Research 2.0

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Virtual STDs

A recent BBC article brings to light some of the more covert and malicious dangers of social networking and the YouTube phenomenon. The increasing popularity of video sharing destinations on the Internet have provided crackers (as an ex-software engineer, I refuse to use the word "hacker" to denote black-hat activities) and unscrupulous marketers the opportunity to proliferate malicious video codecs that install ad-ware and other viruses and trojans, often without providing any of the actual expected functionality.

This highlights the underbelly of Metcalfe's law, which states that the value (danger?) of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2).

So remember, when watching an online video passed on to you from a friend, you have now videoed with everyone that they have ever videoed with. Erstwhile online Johns had best be on their guard.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Calendar 2.0?

We're tired of new calendars. Each one coming with a slightly different assortment of features and improved eye candy. When we ask about advanced functions and smart calendar behavior we are told they are all "tough use cases" and not planned in any future releases.

A calendar knows where I am going. It's easy to map it to my address book by location. It's easy to transfer a travel reservation automatically. It's not hard to deliver time and location-aware advertising to me based on my interests and plans.

Hopefully we are moving to a stage where developers will focus on adding these functions to existing calendar interfaces, be they Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal or what have you.

There's plenty of buzz around Scrybe which does indeed look like a nice implementation of a number of personal applications. While it is worth taking a look at and considering, the issue most people have now is that they are not really looking to ditch their existing calendar. Adding advanced functions in an integrated and seamless fashion seems like a way to win users.

We moved to Google Calendar some time ago for basic features and easy sharing. There's no offline capability and data import/export is a drag. These are problems we think will be solved soon. Generally speaking there is still too much focus on building the "next thing" and not enough on making what we have work much better by implementing those "tough use cases."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Open source usability still challenging...

I know, I know... open source applications are typically used by people who really know what they are doing.

However as things like Firefox and Thunderbird become more mainstream and talk about the "Linux desktop" continues it's worth observing that even brand new (and excellent) add-in features require far too much brainpower to figure out how to use.

A recent case in point is the nifty little signature control add-in for the Thunderbird email client. We needed it badly and were surprised how much work was required to set it up. In fact we noticed that even many of the early open source adopters had run into the same problems and fortunately posted their solutions to the support pages.

Instead of being able to click on a simple "Install" button one must download and save the file, go into the Thunderbird extension manager, give the location of the file to the install dialog, restart Thunderbird and *then* it gets tricky!

You have to add the icon by going to toolbar customization. But when you try it the first time you don't see the option. Turns out you have to add it to the toolbar that comes up when you are in the sending mail context.

After you've spent the hour or two to figure it all out at least it makes logical sense. We were willing to work through what were two or three real obstacles to getting the functions working.

Most users would have stopped after 15 minutes if they even made it that far. This is the kind of thing that sends people to terrible programs like MS Outlook.

We are huge open source fans and supporters but continue to wonder why it seems so much harder than it should be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Alcatel talks video, WiMAX steam powering ALVR?

During the current broadband networking conference being held in Paris, we had a few moments to pop into hear Mike Quigley, President and COO of Alcatel (ALA), talk about their current plans around wireline networking. We also were able to soak up some general observations from walking the floor and talking to vendors.

Not surprisingly, Alcatel is focused on the growth of broadband subscribers and the need for their customers to find ways to reduce churn and operating expenses with new services and infrastructure.

There were a few interesting highlights from an annual customer survey which indicated that 9 of the top 10 opportunities are in personalization, rather than accessibility or interactivity. Although few details were shared, it was clear that quite a few had to do with video. In fact, Quigley did say that it appeared that customers were making their initial provider choice on the basis of video and then making decisions regarding other services like VoIP. No doubt based at least in part on these results the key aspects of future platforms include being optimized for video services.

More broadly it was clear from the myriad vendor presentations that every single one of them was spending a great deal to drive their own flavor of triple-play solutions into the market with improved performance and lower pricing. One thing for sure is that software and services companies like Google can rest assured that the broadband network will be in place to support the kind of software as a service architecture core to their approach.

Motorola (MOT) was mildly surprising for us although we admit to being easier to impress in networking than software. The company was showing a very impressive fiber networking platform that Verizon (VZ) has chosen to deploy as their solution. We don't normally think much of Motorola in this space but it appears that they have a pretty compelling offering here.

One of the benefits of the system they showed includes the ability to support a 20km+ distance to the end node delivering 2.4GB/sec (1.2GB upstream). Not yet single wavelengths of light into the home but pretty good from a practical standpoint.

There was also far more WiMAX deployment activity than we would have guessed, especially in Europe which seems to be a little 3G focused. Apparently WiMAX will have a major role here with some large players like France Telcom who owns the fixed market and has purchased the WiMAX spectrum to compete more effectively with the cellular providers.

A small public company, Alvarion (ALVR), has an pretty good portfolio of WiMAX technology products and early deployments. They company has a good deal of legacy non-WiMAX business, but if the excitement continues to build around WiMAX being a simpler alternative to the seven radios in every phone the Qualcomm guys power, talk about the stock will continue to do well and stand a good chance to be bought out by one of the larger networking players.