Category Archives: rant

It’s Shit Like This, Android

I have an HTC desire and I really do love it. Well, mostly. I love everything about my phone except the lack of space in phone storage. I had hoped Froyo would end my misery, by allowing me to move apps to the SD card, but it’s only helped a small amount. There’s just not enough app-makers who think it’s important to add App2SD functionality. And given the pitiful amount of memory on my phone, I am really limited to just the apps with App2SD.

I’ve known for a while that it’s really the compulsory Google, HTC and Orange apps that were really eating into my space, so I thought I’d make a spreadsheet to work out where all the space goes. Out of my supposed 120MB remaining after Android OS is installed, this is what I’ve got:

  • 17MB which has to be kept free (Otherwise nothing works – data syncs etc)
  • 17.75MB for basic data: Basic Contacts, Calendar, Settings, etc.
  • 33MB for Google Apps I can’t remove
  • 13.4MB for Orange Apps I can’t remove
  • 9.2MB for HTC Apps I can’t remove
  • 28.5MB is used very quickly if I enable any of the Social Networking features HTC are so proud of (like Facebook and Flickr contacts sync, showing a friend stream of Flickr, Twitter, Facebook contacts, enabling Twitter notifications, etc)
  • 1.5MB is left free for new apps (WTF?)

Obviously, I’ve worked out a few tricks. Uninstalling Adobe Flash updates scores you 10MB space. Disabling all the social networking features gets you nearly 30MB back. All in all, I can wrangle about 40MB for new apps that can’t be put on the SD card. But that’s a compromise – I’d really LOVE to be able to use those social networking features. That’s one of the bonuses of having a smartphone!

So, this explains why HTC Desire users bitch and moan when your app is bigger than 200kb and doesn’t have App2SD.

Anyway, after calculating which compulsory apps I used and which I just wish I could get rid of, I was left with these figures:

  • 24.25MB Compulsory apps I find useful (Or at least, would find useful If I were using the social networking features)
  • 31.35MB Compulsory apps I don’t use and can’t remove (without rooting).


In these compulsory apps, there’s gems from Orange like a Monopoly game demo using 3MB of space which won’t even let me play an entire game all the way through. Also, there’s an Orange app store and Orange Maps – as If the Google versions weren’t enough.  In fact, I don’t use any of the Orange apps. Add to this that Orange kindly got me a Froyo update 6 months after everyone else in the world, it leaves me feeling somewhat miffed at Orange for wasting my time and phone space.

From HTC and Google, there’s a 2MB Youtube app (which pre-Froyo was unnecessary since the Youtube Mobile site is so good – why do we need it now?), a 1MB flashlight, a 1MB calculator. All of these have better, smaller alternatives available, but I can’t get rid of the stock versions.

I’m constantly removing apps so I can try new ones. I search for smaller apps and apps with App2SD. I clear my caches and user data regularly. But to think that over 30MB of space is used with apps I just don’t even want is ridiculous. Plus, out of the remaining 25MB of compulsory apps I do use (even if they’re not all essential to me) – not one of them can be moved to the SD card. Why? Oh, they’re probably worried I’ll remove it. Guys, I’ll put it on the SD card if I have a choice. But if I have no choice I might find myself rooting my phone and removing it.

So, Android. A couple of requests:

  • Stop letting phone providers add bloatware which can’t be removed.
  • Make your own essential apps App2SD!

So, after that rant and a realisation that my idea fix is not likely any time soon, I’m just one step closer to rooting my phone.

Location-Based Language Settings = Traveller Nightmare

Right, time for a rant.

Something which has slowly grown to annoy me is the number of websites which will change my language settings simply because they have managed to work out where I am sitting right now. In short, what I’d like to say to all webmasters who do this is “STOP IT!”

For me, I’ve noticed this problem because I’m primarily an English speaker who happens to be in France. Yes, I make good use of my sudden French settings and get some instant French practise, but by and large I just wish websites and mobile apps would leave language settings be.

For instance, I searched for something on Google using English keywords. I found a site in English which fit the bill. When I clicked on that link it decided I’d prefer the French version of the site. Surely, if I’d wanted the French version, I’d have searched using French keywords and found the French version of the site? I don’t even know if Google or the website is responsible for the switch. What made this even more annoying is that it was a site which I have an account with – and I was logged in! Hello, you guys KNOW my language preferences. What are you doing? I fully expect my personal settings to override your guesses while I’m logged in, thanks.

In fact, many sites I use will override my regular language settings with a location-based language setting. It’s usually the big ones, too: Google & Facebook spring to mind (although with Facebook it’s just the login screen, which is reasonable). Google language settings are seriously annoying: Just when you think the language setting is set for every single Google service (oh yes, different settings for each service – thanks Google), you accidentally click something which changes things back to wherever you are again. What’s really annoying is that these sites which automagically decide on a language for you think they’re so right in their language choice that they go and hide the language settings from you and make it difficult to change it back to what you want.

I used the IMDB movie app on my phone to check out popular movies. It had settings to be able to pick which database the info came from, yet despite my choices of imdb.com and amazon.co.uk it insisted on providing me with the French versions of the movie titles. Movie titles are obscure, you know? They’re translated to be catchy in that language. So, even if you translate them back to English, you’ll have more luck working out which movie it is by recognising the poster. Either way, after deliberately setting these database choices, the app had overridden my choices simply because of where I happened to be. Turns out that they do this on the main site too, and for any app which access the IMDB database. Annoying!

Automatically changing the language is ridiculous! Leave it be and ASK people which language they’d prefer.

I think web-developers in English-speaking countries probably don’t think about this location thing very much. Their language settings stay the same as they travel around the country. In their heads, they’re probably doing everyone in foreign countries a favour – and I can see how they might think that.

Consider the average traveller in Europe. Every day they travel around, crossing arbitrary lines which for some reason change the language of all the big sites they use every day. While they might know how to order a meal and book into a hotel in that language, you can hardly expect everyone to be proficient in all of them.

Think about people in multi-language countries. You are driving them crazy.

Now, here’s a thought: When using a phone or laptop, normally the users have already chosen the language they prefer to use. Now developers, do you think it would be possible to work with that language choice? Thanks.

Here’s another similar complaint: Paypal seem to have divided their customer service by country. So, in France I’m told I can’t access the Paypal help menu in English. Seriously. Not to mention that I only wanted to send a quick email to ask a simple question. I clicked “Contact us” and got this:

I’m not sure why an international company based in an English-speaking country wants me to try and navigate their help system in French just so I can send an email in awful French to some poor sod who will have trouble understanding my awful French and who most likely doesn’t speak English and will pass my email around the office stressing out until they find an English speaker to help answer my very simple question. This makes no sense.

My language settings are in English. Let me access a help system and a “Contact Us” web-form in English. I’ll most likely get all the information I need without bothering you. If not, an English person would be able to answer my question quickly. If it so happens that my question is specific to something in France, I’m sure my query can be forwarded internally to a bilingual helpdesk person in France. In the meantime, monolingual French-speaking customers are able to be attended by the French staff. What a thought!

Seriously web developers, quit making language settings automatic according to country. ASK.

Image Credit: RockCohen

Internet for non-English speakers

After a little ranting about the state of the internet in France, it occurred to me that English-speakers online need to try just a little bit harder to make life easier for non-English speakers.

I came up with a short list of ideas for things we can all do to help non-English speakers online:

  • Get more non-English people to create stuff online.
  • Try to convince more people to add translations (or at least translator buttons) to their sites.
  • Teach more non-English speakers generally about Google Translate, so they can use the English pages they find.
  • Teach SEO skills to more non-English speakers so that things can be found!
  • Make websites more intuitive and less dependent on text found in pictures (which don’t get translated).
  • Ensure kids get computer training, either at school, in clubs or at home.

The website design is easy: add translation and try not to use images where text would be best. The basic computer education of kids has to fall with people locally. So, the question then becomes how to teach SEO to non-English people?

How do you teach someone who doesn’t necessarily understand the concept of SEO (let alone understand the acronym) that it’s something they should think of? At least in the basic sense of ensuring the keywords that people search for appear in the documents they want those people to find. Should we try to convince bilingual people to write basic SEO guides? Probably. And we should probably also encourage those writers to use a keyphrase of the local words for “Why doesn’t anyone find my website?” so that the right people find it.

Seriously, if you’re bilingual give it a go. It could really help non-English speakers a lot. And the more the better!

Image Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

Feeding Facebook – About those bloody Twitter updates

Image Credit: MagerLeagues

Right. Time to get stuck in to a topic that hits a lot of nerves: Why some people import Tweets into Facebook. I’m not trying to start a debate here, rather to cast light on why some choose to do this.

Firstly, I’ll mention that due to Facebook changing the news feed, Twitter and Google getting friendly and Twitter introducing lists, both services are currently undergoing a bit of change. This means that users of both (especially those sending tweets through to Facebook) will be making adjustments. For starters, tweets get indexed by Google and Twitterers might have more luck keeping track of their real friends (thus also negating two of the main reasons for things like “Daily tweet” digests).

Anyway, there’s plenty of people wondering about the differences between the two services and what sort of status update goes to where. Danah Boyd also had a rant recently about the difference in status updates between Facebook and Twitter status updates. There are definitely differences between the two in regards to audience and conversation.

When I tweet it goes to thousands of people – some who are followers, some who see RTs and some who are searching hashtags or words. That audience is largely professional in nature. It’s public, immediate and it’s instantly part of a larger conversation. Twitter is about what’s happening throughout the world. It’s about news, thoughts, ideas, conversation and random funny things – but it’s also about everyone. You see humanising snippets of lives that remind you that you’re talking to real people. It’s the world talking to the world. People dip in and out as it suits them, talking to whoever is interesting or on-topic while they’re there. You miss some things and you catch others – It’s not important. When I’m online I see Twitter updates via Growl, constantly showing me interesting new stuff. Twitter is ubiquitous information gathering. Twitter is ephemeral. Twitter is about NOW.

Facebook is, due to the reciprocal friending practices, all about friends. Real friends. Yes, some people have also friended contacts and networkers as well as their friends. But largely, it’s about real friends. It’s like a one-stop shop for friend info. Facebook seems to be trying to branch into the worldwide-info market as well, but that’s not the point. For now, Facebook is the go-to place when you want to find out what your real friends have been up to.

I have no idea what you’re up to these days – you never post to Facebook.

I have to admit, when I first saw people bringing tweets into Facebook I was thinking “You’re doing it wrong!”. It still irks me that the Twitter app doesn’t work like it used to any more. The official Twitter app used to bring your tweets into your wall sweetly with a little Twitter logo. It was part of the news feed and if people didn’t want to see it they could just hide stuff from that app. But the app doesn’t work like that any more and none of the current working apps seem to do that – they all post as a status update. So, it was a big decision to cross the line and become an evil Twitter-Facebook crossposter.

Now, across many social networks I maintain separate information. Each network serves its purpose and has a different audience. I wanted to keep Facebook as a separate social network and not to replicate information – duplication is annoying! But the point is, Facebook is different for two very important reasons. Firstly, because information created in Facebook is largely stuck in Facebook (unless you can find the magic RSS feed) – it’s a walled garden. That doesn’t encourage people to create original content in Facebook. Secondly, because it really is the one-stop shop for friend info. Not many of my Facebook friends bother to follow RSS feeds – especially not now that Facebook is the place to go for friend info. And why would they go to Friendfeed and set up an account there, when they really want to see everything in Facebook with everything else? So, it’s up to me to make sure that all the stuff they might like to know about me is in Facebook where they’ll find it. In that respect, I’m treating Facebook as a lifestream. In goes a selected stream of stuff I do online, picked for relevance to my real-life friends. This is the general mentality of the people importing tweets and RSS feeds into Facebook. We have simply started to see Facebook as more of a lifestream for friends.

I’m actually quite glad that so many of my Twitter friends import their more interesting tweets into Facebook. If they didn’t I’d probably never see them. Even when I’m actively following Twitter I tend to miss things said by my own friends. This makes sure I don’t.

As for content, I guess it’s a constant adjustment to ensure just the right stuff is coming through. Twitter can get pretty chatty and it would be crazy to update your Facebook status that often. Some speak of Twitter as a mind-state versus Facebook as a life-state. That’s true for some. And for some, it’s only true sometimes. Humans are a pretty diverse mob. But for me, whether it’s something interesting I thought, saw, read or did, the final decision to send it to Facebook is largely about whether I think any of my friends will be interested. Also, since I don’t yet have an iPhone (or in fact a phone with internet or email access), I can’t update my Facebook status when I’m out and about. I can, however, send an SMS to Twitter and have it go through to Facebook if it’s relevant to my Facebook friends. So, Twitter is essentially the best path to get information from me to the internet at large. In that sense, things that I might have posted purely to Facebook are travelling through Twitter as well.

If you’re reading this and still all riled up that your friends are posting things to Facebook and it’s all just getting too much, I have an idea for you. Create a Facebook friends lists for “People I don’t follow elsewhere” and filter out the noise. Or just follow them via Facebook.

The point of all this is that there are many people out there who have realised that Facebook is where people go to find out about friends and that if we’re to supply these friends with the information they’re looking for then it’s best put on Facebook by us. There’s no point expecting people try to keep track of their own friends – we just have to take the information to where they’ll read it.

Image Credit: MagerLeagues

Twitter says “Hello Mikeyy”

Watching Twitter at the moment is quite interesting as the Mikeyy worm is going around for the fourth time. TechCrunch has an update on how to get rid of it, but the gist is “Change your url, bio & hex colours, then log in/out and clear cache/cookies. To avoid infection, don’t look at people’s profiles in Twitter. Don’t follow any shortened links as they often point to infected profiles. “

Sadly, for the people who have an infection in their username, they are probably going to lose their username if they change their url. I hope they can get their names back later.

There are other interesting things afoot. Mikeyy very recently posted his phone number and said Twitter should hire him. Perhaps this is true – it can be very sensible to hire the people who know how to hack your system. But Twitter users are starting to suggest calling this number en masse as a form of internet vigilantism. Could get messy.

But, what I find really interesting is that Twitter can’t seem to fix this in any hurry. Mikeyy obviously isn’t malicious. He has power over a lot of accounts right now and isn’t doing anything too nasty (yet). But he has the potential to turn nasty and wreak havoc for Twitter. But, Mikeyy is just the warning. I bet a whole heap of nasty people are watching this worm with glee and planning their evil takeover.

Worse still, what if the super-nasties make their worm look just like Mikeyy? What if the response is a lot of people going “Don’t worry, just log out and clear your cookies” when it’s actually a far more serious threat?

Socialmoth is now SpeedDate? WTF?

It’s Christmas day and all of a sudden I get an email to say that my Facebook profile shows me as having a dating app on my profile. Seriously, how many people do you think will have a hard time explaining this to their spouses?

Thanks for using Socialmoth Secrets. We are excited to announce that, as of next week, Socialmoth Secrets’s name and functionality will be changed to SpeedDate. Data entered into the original app won’t be used anymore. Soon you’ll be able to try SpeedDate, the fastest way to meet new people, so stay tuned!
Thanks,
Socialmoth Secrets

P.S. If you want to opt-out of this app, instructions can be found here.

By the time I received the email the SpeedDate app was listed as one of my apps. It looks like what they’ve done in reality is to subscribe all Socialmoth users to their new app, SpeedDate, and then plan to delete the SocialMoth app in the next week.

I think Facebook should have a few more rules about what an application is allowed to do. Especially when it comes to changing the name and/or the fundamental nature of what the app is about. Socialmoth (which was kind of like Postsecret for Facebook) just changed to SpeedDate. Hell, Facebook doesn’t let people change the names of groups – even if they spell something wrong! Why should an app be allowed to change so drastically? Facebook should make apps stick to the same strict rules as groups.. or at least have their name change approved by Facebook.

The trick of subscribing all current users to a new app should also be banned.

Seriously.

I believe that by changing the name and nature of the application from SocialMoth to SpeedDate they have falsely represented themselves. I think this counts as a violation of the Facebook Application Developer Terms and Conditions. I strongly recommend that anyone who was a Socialmoth user reports both SocialMoth and SpeedDate.

What trends can we see developing online?

Today we’re going to get a little more serious about analysing current online trends. This should give you something to chat about with the lawyers at that dinner party this weekend, k? Right, let’s get into it…

Social
There has been a huge uptake of people using social networks in the past few years. Facebook may not be perfect, but it has certainly made a difference to the way many people use the internet. Despite calls that Facebook is merely a directory it still proves popular and there are still a lot of people who haven’t joined the social networking revolution, so we’re likely to see even greater expansion in Facebook and other networks in the future. I think this is great as network size really matters. Social networks are also great for teens “trying on” identities for size. However, this might not be such great news for those wanting privacy, or wanting to avert social or social networking disasters, but that’s life.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image by via CrunchBase

The divides are building between the various networks and the haves and have-nots (not to be confused with rich and poor), with significant evidence to prove that one is better off when utilising social networking habitually compared to those who don’t use online social networks. Use of social networks also seem to be teaching poorer kids essential web-based skills, such as basic html and graphic manipulation, thus helping them gain basic skills for future employment. Other studies are merely keen to note the changes in writing as a person realises they are in the public eye.

Web 2.0 Networking
We will see further interoperability between websites as there is currently a movement away from the “walled garden” syndrome. No-one wants to be seen as the only site that won’t share. That is, of course, except Facebook which is the reason the term “walled garden” was brought into web 2.0 usage.

Twitter hashtags are a great user innovation, co-ordinating disasters with ease. I’m sure we’ll see far more of this as time goes on.

Entertainment
The recent popularity of social bookmarking has paved the way for entertainment via RSS feed. And while more everyday people realise why the geeks have relied on RSS feed readers for so long, there is a sudden explosion in RSS aggregators, such as Popurls.com, which take popular feeds and show you what’s interesting on the net today.

Easy to find MP3s online – Still Alive by Jonathan Coulton

Even more exciting is the developments in internet radio, TV and movies on demand. With Last.fm working to create a personalised radio for each user, plus social network video such as Youtube, Vimeo, Hulu and Blink.tv.

Access
Cloud computing is becoming the norm, as people want access to their email, files, bookmarks from wherever they are. Combined with this, there is a massive increase in people using mobile phones, iPhones, PDAs and wirelessly connected laptops to access the internet. This convergence and subsequent increased mobility drastically increases the connectivity of the average person. It will lead to demand in web apps specifically designed for the mobile-connected person, which will ultimately be a whole lot of fun.

Business
Finally, we are seeing businesses and politicians getting involved with social networking. It is giving them the eyes and ears they have sorely needed for decades, however there are a few bumps and wrinkles still to iron out. All the really fun developments are in looking for work, virtual job interviews and online freelance jobs.

.. And the magic 8-ball says

Christian Heldt, licensed by Creative Commons
Will iPhones take over the world?
.. And the magic 8-ball says: Hmmmmm… Outlook good.

Well, iPhones and millions of similar phones trying to achieve the exact same thing will take over the world.

It seems only yesterday I began to wonder how I would live without a mobile phone. Now it seems I’m handicapped by not having an iPhone or similar, with me wherever I go.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image by via CrunchBase

Internet and phone technology is converging so rapidly that they’ve nearly swapped places. I use my phone to update Twitter and my computer to make VOIP phone calls.

It’s all to do with timeliness and price. There’s no point telling twitter “Hey, I went to a great place this afternoon.” Twitter is about NOW. You want to be saying “Oh wow. I”m at this huge castle and it’s fantastic!”. You’ve got to stay current. Plus, you’ve got to give those cubicle-dwellers something to be jealous about.

As for phones, who would pay commercial rates when you can pay AU$15/month to call anywhere in the world via Skype? That’s cheaper than the line rental on most landline phones. As long as you can get your internet access without needing a landline, you’re pretty much set*.

But it’s even more involved than just this. People are posting audio blog posts via mobile phone, iPhones and Blackberrys let people easily** check email, bank accounts, social networks and just about any other website. So, the conversation is not just one-sided anymore. People stuck in bars can conveniently talk to their real life friends online while they wait for douchebag real-life friends to turn up late. All this rather than talking to the hottie at the bar. It makes so much sense now that I put it that way.

Pointlessness aside, this really means that people can stay somewhat mentally connected while physically roaming the world. No more Saturday nights staying at home waiting for the phone to ring – oh wait, that’s the 80’s. No more Saturday nights at home messing around on Facebook! Time to get out there and live a little!

* Although Skype do state that they are not a replacement for a real phone and should not be relied upon for emergency calls. So, keep a mobile handy.
** It’s true that you can do this on old clunkers too, but it’s just EFFORT.

Arrr, but I’m not a pirate!

iTunes
Image via Wikipedia

Copyright material is, on the whole, controlled by companies who are still stuck in the dark ages. They want to maintain the rights and ownership forever – even when you purchase a physical CD!

These companies are clearly not listening to what the customers and the artists want. Which is a great shame for them, as there is a potential for big money for them if they take notice.

What customers want:

  • Cheap products
  • Near-instant availability
  • Quality products
  • Ample choice
  • Permanent ownership rights

That’s pretty much it. I’m sitting around late on a Monday night and I remember that track I heard on the radio this morning. I search for the snippet of lyrics I can recall, work out what song it is and who it’s by. I then want to own it. I’m quite happy to pay $1 for it. But I want it NOW. I want it on my iPod and I want to listen to it tomorrow when I go out. I also don’t want to get screwed over when I reinstall Windows or upgrade iTunes. I want to own the track and for that to be it.

The same goes for movies and TV. I don’t want to wait until show x is on TV. I’m not rearranging my social schedule to watch TV. No-one owns VCRs anymore and I’m not rich enough for a set-top box that can record. Hell – I’m a student. What I want is to be able to download the movie or next season of the show that I’m in the mood for that night. I’m willing to pay a bit. Maybe $5 to hire or $10 to own. But I want it NOW, in good quality and for it to be mine forever (except if I was hiring). No games – that just won’t hold with me.

So, okay. Let’s see what the artists want:

  • Exposure (especially to the right audience)
  • Some income (sometimes more)
  • Fans who will come to their gigs

Seems to me that making it easy for fans to get hold of their stuff would benefit them a great deal. Just think of all those late night $10 impulse-buy spends by teens who are desperate to be up with the next big thing.

Right. That’s settled. So, what about the labels and studios. What do they want?

  • Lots and lots of money
  • To have control over everything forever and ever
  • To get paid every time someone hums a tune

Well, something’s got to give. Face it. They don’t really have control at the moment, which is why they’re in uproar about filesharing. It’s time to try something new.

For starters, they need to get music, TV and movies online ready to be purchased before they start hyping them. This also means you need to have TV ready to download at the same time as it’s aired on TV. Any later than that and half of your potential paying customers just downloaded it for free from someone that taped it digitally and stuck the torrent up as soon as the show finished. You annoyed your fans by not having something they could buy, so they got what they wanted for free. These people might go and buy the box set down the track, but they’re not going to go back and buy a (possibly DRM controlled) digital copy a week later when you finally get it online.

This timeline goes for the whole world, too. Australians want to see the next episode of “Lost” just as much as the Americans. If they can’t buy it before that first torrent goes up then you’ve lost them. Here’s a thought: Let people buy the digital version BEFORE you play it on TV. Let TV be the second-best option for people who can’t be bothered forking out the cash. I am absolutely certain you will make more money this way.

I get the feeling that labels and studios could make many millions by offering the sorts of payment options tried and tested in other industries over the years:

  • Pay-per-view
  • Periodic rental (one day or one week)
  • Subscription with caps (either by size or by dollar value of the media)
  • Unlimited subscriptions
  • Subscription to a radio or video stream (sort of like TV)

There are many ways to stop people sharing the files once they’ve got them:

  • Digital signature (If I know my name and email address are encrypted in that file I won’t be giving it to anyone)
  • Time or usage-locks (such as the ones used by trial software – offer rentals in a special format that will only work with a specific player)
  • Prosecute the people who are sharing the material (rather than targeting the ones that download it).

The labels could be making a fortune by doing things right. Most pirating only occurs because people can’t buy what they want when they want it. They have products that the people want – let them have it!