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NBC Bay Area is reporting on an interview with Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman commenting on the alleged extortion lawsuit:

Stoppelman then lays out the scenario he believes lead to the lawsuit:

Business owner gets sales call; owner, who now knows about Yelp, tries to game the reviews; magical algorithm detects the shill and hides those reviews; owner assumes that after declining to buy ads, Yelp is doling out retribution; owner hustled by shady, conspiracy-addled lawyers out to separate Yelp from the startup’s venture capital.

So in five strokes, Stoppelman manages to paint small business owners of being Web-illiterate shills who in their paranoia fall prey to greedy lawyers.

Arrogant jackass.

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According to a Wired article today, a lawsuit has been filed that alleges Yelp “tried to get a Long Beach veterinary hospital named Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital to pay $300 a month — for a minimum 12-month commitment — to suppress or delete reviews that disparaged the hospital.”

But according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court (.pdf) for the Central District of California, the site manipulates the reviews, and therefore a business’ ratings, through an extortion scheme that offers to remove a business’ negative reviews or relocate them to the bottom of a listing page where fewer visitors will see them, if the business purchases a monthly advertising subscription.

Personally, I have no love for the site.  Outside these allegations, I believe they encourage an us-vs-them mentality among reviewers that puts small businesses at a significant disadvantage.  It’ll be interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out.

The ongoing fiasco that is Google Buzz sure is fun to watch from an armchair position.  I have no love for Google, and yet another stumble in the social media world just underscores how little they understand it.

Ultimately, of course, it’s just disappointing.  Watching Google try to remake FriendFeed is really sad.  It makes me long for the days of FriendFeed (the old FriendFeed, before they moved to real-time).  That service got it right, and Google has learned nothing from them.

One has to ask, why in the world is Google even doing this?  Are they that desperate to build a social media application?  Clearly they don’t have the in-house talent or understanding to get social right, and should really be focused on acquiring social companies.  Of course, their track record on social acquisitions has been abysmal (Dodgeball anyone?).

Facebook bought FriendFeed, but they’ve essentially left it to languish and die.  FriendFeed’s biggest problem was it’s lack of community: people just didn’t flock to it like the other big networks.  Although the site itself was doing quite well, and would have continued to do well, it wasn’t “blowing up the world” like the founders wanted.  It was successful, but not successful enough.

Google, of course, could fix all that by forcing people to use a new social media service (which, essentially, they did with Buzz).  That solve’s the community issue FriendFeed had, though Google unfortunately stumbled everywhere else.  It’s a shoddy service, it has clear usability issues, the designers made odd choices in how it operates, and all sorts of other issues.

I don’t know if Google will eventually shut down Buzz, or try to make it usable.  They definitely have a long road ahead of them if they aren’t planning on shutting it down though.

This is the third and final part of a three-part series I’ve put together on my personal experiences with the Nook (see the first and second ones).  Having used the Nook for quite a few hours of pleasurable reading, I’m a fan of the device.  It has quite a few rough edges and missing content, but it’s generally a good device for reading eBooks.  But what about the basics, like battery life, accessories, etc?

Battery Life
The battery life of the Nook isn’t superb.  I tend to leave the device in Airplane mode all the time to conserve energy (which, unfortunately, means I’m unable to get updated information in The Daily).  With it in Airplane mode, I usually get about 4 days of battery life when using it heavily.

I’m struggling to put this into context.  In terms of hours, it’s probably about 10-12, which is probably enough time to read a paperback book, or close to it.  This isn’t scientific by any means, just my own observation that could be wildly off.

I was a little off-put by how quickly the battery drains, but it’s not a major inconvenience.  I have to charge my iPhone on a daily basis, so every few days for the Nook isn’t a problem.

Barnes and Noble Hotspots
One interesting feature of the Nook is the ability to take the device to a Barnes and Noble retail store for special features.  For instance, taking it to a store allows you to see special in-store coupons, read any book available for free (while you’re there), and even get a free cookie at the Cafe.

So I brought the Nook to a local B&N store.  Unfortunately, I had quite a few problems.  While inside the store, I turned on the device and a B&N logo appeared in the top-right, where the WiFi indicator would normally appear.  However, I couldn’t figure out how to access the B&N section!

I actually went to the Nook kiosk in the store and asked for help from the saleswoman there.  Although she was very pleasant, she was also very confused: we couldn’t figure out why weren’t able to see the B&N exclusives on the device!  On the store’s device, the B&N exclusives section pops right up, but not on my device!

I’ll give it another shot sometime in the future, but for now I was a little disappointed about that.

Covers
Although not a super important issue to consider, some people do find it interesting what covers are available for the device.  When I was in the B&N store recently (with the B&N Hotspot issue), I picked up a case that I actually rather like.  It’s a fold-over faux leather case that makes it look quite elegant.  It has a saying on the front that I’m not particularly in love with, but I do like the cover.

The Nook has quite a few covers available, though not many in the stores themselves.  Some of them are actually quite expensive too.  But you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a decent cover.

Last Thoughts
On the whole, the Nook is a solid device.  Battery life is so-so, and there was a snafu I had with the B&N Hotspot, but I’m sure that will get worked out (if it hasn’t already).  Perhaps the store was having hiccups with it’s Hotspot device, or perhaps my Nook just wasn’t cooperating that day.  The next time I go to a B&N store I’ll give it another try and see what happens.

This is the second part of a three-part series I’ve put together on my personal experiences with the Nook (see the first one).  The most critical component to the Nook is what content is available.  I bought the device for its ecosystem: I want to be able to find and buy eBooks, newspapers, and magazines instantly, and I don’t want to deal with anything else (like file formats, sync’ing with my computer, etc).  In general, the Nook does this very well.

BN eBook store missing some titles
There have been a handful of books that I’ve been interested in reading on my device that aren’t available in the B&N store.  Some books just aren’t in eBook format, but there have been a handful that appear in Amazon and not B&N.  Here’s a short list of ones I’ve noticed:

I don’t know if I can buy an eBook from the Amazon store and read it on my Nook.  I suspect I can, because the Nook supposedly can read many different eBook formats, but I haven’t tried it yet.  If anyone has tried it, let me know.

Good selection of newspapers
The main newspaper I’m interested in is the Wall Street Journal.  It’s on there, and I really like the price point of $0.99 an issue.  This suites me just fine.  On a Sunday morning, I can grab a cup of coffee and a muffin and sit at my kitchen table reading the paper.  I don’t want a subscription to the paper as I don’t have time to read anything but the occasional weekend issue.

There are a handful of popular papers on there, including the Washington Post, but it’s a little disappointing that the NY Times isn’t.

The Magazines selection is woefully small
The most glaring content issue is the lack of magazines.  I’m glad to see The Economist and The New Yorker, but that’s about it.  Where are the general interest magazines, like Time, Newsweek, or my favorite, BusinessWeek?  If B&N puts BusinessWeek on there, I’ll cancel my paper subscription and switch over.

B&N needs to really beef up their magazine selection.  Right now, there’s zero in there for the average reader, and even I’m not particularly interested in the titles.

The Daily needs better content
There are two regular columns that appear in The Daily from B&N sources: Daybook and Grin and Tonic.  Daybook is similar to a “This Day in History”, and includes some interesting historical tidbits that I enjoy.  However, Grin and Tonic is a dud.  It’s had a few humorous creates, but on the whole, it’s not terribly interesting.

Personally, I’d like to see a selection of columns or blog posts made available for user selection.  I love the idea of The Daily, where there’s new content available to read, but right now it’s not terribly interesting.

Content is King
On the whole, there are a lot of eBooks available for the Nook in the B&N store that are sure to keep you occupied for quite a while.  However, if you’re like me and want a wide selection of content from various mediums, then you’ll be a bit disappointed.  B&N needs to remember that the Nook’s power is in its ecosystem, and it should do what it can to beef that ecosystem up by getting as much content as possible to the device.

Yep, I’ve got a Nook.  I actually got it late December, about a week earlier than I was expecting after placing a pre-order around Thanksgiving.  I’ve talked about the Nook on this blog before, but I haven’t had a chance to really get into detail on it, and I thought I would now.

For part one of this little series, I thought I’d focus on the core functionality of the device: reading books.  In later parts, I’ll discuss other usages and my experiences.

So, how is it at reading books?  The short of it: it’s very good, though not quite perfect.  If you’ve never used an eInk display, then you need to give it a serious try.  Whether it’s the Kindle or the Sony reader, the display technology is the same.  And it’s great for long periods of reading.  Since getting the nook, I’ve spent quite a few hours using it to read (just yesterday I spent the good part of the day reading Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which I highly recommend).

Comparing an eInk display to a computer screen or the iPhone is like comparing apples to oranges.  The eInk technology is specifically designed for reading books, and it allows you to look at the screen for hours at a time without any problem.  If reading text on your computer screen or mobile device causes problems, then eInk is your solution.

That being said, the underlying parts of the Nook at what makes the difference, and unfortunately the device has a few rough edges:

Missing text in a chapter
At this point, I’ve read three books, several newspapers, and a handful of samples on my Nook and in all but one case it has been flawless.  However, just the other day, while reading a chapter of Ghost wars, a section was cutoff:

The very last page of Chapter 16 had the following paragraph:

Robin Raphel and others at the State Department and the White House believed that for American oil companies, too, the Taliban could be an important part of a new Afghan solution.

On the iPhone and the Barnes and Noble reader for the Mac, this paragraph came through fine.  However, on my Nook, only the first line of the paragraph was displayed:

Robin Raphel and others at the State Department and the

Flipping the page brought me to the first page of chapter 17!  Flipping back didn’t show the remaining text either!  Luckily I was able to find the remainder on my iPhone, but that’s very frustrating.  I suspect it’s something with the formatting (the Nook lets you change the size and font of the text being displayed) and perhaps a bug made the device think the entire paragraph was being displayed when it wasn’t.

Though this only happened in this one place, it makes me slightly distrustful of the device.

No synchronization between devices
One of the features I was particularly excited about with the Nook was the ability to synchronize my page between devices.  I have an iPhone, a desktop Mac, and my Nook, and I’d love to be able to pick up in a book wherever I happen to be.

It’s been very confusing on the Barnes and Noble help forums but to the best I can ascertain, this feature doesn’t actually exist yet (though it may be part of a future software update).  If anyone does know how to enable it, however, I’d love to hear it.

Reading newspapers can be tricky
A lot of people have been griping about reading newspapers on the Nook.  I’ve purchased several copies of the Wall Street Journal (which, by the way, at $0.99 an issue is a perfect price, in my opinion) and I understand their complaint, though I’m just not as upset about it as others.

On the Nook, reading a newspaper is like reading a book: it’s treated as a sequential page-by-page tome with hyperlinks to other sections.  So, for instance, page 1 is the front page of the paper, with short excerpts and links to the full story.  Page 1 of another section may not start until page 300 in the actual eBook.

This kind of navigation makes it a little slow to get through a paper, especially if your the kind of person who loves to just skim headlines and flip pages.  But if you like to read full stories, then it shouldn’t be too bothersome.

It would be excellent to have a better page navigation for newspapers, but I can live with it for the time being.

Wrap Up
In general, reading on the Nook is very enjoyable.  I enjoy the ability to pick it up and start reading very quickly.  Flipping pages is fast enough (some people say it’s slower than the Kindle, but it doesn’t bother me).  Using the Nook, I’m able to sit for hours at a time and read a book without any problems.

In later parts I’ll talk about content availability, battery life, the case I got, and other details.

There’s an interesting review of Chrome for the Mac up at Ars Technica, which is approached from the point of view of a devoted Safari 4 user (as I myself am).  As I’ve seen, there are a number of points in Chrome’s favor, including speed.

My favorite part about Chrome, however, is what Google calls the “Omnibox.” Instead of offering an address bar and a search bar across the top of the window, there’s just one box for both searching and entering URLs. I love this for two reasons. First, it’s no secret that “older” Internet users seem to have a habit of entering full URLs into a search box just to bring up a Google search pointing to that exact URL, and then clicking on it. This helps mitigate that behavior by sending the user directly to the site he or she is searching for if a full address is entered. Two, it helps reduce the number of steps taken by any user (old or not) who wants to search from the browser.

Check out the review and feel free to give Chrome for Mac a try for yourself.  I was pleasantly (and begrudgingly) surprised.

There’s more rumor going on about Apple’s plans to launch a tablet, though this one has a new twist.  Apparently, according to an analyst in an article at Ars Technica, Apple will be targetting the device to be a souped up eReader rather than just a general purpose tablet computer.  I have to say I’m intrigued.

The article goes on to say that Apple is courting content providers (such as newspaper and magazine in addition to book publishers) with attractive deals to get content onto its new device.  The analyst also “believes that Apple is poised to give Amazon’s Kindle a serious run for its money by offering a better revenue split for publishers.”

Especially intriguing is the extent that publishers could go with a high-powered tablet that doesn’t rely on the eInk technology.  For instance, publishers could embed video, sound, or flash animations and have it appear on the tablet.  Imagine an immersive, well-designed version of a magazine on a tablet.  That could be very compelling, and might get publishers excited about the prospects of moving beyond the paper world.

I like the idea of an Apple-branded eReader device, primarily based on the good experiences I’ve had with my various Apple products (iPhone, MacBook, etc).  If they can make a great tablet device that offers excellent content, then it will be a homerun.

My problems with Google are complex, but primarily revolve around their business model.  It’s frustrating to see a company constantly move into different sectors of the web industry, gain a ton of press and users, and put out a mediocre (at best) product.  For instance, the whole Chrome OS bothers me: their business logic is sound (and I applaud them for that), but I don’t trust them to make a half-way decent operating system that I would want to use.

Many of Google’s “distinctive” interface designs are just unpleasant.  They got it right with Google Search: simplicity is key.  But their overly simplistic interface for other products make it just painful.  If you have to use Google AdSense or AdWords for any length of time, you start to see the silliness of their interface.  Google Code is just ugly to look at.  And so many other products.

I understand that Google is an engineer-driven company, and that’s fine.  But there are plenty of engineers out there that can admit when they don’t know much about interface design or usability.  Google, it seems, can’t.  I don’t know if its arrogance or fear: fear that they’ll spoil their “secret sauce” that made them so successful in search.  Whatever it is, it’s not working.

At the other extreme is Microsoft, which spends so much time on their interfaces that they become equally painful to use.  They’re overly flashy, cluttered, and look like they were designed for children (with bright flashing things).  Apple is the only consumer-oriented mainstream tech company that I know of that consistently has good design that’s pleasant to use.

The other reason why I despise Google?  They don’t have a single innovative new-product person in their organization.  Take a look at every single product Google has put out: they’re all products another company has pioneered.  Even their much touted Google Wave is just a poor-man’s version of EtherPad (which, incidentally, they acquired recently).  Dozens of other products which have been unashamedly held up as being innovative have already been pioneered before.  Apple is a new-product innovative powerhouse, and even Microsoft has come up with a few new items (like the Surface).  But not Google.

As I said earlier, I’ve been giving Chrome from Google a try, and I have to begrudgingly say that I am enjoying it.  Perhaps it’s just comes from a desire to mix things up a bit in my web browsing.  Whatever it is, I don’t hate it, and I’ll keep using it until I do.

In the ongoing saga of eReaders, an interesting announcement recently came from Adobe, creators of the PDF format.  Over the last several years, they have been investing in becoming the dominant document platform for eBooks, seeing the potential the market could bring.

Now that a number of eReader devices have emerged, with more rumored (including an Apple Tablet), Adobe is making it clear how important they’ve become in the ecosystem:

Adobe announced that more than 100 publishers, book retailers and libraries are using Adobe’s Content Server 4 software to deliver encryptable e-books via the two formats favored by Adobe: PDF and ePub.

As any marketer will tell you, the real power of products is in the ecosystem: all the complimentary products working together to create a complete solution for the end user.  The Kindle and Nook, for instance, rely on companies like Adobe to create the innovative systems to deliver content.

Though Adobe may balk at the comparison, its role in the e-book market is similar to Microsoft’s in the PC market: a builder of a semi-open ecosystem of partners to whom it sells publishing tools.

Don’t discount the power Adobe ultimately may have in this new eReader market.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on what they do.

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