Posts in Category "Technology"

Geolocation API Research

I’m starting to do some research into geolocation APIs. Right now, I’m planning on checking out the Google Gears and Google Chrome APIs, the new Firefox 3.1 APIs, Skyhook’s technology, and IP geolocation technology like that used by ip2location. Anything else you think I should be looking into? How valuable do you think geolocation APIs on the desktop are? Will all computers (or at least all laptops which are gradually becoming all computers) have GPS chips soon? Other than GPS, IP addresses, Wi-Fi access points, and cell tower triangulation, how else can people be located?

Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

United To Add WiFi to Domestic Flights

It’s about time! I can’t believe it’s 2005, and we’re just now looking at WiFi becoming commonplace on domestic flights. I was at a baseball game last night, and I had free WiFi at the stadium which was cool, but doesn’t make nearly as much sense as in-flight WiFi. Thank you, United! And thank you, FAA, for approving it. Now we just need the FCC to come through, as well.

This could really be a big win for airlines and passengers alike. Airlines seem to need ways to upsell (I was on a flight once where they were selling $10 sandwiches), and the advantages to passengers is certainly obvious. One no longer has to essentially miss an entire day or work to fly coast to coast (or an entire day of online gaming). Now they just need to provide power outlets so I don’t have to travel with three batteries.

Would you be willing to pay extra for in-flight WiFi? If so, how much?

Google Accelerates the Web

Google is now offering to "accelerate" the web through their free Web
Accelerator
browser plug-in. How does it work? From the Google Web Accelerator FAQ:

Google Web Accelerator uses various strategies to make your web pages load faster,
including:

  • Sending your page requests through Google machines dedicated to handling Google
    Web Accelerator traffic.
  • Storing copies of frequently looked at pages to make them
    quickly accessible.
  • Downloading only the updates if a web page has changed slightly
    since you last viewed it.
  • Prefetching certain pages onto your computer in advance.
  • Managing your Internet
    connection to reduce delays.
  • Compressing data before sending it to your computer.

Sounds both very cool and a little scary at the same time. The idea that a significant
percentage of Internet traffic could one day go through one company’s proxies is
a little mind boggling. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to participate in
the beta. Anyone out there give this a try yet?

Wikipedia and Pope John Paul II

Look up Pope John Paul
II on Wikipedia
, and you’ll find the following paragraph
in the introduction:

Pope John Paul II died after a long fight against Parkinson’s disease, among
other illnesses, at the age of 84 on April 2, 2005, at 21:37 (GMT +2). His final
hours were marked by an overwhelming number of younger people who kept vigil
outside his Vatican apartments. In his last message, specifically to the youth
of the world, he said: "I came for you, now it’s you who have come to me.
I thank you."

Look up the
same entry in MSN Encarta
and you will find no mention of the Pope’s
death, much less any details.

Of course, the logistics of thousands of people updating the same resource, especially
around a historic event, can get complicated. Before any mention of the Pope’s
death was allowed to stand by the Wikipedia community, several mentions
were removed with log messages like "Removed date of death, due to the fact that
he is alive." Then there was plenty of editorial debate over exact time, formatting,
and how his death should be expressed. The end result, however, is an extremely
thorough and remarkably current account of Pope John Paul’s life and work.

This is not to say that Encarta, World Book, and Encyclopedia Britannica are not
valuable resources. They obviously are. And this is not to say that Wikipedia is
more valuable than more traditional encyclopedias (I can’t believe I’m already
referring to Encarta as a "traditional" encyclopedia). Wikipedia is simply a very
different kind of resource — one which I think makes an immense amount of sense
in a world where rapid change has become the norm.

Research is to Yahoo! what Labs is to Google

If you’re a Google worshiper, and a big fan of labs.google.com, keep an open mind and check out reserach.yahoo.com and next.yahoo.com for
a list of very cool beta technologies that Yahoo! is working on. My favorite? The
Yahoo! Buzz Game
. Anyone here already playing?

Yahoo! Launches Creative Commons Search

I discovered from Lawrence
Lessig
that Yahoo! has recently launched a
new search tool
that only searches work licensed under the Creative Commons
license meaning it is free to use and build upon (usually with some restrictions).
This is an incredibly useful tool for anyone who does any type of writing or
publishing (including, of course, bloggers).

I really like what I’ve been seeing from Yahoo! lately. I think a lot of people
have considered it a foregone conclusion that Google was going to own search and
the communities around it. I like to see companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft,
and Amazon saying "Not so fast." I think Yahoo! has been most aggressive
in their positioning lately (Y!Q
contextual search
, Firefox
support for their toolbar
, public search
API
, purchase
of Flickr
,
etc.), and I think they probably have a better understanding of community than
almost anyone. I expect that we will continue to see impressive tools and services
from Yahoo! in the future as the competition for search and community continue
to heat up.

Will the New Browser Wars End Before Really Getting Started?

Before the announcement that Yahoo! was buying Flickr,
the big Yahoo! news was that all Yahoo! services would soon be compatible with Firefox,
and all new services that Yahoo! released would also be Firefox compatible. Well, according
to ZDNet Australia
,Yahoo! has backpedalled somewhat, calling their original
statement "factually incorrect." I’m not here to beat Yahoo! up for either having
a change of heart, or for releasing inaccurate information since 1) accidents happen,
and 2) I have no problem with people (or companies) changing their minds when they
need to, as long as it doesn’t have a major negative impact on existing customers.
However, I do think Yahoo’s correction foreshadows another interesting shift in
browser distribution.

My prediction: the new
version of Internet Explorer
along with the release
of Tiger
will deal a massive
blow to Firefox, and the feeling that we are all in for another era of
bloody browser wars. I don’t have a list of IE 7 features in front of me, but
Microsoft is smart enough to deliver a browser that their customers are going
to want while many Mac users who are currently using Firefox because of issues
with Safari will be curious enough about the
new version
to give it another chance. I believe the result will be a sharp
decline in Firefox adoption.

That’s not to say Firefox will go away. Those of use in the IT field will
continue to use it (at least I will — I can’t live without certain plugins), but
I think IE 7 and Tiger will go a long way toward pulling Firefox out of the mainstream.

Google Provides Weather (And Why Google’s Interface Will Need to Change)

I learned from Boing
Boing
today that Google now provides four-day weather forecasts. Just
type "weather, city, state". Or "weather, city" if you live in a city with a sufficiently
unique name. For an example, check out the beautiful
weather we’re having in San Francisco
right now.

What really surprises me about Google is not so much that they are trying to do
everything (and certainly doing a reasonably good job at it), but that they are
doing it with such an unusual interface. For instance, any other site in the world
would have you click on a weather link, then type in your city or zip code. Or
in order to get movie
information
, click on a movie link first, then type in your search terms.
Google clearly identifies very strongly with the Unix world since searching Google
often has the feel of entering a Unix command followed by arguments. I predict
that Google will eventually need to modify their famously simple interface to make
all the search options more prevalent. As Google becomes more complex and versatile,
the simplicity of the interface is actually going to start working against the
experience rather than for it. Ironically enough, I think
Google will eventually need to create a more involved and consistent interface
in order to actually simplify it.

Sony PDAs Going Away Forever

Back in July of last year, I made a post called No
More Sony Clies In the US
about Sony’s decision to only sell their PDAs in
Japan. Well now, according
to Reuters
, they are discontinuing Clies altogether.

"The PDA market is being encroached by cellphones and other mobile devices
that can offer similar functions, making it difficult for PDAs to maintain their
position in the market," a Sony spokeswoman said.

Wow, I remember the very first Clies, and now it’s all over. Anyway,
enough nostalgia. Smart phones are all the rage right now. Personally, I use a Sidekick
II
which I love, and I’d never go back to a standard
PDA. (I do use a Garmin iQue,
too, to find my way, but that’s hardly standard.) Recently, I even started playing
with the Abacus
Wrist PDA
which is a lot of fun. What kinds of PDAs and smart phones are you
guys using these days? Likes and dislikes, pros and cons? Where do you see the
world of mobile heading now that one might declare the end of PDAs?

A New Way to Get Answers

My job requires me to write a lot. And to read a lot, as well. So it’s nice to
have a dictionary handy. I used to use dictionary.com until
I learned from
kottke.org
that
Google switched from using dictionary.com to using answers.com.
To see what I mean, do a search for something like kittens
on Google
, and look up in the right-hand corner. That "definition" link now
points to answers.com rather than dictionary.com. Anyway, I figured if it was good
enough for Google, it must be good enough for me, so I gave it a try, and I like
it much better. The interface is far superior and you get much more information
from several more sources, including Wikipedia,
another favorite resource of mine. And you can hear a pronunciation without subscribing
to Dictionary.com Premium for
$19.95 per year.

The best thing, though, are the additional
tools
answers.com makes available.
Of course you get your standard Firefox search plug-in, but I also downloaded their
1-Click Answers application which basically puts a miniature version of their site
on your desktop. Whenever I need to look up a word or double check spelling, I
can now highlight it, and hit alt+command g (on a Mac) to have 1-Click Answers
jump to the foreground and give me the information I’m looking for. Assuming
it’s not
spyware
,
it’s a great little application to keep running. There’s also an RSS
feed
for daily
highlights, and Answer boxes that
you can put on your site.