Twitter and Social Networking

Five weeks ago I started using Twitter. I didn’t know what to really do with it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. After five weeks, I’ve realized that I enjoy Twitter far more than any other social networking site. I always had a strong dislike for MySpace. It seemed pointless and obnoxious. I normally am an advocate for letting consumers do what they want with a product, but I don’t think I go out on a limb too much to say that it was a mistake of MySpace to enable millions of pre-teens, teens, and young adults with zero design sense with the power to control almost all aspects of a site’s color palette and media content. I’m not sure how many eyeballs have melted due to poorly “decorated” MySpace pages, but I’m sure it’s a very high number. Facebook always seemed rather pointless to me but at least it wasn’t obnoxious (until all those bleeding apps started popping up). However, I just never got into Facebook. Fundamentally it was boring. I generate new cyber-connections with people I already know, some of them who I haven’t seen in years, but that’s about it. Beyond the novelty of being discovered by old friends and following status updates, Facebook offers very little for me. Facebook did always have that perplexingly simple feature: the poke. I’m still not entirely sure what the acceptable use of the poke is except to start a poke war with somebody. I’ve been engaged in one poke fight for nearly a year.

I’ve always been skeptical of the longevity and the business model of social networking sites. Sure the big sites are worth lots of money and have a high number of users, but they barely turn a profit. The most mature (in a business sense) site, MySpace, barely made a profit last year, and most people are saying MySpace’s growth is getting cut by Facebook. Which highlights the main problem with making money out of social networking sites: the primary user base is young, fickle consumers with little money. Not only does it take a lot of bandwidth to keep these user’s eyeballs on the page, they are also probably going to be less likely to buy anything and will move on as soon as there is a new hotness to play with (c.f. Facebook’s meteoric rise which most likely comes at MySpace’s expense). The only thing these sites have going for them is they are a marketing gold mine. It’s tens of millions of users telling large corporations exactly what they are doing, what they like to do, what movies they watch, what music they listen to, how old they are, where they live, and at what stage of life they are in. It’s like Google’s AdSense on roids. Maybe this ability to do surgically precise advertising will save the social web behemoths, but I’m skeptical. Anyway, I’ve drifted off topic.

So, back to Twitter. Twitter is actually interesting. Interesting to the point that I go out of my way to somehow get my Twitter fix. Luckily, Twitter makes it easy for me since the main purpose of Twitter, reading and writing tweets, is available to me by nearly every piece of communication technology I use throughout the day: text message, IM, web site, and mobile web site. I have to be completely cut off from technology and wireless signals to not be able to get my Twitter on. The mere fact that Twitter is capable of getting me to adjust to it makes me think it is on to something (I’m not the only one). And though I have a goal of at least one tweet a day, I’m no hardcore Twitter user. Twitter is just so much more engaging (to the point of vowing to use it daily). I come back to the little text blurbs that my followees generate much more often than I go to Facebook, despite Facebook’s much more robust feature set and media capabilities. I generally go to Facebook either out of sheer boredom or because I haven’t updated my status in over a week. With Twitter, I’m constantly either refreshing the page or reading my RSS feed. I may even start having most of the updates sent to me via text. To be fair Twitter is still new to me so maybe my interest will wane, but I was never this interested in Facebook, except for maybe the first day I made my profile. All this being said, there is a critical mass problem with Twitter. Not a lot of people are using it currently, and even fewer are active users. So, most users have difficulty finding an “audience” or people to follow. And it’s not just following people, but finding interesting people to follow. If you don’t have interesting people with whom to interact, then Twitter largely loses its value since it’s significantly less about self-promotion. I personally enjoy following people as they share their thoughts, progress on projects, and life in general. That may make me sound creepy and lonely, but I think the rest of my life demonstrates the opposite.

iLoveit

The iPhone is a stunning device. It’s astonishing to me that not only does the iPhone live up to the majority of the hype but also that Apple got it so right on the very first try. Handset manufacturers everywhere better be very very embarrassed. Some have been making phones for 20 years, and their phones still lag far behind Apple’s Jesusphone.

The iPhone has many virtues the most important is it’s user interface. The interface! The pure slickness of the interface is superb and smothered in smooth GUI butter. The brilliant, colorful, clear display makes the whole phone look like one big candy bar of sweet silicon-based goodness. It’s a marvel to see. There are other fine features too such as the multi-touch and the intuitive yet surprising implementations in many of the apps. For example, you just need to play with the maps application. It’s slicker than anything else I’ve seen.

Sure, there are some flaws and shortcomings on the iPhone, but I think most of them can be fixed with minor and inexpensive hardware additions or software updates:

  • I’m just not convinced that the touchscreen virtual keyboard is going to hack it for power users. There’s not enough tactile feedback to give the user the confidence to whiz through a text message. Though there are audio cues when a keypress is logged and Apple smartly made it so the keystroke registers when the finger is lifted (rather than pressed), it’s still an inferior functional experience than a normal button-based keypad. I do have faith that Apple can improve this, but it may take a lot.
  • Limits on communication flexibility. No MMS, no multi-recipient SMS, and no IM (what?!). My guess is all of these will be resolved by Christmas.
  • Weak external speakers. When it rings, it just doesn’t sound as clear and nice as it should. It was easy to get the speakers to distort the sound.
  • Weak camera. “So, what complements an awesome photo viewer and top-notch screen? Oh, I know, a sub-par camera! Stick one of those suckers on there.” It seems that was the design philosophy at that stage of iPhone development.
  • Proprietary speaker jack. The user is forced to use official earphones rather than any hundreds of other normal headphones. This is a mistake (though a very profitable mistake) that many other handset manufacturers are finally figuring out. It’s lame to see Apple, who is so user focused, start down the wrong path right out of the gates.
  • Closed system that only allows approved 3rd party apps and web-based apps. This is fine just as long as Apple has the coolest stuff out there. But there are a lot of functional apps that will never make it to the iPhone because Apple chose to lock everything down. I believe Apple will lose this fight and will eventually switch to a more open development environment. This will probably occur either when a very competitive phone comes out that’s more open or the consumer mind-set finally sees the mobile phone as a computer in his or her pocket. I think we’ll see the former scenario first, but the second is inevitable and ultimately will be a more powerful force in the market.

All of this being said, would I buy an iPhone if it could be reliably unlocked? Almost definitely. The thing is amazing and will hopefully revolutionize how mobile phones are made.

Oh, and here’s some irony for you. UGH.

Sorting through the past, looking to the future

Happy Memorial Day!

I’ve been spending most of the day cleaning up around my apartment. It wasn’t overly messy, but a lot of stuff just had been stacking up over the months. For example, I still get a lot of paper bills and statements. I don’t pay much attention to these because I keep nearly all of my financial interactions restricted to the sphere of the electronic. I’ve found shifting money out of my bank account is much less painful if it’s just clicking cyberbuttons. I’m comfortable with clicking these buttons, and, not to sound like a braggart, but I excel at clicking these buttons. Today I sorted and filed about three months worth of Important Things on Dead Trees. I’m glad I did, because I found two checks I can cash for close to $100. I also found an unused iTunes Music Store gift card. Not bad for a day’s work. Though my joy is a bit tempered because I found one bill and one membership fee I have to pay, which brings it down to a net loss. Perhaps my life would be better if I just let things be.

I’ve been trying to live pretty cheap these days in effort to pay off the loan I took out for that law school debacle. I’ve been pretty successful so far, and I’m optimistic that I will have it paid off by mid-October. I think I could get it paid off even sooner, like the end of August, but that would mean I’d have to live even more frugally and delay a vacation I’d like to take sometime in the next three months. With my loan paid off, I can start planning for the future rather than just digging myself out of the past. I aim to invest significantly in 2008 with the intention of having investments assume my primary financial focus rather than a house or condo. I have no faith in the housing market right now, I don’t want to be tied down to real estate, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have the maturity and patience to actually take care of a house. Besides, a one bedroom apartment is sufficient to remind me of how single my life is; a half-populated house would weigh far too heavily on my fragile emo ego.

Anyway, I also want to get something like this next year too:

Or:

I love the sound of a supercharger winding up over the deep roar of a 400+ HP V8.

T-Mobile wins!

T-Mobile won big again in J.D. Power awards for 2007!

Here are the 2007 overall rankings (for Volume I, that is):

* Northeast: T-Mobile
* Mid-Atlantic: T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless (tie)
* Southeast Region: Alltel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless (tie)
* North Central Region: AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless (tie)
* Southwest Region: T-Mobile
* West Region: T-Mobile

Looks like this is just for Q1, but it’s nice to be on pretty much the highest ranked carrier in the US. It’s even nicer to be working for it. Read here for more details.

Taste my bitter tears

Unrequited love often turns to bitterness. Sometimes even a foul bitterness that can only boil up from the evil brew festering deep within man’s black heart. Such has my love for the iPhone become. How fickle is my nerd heart!

The iPhone is absurdly expensive if you factor in Cingular’s outrageous data and voice charges. Look, I don’t care if the iPhone can double as a totally excellent girlfriend, I’m not paying nearly $2000 a year for a stupid phone. For that much money I’d rather get an oQo 2, which I’m not going to get. By the way, T-Mobile’s data charges are significantly cheaper than Cingular’s for pretty much the same network in terms of speed unless you’re in one of the few select markets with 3G already. Of course, the iPhone itself will become cheaper. I’m sure within a year there will be several models and only the top end will remain obscenely expensive.

Cingular’s exclusivity contract is rumored to end in 2009, and after head-scratchingly stupid comments like these I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple refuses to let Cingular sell their phones after the agreement expires. When a president of Cingular is crowing that they made The Steve, a man who caves to neither Big Music or Big Movies, bend to their wishes, I have to be extremely skeptical of both the veracity of his claim and his ability as any type of dealmaker. Saying the other side did all the bending is, well, poor diplomacy at best. Also, calling people who unlock phones “bad guys” is almost insulting and shows a lack of regard for users who pay money for their toys. Unlocking phones is legal, and there’s no reason they should be disparaging somebody who only wants to legally use their device on whatever carrier they choose.

So with this being said, maybe in a couple of years, when the iPhone is less of a gold-digger and stops hanging out with that a-hole of a boyfriend, Cingular, my love for it can be renewed. Until then . . . I’m using a Motorola RAZR out of sheer spite.

(links via MobilityBeat and /.)