT come to Google for all their information search needs).

Then you have Microsoft’s Bill Gates stating that he is open to sharing Ad revenues with jasminlive users. This is a classic Microsoft move, much like what happened years ago when Microsoft decided to make IE free and thus nailing Netscape. In this case, by making this rather blod statement, Gates has signalled his intentions of taking a bite out Google’s main revenue stream – Search advertising. Sure, Google will still make money out of search in the future, but, if they are forced to share parts of it with users in some way or another, the 400+ $ stock price looks very very shaky.

And finally, here you have another very very dumb move from Google. Picking up a 5% stake in AOL (uh! are still around & kicking) for 1 bn $ in return for preferential placement of AOL links in the search restults page (yuck!), Technical assitance to AOL in Search Engine optimizing their jasminelive pages (why dont they make that public knowledge ?)

It is interesting to note that Microsoft had apparently nixed as unethical the proposal for preferential treatment in Search results.

Where is all this taking Google?

It is common knowledge that most of their launches in the recent page (Google Groups, Google Reader, Google Base, Google Accelerator, Google Analytics, Google Print, Blogger etc) have just NOT been the kind of successes that Google is known for (and some of them like Accelerator are pure failures). In fact, other than AdWords/ AdSense and Maps (& to a small extent GMail), i’d be hard pressed to think of more success stories from Google.

And with this move, they run the risk of screwing up their Search Advertising program.

Crazy, Nuts, Bananas … what else can I say?

Would the GOOG stock plummets on NASDAQ on monday ? If it does, it is the best possible sign that times they are a chagin’ !!!

Box.net – Online file storage service reviewed

It was about a week ago when I received an email from the good folks at Box.net with the details of how to sign-up for their new Online file storage service on www.livesexchat.net. While I have tried my hand at many of these Web 2.0-ish applications (Ajax, Ruby on Rails, Flash with a closed beta and a handsome dose of Tagging thrown in), I quite have not had the opportunity to test drive stuff Omnidrive or Openomy which seem to have made it to some popular blogs sometime earlier. So it was with a rather open perspective that I approached Box.net. The service attempts to provide Free (plus Paid for additional) storage for files which can be accessed from any PC on the net. You can also share files that you have storage online with others (stuff that you can’t email around). They also apparently have a Desktop sync tool, APIs to for extensibility and an upcoming Mobile access feature (I have not checked the Desktop sync part out yet but looks interesting). Here’s the list of features available & here’s a link to why these folks believe box.net rocks (as compared to various other services around)!

First impressions about Box.net were rather positive, the site has a pleasingrounded-edges and Blue feel to it which gives it a rather comforting appeal. Sign-up was pretty simple … made it rather happy that I was supposedly one of the few to be exposed to the ‘Early Adopter preview’ file list.

All they wanted me to do was to not talk about it till Feb 22nd, which I respect and here I am blogging about it on Feb 26th.

The landing page once you login is also well laid out and has a tips DHTML like pop-up that you can dismiss.

OK, so here I am with 1 GB in file storage space to use. So, the first thing to do is get about creating some folders to help me organise my files. Funnily enough, even though box.net has a feature to Tag files & fodlers, it still allows you to create a hierarchical directory of folders, am not sure if there are too many services that allow you to do both (a bit like using a combination of Gmail’s lables with Outlook’s folders).

The landing screen rather sensibly has 2 key links, one to create a folder and the other to upload files.

Creating a folder is a simple affair . A sweet looking layered pop-up in which to enter the name of the folder and you are done. Once done you get a familiar Windows Explorer like Icon view which can also be changed to a List view.

What is rather not so intuitive is that the Folder icon has small little arrow that allows you to perform actions on the folder : Open, Share, Edit and Tag etc.

This is quite obviously not so obvious and it took me quite some time to figure out how to Tag my files for Folders.

File upload has 2 options, one using a Flash interface and the other using a Java applet (for a large number of files). I used the Flash option and that works fine for me (but starts choking one you try to upload a large number of files … say 15 or more). The file upload status graph is neat and leaves you in no doubt. The Java applet never worked for me and would be something that I will keep away from. Given that the Flash option didn’t really scale for a larger number of files, the folks need to figure a way out of this issue.

The List view looks neat and similar to the folder icon has an dropdown arrow that lets you perform additional actions.

The highlight of Box.net is their Search feature. These folks have taken the concept of Inline auto-complete to another level and they actually filter out the list of files / folders in the main view as you type the keyword. Now, this is something that I havn’t seen before in a web application. Sure you have things like Google Suggest that use AJAX to auto-complete stuff for you, but to actually filter the search results, man … that is Cool ! I like it.

The other truly cool, use friendly feature is the Help pop-up layers that show up as you mouse over the stuff on the left nav. For a newbie user, this would certainly help in exploring understanding various available features. You also have interesting features such as creating sub-accounts for multi-user access and the ability to share in public or in private, which for sure would have many takers.

So, what does the balance sheet for Box.net look like:

Pros

Simple interface

User-friendly, most of the key features surface upfront.

Auto-completing / Filtering search (wow !)

Desktop Sync / Mobile access / APIs (always great … wish I could check these out).

24×7 phone & email support … wow !

No Ads !

Cons

Tagging discovery is tough.

Breaks on uploading multiple files.

But for a service that is free for 1 GB storage (minus some features), plus 5 Gig service at $ 4.99 per month and a 15 gig service at 9.99 $ a month with some discounting for annual plans [Pricing plans], I am sure there would be takers for such a service … but for most people 1 Gig ought to be enough (unless you are into mp3eez and warez and may be a few other things that I am not aware of !). If you want to sign-up … head out here.

Net net, I’d rate them 3.5 – 4 on 5, if I had indeed seen desktop sync and mobile access work it could be better.

Alcatraz&San Francisco city tour

I am like a day behind in chronicling my adventures in the West Coast of the USA. But anyways, here goes.

Yesterday was the day for the San Francisco city tour on a Double decker bus and the trip to Alcatraz prison island.

The day started off on a rather bad note with rain … well ! if you imagine rain and a a city tour on a top-less double decker bus, you’ll get the picture. Not good eh ? well, that was the start. So, off we went around 9.15ish in the morning and the first stop was the Golden Gate bridge, since it was kind if drizzling, I remained on the ground floor on the bus. Since I have seen the bridge enough number of times before, it was a great excitement for me. But talking of bridges, I really do wonder why the Bay Bridge never gets its due even though both of them were started at the same time ??? Really have to pity the Bay Bridge. I’d say it is good, it is much longer, has 2 decks, has a tunnel in between etc etc.

Anyways, after golden gate started the real city tour, general trips around the Exploratarium, Civic center, Presedia, Union square, Van Ness, China town. A general trip around the places to see in SFO. It was OKish, not very impressed though. The Photo ops too were few and far in between. Looked like these folks were in a kind of a hurry (the tour was booked through sightseeingworld.com

In the afternoon post lunch, it was time for Alcatraz. The boat left for the Island at 1.15 and it was a brief 10 minute boat ride. I must say that Alcatraz is hyped as a tourist desitination. Yeah ! there is some kick in going inside a jail for the first time and too something as famous as the Alcatraz, but other than rows and rows of cells and various stories spun around the likes of Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, the Birdman of Alcatraz and the Escape stories there really isnt all that much in Alcatraz. If a push comes to a shove, this can be given the go by. There really arent any a ha ! moments here.

The rest of the evening was spent around the Pier 39 area. Really loved the Sugar donuts that I had at Trish’s Mini Donuts. I’d certainly recommend this to anyone visiting San Francisco. The golden hued setting sun did give me a few good shots (hope they come out well).

Eating food has been a real challenge for me here. You just dont find veggie food and even if you do it would be some dull Salad or a cold Sandwich. Last night was no different. spent some good 45 minutes looking for dinner before once again settling for a Veggie sandwich which as expected was no great. I simply cannot understand why people eat food so bland here !!!

Hit the sack kind of early since I had to be up at 5 am to catch the 6 am van for the Yosemite trip … the trip today was a totally different deal. Really loved it … more about it later.