Thursday, November 29, 2007

URL shorteners. Are URLs too long?

Now that I find myself tweetering constantly and announcing my presence information to the world, I discovered that 140 characters are very limiting. Not so much to give out specific presence information like what I am doing, but rather when you want to embed URLs.

This brought to my attention, the general practice of using online services to create short URL aliases. The top services that I've found are Tinyurl.com, Snurl.com (a.k.a Snipurl.com), and Decenturl.com. According to Wikipedia, these are URL Shorteners. They come very handy for tweeting, and even emailing URLs to friends, blog posts, and SMS text messages.

The fine print is that the real URL is hidden, similar to a regular phishing attack. By clicking on them, you are going somewhere, you just can't tell where to. As a general practice, when in doubt, I read the URL before clicking on it. In other words, I look in the status bar of my browser, where the link is going to take me. This does not work with URL shorteners.

Let me give you an example of the usefulness of the tool. There is a great article on some new tools in the Cisco.com website. The URL for the blog post is http://blogs.cisco.com/webexperience/2007/11/sneak_preview_new_tool_to_help.html , 80 Characters in total. However, the shortened versions from two of the three services above are http://tinyurl.com/3btbkr (25 characters) and http://snurl.com/1ueg7 (22 characters). How can you tell where the two last links are pointing to? The only way is to actually click on them.

These service providers are aware of this, and they are introducing work-arounds to the issue. For example, TinyUrl offers a small link for a preview of the real URL. In the previous sample long URL, the preview is http://preview.tinyurl.com/3btbkr and it shows you where it is pointing to.

I think they offer a great service, but be careful and aware of the threats.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Help! Too many social web services

People spend every hour of their lives in online social sites. There are too many popular ones: Facebook, MySpace, DIgg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, orkut, Flickr, Yahoo, Twitter, Jaiku, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Xing, YouTube. Which leads to the question: which ones do I sign in for? All of them? Do I do it systematically?

One answer is to sign up for everything, but there are scalability issues: you will not be able to keep up with all the sites, especially today when we have competition between social services (e.g. Orkut, Facebook and MySpace). The correct answer is to be selective, to learn to say no to some friend's requests, and to resist the temptation.

Before signing up for anything, think about what you want to achieve first. Do you want to post your thoughts to the world, do you want to inform your relatives across the world, or do you want to share your photos with friends? Once you know what you want to do, then you must narrow down to the appropriate services. For example, if you are looking to share pictures with friends and family, you can use Flickr, Ofoto (Kodak Gallery), or even Facebook's photo application. Then, you should consider the impact of the service to your target audience. Do they have to sign-up for the service, or can they access the content without having to register? Would they mind registering, or not? Usually people don't mind registering to one site; but they do if they are already registered with a competing one.

The bottom line is that you have to be selective, and stick to it. Otherwise, you will not be able to keep up with all the new services coming in the next couple of years of Web 2.0. One last thing to note is that with social sites, there is a requirement for positive feedback. That is, the more users, the better it is. That is why these sites experience explosive growth.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blogger's fake to check facts... that's good!

I stumbled upon a blog post on Digg regarding the consequences of failing to check sources. It was fairly interesting, the note talked about a case where a magazine article on new developments for car paint led to the rumor that Nissan will release a car with chameleonic paint controlled by a button.

My thought around that is that I don't see that as a flaw of online collaboration. There is much more value in the speed (or as I call it, time-to-market of the information) than the fake news itself. Collaboration is self-healing, meaning that people will detect the flaw and correct it immediately, fixing the issue in the spot. I love the Wikinomics example. When Wikipedia and Britannica go head to head for accuracy and they find more mistakes in Wikipedia than Britannica, Wikipedia can say, thanks for finding the mistakes, they have been already corrected, test for accuracy again.


read more

Friday, November 16, 2007

Twitter: follow me around

Twitter is another collaboration tool of the Web 2.0 wave. The concept is called micro-blogging. You have 140 characters to post on the web what you are doing, or whatever you want to post.

The idea came from all the people changing their status constantly on Yahoo Messanger and MSN Messenger. Facebook and MySpace offers a similar capability to change your status. For more information, check out Wikipedia's entry on Twitter.

Twitter is dedicated to just that. People can follow you, and you can follow others to see what they are doing. Moreover, you can update Twitter from different avenues: directly on the website, your cell-phone via mobile Web or via SMS, or you can even have RSS applications and desktop applications that interconnect to Twitter.
you can follow me at http://twitter.com/leoboulton and check out all the potential of it.

It sounds scary to have everybody seeing what you are doing... bear in mind that you can set up privacy settings so that only your friends can follow you, and you are also free to post whatever you want: if you post your credit card information, you are the only one to blame for that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bloggers get free stuff?

VMware released version 1.1 of its Fusion virtualization software to run Windows on Intel-based Apple computers free for exclusive bloggers. The company believes in collaboration (applause, please) and knows that offering it for free to popular bloggers is equivalent to giving free candy to kids. They know that they will ask their parents for more. Classic marketing: offering sample products applied in the web 2.0 era. Brilliant!

read more | digg story

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Tartan Racing DARPA Site Visit

This week DARPA's Urban Challenge took place. University teams compete for the best automated vehicle (not driven by humans) in an urban scenario.
Carnegie Mellon and Stanford have been the biggest competition so far. In 2005, Stanford won the DARPA challenge, in the desert. This time it's in the city.
Check out Carnegie Mellon's SUV. This time it's ours!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Small Web 2.0 start-ups attrack more people than large companies

Facebook, MySpace.com, Flickr, and even Google started as small start-ups. Napster, AIM, and Blogger, too. Users are always attracted to innovation, and this usually comes in the form of small start-ups. The question is, do those users stay engaged and loyal once one of these companies gets absorbed by a monster corporation?

I saw this with Ofoto, that got purchased by Kodak. They even changed their name to Kodak Gallery. It was the biggest online photo storage/sharing site in the old days. I am, still to this date, a big user of it. However, I noticed that my friends started to use Flickr more and more. Flicker was not the incumbent, nor the large player. It was the small start-up. And now Flickr seems to be king - until another start-up brings further innovation and displaces Flickr.

Same thing happened with Facebook. They were the small player. MySpace.com was the incumbent. As soon as users saw MySpace.com as a monster, they switched to Facebook. Why is that? Why do users switch?

There are two major things that cause this effect. I call it: Explosive growth, may lead to and accelerated law of diminishing returns, with respect to user attraction and loyalty.

The first thing is that start-ups must maintain full momentum of innovation. They must outpace competition constantly and reduce the product life-cycle. A new big feature every 6 months or a year. This will keep the users engaged and excited with your application.

Secondly, they must maintain their identity and trust their brand. Specially, when they get absorbed by monster corporations like Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google. Some people tend to have unfavorable opinions about large corporations and they might see it as evil or the start of the end for a great app. I gave the example of Ofoto, but it also happened to FeedDemon (when purchased by Newsgator) and others. However, blogger and del.icio.us, when purchased by Google and Yahoo, respectively, kept their identity and were able to maintain their growth and attractiveness. So, watch out Facebook.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fund Raising: join a large company challenge, and get it all done

Large companies, like Cisco Systems, have entrepreneurship and venture capital programs. Similar to what an incubator would do. They typically look for start-ups in areas that they support. For example, Cisco just announced the I-Prize, for start-ups in the web 2.0 collaboration space.These programs are usually ideal for entrepreneurs who like the 'Intra-preneurial" concept (e.g. innovation and entrepreneurship inside large corporations). Winners gain a ton of benefits, including not only funding for the start-up, but free publicity, instant brand recognition under the large company name, and potential buying or partnership conversations.

read more | digg story