You don’t really need a Wolfram Alpha strategy

There’s a school of thought that says whenever two chaps in a garage get a 0.3 beta of a social network out the door, digital folk everywhere should drop everything and get on it.

This is bollocks. Your valuable and limited time, energy and resource is best spent on Twitter. Or Facebook. Or the platform(s) that work best for your customers / fans / etc. When an organisation proudly lists all the platforms they’re on (and the list could be pretty long by now), the question is ‘are you any good on them?’ and probably ‘do your fans care?’.

How many times have you heard ‘this could be the new Facebook’, only to struggle to even remember its name weeks after the initial squeee-ing dies down? I really question the need to spend time building up a platform whose goal might ultimately be to be brought by Facebook or Google when they get popular enough.

You won’t miss much in the early days of a new platform – often you don’t get a fair reflection of what the platform is going to be like because there’s simply no-one on it yet. You’ve got plenty of time to make ground up if you don’t get in on the early days. Take Instagram – for a long time, people on Android, the world’s largest mobile OS couldn’t even use it – folk seemed to catch up just fine.

As always, you need to figure out what platforms are the right fit for your organisation’s fans or customers and what’s right for you.

Some social platforms are more useful as handy places to store your content – think Flickr for photos and YouTube for video – and sharing your content somewhere more suitable, like Twitter or your website. Honestly, no-one really enjoys YouTube for its social functions.

Remember, tthere’s questionable value in getting involved in non-social platforms like Snapchat (where content can’t be shared or even allow a link back to your website). Sure you might get some street cred points for being there, but it feels a bit dad-rock to me if it’s not the right fit for your organisation.

In short, what I’d do when a hot new platform comes along is:

a) register your company name, because 1. it might come in handy one day, and 2. it stops the hilarious pranksters from nabbing it, and
b) keep an eye on it. You’ll know when it becomes right for you

Remember, channels are channels – don’t throw your strategy out the window because someone invites you to a pets-only mobile app.

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You don’t really need a Wolfram Alpha strategy

What’s In Your Bag, Bangladesh edition

I’m a big fan of features like The Verge’s What’s In Your Bag? and The Setup, where folk share the stuff they use everyday in a cheerfully narcissistic fashion.

[Get the full run down on the Bangladesh trip over at sportreview.net.nz]

For the last month I’ve been in Bangladesh with the BLACKCAPS, writing for our website, live-tweeting matches and taking photos and video. This is what I’ve been using – click the picture to see the full size version.

Whats in my bag 041113

 

A - Timbuk2 Messenger. These are bullet proof. I’ve had mine for almost ten years, in which time it’s seen regular use as a cycle-commute bag, and it’s only just starting to show wear now. It’s roomy, it has not-too-many and not-too-few pockets and it has a well-padded shoulder strap, handy when you’re lugging a whole lot of heavy crap around. Recommended.

B – Power board. Plug local adapter into power board. Plug your phones / cameras / computer / iPad into power board. Charge all the things.

C – 3rd generation iPad. It’s an iPad, you know the deal. This is my personal one, and it’s 16GB, WiFi only and white. Mail, Tweetbot, Twitter, Facebook Pages Manager, Chrome, Dropbox, PlainText, CricInfo and Instapaper are the go-tos.

D – 5th generation 120GB iPod classic. I like to take all my music with me. It also holds podcasts and full-res copies of  all my iPhotos as a backup. Comes with in-ear Sennheiser headphones and ancient neoprene Body Glove Palm III case.

E – Cables n USBs n stuff. USB – mini USB, USB – Samsung charger, USB – iPad, iPad wall socket, 2 x 8GB USB drives, Bluetooth headset and a Mac – Monitor adapter which I haven’t used. All these go in a handy neoprene pouch, which it appears I have a thing for.

F – Samsung Galaxy S3. Bloody good phone this, I’ve used this as my main personal and work phone for the last 18 months. Camera, Twitter, Carbon, Instapaper, the Camera, Dropbox, Mail, Chrome, CricInfo, Voice Recorder and pictures of my kids are what get used the most.

G – Samsung Galaxy Mini. Work phone with local sim card. Gets used the most for hot-spotting data.

H – 320 GB Western Digital hard drive. Nothing special. Contains Time Machine backup files and TV and film entertainment.

I – Fossil Blue watch. Nothing special. One thing with cricket is that using phones is banned in the dressing room and viewing areas during matches. Considering I use my phone as my watch normally, the wrist watch has made a come back.

J – Apple Magic Mouse and no-name mouse pad. Nothing like your own mouse and pad to make you feel at home. Good mouse this, and a good size. Say no to painful-to-use ‘travel’ mice.

K – MacBook Power cable and carry case. No matter how carefully you put a power cable inside your bag, when you open it up at the end of your journey, it will have unravelled and tangled itself throughout all your crap and take 15 minutes to pull out. If you take anything from this whole naval-gazing exercise, my tip to you is to find an appropriate carry case for your power cable if you go mobile a lot, it will make your life at least 4% better. You’re welcome.

L – Pens and a notepad. My #1 pen is a Pilot Dr Grip ballpoint with the fine blue refills and my backups are Pilot SuperGrip ballpoints in the fine blue versions. Not anal at all about this stuff, ah har.

M – Panasonic AG – HMC41E and Sony mic. I’m new to shooting video, but this camera does a really solid job.  I don’t really put it in my bag, it has its own one on wheels, plus the tripod.

N – 15″ MacBook Pro. 2.6GHz with Intel Core i7.  Work laptop. I love everything about this machine, with the weight the only quibble. Chrome, Opera, VLC, Text Wrangler, iMovie, PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, Audacity, Dropbox and Quicksilver are the most-often-most-recently-used.

O – Canon Digital Rebel EOS 40oD with 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses. My personal one. Like video, I am only a very amateur photographer. Luckily the pros stepped in for this tour, but I managed to get some OK shots in the meantime.

 

That’s about it – not pictured are hand sanitiser, insect repellent  and bottles of water, all of which I’m going through like nobody’s business. The only thing I think I’m missing is some kind of bluetooth speaker arrangement for the hotel room.

Luckily, not all of this gets humped around at once, on match days I take the laptop and training days the iPad comes instead etc. It’s been a lot of fun figuring out what is needed when and working completely mobile. The WiFi has been excellent at the grounds and everything has worked, no tech disasters so far, touch wood.

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What’s In Your Bag, Bangladesh edition

She’s a hard road finding the perfect Android Twitter app, boy

I use Twitter a lot, for work as well as my own fecking about. Much of this happens on my phone – but I’ve never quite settled on the Android Twitter app that’s quite right.*

Actually, that’s not true. Tweetdeck for Android was perfect – but Twitter killed it. It was fast, easy to use and no-frills, relatively. I’d go back tomorrow if I could.

tweetdeck-android OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anyway. Once Tweetdeck was off the menu, I needed something else. In fact, because I use one app for work and another for me to avoid Tweeting From The Wrong Account Disasters, I need two. I’ve decided the perfect Twitter app needs to be:

  • fast (some apps are excruciatingly slow going between screens, gathering conversations, etc)
  • ad-free (this Candy Crush sounds ghastly)
  • able to autocomplete Twitter handles when composing a tweet (which is v handy when you’re trying to tweet ‘@NeilWagner13 strikes, takes out @StuartBroad8‘s off stump, @ECB_cricket now 111/8′ as fast as you can)
  • able to show mentions under a user profile (handy for stalking context)
  • to show ‘in reply to’ and conversations (as above)
  • great to look at, and easy to use. I don’t ask for much

Trouble is, even though there are heaps of Twitter apps in the Google Play store, most of them aren’t up to it. And I’ve tried them all. Here’s the run down, ordered from ‘shoddy’ to ‘quite good’.

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 8.49.11 PM UbersocialTweetcasterEchofon and Plume are ruled out straight away, as they have ads and no ‘mentions’ view.Seesmic is actually good. But, it has ads – and frankly, I can’t stand the icon and wouldn’t have it on my home screen. I mean, look at it. No-one wants a raccoon on their phone.
Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 8.40.49 PM Hootsuite is great, but slow. It feels bloated and you often find yourself scrolling through endless screens to get where you want to go. I used this as my main ‘work’  Twitter account for some time, but my abiding memory is flicking between screens to get where I needed to. When you’re on mobile, you don’t want to be fecking around with that, out it went.Yes, it has all kinds of stats built in, but if I’m not paying for them, I don’t want them on the app. Humbug.
Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 8.41.18 PM Tweetings is so close to being great… I used this as my main app for some time, and it does everything you need, short of getting you a beer to enjoy while you browse Twitter. One snag – it’s so sloooooooow. If we extend the ‘getting a beer’ analogy to a painful extent, your lager or what have you would be past its expiry by the time it came back. Shame – would trade again, if they can approve the speed.
Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 8.40.01 PM Twitter’s own app does an admirable job. It’s fast, has autocomplete for usernames, mentions and conversations, searches well, and is simple to use.I still have no idea what the ‘discover’ tab does (does anyone?), but it’ll do. I use this for my work account on my phone, and my iPad**. If they chuck in the mentions view, it’ll be the One.
Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 8.41.00 PM Carbon is my recommendation for Android Twitter app at the moment. Yes, it has a silly ‘sign in screen’ with a bald eagle or some such, but once you get past that (it only appears for a second, but it feels like an age), it’s great.

GREAT looking, unobtrusive animations, fast, mention views. It’s got the lot. There’s not a lot of options in the settings, but you don’t really need them, it’s good to go, from the box. Um, Google Play store. Go nuts.

* I actually googled ‘Android Twitter app power user’ once, to my shame.

** For completist purposes, I use TweetBot on my iPad, and it’s bloody perfect. I know, not really Android-loyal of me, but as far as I’m concerned, Tweetdeck For Android WAS perfect, and now it’s binned. LOoking forward to something that’s so good, it becomes the ONLY choice for Android users. I’m waiting!

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She’s a hard road finding the perfect Android Twitter app, boy

Plain language guide to faster broadband with a master filter or splitter

Today’s announcement that the English Premier League will only be available over the internet has caused a little angst among people worried about their broadband speed. Because many folk aren’t getting the best out of the broadband connection they have, here’s the best single thing you can do to improve things at your place*. Your experience may vary of course.

What is a master filter or splitter?
It’s a piece of equipment that separates your broadband signal from the other things that run over your copper landline phone line, like phone(s), MySKy or burglar alarms. Mine sits somewhere under my house, I haven’t laid eyes on it since it was installed.

Why should I get one?
Separating the signal means your broadband has its own dedicated line and interference from all those other things is dramatically reduced, so you can go faster, have a more stable connection etc.

 
 Your master filter at work – image nicked from here.

But sir, my house wiring has not skipped a beat for the last 40 years etc. 
Most people’s houses were built before broadband internet connections shared phone lines, and their home wiring was not designed to accommodate these new fangled thingos comfortably. A master filter or splitter is the most cost effective way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your existing broadband connection.

How much does it cost and how do I get one?
I paid $150, and I understand it still costs about the same, give or take. It’s a one-off fee. You get one by calling your internet service provider, and they’ll arrange for Chorus to come and install it, whoever your ISP is. Some electricians and cabling specialists can do it too, have a Google.

My own experience
I live in Auckland’s East Coast Bays, a few hundred metres from our local broadband cabinet**. When I first had a splitter installed back in 2008, my connection went from 2 Megabits Per Second to 6MBPs. When our cabinet went live, that went up again to 8-10MBPs, and when Chorus came out to do some other work in the area, noticed our wires were corroded and replaced them, that went up to 12-14MBPs. Ours is nothing special, a bog standard connection, I’m on a standard full speed retail broadband plan.

I can download iTunes music, watch YouTube, use Apple TV and surf the internet on my desktop machine, iPad or our work laptops over WiFi just fine, we’re very happy with the speed and reliability. Here’s a speed test I just did, in the mid evening, peak time for internet use. I imagine if I sign up for this Premier League carry on, that will work great too.

What else?
I have an ADSL2+ enabled router (or modem), which means I can go as fast as I can on standard modern broadband. It cost about $120, ring up your ISP if you’re not sure what yours is, they’ll tell you. Most modems or routers ISPs supply these days are ADSL2+, it’s in your ISP’s interests that you’re a happy customer.

Don’t take my word for it
Here’s a fairly typical experience – Helen Twose of the Herald increased her speed by 30%, and there’s more here. Geekzone is full of examples like this, I’ve found Geekzone an extremely helpful place to find information and ask for advice.

I want to go faster
Fibre and UFB is coming. And it’ll be great, but it’s a few years away for many. A master filter or splitter is not a silver bullet to Korean-internet-cafe-speeds, but a sensible way to maximise what you have now in a reasonably economic fashion. If you care about your home internet connection, it’s worth investigating.

 

* This is meant to be a plain language version of Steve Biddle’s excellent and comprehensive post on the same subject. If you’re more technical than me (that’s most of you), go there, you’ll learn something.

** You can check your own situation ADSL2+ or fibre wise on Chorus’ map.

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Plain language guide to faster broadband with a master filter or splitter

You can’t troll a troll

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be on Social Media Club Auckland’s When communities go bad panel, along with Anna Connell, Mike Kooge and Chris Keall.

 
The panel. Photo filched from SMCAKL site

Some brief thoughts:

Being trolled is part of the territory for doing corporate social media. Of course, social media is just people. And some people can be dicks, bluntly.

Basically, someone has to be prepared to cop it, and it’s kind of up to you to develop a range of coping mechanisms (hence my ‘harden up’ comment). It gets easier over time! Caring a lot is a bit of a pre-req for doing the job well and properly, but the downside of that is taking the nastier comments to heart and wanting to throw things against things so they break.

The solution? Realise it’s not you, take breaks, make sure you’re well supported by your company. Easier said than done sometimes, but what’s the point of doing a job that’s easy, hey?

Anna definitely  kicked the crap out of me at pithy tweet-able soundbites. Nice work. And Mike showed there’s some excellent thinking and different knowledge out there beyond the usual voices. Well done.

I was most impressed by Chris Keall’s ‘take panel questions from your phone’ paradigm. Typical innovation incubation on the fly by our top tech scribe.

I realise I talked mainly about Telecom examples, rather than the new job (which is going really well BTW). That’s because I honestly haven’t been trolled very much at all in the new role – which is a nice change! The team going well is obviously a big factor, but even so, the ‘other distractions’ don’t seem to have generated much heat online.

I haven’t been to SMCAKL for a while, but it seems to be on the right track, by the evidence presented on Tuesday night. Fair play and all the best to the organisers and sponsors, it isn’t easy putting something like this on.

 
This is the first time I was trolled on the @telecomnz account, about a day after I took the job.

 

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You can’t troll a troll

HTC Sensation review

I wrote this review for Telecom’s late, lamented co. magazine, after using the handset over the course of a weekend. I subsequently acquired a Sensation to use as my permanent, day to day phone. Reading the review again, it pretty much holds up – I love using it. The camera and video capability are really, really good, and the screen is astonishing – and it hasn’t succumbed to ‘creeping slowdown’ like other Android handsets I’ve used. I *did* install Launcher Pro however, the HTC Sense stuff is to frilly pour moi, and got old, fast. Recommended.

The first thing I thought when I got my mitts on the Sensation was that this phone is big. Big in every way. Conceivably, you could mount it to your roof and put your neighbour’s Christmas light display to shame. It’s got dual core chipset (which means it goes really fast), an 8 MP camera (which means it’s probably as good as your camera) and shoots full 1080p HD video (so you can show off your cat videos on your flatscreen TV), among other impressive sounding features. Everyone tells us our smartphones these days are small computers that just so happen to have a phone on them – this Sensation feels more like a small tablet to me. That said, making a call on this phone doesn’t feel like you’re talking into your ironing board – it’s extremely thin, light and slips easily into your pocket.

The thing that’s stuck with me, though, about the Sensation is the screen. My goodness, the screen. It’s bright and sharp, to say the very least, and for the first time I could imagine sitting down and watching an entire film (with proper widescreen) on a phone without feeling like I was in some kind of dubious adult interest theatre for insects. And with all that screen real estate, tapping out a text, tweet or email was easier than any other touchscreen handset I’ve tried.

The Sensation runs on Gingerbread, the latest and greatest version of Android (version 2.3) – if you’re an Android user, you’ll already be used to how it all works, but you’ll be blown away by how FAST it goes – it’s as responsive as a hungry puppy. It also features HTC Sense, which makes the Sensation even more user friendly with nifty thumbnail screens, people widgets, a WiFI hoptspot and a really neat weather feature you have to see to believe. Google’s apps like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps all run brilliantly, and there’s plenty more to choose from in the Android marketplace. Angry Birds, the incomprehensibly popular catapult game, is GORGEOUS to use on this screen.

So, what did I actually do with it? Sat about on my couch and played with it, mostly, marvelling at its speed and the screen.  But I am a lazy, lazy man. Who’s going to want one? Early adopters, yes, but anyone interested in a highly spec-ed touchscreen phone that’s easy to use should have a look at the Sensation, it measures up to any phone out there, and beats them in places. I could imagine using one for work. I could imagine it coming in really handy for Googling and looking up directions when you’re out and about at the weekend. I can also imagine loading it up with Dora and throwing into the backseat for a happy family on a long car journey.

Luckily for us, the Sensation is one of two HTC handsets exclusively available on XT that come out in early July. The other one is the Wildfire S, a slightly smaller, slightly lower-spec-ed handset, which may interest those who balk at the Sensation’s size. It goes without saying that the Sensation goes FAST on XT – this is mobile internet at its finest, and before you know it, you’ll be using the fan on your desktop PC to dry laundry. Probably.

 

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HTC Sensation review

Motorola Milestone review

My review of the Motorola Milestone, which appeared in Telecom’s co. magazine.

I have a perfectly good mobile phone. It texts, it emails, it takes photos. I can even ring people. But when I was offered the use of Telecom’s whizzo new Motorola Milestone, running Google’s Android operating system that’s knocked sliced bread off its ‘greatest thing’ perch, I was keen, real keen.

I was out to lunch (so to speak) recently with our Online Response Team, and listened as the guys debated the philosophical and technological differences between the iPhone and Android. Basically, the iPhone is like Steve Job’s famous black turtleneck – warm and comforting, but slightly restrictive, while Android is like a Che Guevara tee-shirt: hip and revolutionary.

But first, a disclaimer: if you want to know how many megarings a phone can omni-vate per quasi-spagbot, read Pat Pilcher on the page opposite. But if you want to know how a grown man can get sucked into farting about on a smartphone when he’s supposed to be supervising his two year old son in the bath, that’s where my tech analysis strengths lie.

I’ve spent many an enjoyable evening swearing loudly at mobile phone manuals, but Android denied me this cathartic pleasure (don’t worry, team, I took my latent anger out on a missing remote control later) by setting up my contacts, email, my gmail accounts and twitter in about ten minutes flat. I was impressed.

The first thing that stuck me was this phone is FAST – the Milestone takes full advantage of XT’s HSPA+ upgrade, so there’s minimal waiting about while your email downloads. You push a button, stuff happens. Easy.
Then, I had a saunter through the Android Market, where you buy ‘apps’ or applications – I chose a Flickr photography app, a few games for the bus and the Kindle e-reader. There’s loads to choose from, and I could see myself loading up like a Harrods boxing day sale.

The web browser was a revelation, working like computer browser you ‘zoom into’ with your fingers to make the text bigger and readable. On Saturday, me and my partner spent twenty minutes or so on the couch surfing websites on the phone – not having to get up and ‘go use the computer’ to use the internet was cool. This was doing stuff together, and it was nice.

Did the Milestone make me more productive? I’ll say yes. Did it make me more popular? I’ll say no. Despite its bulk, weight, a slide out keyboard I found a bit superfluous and voice performance that’s a little… crackly, I thoroughly enjoyed using Android and the Milestone. You’d love it too – take it from a guy that knows next to nothing about phones.

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Motorola Milestone review