Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

Comcast in the Kiddie Pool

Comcast gets a lot of press and most of it is bad. I still, despite my glowing praises for the Digital Media Outreach, agree with most of what’s said. The service is flaky. The content is mediocre. The price is outrageous. The hardware just plain sucks. But there are even more frustrating problems. Finally, though, I can take one of them off my list.

It seems they have decided to stick a toe into the kiddie pool of the intarweebs. You can at last get an email notification that your bill is ready. I am amazed that one of the largest communication providers in these United States has had the audacity to buck the trend of convenience by not doing what even little mom and pop shops have been doing since 1996. Any third grader with a keyboard can hammer out a quick and dirty script to send a little SMTP message to a specified email address on a specific day of the month.

I won’t get into it too deeply this time since I ranted about this in an earlier post. The long and short of it is this: Comcast has finally started coming out from under its rock and is beginning to offer some of the basic convenience services to its customers that other web enabled companies have offered for no less than 10 years. So if you have Comcast cable or internet service, you can now log into the website and sign up for email notifications for billing.

Sheesh guys, I know corporations move like slugs, but this is downright embarrasing.

Does Social Media Blend?

Dwight Silverman posted an interesting Tweet on the day of the iPhone release. He said:

I wish we could report more breaking stories the way we did the iPhone today, blending blogs, twitter, reporters, links. Soon, very soon…

…which brings up some interesting ideas. We have news aggregation sites like Digg and Slashdot. We have services like FriendFeed that aggregate information from multiple social media services. We have mashups like iGoogle. But has anyone yet put together a way to blend all of these wonderful things into a useful, intuitive interface for the creation and trafficking of breaking news stories?

Now I replied to that Tweet that we in the social media world are just getting through taking our baby steps. We haven’t quite got up to walking but we are getting there. The next phase is to make it truly mainstream. Many news sources already leverage services like Twitter to post links to new articles that appear on their site. But this is merely a scratch of the surface. Offerings like Twitter could easily be used to create “live” news articles.

Think about this: You have a new website with a system that will take an article’s owner (reporter) and allow this owner to let others expand their article with posts from Twitter/Pownce/Whatever in certain sections of the story. The article becomes a truly interactive experience that gives the reporter’s view and expands his or her words with the observations of others within the article itself. Now obviously you wouldn’t let just anyone put anything in there or you end up with John Gabriel’s GIFT(nsfw).

To avoid this you could have a system like OpenID and then the owner grants what level of access people have. Heck, this could be expanded to allow almost roundtable-like discussions. The point of this being that the next evolution of social media is the blending of more traditional news reporting with blogs and other social media services. The iPhone release could have had a parent article that featured the pic taken of Robert Scoble getting his phone with the side story from a blog about how he was allowed to cut in line (say…sent via Twitter DM to the article account) and the Twitter posts from the first guy stopped as the initial group went in to get their new shiny toys. Additional images from Flickr showcasing lines from stores in different areas could be linked in as well. This goes much further than simple comments at the end of an article. I speak of groups of web connected individuals actually building and expanding breaking news stories as they happen.

This is just one idea of what I’m sure is many that will make their way to the web soon. I’m also certain that there are far more qualified and imaginative people putting together new technologies and ideas. Some will fail but inevitably one or two of these new tools will gain some success in the next phase of the media evolution. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m looking forward to the next stage…so hurry up already and build us some tools to use.

UPDATE: It’s almost like Rule 34. I posted about it and find that STLToday.com already somewhat includes this. An example is this article about he InBev buyout of Anheuser-Busch. The first Related Link is a blog and Twitter feed basically of related stories. Found it because my little post on the deal got in there. Now we just need more articles to include this feature and more news sites to do it.

Disqus Comment System

I saw an interesting tweet from Scott Beale over at Laughing Squid today about his new comment system. He moved to Disqus and he wanted some people to test it out. So I stopped over and left a few comments and decided to sign up for a Disqus account while doing so. This is a neat little system that lets you track your comments across all sites using this system for their comments. Your profile at Disqus is used for all of them and your clout (think karma) travels from site to site with you. This could both good and bad.

I do like the centralized storage and configuration for not only my comments, but all comments on my site as well. Everything is in one place and easy to deal with. The installation on a WordPress site is really straightforward. Just download and activate the plugin and you’re done. That’s the silver lining to this cloud. The cloud itself is that there is no way right now to import any existing WordPress stored comments into Disqus. You don’t lose them. They are still in the database. But since the plugin replaces the comments section on your site, they don’t show up any longer. Oh and did I mention Disqus supports Seesmic video comments?

I understand from my reading that they are working on an import mechanism and I am eagerly waiting for the release. There have been hints that it would be released this month so they better hurry…there’s only a few days left. I’m not overly worried about it for SBR because there weren’t all that many comments to begin with. Of course, part of my laid back attitude towards this has to do with their response for enhancements and fixes. All indications are they respond really really quickly. I’ve seen nothing but praise for their efforts to make their users happy.

Hey Comcast…perhaps you should have your techs study under these guys for a while. And while you’re at it, I think both Disqus and Comcast should head over to the Demo Girl site and read this. Why? There are links that are only available if you scroll to the very bottom of the page…things like HELP. Bad web designers. No cookie for you.

Evernote Goes Live

I was first introduce to the Evernote service by Leo Laporte. He mentioned it in a TWiT podcast and the concept intrigued me. Here is a service that will let you upload text, images, web pages, whatever into online notebooks that can be synchonized with desktop client software or accessed via web browser. The really neat feature of this service is the OCR. All notes are run through OCR so you can even search your images by typing any text that appears in the picture itself. Well, after a huge invite-only beta (much like GMail), they have gone live.

Free service with Evernote is still available. It will only allow for 40MB of uploads in a month and will not have priority access to OCR services. Storage allowed is still unlimited. There is also a premium membership which gives you the choice of paying $5 a month or $45 a year (a $15 savings). This service gives you 500MB of data uploads a month and first access to OCR services and other goodies like SSL for all data transmissions.

The service has been running along smoothly for the time I’ve had my account. I use the desktop client on both my Vista and Mac systems. Personally I love the clip tool of the desktop client that lets me select a box on my screen to copy into Evernote. This is wonderful for web clips. Then it’s just add a couple of tags and sync. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the next thing Google tries to gobble is Evernote. This is exactly the kind of information organization they stand for.

Hats off to you guys for a great product and here’s looking to a bright future.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Comcast

In the long struggle with my cable service there has always been one thing that has bugged me. Comcast is arguably one of the largest communication companies in the United States. So why are they about the only company in the United States that still doesn’t have an e-bill option? They give me internet and (sometimes) cable television and can even supply me with telephone service. But I can only get my bill via snail mail. Is it really so hard to send me an email?

I would imagine with all the money Comcast makes from the gouging prices standard in the cable industry they could afford a programmer or two to write a couple of scripts to generate a little email to all subscribers that opt-in saying that their bill is ready. I mean, damn, I can view my bill at the site and I can pay it there as well. All I want is a freakin’ email telling me it’s ready to be taken care of. I’m not asking for a full blown html bill with personal information that can be stolen…just a message that says “Your Comcast bill for <date> is ready. Please visit Comcast.com to pay your bill.” I’ve got an eleven year old daughter that could probably write a script to do this.

That being said, I talked to a lady at Comcast today that said they were supposed to roll that very feature out yesterday but had a problem so it will most likely be a couple of weeks to a month before they try it again. So again I ask, what’s so hard about this? I’m making the assumption that billing information is kept in a database. So all you need is a script to run a query for a bill date and opt-in status that then generates the emails for those people and sends them out. You are planning on making a form on the site to opt in to such a thing, right? After all, I know I’m not alone in the people that have never used their Comcast.Net address.

I’m sure they want a fancy html laden beast of a message but I don’t think that people in general give a damn about how pretty it is or how much it looks like the site (which in my opinion is craptastic). Please hire some people to address this guys. I want email notifications of my bills so you can stop killing trees on my behalf. Besides, I use my inbox as a bill reminder system. Only unpaid bill emails stay there. Everything else is filed away. Anything that hits my physical mailbox is usually forgotten unless it comes from Netflix.

** If you’ve been following my service saga, I promise that I’m working on a new update post. I just need to give the latest developments a little time to simmer before I serve them up.

Rewards Cards Overload

As I am making my daily journey through the blogosphere, I ran across a post on Lifehacker about streamlining your wallet. The idea has some merit. The gist is that you put all of the barcode numbers for the 9083742987 rewards cards you have on your cell phone so you can remove a metric ton of useless paper and plastic from your wallet or purse. It has some promise but I feel it is too cumbersome to fumble through my address book for all these numbers and then have to type them in or read them out to a clerk who is most likely bored with life in general. After all, I am not putting my phone in their hands. Continue reading “Rewards Cards Overload”