Posts in Category "Blogging etc"

Got acne? Blame Flash!

This device too late! That device too different! This one too big, that one too small, this OS too free, that OS too closed, ohmygosh run run run!

There’s a rare layer of hysteria in much of the techblogging today. The nuttiness has been around forever, but now seems to be reaching a fever pitch.

Some ask if we’re in a bubble. I don’t know. But for every person who sells a share of stock above $300, there’s a person who paid that steep a price for it. That’s a lot of people, with lots of self-interest floating around out there. And the financial message boards have never been among the most civil examples of online discussion….

It’s hot. But it won’t persist. We’re already seeing the patterns.

Connected interactive screens are coming in all sizes, with all types of operating systems and native-code environments, in all types of languages, with all types of business models connected to their use. No single brand dominates.

Everyday people in both Palo Alto and Peru, both San Francisco and Singapore, both Cupertino and Hyderabad — and everywhere else! — are all adopting these devices at torrid pace. No single social group dominates.

The technology to publish applications and content across all these devices will vary with device needs, audience needs and content needs. We usually need to blend technologies to reach wider audiences. No single technology dominates.

People delivering their ideas through such devices want a real connection with their audience, and not be intermediated by gatekeepers — few wish to be a mere sharecropper. Cross-device markets, cross-device analytics, cross-device frameworks, cross-device toolchains are the pickaxes and hardware of this gold rush.

In such an expansive world, those who see themselves as the only true path will likely fare not all that well. They’ll rail at competition, scream and shout. Listen to what they say, but confirm the truth for yourself.

Cooperation and mutual benefit are, realistically, a better long-term approach. Just gotta deal with some of the screaming in the meantime…. ;-)

“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit”

Anonymous article at MacWorld today:

“It almost seems a memory now, those heady days of the spring of 2010 we spent arguing over Flash. Do the sands of time cloud the Macalope’s eyes or did Adobe’s John Dowdell really suggest Apple was unethical for banning Flash from iOS?”

I tried to reply at MacWorld, but its registration system (for its anonymous commenters) didn’t permit me, so I’ll answer the question here. The original tweet from 2010 was “I know that a number of good people work at Apple. If you’re seeking a more ethical company, Adobe is hiring: adobe.com/aboutadobe/careeropp.”

It followed this prominent article about how the late Jerry York, of Apple’s Board of Directors, felt about the topic:


“At Apple, Mr. York was regarded as a relatively authoritative figure on audit and corporate governance matters but tended not to offer too many opinions, said people familiar with the board.

“But he had strong feelings about the way Mr. Jobs handled disclosures about his leave of absence for health reasons in January 2009. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Mr. York said he almost resigned when told of the seriousness of Mr. Jobs’s illness. Mr. York felt Mr. Jobs should have publicly disclosed his health problem three weeks earlier in a news release that announced his decision not to appear at the Macworld trade conference.

“Mr. York said the concealment ‘disgusted’ him, adding that the only reason he didn’t quit at the time was because he wanted to avoid the uproar that would have occurred once he disclosed his reason. ‘Frankly, I wish I had resigned then,’ he said.

This was in the news at the time, but likely off the partisan radar. More recently, Adobe continues to be regarded as one of the world’s most ethical companies. Still hiring, too.

It would be easy to add additional evidence, but argument, in the long run, isn’t fruitful. We know Flash is successful across a range of devices, and that even unauthorized third-party ports work successfully on Apple devices. Objections serve little purpose… the sooner the situation is fixed the better.

Comb Over Charlie vs the Web-Beacon’d Pundits of Doom

Short video worth watching… single game running across multiple screens… more info from Charlie Schulze and Jens Loeffler.

Simple story — delivering to a new form of device should require minimal redrawing/layout/interaction work, and delivering to a new brand of device should require even less work than that. It’s still early days, but Charlie’s experience shows that this is a reasonable and attainable goal.

Is this the story in the popular press? No… the goal of techpress is to earn revenue, and attracting the clicks is the main need. They don’t disclose their private communications with companies, and feature pseudonymous comments which could well be from marketing-agency personas. When they write of privacy their own pages will usually call assets from Google, Facebook, and other cross-site trackers. Even when the New York Times writes of a superquake and mega-tsunami in Japan, they’ll sensationalize the nuclear angle despite all science to the contrary. The chattering-class is often offbase in what they choose to discuss.

Please take a look at the video yourself. That cross-device delivery is the way things should be, and is increasingly the way things really are. And in the end, this reality will trump lame talk.

Is video so hard?

The VIDEO tag isn’t as hard to understand as media campaigning would have you believe.

A good example is at TechCrunch today: “MeFeedia Reports 63 Percent Of Web Video Is HTML5-Friendly”. Back in May 2010 the same TechCrunch writer wrote “H.264 Already Won — Makes Up 66 Percent Of Web Videos”. This in itself is pretty confusing…. ;-)

The background is that an encoding site measured what codecs their clients desire, then equated the popularity of H.264 (and any VP3/VP8) with “HTML5″, which advocacy sites then equated with “iPad”.

The presence of an H.264-encoded video does not mean the site has a VIDEO tag to invoke it… retagging a site and providing a control UI does not come automatically with video compression. The numbers, as presented, mean nothing. But the headlines have already attracted further confusion, with weak headlines like “Apple Won The War Against Flash”.

My October post “Who Needs War?” still contains background on how video works, and the title was a soft allusion to those who need to posit some form of conflict to justify their position. Mike Chambers also explained how these basic technical aspects are being misrepresented.

There are so many blindspots and contradictions with this persuasion campaign. Take a look at browserrank.com, and their maps of popular browsers across the world. Firefox is the biggest “HTML5″ desktop browser, yet doesn’t decode H.264 video. Opera is the biggest “HTML5″ mobile browser, yet also doesn’t do VIDEO/H.264. Apple is just one small part of the total “HTML5 VIDEO” discussion. H.264 != “HTML5″ != Apple.

More confusion: “The choices between Flash, H.264, Ogg, and VP8 means that if a video publisher wants full user support (and they should), they’ll need to support several formats for each video.”

Makes no sense. Adobe Flash Player has used H.264 for three-and-a-half years now, reaching +80% consumer support within six months. There is no “choice between H.264 and Flash”, just as there’s no real comparison between your groceries and their shopping cart. One contains the other. This is very simple to understand.

In the real world, to show video to everyone, you need Flash, and then something for Apple devices. Doesn’t require re-encoding the video, just re-working the site. Maybe provide something for older devices too.

And to understand the real world, do we need techblogs? The evidence they’re giving doesn’t lend confidence….

“Like sands through the hourglass….”

Big Techmeme cluster today, prompting headlines of “What’s Going On, Adobe?”… seem to be triggered by this Engadget blurb: “Verizon’s webpage dedicated to the Xoom has just gone up and one of our eagle-eyed readers has already spotted a disquieting bit of small print: ‘Adobe Flash expected Spring 2011.'”

I don’t know Motorola’s schedule myself, but it’s usually better to wait for actual news than to get all excited about a partner’s little snippet.

The important thing is that humanity is now on the verge of universal connectivity through personal displays. The trend is for common high-performance among them — with hardware, OS, engines, distribution, and business models all evolving simultaneously to attain this. Hot “Brand X vs Brand Y’ debating may bring in click-revenue from early adopters, but is less important in the long run than how we’ll end up using these new communication abilities. That’s the real priority for attention now.

Update: Matt Rozen has more on how the early Honeycomb releases will go: “Adobe will offer Flash Player 10.2 pre-installed on some tablets and as an OTA download on others within a few weeks of Android 3 (Honeycomb) devices becoming available, the first of which is expected to be the Motorola Xoom.” Estimates for 2011 total shipments have risen recently, too.

“FLASH IS OFFICIALLY DEAD”

Doing the usual news searches, came across a headline with above title, but kept on being redirected to various reprints… Google Websearch shows many hits, all low-value.

Going to what appears to be the canonical link, the story in whole seems to be the headline: “FLASH IS OFFICIALLY DEAD: This super interactive Nissan Leaf site is all HTML5.” The whole is linked to this Nissan USA site, which in my current FF/Win comes up as Flash, baby.

Takeaways? Flash doesn’t seem as “dead” as do for-pay bloggers and the whole weblog news culture. Look at the noise they generated, on how little thought! Look at how few costs they pay in return for increasing all readers’ costs! Look at what has been done to search engine results! And look at how the bloated Business Insider sites so frequently fail to complete loading, as they make unnecessary third-party calls to doubleclick.com, yieldmanager.com, pubmatic.com, tacoda.net, adnxs.com, sailthru.com, facebook.net, insightexpressai.com, openx.com, twitter.com, fbcdn.net, and many many more cross-site tracking web beacons.

Hot headline, startlingly poor observation, no real argument, no feedback mechanism, but lots of slammin’ the SEO and social media channels with self-serving, public-penalizing bloviation… the writer makes a good case that it’s the web which he’s actually killing.

VIDEO debate, cutting to the chase

Earlier this week Google’s Chrome team announced that they’d no longer be including an H.264 video decoder in their browser. I haven’t seen any updates from them responding to the massive third-party conversation following their use of the fluffy and prone-to-dispute “because it’s open” explanation.

But that massive conversation seems to hide more than it reveals — burying us all under word fatigue. Here are some simple basics:

  • The VIDEO tag was simply not well-considered at the outset. Its original rationale was: “You don’t require a plug-in to view images… video is the next natural evolution of that.” But from the very start the practical questions about use were swept under the rug… at least until the rug started piling up too high. It wasn’t sustainable.

  • The VIDEO tag serves two different constituencies: those with an “Open Web” banner who wanted to expand their own scope (lookin’ at ya, Mozilla), and those who have invested in Apple and their devices. These two groups have had different needs. The original proponents from Mozilla and Opera saw their desires for a royalty-free codec (for royalty-free tooling) hijacked by Apple fans’ needs for an H.264-baseline implementation. It wasn’t sustainable.
  • Video publishers need the VIDEO tag for one purpose only: to support Apple’s non-standard HTML browser and its denial of third-party extensibility via APPLET, OBJECT, and EMBED. [I’m copying that linked comment below, because TechCrunch’s Disqus commenting system doesn’t seem very web-friendly.] Flash’s popularization of H.264 meant that much video did not need to be re-worked for Apple’s standard-breaking devices, just the tagging and — significantly — the interactive and adjunctive features of anything beyond plain linear video playback. This may have been endurable, but the demand from the start was not sustainable.
  • Does Chrome’s H.264 move affect Chrome users? I don’t know of any (non-ideological, non-Apple-only) video which uses only VIDEO/H.264. The only real effect it seems to have is to blunt Apple’s campaigning by removing a nominal incentive. iPad users may be most affected, but impact on Chrome users seems minimal. Its removal does not seem unsustainable.
  • In this week when we’ve seen Arizona shootings and the easy (and incorrect) apportionment of blame, it’s quite unsettling to see how techblogs go on about the “war” and “blood feud” and other speech which is meant to incite, and earn more ad revenue. For goshsakes, consider how you’re speaking. Reflexive hatred is not sustainable.

Beyond the pettifoggery of This Week’s Blog Outrage, a simple truth remains: We humans are now witnessing a migration of video interactivity to pocket device. People all around the world, from varied economic strata, can now capture what they see and share it with others. It’s right up there with the invention of printing and the invention of the Internet. Instead of arguing about branding issues we should be thinking of how people will want to use video, how they will need to use video. This would be more sustainable. Would be more useful, and kinder, too.

Who needs war?

How does web video work? You’ve got a video file, compressed as On2 VP6 or VP8 or H.264 or whatever. You’ve got some type of interface layer, whether a standalone Real or QuickTime controller, or a Flash-based UI (OSMF, custom, etc). You’ve also got some markup in the HTML page to invoke the whole thing (OBJECT/EMBED, VIDEO). Then you’ve got any backend services, such as adaptive streaming, random access, access controls, clustering, advertising integration, analytics services, annotation layers.

Basically four parts: the compressed linear video itself, the user controls, the invoking markup, and any backend work.

Techmeme’s frothy again today about a blogpost from a firm which indexes videos hosted on a set of video sites. The followup headlines are rather dramatic, but here’s what was measured: “Our final tally included only video that can be delivered within HTML5’s ‘video’ tag. In the vast majority of cases, this means videos were encoded in H.264.”

From what that reads to me, and from checking the graph’s caption, it sounds like the core idea is “Across a range of video-hosting sites, 54% of the H.264 files which had a SWF-based UI also make some use of the VIDEO tag.” (open to correction)

If so, that’s reasonable… Apple’s devices have dominated the press the past year, and the world’s existing H.264 content would be invisible to that new audience without using the VIDEO tag. Considering the marketing pressure, it’s surprising this isn’t higher.

But some of the blogposts with takeaways like “Apple wins the Web” and “Victory in HTML5 war” just are over-the-top — particularly when they’re still confusing a codec (usually H.264 among these folks) with a presentation format (usually Flash).

There’s also still confusion between the VIDEO tag and a codec… Firefox and Opera are very popular on desktop and mobile, but their VIDEO tag does not equate to H.264.

“54 percent of Web video is now compatible with HTML5″… what could that mean? It seems more a phrase about branding than technology. Branding needs wars, technology doesn’t.

The reality is that we humans are gaining _far_ more communicational abilities with video now… screens on the desk, screens in the pocket, screens on the wall. What we choose to watch will be “out there”, available to all our screens. We expect to have a consistent personal experience with what we watch, regardless of the current device.

We’ll also need a diversity of backend services to create a consistent personal experience across screens, to connect those screens.

Finding ways to bring about sustainable ecologies in these new technologies… that’s more interesting and useful than a lot of the talk out there these days.

Different parts to “online video”… a compressed video file, the interface used to control it, the markup used to invoke it, and any backend services in use. They work together. Creating wars among them is more an exercise in branding than anything real.

PocketNow aftereffects

Big furor yesterday over one particular first-blush report on mobile Flash… Brandon Miniman of PocketNow.com tried a few random sites on his updated Google Nexus One, and made two videos of his surfing.

The worst problems he found were nominal… if you load a page with rich content, this takes longer to load than the same page without rich content… if you’re decompressing video in the central processor, then this competes with other uses of the CPU, such as scrolling… if you’re multitasking with background apps, that’s more of a load than if the browser runs alone. Nothing unexpected here.

But the furor… that was something else. After a weekend of great reports on mobile Flash in the wild, some of the Monday morning headlines on Techmeme were horrid: “Flash Kills Browsing”, “Flash Bogs Down Android”, “It Is Terrible” and more. This cluster was started by the usual set of Apple-oriented sites crosslinking to push something into Techmeme, and then once this cluster was established, Monday morning commercial blogwriters linked into it for the hits.

Damaging in the short term, but negligible in the long term… once large numbers of people actually start viewing today’s web on pocket devices, they’ll put such alarmism in its place.

I don’t hold Brandon responsible for this — he’s enthusiastic and just said what he saw, which is legit. I can understand the need for Apple sites to link to it with negative headlines — they’ve seen the central part of their business knocked out by superior performance and need to compensate somehow (even if foully). And I can also understand the clickbloggers making dramatic headlines — “if it bleeds it leads” still fits. They’ve brought about needless and useless perception damage to Flash, but I can understand the motives that drove it.

This issue was particularly difficult to counter, in large part due to the format… the original commentary was a pair of videos, ten minutes each… no text abstract of the findings, just watching someone click among sites. This gave subsequent headline writers carte blanche to give us their feelings of the story, without needing to back that up with data. No “there” there, nothing to grab onto.

But Brandon’s initial tests showed that the more content you load, the longer it takes — certainly true. A device that cannot play today’s web video won’t have to download and render it. And software-based decoding does remain a tax upon the processor. This will likely have bigger implications for Apple-style video than for web video, at least until advocates tack and recommend a “Click-to-HTML5″ application.

There are some other implications of these quick tests. Most desktop-style webpages are too piggy. Much of today’s web will likely cause needless strain to new pocket-sized devices. PocketNow.com’s own front page has over 250 HTTP requests, notifying over a dozen different web-beacon domains when you arrive. Even abnormal Flash use will only be just one more challenge in porting today’s web to smaller devices.

The bigger and more important challenge may be for us readers, to discount bogus stories which are pushed repeatedly at us. Particularly after recent elections, there are proven techniques to gain short-term advantage in mass belief. But as George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”… and truth does out in the end.

A tale of two venues

One blogpost, published on two different sites, resulting in two wildly different comment sections. The difference? Anonymous Apple attack squads.

If you work with professional video you know Dan Rayburn. On Friday he wrote a post at Streaming Media, pointing out how many consumers wish to discount the costs content producers must incur to double-encode video and develop dual control interfaces. There were some objections, from screen names like “Bobby” and “James”, but only 13 comments.

Over the weekend the blogpost was republished at Seeking Alpha. This weekend copy drew 130 comments… after being linked from macsurfer.com. These comments were not only more insulting, but some kept on posting and posting half-a-dozen, a dozen times.

There are many stupid objections which have already been debunked — mouseovers, battery life, “apple=open adobe=proprietary”, and so on. Worst, for me, are the personal slurs on Dan and other proven video pros like Jan Ozer. Apple’s little attackers do not need to listen, they do not need to have any idea what they’re talking about — they only need to keep speaking to drown others out.

Crowds are directed to sites to shout down any opposition. Keep an eye on macsurfer.com to predict which “inconvenient truths” will receive abusive comments. We don’t need to publish the words of those who speak pseudonymously… we do not need to spend far more time listening to them than they to us.

The culture of Apple is flawed. They are secretive and authoritarian, and attract (among others) angry little submissives who then act out on others. We should listen to them, but not unduly, not more than they listen to others.

The Golden Rule has arisen spontaneously in almost all human cultures. If you believe some people do not follow it, then the usual reading is “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” But if you believe that all of us do, in fact, follow it — that the universal Golden Rule is descriptive, rather than merely prescriptive — then such abusive commenters are treating others as they themselves wish to be treated. Finding an ethical middle between these readings is our challenge to resolve.

My thanks to Dan, Jan, and all those many others who “speak truth to power” and are personally attacked as a result. The mob’s power, while sharp, is small and weak, and shall not stand. Truth will out.