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.

The Wii on the International Cybertube Network

This is what steevak.com looks like on the Nintendo Wii:

Nothing remarkable yet, but Internet on the Wii is still in trial version. I’m sure this will be exploited well by both Nintendo and other parties (like this which makes the Wii a media center). It is pretty cool surfing YouTube and Google Video from the Wii. Now I just need a real TV for this to really be worthwhile.

Firefox 2.0 on the horizon

Firefox 2.0 hit RC2 (release candidate 2) a few days ago. In noob-speak, this means Firefox 2.0 is probably going to be hitting the virtual shelves sometime within a month. I’ve been using it the 2.0 builds at home for a couple of months now, and I haven’t had any issues except for extensions not working. Ars Technica has a nice overview of what 2.0 has. I agree with the reviewer: spellcheck alone is worth the upgrade. This was one thing I’ve been wanting for a while, especially since other OS X browsers like Safari and Camino have it supported natively. If you do use a lot of extensions, you may want to hold off on upgrading. I had to dump all of my extensions and switch to a different adblocking extension. Annoying, but that’s the price I pay for being on bleeding edge of awesome.

Google testifies

The text of Google’s testimony before Congress. After my brief skim through it, here’s the money quote for me:

The strongest argument for staying out of China is simply that Google should not cross the line of self-censorship, and should not be actively complicit in imposing any limits on access to information. To be clear, the persistence of severe access problems amid fierce competition from local alternatives suggests that the consequence of this approach would be the steady shrinking of Google’s market share ever closer to zero. Without meaningful access to Google, Chinese users would rely exclusively on Internet search engines that may lack Google’s fundamental commitment to maximizing access to information – and, of course, miss out on the many features, capabilities, and tools that only Google provides.

On the other hand, we believe that even within the local legal and regulatory constraints that exist in China, a speedy, reliable Google.cn service will increase overall access to information for Chinese Internet users. We noted, for example, that the vast majority of Internet searches in China are for local Chinese content, such as local news, local businesses, weather, games and entertainment, travel information, blogs, and so forth. Even for political discussions, Chinese users are much more interested in local Chinese Internet sites and sources than from abroad. Indeed, for Google web search, we estimate that fewer than 2% of all search queries in China would result in pages from which search results would be unavailable due to filtering.

Crucial to this analysis is the fact that our new Google.cn website is an additional service, not a replacement for Google.com in China. The Chinese-language Google.com will remain open, unfiltered and available to all Internet users worldwide.

I don’t think Google is doing anything that’s out of the ordinary in a business sense. It wants to get a foothold in a burgeoning market. It makes good business sense. However, good business sense isn’t always good moral sense, and I thought Google would do better than this.

I think Google should be free to conduct business as it sees fit. I don’t think our government should take any active roles in stopping or discouraging this. However, users and people who are deeply concerned about this have every right to get mad and call Google what it is: just another greedy company. Which brings me to point I think I should have made a while ago. Google really is a good company, and its behavior in China isn’t as heinous as Yahoo’s (which has helped 2 Chinese bloggers get jailed). However, I think the reason this agreement to censor the internet for its Chinese users is so shocking/outraging is that Google is supposed to be that quintessential good company for us geek nerd types, and quintessentially good companies don’t censor in the way China wants them to censor.

It’s a feature, not a bug

I love Netflix, but now I might have to use the past tense. I sent 2 movies in last Saturday and I’m finally getting the first replacement back today. That’s one whole week before I get a movie I normally would get 2 days after sending it in. I thought it was a glitch, so I just let it go, but that’s not the case:

“In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service,” Netflix’s revised policy now reads. The statement specifically warns that heavy renters are more likely to encounter shipping delays and less likely to immediately be sent their top choices.

Few customers have complained about this “fairness algorithm,” according to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

This throttling was brought to light by a lawsuit, which I waved off at the time because I was very happy with Netflix:

A September 2004 lawsuit cast a spotlight on the throttling issue. The complaint, filed by Frank Chavez on behalf of all Netflix subscribers before Jan. 15, 2005, said the company had developed a sophisticated formula to slow down DVD deliveries to frequent renters and ensure quicker shipments of the most popular movies to its infrequent _ and most profitable _ renters to keep them happy.

Netflix denied the allegations, but eventually revised its terms of use to acknowledge its different treatment of frequent renters.

So after nearly a year of using this wonderful service, I somehow get marked as a heavy user and get screwed. The funny thing is, my rental activity is fairly low compared to when I first got into the service. Apparently it’s not hard to get marked as a heavy user. Netflix claims that most users only get 2 to 11 movies a month. Two?! Dude, just go to Blockbuster. One of the nice features of the normal 2 day turn around time is that you know when you’d get your next movie. If I sent back a movie on Monday, I knew I’d get my next movie by Wednesday. I relied on this everytime I wanted a movie for a time sensitive occasion. In fact, this past Thursday I was relying on getting the 2 movies to arrive for a guy’s movie night. They didn’t come, so we couldn’t watch the movies like we had planned a week ago. Now, I have no clue when my movies show up.

It’s really strange that Netflix starts doing this to me after Blockbuster starts to really push it’s online movie rentals. Good thing we got competition.

(via Slashdot)