facebook logoDing dong, the witch known as Beacon is dead.

According to CNET, Facebook has finally killed off one of the most controversial online advertising platforms ever launched.  To be honest, I was more surprised it was even still active.

Nearly two years ago, Facebook launched Beacon which was to be a way for activities you did on sites outside of Facebook to automatically be shared in your Facebook news feed.  The problem with it was that it was quite often done without the Facebook users knowing it would happen, so potentially embarrassing and private information could quickly be known to all of your friends on the popular social network.

It was an ill-fated idea from day one, and was such a horrendous failure that a class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook, and there is still a $9.5 million judgement awaiting final approval by a judge.

As someone who was very heavy into tech news blogging when this project launched, all I can say is good riddance.  It was a horrible idea, and it still amazes me no one at Facebook ever said, “You know, this might be a bad idea…”.  Sharing information from third-party sites without explicitly warning the user it was going to happen?  Brilliant!

Categories: Facebook, Opinion   

google voice logoThe insanity that is the rejection of the Google Voice application by Apple for inclusion in the iPhone app store just gets odder with each passing day.

For those of you haven’t been following this drawn out battle, earlier this summer Google submitted an application for its Google Voice service to Apple.  This application was to be reviewed for inclusion in the iPhone and iPod Touch application store, but was ultimately rejected for unknown reasons.  What followed was a blame game of epic proportions with AT&T also being dragged in as the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States.  The fight got to such a level that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to step in and start asking questions of all the parties involved as to what exactly happened.

As the war of words continued, things have now escalated even more as Google has decided to broadcast its reply to the FCC that does not paint Apple in a very favorable light.  You can read the full reply at the FCC site (PDF link), but it boils down to Google is saying this is 100 percent on Apple’s head for just being stuck in the mud’s over the fact they felt the new app would duplicate core portions of the iPhone’s functionality.

The issue here is that many consumers are crying out for the iPhone to be open and that it should run any software that is put out for it without question.  Some are even using the analogy that what if Microsoft told you what you can and can not run on your Windows based computer?  You’ve paid for the item, it belongs to you, you should have complete control over what you use it to do.  Well, I have another analogy for you … how much luck are you having running a Nintendo Wii game on your Microsoft Xbox 360?  I mean, you’ve paid for it, you own it, you should be able to run anything you want on it, right?

When you purchase an item such as a video game console or a cell phone, you are making a conscience choice that some higher power has a say over what software you are going to be allowed to run on it.  For Google, or consumers for that matter, to say that the government should force a company to allow certain things on to its equipment is ridiculous.  You are making a decision, a hopefully informed one, before you make that purchase.  No one forced you to buy an iPhone, you chose to buy it.  No one forced you to choose it over the other options out there, you decided to go with a phone manufactured by Apple, powered by Apple and ultimately serviced by Apple.

The government should have no say in such a situation.

Categories: Apple, Google, Mobile Phones, Opinion   

keysIf some security experts have their way, you may soon need a license to log on to the Internet.

It’s all in the name of “protecting” you, but there are people in Europe and Australia that think it might be a good idea for you to have a license to surf the Internet.

The theory is a simple one: there are people on the Internet who want to defraud you, and you should be required to take a class to learn to avoid these situations prior to being allowed on the Web.  At least that is the idea that Dr. Russel Smith, principal criminologist at the Australian Institute of Criminology, has been saying to iTnews.

While it seems his heart is in the right place, Dr. Smith is simply going too far with such a concept.  The majority of Internet fraud concerns can be solved with a short pamphlet that Internet service providers (ISPs) could send out to customers when they sign up.  Essentially it boils down to three things:

  • Never give out your password or personal info
  • Never send money to someone
  • Never use a credit card on a suspicious looking site

There, you’ve just earned your “license”.

Dr. Smith attempts to make an analogy between driving a car and controlling a computer, both items being dangerous machines, but it just comes off as lame.  Yes, the Internet can be a big scary place, but just because a handful of people get defrauded each year doesn’t mean that the hundreds of millions of other people on the Internet should have to jump through hoops to use their own computers.

You know what else is dangerous?  Guns.  But you don’t have to take a safety course before buying one.

You know what else is dangerous?  Alcohol.  But you don’t have to take a course before you drink.

You know what else is dangerous?  Smoking.  But you don’t have to take a course before you buy a pack of cigarettes.

I think you get the picture.

Categories: Internet, Opinion, Security   

BrodyPRLogoThe best policy for any public relations firm trying to promote a client’s new book about working with social media is to not annoy the living heck out of the press.

Due to all of the blogs I work for, I get a tremendous amount of press releases in my email every day. Due to this fact, I thought nothing of the email I got from Brody Public Relations at 7:42 AM on Thursday to promote a book called Guide to Social Media For Small Business.  Just your standard release about a book about how a small business can use services like Twitter, LinkedIn and so on to get their business name out there.

The weirdness started at 8:00 AM when I got another email about it.  This time it was someone wanting to write about it.  Odd, but not anything to get worked up over.

Then another email came in at 8:37 AM…

… and 8:40 AM

… another arrived at 8:43 AM

Now they were turning in to emails from various members of the press saying they didn’t want to receive any more emails from this list.  All told I got 45 emails through out the day from this email disaster.  I especially enjoyed when I started getting support ticket emails from tech support because people couldn’t get the list to unsubscribe them.

Normally this might not have bothered me, but I was driving several hundred miles yesterday, and all my emails were set to go to my BlackBerry.  So all day long my phone sat in the passenger seat of my car, just vibrating away as each email came in.

It wasn’t even so much Brody Public Relations that annoyed me as the people who kept replying to the list even after they saw what was happening.  People kept saying that they need to do something to get off the list yada yada.  Did you ever think about composing a new email since Ms. Brody’s email address was in the press release?  How about calling her on the phone since she also listed her number to let her know?  No, instead people just kept hitting “reply”, and it just kept spinning further and further out of control.

So, not only was I annoyed by the original situation, but I get annoyed at my fellow bloggers who just kept spinning this thing further out of control.

Folks, if you see something isn’t working, don’t just keep hitting the button!

Categories: Opinion   

mailIf you’re to believe senior officials at the United States Postal Service, we are in the end times and that nasty, evil Internet is to blame!

According to an article from The Washington Post, the United States Postal Service is seeing its volume drop off so fast that even after an increase in rates earlier this year, there will be a loss posted for this year.  To try to combat these losses the service is removing over 100,000 drop off boxes that receive less than 25 pieces of mail per day, cutting office hours, combining delivery routes, placing hiring and raise freezes and lobbying congress to let them reduce home delivery days from six days a week to just five.

While the tone of the article, and various statements by senior postal officials, all seem to point to the reason being the Internet and email, but I think that is disingenuous at best.  There is no denying that it is indeed having some effect as people are paying bills online, sending ecards as opposed to physical birthday cards and so on, but there are also a lot of financial reasons for people to no longer send mail.

Big Dogs, one of the advertisers here on StarterTech, has stopped mailing out printed catalogs citing printing and postage costs.  Banks are reducing mailing volume in droves, and are even mentioned in the original article we linked to as desperately trying to get away from sending any mail at all.  I can speak from a personal point of view that just yesterday the only piece of snail mail I received was my copy of The Wall Street Journal.  I can not tell you the last time I received only 1 piece of mail or none at all.  We normally are drowning in the amount of mail we receive here at the StarterTech office, but the volume has been steadily declining.

There is also the aspect that companies are making an effort to go more green, and any reduction in the amount of paper used is certainly a step in that direction.

Something the Postal Service needs to consider is that raising the price for postage while also reducing the number of services customers get for their money may also be a factor.  Reducing the number of delivery days?  That’s another factor that certainly will factor into how much people want to use the service.  ”Gee, I can send an email that will get there in seconds, or can I send it by snail mail and… oops, my drop box is gone… oops, my office closed before I got there… oops, it didn’t make it there before the weekend.”

Increasing prices will reducing services is not usually a formula for success when you have a competitor that is about as close to free as you can get.

Categories: Internet, Opinion   

iphone 3gsWhen cell phone carriers and handset manufacturers make exclusive deals there are always losers. Sometimes it is consumers, sometimes it is the handset manufacturers, and the only solid winner is the carrier.  However, it is beginning to look like these sorts of deals may become more and more a thing of the past, but expect the carriers to fight it tooth and nail.

While this has been a common complaint of cell phone users for years now, it has picked up some significant momentum ever since the initial release of the Apple iPhone in 2007.  With AT&T having already extended the exclusive deal to 2010, and now looking to extend it even further, Senators have requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) look into the impact of exclusie deals on consumers as well as cell phone manufacturers.  The three biggest areas of concern are:

  • Are rural users being shut out of the latest technology because the majors’ networks don’t reach them?
  • Do exclusive deals limit access to technology?
  • Do they discourage innovation?

While all are good questions, there are also questions of pricing being effected by the lack of competition, and the current question of overall service issues.

We already covered how AT&T was lagging behind other countries in adding MMS and tethering for the iPhone, but now the biggest complaint is just a general level of sub-par service.  MG Siegler of TechCrunch, who is possibly one of the biggest self confessed Apple/iPhone fan boys on the planet, is saying that if Apple does not break away from AT&T at the end of the current 2010 exclusivity that he will either change phones or hack his phone to work with another carrier.

Earlier this week it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel as Verizon said it would end exclusivity deals after six months, but after you got past the headline you discovered it was about the most empty gesture in history.  While it is true that Verizon will allow other cellular carriers sell its exclusive handsets after only six months, it will only apply to carriers that hae 500,000 or less subscribers.  Seeing as the four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, TMobile, Verizon) control 86% of the market in the United States, this basically that Cecil’s Rural Cellular and Bait Shop will be about the only carriers able to take advantage of this decision.

Hopefully this is something the FCC will look into, although it is surprising it hasn’t done so sooner than this.  While it is certain that the iPhone is the most obvious example of the problem, there are plenty of other exclusive phone deals that are just as infuriating, such as the Palm Pre only being on Sprint.

The best way for consumers to let the world know how you do feel about this is to simply vote with your pocketbooks.  On a personal level, I’ve wanted an iPhone since the day it was announced, but due to my deep hatred of AT&T, I carry a BlackBerry on Sprint’s network along with an iPod Touch.  Who loses here?  Well, me on one level, but also Apple as they have lost a sale.  I am not alone in my feelings so by Apple or any other handset manufacturer signing these deals, and while there is no doubt that they have made a tremendous amount of money from the device, but couldn’t they be making more if it was offered to more carriers?  Sure it was a nice deal when the iPhone needed to gain ground in the highly competitive market, the same for Palm signing with Sprint, but the launches are over, it’s time to move on, and it’s time to end those sorts of deals as a whole.

Categories: Cell Phones, Mobile Phones, Opinion   

amazon kindle dxOn July 17th, 2009, some owners of the Amazon Kindle ebook reader awoke to find out that books they had purchased from the seller had been deleted from their devices, and their accounts credited for the purchase. What followed is a fascinating study in ownership in the digital age.

The story boils down to that an unkown third-party uploaded copies of Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell using the self-service platform.  It has now been brough to Amazon’s attention that there were unauthorized copies by the legal owners of the copyrights to those works.  Amazon took the action of remotely deleting the works from each Kindle that had downloaded them, and a $.99 refund (the original purchase price) was placed into each account holders credit.

Amazon has stated they they have now taken steps that will not allow this to happen agaian, but how exactly they can assure that has not been disclosed.

This issue raises some very serious question about ownership in the digital age.  Imagine if Barnes & Noble had bout copies of these books not knowing they were illegal knock offs.  The copyright holder comes to them and informs them of this, are we then to expect employees of the book store coming into our homes in the middle of the night to take the book and leave us a check?  Of course we wouldn’t tolerate that, but in the day and age of downloadable media this seems perfectly okay.

Similiar issues have been raised about people who purchase music with Digital Rights Management (DRM) encoded into it.  Most people do not realize that a signal is occasionally sent back to the companies servers you purchased the song from to verify it.  If that company should go out of business, their servers shut down and your music has no way to verify itself… you now have useless music files.  This is part of the reason people have been calling out for an end to the draconian DRM system, but of course the music industry is fighting this tooth and nail.

Back to the current dilemna of Amazon, basically Amazon has just put all Kindle users on notice that they do not own these books they are purchasing.  Fred Von Lohmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, looked into the terms of service Amazon set up for the Kindle, and what he found was that they never say you own your purchases, but they also never state they can take them away. Sure Amazon has said that this won’t happen again, but, really, what is to stop them?

The idea of digital media is very appealing, but until things like this are sorted out 100%, it makes me quite leery of trusting my library of books, movies and music to the concept.

Categories: Opinion   

iphone 3gsIf there was ever any question that AT&T isn’t the right carrier partner for Apple’s iPhone, it’s pretty much been proven today.

While other countries were able to offer Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) the same day the iPhone 3G S launched on June 19th, it was known from the day the product was announced that AT&T would be late to the party. The belief was that the ability to send media via text messaging would show up some time in July, but it has now been confirmed that the feature will not show up until September at the earliest.  Why in the world it is taking a minimum of three months to get a feature a goodly portion of the world got on launch date is unkwnon.

The second missing feature at AT&T is tethering.  This is the ability to connect your iPhone to your computer via Bluetooth and use it as a modem to connect to the Internet.  Again, this is something the rest of the world is already enjoying, but it is still currently missing from the American version of the device.  To add to the pain of the missing ability, rumors circulated today that AT&T was going to charge an extra $55 a month for the ability on top of the current data plan.  The company contacted SlashGear to say that tethering to let them know that there would be an extra charge to use the feature, but that the price had not yet been decided upon.

Is it any wonder that both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice want to look into exclusive phone deals to see if they violate anti-trust laws?  AT&T is a perfect example of how lack of competition can lead to a lack of innovation and unfair pricing.  So what if AT&T hasn’t added MMS yet?  What are you going to do, switch to the iPhone over at Verizon?  Think AT&T is charging too much for tethering?  Might as well get the iPhone Sprint is offering!

Oh, wait… you can’t do either of those things.

While the iPhone is the most obvious example of the problem with mobile carrier exclusivity, there are of course plenty of other examples: the Palm Pre at Sprint is probably the other most notable case that people bring up.  Will it would solve all of our problems if exclusivity ended?  Probably not, but it would sure make a lot more sense since we are in a capitalist society supposedly.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of other problems in this country at this time, and a lot of things the government needs to be working on, but this is a situation that will definitely need to be addressed at some point.

Categories: Apple, Mobile Phones, Opinion   

microsoft-officeIf the rumors are to be believed, this coming Monday could see Microsoft taking the wraps off an online version of its Office software.

People have been wondering where the online version of Office has been for a while now, and if the rumors are to be believed, then we will see the official announcement of the product on Monday at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.

What does this mean to you as a consumer?  Well, we’ll know more on Monday, but it’s thought that you will be able to synchronize documents back and forth to the online version of the application and your desktop so that no matter which version you choose to use to do your work you will always have the latest version at the ready.

It is fairly obvious this is a direct strike out at Google Documents which has been gaining a small portion of the office application market, but not enough to truly make Microsoft worry.  The thing that Microsoft has to realize is that it isn’t so much the online nature of Google Docs that appeals to people as it is the fact it’s free.  No matter which version of Office you buy, it is an expensive proposition; even if you qualify for the student version, it isn’t cheap.

Seeing as the StarterTech offices currently has 4 laptops and 6 desktops to maintain, buying Office for each and every system was just no longer an option.  On our non-mission critical systems we opted to only use Google Docs to try to save ourselves dropping another load of cash on yet another copy of Office.  Sure Docs isn’t quite perfect, but it gets the job done.

So while it’s nice that Microsoft is finally acknowledging the growing trend of the online computing community, perhaps they should be thinking more about price than features.

Categories: Microsoft, Opinion   

gmail drag and dropIt only took five years, but it seems someone at Google’s Gmail finally learned about something called “drag and drop”.

As if it wasn’t odd enough that Google decided to call the orginizationl folders people are used to in mail programs by the name of “labels”, they had an archaic way of filing your emails by using drop down menus.  Well, at long last not only did someone figured out the mystery of “drag and drop” functionality, they also decided to add a new feature that wasn’t part of Labs, meaning you had to activate it yourself!  What a concept as of late for them.

Labels are now locked to the left side of the screen, and one merely need to click on an email and then drag it to the appropriate label to file it.  You can also do the reverse by dragging the label name to the email.

This is something that Gmail has needed for years, and this is a very welcome addition to a service that we here at StarterTech already love.

Categories: Google, Opinion   
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